Black Reed Bay by Rod Reynolds @Rod_WR @OrendaBooks @RandomTTours

Source: Review copy
Publication: 2 September from Orenda Books
PP: 300
ISBN-13: 978-1913193676

My thanks to Orenda Books for an advance copy for review purposes

When a young woman vanishes from an exclusive oceanfront community in the middle of the night, Detective Casey Wray’s takes on a case that leads her in chilling, unexpected directions … A twisty, breath-taking police procedural. First in a heart-pounding new series.

I love this book so much I am delighted to reprise my review for the blog tour. Rod Reynolds is a marvellous writer. He isn’t flash, or showy, but what he writes is immaculately crafted, beautifully plotted and so well thought through that his characters blaze with authenticity. It is a remarkable talent and all the better for being understated.

So what you have in Black Reed Bay is a superb American Noir Police procedural with a great protagonist in Detective Casey Wray; pitch perfect, stylish and beautifully rendered.

Black Reed Bay is an affluent neighbourhood – you know the ones that you see in the movies, all glass aspects to the beachfront with lithe, tanned and most importantly, rich owners lording it over all they survey.  Tina Grace is neither rich nor entitled but she has been out to Black Reed Bay to visit Jon Parker. It is, he tells the police after she has gone missing, waking up half the neighbourhood in the process, just a casual relationship.

It was Tina Grace’s 911 call that brought the police to Black Reed Bay, but there the trail goes cold. Casey Wray’s antennae are prickling, though. There’s something off about the too smooth Jon Parker and his explanation of what happened does not ring true.

Though Tina made a lot of noise as she called the police, not one of the neighbours whose beautifully embellished doors she knocked on would answer. This is a neighbourhood that looks after its own, putting themselves first and allowing nothing to upset their tranquillity.

Casey Wray is angered and frustrated by the solid wall of unhelpfulness in Black Reed Bay but that just makes her more determined to get to the bottom of what at first appears to be no more than a domestic disturbance.

Reynolds beautifully contrasts the luxury lifestyle of Black Reed Bay with the lives of Tina Grace’s family. Her mother is a drunk; her brother has previous. If ever a family came with the label ‘wrong side of the tracks’ the Grace family is it. So what was Tina Grace doing in Black Reed Bay and why will no-one tell the truth about what they saw?

Casey gets close to Tina’s mother, trying to understand more about her daughter. The more she learns, the more she finds herself angered by the closed mouthed community in Black Reed Bay. Not only that but, back at base, Casey’s boss is under pressure and the department wants this case closed as soon as possible. She and her partner, Dave Cullen have their work cut out to solve this case.

Reynold’s setting is superb. The discreet rich community with its affluence and influence plays beautifully against the ‘down on their luck’ Grace family and that contrast highlights the dark secrets that play into this novel.

As Casey refuses to bow to pressure she will find herself in a dark situation that is both chilling and macabre and which will test both her mettle and her loyalties to the limit.

Verdict: A brilliant introduction to Detective Casey Wray – about whom we still have much to learn. This compelling mystery thrums with intrigue, dark doings and dirty politics in the most American way. Black Reed Bay simmers and crackles with tension and ultimately, shocks and surprises. This initial outing of a new protagonist has immediately turned into a top ‘must read’ series.

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Rod Reynolds is the author of four novels, including the Charlie Yates series. His 2015 debut, The Dark Inside, was longlisted for the CWA John Creasey (New Blood Dagger), and was followed by Black Night Falling (2016) and Cold Desert Sky (2018); The Guardian have called the books ‘Pitch-perfect American noir.’ A lifelong Londoner, his critically acclaimed standalone thriller, Blood Red City, is the first book set in his hometown, but he’s crossing the ocean again, with his explosive new thriller, Black Reed Bay. Rod previously worked in advertising as a media buyer, and holds an MA in novel writing from City University London. Rod lives with his wife and family and spends most of his time trying to keep up with his two young daughters. Chat to Rod on Twitter @Rod_WR.

Hyde by Craig Russell @TheCraigRussell @BloodyScotland @Brownlee_Donald

It is my absolute pleasure to be showcasing Craig Russell’s Hyde as part of the blog tour for the Bloody Scotland McIlvanney Prize for Scottish Crime Book of the Year 2021. Tomorrow night we’ll find out who has won, and all this week bloggers have been showcasing the shortlisted books. You can check out the others by looking at the banner at the foot of this page. It is a cracking shortlist and I’m excited to know who will scoop the prize. You can watch the ceremony and the whole Bloody Scotland Festival online with a Bloody Scotland Digital Pass.

Let’s start with the publisher’s description:

Edward Hyde has a strange gift-or a curse-he keeps secret from all but his physician. He experiences two realities, one real, the other a dreamworld state brought on by a neurological condition.

When murders in Victorian Edinburgh echo the ancient Celtic threefold death ritual, Captain Edward Hyde hunts for those responsible. In the process he becomes entangled in a web of Celticist occultism and dark scheming by powerful figures. The answers are there to be found, not just in the real world but in the sinister symbolism of Edward Hyde’s otherworld.

He must find the killer, or lose his mind.

A dark tale. One that inspires Hyde’s friend . . . Robert Louis Stevenson.

Here’s what I thought:

There’s nowhere better than Edinburgh to cast a spellbinding Gothic story. Edinburgh with its surgical traditions, its black history of grave robbers Burke and Hare, its underground streets and the famous Arthur’s Seat coffin dolls. Russell takes very real moments and some real historical figures and uses them to mould a dark and seriously fiendish tale that strikes at the heart of Victorian Edinburgh society.

Nothing could be more natural. Russell goes back to the Edinburgh of Robert Louis Stevenson to show us the origins of Stephenson’s Jekyll and Hyde. Captain Edward Henry Hyde has returned from his tour of duty in the British Army after defending the Empire in India. Now he is Superintendent of Detective Officers for the City of Edinburgh Police. In this douce city where bourgeois respectability is everything and craftsmen are held in high esteem, Russell lifts the veil of respectability to look underneath at the dark and evil monstrosities that lie below.

He does this, intriguingly, against the backdrop of a Scotland that is not entirely comfortable with its role as part of the Empire since the Act of Union; a Scotland that dares to dream of a more glorious future and this element is mirrored in Hyde, a man who struggles with what he has seen and done in the name of the British Empire. There are levels and layers to this book and they work together perfectly to allow us to see the hypocrisy of both man and the society he treasures while, beneath the surface, ugly boils suppurate and threaten to break through to the surface.

Hyde, according to his his friend and psychiatrist Dr Samuel Porteous, is epileptic. He only knows that he loses time and after an episode, comes to with no memory of where he has been or what he has done. Porteous is treating Hyde in secret so that Hyde can conceal his condition from his employers. But he is also increasingly concerned that Porteous is experimenting on him in the hopes of gaining glory through the development of an innovative treatment.

Everyone, we realise, has dual motives and aspects in this clever book that wondrously marries fact and fiction in an altogether too persuasive telling of a beautifully Gothic masterpiece.

Hyde works as a fabulously gruesome, entertaining story in its own right. It is a rich, layered story full of dark demons, old folk tales, and a bit of devil worship all combined with wonderful imagery and mysterious characters whose very presence makes us quail and fear them.

Hyde is a fantastic murder mystery, full of sulphurous smells, rich in atmosphere and twisty as you like. Russell provides strong female characters too in the form of that most undouce of things, Dr Cally Burr, a female surgeon and in Elizabeth Lockwood, a formidable business brain and heir to her father’s business empire.

Hyde is also a chilling and deeply scary tale of madness, myth and pure evil, rooted in the legend that is Jekyll and Hyde, and yet altogether different.

Verdict: I could not love this book more. The language is glorious, the settings perfect. The rich layered storytelling is suspenseful, chilling and full of meaning. There’s so much deftly embedded in this story that you could go on discovering gems for some time. I love this outstanding book and give it all the stars for an absolute must buy – must read book.

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Craig Russell’s novels have been published in twenty-five languages, four have been made into major films in Germany, in one of which he has a cameo role as a detective. He has won the CWA Dagger in the Library and the McIlvanney Prize (for which he has been shortlisted another twice), and has previously been shortlisted for the CWA Golden Dagger, the Ellis Peters Historical Dagger, and the SNCF Prix Polar in France. A former police officer, Craig Russell is the only non-German to have been awarded the Polizeistern – the Hamburg Police’s Police Star. When not writing, Craig Russell paints, cooks and reads, but not simultaneously.

The Dick Francis BBC Radio Drama Collection by Dick Francis from BBC Audio @BBCStudiosAudio

Source: Review copy
Publication: 16 September 2021
Listening time: 13 hrs and 27 mins
ASIN: B097Q659P7

Narrated by: Bill Nighy, Nigel Havers, full cast, Siân Phillips, Francis Matthews, Tony Osoba, Mick Ford, Hywell Bennett, Eric Allan

Fast-paced radio dramatisations of six of Dick Francis’ classic racing thrillers, plus bonus documentary

Enquiry

After riding the favourite into second place, jockey Kelly Hughes loses his licence. But he didn’t throw the race, and is determined to find out who framed him…

Rat Race

A cushy job transporting passengers between racecourses turns dangerous for pilot Matt Shore when his plane explodes and he’s embroiled in a deadly plot.

Bonecrack

Abducted by masked men, Neil Griffon is faced with a deadly ultimatum – obey the instructions of a ruthless crime czar, or risk the destruction of his father’s racing stables.

Whip Hand

Disabled ex-jockey turned investigator Sid Halley is faced with a triple threat when he is asked to guard a horse, probe a suspicious syndicate and find a swindler.

Proof

When a party to celebrate the success of the racing season ends in tragedy, wine dealer and amateur sleuth Tony Beach investigates.

Bolt

Asked by a princess to fend off a dangerous cousin who is making threats, Kit Fielding agrees to help. But he also has problems of his own to deal with…

Also included is a bonus episode of the Radio 4 series Great Lives, presented by Matthew Parris, in which Francis’ biographer Graham Lord, chairman of the British Horseracing Board Martin Broughton and racing correspondent Jonathan Powell explore the life and work of the champion thriller writer.

I’m delighted to report that nostalgia is still everything it’s cracked up to be.  While I enjoy listening to audiobooks when on the move, or doing other things during the day, at might I am prone to seeking out older dramas from Radio 4 Extra on BBC Sounds. I find that with age comes a desire to enjoy the classical radio dramas and what The Dick Francis Collection offers is that classical series in spades.

Here you will find the clipped tones of a young Nigel Havers; the rounded, delicious vowels of the much missed Hywel Bennett; the precise intonation of Siân Phillips; the clear diction of Frances Matthews and the memorable voice of Bill Nighy, which has barely changed across the decades.

These full cast dramatisations are, unsurprisingly, not all in pristine condition, but they are all eminently listenable and the heyday of the BBC sound effects team is there for all to hear in the thunder of hooves on the race track and the sound of a train rumbling down the railway tracks.

In keeping with the times, the role of women is one that may give some pause for reflection. Francis, who was, to give him his due, cognisant that women could pilot planes and run an effective stables training yard, nevertheless has to build in the romantic hero and so his women are a little too prone to leaping into bed with our various heroes.

Still, these are thrilling dramas and the full cast versions are a real treat. I also enjoyed the Matthew Parris Great Lives programme with Francis’ biographer Graham Lord.

Verdict: A great listen to some of the great Dick Francis thrillers. Be ready for a few crackles, but revel in a series of unsurpassable casts.

Audible

Dick Francis was born in South Wales in 1920. He was a young rider of distinction winning awards and trophies at horse shows throughout the United Kingdom. At the outbreak of World War II he joined the Royal Air Force as a pilot, flying fighter and bomber aircraft including the Spitfire and Lancaster. He became one of the most successful postwar steeplechase jockeys, winning more than 350 races and riding for Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother. After his retirement from the saddle in 1957, he published an autobiography, The Sport of Queens, before going on to write more than forty acclaimed books. A three-time Edgar Award winner, he also received the prestigious Crime Writers’ Association’s Cartier Diamond Dagger, was named Grand Master by the Mystery Writers of America, and was awarded a CBE in the Queen’s Birthday Honours List in 2000. He died in February 2010, at age eighty-nine, and remains among the greatest thriller writers of all time.

Piece of Mind by David Mark @davidmarkwriter

Author David Mark has written a new book.  It’s called Piece of Mind: A Memoir of Folly, Melancholy and Madness and it is the story of an ordinary guy. Piece of Mind is David’s memoir about living with extreme mental illness.

Best-selling novelist David Mark’s first work of non-fiction is an excruciatingly honest account of living with mental illness.

This lyrical, raw and painfully funny memoir explores how it feels to house a monster inside your head: a slavering, seductive beast that whispers ‘kill yourself’ just when you start to think you’re happy. It’s the story of finding love and raising a family in the face of mania, depression, OCD, addiction, hallucinations, suicidal ideation, chronic anxiety and a genuine genius for self-sabotage. It looks at what happens to a person who hates themselves when they get everything they thought they wanted.

Piece of Mind deals with the reality of waking every day and choosing not to die. It’s about enduring. Keeping on keeping on. It’s about fighting for your life when death seems so much bloody easier. It’s about becoming a best-selling novelist and fulfilling your dreams and then feeling so utterly empty inside that an ocean of whisky isn’t enough. It’s about being a catastrophe of a human being whose debt levels look as though they have been written in binary code.

“ …real, raw, and delicious…”

“…a ‘no holds barred’ view of the torturous, debilitating, lonely world of being at war with your own mind.”

David says it’s about living, (and not dying) when your brain is under attack. It details his fight with depression, OCD, extreme anxiety, addiction, suicidal ideation and the reality of sabotaging your own existence time and time again. It’s also funny, uplifting and very, very real.

Now I am a big fan of David’s writing, especially the darker stuff, and I trust him to tell it how it is. I’m clearly not alone. Within days of David starting a crowd funder for this book he had raised enough money to bring it to publication, though it could use some marketing funding, too. There is clearly a lot of respect for David as an author and I’m thinking that after two years of lockdown, this might well be the right time to have a wholly honest, warts and all conversation about mental illness. It is a subject that interests me. I suffered from a long bout of clinical depression a few years ago and that one bout has altered my mental state profoundly. I also have a friend whose mental health kept me in a state of high anxiety for a long time, and left me feeling powerless to help and unable to intervene. So I’m curious about what David has to say about being in the midst of a living hell.

I am delighted that David has agreed to come on to my blog to talk about his book and living with the reality of a severe mental illness.

Welcome David.

Tell us why you have written Piece of Mind?

I’ve always known that I could and that I probably should, but it’s always been too daunting an undertaking. Fiction is safer. Really, you have to be a special type of masochist to expose the inner workings of your own head and heart and soul to all and sundry. I guess I just felt it was time to actually practice what I preach. I believe in facing your fears and in being honest about who you are, what you believe, and what you feel. Not what you think, necessarily, as that’s a whole different thing, but what it actually feels like to be you. So that’s what I did. I made an agreement with myself that I would be entirely open and honest and wouldn’t attempt to put any kind of sugar-dusting on the truth of me or my conditions, and how they overlap and feed on one another and how they have consistently dictated the major happenings of my life. That all sounds a bit visceral and surreal, which is particularly apposite, given that’s how the book feels in places too. So does the guy who wrote it. 

So tell us about the David Mark that has written this book.

43 years of mental illness. Chronic depression, mania, addiction, anxiety, OCD, alcoholism, hallucinations, hearing voices, suicidal ideation… I rather felt that I had some experience to draw upon, and given that I’m a writer by trade, I figured I might be able to help the uninitiated to understand a little more about how it feels to live with monsters in your head. That’s how it is, really. Mental illness is a matter of life and death, after all. 

What has prompted you to write this book now?

I’m sober. I’m on the right medication. I’m in love with somebody who loves me back. I’m a novelist with a beautiful and peculiar family. I have never had a better support network in place to pick me up and sort me out in the event that delving into my own deep, dark places has an impact on my wellbeing and recovery. And most importantly, lockdown. It’s been a strange sensation watching the world go slightly off kilter. Those with mental disorders were, in many cases, the ones who fared quite well. We’re used to feelings of helplessness, rage and unbearable melancholy. A lot of people experienced those sensations for the first time and I suppose I wanted to write something that they could read and realise that they weren’t alone. 

Who is this book for?

Everyone. People with mental illness can benefit from seeing how somebody else’s various conditions manifest themselves and they might feel less isolated as a consequence. And then those people without mental health problems but who are eager to find out more and to develop a deeper insight into how mental illness actually feels. It’s not a self-help book. I view it as a ‘walk-a-mile-in-my-head’ book. If that’s a thing. 

What would your loved ones say about living with you?

Hmm. That’s difficult. My youngest daughter constantly tells me that I’m really weird but awesome, which is the best review I could wish for. My long-suffering partner has her own mental health challenges which I address in the book, and she’d probably say that I’m loving, attentive and dogged but that I live in Cloud Cuckoo Land and don’t know how to engage with reality. Given that’s exactly what I would say about her too, we could probably use a proper adult in the relationship. 

Does it give you anxiety, putting this much of yourself into the world?

Yes, but I have a long history of taking those type of feelings and turning them into fuel. If something scares me, I make sure I do it. I’ve survived thus far by being more pig-headed than my demons. Stubbornness and a refusal to give in are the qualities that have kept me alive but I’m at a place where I hope that I don’t have to treat life like an opponent or as something to be endured. 

You say this is not a self-help book, but you still reckon that some might find it helpful. Why?

Human beings are a mystery to ourselves. We don’t understand who we are as individuals, let alone as a collective. We’re all on some vague, directionless quest to find out what it’s all about, what we’re actually here for; what it feels like to be alive. That’s why we’re all so intrigued by one another. We’re desperate for insight – to understand what’s going on behind somebody’s eyes. Well, this book offers that. Reading it is probably about as close as you can get to looking out at the world through somebody else’s eyes. That might be a terrifying ordeal for some people. for others, I hope it’s illuminating. In my wildest dreams, I’d love for it to make some small contribution towards people being a bit gentler to one another: an increased awareness and empathy. Grandiose thinking is a side-effect of my mania, if you were wondering. 

How do you feel now that you have written it – was it a cathartic experience?

Yes and no. It did me some harm, I’ll admit that. You can’t go splashing about in your own toxic memories and not feel a little tainted by the experience. But on balance, I think it’s done me some good. It’s hard to say. We have no calculus for what we’re supposed to feel like or how we’re meant to present ourselves to the world, so I can’t honestly say that it’s a positive thing that I now seem to spend more time feeling vulnerable and sensitive than I ever used to when I was in the grip of a mental crisis. Apparently this is all good, though there are times when I wish to goodness I’d never taken all my armour off. 

When and how can people buy this book?

Described as “Lyrical and gritty, bleak and uplifting, dark and very funny.”
Brave and honest and thoughtful” S. J. Watson
Piece of Mind is out on 24 September in e-book. Pre-order now from Amazon, and if you’re feeling really extravagant, or if like me, you believe that this is an important book to have available, you can contribute to the Kickstarter campaign which will help ensure it reaches as many new readers as possible. 

David Mark spent more than 15 years as a journalist, including seven years as a crime reporter with The Yorkshire Post – walking the Hull streets that would later become the setting for the internationally bestselling Detective Sergeant Aector McAvoy novels.His writing is heavily influenced by the court cases he covered: the defeatist and jaded police officers; the inertia of the justice system and the sheer raw grief of those touched by savagery and tragedy

The Late Train to Gipsy Hill by Alan Johnson @WildfireBks @Bookywookydooda

Source: Review copy
Publication: 2 September 2021 from Wildfire
PP: 352
ISBN-13: ‎ 978-1472286123

My thanks to Caitlin Raynor and Wildfire Books for an advance copy for review

A woman hiding a deadly secret. And the man who went in search of adventure, but found himself in danger …

Gary Nelson has a routine for the commute to his rather dull job in the city. Each day, he watches as a woman on the train applies her make up in a ritual he now knows by heart. He’s never dared to strike up a conversation . . . but maybe one day.

Then one evening, on the late train to Gipsy Hill, the woman invites him to take the empty seat beside her. Fiddling with her mascara, she holds up her mirror and Gary reads the words ‘HELP ME’ scrawled in sticky black letters on the glass.

From that moment, Gary’s life is turned on its head. He finds himself on the run from the Russian mafia, the FSB and even the Metropolitan Police – all because of what this mysterious young woman may have witnessed. In the race to find out the truth, Gary discovers that there is a lot more to her than meets the eye

Alan Johnson enjoys writing. You can feel it bubbling up through the pages and most of all in the moments of tension relieving humour that creep and catch you just when your teeth are grinding that little bit too hard.

He enjoys writing characters too – almost as much as I enjoyed reading them. Gary Nelson is a clueless but sweet cricket fan whose life is unremarkable and who just wants a girlfriend. Knuckles, his flatmate has a nature that belies his nickname. And then there are the Russians who have learnt a thing or two since the days of Litvinenko, but not enough to stop pretty stupid mistakes from happening.

There are freelance Russian agents and then there’s the FSB and in both cases they are struggling to outdo each other in showing their allegiance to the great leader, Putin. Unfortunately, this is not playing out in Moscow but in the streets and the best hotels in London – a city they need to be in most of the time because how else would they launder the proceeds of their less than honest endeavours?

Gary has been mooning over a woman he sees on his daily commute but who he has never yet found the courage to speak to. Then one evening, after she has been missing from his train for a few days, he sees her again and decides to grasp the moment. But before he has that opportunity, she acts first.

Soon Gary is embroiled in something that he could never have dreamt of, even in his nightmares. He becomes a young knight who must rescue his fair maiden, but these dragons he is up against give no quarter and soon both Gary and the young woman –named Arina- are involves in a desperate race against time in which Johnson cleverly builds the tension and creates a thrilling chase in which the might of the Metropolitan Police is matched against both the FSB and the Russian mafia.

Johnson’s novel is rooted in fact and there are nods to behind the scenes events which help the authenticity of this pacy, twisting and thrilling read. Whether it is the bare faced blatancy of the Novichok poisonings or the very recent expulsion of BBC journalist Sarah Rainsford from Russia, Johnson had me questioning whether the Cold War is being fought all over again it’s just that we won’t admit to it.

Johnson writes with a fluid, enjoyable style and his book is part love story and part espionage thriller with a touch of gangster wars thrown in. This makes for an intense and immersive read leavened by those flashes of humour that help keep it real.

Verdict: A highly enjoyable, well plotted and easy to read thriller with some brilliant tense moments an intricate plot and a hero you really root for. Great fun!

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Alan Johnson’s childhood memoir THIS BOY was published in 2013. It won the Royal Society of Literature Ondaatje Prize, and the Orwell Prize, Britain’s top political writing award. His second volume of memoirs, PLEASE MR POSTMAN (2014) won the National Book Club award for Best Biography. The final book in his memoir trilogy, THE LONG AND WINDING ROAD (2016), won the Parliamentary Book Award for Best Memoir. Alan was a Labour MP for 20 years before retiring ahead of the 2017 general election. He served in five cabinet positions in the Governments of Tony Blair and Gordon Brown including Education Secretary, Health Secretary and Home Secretary. He and his wife Carolyn live in East Yorkshire.

The Heron’s Cry by Ann Cleeves (Two Rivers #2) @AnnCleeves @panmacmillan @RandomTTours

Source: Review copy
Publication: 2 September 2021 from MacMillan
PP: 400
ISBN-13: 978-1509889686

My thanks to Pan MacMillan for an advance copy for review

North Devon is enjoying a rare hot summer with tourists flocking to its coastline. Detective Matthew Venn is called out to a rural crime scene at the home of a group of artists. What he finds is an elaborately staged murder – Dr Nigel Yeo has been fatally stabbed. His daughter Eve is a glassblower, and the murder weapon is a shard of one of her broken vases.

Dr Yeo seems an unlikely murder victim. He’s a good man, a public servant, beloved by his daughter. Matthew is unnerved, though, to find that she is a close friend of Jonathan, his husband.

Then another body is found – killed in a similar way. Matthew finds himself treading carefully through the lies that fester at the heart of his community and a case that is dangerously close to home . . .

I do love getting into a new series. That lovely feeling as you begin a slightly deeper dive into your cast of characters and get to know them a little bit better than on the first outing which was The Long Call. The Heron’s Cry does that beautifully. Not only is it a murder mystery, but it lays the groundwork for the police team that is D.I. Matthew Venn, DS Jen Rafferty and DC Ross May. Matthew is a lapsed Evangelical Christian, estranged from the Barum Brethern sect and for that reason also has a distant relationship with his mother. He is married to Jonathan, the manager of an arts facility in Barnstaple. On the face of it, they are polar opposites. Matthew is buttoned up the back; his shoes are always polished and he’s never seen without a tie even in the hottest weather. Jonathan is casual, a relaxed and empathetic man, but yet it all works beautifully between them.

D.S. Jen Rafferty is a Scouser and her flame red hair is an indicator of the way she tackles life. Slightly chaotic, but intuitive, a mother of two teenagers and now we learn, has come out of a difficult and controlling relationship.

D.C. Ross May is a young man in a hurry. He is a bit resentful of Jen and wants his promotion to come fast so that he can ditch what he considers to be the dross of police work – that painstaking trawling through the evidence that so often achieves results, and he is not a huge fan of Matthew, whose approach differs markedly from that of his predecessor, who was Ross’s hero.

It is Jen who is the starting point for this murder mystery. She is quietly getting merry at a party thrown by one of her few friends in the area, Cynthia Prior who is a magistrate. Doctor Nigel Yeo is Director of North Devon Patients Together, an advocacy group which aims to hold North Devon NHS services to account.  He wants to have a serious discussion with Jen, but she puts him off to the following day as she’s in no state for that this evening.

But by the following morning, Nigel Yeo is dead, found in his daughter Eve’s glassblowing studio, stabbed with a shard of glass from one of her own creations.   

Eve’s studio is part of a small collective, the Westacombe Farm community, supported by local wealthy landowner, economist Francis Ley who lives in a grand house in the grounds of which the studios sit. Also resident are Wes Curnow, an artist who works with reclaimed wood and a bit of a chancer – and coincidentally someone with whom Jen had a one night stand. Wes lived in the grounds but also had studio space in Jonathan’s arts centre, where he was often to be found graciously allowing women to buy him tea and cake.

The other residents are John and Sarah Grieve and their children; distant relatives of Francis Ley who managing Ley’s farm using traditional methods and also have a small dairy.

Venn’s starting point is with the cases that Nigel Yeo had been looking into. One notable case was the suicide of a young man, Alexander McKenzie, who had taken his own life after the NHS mental Health team had allowed him to leave their facility and return home, following pressure of space and resources and given that he had family to look after him. It’s not clear, however, why that case would have caused the kind of urgency on Yeo that made him approach Jen at a party.

As the team find out more about Yeo and his life and work, another murder takes place, this time on Jonathan’s doorstep. There are similarities, but the team has to delve deep to find a connection beyond the obvious method.

An Ann Cleeves mystery is that fascinating blend of character driven narrative and community based problems and she delivers that well in The Heron’s Cry. Her characters are really well drawn and she is great at making people instinctively likeable. I really liked the inclusion of Lucy Braddick, a young woman working in the arts centre and making a life for herself in an independent living facility and whose role is an important one in this story.

Verdict: The Heron’s Cry is a layered and skillfully plotted story with many angles; most notably the very real difficulties faced by a multiplicity of Health and Social Care Services in a rural community. It’s an absorbing and intelligent read with many false leads that makes the reader work through the clues much as Matthew Venn has to do. The beauty and atmosphere of the North Devon coast are well realised and that terrific sense of place adds to the enjoyment. It’s a slow and enjoyable burn and Ann Cleeves leaves you with an appetite for learning more about this small and stretched Barnstaple team.

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Ann Cleeves is the author of over thirty critically acclaimed novels and is translated into as many languages. She is the creator of popular detectives Vera Stanhope and Jimmy Perez who can be found on television in ITV’s Vera and BBC One’s Shetland.
The TV series and the books they are based on have become international sensations, capturing the minds of millions worldwide. Sunday Times number 1 bestseller, THE LONG CALL, was the first in Ann’s Two Rivers series set in Devon, and is now in production for an ITV drama.

Five Minds by Guy Morpuss @guymorpuss @ViperBooks

Source: Review copy and purchased Audible version
Publication: 2nd September 2021 from Viper/Hachette Audio
Narration: Narrated by Joe Jameson
Listening time: 10 Hours 46 minutes
ASIN: B096VZKKD7

One body. Five minds. One killer.

The Earth’s growing population has finally been controlled. Lifespans are limited to 80 years, except for those who make an extreme choice: to become a commune. Five minds sharing one body, living for four hours at a time. But with a combined lifespan of nearly 150 years.

Alex, Kate, Sierra, Ben and Mike are a commune. They have already spent 25 years together, arguing, reconciling, alliances shifting and re-forming. They travel to a Death Park where games are played in which extra lifespan can be gambled like money. The plan is to win time to upgrade their next host body. But then Kate accepts a dangerous offer and one of them disappears.

Someone is trying to kill off members of the commune. Is one of them responsible? Or is someone else playing a deadly game? It’s hard enough to catch a murderer. It’s almost impossible when you might be sharing a body with them….

Talk about mind-blowing! I’m not usually a fan of speculative fiction but of course I love a good murder mystery. Could Guy Morpuss reel me in to his dystopian futuristic book? I bought the audio book having realised that I wasn’t going to be able to read it in time to leave a publication review and from the beginning I was captivated.

That proved to be a good decision as Joe Jameson’s narration is excellent and drew me into Guy Morpuss’ game playing futuristic world where the prize is time on your life – or in this case lives, and the penalty for losing is death.

We are in a future, not too far away, where having woken up to the destruction that we have wrought on the planet, we have come up with a novel idea to address the conservation of future resources. Flying is out for all but billionaires, but the most radical implementation has come in the way that we live our lives.

The solution is a novel take on population control. Every child lives their life as normal until the age of 17 and thereafter they are required to choose what option they want going forward.

Which option you choose dictates how long you will live – with shorter lives having added incentives. Five Minds is the story of five people who have been selected to share one body as a commune – parcelling out the hours between themselves so each gets 4 hours a day and there is 4 hours downtime.  After 25 years the worn out body can be exchanged for another.

The commune personalities are chosen to work together. No individual has a say in who is part of their commune. It is possible to add time to a life, but the way to do this is risky. There are Death Parks where participants compete against each other to win added time, but the penalties for losing are severe, so it really is a last resort unless you are a born gambler. These competitions are really tricky puzzles involving VR simulations and I really got caught up in the quests and adventures that our challengers became embroiled in.

Kate, Alex, Sierra, Ben and Mike share a body. They have very different personalities and enjoy different activities. They have chosen their parcel of time to best reflect their interests. Each has a distinctive voice and a unique personality; it is simply that they share a body – which makes it interesting when it comes to relationship forming!

What makes this work is the level of detail that draws you into this high concept world. It is wholly believable and so skilfully done that it is not hard to accept the concept from the outset. Morpuss creates a world full of flawed and believable characters where it seems not at all unusual that five of them should be sharing a body. They communicate by leaving messages for each other and need to act in concert on big decisions.

When one of the commune disappears, the others try to find out what has happened to that person, only to be hampered by the fact that they have no ‘collective memory’. Not all of the 5 commune members like each other, either and there is tension between them which is exacerbated by some rogue behaviour on the part of one member.

When it becomes clear that someone is targeting the commune, they have to try and work out who that might be and why, and this forms the crux of this novel which left my head spinning and my mind blown.

Verdict: Five Minds is innovative, daring and not a little mind-blowing, but mostly it is a brilliantly plotted and highly original crime thriller. It has pace and verve and never lets the action drag for a micro-second. All the way through I was guessing and second guessing and still my mind was well and truly bamboozled. I inhaled this one. Brilliant, intense and inspirational writing from a debut author to watch!

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Guy Morpuss is a barrister and QC at a commercial law firm in London, specialising in financial and sports law. To the surprise of everyone, including himself, he suddenly found time to write a novel about five people stuck in one body, trying to kill one another. He lives in Surrey with his wife and two children.             

Next of Kin by Kia Abdullah @KiaAbdullah @HQStories

Source: Review copy
Publication: 2 September 2021 from HQ
PP: 384
ISBN-13: ‎ 978-0008433635

My thanks to HQ for an advance copy for review.

ON AN ORDINARY WORKING DAY…

Leila Syed receives a call that cleaves her life in two. Her brother-in-law’s voice is filled with panic. His son’s nursery has called to ask where little Max is.

YOUR WORST NIGHTMARE…

Leila was supposed to drop Max off that morning. But she forgot.
Racing to the carpark, she grasps the horror of what she has done.

IS ABOUT TO COME TRUE…

What follows is an explosive, high-profile trial that will tear the family apart. But as the case progresses it becomes clear there’s more to this incident than meets the eye…

Kia Abdullah has very quickly become an author whose next book I want to read whatever the subject matter. She is a fascinating storyteller with a firm grasp of the law and a clear sense of how to make a story writhe and twist in her grasp as well as telling an emotive tale.

Next of Kin is stomach clenchingly harrowing. It deals with the death of a child and therefore is emotive and upsetting. But from this one occurrence Kia Abdullah builds an immersive character driven courtroom family drama that I read in one sitting.

Next of Kin deals with two sisters, Leila Syed, a very successful commercial architect, married but currently separated from journalist Will.  Her sister Yasmin, a secretary, who she has looked after since Leila was in her teens, lives not far away from her with her husband Andrew and their three year old son, Max.

Yasmin envies Leila’s success and Leila, while wishing her sister happiness, longs for a child of her own. Leila is a doting auntie and often makes time in her busy schedule to look after Max when Yasmin and Andrew have other plans.

Then one day tragedy strikes and Leila is charged with manslaughter. What follows is a high profile case in which your emotions are up and down like a rollercoaster as the sister’s relationships are examined and family secrets are revealed and dissected.

Abdullah has something to say too about how women are judged and this family drama with its intense and complex layers threatens to destroy the closeness the sisters always believed they had. When everything is pointed against Leila, can Yasmin find it in her heart to forgive her sister?

With Leila under close scrutiny, things look bleak but this complex story of relationships has more than one secret to divulge and many lies will be told before the verdict is delivered.

Verdict: A really tense and propulsive read that is often heart-breaking and which is as taut as a violin string. Next of Kin is a powerful and character driven story of family and sibling relationships that highlights serious issues as well as delivering an intense and riveting read.

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Kia Abdullah is an author and travel writer from London. She has written for The New York Times, the Guardian and the Telegraph, and is the author of Truth Be Told and Take It Back, which was named one of the best thrillers of the year by the Guardian and the Telegraph. Kia frequently contributes to the BBC, commenting on a variety of issues affecting the British Asian community, and is the founder of Asian Booklist, a site that helps readers discover new books by British Asian authors. Kia also runs Atlas & Boots, a travel blog read by 250,000 people a month.

The Dark Remains by William McIlvanney and Ian Rankin @beathhigh @canongatebooks @Normantweets

My thanks to the Canongate and Jamie Norman for an advance copy for review

Source: Review copy
Publication: 2 September 2021 from Canongate Books
PP: 288
ISBN-13: 978-1838854102

If the truth’s in the shadows, get out of the light . . .

Lawyer Bobby Carter did a lot of work for the wrong type of people. Now he’s dead and it was no accident. Besides a distraught family and a heap of powerful friends, Carter’s left behind his share of enemies. So, who dealt the fatal blow?

DC Jack Laidlaw’s reputation precedes him. He’s not a team player, but he’s got a sixth sense for what’s happening on the streets. His boss chalks the violence up to the usual rivalries, but is it that simple? As two Glasgow gangs go to war, Laidlaw needs to find out who got Carter before the whole city explodes.

William McIlvanney’s Laidlaw books changed the face of crime fiction. When he died in 2015, he left half a handwritten manuscript of Laidlaw’s first case. Now, Ian Rankin is back to finish what McIlvanney started. In The Dark Remains, these two iconic authors bring to life the criminal world of 1970s Glasgow, and Laidlaw’s relentless quest for truth.

I recently re-read Laidlaw for the inaugural outing of The Bloody Scotland Book Club, so with that fresh in my mind, I was intrigued and excited to pick up The Dark Remains. It is a prequel to the three Laidlaw books which comprise Laidlaw, The Papers of Tony Veitch and Strange Loyalties, all recently re-published by Canongate.

We are introduced to D.C. Jack Laidlaw, very much an outsider and certainly not a team player in the Glasgow Crime Squad. He hasn’t even joined The Lodge, the best method of obtaining advancement in a Police Force riddled with corruption. Gang wars in Glasgow are at their height. Territories have been marked, gangs are tooled up and we are introduced to a number of tough and ruggedly hewn characters. Cam Colvin is a gang boss;  Micky Ballater a ‘fixer’ and then there are the men like Panda Paterson whose muscle earns them their place in the hierarchy of a crime boss’s fiefdom.

Laidlaw whose interest in human nature is the special element he brings to the table, draws a distinction between those like John Rhodes, a crime boss who understands the nuances of how this game is played and retain their own code of honour – and so this makes him a man Laidlaw can do business with – and the likes of Cam Colvin whose only interest is in money and the lifestyle and power that brings him.

Glasgow is gritty, tough and unapologetic. Its soul is imperilled. Sectarianism is rife on the streets, men are supposed to be hard and drinking keeps them mean. Women are the recipients of all the rage that boiling over working class masculinity brings to the party.

Bobby Carter was a dodgy lawyer and right hand man to Cam Colvin. His body was found in an alley by the Parlour pub, out of Calvin’s territory and smack bang in the heart of John Rhodes’ patch, found by a couple out for a knee-trembler. At once suspicions are rife as throughout the gangland world rivals eye each other up for the murder and the tensions rises as Glasgow holds its breath waiting for an eruption of violence on the streets.

DC Laidlaw is teamed up with DS Bob Lilley and by and large they are a good match, even if Laidlaw does tend to leave Lilley behind as he pursues his own investigations, ignoring the instructions of the newly promoted, but not very bright, DI Ernie Milligan. Milligan intends to make his name in this case and he’s determined that Laidlaw, whose reputation precedes him, will not get in his way.

As Laidlaw thinks his way through this case, eschewing the door to door enquiries that Milligan would endlessly consign him to him, he goes looking for the bystanders in this case; those who know the streets and have passing acquaintance with the characters as he slowly pieces together the life and times of Bobby Carter, asking sometimes surprising questions and carefully filing away the answers. It is only when he sees a blank space in the picture that he creates that he knows he has to go looking for something more as he investigates not so much the fingerprints and other concrete evidence, but the causality of this crime.

There is a great deal to admire in this immersive book. The characters are well drawn and the dialogue crackles with wit. Glasgow feels dirty, menacing and smoky with that undercurrent of danger that ripples through the mean streets. There are moments of sheer genius too. A dinner party concocted by Ena and Bob Lilley’s wife is a severe blow to Laidlaw’s own image of himself and you can feel the tension over the table when Ena talks about Jack’s propensity for staying in a city centre hotel while he’s on a case.

Verdict: Does this book stand up in its own terms? Absolutely! Has Rankin managed to accurately recreate the atmosphere of Glasgow that permeated all of McIlvanney’s books so thoroughly? Yes and in spades. The prose is perhaps less lyrical than its predecessors but the spirit and intentions are all faithful and honestly it in no way felt like the work of two writers. Utilising Willie McIlvanney’s half-finished manuscript, Ian Rankin has brought Laidlaw’s melancholic character back to life and through this book he has run a thread that so beautifully captures all the complexity and ambiguity of Laidlaw’s character as first published. For so many reasons, The Dark Remains is a must read book.

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William McIlvanney is the author of the award-winning Laidlaw trilogy, featuring Glasgow’s original maverick detective. Both Laidlaw and The Papers of Tony Veitch gained Silver Daggers from the Crime Writers’ Association, while the third in the series, Strange Loyalties, won the Glasgow Herald’s People’s Prize. He died in December 2015.
Ian Rankin is the number one bestselling author of the Inspector Rebus series. The Rebus books have been translated into thirty-six languages and are bestsellers worldwide. He is the recipient of four Crime Writers’ Association Dagger Awards, including the prestigious Diamond Dagger, and in 2002 he received an OBE for services to literature. He lives in Edinburgh.




A Slow Fire Burning by Paula Hawkins @alisonbarrow @DoubledayUK @RandomTTours

Source: Review copy
Publication: 31 August 2021 from Doubleday
PP: 320
ISBN-13: 978-0857524447

My thanks to Doubleday for an advance copy for review

”What is wrong with you?”

Laura has spent most of her life being judged. She’s seen as hot-tempered, troubled, a loner. Some even call her dangerous.

Miriam knows that just because Laura is witnessed leaving the scene of a horrific murder with blood on her clothes, that doesn’t mean she’s a killer. Bitter experience has taught her how easy it is to get caught in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Carla is reeling from the brutal murder of her nephew. She trusts no one: good people are capable of terrible deeds. But how far will she go to find peace?

Innocent or guilty, everyone is damaged. Some are damaged enough to kill.

Look what you started.

Goodness me, if ever a book was well named this is it. A Slow Fire Burning simmers with tension. It is a fascinating, character driven murder mystery that is both engaging and thrilling.

This is a cast of characters who all have something pretty unlikable about them. These flaws though have the effect of making them more human, for who among us is not flawed in some way?  Laura is moody, mouthy and unpredictable. An accident when younger has left her with both a limp and with fluctuating mood swings that can lead to intense and flaring emotions and a tendency to act before her brain engages. Her parents are absent; neither caring enough for their daughter to ensure her well-being either financially or emotionally.

Theo and Carla‘s marriage disintegrated after their very young son died in an accident while in the care of Carla’s sister. The recriminations that followed had a devastating effect on everyone involved. Angela has a drink problem which has only got worse over the years and her son, Daniel has never known what it is to have loving parents.

As the book opens, Daniel is lying on the floor of his narrowboat and Laura, covered in blood, is leaving the scene. She is spotted by Daniel’s nearest neighbour, Miriam, who makes a point of noting the comings and goings on her part of Regent’s Canal. Miriam is another damaged character. Nicknamed the hobbit by Laura, because she is small and overweight, she harbours a strong desire to expose Theo for the fraud that she believes him to have perpetrated.

It is Miriam who discovers Daniel and reports his death to the police. Thus Paula Hawkins sets the scene for a twisty and subversive thriller where there are multiple suspects and so many secrets and lies that this reader’s head was soon spinning with possibilities.

There are different elements to this book that add layers to an already interesting scenario. Theo is a writer, and extracts from his book are interspersed throughout the chapters, offering a wry smile (though not intended by Theo) to what is quite a dark and often disturbing read.

Bitterness, resentment and duplicity are the bedrock of Paula Hawkins fire, and recrimination and reprisals are what fuel the flames. Paula Hawkins writing is powerful and compelling and her plot pulsates with the impact of the ways in which a terrible event echoes down the decades.

Laura in particular is a terrific character. Prone to outbursts, damaged and fragile in so many ways, she is for all that a kind and likeable woman. She looks after Irene, an older woman who needs help with shopping and Irene becomes her friend and confidant. Irene’s neighbour Angela was Irene’s only other friend and they shared a love of psychological thrillers.

You find yourself rooting for Laura, even when the evidence is overwhelmingly against her. But beware. Paula Hawkins is a master of misdirection and she does not hesitate to play on our emotional heart strings, manipulating our emotions and exposing how ready we are to make judgments about others. Her exploration of human nature is exquisite.

Verdict: Sure to be a winner, this is a book that focuses in on the lives of five women – how they are linked, their stories and the devastating events that tie them together.  Hawkins’ novel moves back and forwards in time, showing us what went before and why in particular, the experiences of these women have framed their lives and made them the damaged people that they are today. It is a dark and sometimes horrifying read but she leavens it with flashes of real wit that make you laugh out loud.

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Paula Hawkins worked as a journalist for fifteen years before turning her hand to fiction. Born and brought up in Zimbabwe, Paula moved to London in 1989 and has lived there ever since. Her first thriller, The Girl on the Train, has been a global phenomenon, selling 23 million copies worldwide. Published in over forty languages, it has been a No.1 bestseller around the world and was a No.1 box office hit film starring Emily Blunt. Into the Water, her second stand-alone thriller, has also been a global No.1 bestseller, spending twenty weeks in the Sunday Times hardback fiction Top 10 bestseller list, and six weeks at No.1.

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