Mexico Street by Simone Buchholz (Chastity Reilly #3) trs Rachel Ward @ohneklippo @FwdTranslations @orendabooks @annecater

Source: Review copy
Publication: 5th March 2020 from Orenda Books
PP: 276
ISBN-13: 978-1913193157

Hamburg state prosecutor Chastity Riley investigates a series of arson attacks on cars across the city, which leads her to a startling and life-threatening discovery involving criminal gangs and a very illicit love story…

Night after night, cars are set alight across the German city of Hamburg, with no obvious pattern, no explanation and no suspect.

Until, one night, on Mexico Street, a ghetto of high-rise blocks in the north of the city, a Fiat is torched. Only this car isn’t empty. The body of Nouri Saroukhan – prodigal son of the Bremen clan – is soon discovered, and the case becomes a homicide.

Public prosecutor Chastity Riley is handed the investigation, which takes her deep into a criminal underground that snakes beneath the whole of Germany. And as details of Nouri’s background, including an illicit relationship with the mysterious Aliza, emerge, it becomes clear that these are not random attacks, and there are more on the cards…

There are so many reasons to love Simone Buchholz’s work. She has a tremendously ironic brain, from the name she gives to her principal characters through to the wonderful chapter headings that are mini works of art in themselves.

Her prose is taut and sometimes poetic, sometimes so hard-boiled that it hurts to read it and often both combined. Chastity Reilly is a woman in a man’s world and chapter by chapter she’s making it a woman’s world too. Uncompromising, just a little bit lonely and with no patience for anyone but the best in her life, she hand picks her friends and kicks her enemies in the balls every chance she gets.

Reading a Simone Buchholz book is like watching a film by Nicholas Ray or Fritz Lang. You know there’s something very special going on and occasionally elements of the surreal will creep in, but underneath there’s a damned good story with brilliant characters and a surprising amount of heart. The writing though….this is writing that sparks and crackles as it unsettles the reader with unpleasant truths and dark behaviours; behaviours that occur day in, day out across Europe and the world.

In Mexico Street, public prosecutor Chastity Reilly is dealing with a rash of cars that have been set on fire in Hamburg. It’s nothing new. That sort of thing happens everywhere, it’s just that this time, the car had a man inside and he’s now dead. Chastity and Ivo Stepanovic from Special Forces investigate Nouri Saroukhan’s background as part of determining why he was killed. They learn a great deal about the Saroukhan clan, their rise to prominence as gangsters and the way in which they treat those who do not follow their orders.

This element of Mexico Street has a strong emotional core and its impossible not to be swept up in Nouri and Aliza’s story and to recognise the sheer strength of Aliza’s character as she does what she has to stay under the radar.

But there’s more going on in Mexico Street than gangs and tribalism. There’s corruption and plain evil oozing out of the financial sector that makes gang beatings and gorilla like male dominance look like an honest approach. (but not sufficiently, obvs).

Around Chastity is a team that shifts and changes. Old friends return, new people come in for Chastity to be rude to and break in while she learns their strengths and weaknesses. The dynamic of her relationships is slowly changing and this is having an impact on those around her, though her best quality apart from her toughness is her loyalty. Old friends will always matter and she will always gravitate home to her favourite bar after a bruising encounter.

Buchholz lets us into Chastity’s life a little more each time, but that hard shell, the one that houses the tough talking, hard drinking, always smoking prosecutor is still pretty impenetrable, even as she admits her loneliness to herself, if to no-one else.

Verdict: I am a real fan of Buchholz’ writing and I think Mexico Street is her best yet. Taut, well-plotted and a fabulous read, this is intense literary noir that is blacker than pitch and pitch perfect in tone. If you like noir, you will love this. Chastity Reilly is a force to be reckoned with. Long may she stay that way.

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Simone Buchholz was born in Hanau in 1972. At university, she studied Philosophy and Literature, worked as a waitress and a columnist, and trained to be a journalist at the prestigious Henri-Nannen-School in Hamburg. In 2016, Simone Buchholz was awarded the Crime Cologne Award as well as runner-up in the German Crime Fiction Prize for Blue Night, which was number one on the KrimiZEIT Best of Crime List for months. She lives in Sankt Pauli, in the heart of Hamburg, with her husband and son.

Bobby March Will Live Forever by Alan Parks (Harry McCoy #3) @AlanJParks @Canongatebooks @Normantweets @annecater

Source: Review copy
Publication: 5 March 2020 from Canongate
PP: 368
ISBN-13: 978-1786897145

WHO IS TO BLAME WHEN NO ONE IS INNOCENT?

The papers want blood.

The force wants results.

The law must be served, whatever the cost.

July 1973. The Glasgow drugs trade is booming and Bobby March, the city’s own rock-star hero, has just overdosed in a central hotel.

Alice Kelly is thirteen years old, lonely. And missing.

Meanwhile the niece of McCoy’s boss has fallen in with a bad crowd and when she goes AWOL, McCoy is asked – off the books – to find her.

McCoy has a hunch. But does he have enough time?

It is an absolute pleasure to be able to kick off the blog tour for Bobby March Will Live Forever. I’ve been waiting for this for such a long time, or so it seems. Alan Parks’ McCoy series has become an absolute ‘must read’. If I’m honest, it’s been that since my sister introduced me to the first in the series, Bloody January.

Harry McCoy is a cop with his own sense of right and wrong. He’s been in trouble before for not acquiescing to the endemic low level corruption in the Glasgow force; indeed he’s made enemies as a result. It doesn’t do to rock the boat too much in this force. Yet McCoy’s best pal is one of Glasgow’s hardest. Stevie Cooper runs a serious criminal enterprise; something McCoy knows and accepts.

It’s 1978 and Glasgow is sweltering, in the midst of a cloying, uncomfortable heatwave. The city seems to be awash with drugs, and a young 12 year old girl, Alice Kelly, is missing.

In a hotel room in central Glasgow, the once stellar rock star Bobby March, has died with a needle in his arm. Bobby had one claim to fame, and it was a belter. Real fans still talked about it. He’d been a brilliant guitarist and could have made it big, but chose a different path. Harry seen his gig the previous evening and almost missed out on an exceptional piece of playing amid an otherwise unremarkable concert.

Harry’s boss, Chief Inspector Murray has been seconded to Perth and in his absence the newly promoted Detective Sergeant Bernie Raeburn has been throwing his weight around. His primary target is Harry McCoy, a man he detests ever since Harry wouldn’t play ball on taking casual bribes.

With the focus of media attention squarely on the Glasgow force, Raeburn is out to make his mark and he’s damned sure Harry’s going to be nowhere close to his glory when it comes, as he knows for a fact it will.

Harry is pushed out of the hunt for Alice Kelly and Raeburn dumps on him a couple of old robberies he’s been unable to solve, in the confident hope that when Harry can’t follow up the now cold trail, he’ll get the blame.

Harry follows up on Bobby March’s death as well as the robberies and as a personal favour, Murray asks him to track down his teenage niece, Laura, who has gone walkabout.

Parks brilliantly captures 1970’s Glasgow; he opens the doors of the pubs and clubs so that we can choke in the smoky atmosphere; revel in the sexism and the brutal roughness of the thugs born with nothing who learned the hard way to take what they wanted, letting no-one get in their way. This is a story of tribes, sectarianism and of the gallus lassies who learn how to stay fast on their feet in the midst of gangs and violence in Glasgow’s mean streets.

From the wonderful Electric Garden to the Maryland Ballroom, Parks took me right back to the heady days of Uriah Heep, Status Quo and Deep Purple concerts when it felt truly joyous to be alive and part of the rock generation, all this as all hell is taking place in Northern Ireland and the perpetrators of some of the Belfast ‘troubles’ are spilling over into Scotland courtesy of the Larne to Stranraer ferry.  

McCoy has to take all this in his stride and manages to do so while retaining a warm heart and a quick wit despite the frequent beatings that come his way.

Verdict: Well worth waiting for, Alan Parks has written another absolutely compelling dark and gritty crime novel with real heart. His dialogue is sharp and sweet and his writing is hugely engaging. This is prose I gratefully sank into, wallowing in the words, enjoying the way they soaked into my skin and I scowled somewhat as I reluctantly had to ease myself out at the end. Parks captures both the city and the time in a pitch perfect, riveting storyline. This is another brilliant addition to an already unmissable series.

Hive Books                       Waterstones                    Amazon

Alan Parks was born in Scotland and attended the University of Glasgow where he was awarded a M.A. in Moral Philosophy. PHe still lives and works in the city. He has spent most of his working life in music. From cover artwork to videos to photo sessions, he created groundbreaking campaigns for a wide range of artists including All Saints, New Order, The Streets, Gnarls Barkley and CeeLo Green. He was also Managing Director of 679 Recordings.

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For The Dead by Lina Bengtsdotter (Charlie Lager #2) @Orion_Crime @Linabdtr

Source: Review copy, Netgalley
Publication: 20th February 2020 from
PP: 448
ISBN-13: 978-1409179382

She must find the truth about Francesca. Before the past catches up with her…

AN UNSOLVED MYSTERY

Thirty years ago, teenager Paul Bergman was found drowned in Gullspång’s lake, and his best friend Francesca vanished from her home. Paul’s death was ruled a suicide, and Francesca was never found.

A DETECTIVE’S OBSESSION

DI Charlie Lager is still haunted by childhood memories of a strange house and the missing girl who once lived there.

A DEADLY SECRET

Convinced that the original investigation was flawed, Charlie is determined to uncover what really happened all those decades ago. But someone out there is willing to do whatever it takes to keep the truth from coming out…

I really enjoyed the first Charlie Lager book, For The Missing, so I was dead keen to read the follow up, For The Dead. This is a series where you will want to start from the beginning, so as not to miss anything about the character of Charline Lager.  Charlie is a Detective Inspector with the Stockholm Police and right now she is struggling. Thanks to the events of For the Missing, she is drinking too much and over medicating on anti-depressants.

As with the first book, this series is character driven and Charlie is front and centre of what is going on. Drawn back to her home town of Gullspång, Charlie has become fascinated a cold case from 1989.  Francesca Mild was only 17 when she disappeared from her home; police thought she may have been a runaway whilst others speculated that she was so distraught by the supposed suicide of her friend, Paul Bergstrom that she too may have taken her own life, though a body has never been found.

Journalist Johan Ro is also interested in this case and despite the fact that many in the police department think Charlie leaked information on a past case to him, the two decide to work together as Charlie takes time off to investigate outside of police auspices.

The story is told in a dual narrative, Charlie in the present day and Francesca in the past. Charlie becomes fascinated by Francesca, not least because she can’t remember anyone in Gullspång talking about this case when she was around investigating another missing girl case and she can’t understand why that would be.

Coming home to Gullspång causes emotional turmoil and the resurgence of many memories, not all of them pleasant for Charlie and as the book progresses it seems as if Charlie and Francesca’s lives have more than just Gullspång in common.

Not everyone is happy that Charlie and Johan are looking into Francesca’s death and those who are not are more than ready to show it.  The original police investigation begins to look very sloppy indeed with Francesca’s mental health frequently cited as the reason for her behaviour and no-one looking behind her actions to try and understand why she would behave as she did.

This is the strength of Lina Bengtsdotter’s writing. She is all about the psychology and depth of her characters, wanting the reader to understand what motivates them and why they are driven to act as they do. In investigating Francesca’s death, Charlie is also learning a lot about herself and her own upbringing. Once more she is confronted with ghosts from her past and fragments of memories of her mother keep popping into her head and will not go away. These are often things she would rather forget. But this sleepy village does not make that easy; this is a small place where everyone knows a bit of her history.

In Gullspång, there is also someone for whom the past is still very much alive; someone who is prepared to keep the truth hidden whatever the cost.

Verdict: The second in the Lager series lets the reader in to more of Charlie’s past and contains some surprising and shocking revelations that will undoubtedly impact on future books. The case is beautifully plotted and the atmosphere is delightfully tense with the disparate fragments coming together to tell a sad and intense story. Terrific writing and brilliantly drawn characters make this a compelling read. I do wish the translator was credited though – could not find that information anywhere.

Hive Books                       Waterstones                                  Amazon

Lina Bengtsdotter was raised in the small town of Gullspång, the setting of her lauded Charlie Lager series. She has a background in teaching within the fields of Swedish and Psychology and started off her literary career as a short story writer with works published in numerous newspapers in the Nordic countries.

The Snakes by Sadie Jones @ThatSadieJones @ChattoBooks @midaspr @annecater #TheSnakes

Source: Review copy
Publication: 20th February 2020 from Vintage
PP: 448
ISBN-13: 978-1784708825

Bea and Dan, recently married, rent out their tiny flat to escape London for a few precious months. Driving through France they visit Bea’s dropout brother Alex at the hotel he runs in Burgundy. Disturbingly, they find him all alone and the ramshackle hotel deserted, apart from the nest of snakes in the attic.

When Alex and Bea’s parents make a surprise visit, Dan can’t understand why Bea is so appalled, or why she’s never wanted him to know them; Liv and Griff Adamson are charming, and rich. They are the richest people he has ever met. Maybe Bea’s ashamed of him, or maybe she regrets the secrets she’s been keeping.

Tragedy strikes suddenly, brutally, and in its aftermath the family is stripped back to its rotten core, and now neither Bea nor Alex can escape…

From the outset, you know that The Snakes is not going to be a smooth or pleasant read. The focus of this book is a young, newly married couple, living a normal London life. That is to say, they are renting in a not great area, struggling to get by and with absolutely no prospects of doing much better any time soon, thanks.

Bea Temple is working as a psychotherapist. She met her husband, Dan at a street gallery where he was exhibiting his work. But Dan can’t meet his share of the bills by working as an artist, so now he is an estate agent, hating every day that he dons smart garb and heads out to work; knowing that the life is being sucked out of him and with it, any talent he has.

Dan is handsome, buff, even. Bea is quiet, unassuming, and has the kindest nature. Dan has had enough of selling his soul and he persuades Bea that they should take their meagre savings, rent out their flat and take off to Europe for three months. Bea, who can’t deny Dan anything, consoles herself with knowing that she, at least, can take a sabbatical and return to her psychotherapy role.

The Snakes is a riveting story of relationships, marriage and family; a story of power, corruption and abuse.

I have some issues with this book, and specifically with the way it ends, but none of that should detract from what is an intense and very powerful read that slowly builds up tension until it becomes almost unbearable and you know that something has to snap.

Sadie Jones has an ear for dialogue and her portrait of the conversations in Dan and Bea’s marriage feels so true that it is often painful as we see how much Bea wants to please Dan, despite any misgivings she may have.

Setting off on their trip, they head for France to visit Bea’s brother, Alex, who is managing a hotel in Burgundy. That’s when we, along with Dan, realise the extent of the wealth that Bea’s family has. She comes from a wealthy background, Dan knew that and always respected Bea’s decision not to take money from her family. Bea’s father is the owner of numerous companies and every time one has gone bankrupt, he’s found a way to transfer the assets to another. Griff is the worst kind of businessman, morally bankrupt and only interested in his children if they can help him to keep his dodgy dealings look more wholesome.

Bea’s brother, Alex, is a poster child for the damage this kind of parenting can do. Mentally fragile, with dependency issues, he is living in the dilapidated French hotel, a nest of snakes in the roof, pretending he has the wherewithal to do it up, but really just existing.

When Bea’s parents, Griff and Olivia, arrive unannounced the whole dynamic changes radically. Griff is all presence; overbearing, demanding, making assumptions about Dan and Bea’s relationship and generally throwing his weight and opinions around. Liv is clinging, weak and hiding the bitterest secret of them all. It is a secret that Bea knows about and she will never forgive her mother for it.

In more ways than one, this is living with a nest of vipers. Dan is astounded by the extent of Griff’s wealth and he soon finds ways to convince himself that being a little more comfortable couldn’t be so bad…

The Snakes deals with the social divide between those who have and those who don’t; between those who know how to play the system and those who never will. From the beginning we see the consequences of Bea and Dan’s choices play out catastrophically through the story. It is as though Griff and Olivia are an evil Adam and Eve and the snake is the least harmful element of the story.

Money is pernicious and these family relationships are dark, dysfunctional, festering and pustulating. These characters are so well drawn that they draw you in to their world until you live their experience. The setting is perfect and the story fascinating in a car crash kind of way.

Verdict: There are so many strong elements to this book that I am very glad I read it for all that it is unremittingly bleak. For me, it was somewhat let down by an ending that felt it didn’t quite fit the book, but that should not detract from some exceptional writing and brilliantly malign characters.

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Sadie Jones is a screenwriter and a #1 Sunday Times bestselling author. Her first novel, The Outcast won the Costa First Novel Award and was shortlisted for the Orange Prize. It was also a Richard and Judy Summer Reads number one bestseller and adapted for BBC Television. Sadie also wrote: Small Wars (2009), The Uninvited Guests (2012) and Fallout (2014). Her fifth novel, The Snakes, was listed as ‘March book of the month’ in The Bookseller.

A Famished Heart by Nicola White @whiteheadednic @ViperBooks #AFamishedHeart

Source: Review copy
Publication: 27th February 2020 from Viper Books
PP: 368
ISBN-13: 978-1788164085

THEY DID IT TO THEMSELVES

BUT SOMEONE WAS WATCHING

The Macnamara sisters hadn’t been seen for months before anyone noticed. It was Father Timoney who finally broke down the door, who saw what had become of them. Berenice was sitting in her armchair, surrounded by religious tracts. Rosaleen had crawled under her own bed, her face frozen in terror. Both had starved themselves to death.

Francesca Macnamara returns to Dublin after decades in the US, to find her family in ruins. Meanwhile, Detectives Vincent Swan and Gina Considine are convinced that there is more to the deaths than suicide. Because what little evidence there is, shows that someone was watching the sisters die…

Nicola White’s A Famished Heart transports us back to 1980’s Dublin; a place where sexism is rife, there were such things as starlets and computing science was all about flashing cursors and green screens.

The sense of time and place in this novel plays a central part in the success of this book. White creates an atmosphere that conveys the time so well, evoking not just the time and place but also a certain kind of small minded thinking that pervades some of the characters in this book and makes it resonate.

 Francesca Macnamara is a little down on her luck. An actress who came to New York to strike it lucky after making a bit of a name for herself in her home city of Dublin, she is now on the edge of grifting to get through the week.

Father Timoney is discovering that he should have asked a lot more questions before he decided to come to Dublin to do good works. He’s not living where he thought he would be; his housekeeper isn’t up to the job and the church he looks after is an ugly forbidding place.

Then, one day, he discovers the dead bodies of Berenice and Rosaleen Macnamara. It is a gruesome find for the elderly sisters have quite clearly starved to death in their own home.

 DI Vincent Swan, himself under a bit of a cloud after accusations of brutality from a prisoner in the Garda’s custody, begins an investigation. Forensics can tell how these women died, but not whether there was anything suspicious or criminal about their deaths. Vincent is not at all convinced that these were self-contained though horrible suicides. He’s sure there’s more to it than meets the eye.

 Francesca returns to Dublin to bury her sisters and to find out whether there’s an inheritance. There she offers a place to stay to her niece, a young woman named Madeleine Moone, only to find that Madeleine disappears on her.

Nicola White’s book is an investigation of crime, but it is much more a study of the principal characters, their lives and relationships and how they react to each other in a time of serious stress. White’s novel puts these characters under the microscope and watches how they interact.

In terms of investigative technique, the reader will find sufficient to occupy their time, but in terms of developing and understanding characters; of getting to the heart of motivations and defining inner struggles, this is a finely written book that achieves a great deal.

These are intense and riveting characters, beautifully drawn and finely nuanced by White. The deaths provide a dark theological backdrop in which to observe and understand not only the characters but the way in which the church works.

As Swan doggedly pursues his case he comes across some extraordinary characters, helped by a bright but impressionable new D.C. Gina Considine.

Verdict: This is not a fast paced police procedural, but a slower, more thoughtful and introspective book that looks at the power of the Church and the position of women across the social and economic divide. A fascinating study with a criminal heart that I really enjoyed getting immersed in.

Hive Books                                      Waterstones                                  Amazon

Nicola White won the Scottish Book Trust New Writer Award in 2008 and in 2012 was Leverhulme Writer in Residence at Edinburgh University. Her novel The Rosary Garden won the Dundee International Book Prize, was shortlisted for the McIlvanney Prize, and selected as one of the four best debuts by Val McDermid at Harrogate. She grew up in Dublin and New York, and now lives in the Scottish Highlands.

The Holdout by Graham Moore @MrGrahamMoore @orion_crime @orionbooks #TheHoldout #MeettheJury

Source: Review copy
Publication: 20th February 2020 from Orion
PP: 336
ISBN-13: 978-1409196792

One juror changed the verdict. What if she was wrong?

‘Ten years ago we made a decision together…’

Fifteen-year-old Jessica Silver, heiress to a billion-dollar fortune, vanishes on her way home from school. Her teacher, Bobby Nock, is the prime suspect. It’s an open and shut case for the prosecution, and a quick conviction seems all but guaranteed.

Until Maya Seale, a young woman on the jury, persuades the rest of the jurors to vote not guilty: a controversial decision that will change all of their lives forever.

Ten years later, one of the jurors is found dead, and Maya is the prime suspect.

The real killer could be any of the other ten jurors. Is Maya being forced to pay the price for her decision all those years ago?

I really love a good legal thriller and I’m delighted to say this one is a belter! Ten years ago, Maya Seale did not know what she wanted to do with her life. Then she got picked as a juror in a murder trial, the one everyone was talking about. Maya thought then that the State had failed to make the case that the young black teacher, Bobby Nock was guilty of the murder of his pupil, Jessica Silver. Ten years later, Maya is now a lawyer and though that verdict, the one that Maya persuaded the jurors to follow, is now infamous and Maya’s name is synonymous with that verdict, she still thinks she made the right choice.

Maya’s been cornered into attending a re-visiting of those events. In the same hotel in which the jurors were sequestered, with a TV company in attendance, to film their discussion about why they reached their verdict.

Now one of those jurors has been murdered, and Maya is the prime suspect. The events of 10 years ago must have a bearing on what happened in that Los Angeles hotel room.

The Holdout has a dual timeline which shifts between the present and the Bobby Nock trial 10 years ago. As we learn what happened at the original trial, we see how history impinges on the present as Maya becomes an innocent victim on trial for her life.

What I really liked about this book is the way in which Moore sets out the challenges facing an accused person and their lawyers. It’s worrying to think that a lawyer might be advising their client to plead guilty to something they didn’t do, because the defence team can think up a plausible strategy for getting them acquitted, while telling the truth may be more problematic.

Moore also uses a fairly light touch when dealing with the moral and ethical issues of this case, but clearly drawing attention to the way in which the race of the defendant and the victim impinges on the rationale of the jurors as they deliberate their conclusions.

Justice, they say is blind, but the reality is that justice is just as often skewed, motivated by a host of other concerns and is often not really justice at all.

Verdict: A sort of reverse 12 Angry Men, this is nicely paced with a neat range of surprises and a very decent twist or two. I found the Holdout to be entertaining and suspenseful if it slightly stretched my credulity in places, I forgave it for the strength and duplicity of the story.

Hive Books                       Waterstones                    Amazon

Graham Moore is a New York Times bestselling novelist and Academy Award-winning screenwriter. His screenplay for THE IMITATION GAME won the Academy Award and WGA Award for Best Adapted Screenplay in 2015 and was nominated for a BAFTA and a Golden Globe. His novels, THE LAST DAYS OF NIGHT (2016) and THE SHERLOCKIAN (2010), were published in 24 countries and translated into 19 languages. THE LAST DAYS OF NIGHT was named one of the best books of the year by the Washington Post and the Philadelphia Inquirer. Graham lives in Los Angeles with his wife, Caitlin, and their dog, Janet.

Firewatching by Russ Thomas @thevoiceofruss @simonschsteruk @jessbarratt88 #Firewatching

Source: Review copy
Publication: 20th February 2020 from Simon and Schuster UK
PP: 432
ISBN-13: 978-1471180927

ONE WRONG MOVE

A body is found bricked into the walls of a house. From the state of the hands, it’s clear the dead man was buried alive. Soon, the victim is linked to an old missing person’s case and DS Adam Tyler is called.

WILL IGNITE

As the sole representative of South Yorkshire’s Cold Case Review Unit, Tyler recognises his role for what it is – a means of keeping him out of the way following an ‘incident’. When this case falls in his lap, he grabs the opportunity to fix his stagnating career.

THE CITY

And then Tyler discovers he has a connection to the case that hopelessly compromises him. He makes the snap decision not to tell his superiors, certain that he and only he can solve the crime. But now Tyler must move carefully to find out the truth, without destroying the case or himself.

Meanwhile, someone in the city knows exactly what happened to the body. Someone who is watching Adam closely. Someone with an unhealthy affinity with fire. . .

I do like a debut crime novel. There’s something about meeting a protagonist for the first time, getting to know their foibles and working out their strengths and weak points. DS Adam Tyler works the South Yorkshire Cold Case Unit solo.  He’s lucky to have a job at all after an incident which left his face scarred and his reputation tarnished. It’s only thanks to the patronage of DCI Diane Jordan that he still has a job at all. Adam is a loner, looked on mainly with suspicion by his colleagues. The son of a policeman who committed suicide when Adam was just a boy, after allegations of corruption were levelled against him.  It was Adam who found the body.

Adam is gay and that’s known in the station. He’s been urged to socialise himself with a view to making himself more part of the team, and almost pushed into the forces LGBTQI society. On his first, somewhat reluctant, social evening with the group, he ends up taking a young attractive man home.

Then a man’s body is discovered behind a false wall in the cellar of the Old Vicarage in the Peak District village of Castledene. Adam‘s view is that this case his. It’s historic, after all, But the first officer on scene D.I. Jim Doggett has other ideas. Doggett is a down to earth copper, ready to needle Adam with casual homophobic jibes just to see if he can get a rise out of him. Adam has to push himself onto the case, only to discover, too late, that he has a conflict of interest which will do his career no good at all. Persuading Doggett to let him in on the case, he also co-opts an intelligent, tenacious P.C. Amina Rabbani whose temper is almost as quick as her ambition. The final member of the team is D.S. Gary Daley, a lazy, ill-tempered man with no time for Adam.

The dead man is believed to be George Cartwright, missing for six years. Elderly neighbours, Lily and Edna clearly know something, but Lily has fugue state phases and Edna is unwell, so how reliable are they really? The narrative in this story is conveyed through Adam and Lily with contributions from the blog entries of an unknown figure, the self-styled Firewatcher, who posts about a series of increasingly serious arson attacks in the area.

Clever plotting connects all these disparate elements together. Suspicious deaths, dodgy dealings arson and a Lowry painting all combine together to offer a powder keg that when it ignites is so explosive that it threatens to take everyone down.

Verdict: A compelling, punchy narrative, excellently drawn characters and a twisted, propulsive plot combine to make this a great read. I’ll certainly look out for the next in the series as Russ Thomas has left a lot of nods of promise to come in his explosive ending.

Hive Books                       Waterstones                    Amazon

Russ Thomas was born in Essex, raised in Berkshire and now lives in Sheffield. He grew up in the 80s reading anything he could get his hands on at the library, writing stories, watching large amounts of television, playing videogames, and largely avoiding the great outdoors. After a few “proper” jobs (among them: pot-washer, optician’s receptionist, supermarket warehouse operative, call-centre telephonist and storage salesman) he discovered the joys of book-selling, where he could talk to people about books all day.

Conviction by Denise Mina @DameDeniseMina @vintagebooks @styx_hope #Conviction #ReesesBookClub #blogtour

Source: Review copy
Publication: 20th February 2020 from Vintage
PP: 384
ISBN13: 978-1784704865

It’s just a normal morning for Anna McDonald. Gym kits, packed lunches, getting everyone up and ready. Until she opens the front door to her best friend, Estelle. Anna turns to see her own husband at the top of the stairs, suitcase in hand. They’re leaving together and they’re taking Anna’s two daughters with them.

Left alone in the big, dark house, Anna can’t think, she can’t take it in. With her safe, predictable world shattered, she distracts herself with a story: a true-crime podcast. There’s a sunken yacht in the Mediterranean, multiple murders and a hint of power and corruption. Then Anna realises she knew one of the victims in another life. She is convinced she knows what happened. Her past, so carefully hidden until now, will no longer stay silent.

This is a murder she can’t ignore, and she throws herself into investigating the case. But little does she know, her past and present lives are about to collide, sending everything she has worked so hard to achieve into freefall.

I’m delighted to be re-sharing my review of one of my favourite reads of last year. Now it has been published in paperback and is a Reese Witherspoon and Hello Sunshine Book Club Pick!

The overwhelming feeling I got from Conviction – one of my must read books of 2019, was of deliciously enjoyable light and shade. This is a writer having fun and there’s a delicate touch to the writing that allows Mina to deploy her dark humour while wrapping us in an engrossing story that carries us on journeys across Europe (thank goodness there’s no Brexit here yet) in search of a stunning denouement.

Anna McDonald is our protagonist. She lives well in Glasgow’s comfortably corniced West End with her husband, Hamish and her two daughters, Jess and Lizzie. A light and uneasy sleeper, Anna loves having the early mornings to herself when she uses her solitary time to listen to true crime podcasts.

Death and the Dana is her current listen. A six-episode series about the sinking of the Dana, a yacht moored on an island off the west coast of France, near La Rochelle. One night, the ship slipped out of the harbour with its navigation lights off and using no and radio communication. It crossed the shipping channel, suffered an explosion below decks, and sank in the Bay of Biscay.  Aboard were a father and his two grown children, Mark and Violetta. The crew had been paid and sent ashore, and the chef had boarded a plane to Lyon. Yet she was charged with and convicted of the murder of al three. Podcast producer Trina Keany is having trouble making sense of this judgement. The sinking of the Dana and the deaths of these three are surrounded by intrigue and have all the hallmarks of a great story;  a tragic event, money, a reclusive heiress, ghosts and too many secrets to uncover in one episode.

As the novel begins, Anna’s life is about to be turned upside down. Her best friend, Estelle arrives at the door and as she does so, husband Hamish leaves with her, taking her daughters and leaving her without so much as a backward glance. Hamish and Estelle are off to Portugal with the girls, generously allowing Anna a week to get used to her new situation, and then they’ll be back to live in the house. Hamish leaves Anna a wad of cash – ‘re-settlement money’ – so that she can find somewhere else to go. He’s a peach, isn’t he?

Overwhelmed by shock and struggling to understand what has been going on under her nose, Anna’s hold on reality is obtained by her focus on the true crime podcast, mostly because she recognises a name from her past in connection with the crime. Anna met Leon Parker years ago, when she was working as a maid at the chic and exclusive Skibo Castle, where Parker was a guest. They used to chat over a clandestine cigarette by the bins and Anna liked the way that Leon neither patronised nor pawed at her but simply enjoyed sharing stories and the odd joke.

When Fin Cohen, Estelle’s husband, turns up on her doorstep, it’s clear he is in a worse state than Anna. Fin is a rock star, one who had a meteoric rise to fame and then couldn’t handle the pressure; now he is an anorexic and quite fragile. Estelle’s decision to leave him has hit him hard.

Anna and Fin launch decide to take a trip to get away from the wreckage of their lives. As they travel, Anna plays the Dana podcast and Fin, too gets caught up in the mystery. The two set off to work together to solve the mystery behind the sunken Dana – as much a diversion therapy as anything else, but why not? After all, Anna has this wad of cash burning a hole in her pocket.

It isn’t long before we realise that there is more to Anna than we were at first led to believe. Mina spins a compelling first person story narrative – a web within a spider’s web, where the threads are intertwined and to solve one set of murders we will first have to understand what lies behind Anna’s own story and to conquer the dragon that has been breathing fire on Anna’s heels for years.

Anna is stronger than she knows and her resilience will inspire Fin to create their own podcast, a narrative on solving the Dana crimes. Fin’s celebrity status means their podcast jumps high in the ratings from the outset, attracting not only fascinated listeners but also agents of destruction bent on stopping Fin and Anna.

Denise Mina has written a brilliant, character driven, edgy and relatable crime thriller that combines the best characterisation with compelling story telling. There’s so much too this exceptional, layered crime thriller that the reader will be captivated and enthralled by the deft plotting, stunning secrets and rich characters that populate the pages.

Inside this true crime podcast is an even truer story. An everyday story of rape, trauma, persecution and privilege prevailing.  A shocking, unhinging tale of how money talks loudest of all.

In Anna, Mina has given us an astonishingly rich character. Anna is a resilient sharp and focussed protagonist whose clear sight and determination can move mountains, when you thought you were getting a story about castles and ghosts. She ought not to be likable. From the beginning of this novel she has been clear that she’s no big fan of the truth. ‘Lie and lie again’ is her motto. Yet despite her penchant for lying and her deceitful behaviour, there’s something about Anna you can’t help but like even before you know her story.

Mina takes her readers on a fascinating journey across Europe in search of the truth. In doing so she articulates the power in speaking the truth and in being heard. Amidst this undeniably gripping crime story there is another story that stands true and proud and calls out its name unashamedly.

This is the power of Conviction, a novel with two stories and two meanings. Amidst the luxury yachts of France’s coastline and glamorous European locations taking us into the world of international finance, Mina spins her pacey tale with dark humour, sordid deeds and fabulously described characters.

Verdict: There’s enough here for every reader with twists and turns to delight and confound.  What lingers, though, is the impact of Anna’s ability to finally stop sheltering behind the lies. To feel the impact on her relationships of being able to come out and speak the truth. To finally hear her own story in her own words, told with conviction. That’s a story to be proud of, too.

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After a peripatetic childhood in Glasgow, Paris, London, Invergordon, Bergen and Perth, Denise Mina left school early. Working in a number of dead end jobs, all of them badly, before studying at night school to get into Glasgow University Law School. Denise went on to study for a PhD at Strathclyde, misusing her student grant to write her first novel. This was Garnethill, published in 1998, which won the Crime Writers Association John Creasy Dagger for Best First Crime Novel.

She has now published 12 novels and also writes short stories, plays and graphic novels. In 2014 she was inducted into the Crime Writers’ Association Hall of Fame. Her novel The Long Drop won the McIlvanney Prize for Scottish Crime Novel of the Year in 2017.

Denise presents TV and radio programmes as well as regularly appearing in the media, and has made a film about her own family. She regularly appears at literary festivals in the UK and abroad, leads masterclasses on writing and was a judge for the Bailey’s Prize for Women’s Fiction 2014.

BEAST by Matt Wesoloski @ConcreteKraken @orendabooks @annecater #Beast #SixStories #DeadFamous

Source: Review copy
Publication: 6th February from Orenda Books
PP: 320
ISBN-13: 978-1913193133

Elusive online journalist Scott King examines the chilling case of a young vlogger found frozen to death in the legendary local ‘vampire tower’, in another explosive episode of Six Stories…

In the wake of the ‘Beast from the East’ cold snap that ravaged the UK in 2018, a grisly discovery was made in a ruin on the Northumbrian coast. Twenty-four-year-old Vlogger, Elizabeth Barton, had been barricaded inside what locals refer to as ‘The Vampire Tower’, where she was later found frozen to death.

Three young men, part of an alleged ‘cult’, were convicted of this terrible crime, which they described as a ‘prank gone wrong’

However, in the small town of Ergarth, questions have been raised about the nature of Elizabeth Barton’s death and whether the three convicted youths were even responsible.

Elusive online journalist Scott King speaks to six witnesses – people who knew both the victim and the three killers – to peer beneath the surface of the case. He uncovers whispers of a shocking online craze that held the young of Ergarth in its thrall and drove them to escalate a series of pranks in the name of internet fame. He hears of an abattoir on the edge of town, which held more than simple slaughter behind its walls, the tragic and chilling legend of the ‘Ergarth Vampire…

Both a compulsive, taut and terrifying thriller, and a bleak and distressing look at modern society’s desperation for attention, Beast will unveil a darkness from which you may never return…

I’m a fan of the fabulous podcast style Six Stories series. Matt Wesolowski has mined a rich seam of stories in a format that works incredibly well and each successive book has been stronger than its predecessor.

Beast, though, is something else; it is in a class of its own. I’m writing this the day after a young woman has died in very sad circumstances and because of who she was, has been in the news and all over social media. Nothing really prepares you for how vile people can be on social media, or the levels of hypocrisy that such a thing brings to the surface.

Beast deals with the notion of being famous; looks at the culture of celebrity and does so in the context of young people in Ergarth – a grim, disenfranchised town in the North of England; a town that has had the life sucked out of it.

Scott King, our podcast host, is more open now after the revelations of the last podcast investigation in Changeling.  Now he is in Ergarth to look into the horrific death of a young vlogger, Elizabeth Barton.

She was taking part in a popular social media challenge known as ‘Dead In Six Days’  in which she must fulfil six challenges supposedly set by the vampire, Vladlena, or by the sixth day she will be dead. Elizabeth, who has steadily been cultivating a substantial social media presence, has seen that effort rewarded by a growing following and the patronage of a number of brands, is vlogging these challenges.

Beast plunges straight in with the first story and immediately I was struck by the contrast between the warm, northern dialect and the chilling stories of the Crimean ship and its vampiric legend. For this is 2018 and for the residents of Ergarth, the Beast from the East has two meanings.

When Scott King enters the story Elizabeth Barton is dead; murdered and decapitated by three men in the local landmark, the Tankerville Tower. It is a black, crumbling ruin with no aesthetic features which is still standing because the Council can’t afford to tear it down. Some locals believe that this tower hosts the Ergarth Vampire or, as local teens know it, ‘The Beast from the East’ in tribute both to the 2018 storm they were experiencing and because the legend has Vladlena coming to Ergarth on a ship from the Crimea.

Wesolowski paints a grim portrait of Ergarth, a town whose industry has long since vanished and which is struggling.    Jobs are few and far between and teens have no hope and no ambition. Elizabeth is working in the Orwellian named pet shop but her real chance of escape lies in her vlog. Elizabeth is bucking the trend through her vlogging, aided by her middle class upbringing and parents who are prepared to lavish the best of everything material on her. She is becoming an Ergarth celebrity. Elizabeth is the girl who has it all. She is pretty, kind, increasingly popular, and always has time for the less fortunate. So why has been murdered and what does the legend of the Ergarth Vampire have to do with her death?

This is the subject of Scott King’s podcast. Wesolowski’s chilling story brilliantly marries local folklore and legend with contemporary societal changes – themselves casting a grey gloom over the country and forces us to ask ourselves which we should fear the most.

There’s a cold anger in these comparisons and as I read I could feel myself questioning Elizabeth’s choices and motives; asking myself if it is possible that someone could be so perfect. It is a sad fact of 21st century life that altruism will always be questioned because there is so little of it that we have become inured to thinking the worst of people.

Three men are now in prison, convicted of Elizabeth’s brutal murder, but none of them have ever spoken of that night, other than to admit their guilt. Scott King wants to understand what led to this horrific event and his podcast interviews add depth and layers to a story previously written off as ‘a prank gone wrong’; a story that has never before been told.

In between the interviews with Elizabeth’s friends and family we are treated to excerpts from Also from Elizabeth’s vlog where we see her bubbly personality exhorting us to like and follow and watch the next video. Her sweet smile and wonder as she unboxes her latest brand gift or shows us her most recent cheeky challenge is calculated to draw us into her orbit, to make us want to share in her success and to be part of the charmed life she is leading; a charmed life that no-one else in Ergarth could possibly aspire to.

As Scott will discover, this story has been all about Elizabeth. The three young men who are now imprisoned for her murder have not warranted stories of their own, until now.

Beast is a dark and deeply chilling story and Wesolowoski tells it superbly. In a story that is both tense and spell-binding, he explores the consequences of our excessive consumerism and the ceaseless quest for 15 minutes of fame. He compares and contrasts that with the reality of what is happening in some of our towns, where ambition and hope are absent friends and local services fail to afford or even understand the mental health consequences of living hand to mouth with no nurture.

Verdict: Beast is a towering, exceptionally well plotted and intricately layered book. Creepy and ingenious, it also carries an important message. A message that brings me back to where I began this review. Be kind; be human and learn to listen before you judge. An absolute must read.

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

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The Memory Wood by Sam Lloyd @SamLloydwrites @ThomassHill @TransworldBooks #TheMemoryWood

Source: Review copy
Publication: 20th February 2020 from Bantam Press
PP: 384
ISBN-13: 978-1787631847

Elijah has lived in the Memory Wood for as long as he can remember. It’s the only home he’s ever known.

Elissa has only just arrived. And she’ll do everything she can to escape.

When Elijah stumbles across thirteen-year-old Elissa, in the woods where her abductor is hiding her, he refuses to alert the police. Because in his twelve years, Elijah has never had a proper friend. And he doesn’t want Elissa to leave.
Not only that, Elijah knows how this can end. After all, Elissa isn’t the first girl he’s found inside the Memory Wood.

As her abductor’s behaviour grows more erratic, Elissa realises that outwitting strange, lonely Elijah is her only hope of survival. Their cat-and-mouse game of deception and betrayal will determine both their fates, and whether either of them will ever leave the Memory Wood . . .

This book is a bobby dazzler. It is an exceptional, chilling, utterly compelling and propulsive psychological thriller. Sometimes a book will just grab you from the off and never let go and that’s how The Memory Wood was for me.

Elissa Mirzoyan is a seriously bright 13 year old who is a talented competitive chess player and her voice is one of three telling this story. Elissa lives with her mother Lena in Salisbury and together they attend the chess tournaments she plays at.

They are attending one such in Bournemouth when Elissa is snatched by an unknown assailant. Hooded, drugged and thrown in the back of a white van, Elissa wakes to find herself manacled and confined in an old stone cellar, cold, dirty and very thirsty.

When her captor visits her, he wears a torch attached to his head so that the light hits her straight in the eyes and blinds her. His instructions are clear. Do what you are told and you will be rewarded. Fail to comply and you will be punished.

Elissa is terrified, but she also wants to find a way home, so she sets her methodical mind to working out strategies for just how to do that. She starts by trying to remember everything that has happened to her, and then she maps out her cell like the squares in a chess board so that she can remember where everything is.

Her heart lifts when she has a visitor. 12 year old Elijah lives in the Memory Wood. He wants desperately to make friends with Elissa, but he knows that she is not the first he has tried to befriend and fears she will not be the last. Elijah only has his brother Kyle and Magic Annie, who lives in a caravan on the estate that he calls home, to keep him company. Elissa knows Elijah is her best chance of a way out, but Elijah knows how this ends and while he tries to offer her advice, he can’t do what she asks of him, though he will continue to visit her.

Together, they construct a fantasy world; Elissa is Gretel, Elijah is Hansel and the cell is their Gingerbread House. The abductor is the ghoul. This makes the abduction scenario all the more nightmarish; a children’s fairy story that turns into something more akin to Nightmare on Elm Street.

Apart from the voices of Elissa and Elijah, the third storyteller we hear from is the lead detective. Detective Superintendent Mairead MacCullagh, is the S.I.O. on this case. She is in the midst of her own tragedy and personal pain which only serves to enhance her empathy for Lena as she sees the close bond between mother and daughter.

Sam Lloyd’s book cleverly weaves together elements of fairy tales with a much darker, infinitely eerier atmosphere. A sense of place is everything as The Memory Wood holds the memories of everyone who has ever died here and Elijah immortalises them by leaving notes in the branches of specific trees he has dedicated to their memory.

But the shining star of this book is Elissa, a young woman whose sense of danger is elevated by her clever and ingenious mind. Operating partly on instinct and partly on her intellect, she realises that she will have to be the architect of her own freedom plan if she is to stand any chance of survival and so she begins a game of cat and mouse in which only one can be the winner.

Verdict: The Memory Wood is a strong and visceral read, capturing the strongest and most fearsome aspects of fairy tales and turning them into a chilling nightmare with little chance of redemption. The pacing is perfect for a story which has many layers and more than a few surprises.  Characterisation is spot on; Elissa and Elijah are exceptional characters and Sam Lloyd’s disturbing story captures the reader and holds them hostage all through the many twists and turns of this read. Highly recommended.

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Sam Lloyd grew up in Hampshire, making up stories and building secret hideaways in his local woods. These days he lives in Surrey with his wife, three young sons and a dog that likes to howl. The Memory Wood, his debut thriller, has sold in fifteen international territories.

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