1979 by Val McDermid @valmcdermid @LittleBrownUK @laurasherlock21

Source: Review copy
Publication: 19 August 2021 from Little, Brown
PP: 432
ISBN-13: 978-0751583090

My thanks to the publisher for the opportunity to review

The shadows hide a deadly story . . .

1979. It is the winter of discontent, and reporter Allie Burns is chasing her first big scoop. There are few women in the newsroom and she needs something explosive for the boys’ club to take her seriously.

Soon Allie and fellow journalist Danny Sullivan are exposing the criminal underbelly of respectable Scotland. They risk making powerful enemies – and Allie won’t stop there.

When she discovers a home-grown terrorist threat, Allie comes up with a plan to infiltrate the group and make her name. But she’s a woman in a man’s world . . . and putting a foot wrong could be fatal.

Val McDermid has magic flowing from her fingers. The Queen of Crime is in her element in 1979, the first book in her latest series. This one has Allie Burns, news journalist as its protagonist and in introducing us to Allie’s world in the Glasgow Clarion, McDermid beautifully and evocatively recreates the smells sounds and attitudes prevalent in a Glasgow newsroom in that era.

For all the smoky atmosphere, the male cocks o’the walk, the reliance on drink to get you through a shift; this is a love letter to journalism and she makes you mourn its passing just as you recognise the days of bigotry, misogyny and rampant sexism.

These are the times in which newsrooms thrum with staff; where there is an expenses budget and reporters are expected to go out looking for stories rather than be chained to a desk with a telephone. 

Set at a pivotal moment in history, 1979 has the first devolution referendum in Scotland as the backdrop with the winter of discontent and a Callaghan Labour Government paving the way for the rise of Thatcherism. The Provisional IRA are conducting their terror campaign with car bombs and shootings and the Shankhill Butchers, a group of 11 loyalists, have been sentenced for 19 sectarian murders.

McDermid, whose own journalism experience informs this book and whose spirit runs through it like Blackpool in a stick of rock, brings it all gloriously to life, capturing the essence of the times and places enhanced by references to the music, films, and theatre of the day.

It is this world that Allie Burns, a Cambridge graduate from a working class background, has to negotiate as she strives to carve out a place in her new place of employment, The Clarion. Smart, ambitious and a good writer with a sub’s flair for intros and snappy paragraphs, Allie is ambitious and determined. She is also isolated in the male dominated newsroom and a wee bit lonely. Allie makes a friend on whom she comes to rely. Rhona Dunsyre is on the features desk and is keen to help another woman in the newsroom. It’s a welcome friendship for Allie whose social life is non-existent.

She quickly realises that she’s never going to be handed the interesting jobs; in fact even when she finds a story its more likely to be taken away from her and handed to a more experienced  (ie male) journo. Allie is fed up doing the soft and human interest stories.  She wants something she can get her teeth into.

So, when she is approached by the one male journalist with whom she has some rapport, Danny Sullivan, to help him craft a story he is working on the QT, she agrees. It is the first of two major stories that form the backbone of this murder mystery. The second is a story that Allie brings to Danny; an explosive scoop that carries serious risk. Both stories are hard journalism; both have some very shady characters at their heart and Allie and Danny know that these are the stories that will make their careers if handled correctly.

Their challenge is to get the stories far enough along before taking them to their editor, so that there’s no danger that they can be taken away from the pair. That means sticking their necks out rather further than they might like, but no pain, no gain, as they say.

Val McDermid’s book is beautifully paced to allow you to steep yourself in the culture of the times and in the characters that populate the book. As a reader you gain an appreciation of what both Allie and Danny are up against as their personal lives and their professional ones become intertwined. The tension – and it is there in spades, comes from the danger inherent in the stories and the fear for these two characters as they pursue their stories.

Verdict: I really loved this book. Val McDermid’s sharp and incisive writing brings the characters and the settings to life in vivid, three dimensional colour – so tangible you can smell it. 1979 has tremendous heart and a lot of wit. You care about Allie and Danny and Danny’s family difficulties tear at your emotions. Tense, thrilling, rich with atmosphere and crackling with authenticity, this is at once a shocking and thrilling mystery and a love letter to journalism, warts and all. This is a five star must read start to an unmissable new series. I can’t wait to meet Allie Burns again.

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Val McDermid is a number one bestseller whose novels have been translated into forty languages, and have sold over seventeen million copies. She has won many awards internationally, including the CWA Gold Dagger for best crime novel of the year and the LA Times Book of the Year Award. She was inducted into the ITV3 Crime Thriller Awards Hall of Fame in 2009, was the recipient of the CWA Cartier Diamond Dagger in 2010 and received the Lambda Literary Foundation Pioneer Award in 2011. In 2016, Val received the Outstanding Contribution to Crime Fiction Award at the Theakston Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival and in 2017 received the DIVA Literary Prize for Crime, and was elected a Fellow of both the Royal Society of Literature and the Royal Society of Edinburgh. Val has served as a judge for the Women’s Prize for Fiction and the Man Booker Prize, and was Chair of the Wellcome Book Prize in 2017. She is the recipient of six honorary doctorates, is an Honorary Fellow of St Hilda’s College, Oxford and a Professor at the University of Otago in New Zealand. She writes full time and divides her time between Edinburgh and East Neuk of Fife.

56 Days by Catherine Ryan Howard @cathryanhoward @CorvusBooks

Source: Review copy
Publication: 19 August 2021 from Corvus
PP: 432
ISBN-13: ‎978-1838951627

My thanks to the publisher for an early copy for review

No one even knew they were together. Now one of them is dead.

56 DAYS AGO
Ciara and Oliver meet in a supermarket queue in Dublin and start dating the same week COVID-19 reaches Irish shores
.

35 DAYS AGO
When lockdown threatens to keep them apart, Oliver suggests they move in together. Ciara sees a unique opportunity for a relationship to flourish without the scrutiny of family and friends. Oliver sees a chance to hide who – and what – he really is.

TODAY
Detectives arrive at Oliver’s apartment to discover a decomposing body inside. Can they determine what really happened, or has lockdown created an opportunity for someone to commit the perfect crime?

I adored The Nothing Man and that made 56 Days a ‘must read’ for me. Catherine Ryan Howard is an inventive and entertaining writer and she approaches her subject with verve and originality. That is absolutely the case with 56 Days, a novel inspired by lockdown and set just as Ireland is about to enter the first lockdown phase.

Don’t worry, though, this isn’t a Covid novel, just the starting point for a brilliant mystery that will keep you guessing all the way through.

56 Days is an engrossing and immersive story about two people who meet for the first time on the eve of lockdown. Their story is one of secrets, lies and sharing spaces amidst the fear and isolation of the pandemic.

Catherine Ryan Howard’s story moves back and forwards across her three time zones, but is never difficult to follow. It’s a very clever device in which she slowly reveals snippets of information which the reader has to piece together, all the time jumping to conclusions which may – or as proves to be the case- may not pan out.

This makes it a fascinating thriller as we listen to the stories of Ciara and Oliver, meeting by accident for the first time. Then, after we have established that first attraction, the present day brings us to DI Lee Riordan and DS Karl Connolly. They are standing over a dead body in a shower, in an upmarket set of apartments in Dublin City. It’s been there a while. Has this person died an accidental death, or was it murder? Only by following the timelines will be able to reach a conclusion.

It is obvious when Ciara and Oliver first meet that there’s a mutual attraction. They find common ground very easily and though both are slow to trust, their attraction to each other leads to a relationship forming pretty quickly and that is only accelerated when lockdown comes. Forced to choose between separation and the isolation that would bring to each of these lonely souls, they choose instead to be together when lockdown kicks in.

Because of Howard’s time shifting plot, we know someone is going to end up dead in Oliver’s building. Which one will it be?

Howard is a brilliant writer whose reveals are at once fascinating and also deceptive. This is an excellent masterclass in how to reveal secrets and develop characterisation, all the while leaving the reader wrong footed in their conclusions.

She writes with wit, too. There’s a terrific vein of humour threaded through what turns out to be a dark and troubled story and even when you think you’ve got to the bottom of her fast paced and excellently twisted plotting, she still has some last surprises for you.

Verdict: 56 Days is quite cinematic in construction. It is vivid, very well written, twisty and propulsive. The premise is clever and the execution staggeringly good and all achieved with a seemingly light touch. A great suspense thriller that is as good as it gets.

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Catherine Ryan Howard’s debut novel Distress Signals was published by Corvus in 2016 while she was studying English literature at Trinity College Dublin. It went on to be shortlisted for both the Irish Crime Novel of the Year and the CWA John Creasey/New Blood Dagger. Her second novel, The Liar’s Girl, was published to critical acclaim in 2018 and was a finalist for the Mystery Writers of America Edgar Award for Best Novel 2019. That same year, Rewind was shortlisted for the Irish Crime Novel of the Year and was an Irish Times bestseller. She is currently based in Dublin.
Photo c. Steve Langan

A Corruption of Blood by Ambrose Parry @AmbroseParry @Canongatebooks @Normantweets

Source: Review copy
Publication: 19 August 2021 from Canongate Books
PP: 416
ISBN-13: 978-1786899859

My thanks to Canongate for an early copy for review

Edinburgh, 1850. This city will bleed you dry.

Dr Will Raven is a man seldom shocked by human remains, but even he is disturbed by the contents of a package washed up at the Port of Leith. Stranger still, a man Raven has long detested is pleading for his help to escape the hangman.

Back in the townhouse of Dr James Simpson, Sarah Fisher has set her sights on learning to practise medicine. Almost everyone seems intent on dissuading her from this ambition, but when word reaches her that a woman has recently obtained a medical degree despite her gender, Sarah decides to seek her out.

Raven’s efforts to prove his former adversary’s innocence are failing and he desperately needs Sarah’s help. Putting their feelings for one another aside, their investigations take them to both extremes of Edinburgh’s social divide, where they discover that wealth and status cannot alter a fate written in the blood.

This series keeps on delighting. A fascinating blend of fact and fiction (pleasingly, they tell you in the end notes which is which) set in the very real 52, Queen Street in in late-Victorian Edinburgh.  This is the third book featuring the intrepid pair Dr Will Raven and Sarah Fisher who live in the house of Dr James Simpson, a medical pioneer who developed the use of chloroform in medical operations.

Will is studying with Dr Simpson and Sarah, who started these books as an intelligent and curious housemaid, and who progressed to Dr Simpson’s trusted assistant, through marriage and subsequent widowhood, now finds herself in a position where she should be able to pursue her aspirations.

Sarah has gone on a voyage abroad with Dr Simpson’s sister, Mina as companion, but all she really wants to do is to speak to Dr Elizabeth Blackwell, the first woman practicing Doctor. She is Sarah’s role model and she wants to find out all she can from her about how she achieved her role. But the answers that Sarah receives leave her dejected and she returns to Edinburgh her spirit crushed and feeling a not a little lost. Society is not ready to receive a woman doctor and even if it were, Sarah has much to learn before she can achieve her dream.

Will, meanwhile has mostly recovered from Sarah’s marriage and has himself taken more than a liking to the daughter of another prominent Edinburgh physician, Dr. Todd. Making such a match would elevate Will in Edinburgh society, which is why it is a mystery that Dr Todd, if not wholly approving, is prepared to countenance the match.

Ambrose Parry’s rich and descriptive writing steeps us in the contrasts that abound in this Edinburgh. The emphasis on learning while the poor are left in poverty, squalor and despair is stark. The casual attitude to the loss of human life when the subject is poor and has no influence is hard to consider. Here the affluent flaunt their transgressions while maintaining a veneer of civility lest their carefully guarded reputations should slip and reveal their true depravities.

A Corruption of Blood follows a dual plot-line with Sarah pursuing her quest for Christina’s baby and Will, after the discovery of a murdered baby in the harbour at Leith, against his inclination, trying to find out if an old enemy has really committed the murder of a prominent Edinburgh high society figure, Sir Ainsley Douglas. Though the facts seem clear and redoubtable Edinburgh Inspector of Police, James McLevy is certain he has his man, the more Will looks into the case, the more doubts he has. But the truth is hard to come by and it will take both Will and Sarah, working together, to solve these mysteries. Their chemistry is undeniable and I really enjoyed the difficult but frank conversation they have which paves the way for them to work together again.

Though this is a highly enjoyable story that rattles along at a fair old pace and is full of warmth and affection for its central characters, I would be remiss if I didn’t point out that at the heart of this story is a tense and heart-breaking story based on real life events which is both shocking and indicative of just how hypocritical this society’s attitudes towards women really was.

Verdict: A Corruption of Blood tackles some difficult and heart-breaking subjects and, as always, it is laced with some pertinent observations on the position of women at the time. I love the research that gives authenticity to these dark and sobering tales and the way the hypocrisy and mores of ‘polite’ Edinburgh society the times shines through in these stories. This is a fantastic addition to a terrific series, well researched and full of riveting moments. I loved it.

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Ambrose Parry is the penname for two very different authors – the internationally bestselling and multi-award-winning Chris Brookmyre and consultant anaesthetist of twenty years’ experience, Dr Marisa Haetzman. Inspired by the gory details Haetzman uncovered during her History of Medicine degree, the couple teamed up to write a series of historical crime thrillers, featuring the darkest of Victorian Edinburgh’s secrets. They are married and live in Scotland. Both The Way of All Flesh and The Art of Dying were shortlisted for the McIlvanney Prize for Scottish Crime Book of the Year. A Corruption of Blood is the third in the series.

The Great Silence (Skelfs #3) by Doug Johnstone @doug_johnstone @OrendaBooks @RandomTTours

Source: Review copy
Publication: 19 June (e-book) 19 August p/back
PP: 300
ISBN-13: 978-1913193836

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

The discovery of a human foot in an Edinburgh park, the inexplicable circumstances of a dying woman, and the missing daughter of Jenny’s violent ex-husband present the Skelf women with their most challenging – and deadly – cases yet…

Keeping on top of the family funeral directors’ and private-investigation businesses is no easy task for the Skelf women, and when matriarch Dorothy discovers a human foot while walking the dog, a perplexing case presents itself … with potentially deadly results.

Daughter Jenny and grand-daughter Hannah have their hands full too: The mysterious circumstances of a dying woman lead them into an unexpected family drama, Hannah’s new astrophysicist colleague claims he’s receiving messages from outer space, and the Skelf’s teenaged lodger has yet another devastating experience.

Nothing is clear as the women are immersed ever deeper in their most challenging cases yet. But when the daughter of Jenny’s violent and fugitive ex-husband goes missing without trace and a wild animal is spotted roaming Edinburgh’s parks, real danger presents itself, and all three Skelfs are in peril.

I reviewed this book earlier in the year and coming back to my review, I don’t think I did it enough justice. This is a trilogy that stays with you; one that leaves you feeling bereft at its end and The Great Silence is an exemplar of how to write a series that has characters you care about, brings warmth and humanity to the page and yet still manages to engage the reader in a debate about the big questions that matter. Still, I’m not re-writing my review. It’s here flaws and all, but know that this is a book and a series that I think you’re missing out on if you haven’t chosen to read.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

I approached this book with some trepidation. I loved both A Dark Matter and The Big Chill and so was eager to read The Great Silence. Yet, at the same time, I knew I did not want this series to end. I have to say though, as far this trilogy goes, The Great Silence is an absolutely perfect end, bringing the narrative arc to a close in a way that mirrors the way the trilogy opened.

This is as perfect a book as I have read in a long time. The women are so beautifully and richly drawn that they feel real to me. They could be my friends and neighbours. These are women I care about and I understand them, have felt the way they feel and this book made me cry for them, too.

Over the course of three books I have watched them grow and seen them suffer. Their lives mirror our own and we recognise them all the better for it. Their health, their emotions, their concerns are so universal and utterly believable we see ourselves in them. In my case, it is Dorothy, but others will identify with their own character.

Johnstone packs a huge amount into this book; there are multiple cases and so many levels that give us a depth and a richness that is unsurpassable. These are women you engage with on an emotional level, but somehow Johnstone manages to elevate the book beyond that; building in some of the big philosophical and scientific questions and even occasionally proffering answers. When Hannah takes on a case, you can see the way she has matured and developed through the way she handles it with sensitivity, using her scientific brain and her life experience to understand the problem and find a way to resolve it.

Johnstone has delivered a superbly plotted book with great themes and a number of tense storylines all beautifully woven together and has brought them together with an expertise that shows what a master of his craft he has become. There’s humour too that helps relieve some of the unbearable tension, but it’s a humour that is inclusive, that draws you in closer to these women; makes you love them more.

Even as you love and empathise with them, you find that you are caught up in the horror that they experience and sometimes there is a shocking brutality to this narrative that leaves you gasping with shock and fear for these characters. It is visceral and as a reader, that sense of tragedy hits you full force without comfort. This is a book whose essence lies in family, love, pain and betrayal.

Yet for all that, what I came away with, as the tears rolled down my face, was an ineffable sense of love. Love between generations. The pain of being young and knowing hurt, betrayal and cruelty, tempered by the love of family and friends. Love between lovers and between parent and child. Love for the craft of a job well done and love for science and reaching to the stars to ask some very big questions. Love for Edinburgh and its environs shines through here, too.

Verdict: The Great Silence has left me in awe of Johnstone’s immense talent, but also bereft because I may never see these characters again. I can only hope that these women I have come to love have gone to recuperate and regroup because I so do not want to contemplate a life without Dorothy, Jenny, Hannah and Indy in it. Are you listening, Doug?

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Doug Johnstone is the author of twelve previous novels, most recently The BigChill (2020). Several of his books have been bestsellers and three, A DarkMatter (2020), Breakers (2019) and The Jump (2015), were shortlisted for theMcIlvanney Prize for Scottish Crime Novel of the Year. He’s taught creative writing and been writer in residence at various institutions over the last decade, and has been an arts journalist for over twenty years. Doug is a songwriter and musician with five albums and three solo EPs released, and he plays drums for the Fun Lovin’ Crime Writers, a band of crime writers. He’s also player-manager of the Scotland Writers Football Club. He lives in Edinburgh.
Follow Doug on Twitter @doug_johnstone
Visit his website: dougjohnstone.com

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The Dark by Emma Haughton @JennyPlatt90 @HodderBooks

Source: Review copy
Publication: 19 August 2021 from Hodder & Stoughton
PP: 384
ISBN-13: ‎ 978-1529356601

My thanks to the publisher and Jenny Platt for an advance copy for review

In the most inhospitable environment – cut off from the rest of the world – there’s a killer on the loose.

A&E doctor Kate North has been knocked out of her orbit by a personal tragedy. So when she’s offered the opportunity to be an emergency replacement at the UN research station in Antarctica, she jumps at the chance. The previous doctor, Jean-Luc, died in a tragic accident while out on the ice.

The move seems an ideal solution for Kate: no one knows about her past; no one is checking up on her. But as total darkness descends for the winter, she begins to suspect that Jean-Luc’s death wasn’t accidental at all.

And the more questions she asks, the more dangerous it becomes . . .

Who doesn’t love a locked room mystery? And though there’s the vast expanse of the dark and icy Antarctic to look out on, the fact that there’s nowhere to go, it’s pitch black for most of the book and the chilling, bone piercing ice is a killing machine writ large makes this an easy qualifier for that designation.

Emma Haughton paints a deeply atmospheric and fascinating picture of what it is like to be in a UN research station in the midst of Antarctica with 12 other people for company. The total isolation; the danger that surrounds you, the yearning for fresh fruit and vegetables and the poor unstable connections with the outside world all play a part in shaking the psyches of those who have chosen to work and study on the base.

Dr Kate North is a late addition to the Antarctic crew. She’s replacing Jean-Luc Bernas, the doctor who dies in a tragic accident in one of the Antarctic’s dangerous crevasses. Kate has been looking for an opportunity to get away from it all after a personal tragedy which has left her more than a bit broken.

Concealing that from her interviewing panel, Kate, an experienced A&E doctor makes a leap that may not be wise, but takes her far away from everything that reminds her of her recent tragedy.

Kate becomes the 13th team member and from the outset it seems that it’s not going to be a lucky move for her. The station manager is not welcoming and the rest of the team have clearly not bonded with each other in any meaningful way. Kate soon discovers that there are doubts over whether her predecessor’s death really was an accident and the team members are tense, irritable and full of suspicion. Kate, who has her own issues, feels the hostility acutely and as she endeavours to find out what’s really gone on, she makes some deeply flawed decisions and manages to put pretty much everyone’s backs up.

Kate is not subtle, and her lack of subtlety is enhanced by her reliance on addictive pain killers, something she failed to disclose to her interviewing panel. She asks pointed questions that only serve to rile up her colleagues and her emotional state is all over the place, leading the reader to wonder whether anything she discovers can be considered reliable.

All her poking and prying seems to dislodge something in the station and soon it becomes clear that there is a killer in their midst who is not going to stop.

Haughton ekes out the mystery by playing Kate’s backstory out slowly, but it is the chilling and atmospheric setting that are the real winners in this locked room mystery.  The team are not as well fleshed out as I would have liked and Kate’s own flaws prevent her from being a protagonist you really warm to.

Verdict: This book will give you shivers. The Dark has a terrific sense of place. The extremely spine-tinglingly creepy atmosphere and the fabulously rich and descriptive setting make this a place of dark intentions and claustrophobic secrets. The sense of isolation; of being in the dark all alone knowing that if you stay any longer the cold will kill you, is a feeling that stays with you. Haughton’s writing achieves an excellent sense of fear and creepiness and there are some very dramatic moments that heighten the tension. The mystery/detection element is less strong, but this remains a decent and interesting mystery strongly heightened by the excellent setting.

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Emma Haughton grew up in Sussex, studied English at Oxford, and worked as a freelance journalist for
a number of national newspapers, including the Times Travel section. She has written several non-fiction
books for schools, as well as three young adult thrillers. The Dark is her first crime novel.

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The House of Whispers by Anna Kent @BellaKay @HQStories @Bookish_Becky

Source: Review copy
Publication: 5 August 2021 from HQ
PP: 336
ISBN 13: 978-0008238735

Once you let her in, she’ll never leave…

Some secrets aren’t meant to be kept…

When Grace returns to Abi’s life, years after they fell out at university, Abi can’t help but feel uneasy. Years ago, Grace’s friendship was all-consuming and exhausting.

Now happily married, Abi’s built a new life for herself and put those days behind her. And yet as Grace slips back into her life with all the lethal charm she had before, Abi finds herself falling back under her spell…

Abi’s husband, Rohan, can’t help but be concerned as his wife’s behaviour changes. As their happy home threatens to fall apart, he realises that there’s something deeply unnerving about Grace. Just what influence does this woman have over his wife, and why has she come back now?

A chilling story of guilt and obsession from Anna Kent.

I am delighted to welcome Anna Kent to my blog today. I feel very privileged that Anna has agreed to share with us her thoughts on one of the key drivers of this fascinating and chilling thriller; toxic friends. As you’ll see from the description above, The House of Whispers is about what happens when an old friend comes back into Abi’s life and disrupts the life she has built with her husband Rohan. Here’s Anna to tell you more:

TOXIC FRIENDS by Anna Kent

The House of Whispers opens with reclusive artist, Abi, learning that her best friend from university, the enigmatic Grace, is coming back to town after a four-year absence. There’s a hint that things hadn’t ended well the last time the two friends saw each other, and we see that Abi initially tries to prevent Grace from staying with her and her husband, Rohan, but then she relents.

Once Grace arrives, we learn quite quickly that there’s a power imbalance in the friendship, and Grace’s behaviour towards Abi reflects that. Yet, despite her intention not to let Grace walk all over her, Abi does nothing.

Although The House of Whispers is primarily a story about guilt, I also wanted to use it to look at toxic friendships. Many of us have experienced, or at least witnessed, one or two of these over the years, and one thing I notice is that the last person to spot the toxicity is the actual victim.

For whatever reason, it’s always slow to dawn on them that they’re being taken advantage of, or that their friend is not being as supportive of them as a true friend would be. Often the toxic behaviour is subtle and, if you question it, it’s denied – or it swings back and forth: just as you begin to realise that your friend makes you feel bad about yourself and decide to back away, she’ll do something truly fantastic that pulls you back in and has you wondering what you were worrying about. Rinse and repeat this cycle until your confidence in your ability to judge your feelings is decimated.

Or perhaps you actually do see how badly you’re being treated, but you don’t want to believe it; perhaps, deep down, you think you’re not worthy of being an equal to your friend, so you let it continue. You make excuses for your friend’s behaviour, which of course, only encourages it or, worse still, you start to think it’s all your fault.

In Abi’s case, we get the sense that there’s some sort of debt owed to Grace, which is why she puts up with the passive-aggressive snipes and Grace’s imperious behaviour but, of course, putting up this kind of negativity from the person who’s supposed to be your biggest cheerleader has ramifications. All the joy is sucked out of the friendship, leaving the victim lonely, stressed and riddled with doubt.

So how do you escape a toxic friendship? It’s not advisable to leave it till the situation explodes: try to take a step back to get some perspective, then set boundaries of what you will and won’t accept in the friendship. If you decide to have it out verbally with your friend, maybe write it in an email so you can get your thoughts across clearly and without emotion. If you prefer to speak to them about it, practice what you want to say, and be clear about it when you say it because toxic friends are skilled manipulators who often twist what you say. If this sounds too difficult, you could always ghost them – then find yourself some friends who radiate joy into your life instead. If only Abi had known all this!

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

My thanks to Anna for that fascinating piece! You can buy The House of Whispers here:
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Waterstones
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Anna Kent has worked as a journalist, magazine editor and book editor as
well as enjoying a stint as a radio producer. She’s written for numerous
publications at home and abroad, including the Daily Telegraph, where she was a contributor for six years. Brought up in the South East, she loves to travel while maintaining a base in Gloucestershire. She’s married with two children

No Honour by Awais Khan @AwaisKhanAuthor @OrendaBooks @RandomTTours

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

My thanks to Orenda Books for an advance copy for review

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

I really wanted to be part of this blog tour because although I have previously published my review, this book is staying with me. It is such an immense issue and Awais Khan writes so tellingly and compassionately about it, that I want the news about this book to spread far and wide.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Killing Tide by Lin Anderson @Lin_Anderson @panmacmillan @PipsMcE

Source: Review copy
Publication: 5 August 2021 from Macmillan
PP: 432
ISBN-13: ‎ 978-1529033687

My thanks to Lin Anderson, Philippa McEwan and Macmillan for an early copy for review

The Killing Tide by Lin Anderson sees forensic scientist Rhona MacLeod investigating a mysterious abandoned ship which has swept ashore in the Orkney Isles.

After a fierce storm hits Scotland, a mysterious cargo ship is discovered in the Orkney Isles. Boarding the vessel uncovers three bodies, recently deceased and in violent circumstances. Forensic scientist Dr Rhona MacLeod’s study of the crime scene suggests that a sinister game was being played on board, but who were the hunters? And who the hunted?

Meanwhile in Glasgow DS Michael McNab is called to a horrific incident where a young woman has been set on fire. Or did she spark the flames herself?

As evidence arises that connects the two cases, the team grow increasingly concerned that the truth of what happened on the ship and in Glasgow hints at a wider conspiracy that stretches down to London and beyond to a global stage. Orcadian Ava Clouston, renowned investigative journalist, believes so and sets out to prove it, putting herself in grave danger.

When the Met Police challenge Police Scotland’s jurisdiction, it becomes obvious that there are ruthless individuals who are willing to do whatever it takes to protect government interests. Which could lead to even more deaths on Scottish soil . . .

You’d think that after 15 books in this series, Lin Anderson might be resting on her laurels. Not a bit of it! She likes to keep things charged up and changing and the result is that The Killing Tide is a cracker of a read and puts the thrill back into thrilling!

At 432 pages, The Killing Tide is a meaty read and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Set between the atmospheric and beautiful islands of Orkney and Glasgow, The Killing Tide sees forensic scientist Rhona McLeod and her redoubtable sidekick and breakfast provider, Chrissie investigating three bodies aboard an abandoned ship that has washed up near the shore.  The circumstances of their deaths seem both violent and a trifle bizarre and Anderson takes great pleasure in regaling us with details of the vomit recovered at the scene and subsequently inspected for information.

Meanwhile in Glasgow, DS McNab is called to an horrific scene in which a woman has died after being immolated. Whether self-inflicted or not remains to be determined, but McNab is pretty sure that the marks of cable ties on her wrists and ankles provide a ghastly clue as to which. Anderson doesn’t shrink from describing the lingering smell that hangs in the air, making this a place you know you’d rather not be anywhere near.

Ava Clouston is an experienced investigative reporter whose work across the world has garnered acclaim. She’s recently returned to Orkney after the death of her parents and now has to decide what to do about the family’s farm. Her younger brother wants to keep it and farm it, but he’s too young to take on that level of overall responsibility and Ava is not sure she is ready to give up her journalistic life to stay at home and farm with him.

She’s intrigued by the bodies on the ship and when she decides to look deeper into the case, what she uncovers has tentacles that spread further than anyone imagines and leads to a conspiracy that goes deep into the establishment.

At the same time it seems that both the Orkney case and McNab’s Glasgow immolation are linked and that provides the impetus for an old Met Police nemesis of McNab’s to make a return visit.

Lin Anderson writes about her characters with warmth and affection, inspiring the same feelings in the reader as we hang on every detail of how their relationships are faring and who McNab is sleeping with now.  At the same time, she does not hesitate to show us the brutal and violent side of the crimes these much loved characters have to deal with. There is nothing cosy about this writing.

The beautiful, evocative Orkney landscapes clash with the horror of the crimes committed nearby and that adds a level of contrast which makes this a striking read.

Verdict: Brilliantly drawn characters make us care about this team and their personal and professional lives. The plotting is sharp and fast – paced and the storyline propulsive and genuinely thrilling. There were a couple of points where I had my heart in my mouth, fearing for McNab. This series still feels fresh and vital and I’d highly recommend it.

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Lin Anderson is a Scottish author and screenwriter known for her bestselling crime series featuring forensic scientist Dr Rhona MacLeod. Four of her novels have been longlisted for the Scottish Crime Book of the Year, with Follow the Dead being a 2018 finalist. Her short film River Child won both a Scottish BAFTA for Best Fiction and the Celtic Film Festival’s Best Drama award and has now been viewed more than one million times on YouTube. Lin is also the co-founder of the international crime-writing festival Bloody Scotland, which takes place annually in Stirling.

Pretty As A Picture by Elizabeth Little @elizabethlittle @poppystimpson @PushkinPress

Source: Review copy
Publication: 1st July 2021 from Pushkin Vertigo
PP: 352
ISBN-13: 978-1782277019

My thanks to Poppy Stimpson and Pushkin Vertigo for a review copy

Some girl dies. Film editor Marissa has read better loglines for films, but still jumps at the chance to travel to a small island to work with the legendary – and legendarily demanding – director Tony Rees.

Soon she discovers that on this set, nothing is as it seems. There are rumours of accidents, indiscretions and burgeoning scandals. In the midst of this chaos, Marissa is herself drawn into an amateur investigation of the real-life murder that is the movie’s central subject.

The only problem is, the killer may still be on the loose. And he might not be done.

I loved this book. Engaging, set in the world of movie making and in the genre of a locked room mystery (or island in this case) Pretty As A Picture has a fascinating and quirky narrator in film editor Melissa Dahl.

This is a beautifully put together story with lots for all readers. There’s a sharp humour and wit and intelligent prose that cuts through the beautifully done old movie feel of the film and location. It’s a classic mystery but with a true crime edge and a heroine who is both endearing and engaging. More though, it deals intelligently with cinematic and murder mystery tropes in a way that satirises the movie industry while telling a fabulous story.

The humour is sharp and witty and the tale is told with a fresh and lively eye.

Melissa is a damned good editor, in part because she sees the world in terms of images. They are her frame of reference when trying to work out how people are responding to her and what emotions they are expressing. Shy, introverted and not a little OCD, it is to her beloved films that Marissa turns when she wants to understand the world around her.

She’s been working with a rising star of the independent film world recently and her star has risen alongside her friend Amy’s, but now she is in need of work elsewhere and so she accepts a job without interrogating the circumstances too closely. She knows that she’ll be working with the high profile and exacting director, Tony Rees, with whom she had a slightly uncomfortable encounter early in her career. But despite his demanding and sometimes tyrannical ways, Rees makes good movies and the pay is good, so she heads off to the location which Rees has determined must be kept under wraps.

This turns out to be an island off the coast of Delaware with a beautiful old fashioned hotel which is where the cast and crew are filming. Marissa still hasn’t read the script but it soon becomes clear that this movie is based on a real crime that occurred on this island some years previously.

Caitlyn Kelly was 19 years old when she was found dead on the beach. As the movie making progresses it becomes clear to Marissa that everyone on the island has a pretty good idea of who murdered her, though the leading actor, who is playing that character, has other ideas.

Marissa wants to know why her predecessor was fired but no-one will talk and even he, under threat of an NDA, will not divulge the reason. But what she does find out is that there have been a series of accidents on the set and indeed on her first day there a generator overheats sending broken glass from burnt out exploding bulbs all over the set and the principal actress.

Marissa has had to sign her own NDA and give up her smartphone and these things alone are making her nervous, though she does have a protector in the form of handsome bodyguard, Isaiah. When she’s attacked by someone who is in the process of stealing the film footage, she is determined to find out what’s going on and why.

Marissa is helped by two murder minded teenagers Grace Portillo and Suzy Koh, whose parents work for the hotel. They run their own true crime podcast and are keen to solve the mystery of who really killed Caitlin Kelly.

When another murder takes place on the island it is Marissa’s cinematic eye that will put together the key clues and provide the answers the island has been waiting for.

Verdict: A fascinating, sharp and witty thriller with brilliant dialogue and a protagonist who really works on all levels. At one a satirical look at the madness of movie making and an evocation of the heyday of movie making, this is a thriller you won’t want to miss. It’s great fun, intelligent, full of film references and has a fine sharp edged and witty take on the industry all fused together in an intriguing and fascinating plotline.

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Elizabeth Little is the author of the CWA-longlisted Dear Daughter, which won the Strand Critics Award for Best First Novel, and two works of nonfiction, Biting the Wax Tadpole and Trip of the Tongue. She lives in Los Angeles with her family.

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Cover Reveal: Quicksand of Memory by Michael J Malone @michaeljmalone1 @OrendaBooks

Good morning, booklovers! It is my enormous pleasure to share with you the very first outing of the cover for Michael Malone’s new psychological thriller, intriguingly titled Quicksand of Memory.

I adore Michael Malone’s writing, which just gets better and better. A Song of Isolation was a real stunner last year and I’ve been eagerly awaiting news of his next book – and now we have it!

I’m going to show you the cover in a minute, but first, let’s meet our intrepid novelist.

Michael Malone is a prize-winning poet and author who was born and brought up in the heart of Burns’ country. He has published over 200 poems in literary magazines throughout the UK, including New Writing Scotland, Poetry Scotland and Markings. Blood Tears, his bestselling debut novel won the Pitlochry Prize from the Scottish Association of Writers. Other published work includes: Carnegie’s Call; A Taste for Malice; The Guillotine Choice; Beyond the Rage; The Bad Samaritan; and Dog Fight. His psychological thriller, A Suitable Lie, was a number-one bestseller, and the critically acclaimed House of Spines and After He Died soon followed suit. Since then, he’s written two further thought-provoking, exquisitely written psychological thrillers In the Absence of Miracles and A Song of Isolation, cementing his position as a key proponent of Tartan Noir and an undeniable talent. A former Regional Sales Manager (Faber & Faber) he has also worked as an IFA and a bookseller. Michael lives in Ayr. You’ll find him on Twitter at @michaeljmalone1

Almost time for the cover reveal…..

So…Quicksand of Memory...quite a title eh? What’s it about then? Here’s the skinny:

Scarred by their pasts, Jenna and Luke fall in love, brimming with hope for a rosy future. But someone has been watching, with chilling plans for revenge … An emotive, twisty, disturbing new psychological thriller by the critically acclaimed author of A Suitable Lie and In the Absence of Miracles.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Jenna is trying to rebuild her life after a series of disastrous relationships.

Luke is struggling to provide a safe, loving home for his deceased partner’s young son, following a devastating tragedy.

When Jenna and Luke meet and fall in love, they are certain they can achieve the stability and happiness they both desperately need.

And yet, someone is watching.

Someone who has been scarred by past events.

Someone who will stop at nothing to get revenge…

Dark, unsettling and immensely moving, Quicksand of Memory is a chilling reminder that we are not only punished for our sins, but by them, and that memories left to blacken and sharpen over time are the perfect breeding ground for obsession, and murder…

Woohoo!…that sounds incredible and spooky…a chilling Christmas read that is out in ebook in October and in paperback in early December.

Here’s a link to pre-order: A Quicksand of Memory

And now…..without further ado…..isn’t this cover from Mark Swan aka @kidethic just sublime?!

I am so excited for this and can’t wait to read it…

So go….order…just the thing for Jólabókaflóðið!

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