The Searcher by Tana French @TanaFrench @GeorgiaKTaylor @VikingBooksUK

Source: Review copy
Publication: 5th November 2020 from Viking
PP:  400
ISBN-13: 978-0241459409


Cal Hooper thought a fixer-upper in a remote Irish village would be the perfect escape. After twenty-five years in the Chicago police force, and a bruising divorce, he just wants to build a new life in a pretty spot with a good pub where nothing much happens.

But then a local kid comes looking for his help. His brother has gone missing, and no one, least of all the police, seems to care. Cal wants nothing to do with any kind of investigation, but somehow he can’t make himself walk away.

Soon Cal will discover that even in the most idyllic small town, secrets lie hidden, people aren’t always what they seem, and trouble can come calling at his door.

You might be forgiven for thinking that Tana French’s The Searcher is vaguely familiar. Cast your mind back to John Ford’s classic movie.  An American Civil War veteran spends years looking for his abducted niece, taking his adoptive nephew on his journey. Tana French’s novel is an homage to Ford’s The Searchers.

Cal Hooper is no civil war veteran, but he is a veteran cop, retired after 25 bruising years in the Chicago Police Department where he saw first-hand everything that was wrong with contemporary policing. He’s had his fill of brutality from his colleagues and of seeing kids on the streets who don’t believe him when he says Black Lives Matter. Cal’s also just been through a hard divorce and though he loves his daughter wholeheartedly, has taken himself out of the country and bought a tumbledown cottage in Ardnakelty, a small rural community in the West of Ireland.

He wants nothing more than to spend time in peace, working with his hands to renovate his new home and to know that as he listens to his Johnny Cash albums at full volume, there’s no-one around to disturb.

Tana French’s novel is a character study of a man burnt out and disillusioned. Cal is a good cop in a bad world seeking a measure of peace and space to recover his equilibrium. He’s not completely isolated, of course. There’s a village not too far away that supplies his provisions. A neighbour, Mart, drops by every now and again to shoot the breeze and cadge a packet of biscuits, but by and large it is a solitary existence and that’s the way Cal likes it.

But when he becomes aware he is being watched, everything changes. His cop instincts kick in and soon he is face to face with Trey, a 13 year old urchin who has heard that Cal is a cop and wants him to look for his missing brother, Brendan.

Now, I really liked this book, but not really for the plot as much as the tackling of some pretty deep rooted issues. I liked the very slow burn, the wonderful descriptions of the Irish rural landscape and the seemingly laconic locals who are all affable on the face of it, but just as capable of nursing serious grudges for decades. French has a way of showing you what lies underneath the folksy land of the Irish and revealing a series of unpalatable truths which have their roots in the political and economic landscape of the harsh rural economy that is 21st Century Ireland.

She beautifully turns the screw on her characters so that we begin to understand that there’s a lot going on below the surface and that for every friendly gesture, sure there’s maybe the most delicate hint of something else as well.  That sense of things below the surface, of a small town atmosphere turning from quaint to something altogether more claustrophobic and unsettling is part of what makes this book so interesting.

Cal is a man who has cone to Ardnakelty in search of peace and slowly he finds that what he always thought he understood about justice; what he understood about himself and his own moral principles is in need of re-examination and re-evaluation.

Verdict: A very slow burn, full of delicious prose that provides a backdrop to understanding that the ethical code that Cal has lived by may not be relevant any more. The Searcher is a contemplative piece of wonderful writing wrapped round a mystery. Cal’s voice, which starts as so strong and resolute, is transformed by his investigative journey. I don’t think it’s slow pace will be for everyone, but I thought it a remarkable piece of completely compelling writing.

Buy The Searcher

Tana French is the author of The Searcher, In the Woods, The Likeness, Faithful Place, Broken Harbor, The Secret Place, The Trespasser and The Witch Elm. Her books have won awards including the Edgar, Anthony, Macavity, and Barry awards, the Los Angeles Times Award for Best Mystery/Thriller, and the Irish Book Award for Crime Fiction. She lives in Dublin with her family.

The Game by Luca Veste @LucaVeste @simonschusterUK @jessbarratt88

Source: Review copy
Publication: 12 November 2020 from Simon & Schuster
PP: 432
ISBN-13: 978-1471168185


You receive a call, an email, a text – someone knows your secret and they want to ruin you.


If you don’t do what they say, they’ll tell everyone what you’ve been hiding.

They will come after you, destroy you, and they aren’t afraid to kill.


This book is shocking. Not because it has terrible murders, though it does indeed. Not because of the violence or the surprising reveals, though it has these, too, but because this is a book about the perfidious nature of online activity and the extent to which it can destroy lives. We hear a lot about the cruelty of live interaction these days and indeed, there’s a man right now showing us just how perceptions can be skewed if you perpetuate lies with enough authority.

As we begin The Game, a man is in police custody admitting to a series of 8 murders. He hasn’t asked for a lawyer, he won’t tell the police who he is; he’s just spilling out the names of his victims and how he killed them, waiting for the police to write it all down. The fact that he was found next to the dead body of a girl should surely be enough to convince them that he is serious.

DC Mark Flynn is a bit of a loner. He works in the Liverpool Major Crimes Unit but hasn’t really jelled with his colleagues and so, more often than not, he pursues a solitary path.

He is trying to work out what has happened to Emily Burns, a missing young woman. At the place where she was last seen, is a blood trail, but that hasn’t led him anywhere. Now the body of a young woman has been found murdered. While his colleagues try to find her killer, Mark is convinced that Emily’s disappearance and this murdered young woman are connected. But how and why?

As Mark investigates, it becomes clear that he is a pawn in someone else’s deadly game.

Luca Veste’s novel is a clever and deeply chilling examination of how social isolation and peer pressure can separate people from their sense of self-worth. Building on urban myths and the susceptibility of the lonely and socially isolated, The Game takes hold of people through their darkest secrets and manipulates them into committing desperate acts.

The reader learns most of what is going on through DC Flynn, but Veste cleverly draws us into The Game, too, as we learn things that Mark Flynn does not know. His propensity for self-doubt; his distrust of authority and his tendency to work alone are leading him deep into a mystery that could have deadly consequences.

Veste builds a compelling, creepy tale that has a solid core of truth and it doesn’t take too much of a leap to see how things can escalate into the scenes of murder and manipulation that the books portrays.

Verdict: Clever, creepy, compelling.

Buy The Game

Luca Veste is a writer of Italian and Liverpudlian heritage, married with two young daughters, and is one of nine children. He studied psychology and criminology at university in Liverpool. He is the author of the Murphy and Rossi series. He also wrote the stand-alone novels, The Bone Keeper and The Six.
His books have been translated and published in the USA, Germany, Czech Republic, and Poland. As well as writing, Luca is also a guitarist and regularly performs with the group The Fun Lovin’ Crime Writers. Luca is also one half of the very funny podcast duo, Two Crime Writers and a Microphone. If you haven’t heard Luca and his partner in crime, Steve Cavanagh, then you really should subscribe!

The Law of Innocence by Michael Connelly @Connellybooks @Orion_Crime @Tr4cyF3nt0n

Source: Review copy
Publication: 10th November 2020 from Orion
PP: 416
ISBN-13: 978-1409186106

My thanks to the publisher for an advance copy of this book for review purposes



“The law of innocence is unwritten. It will not be found in a leather-bound code book. It will never be argued in a courtroom. In nature, for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. In the law of innocence, for every man not guilty of a crime there is a man out there who is. And to prove true innocence the guilty man must be found and exposed to the world.”

* * * * *

Like many people, I have really struggled to read a lot of the time during the various iterations of lockdown. Not so with this book which was rather like wearing a comfortable pair of running shoes. Slip them on and you are ready and raring to go.

Connelly makes everything seem effortless. A consummate storyteller who writes protagonists you get to know and love. Mickey Haller is no exception. He knows that only a fool has himself as a client, but just the same he’s going to defend himself against the most awful charge of murder. It looks like the prosecution has a slam dunk case and with Haller behind bars, his team, including Harry Bosch,  is working day and night to find the threads that will lead to his ability to prove his innocence.

But it’s not just the prosecution who are out to get him. Incarcerated in the Twin Towers Correctional Centre, unable and unwilling to find the $millions of bail money demanded, his life is under threat every moment he is locked up. He has to pay for protection and that doesn’t come cheap. Haller knows he didn’t do it, he just has to find out who did, because that’s the only way he gets to walk free without a stain on his character.

This is really the first book I have read that references the current situation. Not in a heavy handed way, though. As the book begins, stories of the virus are beginning to filter through. By the time it has ended, people are wearing masks and panic buying. This novel takes place in contemporary America and we know what is to come, even if Haller doesn’t.

I love these books because of the characters, certainly, but also because Connelly plots beautifully and sets up the situations so well. Tight corners, judges who won’t make the rulings Haller needs, and above all, the requirement to be one step ahead of the prosecution so that he can see the ambushes coming. Trial psychology is explained by the Lincoln Lawyer and we lap it up.

This is such a good legal thriller. Nail-bitingly tense, seriously twisted and with an up-to the-wire  timetable attached, the reader is poised on the edge of their seat, unable to put it down until you know how it ends.

I do love a courtroom drama and here Connelly’s grasp of the legal system, warts and all, is second to none. From procedural motions to cross examination, every word is gold and every action unmissable. It takes a lot of hard work to make a book as easy to enjoy as this one and a great deal of skill to make it entertaining and still deliver surprises right up to the end.

Verdict: If you like a great thriller and love a courtroom drama, they really don’t get much better than this. Bang up to the minute, a hugely enjoyable read, this book is a sure fire winner.

Forum Books

A former police reporter for the Los Angeles Times, Michael Connelly is the internationally bestselling author of the Harry Bosch series, and several other bestsellers including the highly acclaimed legal thriller, The Lincoln Lawyer. The TV series – Bosch – is one of the most watched original series on Amazon Prime and is now in its third season. He has been President of the Mystery Writers of America, and his books have been translated into thirty-nine languages and have won awards all over the world, including the Edgar and Anthony Awards. He spends his time in California and Florida.

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Shadow Sands by Robert Bryndza (Kate Marshall #2) @RobertBryndza @TheCrimeVault @LittleBrownUK

Source : Review copy
Publication: 3 November 2020 from Sphere
PP: 384
ISBN-13: 978-0751572742

When Kate Marshall finds the bloated body of a young man floating in the Shadow Sands reservoir, the authorities label it a tragic accident.

But the details don’t add up: why was he there, in the middle of the night? If he was such a strong swimmer, how did he drown? As Kate and her assistant Tristan Harper follow the evidence, they make a far darker discovery . . .

This is only the latest victim in a series of bloody murders dating back decades. A mythic serial killer is said to hide in the rolling fog, abducting his victims like a phantom. And when another woman is taken, Kate and Tristan have a matter of days to save her from meeting the same fate.

I really enjoyed Nine Elms, the first in the Kate Marshall series, so I was excited to see where Robert Bryndza would take Kate Marshall. Kate was a Detective Constable until she became entangled personally and professionally in a case that almost cost her her life. Now she lectures in Criminology in Ashdean, Devon. She is assisted in her work by a very capable teaching assistant, Tristan.

Bryndza gives you enough of Kate’s backstory for you to understand that she has a traumatic past. One that caused her to leave the police force for good and which has resulted in her son being brought up by her parents, so you know that her trauma runs deep.

When the book opens, Kate and her son Jake are spending time together. They have been taking diving proficiency classes and on an outing, they go diving in the Shadow Sands reservoir. There they discover the dead body of Simon Kendall and Kate wastes no time in calling the police.

The police are quickly inclined to rule the death a suicide, but Simon’s mother knows her son would not have taken his own life and begs Kate to look into it since the police seem to have made up their minds.

Using her knowledge and contacts, it doesn’t take Kate long to ascertain that something is amiss and that the circumstances of Simon’s death were nor straightforward. Tristan has been doing some research of his own and he finds a Professor in the University who also has an interest in the Shadow Sands area and who is able to tell him about other strange goings on in the surroundings of the reservoir.

Bryndza’s ability to make his central characters incredibly empathetic and likeable immediately make you warm to both Kate and Tristan and it is good to begin to find out more about the latter who becomes much more of a fleshed out character in this book. His facility to draw the reader quickly into a story and to invest them with a stake in the outcome is indicative of a writer who really understands his audience.

Bryndza weaves a complex and thrilling plot, giving us characters who we can care about and some who are all too easy to dislike and who provide excellent suspect fodder. In this multi-layered investigation, everyone is a suspect and you are left wondering what’s been going on at the reservoir and quite why so many people disappear from its environs.

Bryndza reels you in from the very beginning, his tense and exciting plot leading you to suspect everyone and trust no-one, not even the police. The narrative drive is forceful, turning this into a powerful and almost one sit read, as you need to know not only who is responsible, but just as importantly, why.

I love the suspense in this fast-paced story and hearing from both the victim and the killer in their own words produces a visceral reaction that makes the hairs on your neck stand up and a cold shiver run down your spine.

With characters you love to hate and the return of a nemesis for Kate, there’s plenty to keep the reader on the edge of the seat in this action packed suspenseful thriller.

Verdict: With very personal moments for both Kate and Tristan sweetening and deepening a skilled mix of suspense and tension, Bryndza has pulled together the perfect ingredients for the second Kate Marshall novel. Roll on Book Three!

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Robert Bryndza is the author of the international #1 bestselling Detective Erika Foster series and the Kate Marshall series. Robert’s books have sold over 4 million copies and have been translated into 29 languages. He is British and lives in Slovakia.

The Coral Bride by Roxanne Bouchard trs David Warriner @Rbouchard72 @OrendaBooks @givemeawave #Orentober

Source: Review copy
Publication: 12 November 2020
PP: 300
ISBN-13: 978-1913193324

When an abandoned lobster trawler is found adrift off the coast of Quebec’s Gaspé Peninsula, DS Joaquin Moralès begins a straightforward search for the boat’s missing captain, Angel Roberts – a rare female in a male-dominated world. But Moralès finds himself blocked at every turn – by his police colleagues, by fisheries bureaucrats, and by his grown-up son, who has turned up at his door with a host of his own personal problems.

 When Angel’s body is finally discovered, it’s clear something very sinister is afoot, and Moralès and son are pulled into murky, dangerous waters, where old resentments run deep.

In my review of her first D.S. Joaquin Moralès story, We Were the Salt of the Sea, I asked ‘Do you ever start to read a book and then wish it would never end?’ That’s how I felt about that wonderful book and I am delighted that the second book is just as poetic and just as beautiful.

The Coral Bride is a work of distinction. It is beautifully written with Bouchard’s flawless lyrical prose and melds light and shade throughout the novel interspersed with moments of real humour and tenderness.

The sense of place is immense.  As you read you will feel the sea seep into your pores and taste the salt on your lips. The rhythms and cadence of the sea flow through Bouchard’s work as she once again focuses on a small community of fisher folk on the Gaspe Peninsula. This is a crime novel but it is also a story about fathers and sons, of strangers in a new land and of women in a man’s world.

With humour and verve, Bouchard transports you to the Gaspe Pensinsula and immerses you in the lives of the people of a small fishing community.

This tale is both tender and poignant; it speaks of a harsh life, cruel decisions and love and loss. At one point a character refers to ‘the saltwater of sorrow’ and you know just what that means. Bouchard’s characterisation is delightful. The way both father and son are attracted by the curve of an ankle or the bone at the base of a neck shows, more than their actions ever can, how alike they are.

In this fabulous novel, Joaquin is visited by his son Sébastien, who accompanies him to the village where the crime took place partly to spend some time with his father and intending both to unburden himself and tell his father some home truths.

Though there is a crime, the death of lobster boat owner and Captain, Angel Roberts, and Morales will use his dogged and determined methods to solve it, this book is so much more than that. It is an elegy to the sea and those who work it. Not an over-romanticised one, it has to be said, for in this village there are rivalries, poor behaviour, casual racism and so much more. But no-one who lives there or who comes to visit can deny the power that the sea holds and the lives over which it exercises control.

Morales and his son will find that they have more in common than they would ever have wanted to admit and as they reconnect, some home truths seem to emerge for both of them.

Cyrille understands the sea. For him it has been his whole life and his guiding force. He knows how much it can tell you and just how cruel it can be. He has tried to teach his friend Joaquin a little of what he knows but now the sands of his time are running out.

Here there is love and death, sex and sensuality from dancing and cooking and lovemaking to bitter truths about relationships that hit home hard. Here, like Sebastien, you will have your eyes opened to the truth and beauty that the cruel sea offers.

Verdict: I loved The Coral Bride. So much more than a crime novel, it is a beautifully written elegy that speaks to the human condition in a wonderful book by an accomplished wordsmith.

Berts Books                      Hive Books                      Waterstones                   

Roxanne Bouchard reads a lot, but she laughs even more. Ten years or so ago, Roxanne Bouchard decided it was time she found her sea legs. So she learned to sail, first on the
St Lawrence River, before taking to the open waters off the Gaspé Peninsula. The local fishermen soon invited her aboard to reel in their lobster nets, and Roxanne saw for
herself that the sunrise over Bonaventure never lies. We Were the Salt of the Sea is her fifth novel, and her first to be translated into English. She lives in Quebec.

Dead Perfect by Noelle Holten (DC Maggie Jamieson #3) @nholten40 @OneMoreChapter_ @KillerReads

Source: Review copy
Publication: 16 October 2020 in e-book and 24 December 2020 in paperback
PP: 448
ISBN-13: 978-0008383664

My thanks to the publisher for an advance copy of this book for review purposes

A murdered woman…

When the body of a young woman is found in a local park, DC Maggie Jamieson knows she’s dealing with no ordinary killer.  The murder victim has been disfigured; her outfit changed to resemble someone else.  Someone Maggie knows all too well…her close friend Dr Kate Moloney.

A determined detective…

Maggie is determined to keep her friend safe, but with Kate already struggling with a threatening stalker, Maggie now fears Kate’s life is in real danger.  Who else would want to harm Kate and why else would the killer be turning his victims into exact replicas – his living dolls?

Can Maggie find the depraved killer?  Or will Kate become his next living doll?

It is my huge pleasure to help celebrate the launch of this excellent thriller and I wish the author, Noelle Holten every success with this book, she certainly deserves it. Happy Publication Day, Noelle!

Now…to my review…

It’s my own fault, I know that. If I just hadn’t googled that instrument mentioned in the prologue, I’m sure my stomach would not have squicked quite so much reading this book. But I did, and the feeling of dread and apprehension that the prologue left me with didn’t really go away for the rest of the book.

I was so keen to read Dead Perfect. At the end of Dead Wrong, we knew Dr Kate Maloney was in trouble, but how much trouble we learn quite quickly in this novel. The body of a young woman is found and Staffordshire Police quickly realise that she has been carefully dressed and her appearance changed so that her appearance becomes horribly close to that of one of their own – Dr Kate Maloney, the psychiatrist who often works with the team. Is this the stalker that has Kate so worried? Maggie is convinced that Kate is in danger and the team agree.

Moreover, it soon seems that the stalker’s actions are escalating when another body is found, dressed and mutilated and with a tattooed mark similar to that found on the first victim. What does it all mean and why?

Maggie is beside herself with worry. Her burgeoning friendship with Kate is impacting on her professional competence and she is short with colleagues and impetuous in her actions. You’d expect that, in a this kind of situation, her bosses would not be too impressed with this kind of behaviour, and you’d be right. Kate is slapped down hard more than once by her boss, the recently promoted DS Nathan Wright who tells her that she’s close to being taken off the case if she can’t keep her emotions in check.

Not only that, but the circumstances of this case mean that she’s forced to work with Julie Noble, the sly and pushy journalist who has given her such grief and who previously publicly impugned her capabilities .

In a fast paced and decidedly dark police procedural, Noelle Holten is not afraid to show us a team of competent officers sifting carefully through the evidence but being frustrated at every turn as their suspects alibi out.  The tension is palpable and the nerves fraying as this team know that keeping Kate Maloney safe is their paramount concern along with catching the perpetrator, but Kate isn’t good at handling close supervision.

I love the way that Holten plays across the whole integrated multi-agency team from social care and domestic abuse through to probation, psychology and the Police. It gives hera broad canvas to work across and an excellent team of characters to choose from. Each book can be read as a stand-alone, but now we are beginning to get a real sense of characters and character development, it will pay off to read these books in order.

In this book, we not only learn more about Maggie, but aspects of Kate Maloney’s past are also revealed; things Kate wanted to stay in the past and which show us that she is more vulnerable than we might have imagined as we looked at her goth like appearance and the veneer of her confident and assertive approach to her work.

I also really like that Noelle Holten doesn’t have everything go the way her characters would like. Here you will not find easy answers or convenient clues, but you will find solid police work and a morass of evidence that leads the team in circles until they work out what they have missed.

It feels authentic and that in turn leads to a greater excitement when, once they know they are on the right track, the team are quickly able to piece together the story. And what a story! Though I knew pretty early who the perpetrator was likely to be, I had no sense at all of why and what their motivation might be.

Verdict: Holten is full of surprises and this really helps to distinguish this book from the standard police procedural. Another tension filled cracker from the Staffordshire team in a series that is fast becoming unmissable.

Hive Books                       Waterstones                    Amazon

Noelle Holten is an award-winning blogger at She is the PR & Social Media Manager for Bookouture, a leading digital publisher in the UK, and was a regular reviewer on the Two Crime Writers and a Microphone podcast. Noelle worked as a Senior Probation Officer for eighteen years, covering a variety of cases including those involving serious domestic abuse. She has three Hons BA’s – Philosophy, Sociology (Crime & Deviance) and Community Justice – and a Masters in Criminology. Noelle’s hobbies include reading, attending as many book festivals as she can afford and sharing the booklove via her blog.

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Stolen Children by Michael Wood (DCI Matilda Darke #6) @MichaelHWood @0neMoreChapter_ @HarperCollinsUK

Source: Review copy
Publication: 2 October 2020 in e-book from One More Chapter
PP: 400
ISBN-13: 978-0008374860 (paperback 10 December 2020)

Some cases won’t die.
A young boy walks into a police station in France. He claims to be Carl Meagan – a missing child from Sheffield whose name is still whispered as a warning to kids who stay out after dark.

Some children won’t be found.
On her way home from the supermarket, nine-year-old Keeley Armitage vanishes without trace. Her family is overcome with shock and DCI Matilda Darke can’t help but focus on memories of the Carl Meagan case that almost ruined her career.

Some killers won’t be stopped.
As Matilda investigates, she peels back the layers of grief and sadness that surround Keeley’s family. Until she is left with an unimaginable choice: betray those closest to her or let a violent killer walk free…

The DCI Darke series has quickly become a favourite in my reading schedule and I now actively look forward to finding out when the next in the series is due. Michael Wood produces an excellent combination of great characters with well fleshed out personal and professional lives and crime thriller stories that stand out.

DCI Matilda Darke is a great character; a good copper who has that one case that haunts her and who , in this book, is wavering somewhere between wanting a relationship and actually having one. This team is an ensemble though and we see them working together and having each other’s backs, even when the stakes are dangerously high.

The subject matter of this book is a difficult one and Wood gives it an uncompromising, dark treatment. Already torn apart by what she believes were her own failures in trying and failing to recover Carl Meagan when he went missing some three years ago, Matilda Darke is determined that nine year old Keely Armitage, who disappeared after a trip to the shops with her sister, will be returned to her family.

The Armitages are distraught. Their son, Riley is severely disabled and Craig, the father has to work seven days a week to make sure the family can care for him and their two daughters. So when a ransom is demanded, their world just caves in.

Matilda can’t believe that a second child has been kidnapped in Sheffield – it is her worst nightmare. As she pulls out all the stops to search for Keely, her attention is somewhat derailed by news from France with developments on the Carl Meagan kidnap.

The team start their investigation and it is a tense and suspenseful journey as new developments keep them busy and our pulses race as Wood takes us on a perilous journey where the truth is darker than you could imagine.

I loved the fast and steady pace of this novel and the way that the plot took us backwards and forwards again, hinting at possible truths but leaving the final devastating facts to emerge in the most exciting and suspenseful way.

I was on the hook from early on in this novel and couldn’t let go until the end. What a dark and tension fuelled journey!

Verdict: One of the darker books in this series it is a hugely enjoyable and suspense filled read. Great characters and a good team to draw on make sure that there is lots of human interest and interaction in these stories. An all-round excellent police procedural series, which I will most certainly read more of.

Hive Books                       Waterstones                    Amazon

Michael Wood is a crime writer based in Sheffield, South Yorkshire, which is the setting for his thriller series featuring DCI Matilda Darke. He spends his days writing and researching new and inventive ways of killing people off for future DCI Darke novels as well as other projects he has up his sleeve.

Betrayal by Lilja Sigurðardóttir trs Quentin Bates @lilja1972 @OrendaBooks @graskeggur @AnneCater

Source: Review copy
Publication: 1st October 2020 from Orenda Books
PP: 276
ISBN-13: 978-1913193409

My thanks to the publisher for an advance review copy

Burned out and traumatised by her horrifying experiences around the world, aid worker Úrsula has returned to Iceland. Unable to settle, she accepts a high-profile government role in which she hopes to make a difference again.

But on her first day in the post, Úrsula promises to help a mother seeking justice for her daughter, who had been raped by a policeman, and life in high office soon becomes much more harrowing than Úrsula could ever have imagined. A homeless man is stalking her – but is he hounding her, or warning her of some danger? And why has the death of her father in police custody so many years earlier reared its head again?

As Úrsula is drawn into dirty politics, facing increasingly deadly threats, the lives of her stalker, her bodyguard and even a witch-like cleaning lady intertwine. Small betrayals become large ones, and the stakes are raised ever higher…

There are many, many things to admire about Iceland, which from the outside, looks like it has got women in public life completely sussed. Not if Lilja Sigurðardóttir’s novel is anything to go by! In fact there will be a strong chord of recognition in many women when our protagonist, Úrsula takes her first steps into public political life and is immediately stymied by a bureaucracy that knows exactly how to frustrate what Ursula wants and the forces of darkness don’t want her to have.

Ursula has an excellent track record of standing up for the poor and the forgotten as an international aid worker. But she burned out in that role and has come back home to Iceland to reconnect with her husband and family and to recover from the brutalising impact of everything she has experienced.

She has accepted a temporary role as Minister for the Interior hoping that she can use her skills for good but in a much less stressful environment. Ah, if only! In her naivety, Ursula is unprepared for the harsh realities of political life. The cut-throat world of politics is laid bare in a fast paced novel that doesn’t hesitate to show the craven nature of political wheeling and dealing where power is everything and women in particular are expendable.

This is a different kind of war zone; one where the velvet gloves are worn, but the determination to thwart Úrsula’s desire for progress is just as real as if a soldier were holding her up at gunpoint. In promising a distraught mother justice for her daughter, she finds the patriarchy putting obstacles in her way at every turn.

Not only that but her new profile is seemingly putting her at risk from a shady stalker and she’ll soon realise that even on the safe streets of Reykjavik, she needs constant security, provided in the form of Gunnar, her dedicated driver and personal security.   All of this takes its toll on Úrsula and she finds herself taking risks that she would not normally contemplate.

Though she struggles to connect with her colleagues and she still can’t quite find the right relationship with her husband, Úrsula nonetheless is alive to those with much less privilege than herself and thus she notices and shares some quiet smoke breaks moments with Stella, a cleaner in the Parliament offices.

Stella has her own problems and how these two women intersect has an important role to play in Sigurðardóttir’s nicely layered plot.

Aptly named, Betrayal is everywhere in this novel. Ursula herself is both betrayed and betrayer. Those in power are betraying the very people who elected them to protect them. A rape victim is betrayed by the justice system that should be pursuing her rapist. Through all of this, Ursula has to find a path that enables her to be true to herself and yet lets her do a decent job.

I loved Lilja’s Sigurðardóttir’s portrayal of these characters and the wholly authentic way in which the worlds of politics and journalism are mixed to produce a heady story with lots of fake leads, lies and corruption. It is a thrilling and tense read that kept me wholly engaged and wondering how it might be resolved.

Verdict: With multiple threads and a number of potential suspects, this fast paced and enthralling political thriller is right up my street. Hat tip, too, to Quentin Bates for his impeccable translation skills.

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Icelandic crime-writer Lilja Sigurðardóttir was born in the town of Akranes in 1972 and raised in Mexico, Sweden, Spain and Iceland. An award-winning playwright, Lilja has written four crime novels, including Snare, Trap and Cage, making up the Reykjavik Noir trilogy, which have hit bestseller lists worldwide. The film rights have been bought by Palomar Pictures in California. She lives in Reykjavík with her partner.

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The Devil and the Dark Water by Stuart Turton @Stu_Turton @BloomsburyRaven

Source: Review copy
Publication: 1st October 2020 from Raven Books
PP: 576
ISBN-13: 978-1408889640

It’s 1634 and Samuel Pipps, the world’s greatest detective, is being transported from the Dutch East Indies to Amsterdam, where he is facing trial and execution for a crime he may, or may not, have committed. Travelling with him is his loyal bodyguard, Arent Hayes, who is determined to prove his friend innocent, while also on board are Sara Wessel, a noble woman with a secret, and her husband, the governor general of Batavia.

But no sooner is their ship out to sea than devilry begins to blight the voyage. A strange symbol appears on the sail. A dead leper stalks the decks. Livestock are slaughtered in the night.

And then the passengers hear a terrible voice whispering to them in the darkness, promising them three unholy miracles. First: an impossible pursuit. Second: an impossible theft. Third: an impossible murder.

Could a demon be responsible for their misfortunes?

With Pipps imprisoned, only Arent and Sara can solve a mystery that stretches back into their past and now threatens to sink the ship, killing everybody on board.

Murder, mystery, magic and mayhem on the high seas from Stuart Turton. What more could you possibly want? This rich tale is impeccably told. It is bold, dazzling, full of derring-do and impossible puzzles. With strong echoes of Conan Doyle in his two principal detectives, Arent Hayes and Samuel Pipps, Turton brings us a 17th Century swashbuckling story replete with characters with missing body parts and strange and fearsome tales to tell.

Is there a devil on the ship? It certainly seems so. With his brilliant partner Pipps locked up in a dank hole below decks, can steadfast Arent Hayes solve this mystery solo? Sara Wessel is travelling with her husband from Batavia to Amsterdam where their fortunes are to be seriously enhanced, but from the outset it is clear that that there is the devil’s work afoot to ensure the voyage of the Saardam is not successful.

Turton does not stint in using his rich, descriptive powers to give us an olfactory tour of the lower decks in this wondrously atmospheric, historical murder mystery. A ship, of course, provides the same opportunities as a locked room when it comes to murder and Turton absolutely makes the most of each and every opportunity to deceive and deflect as his beautiful character populated novel embarks on a most dangerous journey.

As with The Seven Deaths, it is the depth and quality of the characterisation that shines through in this book and there are sufficient intricately drawn characters here to keep our minds busy even as we try to work out which are good and which may be the devil incarnate.

Even as we get nowhere near the solution, this doom laden ship is sailing towards a dramatic event. The motley crew are threatening mutiny when they’re not knifing each other and something nasty is whispering in the ears of anyone who will listen. As an exercise in mass hysteria, it is brilliant to behold.

Turton builds up an enviable cast of characters, some of whom are quite grotesque, complete with backstories, motivation by the bucketful and all in all it feels like we are in the midst of a Matthias Grünewald painting.

You can’t help but be drawn to the principal protagonists though and before the first chapter has ended you are already half in love.

Fantastic prose that I just wanted to wallow in creates a luscious novel that winds itself round your heart and may just squeeze the life out of you before you know you’re caught.

Verdict: Can you tell I loved it? Turton has a delightfully dark and delicious mind that paints in colourful oils all over his pages. This book is rich, vivid and fiendishly clever. Buy it, you will not regret it.

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Stuart Turton’s debut novel, The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle, won the Costa First Novel Award and the Books Are My Bag Readers Award for Best Novel, and was shortlisted for the Specsavers National Book Awards and the British Book Awards Debut of the Year. A Sunday Times bestseller for three weeks, it has been translated into over thirty languages and has also been a bestseller in Italy, Russia and Poland. Stuart lives near London with his wife and daughter.

STONE COLD TROUBLE by Amer Anwar @ameranwar @dialoguebooks

Source: Review copy
Publication: 24 September 2020 from Dialogue Books
PP: 464
ISBN-13: 978-0349700342

Set in the heart of West London’s Asian community, this is the latest instalment in the unmissable ZAQ & JAGS series . . .

Trying – and failing – to keep his head down and to stay out of trouble, ex-con Zaq Khan agrees to help his best friend, Jags, recover a family heirloom, currently in the possession of a wealthy businessman. But when Zaq’s brother is viciously assaulted, Zaq is left wondering whether someone from his own past is out to get revenge.

Wanting answers and retribution, Zaq and Jags set out to track down those responsible. Meanwhile, their dealings with the businessman take a turn for the worse and Zaq and Jags find themselves suspected of murder.

It’ll take both brains and brawn to get themselves out of trouble and, no matter what happens, the results will likely be deadly. The only question is, whether it will prove deadly for them, or for someone else . . . ?

Amer Anwar is a born storyteller. His characters are people you care about; histories laced with danger, action, intrigue and humour and his plotlines carefully crafted.

I adored Brothers in Blood, (Western Fringes when I read it) the first in this series, but I think Anwar has taken his characters a step further this time and I feel as if I am getting to understand Zaq a little better.

Zaq Khan spent 5 years in prison after a fight led to an unintended death. Since his release, he has been working as a delivery driver for a construction company run by Mr Brar whose sons were caught up in Zaq’s first skirmish after his release. Zaq’s best friend is Jags; they’ve been friends since childhood and Jags is a rather good cook, and Anwar always makes my taste buds fire up when I’m reading. Stone Cold Trouble is set in the heart of West London’s British Asian community and Zaq lives in Southhall, sharing a house with a bunch of young Sikh men.

When Zaq’s brother, Tariq, is severely beaten while DJ’ing at a wedding, Zaq is determined to track down the guilty party/ies, and at the same time, Jags has asked him to help retrieve a valuable heirloom belonging to his Uncle Lucky, which he stupidly used as collateral for a gambling bet and which he now can’t get back from its holder.

Amer Anwar shows us the different sides of Zaq in this book. A good friend, but one who doesn’t hesitate to draw Jags into actions he may not have 100% signed up for. A good son and brother, who, even though he and Tariq haven’t always got on, spends every night at his hospital bedside while he lies in a coma.

There are burgeonings of a romantic interest, too but these very definitely take second place to what is a seriously macho response to the events with which Zaq is faced. A distrust of the police – and Anwar has some very pertinent things to say about the demise of community policing – and a fear that he could be sent back to prison are what drives Zaq to take the actions that he does.

Stone Cold Trouble is a darker book than the first and that means that there are times when, much as I wanted to like Zaq, his determination to seek revenge had me looking at him through fresh eyes. 

Anwar has a light touch with Zaq though and this book, with its thrills, fights and genuinely suspenseful heart-in-the-mouth moments, is a riveting read. Interspersed with some good laughs and a load of hugely entertaining banter, it’s easy to fall in love with Zaq and Jags.

But Zaq is treading a very fine line and I’m worried for him and for his lifelong friendship. The consequences of following a road paved with natural justice are not always foreseeable and I’ll be interested to see where Amer Anwar goes with this in the future. There’s only so long you can go on getting away with being the young macho man with good boxing skills, even if it does come with oodles of charm.

Verdict: An excellent read, well-plotted and full of fast paced thrills and spills and intelligent, intriguing plotting. Zaq and Jags are a fantastic pair; let’s hope they can stay that way!

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Amer Anwar  grew up in West London. After leaving college he had a variety of jobs, including; warehouse assistant, comic book lettering artist, a driver for emergency doctors and chalet rep in the French Alps. He eventually landed a job as a creative artworker/graphic designer and spent the next decade and a half producing artwork, mainly for the home entertainment industry. He has an MA in Creative Writing from Birkbeck, University of London and is a winner of the Crime Writers’ Association Debut Dagger Award.  More here.

Rosie Amber

Book Reviewer, Avid Reader and Bookworm. Campaigning to link more readers to writers. People do not forget books that touch them or excite them—they recommend them.


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