Nowhere to Hide by Stephen Puleston narrated by Richard Elfyn Audiobook Review @stephenpuleston

Source: Review copy (TBC Audible Listeners)
Release date: 6 March 2020
Length : 10 hours and 4 minutes
Reader: Richard Elfyn
ASIN: B085L98652

A murdered mother. A failing police force. A detective looking for justice…

When drug addict Dawn Piper is found dead in her own home, her neighbors are far from surprised. Dawn’s habit led her to mix with some dangerous people. But this quiet mother of one was small fry. Why would anyone want Dawn dead?

Inspector Drake knows that there is more to Dawn’s murder than a simple drug deal gone wrong. As he digs deeper, he discovers that Dawn hoped to clean up the streets of her community that are being overrun by drugs and the dangerous County Lines gangs that sell them. And it cost her her life.

Have the police force failed the community they serve?

Drake is used to the murky world of organized crime groups. He knows the dirty games they play to evade arrest. But in his toughest case to date, Drake is determined to make the guilty pay.

This time, they will have nowhere to hide…

I have been listening to a lot more audiobooks recently as I avoid watching too much TV and my reading has been slowing down. So when I was offered the opportunity to listen to the audiobook of Stephen Puleston’s Nowhere to Hide, I jumped at the chance.

This is the 7th in a series and although I have not read the others, I did not feel at a disadvantage and this worked fine as a stand-alone, though clearly there was a significant backstory I didn’t know.

Our protagonist is Detective Inspector Ian Drake, based in Deeside, North Wales. Drake works with DS Sara Morgan, DC Luned Thomas and DC Gareth Winder. Their Superintendent, Wyndham Price, is about to retire and Drake is concerned that the new appointment, Hobbs, will not be as easy to work with; his reputation is that of a man difficult to please.

Drake suffers from OCD, though that is improving now that he is in a new relationship with Annie and the pair are planning a much needed holiday, taking his kids to Disneyland, Paris.

The biggest problem facing the North Wales Police is drugs and the increasing supply coming in from England, which the police refer to as the ‘county lines’ problem. When Dawn Piper, a young woman and a recovering drug addict, is found dead in her flat and it’s clear she’s been killed somewhere else, Drake and Morgan investigate.

It’s pretty obvious to them that drugs are at the root of this murder and that Dawn’s death may be connected to local crime bosses. The local community are already up in arms about the drugs problem and then another death takes place, this time a friend of Dawn’s is murdered.

When Drake’s ex-wife is forced off the road, with his children in her car, Drake knows he has to find these killers before his family comes to serious harm.

Puleston writes a pacy novel and this police procedural is tense and twisty with a terrific sense of place.

Richard Elfyn’s narration is excellent. Fabulously and enthusiastically Welsh, he handles the different voices well and I could listen to his pronunciation of Caerphilly over and over.

Verdict: A solid and authentic police procedural with convincing characters and a strong and believable plot.

Audible

Stephen Puleston was born in Anglesey, an island off the north Wales coast. After leaving school in Holyhead he went to University in London before training as a solicitor/lawyer practising in a small family business doing criminal work in the magistrates and crown courts, divorce and family work.He lives on Anglesey near the beach and the mountains of Snowdonia
Stephen writes crime fiction based in Wales and about Wales. The rural landscape of north Wales provides the backdrop to the Inspector Drake novels. And Cardiff the capital of Wales provides the setting for the Inspector Marco novels set in a modern urban environment.

The Silent Treatment by Abbie Greaves @abbiegreaves1 @arrowpublishing #TheSilentTreatment

Source: Review copy
Publication: 2nd April 2020 from Century
PP: 336
ISBN-13: 978-1529123944

A lifetime of love. Six months of silence. One last chance.

Frank hasn’t spoken to his wife Maggie for six months.

For weeks they have lived under the same roof, slept in the same bed and eaten at the same table – all without words.

Maggie has plenty of ideas as to why her husband has gone quiet, but it will take another heartbreaking turn of events before Frank finally starts to unravel the secrets that have silenced him.

Is this where their story ends?

Or is it where it begins?

Gosh but Abbie Greaves’ book is a beautifully rendered emotional read! It’s a love story wrapped in a mystery and so wrought with fractured emotions and tension that you want to find a way to intervene and make this couple communicate.

The Silent Treatment is a deeply intimate portrait of a relationship. Frank and Maggie have been married for 40 years. Eleanor is their only child, conceived long after they had given up trying and that just makes her extra special to them both.

Told initially in the voices of Maggie and Frank, the novel traces their relationship and where and how things went wrong. So we hear from Frank as he reads Maggie’s journal written in the form of letters and that enables us to understand what he is thinking and feeling as he does so.

Maggie and Frank have not spoken for 6 months, now we wonder if they will ever speak to each other again. Abbie Greaves’ accomplished debut is a heart-wrenching story of love and what can happen when two people stop meaningful communication and how relationships can dwindle on the vine if not nurtured and tended to with honesty.

As Frank reads, he’s talking to Maggie, explaining himself and as he recounts their life together it adds poignancy knowing that he may be too late in deciding to speak now.

The reader is witness to the initial strength of their love they met at University. Frank was shy and a little bit stuffy and Maggie was his heart’s desire.  40 years later and a climactic event has brought Frank to his knees. For six months he and Maggie have been punishing with each other with the silent treatment until, finally, Maggie has given Frank long enough and cannot bear it any longer.

The author slowly drip feeds the reasons for the fissure and as we come to understand the reasons for it, we realise that the love has not diminished but misunderstandings and parental heartbreak meant that secrets grew and resentment flourished.

Through Frank’s narrative we hear the story of their relationship, courtship marriage and of their lives as parents, which is what is at the heart of their current problems. It is a beautifully rendered portrait of love tinged with a host of other emotions from fear to guilt to plain worry, sadness and anxiety, showing us how even the best of relationships can falter in the face of enormous pressures.

Maggie’s journal is the catalyst for progressing the story and enabling us to find out what was in her mind as we hear Frank’s reactions.   A host of tragic incidents has led them to distance each other and to question the basis of their relationship and whether they were even good parents. Years of keeping secrets, being afraid of the other’s judgement and deciding on silence as the answer has broken this pair.

A switch in narrative technique enables to give us Maggie’s reactions and perspective to Frank’s declarations and this adds a layer of emotional clarity to our understanding. She tackles some strong and difficult themes and does so unflinchingly, making for some quite raw moments.

Verdict: Beautifully written, well-paced and immaculately plotted this is an immensely compelling book with a propulsive plot line and an emotionally wrought turbo charge. Read with a box of tissues.

Hive Books                       Waterstones                    Amazon

Abbie Greaves was born in Oxford in 1992. From an early age, she enjoyed making up miraculous stories for her class’ ‘Weekend Review’, none of which had even the faintest footing in truth. Those six-year olds may have had a pretty good idea of what was to come…A love of books led her to study English Literature at the University of Cambridge. After graduation, she spent three years in publishing. She wrote her first novel The Silent Treatment (2020) whilst working as an assistant to a literary agent in London. When she told her school friends that she had penned her own book, none of them were altogether surprised.She currently lives in Edinburgh with her boyfriend, John, and is hard at work on her follow-up novel, The Ends Of The Earth. With the time that isn’t spent writing or reading (the greatest hobby of all), She forces herself to group exercise classes and knit to try and keep her phone-checking habit to a minimum.

Payback by Claire MacLeary @SarabandBooks @ClaireMacLeary @LoveBooksGroup

Source: Review copy
Publication: 23 April 2020 from Contraband
PP: 304
ISBN-13: 978-1912235827

When police are called to a murder scene at the home of Aberdeen socialite Annabel Imray, they are under pressure to get a conviction, and fast. The last thing they want is the distraction of a series of baffling break-ins. The victims, all of them women, are terrorised: just how did the intruder know so much about them?

Meanwhile, local PIs Maggie Laird and Wilma Harcus are at rock bottom, their bills mounting. As Maggie prepares to sell her home and contemplates dissolving the agency, Wilma goes off-piste to get a loan. But when the clock starts ticking on repayment, she realises the price is too high.

And before long, Maggie herself is in grave danger. Wilma fears the worst. Can she find her before it’s too late?

Time spent in the company of Maggie Laird and Wilma Harcus is never wasted. These two are an odd couple and that’s undoubtedly part of the reason this series works so well. Big Wilma is loud, bold and a wee bit brassy but with a heart of gold. I always think of her as the Aberdonian Bet Lynch (from Coronation Street; you have to be of a certain age). Maggie on the other hand is a wee bit too buttoned up. Stressed out, widowed and struggling to put her two teenage children through their education – in Colin’s case private school and in Kirsty’s university, she is finding keeping the private investigation agency afloat harder than she originally envisaged.

Wilma is a bit fed up too. Maggie wants her out there dealing with the bread and butter cases. The insurance frauds and finding new business is where her focus should be, but Wilma likes a wee bit of adventure. She’s all for the stake-outs and jobs that let her use all those covert toys she’s bought, like car trackers and lock-picks.

In this book, which works fine as a stand-alone, Maggie and Wilma find themselves trying hard to get the consistent paying cases, even taking on a missing cat case, but even so they find themselves embroiled in something altogether more dangerous.

Claire MacLeary has a canny way with light and shade. Her books are not afraid to deal with dark and gritty subject matter, yet she manages to inject a degree of humour into them so that we feel a lightness of touch and find ourselves laughing as often as we gasp at developments.

One of the sources of mirth often comes, as it certainly does in this book, from some of the more unreconstructed members of Aberdeen’s finest. Queen Street Divisional Police Headquarters is headed up by D.I. Allan Chisholm and his team. They aren’t best pleased when they are asked to investigate a slew of petty thefts from homes. Then Annabel Imray a young socialite is murdered. Despite some obvious candidates, Chisholm and his team are having trouble identifying the culprit.

Claire MacLeary’s book keeps up a strong pace and the narrative structure neatly weaves together the different plot lines into a strong and coherent strand. The descriptions of people and places are extremely well done and Aberdeen springs to life in her vivid settings adding yet another layer of authenticity to her writing.

The characterisation is strong. In each book we get to know Maggie and Wilma that wee bit more and I certainly felt as if I understood a bit better now where Wilma’s lines are drawn. That’s one of the big strengths of MacLeary’s characters, they feel like real people; people you can get to know and like.

The investigations are nicely done and tie up well and the whole book is a delight to be savoured.

Verdict: Payback is an excellent and engrossing read, with two protagonists you can’t help but love and will want to return to time and again. Strongly recommended.

Hive Books                       Waterstones                    Amazon

Claire MacLeary lived for many years in Aberdeen and St Andrews, but describes herself as “a feisty Glaswegian with a full life to draw on”. Following a career in business, she gained an MLitt with Distinction from the University of Dundee and her short stories have been published in various magazines and anthologies. She has appeared at Granite Noir, Noir at the Bar and other literary events. Claire’s debut novel, Cross Purpose, was  longlisted for the prestigious McIlvanney Prize, Scottish Crime Book of the Year Award 2017.

Strangers by C.L. Taylor @callytaylor @AvonBooksUK @SanjanaCunniah #DontTalktoStrangers

Source: Review copy
Publication: 2 April 2020 from Avon
PP: 352
ISBN-13: 978-0008222468

Ursula, Gareth and Alice have never met before.

Ursula thinks she killed the love of her life.

Gareth’s been receiving strange postcards.

And Alice is being stalked.

None of them are used to relying on others – but when the three strangers’ lives unexpectedly collide, there’s only one thing for it: they have to stick together. Otherwise, one of them will die.

Three strangers, two secrets, one terrifying evening.

Cally Taylor’s Strangers is very well named. She has taken three very different characters, Alice, Ursula and Gareth; a trio with seemingly nothing in common. Ursula is a courier; a troubled young woman who has never got over the death of her partner, losing her job as a teacher as a result and now lives a hand to mouth existence delivering parcels.

Gareth is the Manager of a team of security guards in a shopping mall in central Bristol. He lives with his increasingly forgetful mother and worries that her dementia is going to cause her harm as she starts to cook and then forgets. When Gareth finds a postcard addressed to his mother from her long dead husband, he begins to doubt everything he thought he knew.

Alice is a 46 year old single parent. She manages a trendy clothes shop in the Meads Shopping mall. She’d like someone else in her life now that her daughter is dating Adam and often not at home. If only she could find the right partner.

None of these people knows the other, but before the week is out they will be huddled together in fear for their lives.

Cally Taylor builds up an excellent character study for each of her three protagonists who are very well-drawn and completely believable. Ordinary people doing ordinary jobs when, out of the blue, something happens that turns each of their lives upside down.

Told in the third person with each character heading up a chapter, we meet three very different characters each with their own distinctive voice. It’s easy to identify with them and each has their own story line to keep us hooked as we wait to see how Taylor will bring them together, as we know she must.

Alice is the catalyst. Lonely, unfulfilled she is encouraged by her daughter to try internet dating. When she meets Simon, in unexpected circumstances she is quite taken with him, but it isn’t long before things start going really awry for this would-be couple and soon Alice is receiving threatening messages. It’s clear that someone is out to get her. But why?

Taylor paces her book really well, allowing us to get to know her characters and understand their backstories before drawing us in with some unnerving moments and introducing us to some new characters, some of whom are pretty creepy.

Soon we are in the midst of this spider’s web of creepiness as the tension ramps up and the chills begin to seep through and suddenly we don’t know who to trust.

Verdict: This is C.L. Taylor’s best book yet. Well-drawn and believable characters in a completely compelling situation combine to make this a tense and riveting read with a twisty and climactic ending that surprises.

Hive Books Waterstones Amazon

Cally Taylor was born in Worcester and spent her early years living in various army camps in the UK and Germany. She started writing short stories in 2005 and was published widely in literary and women’s magazines. She also won several short story competitions. In 2009 and 2011 her romantic comedy novels (as Cally Taylor) were published by Orion and translated into fourteen languages. Whilst on maternity leave with her son Cally had an idea for a psychological thriller and turned to crime. C.L. Taylor lives in Bristol with her partner and young son.


We Begin At The End by Chris Whitaker @WhittyAuthor @ZaffreBooks @Tr4cyF3nt0n

Source: Review copy
Publication: 2 April 2020 from Bonnier Zaffre
PP: 464
ISBN-13: 978-1785769627

‘You can’t save someone that doesn’t want to be saved . . .’

Thirty years ago, Vincent King became a killer.

Now, he’s been released from prison and is back in his hometown of Cape Haven, California. Not everyone is pleased to see him. Like Star Radley, his ex-girlfriend, and sister of the girl he killed.

Duchess Radley, Star’s thirteen-year-old daughter, is part-carer, part-protector to her younger brother, Robin – and to her deeply troubled mother. But in trying to protect Star, Duchess inadvertently sets off a chain of events that will have tragic consequences not only for her family, but also the whole town.

Murder, revenge, retribution.

How far can we run from the past when the past seems doomed to repeat itself?

If you are a book lover, it is likely that you will have heard of this book. It will undoubtedly be one of this year’s runaway successes, if not THE runaway success. Deservedly so, because whatever you may have read about this book is true. Forget hype, this book towers above the crowd.

Chris Whitaker’s writing is delicate, poignant and absolutely spot on. His characters are riveting. Well-drawn, realistic, palpably human. None more so than our protagonist, 13 year old Duchess Day Radley. What a voice to front a novel! She is a character so beautifully written, so strong in personality that this book is bound to become a classic. If it isn’t made into a film I will eat my hat and everyone else’s too.

Reader, Chris Whitaker’s book made me cry. Wet sloppy tears that ran down my face like an unstoppable waterfall, such is the power of this writing.

We Begin At The End is set in sleepy Cape Haven, California – the epitome of small town America. Duchess Radley is sister to 6 year old Robin, and in reality she is, to all intents and purposes, in loco parentis. Duchess and Robin’s mother is Star – a troubled woman who has more than once tried to end her life, leaving Duchess to deal with the consequences.

Star and Robin never knew their father – or fathers – Star has never said – and she has had a number of unhappy acquaintances with unsuitable men. She can sing, and sometimes will do so for drinks and cash at a nearby bar, where Duchess will be her minder.

Duchess is a heart-breaking character. She has styled herself an Outlaw, a protector and she will do whatever it takes to protect her brother. Duchess can’t afford to be vulnerable, or even to look too clever;her job as she knows it has to be, is to make herself invisible until the time comes when she emerges from the shadows and makes sure no-one can harm Robin.

She has woven for herself a cloak of armour and nothing and no-one is going to penetrate it. Duchess is front and centre of this book and the things that happen do so because of her. She is fierce, full of courage and yet embattled in a way that no 13 year old should be. It is doubtful whether she has had a carefree day in her life. She trusts no-one; has no friends and rebuffs anyone who seeks to be a friend.

Vince Walker is released from prison after serving 30 years. He killed Star’s 7 year old sister, Sissy, and Star was never quite the same again. Many lives were changed that day, not least Walk’s. Now Chief of Police, Walk was Vince’s best friend and he loved him like a brother. Now Walk’s health is failing and when, only days out of jail, Vince is arrested for murder, he will do what he can to make sure his friend is not sent away again – even if Vince will do nothing to help him.

Dickie Darke is a property developer. A tall, looming man, he owns the bar Star sings in and he hangs round Star in a way that creeps out Duchess. She knows he is bad for her mother and brings nothing but ill when he comes to visit.

When Sissy was killed, her father Hal made his feelings clear to Vince; suffering was nowhere near good enough for him. And when Duchess starts a chain of events from which it is impossible to draw back, Walk knows it is to Hal’s home in Copper Falls, Montana that he must send Duchess and Robin, even though they do not know him.

Whitaker’s impeccably plotted novel, which is indeed a murder mystery, is so much more than that. It is a brilliantly written study of characters all of whom are flawed; mostly scarred and damaged people whose intentions are good but whose actions let them down. There’s a truth to these characters that shines through and makes them real; makes them people that you need to care about because they have suffered hardship; because they, too, care.

There’s such an emotional core to this story that it resonates long afterwards. There are many things to love about it not least the spectacular writing. More than anything it is a book about love and how much people are prepared to sacrifice for those they truly love.

There’s so much more I could tell you, but you should just buy the book and find out for yourself.

Verdict: Whitaker’s understanding of what drives people, of the essence of human nature, has created an astonishing and vividly told story that shines like a freshly cut diamond amid a heap of coal.

Waterstones                    Amazon            
(though if you local independent bookshop stocks it, please buy it there)            

Chris Whitaker was born in London and spent ten years working as a financial trader in the city.
His debut novel, Tall Oaks, won the CWA John Creasey New Blood Dagger.
Chris’s second novel, All The Wicked Girls, was published in August 2017. He lives in Hertfordshire with his wife and two young sons.

Wild Dog by Serge Joncour trs Jane Aitken and Polly Mackintosh @BelgraviaB @sergeJoncour

Source: Review copy
Publication: 2 April 2020 from Gallic Books
PP: 372
ISBN-13: 978-1910477793

Franck and Lise, a French couple in the film industry, rent a cottage in the quiet hills of the French Lot to get away from the stresses of modern life.

In this remote corner of the world, there is no phone signal. A mysterious dog emerges, looking for a new master. Ghosts of a dark past run wild in these hills, where a German lion tamer took refuge in the First World War…

Franck and Lise are confronted with nature at its most brutal. And they are about to discover that man and beast have more in common than they think.

Wild Dog is set in an isolated part of the Auvergne, France. The novel is set in two distinct time zones and told in chapters which mostly alternate. The 1914/15 sections are very strong, a mixture of historical fact as the author depicts the impact of the Great War on a poor farming community and what happens when they lose not only their men, but also their animals to the cause of the war.

Joncour paints a grim and realistic picture of life at that time and in the chiascuro of the lives of these villagers he brings in a slightly fantastical figure who literally lives above the villagers, in the abandoned mountains, almost as if he is towering over them. The German animal trainer, a former circus performer, has brought his lions and tigers to the Auvergne to hide them away, and though he is seldom seen, the impact of his presence is felt every time the beasts roar.

His presence is a troubling one for the villagers. For one thing he is German and in hiding. He keeps himself to himself and the villagers, who are themselves hiding a flock of sheep in the mountains, know that at least his beasts will deter the wolves that roam there. But when it becomes clear that the Doctor’s widow, 30 year old Josephine, whose husband is presumed lost in the war, has formed a bond with the German, tongues are set alight.

The second time zone is contemporary, set in the summer of 2017. Lise is no longer an actress. Recovering from cancer, she has sought out a place for a three week holiday where she can commune with nature; a place where she can stay without the need for intrusive technology, or mobile phones or any of the contemporary white noise that accompanies so much of modern living. She wants a simpler, healthier environment and this cottage she has found, high in the hills amid a swathe of trees, is both hidden from sight and far enough away from the village to be pretty inaccessible. There is no noisy industry, no pollution, just nature.

Lisa is delighted. Her husband Franck, a film producer, no longer as successful as he once was, has just gone into partnership with two young men from the games industry and is finding all their talk of ‘content’ and streaming a bit of an anathema to his love of art house cinema and celluloid. He is appalled at the thought of spending three weeks without a landline, a mobile signal or wifi or any way of connecting with his business.

This part of the French Lot is wild and uninhibited in nature and all around they are surrounded by the signs of wildlife, some distinctly wilder than others.

Wild Dog connects these two time zones through the nature that mainly unchanging, surrounds these characters. Lise and Franck are looking for different things, but living close to nature without technology will bring them closer together and though the impact on Lise is beneficial, the more startling impact is on Franck who begins to understand what it is to rely on the wild for everything you need to survive.

Joncour’s very real strength is in the way he portrays the landscape, nature and the wild beauty of the countryside that surrounds them. This is nature at its most alive; wild, noisy, unforgiving. It has the effect of making soft city dwellers understand what they have lost and to begin to restore the raw power that nature can bestow.

A large dog connects the two timelines as Joncour shows us all too clearly how much we have forgotten about our basic natures and how we used to connect to animals and the nature that surrounds us. Evolution, he seems to be saying, may not be everything it’s cracked up to be.

Joncour writes well and sumptuously. His pace is slow and rhythmic, in tune with a less frenetic way of life and a deeper connection to nature. Yet he also highlights the inherent danger of such wildness and as we watch Franck deserting his vegetarian lifestyle and reverting to a carnivore, we are prompted to reflect on the thin line between man and beast, between nature’s sinister side and so called sophistication.

Verdict: Wild Dog is a well-structured, tense and deeply atmospheric novel. I enjoyed it, especially the earlier time period, though I did find some of the contemporary story line a little much. But this is a beautifully written novel, rich in language and allegory and most definitely worth spending time on.

Waterstones                                  Amazon

Serge Joncour is a French novelist and screenwriter. He was born in Paris in 1961 and studied philosophy at university before deciding to become a writer. His first novel, Vu, was published by Le Dilettante in 1998. He wrote the screenplay for Sarah’s Key starring Kristin Scott Thomas, released in 2011. His 2016 novel Repose-toi sur moi won the Prix Interallié.
Wild Dog (Chien loup), winner of the Prix Landerneau des Lecteurs, is the first of his novels to be published in English.

Little Disasters by Sarah Vaughan @SVaughanAuthor @JessBarratt88 @SimonSchusterpr

Source: Review copy
Publication: 2 April 2020 from Simon & Schuster
PP: 432
ISBN-13: 978-1471165030

You think you know her…

But look a little closer

She is a stay-at-home mother-of-three with boundless reserves of patience, energy and love. After being friends for a decade, this is how Liz sees Jess.

Then one moment changes everything.

Dark thoughts and carefully guarded secrets surface – and Liz is left questioning everything she thought she knew about her friend, and about herself.

I was late to read Anatomy of A Scandal and loved it, so was very keen to read Sarah Vaughan’s next novel. All the things I loved about Anatomy of A Scandal are present here, too. The taut prose, the ability to get inside characters and to really understand what drives people is all present.

Excellent characterisation, an immersive and believable plot line, and a strong, resonating emotional core combined to draw me in and hold me fast.

Liz Trenchard is a pediatrician and mother of two boys. She’s working an A&E shift when Jess Curtis turns up with her ten month old baby girl. The baby has head injury that Jess doesn’t seem to be aware of, and Jess herself is telling a story that makes little sense.

Liz knows Jess. They were in the same ante natal classes and became friends, though they have not seen much of each other since Jess’s third child, this baby girl, Betsey, was born. Jess was always the composed, stylish one who made everything seem effortless, from dinner parties to personal grooming, everything she did was immaculate.

This Jess, though, is a different woman; one Liz hasn’t met before. Jess is vague, somewhat evasive and withdrawn and not at all like the Jess that Liz knew, the one who was always in control.

Liz herself is frazzled; lumbered with a bully of a consultant who has never forgiven her for taking maternity leave and as we will discover, she is also is also deeply conflicted about her relationship with her mother. Her mother’s neglect led to a terrible accident involving her brother and as she thinks about Jess she finds herself about remembering another child from thirty-five years ago.

Examining Betsey, Liz follows established protocol asking questions about what exactly happened, where and how long ago and whether Betsy has exhibited any other symptoms. These are routine questions, but Jess’s answers feel shifty and somewhat evasive and Liz realises to her horror that she doesn’t quite believe her.  Because they are friends, Liz has to recuse herself from the case, but not before her consultant has torn a strip off her for not already have called in both the Police and Social Services.

This is a really difficult choice for Liz to make. A choice that goes against everything she knows about Jess and what a good mother she is. They have shared a lot as mothers and Liz has always admired Jess – a mother who has everything sussed. And yet, she knows, she can feel in her bones, that something is wrong.

When it is determined that Betsey has a fractured skull, everything that Liz believed is thrown into doubt. Nothing can be the same as Jess’s marriage, husband and her whole life come under scrutiny. Secrets are revealed and more than one life will be thrown into disarray as the pressure is piled on Jess and her husband, Ed find their lives put under the microscope.

Vaughan delicately explores themes of gender and parenting roles, with Liz expressing the view that what she really wants is a wife to do all the things she needs while she is at work. Jess’s husband Ed is a hedge fund manager whose parenting seems only to involve a little child play on a Saturday afternoon when he has time.

Verdict: Vaughan skillfully deploys her knowledge of parenting and the fears that parents bring to child rearing to build a compelling portrait of a woman in crisis which is both beautifully observed and full of humanity. The layered plot holds its tension well and is utterly believable. The fear is palpable and the pain all too real.  Themes of isolation and mental health sit well across a plot in which pretty much everyone nurses a secret and which carries more than a few surprises.  This is a psychological thriller that is suspenseful and emotive. Highly recommended.

Waterstones                                                 Amazon

Sarah Vaughan is a former Guardian journalist – news reporter and political correspondent – who always wanted to write fiction. Her third novel, Anatomy of a Scandal, was an instant international bestseller, a top 5 Sunday Times bestseller, number 1 in the Kindle charts, long-listed for the Theakston Old Peculiar crime novel of the year 2018 and shortlisted for the Audible Sounds of Crime Award, GoodReads Jury’s Out award and French Elle’s Prix des Lectrices. Translated into 22 languages, the TV rights have been bought by a US producer and writer with filming anticipated this year.
Photo: © Phil Mynott

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

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

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

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

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

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

And that’s just the beginning…

I read this the day it came out in e-book. I had lost my reading mojo and wanted something that would not be a difficult read, but which would spark me up and help reclaim my love of reading. Deep Dark Night did just that for me, and so I am delighted to reprise my review here, in grateful thanks for giving me back my love of reading.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hive Books                       Kobo                   Amazon

Steph Broadribb was born in Birmingham and grew up in Buckinghamshire. Most of her working life has been spent between the UK and USA. As her alter ego – Crime Thriller Girl – she indulges her love of all things crime fiction by blogging at http://www.crimethrillergirl.com, where she interviews authors and reviews the latest releases.
Steph is an alumni of the MA in Creative Writing (Crime Fiction) at City University London, and she trained as a bounty hunter in California. She lives in Buckinghamshire surrounded by horses, cows and chickens. Her debut thriller, Deep Down Dead, was shortlisted for the Dead Good Reader Awards in two categories, and hit number one on the UK and AU kindle charts.
My Little Eye, her first novel under her pseudonym Stephanie Marland was published by Trapeze Books in April 2018.

Our Little Cruelties by Liz Nugent @lizzienugent @PenguinUKBooks #OurLittleCruelties

Source: Review copy
Publication: 26 March 2010 from Penguin
PP: 384
ISBN-13: 978-1844883950

Three brothers are at the funeral. One lies in the coffin.

Will, Brian and Luke grow up competing for their mother’s unequal love. As men, the competition continues – for status, money, fame, women …

They each betray each other, over and over, until one of them is dead.

But which brother killed him?

Nobody writes dysfunctional families and maladjusted personalities better than Liz Nugent. She has the capacity to understand what makes people cruel and unforgiving and to really flesh those characters out. It’s as if she crawled inside their heads then slowly pushed out the festering pus she found there until it spilled onto the pages of her manuscript.

This book is about the Drumm family, pretty well to do Dubliners. There are three brothers, William, Brian and Luke and their mother, Melissa, an ageing showband singer. The book opens with a funeral. One of the brothers is in a coffin, though we don’t know which one. As we read, we will find ourselves changing our minds about which one we hope it is.

The story is told from the perspective of each of the brothers. The narrative moves back and forwards in time to offer up reminiscences, and a completely compelling and quite horrifying look at three young men who grew up competing for their mother’s love; something that was in ever diminishing supply.

This is sibling rivalry taken to extremes. Not one of the brothers seems capable of empathy. Will is the first born and feels entitled. Dominant, not unattractive, he will forge his way into a successful career as a film-maker.

Brian is the middle son and has something of an inferiority complex and a bit of a hang up over his crooked nose. He goes into teaching but scuppers that career and ends up as a talent manager. Maging the career of his youngest brother, Luke, a pop star.

As the youngest, Luke battled in vain for his mother’s love and has always been a physically fragile waif as well as having a damaged psyche.

Melissa is self –absorbed and plays favourites without concern for the consequences. Will takes Brian’s would-be girlfriend, seduces and marries her, never for a moment considering how Brian might feel about this. Brian becomes godfather to their daughter, Daisy.

Luke craves his mother’s love but constantly rejected, he first turns, somewhat maniacally, to the Church and then substituting that obsession for the more normal addictions of drugs and alcohol. Somewhat stumbling into a pop career, he weaves in and out of addiction and lets himself be taken advantage of by all and sundry, but especially by his brothers.

Liz Nugent crafts each of these characters very carefully and by allocating the narrative to each of the brothers what we get is a deeply partial, three sided account of a number of life changing incidents where the reader is left to extrapolate exactly what has occurred.

But goodness me these characters are toxic. Full of self-importance and without a hint of self-awareness. William is a cheating, sexist bully. Brian is a mean and spiteful thief and Luke is a fragile ego with a weak mind and a pale, skinny body.

There is no sense of a family together here. Rather each knows the weaknesses of the other and they pinch, poke and prod at those weaknesses trying to get their victims to react.

This is very powerful writing and Liz Nugent builds up the picture in such a way that the reader is fascinated and horrified simultaneously, watching, like a fly on the wall as these men torture and torment each other in the name of family.

And the ending…..OMG that ending. Just thanking my lucky stars I was never caught in an isolation lockdown with these guys!

Verdict: Liz Nugent is an extraordinary writer at the top of her game. This is a propulsive, transfixing portrait of a family that should be on everyone’s must have list.

Hive Books                       Waterstones                    Amazon

Liz Nugent was born in Dublin, where she now lives with her husband, musician and sound engineer Richard McCullough. Before becoming a full-time writer, Liz Nugent worked in Irish film, theatre and television. Her three novels – Unravelling Oliver, Lying in Wait and Skin Deep have each been Number One bestsellers in Ireland and she has won four Irish Book Awards (two for Skin Deep). She lives in Dublin with her husband.

Author Guest Post – ANDY GRIFFEE @AndyGriffee @OrphansPublish #crimefiction #Guestpost #CanalNoir #RiverRats

I am delighted to welcome author Andy Griffee to Live and Deadly. I really enjoyed his debut novel, Canal Pushers and knowing that the follow up, River Rats is due to be published shortly, I asked Andy to write a piece for me on writing that all-important second novel.

Before he does, let me share with you, the blurb for River Rats, out next week.

Jack Johnson has a talent for trouble – wherever he goes on his narrowboat, it seems to follow him. Moored up on the River Avon in the beautiful Georgian surroundings of Bath, he’s working at the local paper when a prominent magistrate and heritage campaigner is attacked and drowned. Could it be a serial killer copying the Canal Pusher? Or a biker gang who swore revenge on the magistrate?


Against his wishes, Jack is pulled into the investigation by his ambitious editor who wants the scoop. Jack and his friend, the war widow, Nina, have also been drawn into another struggle.

The moorings of a small settled boating community sit alongside a huge former industrial site that property developers want to fill with luxury housing. Nearby residents are enlisted to petition against the boat people, and as the campaign spirals out of control, lives are threatened. Who is helping their enemies? Another gripping tale of corruption and intrigue from the riverbank, full of dark waters and deadly secrets.

Sounds thrilling, doesn’t it! Now over to Andy.

At the end of my last blog for the wonderful Live and Deadly, I described how my publishers had demanded the outline of a second book before they would give me a contract for the first one, Canal Pushers. And so, having written my debut crime thriller as a ‘pantster’ (ie by the seat of my pants over the previous two and a half years), I was forced to become a ‘plotter’ with a carefully planned chapter-by-chapter outline of the sequel, River Rats.  Well, it is now a year later, River Rats will be launched this April 2nd and boy, have I learned a lot in the process.

Once again, our intrepid hero, a divorced and largely unemployed journalist called Jack Johnson takes to the UK’s waterways on his live-aboard narrowboat Jumping Jack Flash. And once again, he is accompanied by a mysterious young war widow called Nina Wilde who he met by chance on a towpath in the Midlands. This time, however, the action moves on to the West Country and the city of Bath.

Pulteney Bridge and city centre weir in Bath at night

I know Bath well having been a young newspaper reporter on the Bath Evening Chronicle in the late 1980s. It may be a UNESCO World Heritage site, tourist honeypot and boast eye-watering house prices, but there has always been a seamy underside to this city. Its undercurrents of crime and homelessness provided me with plenty of news copy at the time. So, it seemed a perfect location for my latest story about a small community of narrowboats who come into conflict with violent and unscrupulous property developers and corrupt Councillors and council officials.

I was also very familiar with the River Avon, the location of my hotly contested fictional moorings, and the Kennet and Avon canal where growing numbers of boat owners seek a toehold to live their alternative lifestyles on the fringes of this most expensive of cities. Last May, I hired a 68 foot long narrowboat for a weekend jaunt out to Bradford on Avon and back to research a trip that is mirrored in River Rats. This coincided with my father’s 80th birthday and so it turned into an extended 12-strong Griffee family event.

Captain Griffee and some of his crew

The weather was hot and sunny, the canal was crowded, the boat was very long (but cramped) and tiredness led to short tempers and ill-judged words from the skipper (me). In the event, it was perhaps fortunate that a real murder didn’t take place!

However, further research trips to my old newspaper’s stomping ground became a real pleasure as I rediscovered old drinking haunts and patrolled the banks of the Avon. I was looking forward to returning to one of the city’s best independent bookshops, Mr B’s Emporium, for the official launch of River Rats but sadly the coronavirus has put paid to that.

When it came to actually writing the book, my outline plot proved invaluable and the process sailed by in about 3 months flat. There was no extended period of writers’ block like last time and I thoroughly enjoyed myself. And yet…the doubts crept in almost as soon as I sent off the first draft to Debbie Hatfield, my editor at Orphans Publishing. And these doubts multiplied as I walked my dogs and thought it through further. I could do better, I told myself. Why were the police being so slow to agree with Jack’s suspicions about the motive for a murder of a leading magistrate? Was someone from the tiny boating community secretly helping the unscrupulous developers? How could I introduce some more exciting set-piece incidents? The questions crowded in, and slowly I thought them through so that when the first draft came back, with Debbie’s perceptive suggestions and line-by-line comments, I decided to set to work on a wholesale rewrite.

And this time, it was much more organic. I focused on better character development and a deeper level of relationship between Jack and Nina. I replaced too much ‘tell’ with much more ‘show’ and I deliberately replaced many long descriptive passages with shorter, sharper sections of dialogue. I also incorporated a substantial new plot-line about a fictional Hells Angels gang called the Bristol Bulldogs and used them to inject more humour into the book.

And so, having striven to be a good ‘plotter’ for River Rats – and garnered the benefits of knowing how it would end before I started it – the final book has become a blend of the two techniques and I think it is all the better for it. I think this makes it the work of a ‘plantster’ – a combination of plotting and pants-flying! I hope readers will agree and the many kind reviews of Canal Pushers on Amazon and Good Reads seem to suggest there are many waiting for the next instalment in the Jumping Jack Flash series.

As a former journalist and BBC executive, I still have much to learn about this new industry I find myself in. Sadly, my planned schedule of launch events, lectures, talks, literary festivals and book-clubs which were crowding into my diary have been cancelled and I am trying to replace them with social media activity including a virtual launch party on Facebook Live. My nerves about the reaction to the latest book are under slightly more control than they were last time, but I am still puzzling how a 58-year-old debut crime thriller writer gets to be noticed by the immensely powerful reviewers of the national press. At least other writers who link up with me on Twitter’s #WritingCommunity and #AmWriting are supportive.

Oh…and I am also busy working on the plot outline for the third book in the series. It doesn’t yet have a title, but I do know that Jack is moving his boat onto the Isis at Oxford and many happy research trips are now beckoning me to the city and its dreaming spires. I recently returned from a week’s writing retreat in Budapest where I worked through the book’s plot – but I also know to leave plenty of room for the creative imagination as well when I come to writing the damn thing.

River Rats is published on April 2nd and is available for pre-order now as a hardback and e-book. It is available directly from www.orphanspublishing.co.uk, and we are also asking readers to support Mr B’s independent bookshop by ordering it directly from them at this difficult time via https://mrbsemporium.com/shop/books/river-rats

Andy Griffee is a former BBC journalist and media consultant with a fascination for stories. He began his journalism career at the Bath Evening Chronicle, and then spent twenty-five years at the BBC, culminating in his role as Editorial Director of the redevelopment of Broadcasting House. Andy lives in Worcestershire and, when he isn’t writing, rears rare breed pigs, struggles to keep a 1964 Triumph Spitfire on the road and enjoys hiring narrowboats with his wife Helen.

Please support an independent bookshop by ordering River Rats from Mr.B’s emporium of reading delights

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