The Hiding Place by Simon Lelic  @Simon_Lelic @VikingBooksUK @EllieeHud

Source: Review copy
Publication: 5 May 2022 from Penguin Viking
PP: 352
ISBN-13: 978-0241990322

My thanks to Penguin and Ellie Hudson for an advance copy for review

FOUR FRIENDS. ONE MURDER. A GAME THEY CAN’T ESCAPE

‘It was only a game’… Until a boy went missing.

‘No one was meant to get hurt’… But a body has been found.

‘Just some innocent fun’… Except one of them is a killer.

Ready or not, here I come.

It’s time to play hide and seek again.

There must be something in the air…public schools are coming in for something of a literary hammering just now. I think authors are channelling their thoughts about the behaviour of some of our politicians into their work…

Be that as it may, Simon Lelic has a public school at the centre of his latest novel, The Hiding Place.

Told in a dual timeline format it is the story of Ben Draper who went missing from his elite boarding school 22 years ago while playing hide and seek. Now a body has been discovered in a crypt on the school grounds. DI Rob Fleet and his colleague Nicky Collins are in charge of cold cases – a punishment for Fleet who is out of favour with his boss. So they take the lead on this case before the boss catches on that one of the key persons of interest is Ben’s old school friend, Callum Richardson, now a politician challenging the government with some success and riding high with an impressive media profile.

The narrative to The Hiding Place moves between the police investigation and the events of 22 years ago, as told from Ben’s perspective.  An outsider with no friends, Ben was an unhappy child with no friends and so when three older children, Callum, Lance and Melissa take him under their wing he is grateful to them for including him in their activities.

Lelic describes the school vividly and the toxic, bullying  nature of the school’s culture really stands out.  Many of the school’s characters are wholly unlikable and Ben’s situation is sad and depressing.

Although you do get some sense of Rob Fleet and his domestic situation, it’s a bit of a slow drip feed and not quite enough to lift the sense that everyone else in this book is really rather awful and so it’s just as well that Fleet is a relentless pursuer of the truth.

The pace quickens towards the end as the tension builds and it is clear that events of 22 years ago are now driving a killer’s agenda and more deaths are discovered as well as lives put in danger.

Lelic builds in some nice deceptions and a couple of great twists which makes this murder mystery zing a little more. He also has some nice one-liners to lift the tension when it all becomes a bit intense.

Verdict: All round a well-crafted police procedural with some intriguing characters and good plotting.

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Simon Lelic is the author of seven highly acclaimed thrillers: Rupture (winner of a Betty Trask Award and shortlisted for the John Creasey Debut Dagger), The Facility, The Child Who (longlisted for the CWA Gold Dagger and the CWA Ian Fleming Steel Dagger), The House, The Liar’s Room, The Search Party and The Hiding Place. He has also written The Haven series for younger readers, twice shortlisted for the CrimeFest awards.

Wrong Place, Wrong Time by Gillian McAllister @GillianMAuthor @MichaelJBooks

Source: Review copy
Publication: 12 May 2022 from Michael Joseph
PP: 416
ISBN-13: ‎ 978-0241520949

It’s every parent’s nightmare.

Your happy, funny, innocent son commits a terrible crime: murdering a complete stranger.

You don’t know who. You don’t know why. You only know your teenage boy is in custody and his future lost.

That night you fall asleep in despair. Until you wake . . .

. . . and it is yesterday.

Every morning you wake up a day earlier, another day before the murder. Another chance to stop it.

Somewhere in the past lie the answers, and you don’t have a choice but to find them . . .

If you’re going to play with suspension of disbelief in order to deliver a riveting psychological thriller then you really do have to be very careful to make sure the plotting is immaculate and the premise sufficiently compelling to allow the reader to skip over the disbelief part. That Gillian McAllister achieves this and in doing so makes it feel effortless is no less than a triumph.

I was absolutely glued to Wrong Place, Wrong Time from start to finish. This is excellent writing wrapped up in a really interesting proposition and delivered faultlessly.

The crime is straightforward and no less shocking for that. No spoilers here for we start with a fatal stabbing of a stranger by a young man, Todd right in front of Jen, his mother who has been waiting up for him wanting to make sure he gets safely home.

Todd is arrested and Jen spends a difficult night on the sofa, finally falling asleep despite herself. She has no idea who the victim is or even why her son would have had a knife. Todd is a happy science nerd, not some teenager in a gang and she can’t fathom what would have driven him to this.

But when she wakes after a fitful night, she finds that time has slipped and she is in the day before the crime. Now she can begin to unravel the time before the crime; to delve into who this stranger was and why her son was involved enough with him to commit murder against him.

In a beautifully structured plot, Jen’s journey is one that takes her progressively back in time while she slowly realises that by understanding what has happened and how the timeline progressed, she might just have an opportunity to intervene and change the course of events.

As McAllister takes Jen back in time, further and further we not only learn about Jen, her partner Ryan and their son Todd, but we have an opportunity to understand the choices that they have made as a family and how those choices have impacted on the events leading up to the murder.

This means that Jen is constantly asking herself questions about what she could have done differently and the extent to which she may have contributed to the terrible outcome in which her lovely, funny son commits a terrible knife crime.

Beautifully plotted, full of surprises and absolutely winning me over, I was captivated and enthralled by this thrilling and original story. The characters are great and you really do care about Jen and because you do, her need to understand the course of events becomes yours. You need Todd to have a rational explanation for what has gone before; you will Jen on to get to the truth before Todd is convicted of murder. I was on tenterhooks throughout and the whole book is so well plotted and convincingly written that I didn’t once have to stop and question the premise. It just works and works completely.

Verdict: Brilliantly clever, utterly convincing.  A real winner that’s bound to be a huge success.

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Gillian McAllister has been writing for as long as she can remember. She graduated with an English degree before working as a lawyer. She lives in Birmingham, where she now writes full-time. She is the Sunday Times bestselling author of Everything But the Truth, Anything You Do Say, No Further Questions, The Evidence Against You, How To Disappear and the Richard & Judy Book Club pick That Night. She is also the creator and co-host of the popular Honest Authors podcast.

Bad Actors by Mick Herron  (Slough House #8) @recordedbooks

Source: Review copy
Publication: US – 8 May 2022 from SoHo Crime and Recorded Books
UK publication: 12 May from Baskerville
Narrator: Gerald Doyle
Listening Time: 10 hours and 51 glorious minutes
ASIN: B09RKTT6VY

My thanks to Soho Crime and Recorded Books for an advance copy for review

Intelligence has a new home.

A governmental think-tank, whose remit is to curb the independence of the intelligence service, has lost one of its key members, and Claude Whelan – one-time head of MI5’s Regent’s Park – is tasked with tracking her down. But the trail leads straight back to the Park itself, with Diana Taverner as chief suspect. Has Diana overplayed her hand at last? What’s her counterpart, Moscow’s First Desk, doing in London? And does Jackson Lamb know more than he’s telling?

Over at Slough House, with Shirley Dander in rehab, Roddy Ho in dress rehearsal, and new recruit Ashley Khan turning up the heat, the slow horses are doing what they do best, and adding a little bit of chaos to an already unstable situation….

There are bad actors everywhere, and they usually get their comeuppance before the credits roll. But politics is a dirty business, and in a world where lying, cheating and backstabbing are the norm, sometimes the good guys can find themselves outgunned.

Mick Herron keeps getting better and better. Part of the reason for this is that, where once his satire was very funny, now it seems that life is imitating art and he is drawing on current events without having to reach very far to find the satire.

There are many fabulous laugh-out-loud moments in this brilliantly written, sharp and incisive book that is far too close to home for comfort. Herron has his finger firmly on the pulse as this post-Brexit novel takes in Covid and the omni-shambles of a broken Britain.

As ever, there are dangers to the country from every sphere, notably this time, the Russians – and how prescient is that – but the key battle ground is of course between Jackson Lamb’s slow horses of Slough House and Diana Taverner, holder of the MI5 First Desk role at Regent’s Park.

Herron’s cast of colourful characters is sublime. The Prime Minister’s super forecaster, Sophie de Greer, has gone missing. Her role is to predict public reaction to potential Government policies. De Greer was also a member of an internal think tank looking to curb the power of M15. Who benefits is the question?

Sparrow, the PM’s right hand man (a recognisable hate figure to anyone who follows UK politics), has tasked Diana Taverner’s predecessor, Claude Whelan, to find out what has happened to her. Sparrow is no fan of M15 whose operations don’t fall under his control and he needs to be sure that she hasn’t been ‘waterproofed’ by Taverner as a way of ensuring that there’s no meddling with the Service.

Then there’s the fact that the Head of the Russian First Desk has slipped unnoticed into London…how are all these things connected?

Because no-one cares what Slough House and the slow horses are up to, they have the best chance of rooting around all this intrigue without coming under anyone’s scrutiny. In a masterpiece of brilliant plotting, superb one-liners and stunning character studies, we are one again in the madcap world of Roddy Ho, Lech Wicinski, Catherine Standish, Louisa Guy and Shirley Dander and the irascible, farting, foul mouthed Jackson Lamb.

They are joined by a new slow horse, the young and puzzled Ashley Khan. She can’t work out quite why she is at Slough House, but the truth is that on her very first mission Ashley Khan messed up a covert surveillance operation and Lamb ‘accidently on purpose’ broke her arm. She’s about to make her second mistake…

Roddy Ho – the Rodster – is unmissable in this instalment as he auditions would be Princess Leahs. Shirley’s in rehab and everyone is missing River Cartwright.

Told from multiple perspectives and using flashbacks, this tightly and expertly plotted book is crammed full of intrigue, dark moments and thrilling action.

It’s hard to do justice to such a clever, witty and entertaining novel which undoubtedly is better if you have read the preceding books in the series. And you really should, because this is one of the outstanding series of its generation.

Lamb’s slow horses may be misfits who have messed up, but they are still spies and they have skills that, because no-one cares about them, they can deploy under much less scrutiny than anyone in Regent’s Park would ever manage. Jackson Lamb knows just how to operate under the radar and as ever, he’s got a handle on the situation long before anyone knows what’s going on.

Gerard Doyle’s mellifluous narration is well modulated grease to the wheel of this super charged turbo car of a novel.

Verdict: This is Mick Herron on superb, scintillating and excoriating form. On point, topical and so very, very witty, Herron has his finger firmly on the pulse of British politics and delivers his verdict with scathing accuracy. Bad Actors is an unmissable book in an unmissable series.

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Mick Herron is a novelist and short story writer whose books include the Sarah Tucker/Zoë Boehm series and the standalone novel RECONSTRUCTION. His work has been shortlisted for the Macavity, Barry and Shamus awards. Mick is the author of the acclaimed Jackson Lamb series, the first of which, the Steel Dagger-nominated SLOW HORSES, was hailed by the Daily Telegraph as one of the “the twenty greatest spy novels of all time”. The second in the series, DEAD LIONS, won the 2013 CWA Goldsboro Gold Dagger, and was picked by the Sunday Times as one of the best 25 crime novels of the past five years. The third, REAL TIGERS, was shortlisted for both the Gold and Steel Daggers, for the Theakstons Crime Novel of the Year, and for the 2017 Macavity Award. It won the Last Laugh Award at Crimefest 2017, for the best humorous crime novel of 2016. The Jackson Lamb series is now being shown on Apple TV. Mick was born in Newcastle upon Tyne, and lives in Oxford. He writes full time.

See No Evil by David Fennell  (DI Grace Archer #2)  @DavyFennell @BonnierBooks_UK @Tr4cyF3nt0n

Source: Review copy
Publication: 28 April 2022 from Bonnier Zaffre
PP: 400
ISBN-13: ‎ 978-1838776664

My thanks to Bonnier Books for an advance copy for review and to Compulsive Readers for the blog tour opportunity

Two men are found dead in London’s Battersea Park. One of the bodies has been laid out like a crucifix – with his eyes removed and placed on his open palms.

Detective Inspector Grace Archer and her caustic DS, Harry Quinn, lead the investigation. But when more bodies turn up in a similar fashion, they find themselves in a race against time to find the sadistic killer.

The hunt leads them to Ladywell Playtower in Southeast London, the home to a religious commune lead by the enigmatic Aaron Cronin. Archer and Quinn suspect Cronin’s involvement but his alibis are watertight, and the truth seemingly buried. If Archer is to find the killer, she must first battle her way through religious fanatics, London gangsters – and her own demons . . .

After reading The Art of Death, the first in the Grace Archer series, it seemed like an awfully long wait for the follow up, See No Evil. It wasn’t, but I was so eager to read this one, I was champing at the bit.

D.I. Grace Archer is a great character; a police inspector with a terrible past to overcome – a past that still disturbs her sleep on a regular basis. She’s still making enemies within the force – for all the right reasons – but that isn’t doing her reputation any favours. D.S. Harry Quinn, solid as a rock is by her side, but he too sometimes feels like the weight of the world is on his shoulders.  

Grace has tenacity and courage, but Fennell also shows us her caring, compassionate side. She is the detective who, in the midst of a personal and professional maelstrom, still takes the time to pick up the phone to someone who got dealt a wrong turn and it is Grace who understands the importance of letting that person know what action has been taken to redress the imbalance. She is caring and compassionate; worries about her closest relative and she is a driven and relentless workaholic.

David Fennell’s books are distinctly on the dark side of crime fiction and this police procedural deals with another set of inventive and sadistic deaths at the hands of a clearly depraved killer. See No Evil is full of the kind of characters who set your teeth on edge; you know the ones – so creepy that you can hear their fingernails scratching down the blackboard just to make you wince.

David Fennell offers up lots of dodgy characters, including a couple that I just loved. He is quite a cinematic writer and it’s easy to visualise all his characters and the settings which made it feel like I was watching a film as I was reading. His plotting is tight and the use of the present tense gives the book an immediate, fast paced feel that really propels it forward.

The storyline involves all kinds of nasties from religious cults to Grace’s own past and as we get to know Grace better, and care more about her, so we need her to triumph over the evil that she battles on a number of fronts. Fennell complements her character with a team of people around her who we are also coming to better understand; not all of them, however, are Archer fans.

Verdict: See No Evil is gruesome and both tense and intense in all the right places. The fiendishly clever, multi-layered plotting has very quickly meant that this addictive series has earned its place in the list of crime series I can’t live without.

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David Fennell was born and raised in Belfast before leaving for London at the age of eighteen with £50 in one pocket and a dog-eared copy of Stephen King’s The Stand in the other. He jobbed as a chef, waiter and bartender for several years before starting a career in writing for the software industry. He has been working in CyberSecurity for fourteen years and is a fierce advocate for information privacy. David has played rugby for Brighton and has studied Creative Writing at the University of Sussex. He is married and he and his partner split their time between Central London and Brighton.

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Little Sister  (DCI Jonah Sheens #4) by Gytha Lodge @thegyth @MichaelJBooks

Source: Review copy
Publication: 28 April 2022 from Michael Joseph
PP: 416
ISBN-13: ‎ 978-0241470961

My thanks to Michael Joseph for an advance copy for review

A teenage girl wanders out of the woods.

She’s striking, with flame-red hair and a pale complexion. She’s also covered in blood.

Detective Jonah Sheens quickly discovers that Keely and her sister, Nina, disappeared from a children’s home a week ago. Now, Keely is here – but Nina’s still missing.

Keely knows where her sister is – but before she tells, she wants Jonah’s full attention . . .

Is she killer, witness, or victim?

And will Jonah find out what Keely’s hiding, in time to save Nina?

There’s a reason crime fiction fans love a series and that’s because we become heavily invested in the characters. This Southampton based team is led by DCI Jonah Sheens with DS Ben Lightman, DS Domnall O’Malley, and DC Juliette Hanson. We know by  now more about some of them than others, but with every book, our knowledge of them as individuals with home lives grows and we care about what happens to them and their families.

You can absolutely read Little Sister as a stand-alone book, but you’ll be missing out if you don’t then go back and read the rest of the series, because this is a character driven police procedural done exceptionally well.

DCI Jonah Sheens is a good man trying to do the right thing for all the wrong reasons. He’s a new father and he knows his partner, Michelle, with whom he has reconciled for the sake of their baby, is struggling with motherhood.

He needs and wants to do the right thing by her, but he’s in a state of turmoil and sleepless nights since his daughter’s arrival are not helping.

Jonah is in the pub when 16 year old Keely Lennox turns up, covered in blood and asking Jonah to find her younger sister, Nina.  Both young women went missing from their care home some 5 days ago and all their history suggests that the police have reason to be concerned for Nina’s safety.

What follows is a layered, emotive and very twisty puzzle in which Keely, for reasons that become abundantly clear as the novel progresses, is used to not being believed and so lays out a series of clues for the team to follow in the hope that this will lead them to Nina. They in turn have a real fear that her life may be in jeopardy and so this becomes a race against the clock with Keely seemingly dictating the pace and leaving a trail of breadcrumbs for the police to search out the facts.

 It’s a stunning piece of plotting and Gytha Lodge has paced this book really well. From the very first page I was hooked and she reeled me in like a fish on the end of a very big hook.

Keely is a self-possessed young woman intent on relating her story in a clear, cold narrative style from which she does not deviate. She answers no questions, other than to tell the team that they have to listen to her – really listen – if they want to find Nina.

For buried in her narrative are the clues that will help them find her, but only if they are paying attention.

The story that Keely narrates is not an easy or comfortable one. It is a story of abuse, neglect and betrayal. A story of all the worst things that can happen to two vulnerable girls in care. As we hear Keely tell her story, there are doubts raised about her veracity – Jonah Sheen wants to believe the victim, but so much of what she alleges has already been found to be false.

So what is going on here? Can the team fathom it out in time to find Nina? As they battle against the clock to work out all the clues, this is a case that is getting to some of the team members more than others.  

Keeley is such a brilliantly drawn character. She appears cold, calculation and deliberately deceptive. She is the cat playing with the mouse that is the team’s investigation. And she plays them like a fiddle. (too many metaphors?). She’s done her homework on this team, too. And that leaves Jonah really quite unsettled…

Verdict: I absolutely loved this book. It’s clever, twisty, incredibly propulsive and genuinely deserves the ‘I couldn’t put it down’ status. Tightly and rather intricately plotted, it has everything you want in a psychological thriller within a police procedural.  It both engages the brain and draws on the heart strings and it kept me transfixed for hours. This is exceptionally good crime writing and deserves to be an award winner. Go buy it – you won’t be sorry.

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Gytha Lodge is a Sunday Times bestselling writer and multi-award-winning playwright who lives in Cambridge. After studying creative writing at UEA, she was shortlisted for the Yeovil Literary Prize and the Arts’ Council England fiction awards, and developed a large online following for her young adult and children’s writing, with over seven million reads accrued on platform Wattpad. She Lies in Wait, her debut novel, was a Richard & Judy Book Club Pick. With nail-biting cases that hook you in, and heart that keeps you coming back for more, Lodge’s highly-acclaimed Jonah Sheens series – which also includes Watching from the Dark and Lie Beside Me – has kept readers gripped from beginning to end, and Lodge has been acclaimed as ‘a gifted writer’ by Daily Mail.

No Less the Devil by Stuart MacBride @TransworldBooks

Source: Review copy
Publication: 28 April 2022 from Bantam Press
PP: 480
ISBN-13: 978-1787634909

My thanks to Transworld Books and Bantam Press for an advance copy for review

‘We are each our own devil, and we make this world our hell.’

It’s been seventeen months since the Bloodsmith butchered his first victim and Operation Maypole is still no nearer to catching him. The media is whipping up a storm, the top brass are demanding results, but the investigation is sinking fast.

Now isn’t the time to get distracted with other cases, but Detective Sergeant Lucy McVeigh doesn’t have much choice. When Benedict Strachan was just eleven, he hunted down and killed a homeless man. No one’s ever figured out why Benedict did it, but now, after sixteen years, he’s back on the streets again – battered, frightened, convinced a shadowy ‘They’ are out to get him, and begging Lucy for help.

It sounds like paranoia, but what if he’s right? What if he really is caught up in something bigger and darker than Lucy’s ever dealt with before? What if the Bloodsmith isn’t the only monster out there? And what’s going to happen when Lucy goes after them?

I suspect this one is going to divide the fans of Stuart MacBride’s fiction.  In No Less the Devil, we are in the familiar territory of Oldcastle and the crimes are just as dark and full of grit as you’d expect. The writing is fabulous. Full of satire, wit and the sharpest of observations; this time we have new members of the Police Scotland force based there.

DS Lucy MacVeigh is a very proficient police officer. She is struggling though after a very brutal incident in her past which is still affecting her. Her boss is making her see a therapist, but she resists with every fibre in her being.

MacVeigh is partnered with D.C. Duncan ‘The Dunk’ Fraser, an unfit smoker with a chip on his shoulder and an appetite reflected all the way down his uniform. We learn that Lucy is dogged by the repercussions of that incident in her past. In particular she has made an enemy in Sarah Black, the mother of Neil Black, a vicious predator. Is it Sarah Black who stalking Lucy?  Lucy still has bad headaches and moments where she phases out but she powers through these.

Oldcastle Police are struggling to make advances on a case that has been splashed across the front pages and discussed by the media for a long time. The Bloodsmith as he has been dubbed kills his victims in the most horrid of ways, leaving a message behind to identify his handiwork, not that it is needed. His signature is too gory to belong to anyone else. 5 dead bodies and not a single lead nor have they found any discernible connection between the victims.

With a year and a half since his last victim the police are chasing shadows and getting nowhere.  ‘Operation Maypole’ is a failure and they know it. So the ‘highheidyins’ have passed the case onto D.I. Alasdair Tudor and his team and that’s what Lucy and Dunk Fraser are assigned to.

Starting from the beginning to examine the cases with fresh eyes Lucy and Dunc begin to take a fresh look at the case by revisiting each of the victims and re-examining their homes and the crime scenes.

Also simmering in the background is Benedict Strachan, a child killer who killed a homeless man when he was just 11 years old. He confessed, but though the police knew he had an accomplice, he has always refused to do anything other than take full responsibility for the crime. Recently released from prison, he is convinced someone is out to get him and has sought Lucy’s help to protect him.

In MacBride’s trademark fashion there’s a lot of humour in this dark tale. Some of it is biting satire, some much more slapstick. When Lucy’s stalker slashes her tyres, she is reduced to using her late father’s Bedford van – bright pink with a much misunderstood logo…

About half way through this story I started to think that not everything was quite as it appeared. Soon after, hints were dropped that confirmed that suspicion and from then on things took a different turn and we were on a rollercoaster ride.

With Lucy’s boss pressuring her to get results and make sure she takes time to see a therapist for her PTSD, Lucy finds she is also being dogged by Professional Standards following accusations made by Neil Black’s mother.

What really works for me though is the combination of Dunc’s running commentary on the class system and inequality and the absolute portrayal of the governance of the country as depicted through a fee paying school with a very long reach.

It is on this level that MacBride’s satire really takes off as he takes an excoriating look at privilege, corruption and the criminal justice system, among others.  Lucy McVeigh is certainly an interesting character to add to Oldcastle’s array of misfits and MacBride laces his dark, visceral book with comedic farce and black humour as he takes us to the dark places in the minds of some very dangerous people.

Verdict: I’ll be thinking about this one for a while. When it comes to hitting his targets, MacBride doesn’t miss and hit the wall and there’s a lot of social commentary here that I really enjoyed seeing through the prism of the Oldcastle police force.

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Stuart MacBride is the No.1 Sunday Times bestselling author of the Logan McRae and Ash Henderson novels. He’s also published standalones, novellas and short stories as well as a children’s picture book. Stuart’s novels have won him the CWA Dagger in the Library, the Barry Award for Best Debut Novel, Best Breakthrough Author at the ITV3 crime thriller awards and a Dead Good Reader’s Award. He has been shortlisted for the Barry Award, and twice for the Theakston’s Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year Award. Stuart lives in the northeast of Scotland with his wife Fiona, cats Gherkin, Onion, and Beetroot, some hens, horses, and a vast collection of assorted weeds.

May God Forgive by Alan Parks @AlanJParks @CanongateBooks @NormanTweets

Source: Review copy
Publication: 28 April 2022 from Canongate Books
PP: 384
ISBN-13: 978-1838856748

Glasgow is a city in mourning. An arson attack on a hairdresser’s has left five dead. Tempers are frayed and sentiments running high.

When three youths are charged the city goes wild. A crowd gathers outside the courthouse but as the police drive the young men to prison, the van is rammed by a truck, and the men are grabbed and bundled into a car. The next day, the body of one of them is dumped in the city centre. A note has been sent to the newspaper: one down, two to go.

Detective Harry McCoy has twenty-four hours to find the kidnapped boys before they all turn up dead, and it is going to mean taking down some of Glasgow’s most powerful people to do it . . .

MAY GOD FORGIVE follows Detective Harry McCoy, just released from hospital after treatment for a bleeding ulcer and living on a diet of Pepto-Bismol and cigarettes alternately washed down with alcohol and milk.  

A hairdressing salon in an insalubrious part of Glasgow has been fire-bombed, killing three women and two children. The City is up in arms. Three boys are charged with the crime and then as they are being transported to the prison, their armoured van is hi-jacked and the boys abducted. One turns up dead the following day with a note pinned to his chest which says ‘One down – two to go’.  McCoy’s boss, Chief Inspector Murray is under the cosh. Now responsible for running two police stations, he has little confidence in the police in his new station in Tobago Street.

He sees that the abduction and murder of one of these boys is no more than vigilantism and he is not prepared to stand for it, no matter how many coppers and members of the public think it’s only fair justice. Now McCoy has twenty-four hours to find the other two boys before they suffer the same fate.

This is not a walk in the park for the police force. It’s not clear who sprung the escape plan or why but McCoy fears that there are no good intentions behind this escape. Not fully recovered, though he protests the contrary,  McCoy is put on behind the scenes enquiries, doing what he does best, making use of his contacts and ferreting out what small nuggets of information he can. He’s also keeping an eye on Wattie’s case – the murder of an unidentified young woman whose body was found strangled and dumped at Sighthill Cemetery.

Harry has always walked a fine line between the law makers and the law breakers in Glasgow and now it seems that some of the latter are trying to redeem themselves through good works.

As McCoy picks his way through his network of criminal contacts his enquiries lead him to the turf war going on between Jimmy Smart and Dessie Kane. Smart is building up quite a business empire and Dessie Kane is pinning his immortality and rise to respectability on his charitable links with the church and especially the next Archbishop of Glasgow to whom he is close.

Of course Harry also calls in on gangland boss Stevie Cooper, whose son Paul has gone missing. Somehow all these threads, floating in the wind, can be pulled together and made into something that resembles a pattern; if only McCoy can work out what that pattern should look like.

Never one with a strong stomach at the best of times, this is McCoy at his most vulnerable. And when a man is down, that’s the best time to kick him. Alan Parks makes the most of McCoy’s vulnerability to expose more of his past and to allow us to understand just how McCoy came to be the damaged adult that he is. It’s a difficult, poignant and heart-aching story and Harry McCoy’s vulnerability is laid bare as we understand more of what has happened to him.

Through his dredging of the depths of his contacts, he finds himself up to his neck in seedy squalor. How the apparent suicide of ‘Dirty Ally’ porn mag purveyor is connected to the disappearance of Paul Cooper and the fire-bombing of a hairdressing salon isn’t very obvious, but connected they are.

Parks does a sterling job of making McCoy’s illness match exactly the stomach churning activities of the criminals he’s investigating. It’s a perfect match – the bleeding ulcer in McCoy’s stomach meeting the rotting heart of these criminals’ endeavours.

As McCoy lumbers through the violence, the poverty and the exploitation of women and children, in his relentless pursuit of the truth, we can see he is killing himself. At the heart of this book there are so many questions about ethics and morality. McCoy draws his own moral lines and though they may not be straight, he is true to them. His loyalty to and relationship with Stevie Cooper is complex and goes way back but McCoy can see how others are exploiting the system and the fine line between gangland boss and businessman grows finer by the day, with respectability being bought by charitable donations and the conversion of money from illegal activities into the veneer of respectable businesses.

Alan Parks brilliantly re-creates 1970’s Glasgow and the divide between those who have and the have-nots. His violence is unremitting; the crimes are hard to stomach. But the characters are stand out brilliant, the plotting is superb and the sense of place second to none. Alan Parks asks some hard questions of his flawed protagonist and the answers do not come easily.

This is noir good and proper and it is an outstanding read. This whole series is utterly magnificent and completely unmissable and this book is the pinnacle of the series so far. Compelling, bleak and heart-breaking, this is a book not to be missed.

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Alan Parks was Creative Director at London Records in the mid 1990’s, then at Warner Music, where he created ground-breaking campaigns for artists including All Saints, New Order, The Streets, Gnarls Barclay and Cee Lo Green. He was also Managing Director of 679 Recordings, a joint venture with Warner Music. His debut novel BLOODY JANUARY propelled him onto the international literary crime fiction scene immediately and his work has been hailed by contemporary writers and critics alike. Alan was born in Scotland and attended The University of Glasgow where he was awarded a M.A. in Moral Philosophy. He still lives and works in the city that is so vividly depicted in the 1970s setting of his Harry McCoy thrillers.
Photo c.Euan Robertson

Life Sentence by A.K. Turner @AnyaLipska @ClareJKelly @ZaffreBooks @Tr4cyF3nt0n

Source: Review copy
Publication: 14 April 2022 from Zaffre
PP: 400
ISBN-13: 978-1838774783

My thanks to Zaffre and Compulsive Readers for an opportunity to review for the blog tour

Mortuary technician Cassie Raven believes the last thoughts of the dead linger like static in the air…

Cassie has always had a strange affinity with death, ever since her parents were killed in a car crash when she was four. At least that’s what she grew up believing…

But that was a lie. Cassie’s father is alive. He was convicted of murdering her mother and spent years behind bars. Now he’s out – and he’s looking for her.

He swears he didn’t do it. And Cassie wants to believe him.

To find the truth, she must turn detective. As she seeks answers, help is to be found in inexplicable places – for the dead are ready to talk.

I absolutely adored Body Language, the first in this series about Cassie Raven, Senior mortuary technician, goth and body whisperer – and this second outing with Life Sentence does not disappoint.

This time the case is much more personal as Cassie Raven is driven by a re-appearance from her past to look into the murder of her mother; a murder for which her father was convicted. Not that Cassie knows any of this.

Cassie’s grandmother, Weronika, who took her in after her mother’s murder, has always been tight lipped about her mother’s death, telling her only that her parents both died in a car accident but spitting out her hatred for Cassie’s father whom she portrays as a violent drunk.

Cassie is also trying to understand what would drive a young boy to take his own life. The most recent visitor to her mortuary is a young goth who seems to have no clear reason for committing suicide. His parents are distraught, blaming themselves, but Cassie imagines this young man speaking to her and she instinctively knows there’s more to his story than she can immediately see.

Cassie Raven is a great character; highly empathetic, individually minded, she has strength of character and an interesting array of friends. She’s not without her flaws, either. A tendency to drink too much when stressed and to sample the more illicit wares that Camden has to offer are vices she’s going to have to control if her sleuthing skills are going to pay off.

When Cassie discovers the facts of her mother’s death she is, of course, determined to find out everything she can, without upsetting her grandmother, though she can’t really understand why she kept the secret for so many years.

With the help of some friends, Cassie begins the deep dive into her mother’s past and what she discovers is both eye opening and very disconcerting. There will no doubt be repercussions from this investigation that will ripple through Cassie’s life for some time.

Cassie’s relationship with DS Phyllida Flyte also takes a more personal tone as both women need each other to help them investigate important moments in the other’s lives.

Verdict: Life Sentence is a character driven slow burn of a book and none the worse for that. I loved Cassie’s second outing which gave me even more of a sense of her character and steadfast resoluteness when it comes to standing by her friends. She is a terrific protagonist and a character I have very quickly come to love. A.K. Turner’s writing pulls you in with its edgy style and intricate plotting and doesn’t let go. This is a series with huge potential that has become unmissable in only two books.

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A.K.’s first foray into crime fiction was a detective thriller trilogy, written under the pen name Anya Lipska, following the adventures of Janusz Kiszka, tough guy and fixer to London’s Polish community. The first of the trilogy led Val McDermid to select her for the prestigious New Blood panel at Harrogate Crime Festival. All three books won critical acclaim and are currently under option as a potential TV crime series.Set in a Camden morgue, A.K.’s new novels feature crime-solving Goth-girl mortuary attendant Cassie Raven. Cassie has already appeared in Cut and Paste, a crime short for BBC Radio 4, who are interested in commissioning further stories featuring the character.In her other life as a TV producer and writer, A.K. makes documentaries and drama-docs on subjects as diverse as the Mutiny on the Bounty, the sex lives of Neanderthals, and Monty Don’s Italian Gardens.

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Into the Dark by Fiona Cummins  @FionaAnnCummins  @laurasherlock21 @panmacmillan

Source: Review copy
Publication: 14 April 2022 from Macmillan
PP: 336
ISBN-13: 978-1529040159

My thanks to Macmillan for an advance copy for review

THE PLACE: Seawings, a beautiful Art Deco home overlooking the sweep of the bay in Midtown-on-Sea.

THE CRIME: The gilded Holden family – Piper and Gray and their two teenage children, Riva and Artie – has vanished from the house without a trace.

THE DETECTIVE: DS Saul Anguish, brilliant but with a dark past, treads the narrow line between light and shade.

One late autumn morning, Piper’s best friend arrives at Seawings to discover an eerie scene – the kettle is still warm, all the family’s phones are charging on the worktop, the cars are in the garage. But the house is deserted.

In fifteen-year-old Riva Holden’s bedroom, scrawled across the mirror in blood, are three words:

Make

Them

Stop

What happens next?

I love Fiona Cummins writing and Into the Dark is a real cracker. A stand-alone book (for the moment anyway), readers of Cummins’ previous works The Rattle and The Collector will nevertheless recognise the origins of D.C. Saul Anguish and understand his dark background. Cummins supplies sufficient detail to allow the newest readers to enter his life, but nevertheless, there is a frisson of tension and excitement in recognising him in this new environment.

This book is set in Midtown-on-Sea, an affluent coastal resort in Essex where Seawings is the house in which the Holden’s live. I have house envy for this one; it sounds so wonderful. Not surprisingly, for the Holdens, Gray and Piper and their children Riva and Artie are very well off. Gray is an investment broker and Piper is the epitome of style and class.

Julianne Hillier is Piper’s neighbour and long term friend. They go way back and are both friends and confidantes. So when Julianne arrives at Seawings for her daily run with Piper and finds the house deserted, she knows immediately that something is very, very wrong.

Cummins does the dark underbelly of suburban life really well.  Her portrayal of the perfect family slowly unravels to reveal the dark secrets, lies and rivalries that lie just beneath the surface of this seemingly idyllic life.

D.C. Saul Anguish (what a perfect character name!) is a new addition to the Essex team. He is keen to impress but nobody’s fool and we see straight away that he may have anger issues. And that’s only the half of it… He quickly comes to realise that the team has a very smart addition in the shape of Dr Clover March, a forensic linguist, whose skills soon prove to be invaluable. She is also attractive, sharp witted and distinctive – partly because of her blue hair and partly because she has a condition that causes her real grief.

It is this pairing that makes the book so interesting and there’s no doubt that these are characters you want to see again.

Cummins takes this affluent town with its perfect family and peels back the layers showing the poison, duplicity and deception underneath. Even the children have secrets they would not want found out.

Cummins deploys a timeline that moves from the present back and forth to reveal the events leading up to the disappearance and as we catch glimpses of who these people are and what they have been up to, it becomes clear that these are not the perfect people they outwardly appear to be.

Into the Dark is a beautifully twisted tale. Every time you think you have a handle on what is happening, Cummins pulls another flanker leaving you open mouthed. There are layers upon layers here and as each one is pulled back, the picture looks darker than ever.

Verdict: Ingeniously plotted, with stand-out characters and a detective duo you want to see much more of, Into the Dark is unmissable. There’s so much bubbling under the surface, it is like a deliciously bitter, dark chocolate with a core of molten lava. I loved it.

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Fiona Cummins is an award-winning former Daily Mirror showbusiness journalist and a graduate of the Faber Academy Writing A Novel course. She lives in Essex with her family. When I Was Ten is her fourth novel, following Rattle, The Collector and The Neighbour.

Quicksand of Memory by Michael J Malone @michaeljmalone1 @OrendaBooks @RandomTTours

Source: Review copy
Publication: 14 April 2022 in p/back ebook and audiobook out now
PP: 300
ISBN-13: 978-1913193966

My thanks to Random Things Tours and Orenda Books for my participation in this blog tour

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

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

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

And yet, someone is watching.
Someone who has been scarred by past events.
Someone who will stop at nothing to get revenge…

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

I am delighted to bring you an extract from Michael J Malone’s Quicksand of Memory. It is a tautly written revenge tragedy about secrets, lies and the past coming back to haunt you. You can read my review here. You won’t forget these characters on a hurry. I found it a highly recommended must read. Have a look at this extract and then go buy it!

Chapter 8

Jenna had been surprised at herself after her therapy appointment. She hadn’t talked about that part of her past for ages. A memory of him popped up in her mind. Unshaven, wearing a T-shirt and boxers. Looking tired. He always looked tired towards the end. As if he’d given up. Yet when they first met he was always immaculately turned out: neat beard, expensive clothes, and shoes with a shine so deep you could use them as a mirror. And he was always the most vibrant person in the room. He was the sun around whom everyone else would orbit, hoping for a word, a nod, a smile.

She cursed herself for being an unfeeling bitch and not looking after him better. Could there really have been any other outcome? It was his fun and energy that drove her to him. When had he changed? She rubbed at the memory a little more and felt some of the emotion of that time leak into the present. She held a hand to her stomach, and a tear wound its way down her cheek.

He died just a few days after they’d split up, and she’d been tempted to use her old skills as a local journalist to find out exactly what happened. She’d done some digging and took some notes. Then, when her father died of a sudden heart attack soon after, she put the notebook away in a box somewhere and consigned that episode of her life to history. Besides, the system was happy, the people concerned were punished, and that should be the end of it. Right?

Within minutes of her appointment ending, Jemma’s phone had rung. Hazel, of course calling to find out how her session had gone.

‘Did he do any of that hypnosis malarkey with you?’ she had asked, as if both thrilled and terrified at the prospect of experiencing such a thing herself. At times they spoke almost every day, she and Hazel. Then they’d have long silences. They’d been at uni versity together, lost touch, and reconnected on-line a few years ago. But they only ever chatted to each over the phone or by messaging. Her other friends thought it strange that they never met in person, but Jenna was happy with the relationship as it was. It just sort of worked. It suited how they were with each other. Nothing was off the table, and Jenna worried that if they did meet in person they would lose some of that magic.

‘It wasn’t like that,’ she replied. ‘We just … talked.’

‘Is he hot?’ Hazel asked. ‘He looks hot in his website photo.’

Jenna laughed. ‘What are you like?’ She paused. ‘To be honest, I felt uncomfortable. I wanted to trust him. Tell him everything, you know? But something held me back.’

‘You’ll know when you’re ready,’ Hazel said. ‘And you know you’ve got me, babe. Anything you want to offload, I’m here for you.’

‘Thanks, Haze,’ Jenna replied. ‘I appreciate it.’ As she spoke she thought about the things she had always shied away from talking about. She couldn’t bear the thought of anyone knowing about that; facing the judgement in their eyes. Could she go back and discuss all that with him?

No, that was a cross she’d have to bear on her own.

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

Isn’t that both fascinating and intriguing? I loved this book for it’s understanding and compassion and the empathy that Michael Malone clearly injects into his character’s tricky situations as well as for the brilliantly tense and chillingly creepy plot line.

Here’s where you can buy the book. If you hurry, there’s an Easter sale on at Orenda Books, so you may get it for a bargain price!

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

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