The Source by Sarah Sultoon @SultoonSarah @OrendaBooks

Source: Review copy
Publication: 15 February 2021 in e-book; Paperback April 15th 2021
PP: 263
ISBN-13: 978-1913193591

My thanks to the publisher for an early copy for review


A young TV journalist is forced to revisit her harrowing past when she’s thrust into a sex-trafficking investigation in her hometown. A startling, searing debut thriller by award-winning CNN journalist Sarah Sultoon.

Every now and again a book comes along that touches the core. The Source is that book. Part of that lies in its veracity. I’ve spent a lot of my working life in and around newsrooms and when Sarah Sultoon writes about newsgathering and investigations, the authenticity of what she writes is so strong it gleams in the darkness.

That’s probably why I had this incredible feeling all through the book that what she was telling me was real, not fiction. That feeling is rare and that makes this book special. Chilling is a word we use a lot in relation to thrillers, but if what you mean is that cold dread; that slick of fear that stops you dead in your tracks; that lurch in your stomach as you know something of what is coming, then yes, this is chilling.

Reading about child abuse is always going to have a harrowing impact. Couple it with sex trafficking, abject poverty and neglect and line it with institutional corruption and cover-ups and you have a genuine, heart-wrenching scandal of major proportions on your hands.

Sultoon’s novel views all of this from the perspective of Marie, a young but talented journalist and through the eyes of Carly, a young girl brought up near an army base whose father is dead and whose mother is incapable of looking after herself, never mind her children. Carly’s sole aim in life is to protect her baby sister from neglect. The narrative comes through their stories intertwined with a ten year gap between. We experience events through these perspectives so what we get is the intensity of the feeling and emotion without any need for graphic exploration. Nonetheless, I’d be lying if I didn’t tell you that it still feels pretty harrowing and emotionally raw.

Sultoon’s writing is crisp and spare. Her exposition of how abuse of power works and the devastating tendrils that institutional corruption can send out to all corners is brilliantly transmitted. Her dialogue is convincing and I felt very drawn to her characters.

The Source is not a big book, but it is an important one. This is why independent publishers exist – to tell stories like this one that have real impact and reflect a real world. Taking risks is what Orenda Books is all about and this one has paid off in spades.

Verdict: A white knuckle experience that offers an unflinching portrait  of the abuse that exists on our streets and those who trade in it. Sultoon uses her journalistic credentials to excellent effect, handling the subject matter with deftness, sensitivity and assured skill and creating characters we desperately care about. The Source is a tense, edge of the seat read that will have you biting your nails down to the quick. Thought provoking, emotional and sometimes brutal it is both thrilling and heart-wrenching.

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Sarah Sultoon is a journalist and writer, whose work as an international news executive at CNN has taken her all over the world, from the seats of power in both Westminster and Washington to the frontlines of Iraq and Afghanistan. She has extensive experience in conflict zones, winning three Peabody awards for her work on the war in Syria, an Emmy for her contribution to the coverage of Europe’s migrant crisis in 2015, and a number of Royal Television Society gongs. As passionate about fiction as nonfiction, she recently completed a Masters of Studies in Creative Writing at the University of Cambridge, adding to an undergraduate language degree in French and Spanish, and Masters of Philosophy in History, Film and Television. When not reading or writing she can usually be found somewhere outside, either running, swimming or throwing a ball for her three children and dog while she imagines what might happen if…..

Daughters of Night by Laura Shepherd Robinson @LauraSRobinson @MantleBooks

Source: Review copy
Publication: 18 February 2021 from Mantle
Narrator: Lucy Scott
Length: 15 hours and 29 minutes
ASIN No: B084Z2PHSV

My thanks to the publisher for an early copy for review

From the brothels and gin-shops of Covent Garden to the elegant townhouses of Mayfair, Laura Shepherd-Robinson’s Daughters of Night follows Caroline Corsham as she seeks justice for a murdered woman whom London society would rather forget….

Lucia’s fingers found her own. She gazed at Caro as if from a distance. Her lips parted, her words a whisper: ‘He knows.’

London, 1782. Desperate for her politician husband to return home from France, Caroline ‘Caro’ Corsham is already in a state of anxiety when she finds a well-dressed woman mortally wounded in the bowers of the Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens. The Bow Street constables are swift to act, until they discover that the deceased woman was a highly paid prostitute, at which point they cease to care entirely. But Caro has motives of her own for wanting to see justice done and so sets out to solve the crime herself. Enlisting the help of thieftaker Peregrine Child, their inquiry delves into the hidden corners of Georgian society, a world of artifice, deception and secret lives. 

But with many gentlemen refusing to speak about their dealings with the dead woman and Caro’s own reputation under threat, finding the killer will be harder and more treacherous than she can know….

You absolutely do not have to have read Laura Shepherd Robinson’s previous book, Blood and Sugar, but you will love it if you choose to do so. I liked it so much I read it then bought the audiobook to listen to it again such is the pleasure it offers.

So I was very keen to read Daughters of Night; so much so that this time I went straight to the audiobook. And I was utterly thrilled by it. Captain Harry Corsham was the central protagonist in Blood and Sugar. Now he is away in France on Government business and it is his wife, Caroline Corsham who takes centre stage in this rich and fabulous book.

It’s tiring for Caro being left alone in London with no-one to squire her around all the pleasures that London society has to offer. Set in 1782, when the American Civil war was raging, Daughters of Night is a beautifully rich tale of two societies and a fascinating exposition of how women were viewed at the time. Shepherd-Robinson’s prose is an absolute delight. Her storytelling is rich and sumptuous and she writes in such a descriptive way that you can picture everything as if you were there and sometimes even experience the deeply pungent smells of the streets.

As the book opens, Caro is in Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens at night in search of her friend the Italian Countess, Lady Lucia whom she has met through her brother, Ambrose. Caro has arranged to meet Lucia because Lucia has promised to assist her with a problem that Caro cannot manage herself.

But when Caro reached the bower that is their pre-arranged meeting place, she finds Lucia dying, bleeding from numerous from stab wounds. Her dying words are “He knows…”

Utterly distraught, Caro presses the Bow Street Constables to pursue Lucia’s murderer, but when it is revealed that Lucia is not an Italian Countess, but a prostitute named Lucy Loveless, their concern to identify the perpetrator disappears like snow off a dyke.

But Caro is not so easily dismissed. Whether Lucy or Lucia, the woman was a friend and Caro is determined to see justice done. And so begins an investigation into the morals and mores of Georgian Society and the London ton with its political secrets and influences, the secret clubs, the scandals and above all the rank hypocrisy of the monied and titled classes.

Caro has to find her way through the beau monde of Georgian Society at the same time as she is learning about how the poorest women end up in prostitution.  To help her navigate the yawning class divide she employs the services of a thief taker, Peregrine Child (who also appears in Blood and Sugar) to help her investigations.

This is such a rich and layered story it is hard to do it justice. An absolutely compelling historical novel, with a fascinating and deeply twisty and surprising murder mystery at its heart, it is also a beautifully explored exposé of the treatment of women and especially of the sex trade; of the double standards employed by men and of how they subjugated women at every turn and of the yawning gulf between the classes. (Some things never change). Laura Shepherd Robinson’s use of language is robust and rings out loud and clear with verisimilitude, endowing her prose with another layer of sumptuous authenticity.

The characters here very much become people you care about, so much so that when one of them lets Caro down badly, you feel both their pain and so hurt that Caro puts her trust in someone who is not in the end worthy.

Exposing the vile and corrupted sex trade she also shows the resourcefulness of women and the strength they show in the face of adversity. Caro is one such woman and when all the chips are down she will take a courageous stand on behalf of all women, regardless of the personal cost. She is an early feminist in an age where such a thing is unthinkable.

A word here for the truly stunning narration by Lucy Scott. A narrator can make or break an audiobook and Lucy Scott’s narration is pitch perfect, her silken voice marching the pace and tone of the book perfectly.

Verdict: I adored this book. It’s rich, warm, layered and utterly fascinating. I have absolutely no hesitation in shouting about it from the rooftops. This is how historical fiction should be, drawing you in and making you feel part of that world; caring what happens to the people in it. Bravo!

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Laura Shepherd-Robinson is an author, born in Bristol in 1976. She has a BSc in Politics from the University of Bristol and an MSc in Political Theory from the London School of Economics.Laura worked in politics for nearly twenty years before re-entering normal life to complete an MA in Creative Writing at City University. She lives in London with her husband, Adrian. Blood & Sugar, her first novel, won the Historical Writers’ Association Debut Crown, was a Waterstones Thriller of the Month, and a Guardian and Telegraph novel of the year. It was also shortlisted for the Crime Writers’ Association John Creasey (New Blood) Dagger and the Sapere Historical Dagger; and the Amazon Publishing/Capital Crime Best Debut Novel.

The Killing Choice by Will Shindler (DI Alex Finn #2) @WillShindlerAuthor @HodderBooks @JennyPlatt90

Source: Review copy
Publication: 11 February 2021 from Hodder & Stoughton
PP: 336
ISBN-13: 978-1529301755

My thanks to the publisher for an advance copy for review

Leave your daughter with me, or I will kill you both’

It felt like a normal Friday evening before Karl and his daughter Leah were ambushed by a figure in a blank mask. At knife point, Karl is forced to make an impossible choice. Stay and die, or walk away from Leah and take this thug’s word that they both will live.Should Karl trust a villain and leave his daughter with a knife at her throat? Could he ever live with himself if he did?

It’s not long before more seemingly unconnected and innocent people across London are offered a deal in exchange for their life. More blood is spilled, more families shattered, and more people are left to suffer with the consequences of their decisions.

DI Alex Finn and DC Mattie Paulsen must hunt for a killer that appears to have no face, no motive and no conscience before more victims are forced to make their choice.

The Killing Choice is the second in the DI Alex Finn series, following on from The Burning Man. It can happily be read as a stand-alone, though I’d urge you to read The Burning Man as there will be character progression cross the series and it’s always good to get in early. I believe this is a series that will stand the test of time as the characters are grounded in reality and Shindler’s sense of place is excellent.

Karl Suleman and his daughter Leah are on their way to a father/daughter date night at a London restaurant when they are ambushed by a lone figure with a strange, faceless visor, who is armed with a zombie knife. London is of course, the capital of knife crime and when the masked figure gives Karl a choice – leave and I’ll rape your daughter or stay and I will kill you both, Karl looks at his daughter who urges him to go and so he runs, looking for help in the hope that he can get it for Leah before the masked figure does his worst.

Haunted with guilt, Karl has difficulty coming to terms with the choice he was offered and the decision he made. Nor can his wife understand it. DI Alex Finn and his colleagues DC Mattie Paulson and DS Jackie Ojo investigate. Is this case somehow related to the problems they have been having with rival County lines drugs gangs which are prevalent on the housing estates in their patch? Turf wars are reaching new heights and violence is spilling into the streets.

Then another family is targeted and another choice is offered. DI Alex Finn is struggling. Though his team has his back, he knows he’s not operating at his best and worse, his boss knows it too. Struggling with the death of his wife Karin,  Finn’s thinking is clouded and he knows he should be spotting connections between the victims and their families but he just can’t get his head in the right space to think clearly.

Mattie Paulson takes more of a role in this book and it’s good to understand a bit more about the team and its individual players. She has her own troubled past and now new family troubles to deal with and we see her trying to deal with these family issues at the same time as she is trying out a new aspect of the job; being a family liaison officer where she can’t allow her emotions to come into play. Mattie’s always been a bit of a loner and this job is not really in her comfort zone. The press is having a field day, passing judgement on Karl for making his choice and Mattie who is not really comfortable where she isn’t wanted, finds herself second guessing her own actions and wondering what she could have done differently.

Paulsen and Finn have each other’s backs, but both find themselves struggling somewhat in a story that is all about family and the choices we make and how easy we all find it to pass judgement on others.  

Meanwhile, in the South East London Hope Estate the drug wars continue and as Finn struggles to see what connection with drugs if any there might be, another struggle is playing out between Isaiah Sims and his sons Hayden and Michael.

Shindler paces the book really well enabling the tension to build as the murders continue and the team, desperate to stop them, search for answers while not seeing or understanding where the connection and motivation lies.

Verdict: Well plotted with nicely drawn characters who feel believable, this is a tense and twisting novel that strikes just the right balance between plot and character, resulting in a well-honed book that captures the imagination and holds attention. Most enjoyable.

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Will Shindler has been a Broadcast Journalist for the BBC for over twenty-five years, spending a decade working in television drama as a scriptwriter on Born and Bred, The Bill and Doctors. His time on these leading prime time dramas has given him a rich grounding in authentic police procedure, powerful character development and gripping narratives. He currently combines reading the news on BBC Radio London with writing crime novels and has previously worked as a television presenter for HTV, a sports reporter for BBC Radio Five Live, and one of the stadium presenters at the London Olympics. He is the writer of The Burning Men and The Killing Choice.

The Art of Death by David Fennell @DavyFennell @BonnierBooks_UK

Source: Review copy
Publication: 4th February 2021 from Bonnier Zaffre
PP: 432
ISBN-13: 978-1838773427

My thanks to the publisher for the opportunity to read an early copy for review

London’s latest art installation is a real killer . . .

An underground artist leaves three glass cabinets in Trafalgar Square that contain a gruesome installation: the corpses of three homeless men. With the artist promising more to follow, newly-promoted Detective Inspector Grace Archer and her caustic DS, Harry Quinn, must race against time to follow what few clues have been left by a savvy killer. As more bodies are exhibited at London landmarks and live streamed on social media, Archer and Quinn’s pursuit of the elusive killer becomes a desperate search. But when Archer discovers that the killer might be closer than she originally thought – she realises that he has his sights set firmly on her

 . . . He is creating a masterpiece. And she will be the star of his show.

​Every now and then I get a tingle on the back of my neck that is the signal that I have found a book that is exactly what I wanted and needed to read. The last time was MW Craven’s The Puppet Show and the subsequent series of Washington Poe books has more than lived up to that initial frisson of excitement.

Now David Fennell has come forward with D.I. Grace Archer, the police inspector with a past to overcome and her steady DS, Harry Quinn who is himself carrying a burden that weighs heavily.  Archer has recently been promoted and is now based in Charing Cross Station, a station where a number of the detective team and her boss have good reason to resent her presence.

Flawed detectives with pasts to overcome are a trope of crime fiction, but how that is handled can make all the difference and here Fennell uses it lightly enough to make Grace interesting without letting it impinge too much on the plot and leaving sa lot to be revealed in what will hopefully be future books.

Right from the off we are in dark territory. An unknown man in a café is sitting, watching and choosing his victims from those who pass through after first identifying them though their social media profiles. Thus begins a process of catfishing, where our mystery man courts his victims by telling them what they need to hear and they, without much of a second thought, fall for the smooth charm. A slimeball stalker is on no-one’s list of desirable dates, but this one is clever.

Grace Archer’s first day at her new station is a bumpy one. She’s hardly got her coat off when an she is called out to an art installation in Trafalgar Square which is causing a commotion. When she sees it she realises straight away that this is a murder scene. Three men are on display and they are being live streamed across the world on social media.

The artist, self styled as @nonymous has called this gruesome piece, ‘The Forsaken’. So begins an intensely creep, chilling crime novel in which this artist embarks on a killing spree  using ever more ‘creative’ techniques for an audience that can’t get enough of it. Fennell’s use of social media shows us that in so many ways we lay ourselves open to abuse and are becoming accustomed to accept anything that is laid before us at face value. Nothing is shocking any more except the very shocking and then it is acceptable if labelled ‘art’.

More of these murderous installations appear and Archer finds herself drawn far more deeply into the investigation than she would have wished, and suffers in her role for that. Fennell gives us lots of suspects to consider many of them unsavoury characters but pleasingly, the victims here are more than cyphers, but are portrayed as family members, friends and partners   and their lives you know, counted for someone, making them authentically drawn.

Though many of the chapters are written from the perspective of D.I. Grace Archer, you also get a range of perspectives from some of the victims to the killer, adding to the character depth. Grace’s own closest relationship shows her humanity in a stark contrast to a violent, psychopathic killer.

The Art of Death ramps up the tension brilliantly, each gruesome murder building on the last until the final exciting and gripping denouement.  

Verdict:  I loved The Art of Death with its well-drawn characters, its fast pace and the layered, twisty plotting with loads of misdirection. With a compelling protagonist and a chilling and uber creepy antagonist this book has everything you need to keep you enthralled into the wee small hours. I really hope there’s more of Grace Archer to come.

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David Fennell was born in Belfast during the Troubles. Writing was his escape from Northern Ireland’s smothering political unrest. As a boy, he read Sherlock Holmes, Ian Fleming and Tolkien; books he still loves today. He left school at 16 and trained as a chef at Rupert Stanley College. With youthful dreams of a new life, he left Belfast for London in 1985 with £50 in one pocket and a dog-eared copy of Stephen King’s The Stand in the other. He worked in bars and restaurants and later worked as a writer in the software industry. David has played rugby for Brighton and was awarded the 2009 Player of the Year for the veteran’s team. He loves to cook and is learning to box. He lives in Brighton with his partner and their two dogs.

Find you First by Linwood Barclay @linwood_barclay @HQStories @fictionpubteam

Source: Review copy
Publication: 4th February 2021 from HQ
PP: 400
ISBN-13: 978-0008332044

My thanks to the publisher for an advance copy for review

One will change your life.
One will end it.
Who will … FIND YOU FIRST?

It’s a deadly race against time…

Tech billionaire Miles has more money than he can ever spend, and everything he could dream of – except time. Now facing a terminal illness, Miles knows he must seize every minute to put his life in order. And that means taking a long hard look at his past.

Somewhere out there, Miles has children. And they might be about to inherit both the good and bad from him – possibly his fortune, or possibly something more sinister.

So Miles decides to track down his missing children. But a vicious killer is one step ahead of him. One by one, people are vanishing. Not just disappearing, every trace of them is wiped.

Lockdown is a funny old thing and it certainly has an impact on my reading. I find that sometimes I crave an easy, fast, entertaining read that’s going to lift me out of my all-too-familiar surroundings and whisk me away somewhere else. Delightfully, Linwood Barclay’s Find You First does all that in spades.

So where have I been whisked away to? Pleasingly, I am in the world of billionaires, glass and chrome buildings, high tech houses and the foibles of the monied.   Miles Cookson made his fortune from the apps that grace every smart phone in America. He has more money that he can keep track of and though he is single, he is content to devote his energy to his company. Until that is, he receives unwelcome news that causes him to re-evaluate his priorities.

Miles employs his brother, Gilbert as a trusted colleague and family member, but he is less keen on Gilbert’s wife, Caroline, a woman he finds to be both greedy and manipulative.  As Miles looks back to a time when, in need of funds, he took steps to make money by selling his sperm, he determines that he will seek out those who carry his genes and make sure he looks after them.

But however determined Miles is to find the fruit of his loins, someone is equally determined that he will not do so, and thus young people start disappearing just as Miles tracks them down. All except Chloe, a 22 year old waitress and would-be documentary maker who has been documenting her family history and who has already submitted her DNA to a family tracing site.  Through this site she discovers she has a half–brother, Todd whom she visits in his trailer. When Miles finds Chloe and explains who he is, they go together to find Todd, only to find the Todd gone and the trailer completely empty of any of his belongings and reeking of bleach. As others disappear or turn up dead, it is obvious that something very nasty is going on. Chloe and Miles start to bond and soon they are in a race against time to track down the perpetrators of these disappearances.

Barclay weaves a well-plotted, fast paced rollercoaster-ride of a tale. He draws great characters it is easy to warm to and his villains are excellent too. He manages to get quite a bit of depth into his characters by creating light and shade and imbuing them with some interesting moral quandaries, so that, although this is sheer glorious, fantastic escapism, you are still drawn to and fascinated by those characters – though his villains are very clearly wrong ‘uns.

On form here with a plot that changes course in a series of captivating sharp twists and turns, Barclay creates great tension and surprise through unexpected and sometimes eye watering plot moments. Find You First held me in its grip and did not let go until it had squeezed the last drop of enjoyment from me.

Verdict: There’s a lot to be said for rip-roaring escapist entertainment right now and Linwood Barclay is a master of his art in this regard. Find You First is pure entertainment and all the better for it. It swept me up, carried me along and took my mind off the world as I read it. Just what the doctor ordered.  A great read.

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Linwood Barclay is an international bestselling crime and thriller author with over twenty critically acclaimed novels to his name, including the phenomenal number one bestseller No Time For Goodbye. Every Linwood Barclay book is a masterclass in characterisation, plot and the killer twist, and with sales of over 7 million copies globally, his books have been sold in more than 39 countries around the world and he can count Stephen King, Shari Lapena and Peter James among his many fans.
Many of his books have been optioned for film and TV, and Linwood wrote the screenplay for the film based on his bestselling novel Never Saw It Coming. He is currently working with eOne to turn the Promise Falls trilogy into a series. Born in the US, his parents moved to Canada just as he was turning four, and he’s lived there ever since. He lives in Toronto with his wife, Neetha. They have two grown children.

Slough House by Mick Herron (Slough House #7) @JohnMurrays

Source: Review copy
Publication: 04 February 2021 from John Murray Press
PP: 320
ISBN-13: 978-1529378641

My thanks to John Murray for an advance copy of this book for review

Kill us? They’ve never needed to kill us,’ said Lamb. ‘I mean, look at us. What would be the point?’

A year after a calamitous blunder by the Russian secret service left a British citizen dead from novichok poisoning, Diana Taverner is on the warpath. What seems a gutless response from the government has pushed the Service’s First Desk into mounting her own counter-offensive – but she’s had to make a deal with the devil first. And given that the devil in question is arch-manipulator Peter Judd, she could be about to lose control of everything she’s fought for.

Meanwhile, still reeling from recent losses, the slow horses are worried they’ve been pushed further into the cold. Slough House has been wiped from Service records, and fatal accidents keep happening. No wonder Jackson Lamb’s crew are feeling paranoid. But have they actually been targeted?

With a new populist movement taking a grip on London’s streets, and the old order ensuring that everything’s for sale to the highest bidder, the world’s an uncomfortable place for those deemed surplus to requirements. The wise move would be to find a safe place and wait for the troubles to pass.

But the slow horses aren’t famed for making wise decisions.

What more is there to say about Mick Herron’s sharp, witty, satirical and incisive series? Seriously, if you are not reading this series you are missing out. Slough House is the latest and my goodness its wit does not miss and hit the wall.

Horribly echoing contemporary politics (pre-pandemic) Herron takes all the most implausible elements of our actual political scenario and takes them one tiny step forward until the blurring of fact and fiction is all too real and nothing seems unlikely at all.

Lady Di Taverner, current occupant of the First Desk has not responded well to the Russians planting Novichok in Salisbury and in her whiter hot anger she makes a terrible mistake and seals a deal with the devil, in the form of politician Peter Judd. ‘There were those who’d said of Peter Judd, during his years as a contender for the highest office in the land, that his clowning masked a laser-like focus on his own best interests’.  It’s not long before she realises that if you sleep with foxes, you get fleas. And Lady Di is itching all over. Right wing politics and an ambitious rich media owner have combined to be her nemesis as knowledge and power are the only currencies that matter in today’s Britain.

Taverner thinks she has it under control, but one of her tidbits of knowledge that she deliberately lets slip is the wiping out of the Slough House employees from the digital intelligence database.

Roddy Ho, idly hacking into the database as is his wont, notices first that they have all been deleted from the files. That’s not something that the foul-mouthed Jackson Lamb is going to overlook and as he moves his corpulent body around London, rather faster and with more stealth than anyone would expect he begins to discover an astonishing scenario playing out that is the inevitable consequence of everything that has happened to date.

Bringing into play everything from Boris Johnson to Nigel Farage; Brexit to Russian interference in political democracies and even the Gilet Jaunes, Herron’s razor sharp wit dissects the current political absurdities with the sharpest of filleting knives.

The Slow Horses themselves are still in a bit of shock after the events of the last book and the knowledge that they are once more invisible, but for a reason, makes them feel more unsettled than ever.

But the Slow Horses work best when under threat and this strange and unruly bunch are not yet ready to give up. As privatisation creeps into the Intelligence Services by the back door, Lamb is not going to put up with such nonsense any longer than he has to.

With some memorable scenes, Lamb goes dark with the Slow Horses in order to find and face down the forces of darkness, and once again Slough House is under serious threat.

There are many laugh- out-loud moments in this exhilarating and penetratingly sharp prose that just touch perfection: ‘This was the spook trade, and when things went awry on Spook Street, they generally went the full Chris Grayling.’ And the mental picture created when Lamb is in the flat of a gay American person of restricted growth listening to him claim that his Russian partner has been murdered by Putin’s death squad is just beautiful.

Herron makes you care about these misfits; you hurt when they hurt and this book is as heart-breaking and touching as its predecessors.  It also feels a bit darker, but I think that’s because it is so close to the bone – so plausible it hurts.

Verdict: An immense, brilliant book in a fantastic and beautifully written series. Herron is a razor sharp writer whose descriptions make you sit up and take notice and his wit is scathing and so well directed. And that prose: rich, dark, intense and utterly, completely, wonderful.  Just brilliant.  All the stars, each of the books.

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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. Both the Jackson Lamb and the Zoë Boehm series are currently being developed for TV. Mick was born in Newcastle upon Tyne, and lives in Oxford. He writes full time.

The Long, Long, Afternoon by Inga Vesper @wekesperos @bonnierbooks_uk @ZaffreBooks @Tr4cyF3nt0n

Source: Review copy
Publication: 4th February 2021 from Manilla Press
PP: 416
ISBN-13: 978-1838772260

My thanks to the publisher for an advance copy for review.

Yesterday, I kissed my husband for the last time . . .

It’s the summer of 1959, and the well-trimmed lawns of Sunnylakes, California, wilt under the sun. At some point during the long, long afternoon, Joyce Haney, wife, mother, vanishes from her home, leaving behind two terrified children and a bloodstain on the kitchen floor.

While the Haney’s neighbours get busy organising search parties, it is Ruby Wright, the family’s ‘help’, who may hold the key to this unsettling mystery. Ruby knows more about the secrets behind Sunnylakes’ starched curtains than anyone, and it isn’t long before the detective in charge of the case wants her help. But what might it cost her to get involved? In these long hot summer afternoons, simmering with lies, mistrust and prejudice, it could only take one spark for this whole ‘perfect’ world to set alight . . .

It’s a while since I read a book that is quite so pitch perfect. The Long, Long Afternoon captures the mood and the feeling of 1950’s suburban America so well. Set in the last days of Eisenhower’s Presidency when the impact of the Supreme Court’s landmark desegregationruling in the 1954 case of Brown v. Board of Education was permeating America, the first significant civil rights bill since the end of Reconstruction was coming into effect.

We are transported to Sunnylakes, a pristine housing conurbation in Santa Monica, California, 1959. Crisp cotton curtains adorn the windows in pastel shades; everyone has the same wooden cladding to show they can afford it and all the women attend the Women’s Improvement Committee. It is not far from Stepford Wives territory although we quickly learn that not all the women think their lives are idyllic.

To look at Joyce Hayney you would think she had the perfect life – she is married to Frank with two young children living in a lovely house. Frank has a good job and doesn’t beat her. The fact that she is living on a combination of diet pills and tranquilisers however, suggests that not everything in her perfectly manicured garden is rosy.

Ruby Wright is the help and she works at a few houses in Sunnylakes. She’s hoping to make something of herself and wants to go to college to train as a teacher. That’s what she is saving for, but for women like Ruby, there;s always a nasty surprise waiting round the corner to take away your optimism and to seek to instil fear and ensure you remember your place.

 Inga Vesper’s convincing novel is told predominantly from the perspective of Ruby and a Detective Blanke, with some first person narrative from Joyce Haney herself, in flashback form.

This morning, Ruby arrives at Joyce Haney’s house as usual to clean and finds Joyce’s elder daughter on the lawn. Of Joyce herself there is no trace but there is blood on the kitchen floor.

What we get from The Long, Long Afternoon is a beautifully observed study of how women are perceived at the time; of how little thought was given to their mental nourishment because the patriarchy was there to be served and a woman’s role was to do that in return for which they were well kept like pampered pets. The blatant racism and casual sexism shines through from the second that Ruby, as discoverer of the blood, is arrested simply because she’s black.

Detective Mick Blanke recognises a degree of injustice in this, perhaps because he has made some mistakes in his recent past and as a result he’s been sent to this suburban backwater. He also quite quickly realises that he’s never going to get these women to open up to him in the way that he would need in order to solve the case, so he recruits Ruby to help him, holding out the hope of a reward to encourage her. Being a man, though, he doesn’t listen that hard when she tries to tell him things that matter.

There is so much going on under the surface of this mystery that you sense the turbulent undertow even as the gentle breeze ripples the water of the swimming pools in every garden. Ruby is an excellent character. She is sharp, inquisitive and intuitive and she knows when someone is behaving as they shouldn’t. Even as she was exploited and sometimes physically abused by those who employ her, she recognised in Joyce something of a kindred spirit and while of course they could never openly have been friends, there was a connection there that makes her want to stand up for the missing Joyce.

In the oppressive heat of these LA summer days more than one chilling secret lies awaiting discovery. In this mystery, the sense of a building tension and suffocating atmosphere adds to the shocking stories that lie behind Joyce’s disappearance.

Verdict: Beautifully layered and redolent with tension and intrigue this novel is sharp, involving and beautifully written with such a precise understanding of the mores of the time that it positively crackles. I loved it.

Bookshop.org.uk                           Waterstones                    Hive.co.uk

Inga Vesper is a journalist and editor. She moved to the UK from Germany to work as a carer, before the urge to write and explore brought her to journalism. As a reporter, she covered the coroner’s court and was able to observe how family, neighbours and police react to a suspicious death. She holds a MSc in Climate Change Management from Birkbeck College. Inga has worked and lived in Syria and Tanzania, but always returned to London, because there’s no better place to find a good story than the top deck of a bus. When not writing she likes to walk, knit and drink copious amounts of tea with sage and honey.

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Girl A by Abigail Dean

Source: Audiobook review copy
Publication: 21 January 2021 from Harper Collins
Narrator : Holliday Grainger
Length: 11 hours 12 minutes
ASIN no: B08B1X7QGL

My thanks to the Publisher for an advance copy for review purposes

Girl A,’ she said. ‘The girl who escaped. If anyone was going to make it, it was going to be you.’

Lex Gracie doesn’t want to think about her family. She doesn’t want to think about growing up in her parents’ House of Horrors. And she doesn’t want to think about her identity as Girl A: the girl who escaped. When her mother dies in prison and leaves Lex and her siblings the family home, she can’t run from her past any longer. Together with her sister Evie, Lex intends to turn the House of Horrors into a force for good. But first she must come to terms with her six siblings – and with the childhood they shared.

Girl A is one of the most talked about novels of January 2021 and I was really looking forward to listening to the audiobook, having very much enjoyed a sampler previously. Very well narrated by the modulated, calm tones of Holly Grainger, Girl A is the story of Alexandra Gracie, told by her of living in the ‘House of Horrors’ with her six siblings and their mother and father.

As the book opens, we are in the present day. Lexie’s mother has just died in prison and Lexie is the executor of her will and the one who has to decide what to do with the house and the small legacy of £20,000 that is left. Now living in New York, she has to stay in England to negotiate the will with each of her brothers and sisters.

The narrative switches time frames quite often without signalling so it can be quite interesting at times to keep up with whether we are in the past or present. Girl A is rather beautifully and evocatively written and has none of the exploitative horror that you might have expected. The matter of fact-ness of the narrative is one of the things that makes the book chilling.

Yet, you can’t help be a little disassociated from Lexie. She’s a character whose life has been very difficult, but who you never warm to – perhaps because she has never had a good relationship herself.  That has its drawbacks, however, as you never really emotionally engage with Lexie and though her upbringing was indeed pretty horrible and abusive, that experience never quite sears its way into your consciousness in the way you might expect.

Girl A is a detailed exploration of trauma and the after effects; it is an in depth character study of how Lexie has handled her upbringing and how she copes with what she has experienced.

Through Lexie’s narration we understand the various characters, her siblings and their parents and everything we understand is from her perspective. We also get a fascinating perspective on the role of the media in such cases and it isn’t pretty.

There are moments when the silence in this narration prevails and that really makes a point in a way that words would not and Dean’s writing style is quietly tough and sometimes devastating.

Verdict: Well-written, nicely plotted and not sensationalised, this is an interesting story with some compelling moments and a plot moment that was easily anticipated, but was nonetheless impactful. In the end, I think I expected something stronger and more emotionally engaging, but maybe that says more about me than the story? Still very much worth a listen/read,  even if not wholly for me.

Audible                                            Bookshop.org                                Waterstones    

Abigail Dean is a writer from Manchester, living in south London. Her first novel, GIRL A, was published in the UK in January 2021, and was an instant Sunday Times Bestseller. GIRL A will be published in the US on February 2 2021.

Dear Edward by Ann Napolitano @napolitanoann @PenguinUKBooks #DearEdward

Source: Review copy
Publication: Paperback 4th February 2021 from Penguin
PP: 352
ISBN-13: 978-0241985892

I read and reviewed this fabulous book a year ago and am delighted to join the blog tour in celebration of the paperback publication with a reprise of my review, which, after the year we have had, makes it more relevant than ever.

One summer morning, a flight takes off from New York to Los Angeles. There are 192 passengers aboard: among them a young woman taking a pregnancy test in the airplane toilet; a Wall Street millionaire flirting with the air hostess; an injured soldier returning from Afghanistan; and two beleaguered parents moving across the country with their adolescent sons, bickering over who gets the window seat. When the plane suddenly crashes in a field in Colorado, the younger of these boys, 12-year-old Edward Adler, is the sole survivor.

Dear Edward depicts Edward’s life in the crash’s aftermath as he struggles to make sense of the meaning of his survival, the strangeness of his sudden fame, and find his place in the world without his family. In his new home with his aunt and uncle, the only solace comes from his friendship with the girl next door, Shay. Together Edward and Shay make a startling discovery: hidden in his uncle’s garage are sacks of letters from the relatives of the other passengers, addressed to Edward.

As Edward comes of age against the backdrop of sudden tragedy, he must confront some of life’s most profound questions: how do we make the most of the time we are given? And what does it mean not just to survive, but to truly live?

Dear Edward is the story of a 12 year old boy who is the sole survivor of a terrible plane crash. Anne Napolitano’s novel deals with how he processes existence; what happens when everyone you love has been taken away from you and how it feels to be the one left behind.

Dear Edward works because it is beautifully written, treading just on the right side of the potential mawkishness of this situation. Napolitano intersperses telling the story of Eddie’s life after the crash with scenes from the plane before it gets into difficulty.

Thus we get to meet some of the passengers; to know a bit about who they are and why they are flying; to understand a little of their hopes, fears and dreams.

Eddie’s family were flying from Newark to L.A. because Eddie’s mum, Jane, is a screenwriter. Right now she’s working on stuff that makes her money, but her dream is to write the script she’s been thinking about for years. Eddie’s dad, Bruce home-schools Eddie and his elder brother, Jordan because he doesn’t think schools teach kids to be sufficiently independently minded or to ask searching and difficult questions.

Eddie is 12; Jordan 15. Jordan is everything to Eddie and it is Jordan that creates the biggest hole in Eddie’s heart, because they were the closest they could be.

After the crash, Eddie goes to live with Jane’s sister, Lacey and her husband, John. Of course they take Eddie in, though now he has left Eddie behind; that was for pre-crash, now he is Edward. Lacey and John are nursing their own heartache and Eddie can feel that as soon as he walks into the house. It’s a crushing burden for a 12 year old boy who has lived through what Edward has experienced.

So as we get to know more about Edward, we are also up close and personal with the passengers – an eclectic range of people squeezed into a metal tube thousands of feet up in the air. The ailing old man, the gay veteran, the air stewardess and the jangling re-incarnation lady and most poignant of all, the woman who has just discovered she is pregnant. Each individual life matters to someone, even if just to themselves.

In an age where everything is public and Twitter and Instagram make people feel they have a right to access everyone’s lives, John and Lacey understand that Edward just isn’t going to be able to cope with the attention he is going to get and set out to shelter him as much as they can.

Edward has to get on with life; to learn how to put one foot in front of the other, but for him it is all by rote. He can’t sleep, he doesn’t feel anything and he has neither appetite nor any interest in anything. His life has to be lived, that much he knows, but he lacks interest in knowing how to do that. So it becomes about getting through each day; about not upsetting John and Lacey and about recognising that his status allows him latitude no other 12 year old boy would get.

It is his next door neighbour’s daughter, Shay, who helps him through. She finds a way to make him consider his situation and to give expression to at least some of what he is feeling, in a way that his psychiatrist has never achieved. She’s a straight talker and Edward finds he appreciates that, especially since she’s not going to let him mess her around – and Edward’s life is full of people who don’t know how to say ‘no’ to him.

As Edward recovers from his physical injuries and goes to school, Shay is by his side every step of the way. But Edward is not really living his life; he’s just going through the motions and that much is made clear by the juxtaposition with the scenes from the plane where we are let in to the intimate secrets of the passengers and understand what each has lost when the plane goes down.

Dear Edward is about how Edward learns to live with almost unbearable grief to make a start towards recovery. Part of that is finding a sense of purpose and learning all over again how to connect with people and how to let emotion back into his life. A sprinkling of dry humour keeps the overly sentimental at bay.

Verdict: Beautifully written, poignant and utterly compelling, Dear Edward is a sometimes heart-wrenching and powerful exploration of what it means to lose everyone and how the human spirit can re-connect and find a way to heal. Ultimately uplifting, it has the benefit of prompting this reader to ask ‘what is my purpose in this world?’ which can’t be a bad thing. Highly recommended.

         Bookshop.org.uk           Waterstones            Hive Books      

    

Ann Napolitano is the author of the novels A Good Hard Look and Within Arm’s Reach. She is also the Associate Editor of One Story literary magazine. She received an MFA from New York University; she has taught fiction writing for Brooklyn College’s MFA program, New York University’s School of Continuing and Professional Studies and for Gotham Writers’ Workshop. Dear Edward currently has fifteen international publishers.

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The Shadow Man by Helen Fields @Helen_Fields @AvonBooksUK @Sabah_K

Source: Audiobook
Publication: 4 February 2021 from Avon Books
Narrator: Robin Laing, Cathleen McCarron
Length:  12hrs  49 mins
ASIN : B08LQQK4NH

My thanks to Avon Books for the opportunity to review this audiobook

Elspeth, Meggy and Xavier are locked in a flat. They don’t know where they are, and they don’t know why they’re there. They only know that the shadow man has taken them, and he won’t let them go. Desperate to escape, the three of them must find a way out of their living hell, even if it means uncovering a very dark truth. Because the shadow man isn’t a nightmare. He’s all too real.

And he’s watching.

Readers of Helen Fields Luc Callanach series will be pleased to know that although Luc doesn’t make an appearance in this stand-alone novel, he does appear in a short story included after the end of the audiobook and Gayfield Square Station and the redoubtable Superintendent Overbeck do feature strongly in the novel.

In The Shadow Man Helen Fields gives us a new protagonist, Dr Connie Woolwine. Connie is American and a psychological profiler, just arrived in Edinburgh. She’s been called in to work with D.I. Brodie Baarda, a kidnapping specialist from Met Ops Team in London, following the disappearance of a young mother, Elspeth Dunwoody.

Connie is straight talking, a little sweary and not given to over indulging in politeness or bureaucracy. She has a fascinating backstory that I hope we will hear more of in future books. Baarda is a more gentle soul, a little closed in and together they are a brilliant pairing. From the outset, we know who we are dealing with, even if Connie and Baarda do not.

The Shadow Man is never concealed from the reader; rather we are brought into his fiendish plans; made to be voyeurs as he does what he sets out to achieve and not long into the book, one woman is dead and another has gone missing. More people will disappear as The Shadow Man carries out his focussed research and executes his nightmarish plans….what Connie and Baarda have to do is to work out why this is happening and then work back to who and where to find him.

Those familiar to Fields writing will know that she does not shrink from graphic and stomach churning descriptions when it suits her plotting. This one is certainly dark and gritty, but here it is the sheer creepiness of the antagonist and the skin crawling nature of his demented thought processes that produces the visceral reaction.

Fields is innovative and original in her choice of killer and her well researched medical knowledge plays into this character brilliantly and enhances the character of Connie, too. Her characters are excellent – I especially liked the interplay between Connie and the Pathologist as each begins to take the measure of the other.

The plot is intricate and well-paced and the creepiness level ramps up as the book develops, leading to massive tension and a growing intensity that threatens to explode. Fortunately this is leavened by some excellent light and shade in the dialogue between the characters of Baarda and Woolwine.

The narration by Robin Laing and Cathleen McCarron is excellent – it really helps to have a male and a female voice and their voices and accents work well together.

Verdict: Another hugely successful read from Helen Fields. It is quite a long book and could have used a little more editing, but nothing that distracts from a truly terrifying plot and some great characters. I predict this one will be a sure fire winner and hope to see much more of Woolwine and Baarda in the future.

Bookshop.org                                Audible                             Waterstones    

An international and Amazon #1 best-selling author, Helen is a former criminal and family law barrister. Every book in the Callanach series claimed an Amazon #1 bestseller flag. Helen also writes as HS Chandler, and last year released legal thriller ‘Degrees of Guilt’. Her audio book ‘Perfect Crime’ knocked Michelle Obama off the #1 spot. Translated into 15 languages, and also selling in the USA, Canada & Australasia, Helen’s books have won global recognition. Her first historical thriller ‘These Lost & Broken Things’ came out in May 2020. She currently commutes between Hampshire, Scotland and California, where she lives with her husband and three children.

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