Murder Under The Tuscan Sun   @RandomTTours @MsTamarCohen @HJ_Barnes

Source: Review copy
Publication: 30 March 2023 from Penguin
PP: 352
ISBN-13: 978-1529176575

My thanks to Transworld and Random Things Tours for an advance copy for review, and my apologies for the lateness of this post!

In a remote castle high up in the Tuscan hills secrets are simmering among its glamorous English residents:

The ailing gentleman art-dealer

His dazzling niece

Her handsome Fascist husband

Their neglected young daughter

The housekeeper who knows everything

and Connie, the English widow working for them.

Every night, Connie hears sinister noises and a terrible wailing inside the walls. Is she losing her grip on reality?

Or does someone in the castle want her gone?

Rachel Rhys has written a beautifully described mystery set in Tuscany in the 1920’s. So beautifully described that you can feel the Tuscan heat on your shoulders and imagine yourself in the castle in which the action takes place.

Written as a first person narrative, the story is told by Constance Bowen, a woman whose husband has recently died. A woman with nursing experience during the war, and with suffragette sympathies, Constance’s marriage was not a loving one and the loss of her daughter, leaving her with only her son James, now in his early 20’s,  has left her looking for something to do with her life.

On a spur of the moment decision, she answers an advertisement in The Lady to be a companion to William North, a stroke victim in Tuscany. The ad has been placed by North’s niece, Evelyn who together with her husband, Roberto, live in and have charge of the castle.

To Constance’s surprise she is offered the role and plucking up her courage, she determines a change will be good for her and accepts.

When she gets there, she finds that not everything is as she had imagined. Evelyn seems to be a flighty young woman whose approach to her young child Nora is one of careless regret. Evelyn is married to the darkly handsome Roberto who is rather closer to the blackshirt movement than Evelyn is comfortable with. Meeting her charge, William is another surprise, for although he has had a cerebral haemorrhage which has affected both his speech and his movement, North is rather younger than she had anticipated.

From the outset, the welcome she receives and the interactions with the castle’s occupants are deeply unsettling. Things happen which cannot be explained and Constance finds that though she knows perfectly well that she is competent, nevertheless she begins to lose any confidence she has as strange occurrences, disappearances and odd happenings all seem to undermine her judgement.

Evelyn is mercurial; at one moment all smiles and happiness, lavishing affection on Constance and at another, questioning everything Constance does. William is a taciturn charge who puts up with her ministering to him but seems wary of everyone around him.

 Rhys creates a vivid set of characters in and around this castle with some pretty loathsome characters, some pretty gruesome expat behaviour and a decidedly off kilter existence that overshadows everything that happens in this Tuscan idyll. It’s not just the blackshirts that are causing a shadow.

The writing is briskly paced and she really does do the unsettling elements very well indeed. So much so that you begin to question Constance’s reliability as a narrator when she cannot seem to remember whether she has been following instructions as they were given or not.

Verdict: An easy, flowing narrative quickly gets the reader into the central plot and the mystery and intrigue all build up to a crescendo where you begin to wonder who is innocent and who, is anyone, is responsible for some life threatening moments. Hugely enjoyable, suspenseful and very much embedded in the life and times of the period, this is a great read and one that I’d recommend for excellent holiday reading.                                  Waterstones                      Hive Stores

Rachel Rhys is the pseudonym of psychological thriller writer Tammy Cohen. Her debut, Dangerous Crossing, was a bestselling Richard and Judy Book Club pick and was followed by A Fatal Inheritance and Island of Secrets. Rachel’s latest novel, Murder Under the Tuscan Sun is once again superb historical suspense crime, this time with an irresistible Italian 1920s setting. She lives in North London, with her three (allegedly) grown up children and her neurotic rescue dog.

Beautiful Shining People by Michael Grothaus @MichaelGrothaus @OrendaBooks @RandomTTours

Source: Review copy
Publication: 16 March 2022 from Orenda Books
PP: 384
ISBN-13: 978-1914585647

My thanks to Orenda Books for an advance copy for review

It’s our world, but decades into the future…

An ordinary world, where cars drive themselves, drones glide across the sky, and robots work in burger shops. There are two superpowers and a digital Cold War, but all conflicts are safely oceans away. People get up, work, and have dinner. Everything is as it should be…

Except for seventeen-year-old John, a tech prodigy from a damaged family, who hides a deeply personal secret. But everything starts to change for him when he enters a tiny café on a cold Tokyo night. A café run by a disgraced sumo wrestler, where a peculiar dog with a spherical head lives, alongside its owner, enigmatic waitress Neotnia…

But Neotnia hides a secret of her own – a secret that will turn John’s unhappy life upside down. A secret that will take them from the neon streets of Tokyo to Hiroshima’s tragic past to the snowy mountains of Nagano.

A secret that reveals that this world is anything ordinary – and it’s about to change forever…

One of the great things about smaller independent publishers (and there are many, many great things)  is that you learn to trust their judgement and because you do, you’ll read a book even if it doesn’t sound like something that you would ordinarily pick up. Now, I’d probably have read Michael Grothaus’ book anyway, because I loved Epiphany Jones so much, but dystopian fiction isn’t much my thing and so knowing that it was coming from Orenda Books, the home of beautiful writing, was what pushed it to the front of the pile.

And of course that trust is rewarded in spades in this stunning, beautifully written book.

Michael Grothaus takes us to Tokyo, not too many decades in the future. But this is a future where the digital revolution is well bedded in. Deep fakes are everywhere and wars are fought with them. The US and China are at loggerheads and keywords are now banned lest they trigger some new faked controversy. Service bots and androids are everywhere and technology drives even the smallest business.

Michael Grothaus’ world building is a thing of beauty. He transports us to a place we recognise yet a place transformed. As we wander the streets of Tokyo decades into the future, this place moves and shimmers, chimeric, illusory, yet breathtakingly real.

Nineteen year old John is in Tokyo to finalise a deal with a major tech corporation for his revolutionary quantum code. He’s a bit of a genius, recently featuring on a magazine cover for his work on quantum coding. But as we will discover, he’s not a happy young man. His family background isn’t great and he suffers physically as well as emotionally from never really having fitted in. He’s hoping that this deal will give him the means to at least sort the physical aspects of his life that cause him grief.

While he waits for the corporation to finalise the paperwork on his deal, John is taking in the Tokyo sights and trying to tire himself out so that he can finally sleep. Jetlag has not been his friend since he made the trip across continents.

That’s how he meets Neotnia, a young Japanese waitress in a café.  The café is owned by Goeido, a seemingly very grumpy ex sumo wrestler whose career came to an abrupt end due to a deep fake. Goeido is a hard man to win over; he trusts no-one until he knows for sure that their motives are benign. He spends most of his time grooming his rather fetching dog, Inu.

At first, conversation between the two is somewhat stilted, but soon John and Neotnia find a lovely strain of humour in their interactions and that leads to a bond between them.  

Though incredibly accomplished in his coding field, John has never really fitted in anywhere. His past is a miserable country and he plans to use this financial windfall to reset in an attempt to feel more comfortable within his own skin. Neotnia, conversely, is desperate to revisit the past. She has lost her father and wants nothing more than to trace him and ask him the questions that have been burning within her, especially since she met John.

Michael Grothaus has written a love story and it is so beautifully rendered that it had me in pieces, pulling me in to the story of these two young people; two souls who find each other because what they have in common is that they are outsiders; neither fits into this world but both are seeking answers to their questions about what their place is in this life.

This beautiful, compassionate story is wrapped in a brightly lit, brash wrapper that is Tokyo a few decades into the future. Walking the streets of Tokyo at Halloween is like wandering through the set of an anime movie. Technology is now so well developed that it is the most effective weapon in what is now almost exclusively digital warfare. Instead of looking at how much public benefit digital technology can provide to the world, those in charge are committed to using it to gaining supremacy. This is corporatism writ large. AI bots prevail everywhere you go, ostensibly helpful, but even their messages seem somehow sinister. It all feels scarily plausible.

Grothaus embeds us in a civilisation that seems as polarised and brittle as it is today but which has found ever increasing ways to create division, even as that same technology fails to be harnessed for the public good. And yet, Beautiful Shining People is a deeply spiritual journey into a digital world, allowing us to find humanity and compassion in the midst of so much negativity. He underscores the importance values such as those at the heart of the kamis which still play a significant role in the lives of the Japanese.

This a love story and of what it really means to be human in a world where technology seemingly makes everything possible. It is about loneliness, being different, feeling alienated in a world where fitting in is a prized value. It is both a beautifully told story and a warning. It asks questions about how far we really want to go in making the world more  technology driven without underpinning that progress with the values and beliefs that make us compassionate, empathetic members of humanity. This is no po-faced book, however; it has its fair share of wit, some great laugh out loud moments and quite a few tense and scary chills, too. The characters, though are something else, In a book where the world building is so amazing, it is the richly drawn, emotive characters that stand out, who draw you in and make you care so fiercely for their future.

Verdict: An epic, brilliant, beautiful, shining book that everyone should read. I absolutely adored it.

Orenda Books                                                       Waterstones                     

Michael Grothaus is a novelist, journalist and author of non-fiction. His writing has
appeared in Fast Company, VICE, Guardian, Litro Magazine, Irish Times, Screen, Quartz
and others. His debut novel, Epiphany Jones, a story about sex trafficking among the
Hollywood elite, was longlisted for the CWA John Creasey (New Blood) Dagger and
named one of the 25 ‘Most Irresistible Hollywood Novels’ by Entertainment Weekly. His
first non-fiction book, Trust No One: Inside the World of Deepfakes was published by
Hodder & Stoughton in 2021. The book examines the human impact that artificially
generated video will have on individuals and society in the years to come. Michael is

Geiger by Gustaf Skördeman trs Ian Giles

Source: Review copy and owned copy
Publication: 21 July 2022 from Zaffre
PP: 432
ISBN-13: 978-1838775933

The landline rings as Agneta is waving off her grandchildren. Just one word comes out of the receiver: ‘Geiger’. For decades, Agneta has always known that this moment would come, but she is shaken. She knows what it means.

Retrieving her weapon from its hiding place, she attaches the silencer and creeps up behind her husband before pressing the barrel to his temple. Then she squeezes the trigger and disappears – leaving behind her wallet and keys.

The extraordinary murder is not Sara Nowak’s case. But she was once close to those affected and, defying regulations, she joins the investigation. What Sara doesn’t know is that the mysterious codeword is just the first piece in the puzzle of an intricate and devastating plot fifty years in the making . . .

Gustaf Skördeman’s Geiger begins with a phone ringing.  Agneta Broman is waving goodbye to her grandchildren. After answering the phone she hears one word. She picks up a pistol, screws in the silencer, walk up slowly behind her husband, Stellan, and calmly shoots him through his temple. Then she walks out the door taking only an already packed rucksack, leaving everything else behind her.

It’s a terrific start to an interesting story that deals with espionage and the role of Sweden in the Cold War.

Detective Sara Nowak works in the police prostitution unit. She knew Stellan Broman,  a once high profile TV presenter, known as ‘Uncle Stellan’ (you can see the parallels now, can’t you…?) She grew up with the Broman children because her mother worked for the Bromans and though this isn’t her jurisdiction, she wants answers.

Sara is a really prickly character with a temper to match. She has a reputation for being too rough on the job and it is only her inside knowledge that allows her anywhere near this investigation. It’s not long before she realises that she knew very little about the real Agneta and Stellan and what she thought she knew was a web of lies.

Gustaf Skördeman’s mysterious code word is the trigger for a chain of events that lead to a terrifying plot that involves a shady character named Abu Rasil – a sought after terrorist operating in Europe during the Cold War.

Geiger is a spy story but it also reveals some other disturbing elements and from the beginning the tension in this international spy story is high. This is Sara’s story and she will have to uncover the secrets of her own past as well as Agneta’s if she is ever to understand how to cope with the future.

Geiger has a fast moving plot, weaving between the police investigation and Agneta’s mission. The story is seen from two perspectives, and we see the commonplace development of dual identities and undercover secrets. Skördeman illuminates the Cold War and the relationships between Sweden, East Germany and Russia provide the backdrop to Agneta’s movements.

As Sara investigates it becomes clear that Stellan was more than the genial uncle that his adoring public so venerated. Indeed, almost no-one is who they purport to be and certainly none of them can be trusted in this murky story of death, corruption, terrorism and darkness.

The pacing is good in this dark and surprising story, though there is a lot of information to get through in the sections dealing with the Cold War. The characters are very well drawn, Stella in particular, and we understand her a lot better by the time we get to the twisty, compelling but somewhat contrived conclusion.

Verdict: Well worth reading, I enjoyed this explosive, complex thriller which made, at times, for a very uncomfortable read.                                  Waterstones                                     Hive Stores

Gustaf Skördeman was born in 1965 in Sweden and is a screenwriter, director and producer. Geiger, his thriller debut, is published in 24 countries, and film rights have been optioned by Monumental Pictures.

End of Story by Louise Swanson @LouiseWriter @HodderBooks

Source: Review copy
Publication: 23 March 2023 from Hodder Books
PP: 320
ISBN-13: 978-1529396102

Too much imagination can be a dangerous thing.  It has been five years since writing fiction was banned by the government.

Fern Dostoy is a criminal. Officially, she has retrained in a new job outside of the arts but she still scrawls in a secret notepad in an effort to capture what her life has become: her work on a banned phone line, reading bedtime stories to sleep-starved children; Hunter, the young boy who calls her and has captured her heart; and the dreaded visits from government officials.

But as Fern begins to learn more about Hunter, doubts begin to surface. What are they both hiding?

And who can be trusted?

There are clues in this emotive dystopian thriller if you keep an eye out for them. Fern Dostoy is our narrator and she is a deeply unhappy woman. No wonder, for Fern is a writer, an award winning writer in a country where fiction has been banned.

It is 2035 and there has been no new fiction published for the last 5 years. Worse, all fiction books have been removed from the shelves of bookshops and libraries and there are regular amnesty days to hand in the last remaining works of fiction, because to be found with such a book is to open oneself up to severe punishment. Storytelling in all its forms has been banned.

Fern’s writing really took off after she lost her husband to Covid. That, and the grief she felt at her childlessness, propelled her to get all her rage and grief out on paper, resulting in a barnstorming best-seller that won major awards. But her writing was not appreciated by those in power and so helped to kickstart the process of banning fiction.

Echoes of Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 abound here. Fern Dostoy was compelled to move from her house to a neighbourhood where she knows no-one. She has lost her friendships with fellow writers, most of whom have also been forcibly relocated, and she sees no-one and speaks to no-one. Now she lives alone and works as an office-cleaner under on less than basic wages just to live. Louise Swanson’s novel is written in the form of Fern’s diary. She is our narrator and we see just how bereft her existence is and how much she suffers from being unable to write.

She is regularly visited by two government officials – she knows them as the tall one and the short one. Their job is to make absolutely sure that she is not writing fiction and their unannounced visits also encompass a search of her house looking for any contravention of the law.

Then she strikes up a relationship with a disabled door to door seller of tea. Despite herself, she finds that she looks forward to his visits.

Yet something seems off-kilter in this horrid, cruel alienated world. A blue and white trainer becomes a recurring motif in Fern’s life. The tea man seems to be trying to tell her something, but presses biscuits into her hand instead.

Then Fern is offered a glimpse of hope and from there the trajectory of her life alters.

Louise Swanson’s book will puzzle you and have you wondering who you can trust. I hated the idea of a world without books and fiction. I did work out where the book was headed but I very much enjoyed working out how it all came together.

Verdict: A fascinating and bleak look at a world I never want to live in. Emotive and terrifying, devastating and oppressive, you’ll be wondering just who to trust.                                  Waterstones                                     Hive Stores

As a child, Louise Beech told everyone she was going to be a world-famous novelist one day. She once bet her mum ten pounds that she’d be published by thirty – her first newspaper column was published when she was thirty-one. She finally got a book deal in 2015. Her debut, How to be Brave, published by Orenda Books, got to No4 on Amazon and was a Guardian Readers’ Pick; Maria in the Moon, also Orenda Books, was described as ‘quirky, darkly comic and heartfelt’ by the Sunday Mirror; The Lion Tamer Who Lost shortlisted for the Popular Romantic Novel of 2019 at the RNA Awards and longlisted for the Polari Prize 2019; Call Me Star Girl longlisted for the Guardian’s Not The Booker Prize and was Best magazine’s Best Book of the Year 2019; and I Am Dust was a Crime Magazine Monthly Pick. This Is How We Are Human was published in June 2021. Louise still hasn’t given her mum that tenner though. Louise also writes under the name Louise Swanson.

Grace – Tonight ITV1 8pm @ITV @itvstudios @RiotComms

If you’re anything like me and you raced through Unforgotten because it was so good – even better than you thought it could be – then you’ll be hankering after another seriously good police drama to watch.

Wait no more, because Grace is back and this one is a belter! Based on the best selling novels by Peter James, Episode One is an adaptation of James’ 6th novel, Dead Like Me.

John Simm reprises his role as Brighton-based Detective Superintendent Roy Grace, with Richie Campbell as his friend and sidekick, DS Glenn Branson. Zoë Tapper plays Senior Anatomical Pathology Technician Cleo Morey, and Craig Parkinson (whom you will no doubt remember as Dot Cottan in Line of Duty) is DS Norman Potting. Laura Elphinstone plays DS Bella Moy in this new series which comprises three feature length films, each running for a meaty, satisfying 2 hours.

Photo ITV Studios

There’s a new boss for Grace to contend with and he’s still trying to move forward with his life since his wife Sandy left for work on his 40th birthday and hasn’t been seen since. There’s always something to get in the way of a harmonious relationship with his new partner, though, and a new flatmate is cramping his style a bit.

In this first episode in the new series, Grace is taken back to the past as it seems an old serial rapist has returned after a 10 year absence. Grace isn’t making many new friends as he and his team have to question the guests at his boss’s leaving do at a posh Brighton hotel.

With a dual timeline and some interesting personal developments within the team, this one is a new series not to be missed.

I really like John Simm in this role. He is such an understated actor and he goes about his business here with a quiet authority. The throwbacks to Grace as a more junior detective are really well done and you can see how badly he wants to get it right this time.

Not going to say any more about this episode except that it is a must watch. I’m really looking forward to the next two!

My thanks to ITV and Riot Communications for an opportunity to watch and preview the first in this new series of Grace

Reservoir by Livi Michael @livimichael @saltpublishing @RichardsonHelen

Source: Review copy
Publication: 15 March 2023 from Salt Publishing
PP: 160
ISBN-13: 978-1784632908

My thanks to Salt Publishing and Helen Richardson for an advance copy for review

At the International Conference Centre in Geneva, Hannah Rossier, formerly Annie Price, comes face to face with Neville Weir, someone from her childhood whom she never expected, or wanted, to meet again. As Neville’s reasons for attending the conference become clear, the dark waters of Hannah’s past start to rise. Hannah is a psychotherapist,with a specialist interest in memory and how connections are made between past and present. She has reinvented herself successfully, moving from a small northern town in England to Lucerne, Switzerland, with her husband, Thibaut.

Nobody, not even Hannah, knows the full truth about herself. Her ‘memories’ consist of glimpses of the place where she played in childhood, known simply as ‘The Wild’. Over the three days of the conference, she has to decide whether she can avoid Neville, or whether she should submit to an encounter with him and with her past. And in her keynote lecture about the neuroscience of memory, how much to conceal or reveal. But can her specialism save her from drowning?

I am delighted to be joined today by Livi Michael whose tense psychological thriller Reservoir was published yesterday. I’ve just started it and already I feel drawn in to the characters and subject matter. I started by asking Livi about her inspiration for Reservoir.

What inspired you to write Reservoir?

Reservoir is a psychological thriller which explores the question of what we do about the painful past. In the past few years we’ve heard a lot about historic pain and rage, from the ‘me too’ movement to black lives matter, the debates over statues and monuments etc. And there have been a lot of official apologies that may or may not do anything to ease the original damage. What can we do about the shameful past, about crime and punishment? It’s a question that has never been satisfactorily resolved. And the UK has the lowest Age of Criminal Responsibility (ACR) in Europe (also relevant to my novel). In England, it’s possible to be criminally prosecuted and imprisoned from the age of 10, which raises a lot of questions about how we think of childhood and how we treat children. At the same time, while writing Reservoir, I was aware of my own painful memories, which most of us must have. This made me ask, how do we forgive ourselves? How do we make recompense? Can we arrive at a different perspective on such issues as crime and punishment guilt and shame?

Please tell me about 4 key characters in your book and why they are important

4 key characters in your book and why they are important

There are six characters who are important, so I’ll do my best to narrow it down! Hannah is my main protagonist – the story revolves around her. She has reinvented herself, moving from a working class background to a middle class profession via education, but also changing her nationality and her name, because of her marriage to Thibaut in Switzerland. But when she meets someone from her childhood at an academic conference in Geneva, the dark waters of her past start to rise…Hannah is a psychotherapist with a specialist interest in neuroscience. Neuroscientific research is currently making us rethink such problematic questions as nature versus nurture, free will versus determinism, and the role of memory in shaping our perceptions of who we are. But it will take all Hannah’s training and specialist knowledge to save her from Neville, the antagonist in my novel.

Neville knew Hannah in childhood. His motives for turning up at the conference are initially obscure. But it becomes clear that he believes he knows something about Hannah that she would not like to be exposed.

Neville is important because the question of how we deal with people who would like to shame us is one of the key themes of Reservoir. But also, Neville has suffered, and he believes he has a legitimate grievance, which opened up the theme of how men respond to historic injury, and whether that sense of grievance can ever be appeased.

It was important to me to have a positive male character in the novel to counter Neville, and Hannah’s husband, Thibaut, has loved and supported her unreservedly – even though she is not an easy character to love or even like (although I like her!) It’s only when the extent of Hannah’s secrecy becomes apparent that his affection falters, and he begins to question whether she has ever truly trusted him. At the same time, Hannah realises how terrified she is of losing him. Even then, she doesn’t know whether to tell him the whole truth…

Hard to decide between Hannah’s mother, for this one, or her childhood friend Joanna…they both feature in flashbacks to Hannah’s past and they have both shaped her present. Like my mother, Hannah’s mother was a single parent, unmarried at a time when this was still considered shameful, so she called herself Mrs Price. Hannah doesn’t discover the truth until after her death. Mrs Price is a strong, and somewhat eccentric woman, isolated on the street where they live. She works as a cleaner at the local hospital. Although she doesn’t express affection easily, all the actions she takes are to protect Hannah, even if they occasionally seem inappropriate or disturbing. After a certain incident, for instance, she locks Hannah in her room while she works shifts. Unsurprisingly, Hannah doesn’t remember this with affection! Her mother is part of the reason she has left England for Switzerland, to begin a new life.

Offer me 4 pieces of music that suit the mood of this book

Blue in Green Miles Davis. Like the lake, and the reservoir in my novel, and like Hannah herself, this wonderful piece is serene on the surface but there is a sense of loneliness, sadness and turbulence beneath.

Mahalia Jackson, Didn’t it Rain, I have a happy list on Spotify and this is on it! It’s the perfect piece to turn to on those days when the rain is relentless, and I feel particularly ‘blue’ and doubtful about my writing – so I did listen to it several times during the writing of Reservoir, because the bad news is, no matter how much you’ve written, you are never free from self-doubt. I love this song because of Jackson’s great voice, but also because it’s so joyful, almost ecstatic, and it reminds me to be glad to be alive even when it won’t stop raining! It also reminds me of Hannah, because while I wouldn’t describe her as ecstatic and joyful, she is quietly defiant and very resistant to Neville’s attempts to shame her or put her down.

Stay With Me, sung by Lorraine Ellison. This is such a great, great record, and, while Hannah is so cool on the surface, it perfectly expresses the desperation she feels at the prospect of losing her husband, Thibaut, because of all the secrets she’s kept. If she were less reserved I’m sure she’d be howling stay with me baby, along with Lorraine Ellison!

Richard Strauss, – Im Abendrot (at Sunset) from the Four Last Songs. This is such a haunting composition. The version I have is sung by the late Jessye Norman, but Kiri te Kanawa and Renee Fleming sing it beautifully as well. Strauss wrote it towards the end of his life, and it’s imbued with a sense of remembrance, yearning and regret. Memory and regret are two of the key themes of Reservoir, how we cope with the past – with the things we have done and those we haven’t.

Tell me 4 places you associate with your book

Well, firstly a place that doesn’t feature in it at all – my allotment! I wrote Reservoir during lockdown, and in that first lockdown, when everyone was so confined, it was the only place I could go, apart from the shops. I’m not a brilliant gardener – I wish I was better at it, but I do find it therapeutic. I get a lot of my ideas when digging and weeding. Now, what I remember about that first lock-down period, rather than all the anxiety and terrible statistics, is the beautiful weather, the peace, and quiet (no traffic), the birdsong and the stars at night! What does that tell you about the unreliability of memory?

The street where Hannah lives as a child is actually based on the street where my friend lives now, and is not far from where I grew up. The key feature of this street is that it has terraced houses at the bottom end, semis in the middle and detached residences at the top, like a microcosm of the English class system! Hannah and her mother live at the bottom end, in a terraced house, and Hannah’s friend, Joanna, lives in a semi-detached house further up. This small social distinction contributes in its own way to the events of the novel.

The Wild is also an area that actually exists behind these houses – an area of uncultivated woodland and undergrowth. The reservoir is nearby, but for the purposes of the book, I transplanted it so that it too was in this wild area where the children play. It’s not a huge area, but to Hannah, Joanna and Neville, as children it seems vast and of infinite potential – a different, somewhat forbidden world. Although when Hannah was young there were not so many restrictions on ‘playing out’ as there are today, they’re not really supposed to play there, which makes it all the more attractive. I’m always fascinated by the subject of children’s play, and the way they create different worlds. Children and adults view the same geographic spaces quite differently!

The main action of my novel takes place in an imagined conference centre on the shores of Lake Geneva, which is meant to be a contrast to the reservoir of Hannah’s childhood in terms of location and scale. Lake Geneva is so beautiful and pristine, but, like the reservoir, it has hidden depths!

Can you suggest 4 films that convey the atmosphere you are writing about in your book? 

Somewhat to my surprise, the first film that occurred to me when I saw this question was the classic, Don’t Look Now, from 1973. Although when I thought about it I realised that it is a highly atmospheric film, shot in a gorgeous, watery setting (Venice rather than Geneva) and haunted by the presence (or absence) of a child – so although it is sometimes categorised as horror, and Reservoir isn’t a horror story, there are definite similarities! Also there is a common theme of uncertainty, and the unreliability of perception.

Can You Ever Forgive Me, (Marielle Heller, 2018) is one of my favourite films. The title reflects one of the underlying questions of Reservoir, – can we forgive, and if so, how? But also it is a film is about duplicity and truth, which is one of the main themes of Reservoir.

Notes On a Scandal, (2006) is a film about the potentially destructive nature of friendship and emotional blackmail. It’s psychological thriller full of malice and festering secrets, but gripping – which I hope is also true of Reservoir!

I really struggled with a fourth choice, between the theme of the unreliability of memory (Memento) and the theme of fantasy worlds that can be slightly sinister. I’m opting for Pan’s Labyrinth (Guillermo del Toro, 2006) because while there are several children’s films about fantasy worlds I wanted something older and darker, that is eerie and enchanting at the same time, and Pan’s Labyrinth is exactly that. It also features a ten year old girl, Ofelia, who is changed forever by her contact with this fantasy world…

And finally, please tell us what’s next for you?

I’m currently writing two novels at the same time and have three ideas-in-waiting! One of the novels I’m writing is historical, about the Victorian writer Mrs Gaskell, and the other is contemporary, about aging. I guess I’ll just keep writing them both to see which one I actually finish!

I found that fascinating. What an eclectic mix and one that makes me even more intrigued to get really immersed in Reservoir. My sincere thanks to Livi Michael for joining me today to take the 4×4 challenge.

Reservoir by Livi Michael is published by Salt on 15 March as a paperback original at £10.99. Available from all good bookshops, from Amazon  or direct from Salt

Livi Michael has published seven previous novels for adults:Rebellion; Succession; Accession; Under a Thin Moon which won the Arthur Welton award; Their Angel Reach which won the Faber Prize; All the Dark Air which was shortlisted for the Mind Award; and Inheritance, which won a Society of Authors Award. She has also published several novels for young adults and children and her short stories have been published in several magazines and anthologies. Livi has two sons and lives in Greater Manchester. She teaches creative writing at Manchester Metropolitan University and has been a senior lecturer in Creative Writing at Sheffield Hallam University
Photo c. Paul Andrews

I Will Find You by Harlan Coben @centurybooksuk

My thanks to Century Books for an advance copy for review

Source: Review copy
Publication: 16 March 2023 from Century
PP: 416
ISBN-13: 978-1529135503

David and Cheryl Burroughs are living the dream – married, a beautiful house in the suburbs, a three year old son named Matthew – when tragedy strikes one night in the worst possible way.

David awakes to find himself covered in blood, but not his own – his son’s. And while he knows he did not murder his son, the overwhelming evidence against him puts him behind bars indefinitely.

Five years into his imprisonment, Cheryl’s sister arrives – and drops a bombshell.

She’s come with a photograph that a friend took on vacation at a theme park. The boy in the background seems familiar – and even though David realizes it can’t be, he knows it is.

It’s Matthew, and he’s still alive.

David plans a harrowing escape from prison, determined to do what seems impossible – save his son, clear his own name, and discover the real story of what happened that devastating night.

I love Harlan Coben’s writing. It’s smooth, fluid, fast paced and he writes characters so well. But you do have to take your disbelief, and wrap it in cotton wool before proceeding, because this brilliant pure escapism.

David Burroughs is in a Maine prison in maximum security, serving a sentence for filicide – the killing of his three year old son Matthew in a brutal, bloody fashion. He doesn’t remember doing it, but the evidence left little room for doubt and he had been having issues with his marriage and his mental health was impacting on his sleep.

He accepted his sentence, refused to see any visitors and eventually his wife moved on and re-married. Now, after 5 years, he suddenly has a visitor. His sister-in-law Rachel, a journalist with her own history of disgrace, has brought him a photograph. And that photograph changes everything. Because in the background there’s a man’s hand and that man is holding the hand of a small boy that he knows in his heart is his son, Matthew.

Now everything has changed and David will have to use all his resources to get out of prison and find his son – with only one photograph to help point him in the right direction.

There follows a whole set of events that lead in a plethora of different directions, putting lives at risk, introducing us to some exceedingly dodgy characters and taking us on a rollercoaster ride that twists and turns until we are so dizzy it’s hard to tell what is up and what is down. This book is certainly enlivened by two FBI agents Max and his partner Sarah, whose wisecracking approach to interrogation certainly produces interesting results. I also enjoyed the cameo appearance from lawyer Hester Crimstein.

There are lots of nicely done tropes packed into I Will Find You, from the mobsters with a sense of honour to the wife who may be hiding secrets from her husband and in the end it wasn’t all that hard to see where this story was going. But my, what a wild ride it is to get there!

Verdict: Fast moving escapism with lots of imaginatively drawn very bad guys, thrilling chases, more than one show down and a plot that twists and turns like a rollercoaster on steroids. Sterling stuff from Harlan Coben. Just right for a snow day when you wrap up in a duvet to keep warm and read to take your mind off the world. And we all need that now and again, right?                                  Waterstones                                     Hive Stores

With more than eighty million books in print worldwide, Harlan Coben is the worldwide number 1 bestselling author of numerous thrillers, including Run AwayThe Boy from the Woods, Win and The Match as well as the multi-award-winning Myron Bolitar series. His books are published in forty-six languages and are bestsellers in more than a dozen countries. Coben is also the creator and executive producer of many television shows, including the Netflix Original dramas Stay Close, The Stranger and Hold Tight, as well as the upcoming Amazon Prime series adaptation of Shelter which is based on Coben’s YA novel of the same name. Coben is currently developing 14 projects, including Run Away, with Netflix in the US and internationally. He lives in New Jersey with his wife and four children.

The Ugly Truth by L. C. North @Lauren_C_North @TransworldBooks @Emily_BookPR

Source: Review copy
Publication: 16 March 2023 from Bantam Press
PP: 368
ISBN-13: 978-1787636378

My thanks to Bantam Press for an advance copy for review

Melanie Lange has disappeared.

Her father, Sir Peter Lange, says she is a danger to herself and has been admitted to a private mental health clinic.

Her ex-husband, Finn, and best friend, Nell, say she has been kidnapped.

The media will say whichever gets them the most views.

But whose side are you on?



Told via interviews, transcripts and diary entries, The Ugly Truth is a shocking and addictive thriller about fame, power and the truth behind the headlines.

Reading this book is a stark reminder of what a toxic influence social media can be. I was thinking that one element of it was a wee bit far-fetched, until I remembered Princess Latifa. That and other significant moments in this story have a horrible ring of authenticity.

Melanie Lange is a social media influencer. The daughter of Peter Lange, the owner of a successful chain of hotels, she started modelling at an early age and then progressed, through a series of very savvy decisions, into becoming a successful entrepreneur in her own right.

The Ugly Truth is the story of Mellie’s rise to fame, her success, her marriage and then her disappearance. It is told entirely through the reports of her family and friends on Twitter, via a Netflix documentary, in the tabloid press and in transcripts of interviews that Peter Lange undertakes for his ghost written autobiography. This is a book which is very easy to read and all the way along you are asked to form judgements based largely on what other people are telling you. And therein lies the rub.

Because this book is a reflection of what living your life on social media is like. Every second of every day you are invited to pass judgement. On Mellie; on her family and friendsds; on her business acumen and on her marriage and her parenting skills. This is a woman who lives her life in the full glare of a feeding frenzy of tabloids, photographers and social media commentators, topped up by people who just want to associate themselves with Melanie by shouting about her – and it doesn’t really matter that they have no knowledge and very little lives of their own.

Lauren C North has these elements of social media down to a ‘T’.  It won’t be new to you, but it does so easily lay bare just how ugly this process is and how quickly and easily it is to rush to judgement.

North cleverly invites us to choose a side, but in the end it isn’t about us. It’s about a young woman who has never had the opportunity to live her life free of judgement by strangers. Of a woman whose whole life is lived in a goldfish bowl even although she has never asked for that. It is a story you have read already in the media because it is the story of Britney Spears, of Princess Diana and Princess Latifa and of others closer to home whose lives have been tragically impacted by the toxicity of an everyday interaction with social media and the press.

The Ugly Truth is very well done and with themes of coercive control and tabloid intrusion, it is one we will all recognise. It is an ugly story and it made me feel horribly sad because there’s a lot of truth in here and yet you know nothing will change the polarity of our discourse on social media and the way the press feeds on that interest in celebrity. It is, perhaps, a little too one-sided, but that’s forgivable amidst so much that feels authentic.

Verdict: An uncomfortable read, but one that whizzes you through, inviting you to think about how you would react and whose side you would be on. It ends with a fitting conclusion and one which ought to give pause for thought. Very well done and with the ring of authenticity this is a cautionary tale that should leave us all reflecting on the part we play in rushing to judgement.                                  Waterstones                      Hive Stores

Lauren C. North writes psychological suspense novels that delve into the darker side of relationships and families. She has a lifelong passion for writing, reading, and all things books. Lauren also writes book club thrillers as LC North. Lauren’s love of psychological suspense has grown since childhood and her dark imagination of always wondering what’s the worst thing that could happen in every situation. Lauren studied psychology before moving to London where she lived and worked for many years. She now lives with her family in the Suffolk countryside. Lauren, alongside fellow author Lesley Kara and Nikki Smith, co-hosts In Suspense, a podcast and vodcast for fans and writers of crime fiction.

The Half-Burnt House by Alex North @writer_north @MichaelJBooks

Source: Review copy
Publication: 16 March 2023 from Michael Joseph
PP: 384
ISBN-13: 978-0241438121

My thanks to Michael Joseph for an advance copy for review

Katie Shaw always looked after her younger brother Chris – until she left him alone one carefree afternoon and he was savagely attacked. He hasn’t spoken to her since.

Now a mother, Katie vows not to repeat her mistakes. Carelessness cost her one family, and she won’t let it destroy another.

Then she receives a call from the police.

They’re investigating a particularly brutal murder, in a half-ruined house that once belonged to a notorious local serial killer. The case has thrown up many unsettling questions, but only one prime suspect: Chris.

The detective wants Katie’s help finding him, but she has only one thing on her mind: proving her brother’s innocence, and finally making up for her negligence all those years ago. But soon it becomes clear that the killer isn’t finished yet.

Which means that even as she attempts to save her old family, Katie is placing her new one in deadly peril . . .

I love a book that engages the brain as well as driving the senses. Alex North’s The Half Burnt House does that in spades. This is a book that takes some curious characters and interweaves them into a layered and unsettling story told across multiple timelines in a way that both chills and fascinates. It’s a deep dive down a rabbit hole and you’re never quite sure what’s going to be waiting for you when you emerge at the other end.

This is such a well-crafted narrative that incorporates philosophical questions with chilling atmospherics, a twisty and utterly transfixing plot and hovering over all of that, an intriguing question about whether we can ever be the masters of our destiny.

Katie Shaw was living her teenage dream. She was about to graduate. She and her long term boyfriend were discussing their future. Katie was a good daughter to loving parents until the fateful day when she decided to disobey their instructions just once. And that was when a stranger walked into her life and literally tore apart her brother’s face and with it her family’s rosy existence.

Years later, Katie has her own family; one that she protects fiercely. Never again will she be lulled into a false sense of security.  

Professor Alan Hobbes’ baby son was killed in a fire at his home. He stayed living in that house with its centre still charred and destroyed from the fire, like a permanent accusation. When Hobbes is found brutally murdered in his home, Detective Inspector Laurence Page and his partner Det. Caroline Pettifer work the case. Hobbes was a philosopher, a determinist – a man who had no truck with the idea that we have free will. He believed that everything is pre-determined; part of our DNA. So has his belief informed his death? It certainly seems that way.

North raises some complex questions in an intricately plotted novel where the chills gradually creep into your soul.

Laurence Page also investigated Katie’s brother’s attack. Chris Shaw now seems to appear on security camera footage at Hobbes house. What was he doing there and where is he now?

Katie has been feeling anxious, worried that someone is watching and following her. Her fear for her young daughter Sienna is very real, but her husband Sam is concerned that Katie is suffering from anxiety. Then her mother calls on Katie to find her brother and she is determined not to let him down again.

Laurence Page can see that Hobbes in life has been through some pretty dreadful stuff and there seems to be a link between what he has suffered and what Chris went through. Is the link back to an infamous serial killer who claimed to be able to see the future? And who is the man in the red car?

North layers his intense, challenging narrative with a sense of the paranormal. Katie’s relationship with Sam and Sienna contrasts violently with another relationship between a father and his sons and the whole is both an incredible mystery and a gruesome, bloody battle between good and evil, free will and determinism.

Verdict: I absolutely loved this intriguing, chilling and brilliant storyline that is beautifully written and so well constructed that I am in awe. Alex North can pull me down his rabbit holes any time he likes.                                  Waterstones                                     Hive Stores

Alex North was born in Leeds, where he now lives with his wife and son. He studied Philosophy at Leeds University, and prior to becoming a writer he worked there in their sociology department. The Whisper Man was a Sunday Times and New York Times bestseller, and is being published in more than 30 languages.

Twist of Fate by D. L. Mark @davidmarkwriter @AriesFiction @RandomTTours

Source: Review copy
Publication : 2 March 2023 from Aries/Head of Zeus
PP: 288
ISBN-13: 978-1803287744

My thanks to Aries for an advance copy for review

She says he’s a victim. They say he’s a killer.

When an armed man massacres several people in central London, Claudine witnesses the whole thing. To her horror, one of the victims is her brother, Jethro.

Riven by grief, Claudine retreats to the house in the Fens where she and Jethro grew up. When the police contact her, she is left reeling when they tell her Jethro orchestrated the attack.

Why would a gentle, if troubled, middle-aged man cause such bloodshed – and why would he include himself in the list of victims?

Claudine finds herself down a rabbit hole of mystery, caught up in Jethro’s research on a medieval cult. If she can’t solve the riddle in time, more people will die… and the darkness will claim her too.

Regular readers of this blog will know I am a fan of David Mark and Twist of Fate has done nothing to alter that. Mark is a consummate storyteller and he always takes a different direction to the mundane and predictable.

I do love a dark mind and in Twist of Fate we begin with a horribly creepy prologue that occurs in the past. A night-time tryst in a deserted churchyard is interrupted by sinister figures in the shadows. Straight away that atmosphere of darkness, creepy characters and religion are introduced.

Switch to contemporary times and the polished PR professional, Claudine Cadjou, has a surprise visit from her brother, Jethro.  Jethro is a gentle but troubled man; his mental health is not good and he lives alone in a dilapidated cottage on the Fens.  Jethro has never before just turned up to visit Claudine. Claudine can see immediately that he is in crisis and her mind is twisting in two directions. How can she remove Jethro from the gaze of her colleagues for fear that he might be damaging her cool image and also what is it that Jethro is trying to say to her?

To her eternal shame she remembers this first thought for long after her brother is brutally stabbed to death as she watches.

D.S. Billy Dean is not at all content. His high achieving wife – the only woman he has ever loved- wants a divorce and he doesn’t want to dissolve the marriage. All he ever wanted was to solve crimes and come home to the wife. What the wife wanted, however, was to rise through the ranks, have others defer to her and to enjoy the trappings that being in charge can offer.

This makes Billy a grumpy, unforgiving and caustic interrogator and he is not in the least gentle when he turns up to interview Claudine. Forget that she has been involved in a terrible and traumatic horror involving her closest relative. DS Dean believes there is more to this case than meets the eye. Two homeless people have also been murdered and Billy Dean is beginning to think that Jethro is implicated. He wants to know more from Claudine.

Claudine meanwhile is distraught with grief and guilt. She needs answers and so she flees to Jethro’s home in the Fens in search of answers. Jethro had a neighbour whom she paid to help out and deliver meals and it is Peg who helps her to find some of the material that Jethro was researching.

David Mark takes the reader on a journey into darkness. The darkness of Claudine’s own loss. The darkness of Jethro’s death and the darkness that is the religious zealotry that Jethro was researching. He marries the dense and atmospheric setting of the Fen marshlands with some nice gloomy churchyards to add more than a touch of ghoulish dimensions.

Claudine and Billy’s narratives are both first person present tense which allows you to experience just what they are thinking and feeling. There is such a welter of swirling emotions contained in Mark’s characters and it’s not always easy to like them. I veered from feeling sorry for Dean until I really, really, didn’t and Claudine is managing just fine living her privileged life until Jethro turns up to prick her conscience.

David Mark’s Twist of Fate is a return to themes that Mark clearly finds fascinating. Those who use religion to further their own ends or causes; the religious idolatory invoked in cults and the worship of the individual. This is the Aleister Crowley version of worship – ‘do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law’.

Mark pulls together a murder mystery which weaves together religion, murder, mental illness and obsession and some nicely questionable supernatural elements, to make a surprising, twisty and altogether highly dramatic storyline which kept me gripped all the way through.                                  Waterstones                                     Hive Stores

D.L. Mark spent more than fifteen years as a journalist, including seven years as a crime reporter with the Yorkshire Post. His writing is heavily influenced by the court cases he covered: the jaded police officers; incompetent investigators; the inertia of the justice system and the grief of those touched by tragedy. He writes psychological suspense thrillers and historical novels, plus the DS McAvoy series (as David Mark). Follow D.L. Mark at @davidmarkwriter and

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