The Siege by John Sutherland  @policecommander @orionbooks @orion_crime @Tr4cyF3nt0n

Source: Review copy
Publication: 23 June 2022 from Orion
PP: 368
ISBN-13: 978-1398707566

My thanks to Orion and Compulsive Readers for an early copy for review.

Nine hostages. Ten hours. One chance to save them all.

Lee James Connor has found his purpose in life: to follow the teachings of far-right extremist leader, Nicholas Farmer. So when his idol is jailed, he comes up with the perfect plan: take a local immigrant support group hostage until Farmer is released.

Grace Wheatley is no stranger to loneliness having weathered the passing of her husband, whilst being left to raise her son alone. The local support group is her only source of comfort. Until the day Lee James Connor walks in and threatens the existence of everything she’s ever known.

Superintendent Alex Lewis may be one of the most experienced hostage negotiators on the force, but there’s no such thing as a perfect record. Still haunted by his last case, can he connect with Connor – and save his nine hostages – before it’s too late?

I am delighted to be starting off the blog tour for a book that grabbed my attention and held it firmly throughout. The Siege is a straightforward story, well told. It is the story of a hostage situation and it focuses in on three characters: the policeman, Superintendent Alex Lewis who is the Chief Negotiator, Grace Wheatley, a woman who is being held hostage and Lee James Connor, the hostage taker.

The first part of John Sutherland’s novel is spent grounding us in the everyday lives of these characters. He shows us that they are individuals with their own stories and preoccupations and this helps to ground the book and the situation it deals with, in reality.

Lee James Connor is a troubled young man. He is typical of the many young people who have been pulled into the terrible online culture of hate and poison. A culture that distorts the truth and pulls the angry, hurt and disaffected into a group, ready to be groomed.

For James Lee Connors it could have easily been the Incel movement, but this young man has been captured by the online radical-right extremists whose violent, homicidal actions are focused on racist ideology.

Connors, could he but see it, has been caught up in digital hate culture and his ideology has been formed through his online interactions. Like so many, his confused and angry frustrations are channelled into hate and aggression and his constant use of skunk only helps to fuel his paranoia.

Grace Wheatley is mum to Isaiah and is herself no stranger to violence. A daughter of the Windrush generation she is a committed church-goer and on this fateful occasion is in church to assist with welcoming a young Syrian refugee family, recently arrived in the country.

Alex Lewis is overworked and exhausted. He’s also suffering from PTSD but in typical male fashion his remedy consists of completely ignoring this and assuming it will go away. A father of two boys, he feels he is failing as a husband and as a father and he is troubled over his last negotiating mission which ended badly, through no fault of his, or anyone’s.

Nicely written with a tight plot and steady pacing, I found it easy to become engrossed in these lives and the storyline. I had no trouble believing the scenario and Sutherland’s own experience as a hostage negotiator shines through with authenticity on every page. He deals so well with the impact of what it means to be taken hostage and on the on the psychological impact on both the hostages and the hostage taker as well as on the police negotiating team and lead negotiator.

Interestingly the whole novel is kept low key but remarkably intense from the dialogue to the action. Everything in the police operation feels thought through and very well planned (reassuringly!). But what no-one can take into account are the unpredictable elements. The impact of the heavy duty cannabis combined with the mental strain on Connors as he negotiates his demands with the police. Then there is the bravery and sheer humanity of Grace, who sees a young man in pain and connects with him in that level.

Sutherland shows us the complexity of a hostage scenario and the weight that rests on the shoulders of the police in such situations. It is tense and atmospheric and the drama feels very real.

Verdict: A riveting story of the power of compassion and human connection that helps the reader to connect with each of the principal characters. The dangers of online radicalism and the manipulation of social media to create division and hate are clearly set out. I really got caught up in this powerful story and found myself willing a successful outcome for all the characters.

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John Sutherland is a father of three who lives with his wife and children in south London. For more than twenty-five years he served as an officer in the Metropolitan Police, rising to the rank of Chief Superintendent before his retirement on medical grounds in 2018. John is a sought-after public speaker and commentator who regularly appears on TV and radio and writes for major newspapers. His first book, BLUE, written and published while he was still serving in the Met, was a Sunday Times bestseller. It tells the remarkable stories of his policing life and describes his long road to recovery following the serious nervous breakdown that ended his operational policing career.

Fish Swimming In Dappled Sunlight by Riku Onda Trs by Alison Watts @sashikolady @bitterlemonpub @RandomTTours

There is a Japanese concept called Shibumi. Shibumi is a Zen concept that captures the height of personal excellence and absolute clarity. In other words, it is the ability to achieve the maximum effect with the minimum means. Fish Swimming in Dappled Sunlight is a short, simply written book in which the prose is clear and distinct and in many ways embodies this concept.

There are two people in a room in a Tokyo flat on a hot evening and we hear from each of them. Aki and Hiro have been sharing this flat and tonight is their last night. There are things each needs to say to the other and this is the last opportunity they have to speak their minds and get answers to their questions.

There’s an almost child-like clarity to Riku Onda’s prose and the effect of it is to make us feel quite unsettled.  When we hear Hiro’s thoughts as he replays his conversation with Aki, we are startled to hear that he believes that Aki is a murderer.

Then Aki’s thoughts tell us that although she has told Hiro that she is leaving to go to Vietnam, she has lied because she believes that he has murdered the same man that is at the centre of Hiro’s suspicions about Aki.

So who are Aki and Hiro? And why would either of them want to murder a tour guide who, the police believe, died as a result of a tragic accident.  

Rita Ondu’s cleverly simple structure slowly feeds in small pieces of information, letting the reader form a picture of this relationship and allowing us gradually to see what has bound these two people together. But what we hear is sometimes speculation and it’s not clear that what either Aki or Hiro is saying is always the truth; rather it is their interpretation of events. Who they are to each other lies at the heart of how their memories lead them to some deeply uncomfortable revelations.

Patches of their interchange reminded me strongly of Samuel Becket’s prose. Someone will say something simple, but it is imbued with meaning and overlaid with the commonplace.  The linguistic style strips and strips away any artifice until it is as if these characters are naked and yet everything is concealed.

The claustrophobia of what is not being said piles onto the heat of the warm, still evening and the smells of food and drink that are now going stale in this small room. It is suffocating and there is an undercurrent of unease and an intensity that builds and builds until you are sure that something has to give.

All credit then to Alison Watts’ translation which manages to keep that simplicity and intensity front and centre.

We come to understand that this couple share many things including a childhood that has real trauma attached to it. As Aki and Hiro recount their memories it is hard to know whether either of them is reliable. Through these half formed memories and the replaying of events in the forest where the tour guide died, we find some startling and quite honestly horrifying revelations.

Fish Swimming in Dappled Sunlight is more than a psychological thriller. It is an atmospheric, unsettling, deeply suspenseful book that deals with two people’s search for peace by finding the truth and it sometimes makes you forget to breathe. Terrific pacing, real clarity of prose and the drip-feed of revelations come together to build a truly breath-taking read.

I’ll be thinking about this one for a long time to come. Highly recommended.

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Riku Onda, born in 1964, has been writing fiction since 1991 and has published prolifically since. She has won the Yoshikawa Eiji Prize for New Writers, the Japan Booksellers’ Award, the Yamamoto Shūgorō Prize and the Naoki Prize. Her work has been adapted for film and television.Fish Swimming in Dappled Sunlight follows on from the success of The AosawaMurders and is her second work to be translated into English.

Alison Watts is an Australian-born Japanese to English translator and long-time resident of Japan. She has translated The Aosawa Murders, Aya Goda’s TAO: On the Road and On the Run In Outlaw China and of Sweet Bean Paste by Durian Sukegawa.

The Botanist by M.W. Craven (Poe and Bradshaw #5)  @MWCravenUK @TheCrimeVault @BethWright26

Source: Purchased audiobook
Narrator: John Banks
Listening time: 11 hours and 18 minutes
ASIN: B09NWD4QRN

I swear I’m one bad mood away from calling it black magic and going home….

Detective Sergeant Washington Poe can count on one hand the number of friends he has. And he’d still have his thumb left. There’s the insanely brilliant, guilelessly innocent civilian analyst Tilly Bradshaw, of course. He’s known his beleaguered boss, Detective Inspector Stephanie Flynn, for years, as he has his nearest neighbour, full-time shepherd/part-time dog sitter Victoria.

And then there’s Estelle Doyle. It’s true the caustic pathologist has never walked down the sunny side of the street, but this time has she gone too far? Shot twice in the head, her father’s murder appears to be an open-and-shut case. Estelle has firearms discharge residue on her hands, and, in a house surrounded by fresh snow, hers are the only footprints going in. Since her arrest she’s only said three words: ‘Tell Washington Poe.’

Meanwhile, a poisoner the press have dubbed the Botanist is sending high-profile celebrities poems and pressed flowers. The killer seems to be able to walk through walls and, despite the advance notice he gives his victims, and regardless of the security measures the police take, he seems to be able to kill with impunity.

For a man who hates locked room mysteries, this is going to be the longest week of Washington Poe’s life..

Thanks to Constable for approving a review copy of The Botanist. In the end, I bought the audiobook, the better to read this book while tackling my TBR list.

I am a huge fan of this series and of M.W. Craven’s writing. You can read The Botanist as a stand-alone novel, but do yourself a favour and start at the beginning, because Washington Poe and Tilly Bradshaw are an awesome team and their journey together is well worth following from the outset.

First, a word about the narration. This is a single person narration from John Banks and it is so good, I forgot I was listening to just one voice. Perfect intonation, nicely modulated tones and good, light use of accents made for an excellent listen. I’d listen to more of his audiobooks on this basis.

So what makes The Botanist so good? It’s a beautifully crafted mystery within a mystery set around Washington Poe, an unorthodox and grumpy detective working for the NCA and his fabulous technically brilliant and on the spectrum team-mate, analyst Tilly Bradshaw. What makes this series stand out is the brilliant, scathing sarcasm of Poe and the contrasting wide eyed unworldly innocence of the brilliant Tilly Bradshaw whose tendency to open her mouth and say, completely unfiltered, exactly what she is thinking makes for some fantastically funny moments. That and Poe’s ability to think the unthinkable makes for a great team.

This time our awesome duo have a devious killer to find and at the same time Poe has to make sure that one of his very few friends is not sent down for the murder of her father. Poe’s attention needs to be in two places at once and he needs his boss DI Stephanie Flynn watching his back as he works both cases.

Someone is selecting some of the UK’s more objectionable characters and poisoning them. How they are doing it is a mystery in itself but because our murderer is choosing the corrupt; the ignorant loud-mouthed incels and the social media influencers without a moral scruple; the public is barely stopping short of applause as he does so.

Each prospective victim is warned by the delivery of a pressed flower and a bad poem, but for all the warnings, and whatever security is put in place, our killer, The Botanist still gets to his victims.

Craven clearly enjoys playing with the convention of the locked room mystery and he does so with intelligent aplomb. This is such a great combination of good writing, wit, clever plotting and current social themes and it works beautifully.

The team’s banter, even in tense situations, is a joy to listen to and Craven’s pacing is excellent. There’s the usual great observational humour around food and in this book, some nice wardrobe choices that all adds to authentic interplay between our team members.

I also enjoy trying to guess what’s going on as the action proceeds. I guessed the password to the safe just before Poe (though admittedly I’d been handed all the clues on a plate) but completely failed to foresee that final awesome chapter.

Verdict: This is a must read series and The Botanist is an excellent addition. I absolutely loved this twisty, thrilling, devious, funny book and its brilliant characters. The Botanist is a book for everyone who enjoys first class crime fiction.

Indie Signed copies                          Bookshop.org                        Waterstones      

    

Multi-award-winning author M. W. Craven was born in Carlisle but grew up in Newcastle. He joined the army at sixteen, leaving ten years later to complete a social work degree. Seventeen years after taking up a probation officer role in Cumbria, at the rank of assistant chief officer, he became a full-time author. The Puppet Show, the first book in his Cumbria-set Washington Poe series, was published by Little, Brown in 2018 and went on to win the Crime Writers’ Association Gold Dagger in 2019. It has now been translated into twenty-five languages. Black Summer, the second in the series, was longlisted for the 2020 Gold Dagger as was book three, The Curator in 2021. The fourth in the series, Dead Ground, was published in 2021, became an instant Sunday Times bestseller and has been longlisted for the Ian Fleming Steel Dagger and the Theakston Old Peculiar Novel of the Year 2022.
Photo c. Gary Barton

           

Do No Harm by Jack Jordan @JackJordanBooks @RandomTTours @simonschusterUK #Audiobookreview

Source: Review copy
Publication: 26 May from Simon and Schuster
Narrators: Lucy Paterson, Sarah Feathers, Jane Collingwood
Listening Time: 10hrs 26 minutes
ASIN: B09LK977SV

My thanks to Simon and Schuster for an advance audiobook for review

My child has been taken. And I’ve been given a choice….

Kill a patient on the operating table. Or never see him again.

The man lies on the table in front of me.

As a surgeon, it’s my job to save him.

As a mother, I know I must kill him.

You might think that I’m a monster.

But there really is only one choice.

I must get away with murder.

Or I will never see my son again.

I’ve saved many lives.

Would you trust me with yours?

Do No Harm is a thrill ride from start to finish. Jack Jordan’s characters stand out from the page and their narrative drives the book forward at a relentless pace. Told in three first person voices, this is perfect fare for audiobook listening and our three narrators more than did it justice.

Our key protagonist is a cardiothoracic surgeon who, when we meet her, is due to perform a coronary bypass on prominent politician, Ahmed Shabir.  Anna Jones is at the top of her game in Redwood Hospital and although she is in the midst of a difficult divorce, she is more than able to do her job with skill and precision and her outcomes are always good.

Ann is mother to 7 year old Zack, the light of her life. So when Zack is kidnapped and Anna is told by his kidnappers to do the unthinkable and break her Hippocratic oath, the dilemma she faces is one that causes her major anguish.

Our second narrator is scrub nurse Margot Barnes. Margot is at the bottom end of the hospital food chain. She has some serious issues of her own to deal with, including serious debt and not least of problems is her seriously deranged brother and she survives by scrimping and stealing. When she sees something that no-one else has noticed, she reckons she has an opportunity to put all her money worries aside for good.

Finally, we hear from Detective Inspector Rachel Conaty. She has a trauma in her past that she can’t get over and she carries a massive chip on her shoulder that impacts  on her professional life as she tries to fathom what’s going on with Anna.

Do No Harm is gripping, propulsive and full of intense emotion. You really feel for Anna when she is faced with an impossible dilemma. To rescue her son she must kill her patient. Jack Jordan lays out Anna’s soul-searching anguish so clearly that as a reader you really feel for her. All they along you hope and pray for a different choice, but as you read, the position only becomes more stark and your heart is in your mouth as you wait tor Anna to make her impossible decision.

Interspersing Anna’s chapters we learn more about the personal lives of both Morag and Rachel as we hear directly from them. Neither has had an easy life either and who they are and the decisions they make in this scenario are very much also shaped by their experiences.

Jordan manages to make both Anna and Morag feel like real people and they go through the gamut of emotions which ultimately drives them to do some pretty extreme things but for the most believable reasons.  Even though they may not always be likeable, you do want them to succeed.

Verdict: Jack Jordan’s writing is nail-bitingly tense; his plotting clever, twisty and his pace relentless. Do No Harm is a tale of the power of motherhood and the extreme lengths that people will go to to protect their children. It works really well as an audiobook and I’m sure just as well on the printed page. It’s an all-consuming rollercoaster ride and I really enjoyed it.

Audible                               Bookshop.org.                               Waterstones                         

           

Jack Jordan is the global bestselling author of Anything for Her, My Girl, A Woman
Scorned, Before Her Eyes, and Night by Night and an Amazon No.1 bestseller in the
UK, Canada, and Australia. After selling at auction in the UK and numerous foreign
territories, Do No Harm is set to be the thriller of the summer in 2022. The idea for
Do No Harm came to Jack after undergoing a minor medical procedure where he
had to be sedated and trust strangers with his welfare. After the anaesthesia wore
off, Jack began scribbling his notes, wondering to himself just how iron-clad a
surgeon’s oath is, and what it would take to break it..

Cat and Mouse by M.J.Arlidge  D.I. Helen Grace #11 @orion_crime @Tr4cyF3nt0n

Source: Review copy
Publication: 9th June from Orion
PP: 512
ISBN-13: 978-1409188506

My thanks to Orion Crime and Compulsive Readers for an early copy for review on this blog tour

When you think you’re safe,
When you think you’re all alone,
That’s when he’ll come for you…

A silent killer stalks the city, targeting those home alone at night, playing a deadly game of cat and mouse with the victims.

As panic spreads, Detective Inspector Helen Grace leads the investigation, but is herself a hunted woman, her every step shadowed by a ruthless psychopath bent on revenge.

As she tracks the murderer, Grace begins to suspect there is a truly shocking home truth that connects these brutal crimes. But what she will find is something more twisted than she could ever suspect…

I’m a huge fan of the Helen Grace series and was very keen to read this one. Head of Southampton’s Major Incident Team, poor Helen is the most put upon, stalked police woman in the force anywhere in the UK and it’s fair to say that Southampton has more than its fair share of serial killers. It helps of course that she is tenacious, single minded and has no time at all for bureaucracy or bosses who get in the way of getting the job done.

Helen’s had her share of superior officers who thought they could better her, and this time it seems she may have met her match in Chief Superintendent Alan Peters, a man who expects his subordinates not to have minds of their own. But backing Helen into a corner just makes her all the more determined to come out fighting.

Arlidge writes in short sharp chapters and that helps to set a fast and furious pace for this action packed police procedural. Helen Grace is an extraordinary character and for the reader that is part of the attraction. She demands and gets 100% from her team, but no-one is harder on Helen than Grace herself. Let down by too many people, she has no life of her own and seems destined now, to be the leather clad, motor-biking avenger of Southampton’s streets.

In the 11th in the series, a vicious axe killer is stalking Southampton’s streets. What has the team stumped is an absence of discernible motive or any link between the victims. As Helen struggles to find a causal link between the crimes, she comes under heavy pressure from her boss and even her dependable sidekick, Charlie, does not seem to be entirely on the ball.

As if that were not enough, Helen is still being targeted by a killer from her last case and – as if that were not enough – the poisonous ex DS Joseph Hudson is hell-bent on bringing her down. Local newspaper reporter, Emily Garanita is never too far away either, waiting for Helen to make the mistake that will enable her to put Helen’s fall from grace on the front pages.

Verdict: I enjoyed this latest episode in the Helen Grace series, and I really enjoy Arlidge’s writing, but it is beginning to feel as if Helen has nowhere left to go. There’s no discernible character development (other than in Emily Garanita) and the plot while offering some points of difference seems too familiar to previous cases. It may be time to rest this series or to give it a major shake-up. I love Helen Grace and always enjoy the internal politics that M.J.Arlidge’s characters have to endure alongside their danger fuelled tracking down of vicious killers but this one is treading territory that feels just a bit too familiar.

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M.J. Arlidge has worked in television for the last twenty years, specialising in high-end drama production, including prime-time crime serials Silent Witness, Torn, The Little House and, most recently, the hit ITV show Innocent. In 2015 his audiobook exclusive Six Degrees of Assassination was a number-one bestseller. His debut thriller, Eeny Meeny, was the UK’s bestselling crime debut of 2014 and has been followed by nine more DI Helen Grace thrillers – all Sunday Times bestsellers.

The Woman in the Library by Sulari Gentill @SulariGentill @ultimopress

Source: Review copy
Publication: 1st June 2022 ebook from Ultimo Press; H/b 15 Sept 2022
PP: 266
ASIN: B09R41JFYN

My thanks to Ultimo Press for an advance copy for review

Hannah Tigone, bestselling Australian crime author, is crafting a new novel that begins in the Boston Public Library: four strangers; Winifred, Cain, Marigold and Whit are sitting at the same table when a bloodcurdling scream breaks the silence. A woman has been murdered. They are all suspects, and, as it turns out, each character has their own secrets and motivations – and one of them is a murderer.

While crafting this new thriller, Hannah shares each chapter with her biggest fan and aspirational novelist, Leo. But Leo seems to know a lot about violence, motive, and how exactly to kill someone. Perhaps he is not all that he seems…

The Woman in the Library is an unexpectedly twisty literary adventure that examines the complicated nature of friendship – and shows that words can be the most treacherous weapons of all.

I first became aware of Sulari Gentill when I read her stand-alone novel, Crossing The Lines, which I loved. In The Woman in the Library, another stand-alone, Gentill has again turned to metafiction, utilising the device of writers corresponding and thus telling stories within stories.

Hannah Tigone, is an Australian crime author. Her opus is about a murder in the Boston Public Library – a typical locked room mystery. Leo, her correspondent, is an aspiring author, as yet without an agent and with no manuscript accepted. He is Boston based and happy not just to beta read for Hannah, but to offer authoritative information on local customs and landmarks.

This book is a lot of fun. The heroine of Hannah’s book, Freddie Kinkaid, is an Australian in Boston on a writing fellowship. She is pondering her latest novel in the Reading Room of the Boston Library when she hears a curdling scream and soon after she, together with the three people sitting nearest to her, are all ushered out of the library.

It turns out that the body of journalist Caroline Palfrey has been discovered and she was murdered in the Library. Over coffee, the four library visitors – Cain, Marigold, Freddie and Whit discuss the murder and bond over their shared interest in finding out what happened.

So Hannah’s novel becomes Freddie’s story of solving the mystery of The Woman in the Library. And to further complicate matters, Hannah writes Leo into the story as a neighbour and helpful friend.

This pleases our correspondent and his namesake. As Hannah finishes a chapter, Leo reads it and offers feedback. Eager to be helpful in the beginning, he soon begins to offer more assertive suggestions and to query the direction of her novel.  It seems our beta reader hasstrongly held views about what Hannah should be writing…

The Woman in the Library is a murder mystery but the danger is both within the novel that Hannah is writing and from external sources. Both narratives come together and it seems that everyone in this fictional story has something to hide and our author may herself be under threat.

Verdict: I found The Woman in the Library hugely fun to read. The murder mystery stands up as a good read in its own right and the added layers of a chilling correspondent make for an extra frisson of interest. I especially love the exchanges between Leo and Hannah on what is important when writing her book. Gentill touches on the dilemmas every writer faces – do you include the pandemic in your story?  Should you be explicit about the race and colour of your characters, or leave it to the reader to form their own opinions? This is a brilliantly constructed novel. It is great fun, clever, thought-provoking and a joy to read.

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Sulari Gentill is the author of the multi- award-winning Rowland Sinclair Mysteries, a series of historical crime novels set in 1930s Australia.  Under the name S. D. Gentill, Sulari wrote the The Hero Trilogy – a fantasy adventure series based on the myths and legends of the ancient world. Her widely praised standalone novel, Crossing the Lines, won the Ned Kelly Award for Best Crime Novel, and was short-listed for the Davitt Award. Most recently, Sulari was awarded a Copyright Agency Cultural Fund Fellowship for The Woman in the Library. Sulari lives in a small country town in the Australian Snowy Mountains where she grows French Black Truffles and writes. She remains in love with the art of storytelling

The Death of Remembrance by Denzil Meyrick  #D.C.I. Daley #10 @Lochlomonden @PolygonBooks

Source: Review copy
Publication: June 2nd 2022 from Polygon
PP: 400
ISBN-13: ‎ 978-1846975851

My thanks to Denzil Meyrick and Polygon Books for an advance copy for review

The ghosts of the past will not be silenced.

Glasgow, 1983, and a beat constable walks away from a bar where he knows a crime is about to be committed. It is a decision that will haunt him for the rest of his life.

In the present, an old fisherman is found dead by Kinloch’s shoreline and a stranger with a deadly mission moves into town.

As past and present collide, D.C.I. Jim Daley must confront old friends, new foes and ghosts who will not be silenced.

June is National Crime Reading Month and tomorrow we also celebrate the publication of the 10th book in the million copy selling D.C.I. Daley series from the titan of Scottish crime fiction, Denzil Meyrick.  This is a series I have really taken to my heart – so much so that I have bought it in audiobook as well as reading it from the page. I’m delighted that it is to be televised and can’t wait to see it on the screen, too.

This is a series that really does offer everything. A wonderful sense of place in the beautifully atmospheric Kinloch where there are terrific characters who leap off the page and plant themselves firmly in your heart and mind. These are people you get to know and love so that when something happens to one of them you feel the pain as if it were part of you. Tension and darkness, death and evil walk among us – mixed together with humour, light and a sense that there’s an order to this world that will not let evil prevail.

So what has Meyrick given us to celebrate his decade of Daley and Scott? It’s quite straightforward really – a brilliant blockbuster that delivers all of the above while revealing more of what lies in the past of both Brian Scott and Jim Daley and showing us how that past has come back to haunt them.

The Death of Remembrance places its emphasis on DS Brian Scott who we find still struggling with the demon drink. Indeed, there’s a kind of pall hanging over the whole of Kinloch at the moment. Since the events of the previous book, the County Hotel is a shadow of its former self. None of the locals want to drink there anymore and the new proprietor, Ian McMillan, is finding that there are not even enough passers-by to sample his new menu.

Meyrick takes us back to Brian Scott’s early days in the force and gives us glimpses into his life as a bobby on the streets and his entry into CID, showing us the pressures he was under and some of the reasons his penchant for the drink has always had such a strong hold on him.

This is harsh stuff and as ever, Meyrick mingles it with laughter as Brian’s mangling of language, seemingly not enhanced by his fine choice of reading material, creates brilliant moments of laughter amid some dark and deadly moments.

As a reader you do get a real sense of the myriad difficulties that the young Scott struggled with and of the bravery that he showed when faced with difficult choices. But now, as the narrative shifts between past and present, we have a better understanding of how much the past has influenced him and just why he and Daley have stuck together through thick and thin.

Now though, the past is coming back to haunt both men and there’s a reckoning coming. Who will be standing in the aftermath is the question we are desperate to know the answer to as we frantically turn the pages of this tense and exciting book.

As ever, the setting is rich in atmosphere and Meyrick’s portrayal of Kinloch and its people is warm and inviting as he shows us just how stupid incomers can be when they underestimate the best of Kinloch’s inhabitants.

The seeds of previous novels come to full growth in this 10th novel and for some characters it is very much a case of ‘reap what you sow’. Meyrick gives us exactly what we want – the deeply personal mixed with the professional and even as we feel for Jim Daley in his increasingly difficult marriage, we laugh at some of the more hilarious antics of Ella and Liz as a dinner party takes an unexpected turn.

The Death of Remembrance is a story that brings a number of previous threads in the series to fruition and fills in some of the blanks that we’ve all been wondering about. It’s a dark story filled with everything that makes this series so special and it gives due deference to those outstanding characters we have come to know and love. In particular, the very special Hamish shows us once again that there’s more to heaven and earth than is dreamt of in our philosophy.  

Proust said that ‘Remembrance of things past is not necessarily remembrance of things as they were’, and it seems that there’s one vital piece of knowledge that has lain long forgotten and which is now back to bite our protagonists.

Verdict: The Death of Remembrance is a taut tale full of death, intensity and some startling revelations. It is a novel that fixes your attention from the beginning and keeps you fastened to the page right until the gripping, breathtaking end. I can only hope there is another decade of Daley and Scott to follow.

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After studying politics, Denzil Meyrick worked as a police officer, distillery manager, freelance journalist, and company director. He is originally from Campbeltown in Argyll, but now lives with his wife Fiona on Loch Lomondside.

The Homes by J.B.Mylet @JamesMylet @ViperBooks

Source: Review copy
Publication: 26 May 2022 from Viper
PP: 320
ISBN-13: ‎ 978-1788167048

There were good people in The Homes. But there were also some very, very bad ones…

A thousand unwanted children live in The Homes, a village of orphans in the Scottish Lowlands on the outskirts of Glasgow. Lesley was six before she learned that most children live with their parents. Now Lesley is twelve, and she and her best friend Jonesy live in Cottage 5, Jonesy the irrepressible spirit to Lesley’s quiet thoughtfulness.

Life is often cruel at The Homes, and suddenly it becomes much crueller. A child is found murdered. Then another. With the police unable to catch the killer, Lesley and Jonesy decide to take the matter into their own hands. But unwanted children are easy victims, and they are both in terrible danger…

The Homes is told in the voice of Lesley, a 12 year old child who lives in a children’s home where the living accommodation is based on a series of cottages each with its own house parents.  In fact such a home did exist in Scotland – the Quarriers Village orphanage near Bridge of Weir, in Renfrewshire a place designed to enhance Christian values of kindness and compassion, but in the end it was a place where terrible things happened to children.

But this is a fictional story and Lesley’s voice is distinctive and compelling. She’s a bright 12 year old and this marks her out from her counterparts. So much so that she goes to a different school where her academic achievement is encouraged. At the Home, she is best pals with Jonesy, born Morag Jones, a lively, mouthy girl with irrepressible energy. The pair are inseparable.

Set in the 60’s, corporal punishment is a way of life for these girls, but nothing prepares them for the murder of one of their own. The police investigate but find neither evidence nor motive, though the girls speculate among themselves, coming up with theories, many of which are far- fetched.

The Homes is written in very simple, straightforward fashion and that really does make Lesley’s voice stand out. As she struggles with her own situation – longing for a mother who she feels has never wanted her; with a million questions to ask her granny who comes to visit, she is also determined to find out who killed the girl and disrupted what was, at least, a stable existence.

There’s an authenticity to Lesley’s voice that rings true and I think this would work well as a Y/A book, though some of the harsher realities of life and death are clearly laid out.

At its heart though this is a story of friendship and loss. When another child dies, Lesley thinks the police are useless and she and Jonesy investigate for themselves, with disastrous consequences.

JB Mylet paints a very clear picture of life in The Homes, of the lives of these girls and the absence of love that is their daily existence – although there are instances of kindness that stand out.

He captures perfectly that sense of being unwanted and the myriad emotions that pulse through 12 year old Lesley, including the sheer excitement that comes with thinking that she is on the trail of a killer.

Verdict: The Homes is a murder mystery that is told through a compelling and distinctive voice that resonates loudly. It is simply and clearly told and it examines the thoughts that go through the mind of a 12 year old girl as she contemplates what it might feel like to be loved and wanted and why, if there is a God, he would allow bad things to happen to girls who have done nothing to warrant it? It’s a sometimes raw and certainly emotional read though the sadness is often tempered with laugh out loud moments. Hugely captivating, authentic and enjoyable.

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James Mylet is the author of Lex and The Homes. He loves in South West London with his wife and son.

Photo:c. Lucy Brown

Vladimir by Julia May Jonas  @Julia_May_Jonas @picadorbooks

Source: Review copy
Publication: 26 May 2022 from Picador
PP: 256
ISBN-13: 978-1529080445

My thanks to Picador for an advance copy for review

A provocative, razor-sharp, and timely debut novel about a beloved English professor facing a slew of accusations against her professor husband by former students – a situation that becomes more complicated when she herself develops an obsession of her own . . .

When I was a child, I loved old men, and I could tell that they also loved me.

And so we meet our deliciously incisive narrator: a popular English professor whose husband, a charismatic professor at the same small liberal arts college, is under investigation for his inappropriate relationships with his former students. The couple have long had a mutual understanding when it comes to their extramarital pursuits, but with these new allegations, life has become far less comfortable for them both. And when our narrator becomes increasingly infatuated with Vladimir, a celebrated, married young novelist who’s just arrived on campus, their tinder-box world comes dangerously close to exploding.

With her bold, edgy, and uncommonly assured literary debut, Julia May Jonas takes us into charged territory, where the strictures of morality bump up against the impulses of the human heart. Propulsive, darkly funny, and surreptitiously moving, Vladimir maps the personal and political minefield of our current moment, exposing the messy contradictions of power and desire.

Our unnamed protagonist is a 58 year old College Professor in the US, teaching English Literature. Her husband, John, stands accused of inappropriate sexual relationships with several students, albeit in the times before the College explicitly banned such relationships.

The couple have always had an open marriage and we know this because this story is told by John’s wife throughout.  It’s a fascinating and debate raising novel. The timing gleefully encompasses both the immense sexual revolution of the 60’s and 70’s and today’s #MeToo movement. Two occurrences which are in direct contradiction of each other.

Our narrator has a good conceit of herself. She prides herself on her ability to connect with her students and at the same time she feels scorn for those who have brought their accusations against her husband for his abuse of power, because, after all, was it not that very power that attracted them in the first place? Yet she finds that both her status and her own feminism are now challenged by the very students who used to hang on her every word.

Her relationship with her own daughter, Sid, a lawyer and a lesbian is less successful. Indeed, her family life is all but dead, as she and her husband barely converse and Sid and she clash over pretty much everything. Now she is not enjoying the knowledge that her students are looking on her and pitying her; feeling the need to offer their advice that she should not be standing by her cheating partner.

She is also increasingly drawn to a newly arrived married colleague, Vladimir Vladinski, whose debut novel is remarkable. She is a writer of small success and she sees in Vladimir a younger version of herself. Now she is getting older and her body less beautiful, she finds herself drawn in a provocative, sexual way to this man with a beautiful body and a beautiful mind. The fact that Vladimir is both a husband and a father and that his wife is fragile as a result of depression is dismissed in her mind, or at least serves only to make him more attractive.

Her sexual fantasies in relation to Vladimir grow and with her newly re-engaged longing, she finds again the desire to write, alongside the emergence of a plan for deliberate seduction.

Vladimir beautifully portrays the sexual politics of today in the rarified world of academia. Touching on cancel culture, confronting ageing and challenging the idea of the non-sexual post-menopausal woman, Julia Jonas creates a thoughtful contribution to the current debate on ideas and freedom of expression in literature.

The comparisons with Nabokov are interesting and there’s a lot to think about in this detailed and multi-layered character study. I greatly enjoyed the journey and my thoughts keep returning to some of the book’s themes – and that in itself makes it a winner for me.

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Julia May Jonas is a playwright and teaches theatre at Skidmore College. She holds an MFA in playwriting from Columbia University and lives in Brooklyn with her family. Vladimir is her debut novel.

Dead in the Water by Mark Ellis @MarkEllis15 @AccentPress @midaspr

Source: Review copy
Publication: 19 May 2022 from Headline Accent
PP: 384
ISBN-13: 978-1786159885

Summer, 1942.
The Second World War rages on but Britain now faces the Nazi threat with America at its side.

In a bombed-out London swarming with gangsters and spies, DCI Frank Merlin continues his battle against rampant wartime crime. A mangled body is found in the Thames just as some items of priceless art go mysteriously missing. What sinister connection links the two?

Merlin and his team follow a twisting trail of secrets and lies as they investigate a baffling and deadly puzzle .

Dead In The Water by Mark Ellis is the fifth book in the acclaimed DCI Frank Merlin historical detective fiction series. Each book can be read on it’s own, but you’ll enjoy the whole series, I’m sure. Today I’m delighted to bring you the Prologue to Dead in the Water which I hope you’ll find as intriguing as it is chilling.


Prologue

November 1938

Vienna

The apartment was in a fashionable residential building just off the Ringstrasse, the grand boulevard that encircled the centre of Aus-tria’s capital. Daniel was the fourth head of the Katz family to live there. Samuel Katz, his ​great-grandfather​ and founder of the eponymous family bank, had been the first. Daniel’s wife Esther and the younger of their four children, Sarah and Rachel, shared the apartment with him. His son and older daughter were away studying at the Sorbonne in Paris.

Daniel had taken over the running of the bank in 1920, after the sudden death of his father. Under his assured management, it had weathered the economic storms of the twenties and early thir-ties and had emerged as one of the soundest finance houses in Vienna. All should have been good in the Katz world. It was not. For the Katzes were Jews, and since March, Adolf Hitler had ruled their country. Daniel’s younger brother, Benjamin, had been quick to sniff the wind years before, when Hitler had first come to power in Germany. He had moved to London, where he had rapidly built up his own successful financial business. He had pestered Daniel for years to follow him, but Daniel had stubbornly resisted. An eternal optimist, he continued to believe, against all the evidence, that Hitler would make allowances for Jews who had brains and skills to offer society. The German annexation of Austria had at last put paid to this optimism. It was now crystal clear that all Jews, clever or not, were to be pariahs. The authorities had begun to strip him of his business interests. There was no prospect of escape, and it had become only a matter of time before everything was lost.

Now, on this fine autumn morning, that time had come. The family was breakfasting together in the dining room. The servants had long gone, and mother and daughters had prepared the meal. A letter had just arrived from their son, Nathan, and Esther was reading it aloud. As she turned to the final page, there was a sudden fierce pounding at the door, and a voice screamed, ‘Open up, Jewish scum!’

Daniel hurried to the hallway to see the front door already splintering under the pounding of rifle butts. Snarling soldiers pushed through. One of them dragged him down the corridor to where his petrified wife and daughters were cowering.

‘I am Sergeant Vogel. You will all do as you are told. Where is your sitting room?’

Daniel inclined his head to the left. ‘Second on the right. But . . . what is this about? This is a private dwelling. On what grounds . . .’

The sergeant struck him hard on his right cheek. ‘Shut up and move along.’

‘But gentlemen, please. You have no right. I must ask you to leave.’

The sergeant smiled and looked at his men. ‘Gentlemen, eh? Very polite, ain’t he, lads?’ He waved his gun. ‘Move.’

The party entered the larger of the apartment’s two parlours. Vogel, a fat man with the purple nose of a serious drinker, had a quick look round, then instructed the other soldiers to search the rest of the flat. He turned his attention back to the family. ‘Every-one get over there by the window.’

They did as they were told. Looking down into the street, Daniel saw a fleet of military vehicles. ‘May I ask what is happening?’

The sergeant grinned. ‘What is happening is that we are taking some of you rich Viennese Jews on a nice little vacation. We’ve got a holiday camp waiting for you, a place called Mauthausen. You’ll love it.’ He moved to the window and looked down himself at the action on the street. He emitted a satisfied grunt, then turned his attention to the girls. ‘You have two fine​-looking​ daughters, Katz. I think I might steal a kiss before we go. Maybe a little more. What do you think, eh, my lovelies?’ Sarah cringed as he reached out to touch her. Then a peremptory voice sounded.

‘Vogel! What the hell are you doing?’

Another soldier was at the door. A younger man than Vogel but apparently of higher rank. His collar sported the insignia of the SS.

The sergeant stepped back. ‘I was just . . . just about to start searching everyone, sir.’

‘Starting with the prettiest, I see.’ The officer considered for a moment. ‘You may check to see if Herr Katz is armed, but I think it unnecessary to search the ladies.’

A clearly disappointed Vogel nodded and frisked Daniel roughly. ‘He’s clean, sir.’

The SS officer flashed a shark​-like​ smile. ‘I’m forgetting my manners, Herr Katz. My name is Spitzen. Colonel Ferdinand Spitzen. Heil Hitler.’ His hand rose in more of a wave than a salute. ‘What a ​fine-​looking family you have, Herr Katz.’ He stared at the women for a moment, then looked down at his highly polished boots. ‘Such a pity.’

‘I beg your pardon, Colonel?’

Spitzen’s face darkened. ‘You may beg my pardon indeed, Herr Katz. However, it will sadly not be forthcoming. The time has come for Jews to pay the price for the crimes of their race.’ He turned back to Vogel. ‘Go and see how the others are getting on. Make sure no one damages anything, or there’ll be hell to pay. Understand?’

‘Yes, sir.’ The sergeant disappeared into the corridor and the colonel began to walk around the room, voicing his admiration for the paintings, the opulent furniture and the numerous fine objets d’art dotted all around. Eventually he settled himself in alarge leather armchair by the fireplace. ‘So, Herr Katz. You will not be surprised to know, I’m sure, that the Reich has a full file on your long career as a crooked Jewish banker.’ He flicked a speck of dirt from his trousers. ‘Have you anything to say?’

‘I have been a straight and honest businessman all my life. I do not recognise your description.’

After considering this reply for a moment, Spitzen eased him-self to his feet, strolled over to Daniel and punched him hard in the face. Daniel collapsed to the floor, blood spurting from his nose. Esther and his daughters burst out crying, and rushed to help him to his feet.

‘You lie, Katz!’ shouted the colonel. ‘You and your race have connived for years to defraud the great German people. The Führer has now, thankfully, decided to put a halt to this abuse once and for all. Justice will be served.’ He returned to his chair. ‘As it happens, the name of Daniel Katz is surprisingly well known among the ruling circles of the Reich. Not because of your criminality, but for another reason. You are something of an art collector, are you not?’

Daniel realised for the first time that his tie had come loose. He attempted to retie it, but found that his hands were shaking too much. He shrugged.

‘We were under the impression that the greatest pieces in the collection were kept in your headquarter offices in Schottengasse. However, when we searched them, we did not find what we were looking for.’ Spitzen glanced around the room. ‘I see some attractive paintings here, but, unless I’m very much mistaken, these are again lesser works. Am I mistaken?’

Vogel appeared at the door before Daniel could answer.

‘Yes, Sergeant?’ Spitzen said irritably.

‘We’ve found a lot of stuff. Paintings, drawings, sculptures, ornaments. Some jewellery in the bedrooms. Oh, and a safe that needs opening.’

‘What about those particular items I listed for you?’ ‘Haven’t found them yet.’

Spitzen frowned, then turned back to Daniel. ‘You will open the safe for Sergeant Vogel. And you will show him any other hidden safes or receptacles for items of value in the flat. Don’t bother trying to conceal anything. There is no point. Once you are out of here, everything will be pulled apart.’

Daniel closed his eyes, then nodded.

‘I have what I believe to be a comprehensive list of the finest works in your collection. If they are not here, you must tell me where they are.’

‘I . . . I sent some works abroad.’

‘There is no record of transfer in official export records.’ ‘I did not . . . did not use official channels.’

‘I see. Yet another crime to be added to your long list. It may interest you to know that we’ve already had valuable assistance from some of your employees. According to them, you have stored a good portion of your collection in this country. They remember items being packed and dispatched to Austrian destinations. Unfortunately, there is no written record of these destinations. No doubt if I put a team on the matter they will track the works down, but things might go a little better for you and your family if you provide the addresses now.’

Daniel glanced nervously at his wife but said nothing.

Spitzen indicated the two girls. ‘You know, I made a point of protecting your daughters earlier.’ The ​shark-​like smile reappeared. ‘Such protection could easily be removed.’

With a look of despair, Daniel conceded. ‘All right, all right. I’ll tell you.’

‘How sensible of you. Vogel, find Herr Katz a pen and paper.’

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

I hope that this short extract has left you wanting to read more. See below for details of the author and where to buy Dead in the Water.

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Mark Ellis is a thriller writer from Swansea and a former barrister and entrepreneur. He grew up under the shadow of his parents’ experience of the Second World War. His father served in the wartime navy and died a young man. His mother told him stories of watching the heavy bombardment of Swansea from the safe vantage point of a hill in Llanelli, and of attending tea dances in wartime London under the bombs and doodlebugs. In consequence Mark has always been fascinated by WW2 and in particular the Home Front and the fact that while the nation was engaged in a heroic endeavour, crime flourished. Murder, robbery, theft, rape and corruption were rife. This was an intriguing, harsh and cruel world – the world of DCI Frank Merlin. Mark Ellis is a member of several writers organisations including the Crime Writers’ Association and Crime Cymru. The third novel in his historical detective series, Merlin at War, was on the CWA Historical Dagger Longlist in 2018.

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