The Island by Adrian McKinty @orionbooks

Source: Review copy
Publication: 26 May 2022 from Orion
PP: 384
ISBN-13: 978-1409189633

My thanks to Orion for an advance copy for review

IT WAS JUST SUPPOSED TO BE A FAMILY VACATION.

A TERRIBLE ACCIDENT CHANGED EVERYTHING.

YOU DON’T KNOW WHAT YOU’RE CAPABLE OF UNTIL THEY COME FOR YOUR FAMILY.

After moving from a small country town to Seattle, Heather Baxter marries Tom, a widowed doctor with a young son and teenage daughter. A working vacation overseas seems like the perfect way to bring the new family together, but once they’re deep in the Australian outback, the jet-lagged and exhausted kids are so over their new mom.

When they discover a remote Dutch Island, off-limits to outside visitors, the family talks their way onto the ferry, taking a chance on an adventure far from the reach of iPhones and Instagram.

But as soon as they set foot on the island, which is run by a tightly knit clan of locals, everything feels wrong. Then a shocking accident propels the Baxters from an unsettling situation into an absolute nightmare.

When Heather and the kids are separated from Tom, they are forced to escape alone, seconds ahead of their pursuers.

Now it’s up to Heather to save herself and the kids, even though they don’t trust her, the harsh bushland is filled with danger, and the locals want her dead.

Heather has been underestimated her entire life, but she knows that only she can bring her family home again and become the mother the children desperately need, even if it means doing the unthinkable to keep them all alive.

Adrian McKinty can write and write stunningly well. His Sean Duffy series provides more than sufficient evidence of that. He is capable of nuance, character depth and so much more, but this is a straightforward action thriller. The blurb, reproduced above, tells you all you need to know about the plot. It is one woman’s battle to save herself and her family from a rabid situation in which the odds are firmly stacked against them and there is seemingly no way out.

The Island is written in a cinematic style so it’s no surprise that it has gone straight to Hulu.

Tom is an orthopaedic doctor in the United States, and Heather, a former massage therapist, is his second wife.  Now married for a year, Heather is tasked with looking after Tom’s two children. The family are in Melbourne for a conference that Tom is speaking at when, in an attempt to keep the children happy, they blag their way with cash on to a private island in the expectation of seeing many kangaroos and koalas.

You don’t readily take to Tom. A man who hires a Porsche to go into the outback is always going to be a bit of a tool, isn’t he? And the way he waves his cash around to get what he wants is not a good omen for things to come.

So it proves when things go badly wrong on the island and suddenly the entire family is fighting for their lives. Central to the action is Heather, a woman whose upbringing on Goose Island proves to be surprisingly helpful and it is enjoyable to watch this mild mannered masseuse change into a thundering warrior as the book progresses.

As an adventure movie I’m certain it will work well in a Die Hard kind of a way. Certainly there’s enough violence and grisly, scary, gory bits to make you squirm and squeal. I enjoyed the way that Heather was forced to it her wits against an entire family of tough and dangerous desperadoes headed up by a matriarch who brooks no dissent.

Verdict: It’s a kind of Die Hard meets Hunger Games You’ll need to suspend all your disbelief, but if you let it entertain you, you’ll find you can while away some happy hours reading this tense and action packed thriller. A great one for a summer holiday, I reckon, but really, McKinty is capable of so much more.

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Adrian McKinty was born and grew up in Belfast, Northern Ireland during the Troubles of the 1970s and 1980s. His father was a boilermaker and ship’s engineer and his mother a secretary. Adrian went to Oxford University on a full scholarship to study philosophy before emigrating to the United States to become a high school English teacher. His books have won the Edgar Award, the Ned Kelly Award, the Anthony Award, the Barry Award and have been translated into over 20 languages. Adrian is a reviewer and critic for The Sydney Morning Herald, The Irish Times and The Guardian. He lives in New York City with his wife and two children.

The Dark by Sharon Bolton (Lacey Flint #5)  @AuthorSJBolton  @orion_crime @orionbooks @Tr4cyF3nt0n

Source: Review copy
Publication: 26 May 2022 from Orion
PP: 464
ISBN-13: 978-1409198345

My thanks to Orion and Compulsive Readers for the opportunity to read and review.

When a baby is snatched from its pram and cast into the river Thames, off-duty police officer Lacey Flint is there to prevent disaster. But who would want to hurt a child?

DCI Mark Joesbury has been expecting this. Monitoring a complex network of dark web sites, Joesbury and his team have spotted a new terrorist threat from the extremist, women-hating, group known as ‘incels’ or ‘involuntary celibates.’ Joesbury’s team are trying to infiltrate the ring of power at its core, but the dark web is built for anonymity, and the incel army is vast.

Pressure builds when the team learn the snatched child was just the first in a series of violent attacks designed to terrorise women. Worse, the leaders of the movement seem to have singled out Lacey as the embodiment of everything they hate, placing her in terrible danger…

You can read The Dark without having read the others in the Lacey Flint series, but I can tell you that if you do, you’ll be heading straight for the back catalogue to read the others, because this is an addictive series with a must read character in Lacey Flint.

This is a series I adore and Sharon Bolton has kept us waiting eight years for the next instalment. Has the wait been worth it? You bet it has!

Sharon Bolton’s timely and exciting novel focuses on a rising threat to women – the incel or involuntary celibate movement which is rearing its head in a number of places. In a tense, exciting and very pacy novel, Bolton  cleverly  mixes together current right wing political strands and tendencies with this movement to produce an ugly and compelling picture of what could happen without it once feeling at all far-fetched.

Lacey Flint’s background and the secrets she keeps are to the fore here as she faces up to a formidable adversary. This is someone she has met before; someone who can bring down everything she has worked for. Her relationship with DCI Mark Joesbury has been on the back burner for a while; getting too close was threatening both Lacey’s freedom and making her fear that she could bring Joesbury down with her.

But the upsurge in violent misogyny brings the two together as they combine to fight an enemy that has tentacles everywhere.

Sharon Bolton’s writing is piercing, brilliant, dark and seriously unnerving as she so cleverly cpatures the heart of the incel movement and how it could be used and manipulated to subjugate and terrify women. It is a very scary and horribly plausible scenario.

The Dark is a brilliant book with coruscating, intense writing, brilliantly unpredictable plotting and some characters who will strike a resonant chord with readers. Sharon Bolton isn’t slow to draw her own parallels with events that are happening elsewhere in the world either, lest any woman reading this book start to feel that this is after all, only fiction. I wish that were so, but as she scarily points out, the world is changing for women and in far too many cases, not for the better.

I think that’s one reason this book really got to me. Yes, it is a fantastic thriller with great characters, lots of action, danger, thrills and spills, but it is also highlighting a serious trend that women everywhere need to be alive to.

Verdict: Tense, scary, plausible with terrific characters, serious engagement with a clever and insidious plot and wonderful writing. This is Bolton on top class form and she is unbeatable. Just wonderful.

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Sharon (formerly SJ) Bolton grew up in a cotton-mill town in Lancashire and had an eclectic early career which she is now rather embarrassed about. She gave it all up to become a mother and a writer. Her first novel, Sacrifice, was voted Best New Read by Amazon.uk, whilst her second, Awakening, won the 2010 Mary Higgins Clark award. In 2014, Lost, (UK title, Like This, For Ever) was named RT Magazine’s Best Contemporary Thriller in the US, and in France, Now You See Me won the Plume de Bronze. That same year, Sharon was awarded the CWA Dagger in the Library, for her entire body of work.

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The Murder Rule by Dervla McTiernan @fictionpubteam @RandomTTours

Source: Review copy
Publication: 12 May 2022 from Harper Collins
PP: 304
ISBN-13: ‎ 978-0008407971

My thanks to Harper Collins and Random Things Tours for an advance copy for review

No one is innocent in this story.

First Rule: Make them like you.

Second Rule: Make them need you.

Third Rule: Make them pay.

They think I’m a young, idealistic law student, that I’m passionate about reforming a corrupt and brutal system.

They think I’m working hard to impress them.

They think I’m here to save an innocent man on death row.

They’re wrong. I’m going to bury him.

Dervla McTiernan’s The Murder Rule is a quick and easy read. It’s full of the things I love in a crime novel – a strong character with motives you long to find out about; a legal setting and moral dilemmas to be overcome.

Though the premise is interesting- a young woman out to revenge a grievous wrong, no matter the cost to herself or others, sets out to thwart the efforts of a group of people working to prove the innocence of a convicted felon – the execution requires a bit of suspension of disbelief.

Hannah Rokeby is a young law student and this story is told partly from her perspective and partly through a series of diary entries written by her mother, Laura in which we learn just why Laura is now an alcoholic, reliant on her daughter to keep her safe and looked after.

Hannah has read these diaries; she stumbled on them at an early age and ever since her shock and rage have been building to a point where she wants revenge. And nothing will stop her from getting what she wants.

What she needs is to insinuate herself into The Innocence Project’s Virginia group. Virginia is where Michael Dandridge, the man she knows is responsible for her mother’s broken condition is incarcerated – 11 years into a sentence for rape and murder. The University of Virginia’s Innocence Project, headed by Professor Rob Parekh, is handling his appeal for release. The Project takes on cases where the claimant protests their innocence and is under a whole life or a death sentence. They take on cases where they believe there may be grounds for a wrongful conviction. That’s not Hannah’s aim, though. She wants something quite different.

With ruthless efficiency and utilising underhand methods, Hannah sets about removing all the obstacles in her path to becoming not just a member of the Project, but also a key team member on Dandridge’s case.

McTiernan takes us through Hannah’s duplicity in getting on to the team and then in having to juggle her own intentions to thwart this appeal with making sure she is still seen as a valuable team member, working to achieve what they feel is justice.

The case then takes quite a different turn and becomes much more of a full on thriller as danger seeps into the team’s investigations at around the same time as Hannah realises that deceiving people who have put their trust in her and who are, to all intents and purposes becoming her friends, is not as easy as she thought it would be.

Verdict: All these conflicting emotions come to a devastating climax and there’s a thrilling courtroom finale when all is revealed.  I did have to suspend my disbelief somewhat, but overall I enjoyed this easy and straightforward read which comes with some very notable surprises.

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Internationally bestselling and critically acclaimed writer Dervla McTiernan burst onto the writing scene with The Ruin, her crime debut set in Ireland. The Ruin is the first in the detective Cormac Reilly series and has been published in the United States, the UK and Ireland and in New Zealand and Australia, where it was a top ten bestseller. Dervla spent twelve years working as a lawyer. Following the global financial crisis, she moved to Australia and turned her hand to writing. An avid fan of crime and detective novels from childhood, Dervla wrote a short story, The Roommate, which was shortlisted for the Sisters in Crime Scarlet Stiletto Competition. She went on to write The Ruin, and a string of other bestsellers. Dervla is a member of the Sisters in Crime and Crime Writers Association, and lives in Perth, Australia, with her husband and two children.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ready or not, here I come.

It’s time to play hide and seek again.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s every parent’s nightmare.

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

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

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

. . . and it is yesterday.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Intelligence has a new home.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My thanks to Michael Joseph for an advance copy for review

A teenage girl wanders out of the woods.

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

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

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

Is she killer, witness, or victim?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

No Less the Devil by Stuart MacBride @TransworldBooks

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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