Crash and Burn by Lisa Gardner

My name is Nicky Frank. Except, most likely, it isn’t.

Nicole Frank shouldn’t have been able to survive the car accident, much less crawl up the steep ravine. Not in the dark, not in the rain, not with her injuries. But one thought allows her to defy the odds and flag down help: Vero.

I’m looking for a little girl. I have to save her. Except, most likely, she doesn’t exist.

Sergeant Wyatt Foster is frustrated when even the search dogs can’t find any trace of the mysterious missing child. Until Nicky’s husband, Thomas, arrives with a host of shattering revelations: Nicole Frank suffers from a rare brain injury and the police shouldn’t trust anything she says.

My husband claims he’ll do anything to save me. Except, most likely, he can’t.

Who is Nicky Frank, and what happened the night her car sailed off the road? Was it a random accident or something more sinister given the woman’s lack of family and no close friends? The deeper Wyatt digs, the more concerned he becomes. Because it turns out, in the past few months, Nicky has suffered from more than one close accident. . . . In fact, it would appear someone very much wants her dead.

This is my life. Except, most likely, it’s not. Now watch me crash and burn.

Nicky Frank is found one night after escaping from a bad car wreck in which she seems to have been the only passenger. When the police reach her, Nicky is clearly seriously confused and is desparately looking for ‘Vero’.

Reeking of scotch and with memory loss and bad headaches, Nicky is clearly distraught and confused. Sergeant Wyatt Foster of the New Hampshire Police thinks that at worst they are dealing with a suicide attempt, at best a drink driving mishap.

A search finds no trace of Vero. Is she a figment of Nicky’s imagination, or a sympton of previous head traumas that she has suffered?

As Wyatt looks into Nicky’s life and that of her husband, Thomas Frank, he finds blank walls put up in all directions. Is Nicky an abused wife and is Vero her child? The questions come thick and fast in this stand alone thriller that also brings in P.I. Tessa Leoni and D.D. Warren, characters from Gardners previous crime novels.

As Nicky starts to piece together fragments of her past, the story that is revealed is full of teasers, twists and unexpected turns. Nicky’s story is a deeply traumatic one; terrifying, haunting, sickening.

Why does she think November is such a sad month? Something happened, but does Nicky have the nerve to piece together the fragments of her shattered memories?

Wyatt Foster means to find out and when he discovers that his girlfriend, Tessa Leoni, has links to the case, he puts the two women together to see what he can learn.

I read this book pretty much in two sittings and thoroughly enjoyed it. I wanted to know Nicky’s story and couldn’t put it down until It reached its life affirming conclusion. The pace is fast and the tension builds excellently. There are false clues and many devious turns on the way to the conclusion of this excellent thriller in which nothing is quite as straightforward as it seems. Highly recommended.

Crash and Burn is published by Headline on 3rd February 2015

The Shut Eye by Belinda Bauer

Five footprints are the only sign that Daniel Buck was ever here.

And now they are all his mother has left.

Every day, Anna Buck guards the little prints in the cement. Polishing them to a shine. Keeping them safe. Spiralling towards insanity.

When a psychic offers hope, Anna grasps it. Who wouldn’t? Maybe he can tell her what happened to her son…

But is this man what he claims to be? Is he a visionary? A shut eye? Or a cruel fake, preying on the vulnerable?

Or is he something far, far worse?

The Shut Eye is set in Lewisham, South London. Detective Chief Inspector Jack Marvel is part of the Met, but working on the cusp of its jurisdiction. He is one step away from his next drink, in a marriage that is less than perfect and he is not exactly on the fast track to success. He’s always got an eye on how to leverage any small advantage.

Jack Marvel doesn’t believe in psychics and his one experience of a case that used one, Richard Latham, has left him with no warm feelings towards claims of connecting with the departed. That case is a cold case that still obsesses him;the disappearance of a young girl, Edie Evans. Despite his best efforts, all that is left to tell the tale of Edie’s disappearance is a buckled bicycle, still in the evidence room, but yielding no clues.

Anna Buck blames her garage mechanic husband James for leaving the door open; the door that let out her young son Daniel. It is his footprints in the cement that she ritually cleans every day. She is more than anguished, she is in physical pain, tortured at not knowing whether Daniel is alive, but feeling he can’t be dead. She  looks for hope in the one place she can – in a visit to a psychic.

I wasn’t sure if I was going to like this book, because of the psychic element.  But I really enjoyed it, because the writing is strong, the  structure is clear and the narrative is excellent.

The characters felt true to life  – I really liked W.P.C. Emily Aguda – “her job was to be nice to people and smile – what with her being black and a woman and a symbol and all.”

Overall, the story is told in such clear prose that you feel the grief of the parents and understand what drives Anna to do the things she does in order to cope with her aching grief at losing her son.

A shut eye is somebody who believes they have psychic powers. And while psychic powers do play a strong role in the narration of this crime story, they do so in a way which is ultimately satisfyingly well told.

Jack Marvel is a flawed and well drawn character and there is some good internal political power play between him and his Chief Superintendent, – only one of them can come out on top.

This is more than a run of the mill crime thriller, it is a haunting, well constructed and moving story that starkly shows the anguish parents go through when a child goes missing.  Well worth reading.

The Shut Eye is published by Bantam Press on 12 March 2015

The Dangerous Game by Mari Jungstedt translated by Tina Nunnally (Knutas/Jacobsson 8)

This is the 8th book in Mari Jungstedt’s series about Detective Superintendent Anders Knutas and Assistant Superintendent Karin Jacobsson of the Visby police force on the Swedish island of Gotland. Also involved in this case is Johan Berg, television reporter in the local Visby office of the Regional News Division, his partner Emma and their four children. Emma is friendly with Jenny’s mother, Tina.

The book deals with the fashion industry and the pressures that models are put under to conform to fashion and society’s idea of beauty – and in particular how young and how thin some of the models really are.

When controversial fashion photographer Markus Sandberg sets out on a photo shoot with his crew of stylists and new darling of the fashion industry, model Jenny Levin to work at the chic but remote Hotel Fabriken on the Gotland peninsula, no-one could have predicted that he would be the victim of a savage attack.

Knutas and Jacobsson investigate, though both have their personal issues to deal with. Knutas and his wife, Lina are having relationship problems and Karin Jacobsson has finally decided to make contact with her daughter, Hanna whom she gave up for adoption.

Sandberg is left hospitalised unable to aid the police in their investigation throughout its duration. All are agreed that even if he survives it is unlikely he will ever work again.

Agnes is also in hospital – The Anorexia Hospital – and Jungstedt’s description of anorexia and its effects are realistic and chilling. She has a routine that helps her to mitigate the impact of the food that she is faced with every day. Agnes lost her mother and brother in a car accident some years ago and now her only family is her father, Rickard, whose visits she looks forward to, though she always makes his new girlfriend, Katrina wait in the day room when he comes to visit her.

Robert Ek is the Director of the Fashion for Life modelling agency. It’s the agency that Jenny belongs to, and where she first met the promiscuous Markus. When Ek is brutally murdered, having been lured to his office on New Year’s Eve, the murder has the same hallmarks as the attack on Sandberg, but the police are making little headway.

The chapters are in the book quite short, but easy to read, and although the description is very good, at times it feels as if it is there for padding rather than impact. It does take a while for the book to get going.

The police procedural element of the book is surprisingly small; it is luck more than judgement that helps to establish who killed whom, and the tension in the scenes comes from encounters that Jenny has. Jonas Berg is pretty tangential to the story; he does not add much to the narrative.

It was fairly easy to work out who had committed the attack and murder, though there is a neat twist at the end, which I did enjoy.

All round, a fair read, but not necessarily one that has me reaching for more.

The Dangerous Game is published on February 12th 2015 by Random House UK.

The Girl On The Train by Paula Hawkins

YOU DON’T KNOW HER. BUT SHE KNOWS YOU.

Rear Window meets Gone Girl, in this exceptional and startling psychological thriller

Three young women, three different lives, but each linked in a specific way. Rachel is divorced and raw; she’s been drinking way more than she should for some time now. She is lonely and has let herself go. She drinks on the commuters’ train and as she does so, she imagines the lives of the people who she sees as the train passes a particular spot each morning and evening. She finds comfort in the mental pictures she paints of the lives of the lovely couple she sees every day, in contrast to her own wreck of a life.

Megan is married to Scott. She used to run an art gallery, then looked after Anna’s baby after her gallery failed. Megan has secrets she has never told anyone until now.

Anna is married to Tom, and they live together with their baby, Evie. Anna is the other woman. She was Tom’s mistress before she was his wife, and she loved the thrill of being a mistress, the drama of the secret meetings, the passion of being desired.

Each of these women narrates her story, each is hiding something either wilfully or in Rachel’s case, because she can’t quite remember. On the surface, each is living a normal, if not placid, life.

The story is told through the narration of Rachel, Anna and Megan over the course of just under a year. Each has her own secrets. Rachel her drinking; Megan has her own demons and Anna is living in what used to be Rachel’s house.

One day, while looking from the train at her favourite house, Rachel sees something that tells her that the fantasy she has woven about her perfect couple, a couple she may be just a little obsessed with, ‘Jess and Jason’, is not at all what she imagined.

What she has seen proves to be important in the subsequent police investigation. But is her recollection reliable? She has had blackouts and she is hardly a believable witness. But her obsession with Jess and Jason leads her to want to intervene, to tell what she has seen.

This is Paula Hawkins’ first novel and it is an assured debut. The characters are well drawn, especially Rachel, whose flaws are acutely observed. The pace is fast and this psychological thriller draws the reader into the lives of each of these women as they tell their stories alternately.

As each character’s story unfolds, there are twists and false turns, and it gets harder for the reader to tell where the truth lies. The different perspectives make it hard for the reader to know what information to trust.

This is a clever and gripping read, with deceptions and tensions in abundance. A great first novel and an author to note.

The Girl On The Train is published on 15th January 2015 

Blood Moon (The HUNTRESS /FBI Thrillers 2) by Alexandra Sokoloff.

Twenty-five years have passed since a savage killer terrorized California, massacring three ordinary families before disappearing without a trace.

The haunted child who was the only surviving victim of his rampage is now wanted by the FBI for brutal crimes of her own, and Special Agent Matthew Roarke is on an interstate manhunt for her, despite his conflicted sympathies for her history and motives.

But when his search for her unearths evidence of new family slayings, the dangerous woman Roarke seeks – and wants – may be his only hope of preventing another bloodbath.

I hadn’t read the first book, but that didn’t affect my impression of the second in this series.
As I was reading this, I couldn’t help but wonder why it is that I like very bloody books about serial killers, but have decided that’s too much introspection into my psyche to be entirely comfortable.
I know nothing about Alexandra Sokoloff, so was intrigued to read this novel. At first, I found it quite slow going, and reminiscent of the Archie Sheridan/Gretchen Lowell relationship in Chelea Cain’s books.

Cara is the only surviving victim of a serial killer; a crazed killer who seeks out families and kills them at the full moon. Matt Roarke is the cop who rescued her.  Cara is wanted by the FBI for the vigilante style murders of pimps, traffickers and abusers.

There is a connection and a strong sexual tension between Roarke and Cara, creating conflict between Roarke and other agents in his team, and creating the picture of a slightly rogue cop who knows that while Cara will never hurt him, nevertheless she is a dangerous killer.

Blood Moon begins when Roarke and his team liberate a number of underage girls from a brothel; a site that Cara has helped lead them to. As the team focuses its energy on hunting Cara down, in an attempt to draw Cara out  in the hope that they can capture her,   they look for and find another family slaying that has all the echoes of the previous killings by the notorious ‘Reaper’.

But when Roarke stumbles upon a new clue to the old killings, everything changes, and the pace of the book really picks up. Once again Roarke finds that he needs Cara’s help and the tension builds as their connection once more intensifies.

I wasn’t sure about Bold Moon at first, but as the book got into its stride it held my attention well and I would read the next one which is due out later this year.

Entry Island by Peter May

I loved Peter May’s Lewis Trilogy, and thoroughly enjoyed his China Series, and boy would I love his travel budget.

He writes evocatively, especially when describing places and landscape; there’s a richness to his language that enhances the story he is telling.

Set in Montreal, Sime Mackenzie is a detective with a Hebridean heritage, an insomnia problem and as if lack of sleep were not enough, he’s working alongside his ex-wife.

There are two interlinked stories here – one set in the time of the clearances and involving Sime’s ancestors and the present day Sime investing the murder of a wealthy islander on Entry Island – the place where those driven out of their homes in Scotland, first landed on their way to French Canada. It is a bleak place with a 100 or so inhabitants, and a place where islanders don’t bother locking their doors due to its isolation.

Prime suspect is his widow, Kirsty. From the first moment Sime meets Kirsty he is drawn to her. He can’t help but feel that somehow he knows her.

As the investigation gets underway, the two interlinked stories drive the troubled Sime to get to the truth of what happened and resolve not only the murder but also an old story that was long in the waiting for its conclusion.

The story itself is not overly strong and requires something of a suspension of disbelief, but the writing is strong and hauntingly evocative. Certainly worth reading.

Death Can’t Take A joke by Anya Lipska (Kiszka and Kershaw 2)

D.C. Natalie Kershaw is about to join the Murder squad, but first she has to clear up the case of the un identified man who fell from the top of a skyscraper and died. Janusz Kiszka is a long time Polish emigre, and troubleshooter for Poles in London. He and Natalie have met before, in the first book of the series, and his focus is on finding out who murdered his close friend Jim – and why.
As the plot develops, it is clear that their cases intertwine and each finds the other useful, though limiting the amount of information they are prepared to share..
Meanwhile, Natalie is about to move in with her puppy-eyed policeman sergeant boyfriend, Ben, but she’s finding it hard to shake off her misgivings; misgivings which turn into terrible doubts as she moves in, only to turn around and go straight back out after she discovers something that shakes her belief in him and what he stands for.

Death Can’t take a Joke is the first of Anya Lipska’s books that I have read, but it certainly won’t be the last. Well plotted, nicely stranded together and with flawed but likeable central characters, I look forward to reading more of this series. Thanks to Netgalley for a review copy of this book.

No Other Darkness by Sarah Hilary (Marnie Rome/Noah Jake 2)

Two young boys.

Trapped underground in a bunker.

Unable to understand why they are there.

Desperate for someone to find them.

Slowly realising that no-one will…

Five years later, the boys’ bodies are found and the most difficult case of D.i. Marnie Rome’s career begins. Her only focus is the boys. She has to find out who they are and what happened to them. For Marnie, there is no other darkness than this.

no other darkness

I enjoyed the first Marnie Rome/Noah Jake book so much that I was really looking forward to reading the second by Sarah Hilary. So when I was offered the opportunity to read it in advance of publication, I jumped at it.

I started to read No Other Darkness over Christmas, and it wasn’t long before I found myself wondering if I hadn’t picked the wrong time to read it. Because this is a dark and often bleak book and, in a good way, really very unnerving.

Marnie Rome is a great character. Learning more about her is part of the delight of this book; it is as if the author is very slowly and with great delicacy peeling away her armour, one layer at a time. The more you learn, the more you want to know.

We see more of Noah Jake, her partner in crime, too and learn more about his family and domestic situation. He is a lovely character, and you just know you’d like him if you met him.

Families are a recurring theme in this novel; Noah’s, Marnie’s and the victims’, but what stands out is the darkness that is in everyone, and that’s the standout theme for me in this book.

The story follows Marnie as she tries to find out who the boys are and what happened to them. As she progresses, the darkness of the boys’ story meshes with the darkness in Marnie’s life and just as she strives to find answers to the murders of Fred and Archie, so she finds herself seeking answers to her own traumatic past.

This is a clever, fluent book with a riveting narrative and disturbing psychological insights. It kept me riveted, and with a nod to the cliche, it really did feel as if my heart was in my mouth while I read it.

it is a while since I have read anything quite so compelling. I loved Someone Else’s Skin but in No Other Darkness, Sarah Hilary explores her characters with forensic insight and serious skill.

It’s only January, but I will be very lucky if I read anything better this year.

Thanks to Sarah Hilary and Headline Publishing. This book is published on April 23rd 2015

Die Again (Rizzoli & Isles 11) by Tess Gerritsen

die again

I am an unashamed fan of the Rizzoli and Isles books in particular and of Terss Gerritsen generally. Unlike other long character series, Die Again felt fresh and lively and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Set in Botswana and Boston, Die Again links murders in the bush with a series of homicides in Boston and the wider area. Millie has gone on safari with her boyfriend, Richard. But all is not well between them and as if strained relationships in the safai camp were not enough, soon the deaths begin.

Meanwhile, back in Boston, a killer begins to erase everyone who poses a threat.

As ever, there’s a little more insight into the domestic lives of both Rizzoli and Isles and their families and I love the relationship between Jane and Maura which crackles with realism in its detail.

From the Okavango Delta, Botswana to Boston Zoo, this police procedural/crime thriller works because the storylines are strong and the characters well drawn.
I did know ‘whodunnit’ fairly early on, but that didn’t in any way detract from a thoroughly enjoyable book. I wanted to see how the central story line was resolved, and I wasn’t disappointed. Gerritsen has done it again – a really good page turner.

Someone Else’s Skin by Sarah Hilary

A welcome new addition to women’s crime fiction. Written with good pace and cleverly revealing just enough about the central characters to keep us gripped, Someone Else’s Skin  introduces a new crime duo. D.I Marnie Rome is a class act. Holding a few secrets to herself, she and her police partner, Detective Noah Jake visit a women’s refuge hoping to persuade one of the residents to testify to a family member’s propensity for serious violence. And it is at the refuge that the core of the novel’s theme of domestic violence is explored through the interlinking lives of the women who are staying there.
As much a strong psychological thriller as police procedural, it kept me interested all the way through. I look forward to getting to know more about Marnie Rome.

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