15
April

“Do you want the good news or the bad news?” by Mark Billingham

Mark Billingham - Boat to Bardsey

Mark Billingham – Boat to Bardsey

“Do you want the good news or the bad news?”

This is how THE DYING HOURS ends and pretty much where Tom Thorne’s latest outing, THE BONES BENEATH begins. Those who have already read the new book will know that the bad news is not so much a ‘what’ as a ‘who’ and is just about the worst news Thorne could receive. Stuart Nicklin, the most dangerous killer he has ever put away is ready to reveal the whereabouts of one of his earliest victims. The price Thorne must pay for rejoining the Murder Squad is that he must escort Nicklin to a remote location and bring back the body.

If the body is there to be found, of course.

The location in question was always going to be hugely important. I needed somewhere isolated, that would be hard to reach; somewhere a long way outside Thorne’s comfort zone that would perfectly suit some of the unpleasant things I had planned for him when he got there. After racking my brains for weeks, my wife suggested an island she had heard about growing up in North Wales. An island with a lighthouse which she had seen winking at her across Cardigan Bay as she stared out of her bedroom window. Using my wife’s Welsh connections (The Taffia, if you will) and her ability to speak the language, we secured a crossing in the depths of Winter, 2013. Within a few minutes of setting foot on Bardsey Island (Ennis Ynlli), I knew I had found the perfect place to set the book.

Mark Billingham on Bardsey Island

Mark Billingham on Bardsey Island

The island is a mile and a half long and a mile wide and I spent the day walking every inch of it. I explored the damp cottages, the uninviting stretches of beach, the rocks crowded with seals. I climbed the lighthouse and clambered into the caves. I took photos and I scribbled in a notebook…

For most of the year, Bardsey is all but uninhabited and remote in many senses, with its own micro-climate. The mountain renders the mainland invisible, the waters around it are treacherous and if you’re lucky, on a clear night, you might just glimpse the lights of Dublin. Its amazing marine and birdlife make it a place of Special Scientific Interest. It once had its own King. The absence of light pollution have given it Dark Sky Status. It is also a place of pilgrimage and said to be home to the bones of 20,000 saints, though Thorne of course is looking for remains that are rather more recent.

Bardsey is a tricky place on which to conduct a high-security police operation and is not exactly conducive to complex forensic investigations. There is no mains electricity or running water. Accommodation is basic at the best of times. It is a place where Thorne feels uncomfortable in every sense, well aware that the man he is escorting knows it very well; that a dangerous opponent has the advantage.

Mark Billingham - Lighthouse on Bardsey

Mark Billingham – Lighthouse on Bardsey

An isolated island that rings to the screams of seals when darkness falls. A killer who knows the territory and a copper out of his depth.

Bones beneath their feet…

Oh, and one another thing that make Bardsey Island the perfect place to set a mystery. The nearest CCTV camera is a long way away and there is mobile phone signal.

For a crime-writer, that is seriously good news.

The Bones Beneath is published in the UK on the 22nd May.

To find out more on Tom Thorne and Mark Billingham, please take the time to visit Mark’s website.

No comments yet

1
April

The Wolf in Winter by John Connolly – Book Review

The Wolf in Winter by John Connolly

The Wolf in Winter by John Connolly

Prosperous, and the secret that it hides beneath its ruins . . .

The community of Prosperous, Maine has always thrived when others have suffered. Its inhabitants are wealthy, its children’s future secure. It shuns outsiders. It guards its own. And at the heart of the Prosperous lie the ruins of an ancient church, transported stone by stone from England centuries earlier by the founders of the town . . .

But the death of a homeless man and the disappearance of his daughter draw the haunted, lethal private investigator Charlie Parker to Prosperous. Parker is a dangerous man, driven by compassion, by rage, and by the desire for vengeance. In him the town and its protectors sense a threat graver than any they have faced in their long history, and in the comfortable, sheltered inhabitants of a small Maine town, Parker will encounter his most vicious opponents yet.

Charlie Parker has been marked to die so that Prosperous may survive.

There are a number of guarantees in life and you’ve no doubt heard most of them, I know I have – death, taxes, stamp duty and One Direction the most popular of all – but you can also add author John Connolly to the mix. Mr Dependable, you can be assured that when you pick up one of his books you are going to be entertained with a gripping story. There’s very little point in me harping on about the story in The Wolf in Winter, but as Senator Vernon Trent (played by William Sadler in the film Hard to Kill) profoundly said You can take that to the bank. And take it you shall because this is another wonderful Charlie Parker adventure you’ll struggle to put down.

But for me The Wolf in Winter is so much more than an entertaining story, it’s about two homeless men – Jude and Shaky. Don’t get me wrong, Charlie Parker, the main protagonist plays his role superbly as you would expect and he’s always there or thereabouts from the very beginning, but even though Jude and Shaky play a small role in the grand scheme of things they touched me. I don’t know what it was about the pair, but when a character or characters unexpectedly have a profound effect on you then you know the author has done his job. These two will remain with me for some time to come.

The story begins with Jude’s death and it comes as no surprise to anyone but the manner in which the homeless man dies and his backstory is incredibly moving, the compassion I felt for this man is immeasurable. It really did surprise me.

The Wolf in Winter is definitely character driven (magnificently done I may add), there are a number of goodies and baddies – more than enough for everyone – and they all play their part to round off an accomplished and balanced story. There’s humour too, it’s not all gloom and doom, supplied mostly by Charlie Parker’s friends and allies Angel and Louis. I lost count at the number of times I laughed out loud with their dialogue!

So there we have it, a very short review but one I hope conveys just how good this book is. A terrific addition to the Charlie Parker stable, Dublin’s own John Connolly goes from strength to strength and I for one cannot wait to read the next instalment. Dark, moody and gripping The Wolf in Winter is not to be missed. One more thing – that ending – Wow!

  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton (10 April 2014)
  • Language: Unknown
  • ISBN-10: 1444755323
  • ISBN-13: 978-1444755329

1 comment

25
March

Death Can’t Take a Joke by Anya Lipska – Extract

Prologue

If I don’t hang on I will die. My fingers are curled into claws. So cold and numb they feel like they’re frozen to the ledge. The blackness comes … recedes again, but leaves only panic and confusion. Is this high, freezing place a mountaintop? I don’t remember climbing it. But then I can’t even recall my name right now above the wind’s howl.

Memories flicker out of the darkness like fragments caught on celluloid, briefly illuminated. A door made of plastic. A man in orange overalls. The insolent swish of something heavy through the air. Ducking – too late.

I try to brace my legs, to keep from falling. But the tremors are so bad, they’re useless. In a blinding surge of rage I vow: Somebody’s going to die for this. Then a great wind screams in my face and tears my fingers from their grip.

And I realise the somebody is me.

One

Detective Constable Natalie Kershaw sat on the outdoor terrace of Starbucks in the lee of the Canary Wharf tower, treating herself to an overpriced and underpowered cappuccino. In her chalk stripe trousers and black wool jacket she could have passed for another of the City workers getting their early morning fix of caffeine.

Kershaw was celebrating the last day of her secondment to Docklands nick: the stint in financial crime would look good on her CV, but after three months navigating the murky channels of international money laundering, she was gagging to get back to some proper police work. And not just the routine stuff – the credit card frauds, street robberies and domestic violence that had dominated her career so far. No. In two days’ time she’d finally become what she’d first set her sights on at the age of fourteen – a detective on Murder Squad.

Drinking the last of her coffee, she shivered. Despite the morning sun a chill hung in the air, and a light icing on her car windscreen that morning had signalled the first frost of autumn.

As she stood to go, something drew her gaze towards the glittering bulk of the tower less than twenty metres away.

Suddenly, she ducked: an instinctive reflex. The impression of something dark, flapping, the chequerboard windows of the tower flickering behind it like a reel of film. Then a colossal whump, followed by the sound of imploding glass and plastic. There was a split second of absolute silence before a woman at the next table started screaming, a thin high keening that bounced off the impassive facades of the high-rise office blocks surrounding the café.

Fuck! Kershaw took off running towards the site of the impact – a long dark limo parked nearby that had probably been waiting to pick someone up. There was a metre-wide crater in its roof and the windscreen lay shattered across the bonnet like imitation diamonds. She could hear an inanely cheery jingle still playing on the radio. The car was empty, the guy she presumed to be the driver standing just a few metres away, still holding the fag he’d left the car to smoke. His stricken gaze was fixed on the man-sized dent in the car roof – the spot where his head would have been moments earlier. Kershaw filed it away as a rare case of a cigarette extending someone’s life.

Three or four metres beyond the limo, the falling man lay where he had come to rest, in a slowly spreading lake of his own blood. He’d fallen face down, his overcoat spread either side of him like the unfurled wings of an angel. By some quirk of physics or anatomy, the fall had twisted his head around by almost 180 degrees, so that his half-closed eyes appeared to be gazing up at the wall of glass and concrete, as if calculating how many floors he had fallen.

Anya Lipska is the author of Death Can’t Take a Joke and Where the Devil Can’t Go. For more information on the author please visit anyalipska.com

No comments yet

8
March

Stalin’s Gold by Mark Ellis – Book Review

Stalin's Gold by Mark Ellis

Stalin’s Gold by Mark Ellis

December 1938. Moscow. Josef Stalin has lost some gold. He is not a happy man. He asks his henchman Beria to track it down.

September 1940 London. Above the city the Battle of Britain rages and the bombs rain down. On the streets below, DCI Frank Merlin and his officers investigate the sudden disappearance of Polish RAF pilot Ziggy Kilinski while also battling an epidemic of looting unleashed by the chaos and destruction of the Blitz.

Kilinski’s fellow pilots, a disgraced Cambridge don, Stalin’s spies in London, members of the Polish government in exile and a ruthless Russian gangster are amongst those caught up in Merlin’s enquiries. Sweeping from Stalin’s Russia to Civil War Spain, from Aztec Mexico to pre-war Poland, and from Hitler’s Berlin to Churchill’s London a compelling story of treasure, grand larceny, treachery, torture and murder unfolds. Eventually as Hitler reluctantly accepts that the defiance of the RAF has destroyed his chances of invasion for the moment, a violent shoot-out in Hampstead leads Merlin to the final truth….and Stalin to his gold.

It has been well over two years since Mark Ellis released his debut novel Princes Gate, an introduction to Frank Merlin set in February 1940; however in Stalin’s Gold we re-join Merlin and his colleagues seven months later in September 1940. London is under attack, not only from the air but on land by a gang of looters determined to make the most of the opportunity to steal luxury items from bombed out buildings. It’s up to Frank Merlin to solve the crimes and keep his boss – AC Gatehouse – happy. Not an easy task!

The great thing about this book, and it’s no different to the author’s first offering, is that you are immediately transferred to London at the height of bombing, close your eyes and you are there. You get a real sense of what it was like to live in those troubled times where good quality food was scarce – for the working class at least – and walking the streets of London a lottery, not only from the bombs but the falling debris left in its wake.

Atmospheric and wonderfully written the narrative really does everything it should to give the reader a feel for that period and along with a plethora of terrifically compelling characters it works really well. A complex story, it takes a while for all the pieces to unravel but unravel it does. It never felt rushed and the pace is for the most part spot on. There were a couple of parts where I found it a little laboured but that was more a point of getting to grips with the foreign names in the Polish community!

The winner for me this time around is not Merlin but the aforementioned Polish community in exile and the atmospheric accounts of a war torn London. Don’t get me wrong, there’s more than enough of Merlin to satisfy – I would have liked more between Frank and AC Gatehouse as experiences in Princes Gate – but for me it was all about Battle of Britain, the Poles and the bombing!

Another gripping tale from a talented author, let’s hope we don’t have to wait too long for the next book, who knows it won’t be long before Pearl Harbour is attacked by the Japanese and Frank will have something else to occupy his time! Highly recommended and thoroughly entertaining.

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Matador (1 Feb 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1783062479
  • ISBN-13: 978-1783062478

No comments yet

4
March

The Accident by Chris Pavone – Book Review

The Accident by Chris Pavone

The Accident by Chris Pavone

In New York City, Isabel Reed, one of the most respected and powerful literary agents in the city, frantically turns the pages of a manuscript into the early dawn hours. This manuscript – printed out, hand-delivered, totally anonymous – is full of shocking revelations and disturbing truths, things which could compromise national security. Is this what she’s been waiting for her entire career: a book that will help her move on from a painful past, a book that could save her beloved industry …a book that will change the world?

In Copenhagen, Hayden Gray, a veteran station chief, wary of the CIA’s obsession with the Middle East, has been steadfastly monitoring the dangers that abound in Europe. Even if his bosses aren’t paying attention, he’s determined to stay vigilant. And he’s also on the trail of this manuscript – and the secrets that lie at its heart. For him, quite simply, it must never see the light of day. As Isabel and Hayden try to outwit each other, the nameless author watches on from afar. With no-one quite sure who holds all the cards, the stakes couldn’t be higher: in just twenty-four hours careers could be ruined, devastating secrets could be unearthed, and innocent people could die.

The Accident by Chris Pavone, to use a well known football analogy, is a game of two halves. That said, given that the book is predominately set in the United States maybe a game of quarters – American Football – would be more apt! In truth it’s in three parts, Morning, Afternoon and Night but please allow me some latitude! The first quarter, when standards are set and both teams battle for supremacy is an important part of any book, The Accident is no exception. This is where we buy into the story and the characters, deciding if we want to continue reading or not. I have to admit I found this Morning section the hardest and slowest of all to read. With short chapters and numerous characters I struggled to get a feel for the book and the personalities. There was far too much going on for me.

Having said that, and to continue with my American Football references – because I can! – the quarterback had a poor start to the game with a few fumbles but with three quarters left he always has time to turn it around and turn it around he did. A stern talking to from the coach on the side-lines and the book moves up a few gears. Something just clicked. I fell into a rhythm reading, understood what the author was trying to achieve and bam, the book came alive.

Once it hits this sweet spot, as far as I’m concerned, it doesn’t stop. I wanted to find out what happens and felt as if I had a vested interest in its outcome and considering how I felt about the beginning this is certainly no mean feat! The book comes alive, as do the characters, locations and nonstop action. You’ll never see book publishing in the same light again!

There’s so much to take in with this book and there’s no question that the narrative is well thought out and delivered to an exceptional standard. A complex plot with numerous sub plots intricately woven into the main body all help to make the climax exciting and unexpected. The revelations are revelatory!

I really enjoyed this book, the murders when they began never end, the action was intense and the characters colourful and varied. I’d definitely read the next novel to see where the author goes from here, especially now – as this was my first novel by Chris Pavone – I have a better understanding of the author’s style.

  • Hardcover: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Faber & Faber (13 Mar 2014)
  • ISBN-10: 0571298923
  • ISBN-13: 978-0571298921
  • Product Dimensions: 24 x 16.1 x 3.2 cm

No comments yet

9
February

The Stone Boy by Sophie Loubiere – Book Review

When the elderly Madame Préau returns to her own house after several years spent in a convalescent home, she immediately notices that the neighbourhood has changed. A new family has moved in next door and, from her window, she watches their three children playing in the garden after school.

Two of the children seem perfectly healthy, but Madame Préau is struck by the third child, who seems listless and stands apart from the others. When she reports this to social services, they refuse to believe her. Cut off some years ago from her own grandson, she begins a mission to help this boy, even when those around her start to fear for her sanity.

The Stone Boy by Sophie Loubiere

The Stone Boy by Sophie Loubiere

Upon leaving a cinema theatre, judging a film can be pretty immediate and not at all a private experience. Last night I spent the night with a bunch of gregarious Navy Seals – Lone Survivor – and as soon as the film ended you felt spent. A terrific movie, the audience let out a collective sigh and everyone had an opinion.

Reading is the polar opposite.

The journey is yours and yours alone. There’s no one you can say, did you read that? Sure you can talk to people if they’ve read the same book but as you progress through a book, for that journey it’s an entirely private experience and that’s what I love about it. It allows your imagination to run riot. As I closed The Stone Boy – written by French author Sophie Loubiere – for the last time late last night I let out a sigh, placed the book down on the side and wow, just wow!

It has been a long time since I read a French language book, the last time was at school when I was learning the language. Unfortunately I’ve forgotten far too much and couldn’t even attempt to read it in its native language but the great thing about this book is the translation, by Nora Mahony, still retains a wonderful French flavour throughout.

Despite its dark overture this is a beautifully written book and incredibly easy to read. The narrative begs you to turn the page and you want to know what happens next. The story itself begins slowly, you don’t have a clue what’s going on, slowly but surely things start to make sense but just as you settle down into a rhythm Loubiere twists the knife and turns things on its head.

Complex and brutal at times the book is character driven with Madame Préau taking the lead. I really didn’t know what to make of Préau and still don’t, although having finished the book I have a greater understanding to her personality, the reasons for her actions and what made her tick. For the majority of the book you think one way, but then with the introduction of new information, clever plotting and numerous twists and turns you begin to see her in a totally different light.

There’s so much I want to say about this book but I can’t. It’s impossible to delve too deeply in this review without giving something away but one thing I can promise is that it will take you through a range of emotions. It examines the strained relationship between mother and son, a son who has every right to hate his ageing mother. There are sections of the book that will inevitably shock, it will take your breath away and I can guarantee you won’t see cats in the same light again!

Wonderfully emotive and atmospheric, The Stone Boy is a dark psychological tale of love, courage, empathy and discovery. I can guarantee you’ll remember Madame Préau long after you turn the final page. Highly recommended. C’est Magnifique!!

  • Paperback: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Trapdoor (27 Feb 2014)
  • Language: Unknown
  • ISBN-10: 1847445837
  • ISBN-13: 978-1847445834

No comments yet

5
February

The Einstein Pursuit by Chris Kuzneski – Book Review

The Einstein Pursuit by Chris Kuzneski

The Einstein Pursuit by Chris Kuzneski

A lab destroyed.

An explosion in Stockholm claims the lives of an elite collection of scientists. Evidence suggests the blast was designed to eliminate all traces of their research. It’s up to Interpol director Nick Dial to uncover the truth about the lab and the attack.

A scientist on the run.

When Dr Mattias Sahlberg learns of the incident, he knows his life is at risk. He turns to the only men he can trust: ex-Special Forces operatives Jonathon Payne and David Jones. Together, they must save Sahlberg from the unknown forces that want him dead.

A miraculous discovery.

As Dial’s case intertwines with Sahlberg’s past, Payne and Jones uncover hidden truths and secret agendas involving the world’s greatest minds. But there are some who are desperate to keep such radical advances in the dark and will stop at nothing to have their way.

One of the things I really enjoy with Kuzneski is his ability to draw the reader in to a world of fiction and make believe and keep them entertained from start to finish. The Einstein Pursuit is another example of a thriller that entertains. It’s a great fluid read. Just suspend belief to a certain point and go with the flow. With bullets flying all around, explosions, hand to hand combat and the obligatory puzzle to solve, it’s a simple foundation but works well and is incredibly effective.

I’ve read Kuzneski before but this is the first Payne and Jones book I’ve had the opportunity to read and I was enthralled with their partnership. Infectious would be the first descriptive word I’d use, whenever they are in a scene the book comes alive and their eclectic humour and no nonsense attitude is addictive. They made me laugh and when a book does that you know the author is on the right track – especially when the book isn’t a comedy, merely a by-product of very good writing.

The bromance is there for all to see and read. Payne and Jones work, simple as that really. They both bring different things to the table, all that was missing in this book for me was the Jerry Maguire’s “You complete me” quote. Thinking about it a little more, their partnership reminded me of Tom Selleck’s Magnum and his relationship with helicopter pilot TC. I’m really going to town with comparisons in this short review today, best stop!

The narrative is clean and sharp and together with a few interesting sub plots working alongside the main storyline the book is over before you know it.

A high octane read, this may have been my first Payne and Jones book but it most certainly won’t be my last. Believable and well written.

  • Paperback: 464 pages
  • Publisher: Headline (2 Jan 2014)
  • Language: Unknown
  • ISBN-10: 0755386531
  • ISBN-13: 978-0755386536

No comments yet

2
February

The Watchman (Marc Portman 1) by Adrian Magson – Book Review

The Watchman by Adrian Magson

The Watchman by Adrian Magson

He’s a professional shadow. A watcher who provides protection in potentially hostile situations. He works in the background, stays off the record. Often the people he’s guarding have no idea he’s there. Some people know him as Portman.

When two British intelligence agents are despatched to negotiate the release of a group of western hostages in Somalia, veteran MI6 operator Tom Vane realizes that something about this operation doesn’t stack up. Unwilling to see two promising officers sacrificed in what he believes to be a suicide mission, he covertly hires deep cover specialist Marc Portman to protect them.

Heading for the wild, lawless land on the Kenyan/Somali border, Portman soon realizes that the British Intelligence Services have been double-crossed. Can he survive long enough to keep his charges alive and prevent a catastrophe?

Distant, magnetic, determined and deadly – words I’d use to describe Adrian Magson’s new lead Marc Portman, a watcher supreme, a dark shadow. There’s nothing like reading a brand new action series, embarking on an unexpected adventure, anticipation at fever pitch hoping it’ll take you somewhere magical. Perhaps a slightly melodramatic description but that’s how I felt when I began reading this book, a book I had no trouble in reading in just one day. For me this is, and was, the kind of book you just can’t put down and finally end up finishing at 3am!

Portman – or Mr Marc – is a character who is a secret, no one knows who he is, he’s reserved, knows what he needs to do but is someone who’s ability is such that he can adapt to almost every situation. I really enjoyed how Magson teases us with his backstory, offering snippets of information every now and then and as the book continues his personality slowly unravels. The pace is just right. Little by little we begin to understand what makes him tick, but I never once felt we discovered everything about the watchman. I’m positive there’s a lot more to come, one of the reasons I’m so excited about this series.

For the most part the story is quite insular as we follow Portman’s exploits entrenched on the Somali/Kenyan border. With our protagonist digging in for the duration, hoping to avoid the deadly snakes, wildlife and equally dangerous pirates, you’d be excused in thinking that there’s very little room for growth. Insanely atmospheric I felt as if I was in the hole with Portman, watching, waiting and learning. I really did lose myself in this story and can’t wait for his next adventure!

Both plot and characterisation are impressive, this is after all all about building a solid foundation for future exploits. Like any story there are characters you aren’t supposed to like and characters you have a certain affinity. The Watchman is no exception.

A well thought out and well written novel, a fluid narrative that just begs to be read. I for one can’t wait to see where the author takes his new hero. Bravo Mr Magson, you’ve found a gem in Mr Marc.

  • Publisher: Severn House Publishers Ltd; First World Publication edition (30 Jan 2014)
  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0727883704
  • ISBN-13: 978-0727883704

No comments yet

26
January

The Girl With A Clock For A Heart by Peter Swanson – Book Review

The Girl With A Clock For A Heart

The Girl With A Clock For A Heart

George Foss never thought he’d see her again, but on a late-August night in Boston, there she is, in his local bar, Jack’s Tavern.

When George first met her, she was an eighteen-year-old college freshman from Sweetgum, Florida. She and George became inseparable in their first fall semester, so George was devastated when he got the news that she had committed suicide over Christmas break. But, as he stood in the living room of the girl’s grieving parents, he realized the girl in the photo on their mantelpiece – the one who had committed suicide – was not his girlfriend. Later, he discovered the true identity of the girl he had loved – and of the things she may have done to escape her past.

Now, twenty years later, she’s back, and she’s telling George that he’s the only one who can help her…

What a terrific way to kick off 2014, a new book and a new author. I couldn’t think of a better way than to sit back, glass of wine in one hand and The Girl with a Clock for a Heart in the other, all the while gorging on a mesmerising narrative, a spellbinding story and left over mince pies. The only negative with this book – it’s over in a nanosecond, gone in a dash. Talk about a quick read, this moves along quicker than a runaway train or Santa delivering presents to one and all on Christmas Eve. Off point slightly but with any luck you know where I’m coming from, I just couldn’t put it down!

Considering this is a debut title from an unknown author it’s remarkable to think that Peter Swanson has hit the veritable nail squarely on the head with his first attempt – one thing is for sure it’ll be hard to match this when he writes his second novel. The book grips you from the very first chapter and doesn’t let go until you close the book following its climactic dénouement, an ending that sets things up rather nicely for the future.

Written across two timelines, both of which eventually morph seamlessly together, we are introduced to a young and impressionable college student called George Foss. When he learns of his girlfriend’s suicide he embarks on a journey to visit her parents in Florida and pay his respects. He doesn’t know what’s in store and the journey doesn’t quite end the way he expects, it does however give us nuggets of information vital to the story. Twenty years later George is enjoying a drink at his local bar when he spots someone he believes is his college sweetheart, his dead college sweetheart. Shaken, he leaves the bar only to return later and confront the woman and so begins a journey he’s frankly unprepared for.

The great thing about George Foss for me is that he’s just a regular guy. Swanson doesn’t set out to make him anything he’s not, he doesn’t try to be clever, and George’s character develops naturally, certainly not forced in any way. He’s not a closeted Bruce Willis, Sylvester Stallone or Jack Reacher, he’s just an average Joe who finds himself caught up in a situation he doesn’t quite know how to get out of. His decision to help out a friend sets about a chain reaction that appears to be never ending, one decision leads to another and we follow George as he attempts to make sense of it all and stay alive.

Quite often when I read books that are character driven, monopolised by one protagonist making one bad decision after another, I find myself shouting at the book. Well silently shouting at the book, maybe even a head shake or two. Not in this case, I think Swanson nailed George’s traits and characterisation.

Authentic, believable, effortless and simply put – just right. Everything about this book screams quality and if there’s one book you should read in 2014 it’s this one. Get it now before time runs out. Highly recommended.

Also reviewed by Ravens Crime Reads

  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Faber & Faber (6 Feb 2014)
  • ISBN-10: 0571301886
  • ISBN-13: 978-0571301881
  • Product Dimensions: 24 x 16.1 x 2.6 cm

1 comment

24
January

The Dying Hours by Mark Billingham – Book Review

The Dying Hours - Tom Thorne Novel

The Dying Hours – Tom Thorne Novel

A cluster of suicides among the elderly. Such things are not unknown to the police and the deaths are quickly dismissed by the police as routine. Only one man is convinced that something more sinister is taking place.

However, no one listens to Tom Thorne anymore. Having stepped out of line once too often, he’s back in uniform and he hates it. Patronised and abused by his new colleagues, Thorne’s suspicions about the suicides are dismissed by the Murder Squad he was once part of and he is forced to investigate alone.

Unable to trust anyone, Thorne must risk losing those closest to him. He must gamble with the lives of those targeted by a killer unlike any he has hunted before. A man with nothing to lose and a growing list of victims. A man with the power to make people take their own lives.

There’s a reason why Mark Billingham is one of the most acclaimed and popular writers in crime fiction today – he’s bloody good. Simples! He never fails to impress and with this, the third title I’ve had the pleasure of reading, he continues to grow both in character development and stature as a prolific storyteller.

The Dying Hours introduces us to a new Thorne. Although still an inspector our intrepid and maverick protagonist is back in a shiny uniform thanks to his actions in Good as Dead and he’s anything but happy. Forced out of the Murder Squad he’s back to riding in the area car, unusual shift patterns and paperwork. What’s not to like?!

Although he has always been portrayed as a loose cannon Thorne has always had the backing of his team – to a point! He’s had someone to call on, support his decisions and colleagues only too happy to help and be at his beck and call. No more, at least not in this book, and it was rather refreshing to see a slightly different side to the Inspector. He calls on those he believes he can trust but not before being shunned by his former colleagues and superiors. Thorne is out on a limb and that limb is about to be severed.

The usual gang are back and although they offer support at arm’s length to Thorne they don’t like it. Fearful of their jobs the interplay and angst among the cast is great to see and experience as a reader.

But for me The Dying Hours is all about Thorne and the underlying anger he faces daily from within, coming to terms with his demotion and new relationship. Sure there’s the small issue of a killer on the loose to complicate matters but the enjoyment I took from this book was thanks to Thorne’s predicament and a side of him we rarely experience.

Told at breakneck speeds the book is a very quick and entertaining read. Billingham is at the top of his game and I thoroughly enjoyed how he took the book in one direction and then another allowing the reader to feel as if they are participating in both the detection and thrill of the chase.

A very well thought out police procedural, great characterisation and a storyline that keeps you entertained and engaged. Don’t get me started with the final sentence; I want to know what happens next. You’ve got to love a cliff-hanger! Excellent.

  • Hardcover: 416 pages
  • Publisher: Little, Brown (23 May 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1847444237
  • ISBN-13: 978-1847444233

No comments yet

17
January

Snapshot by Lis Wiehl – Book Review

Snapshot by Lis Wiehl

Snapshot by Lis Wiehl

Two little girls, frozen in black and white. One picture worth killing for.

Federal prosecutor Lisa Waldren’s estranged father wants her to investigate a cold case from his FBI days. Lisa nearly refuses, even though a wrongly convicted man faces execution for murder. Then her father reveals a photograph: a little white girl playing alongside a little black girl at a civil rights rally in 1965 where the crime—the shooting of a civil rights leader—took place. She recognizes herself in the photo.

She was there.

Lisa agrees to help, resolved to boldly seek answers she’s skirted for decades. What she discovers are layers of deception, both personal and professional, reaching as high as the head of the FBI. Possibly even the president.

And though Lisa and the other girl may have escaped the 1965 shooting physically unharmed, her little friend, now grown, bears the scars of it. All because of the colour of her skin. As Lisa and her father get closer to the truth, the real killer turns the hunt around.

Three and a half years ago I read Face of Betrayal by Lis Wiehl and I vowed then I would read another title by the author. I have finally managed to accomplish what I set out to do so long ago and boy am I glad I did. My only regret is that it has taken me so long to pick up another book! That won’t happen again.

Forget a terrific cast of characters and a well thought out story, take that as a given, the winner for me here is the racial backdrop of 1960’s America. Brutal at times, unforgiving and extreme at others, the way Lis Wiehl portrays the south is nothing short of extraordinary. You feel part of the conflict, the tension, every ounce of friction and act of danger. It’s breathtaking at times.

The civil rights movement, the birth of the Black Panthers, the KKK and the assassination of JFK, Snapshot covers it all. It’s incredibly hard for me to understand what people went through in those troubled times, I simply didn’t live it, and although there are pockets around the world who still believe in racial inequality that was prevalent all those years ago, society has thankfully moved on. We now live in a world where black and white can not only share the same bus, we can use the same toilet, we can even hold hands, kiss and heaven forbid marry! Yes, it’s true and thank God for the change. The world is a better place for it and it’s thanks to people like Martin Luther King and Rosa Parks for beginning to make that change possible.

Inspired by a personal photograph in the 60’s, Lis Wiehl came up with an idea and she ran with it and the result is a fascinating thriller with numerous twists and turns throughout. You have a fairly good idea what’s going to happen but until that final chapter closes you can never be certain. She keeps you on your toes that’s for sure.

Relationships play a pivotal part in this book and although I’m not going to cover them in this review, I have to leave something for you the reader to discover, they are well thought out and developed. I don’t think there was a character I didn’t like in the book, good or bad. You can’t ask for more than that.

The book is more than just a work of fiction, it brings to light a dark era in our world’s history. Informative and imaginative, Snapshot is one not to be missed.

No comments yet

17
January

Stay Alive by Simon Kernick – Book Review

Stay Alive

Stay Alive

ONE WITNESS

You’re on a trip with your family, miles from anywhere. A shot rings out – and your whole life changes in an instant.

ONE SECRET

A woman is racing towards you, chased by three gunmen. Although you don’t know it, she harbours a deadly secret. She’s in terrible danger. And now you are too.

NO ESCAPE

You’re running, terrified, desperate to find safety.

You know that the men hunting you have killed before.

And if they catch you, you’ll be next .

Stay Alive by Simon Kernick ; it does what it says on the tin. This book is all about survival, survival of the innocent and the not so innocent. The thing is no one is safe, you never quite know what’s going to happen, who’s going to be shot and who’s lucky enough to come through the ordeal unscathed. In truth, no one does whether it’s mental or physical scaring.

Told at breakneck speeds the book is a fluid and invigorating read and before you know it the body count has reached epic proportions and the final chapter read. A gripping story, Stay Alive keeps you guessing throughout and there are few quiet moments – where someone’s life isn’t in danger. There’s the obligatory red herring and twist at the end you’ll do well to guess in its entirety.

A solid read as I’ve already mentioned, the book came alive for me with the introduction of the main character – Scope – although at the time I had no idea he would play more than a bit part. He may not be everyone’s idea of a main protagonist but he was mine, there was something endearing about him, something that makes you champion his cause and like him. Introduced following an attack on his boss – a canoe hire company – Scope looks for revenge and boy does he get it! I knew within a matter of pages I’d like him and I wasn’t wrong. Scope is one of those people who’s carrying a lot of emotional baggage but a guy who, when the chips are down, you want on your side. I really enjoyed learning more about our hero and his backstory, his grief and what made him tick. He’s both believable and determined.

It’s not all about Scope far from it; numerous characters play a huge part in the book from detectives, antagonists and victims alike. Let’s not forget the wonderful Scottish countryside! As a canoeist myself I want to take a trip down the river – perhaps a little more sedately than in this book!

I also enjoyed how Kernick told the story, he managed to take it one way, throw in misdirection once or twice and keep you guessing throughout. There were a couple of events I’d figured out early on but this has absolutely no impact on the quality of writing and the plot itself. This is the third Kernick novel I’ve had the pleasure of reading and Siege still remains my favourite. One thing you can be sure of with this author, a bloody good read. Stay Alive is no exception.

Hardcover: 352 pages

Publisher: Century (30 Jan 2014)

Language: Unknown

ISBN-10: 1780890753

ISBN-13: 978-1780890753

No comments yet

12
January

You’re Mine Now by Hans Koppel – Book Review

You're Mine Now

You’re Mine Now

Anna and Magnus have a happy marriage, but when, in a moment of madness, Anna has a brief fling with Erik, a man she met at a work conference, she lives to regret more than just her infidelity. Erik is a disturbed individual who goes to extreme lengths to get Anna’s attention, including kidnapping her ten-year-old daughter and attacking her mother. Before she knows it, Anna’s life is in the grip of this psychopathic stalker and she must try desperately to escape his clutches before it’s too late…

She’s Never Coming Back was always going to be a tough book to follow. A hard hitting novel, often brutal, terrifying too, it really would take something to match its ferocity and unfortunately I don’t think the author quite managed it with You’re Mine Now. For me, although well written, the story takes a long time to get started, there’s no meat to the first half and then all of a sudden something happens that changes the whole feel of the book – I can’t help think that it should have happened sooner.

The book is heavily reliant on two characters, Erik and Anna. Both very different, emotions are high throughout and they slowly fester until they reach boiling point. For me, Erik is the book’s main character, it’s Erik’s book . He’s incredibly complex and you never really know what you are going to get with him. An interesting backstory I enjoyed the way Koppel teased us with his personality, it was a steady progression, we’d discover a little here, a little there and we’d see his character develop as the story unfolded. There’s no two ways about it Erik is completely unhinged. You always know there’s something sinister lurking below and it’s just a matter of time until he explodes.

Anna on the other hand, although crucial to the story, doesn’t develop as much as Erik, I really wanted more from her. She makes a huge mistake; she knows it’s wrong when she sleeps with Erik. She just can’t help herself. Attracted to the stranger she vows never to do it again but temptation is a fickle monster and she succumbs on numerous occasions.

Apart from Erik, the star of the show for me was Anna’s daughter. She is a magnificent character and I loved every scene she was in. For someone so young, Koppel has given her an incredible personality and the book came alive every time she appeared. I never tired of the nine year old. It was the simple things that Koppel got right with her, the discussion with her mother about borrowing her phone to play games and the immediate infatuation with an attractive stranger, she suddenly thinks she’s so much older! Loved that.

There’s also one passage in the book that made me laugh so much. Where does one go when one has to clean up a murder? Answer – Ikea! A shopping list like no other. I never knew Ikea stocked so much!

You’re Mine Now is a very quick read, for all I’ve said it doesn’t falter, a psychological thriller. It moves along at a frantic pace and just like his other book the narrative is well written. Despite my few misgivings I would definitely not hesitate to read his next book.

Also reviewed on Raven Crime Reads and Write Note Reviews.

  • Paperback: 416 pages
  • Publisher: Sphere (2 Jan 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 075155118X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0751551181

2 comments

9
January

Lastnight by Stephen Leather – Book Review

Lastnight by Stephen Leather

Lastnight by Stephen Leather

A killer is murdering Goths with relish – skinning and butchering them. The cops aren’t getting anywhere so Jack Nightingale’s nemesis, Superintendent Chalmers, asks him for help.

Nightingale discovers that the murdered Goths had one thing in common: a tattoo connected to the secretive Satanic child-sacrificing cult called the Order Of Nine Angles.

As Nightingale closes in on the killers, the tables are turned and he finds himself in the firing line, along with his friends and family. The Order will stop at nothing to protect their secrets and Nightingale realises that there is nothing he can do to protect himself. Nor can he run, for the Order has connections across the world. It leaves him with only one way to stop the carnage – and that’s to take his own life . . .

Lastnight is the second Jack “Bird-Man” Nightingale title I’ve had the opportunity to read, not quite sure how I’ve missed the other books in the series – the first being Midnight back in 2011 – but I have to say it was good to get reacquainted with Jack, a character who’s slowly becoming a firm favourite of mine!

Although a dark subject matter – after all we are talking about child sacrifices, murder and satanic rituals – I found the book lighter than Midnight; I know right?! Humorous at times the book balances the dark occult and investigative prowess of our intrepid and soulful Nightingale admirably, allowing the book to move along at a very quick pace indeed. The book was over in a tick, a combination of a well crafted storyline and an intelligent and entertaining narrative. Another factor of course is that once you’ve reached the inner sanctum, the meaty part of the book, you really begrudge putting it down. I know I did!

Jack is an intriguing character and one I’d love to have a drink with and share stories and experiences. Jack has been around the block and uses his vast knowledge of the occult well in his investigations. It’s funny how these bizarre situations always seem to follow him but he’s certainly the man for the job, Chalmers would be stuck without him. He’s humorous and infectious and despite his dark side he’s truly likeable, you can’t ask for more than that.

Other characters of note include Superintendent Chalmers and Jenny, Jack’s assistant. Chalmers isn’t a likeable character, it may have something to do with the fact that he’s always at odds with our protagonist. One dimensional he certainly isn’t however and there were parts in the book I found myself softening to Chalmers, not for long though. He’s a curious character, he begins to let you in, tempts you with a morsel of kindness and then he pulls away and reverts to his usual self a page later. His moods change more times than the four seasons found in one Melbourne afternoon. He keeps you on your toes that’s for sure. Jenny is the polar opposite, dependable, likeable and good at her job – she’s also a good friend to Jack.

I have to say I was disappointed to reach the end, I wanted it to continue, the ending is shocking and unexpected. Although he ties everything up nicely Leather certainly leaves you wanting more. I want to know what happens next and I don’t want to wait! Talk about leaving you hanging – and no that’s not a clue!

  • Hardcover
  • Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton (16 Jan 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1444742655
  • ISBN-13: 978-1444742657

No comments yet

Back to top

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox

Join other followers: