This taut claustrophobic mystery is preceded by a hundreds of starlings falling from the sky during a baseball match giving the inhabitants of Mt. Oanoke in Pennsylvania something to talk about until a much bigger story comes along.
The bigger story is just as unwelcome as having the pitch covered with the corpses of birds. Nate Winters popular teacher is accused of something terrible. Nate isn’t just popular with his pupils, the parents love him, and he is one of their own. Alecia his wife doesn’t know what to believe and nor does his best friend Bridget but this is a story that isn’t going to fade away.
This is a slow-burner of a novel and although it isn’t confusing, there is an awful lot to get to grips with, including child neglect, grief, autism, self-harming, bullying and the list goes on while in the foreground the reader experiences through a man accused, wrongly in his assurances to anyone who will listen, and the way this has a ripple effect throughout the whole town.
This is a book that takes you into a modern school somewhere whose setting is familiar to many but the division of students happens on social media as well as in the classroom. The sympathetic teacher who persuades these near adults to write journals doesn’t have the context of those who follow their lives in this hidden world where alliances are made and rumours strengthened to reality.
I love small town settings and the author really does bring Mt Oanoke to life. This former thriving town where so many of the inhabitants were employed by the mill is now a shadow of its former glory and it’s hardly surprising that many of the teenagers are looking for an escape route. This is a place where eyes are everywhere, except of course when they are needed to see the importance of what is going on, a place where the accused stays with a local police officer as he has nowhere else to go and a place where what happens in the school has consequences for the whole community.
The storyline switches backwards and forwards, fortunately not over a huge time-scale but enough for each of our four main protagonists; Nate, Alecia, Bridget and Lucia to give some background to their reality as well as providing some context for the main storyline. This is a great technique for providing the reader with plenty of different opinions and scenarios to mull over, but possibly it caused it to become overly wordy in places although there is no doubting it helps to add layers of tension and an overwhelming feeling of hopelessness for all four characters which of course is echoed by the setting itself.
I was caught up in the plot, I wanted to know what had happened, and not just to those birds, and as the story wove itself backwards and forwards it was clear that very little of the storyline could be divided into black and white and certainly not the characters.
I’d like to say a big thank you to Titan Books who provided me with a copy to read for review purposes.
First Published UK: 26 September 2017
Publisher: Titan Books
No of Pages: 384
Genre: Crime Fiction Amazon UK Amazon US
I was thrilled to be asked to be part of the blog tour to celebrate the Ngaio Marsh Awards 2017 and even more excited when the book I was asked to review was one in the true crime genre, one that I have been exploring with a passion over the last few months.
David Hastings takes us back to 1880 New Zealand when a young woman, Mary Dobie was found lying dead under a flax bush near where she had been walking, possibly finding a place to sketch, as she was a talented artist one who had provided some illustrations for her brother’s book about ferns.
As I have found in so many books in this genre, the book doesn’t just focus on the investigation into the murder itself but explores the life of the victim, and her family who were on a three-year trip to New Zealand from England, and puts the death into the context of the social history and politics of the time and place, the latter I knew very little about.
Mary had travelled to New Zealand on a boat with her sister Bertha and her mother Ellen and we hear about the trip in part from the notebook that the two sisters wrote and drew in on the long trip. These entries are fascinating as neither sister behaves in quite the way we expect young Englishwomen to behave in the Victorian age. They were curious women, eager to learn about life and so on the ship they learnt about the sails and navigation from the crew crossing the social barriers normally in place. This was important in the context of the crime itself, not for the purpose of stating that Mary had put herself in the face of danger but more to give a real feel of the woman she was, outgoing and confident with a range of experiences that rival what most women of her generation would have experienced.
By the time of the murder Ellen and Mary were in Opunake on the Taranaki coast area to say goodbye to Bertha who had married during their extensive trip which also took in Samoa and Fiji. The Taranaki area was in a state of tension by this time, facts that David Hastings explains in detail and far more clearly than I can summarise here, between the settlers and the Maoris. The settlers had staked a claim to the land some twenty years previously but only more recently had started building roads carving up the area causing the Maoris to retaliate with their own non-violent protests. Both sides feared the next move the other may make and it was against this background that Mary was murdered. The timing of the murder was key and for a while it wasn’t clear whether the crime was committed by a Maori or a Pakeha let alone whether the motive was robbery, rape or a political act.
The author does a fabulous job of explaining all of the details of the political background, the characters of those involved and in the end taking us through the trial and the (mis)use that was made of Mary Dobie’s death after the event by those in power.
I read my copy of The Many Deaths of Mary Dobie in eBook format and would advise those of you who like the sound of this book to buy the physical copy as there are many wonderful pictures, those drawn by the Dobie sisters as well as some photographs which would be better seen alongside the text as unfortunately I have yet to master the flicking backwards and forwards to a satisfactory degree on my kindle.
I applaud the author for making the politics of the area so easily understood, and for bringing to life an unfamiliar region to his readers. This book held my attention throughout the voyage, the social history explored during the family’s travels and the trial itself. A very welcome addition to my true crime reading indeed.
First Published UK: 30 October 2015
Publisher: Auckland University Press
No of Pages: 240
Genre: Non-Fiction – True Crime Amazon UK Amazon US
Don’t miss out on the rest of the blog tour – there are some fantastic books, and blogs, to discover!
2017 Ngaio Marsh Awards Finalists
BEST CRIME NOVEL
• Pancake Money by Finn Bell
• Spare Me The Truth by CJ Carver (Zaffre)
• Red Herring by Jonothan Cullinane (HarperCollins)
• Marshall’s Law by Ben Sanders (Allen & Unwin)
• The Last Time We Spoke by Fiona Sussman (Allison & Busby)
BEST FIRST NOVEL
• Dead Lemons by Finn Bell
• Red Herring by Jonothan Cullinane (HarperCollins)
• The Ice Shroud by Gordon Ell (Bush Press)
• The Student Body by Simon Wyatt (Mary Egan Publishing)
• Days are Like Grass by Sue Younger (Eunoia Publishing)
BEST NON FICTION
• In Dark Places by Michael Bennett (Paul Little Books)
• The Scene of the Crime by Steve Braunias (HarperCollins)
• Double-Edged Sword by Simonne Butler with Andra Jenkin (Mary Egan Publishing)
• The Many Deaths of Mary Dobie by David Hastings (AUP)
• Blockbuster! by Lucy Sussex (Text Publishing)
I love the way Helen FitzGerald tackles widely different subjects within her writing of psychological thrillers and in My Last Confession, we have a newly appointed Probation Officer and one of her ‘clients’, a murderer.
Krissie is a single mum and she’s moved in with Robbie – I believe these two characters appeared in the author’s debut novel Dead Lovely, which I haven’t read but may explain why some of the details about how they came to be together seemed a little illusive. She uses her previous skills working with child protection and move into supervising adult offenders.
Jeremy is one of Krissie’s cases, in prison for murder, although a conviction which Krissie begins to doubt whether he has been wrongly convicted and so she turns detective. Of course Jeremy is only one prisoner who makes up Krissie’s workload and so we have a number of characters to get to know while Krissie battles with her job and her son who steals the show more than once.
Krissie is a mass of contradictions, on the one hard a caring woman, one who is trying to build a family but she also does some incredibly stupid things over the course of the book. There were times when I just wanted to shake some sense into her, after all this is supposed to be an educated woman but obviously one whose heart rules her head. At times, despite playing detective with gusto, I had to despair at Krissie’s inability to read the clues given to her – maybe she needs to read a few more crime fiction novels to give her some pointers.
The book really does beg you to sit up and take notice with some attention grabbing scenes. For those of a nervous disposition, there are some racy scenes too. Having read four other books by this author I think perhaps the more subtle look at modern life worked slightly better for me. Those themes are ever-present in this book, particularly the Glasgow setting which is terrifically well created. Although I’ve not worked in a prison or in any type of related position, the work-place scenes are easily transposed to anyone who has colleagues and they had me chuckling away frequently.
There were some bizarre scenes though which I didn’t really quite work for me but it really was worth persevering because the second half of the book is exceptionally gripping with an ending which was perfectly fitting.
This is an ideal book if you want to read something a little bit different, a bit of crime, a little bit of women’s fiction, a few racy scenes and a whole dollop of fun. This is the ideal lighter type of reading, one that should be approached with a sense of irony which would iron out the earlier scenes that had me slightly confused.
My Last Confession was my twenty-fourth read in my Mount TBR Challenge having been purchased in November 2016.
First Published UK: 25 April 2011
Publisher: Faber & Faber
No of Pages: 275
Genre: Psychological Thriller Amazon UK Amazon US
Tiltton University is not the quiet place of learning all the staff and students could hope for when the construction workers move in to build a new performing arts centre. And then work stops because there is something buried in the site that ruined everyone’s day.
Kramer walked slowly in the direction Stephens had indicated. Then he stopped short. His face drained of colour and he gulped twice. He could see it clearly — a bone sticking up out of the dirt he’d been preparing to move.
Tilton police detectives Donna Crandall and her partner Ron Zuniga are called to the scene and it isn’t long before the bones are sent off to be dated. The result is that the skeleton is that of a young man, and he died some forty years ago but he didn’t bury himself so it must be murder but how on earth do you go about investigating a crime that old?
Never fear because the detectives have Joel Williams, The Professor in the Department of Criminal Justice at Tilton University, a former detective now academic, is only too willing to use his skills to assist. Before long the Police and the campus sleuth have a name; Bryan Roades a twenty year old who went missing in the 70s. Could his determination to emulate his heroes in the investigative journalism world on the campus newspaper have led to someone wanting him out of the way?
This is my first Joel Williams story although this is actually Margot Kinberg’s third book in the series featuring the academic detective and I’m pleased to report Past Tense reads perfectly as a stand-alone novel. The crime aspect was one of my favourite tropes; I love it when those who commit a crime think they are home and dry only for them to be caught years after the fact. This is particularly true in this novel as the article Brian Roades was working on was about women’s lib and of course attitudes have changed dramatically in the past forty years, so I suspect if anything the uncovering of the truth had far more impact than it may have done if he’d been allowed to write his story back then, but that of course is mere speculation on my part!
Margot Kinberg structures the novel well always keeping the mystery in clear line of sight and thankfully her investigative professor is a normal man, without angst and is somewhat self-effacing which gives the book a less aggressive feel than some modern crime novels, not that life as part of the campus staff is without its petty rivalries, this is no cosy mystery! I always imagine life in academia to be somewhat rarefied, however with this book written by someone living that life, I’ve been totally disabused of that opinion but it is an illusion shattered by some great characters and some fabulous dialogue that helped establish the setting, and opinions, for the modern angle of the crime and its discovery as well as giving enough references to take us back twenty years to the heart of the crime.
I have been a long-time reader, and admirer of Margot’s blog, Confessions of a Mystery Novelist… and I have to admit to being slightly apprehensive about read this book – what if I didn’t like it? But not to fear, I thoroughly enjoyed the mystery, the plotting and the writing style, a book without gratuitous violence but not so sanitised that it felt too sugary for this crime loving reader. I will definitely be keeping up with Joel in the future and I’m looking forward to my next visit to Tilton University.
Past Tense was my seventeenth read in the Mount TBR challenge and I’m pleased to announce is my last review of the backlog dating from June!
First Published UK: 1 November 2016
Publisher: Grey Cells Press
No of Pages: 428
Genre: Crime Fiction – Series Amazon UK Amazon US
Hello book lovers Mel Sherratt has delivered her latest book, She Did It, which is not only a brilliant psychological thriller but also is also set in the world of book publicity, and yes the trusty book blogger gets more than one mention!
Tamara is the classic poor little rich girl. Despite on the surface having all the connections and the family money she feels a bit of a failure especially as her three siblings have done what was expected of them, settled down to a good career or motherhood. Not Tamara, she has just launched her own PR firm and is knuckling down to win a contract to deliver the PR for a new debut novelist. But she has too many tasks to complete and advertises for an assistant.
Esther’s moment is here, she attends the interview and gets the job. She’s soon ensconced in Tamara’s dining room helping her pull together her presentation to win the contract. A contract that is badly needed as Tamara, despite her nice clothes, is living a pretty much hand to mouth existence unwilling to go to her parents and beg for money.
Both of the main characters have secrets and neither are quite what they appear but at the beginning they forge a relationship albeit with an obvious power imbalance and a more shadowy version which tips the power in the other direction. Mel Sherratt has really got a feel for her characters and even though it is obvious quite soon who we should be wary of, there is just enough detail to stop this developing into full-blown dislike. Instead I spent much of this book hoping that the journey I feared we were on would be re-routed.
With a very British outing to the races, expensive dresses and a book launch mixed in with dangerous weapons and drugs, this really was a story of two very different lives brought together to produce a thrilling read.
I have to admit I’ve drawn back from overly dramatic psychological thrillers lately but this is up there with the best in the ‘ooh I just can’t put this down’ so mesmerised by the power-struggle disguised as friendship and awaiting the awful events that were obviously on route to the devastating train-wreck which was going to occur. Quite what twists and turns we would hurtle around on the way was impossible to predict (I had to squint through one eye to read most of them).
The narrative of the book does shift backwards and forwards with both main characters detailing not only their plans but their past to reveal more about them. As I said earlier, this isn’t a book where the reader looks on with amazement while fundamentally dislikeable characters wreak destruction, there was far more subtlety to She Did It which added a layer of integrity to the storyline. I’m just hoping that Mel’s publication day, today, doesn’t have the same hazards particularly as I was one of the very lucky readers chosen to read the book before release day.
If you want one of those compulsive reads that so many of us are addicted to, I suggest you pick up a copy of this book and enjoy the journey!
First Published UK: 19 September 2017
Publisher: Blood Red Books
No. of Pages: 255
Genre: Psychological Thriller Amazon UK Amazon US
I can’t deny I was excited to hear that Jane Robins whose non-fiction books The Magnificent Spilsbury and the case of The Brides In The Bath and The Curious Habits of Doctor Adams I thoroughly enjoyed and which sit proudly on my bookshelf, was writing a psychological thriller. I also can’t deny that I am reading far fewer books in this genre, because many fail to delight me in the way that they once did. But boy did this one work. The plot was tight, the writing engaging and the characters were weird enough to be chilling but normal enough to be believable.
Callie and Tilda are twenty-seven year old twins with Tilda being the more outgoing and outwardly successful of the two, Callie somewhat hampered by an obsessive nature who dwells on every conversation, every look and every perceived slight to the nth degree. It is Callie that waits for invitations for movie nights with her sister but rarely meets up with Tilda’s fun-loving friends. So imagine her excitement when Tilda introduces her to her new man, Felix. But Callie’s overwhelming need to make sure her twin is safe means that she is on her guard.
It isn’t long before Callie hears and sees things that convince her that Tilda is in an abusive relationship and she trawls an on-line forum, obsessively, for confirmation and advice.
This is one of the creepiest psychological thrillers I have ever read. The premise is similar to many others in the genre – these are not people on the whole that you’d want to spend any length of time with, but there are so many aspects of their behaviour that you will have come across in your friends, family or colleagues that all the way through, I had a feeling that this could be true. This genre really does work best when you believe – a bit like fairies – and because it feels so real, as Callie goes searching for clues, it is impossible to separate the truth from the fiction. Added to that the bizarre but sadly only too believable on-line tales that draw Callie into endless discussions about abusive men, the story becomes not only claustrophobic but has a hue of ghastly inevitability.
White Bodies was absolutely compelling, it was one of those wonderful books which from the moment I read the first page I was sure I would enjoy. I don’t know what it is that makes some books far more ‘readable’ than others but this was one of them. What I do know is that this book is solidly underpinned with brilliant writing. Since childhood, I have been drawn to stories about twins, although I sincerely hope that some aspects of twin behaviour, mentioned in this book were dreamt up in Jane Robins’ imagination! Of course there are twists, that is what the genre is all about, but the author hasn’t gone all out to do a complete about face, the book hanging solidly together from the first to the last page and the book doesn’t rely on the twists for a great reading experience, there is much more to enjoy!
I’d like to say a huge thank you to the publishers Touchstone who granted my wish to read White Bodies which will be published in the US on 19 September 2017. UK readers apparently have to wait until after Christmas to read this book, which is somewhat bizarre as the author is British and the book is firmly set in the UK. Anyway despite the wait, if you enjoy a good psychological thriller, and live in the UK, mark this one down as To Be Read and if you are in the US please note your cover is different to the one above – enjoy!
First Published UK: 28 December 2017
No. of Pages: 384
Genre: Psychological Thriller Amazon UK Amazon US
I’ve got a real treat for you today because Caimh McDonnell is visiting to entertain us all with his guest post. I first hosted Caimh when he published his first novel, A Man With One of Those Faces and his very funny post won him many fans. Since then I’ve also read The Day That Never Comes, the second in the Dublin Trilogy and I was delighted to hear we were turning back the clock to 1999 in Angels in the Moonlight (the prequel) to meet Bunny as a younger man. Without any more ado, I well let Caimh entertain you…
The slacker’s guide to not looking like an idiot
I’ve a terrible confession to make; I am an absolute sucker for a blooper. It is to my eternal shame that I will sit through one of those awful shows entirely dedicated to pointing out things that are wrong in famous films. You know the ones, they spend an hour picking out continuity errors and historical inaccuracies that nobody in their right mind actually notices while watching in the cinema. Still, there’s something satisfying abo
ut seeing other people’s mistakes, whether it be Star Wars (stormtrooper walloping his head on a doorway), Braveheart (Scots wearing tartan 300 years before its conception) or Transformers (somebody actually making that god-awful cacophony of pointless metal punching mayhem).
Thing is though, when you become an author, you quickly realise that you’re the poor fool who has to make sure you’re not dropping clangers left, right and center. With that in mind, I humbly present to you my slacker’s guide to not making yourself look like an idiot:
1/ Avoid reality entirely
It’s not an option open to all of us, but where possible, try and find your version of ‘A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away’ – that way, nobody can come back at you with unhelpful facts like how their Auntie Marge lives on the forest moon of Endor and according to her Ewoks are in fact tall, hairless creatures and not cute and cuddly teddy-bears that will sell really well as merchandise.
2/ Where possible, make your characters idiots
They always say to write what you know, so if you don’t know anything – write that. Where authors get into big trouble is giving their characters a level of expertise that they themselves do not possess. Don’t make your central character a forensic scientist just because you’ve watched two and a half episodes of CSI. Side note: I have actually met a bona fide forensic scientist and apparently, they do not solve all their cases through the use of musical montages. Turns out, you can’t believe everything you see on TV.
3/ Take the path less travelled:
The thing about setting your novel in 19th Century London is that absolutely loads of really clever people have done a ton of research into the minutiae of the life of an every day Londoner at that time. On one hand, that means that gives you a near limitless supply of source material to use for research. On the other hand, I don’t know if you’ve ever tried to read a near limitless supply of source material, but it takes absolutely ages. My advice is to seek out the unpopular and undocumented; the dark ages are a cracking time, Belgium is an excellent place. Nobody knows or cares about either so you can get away with pretty much anything.
4/ The Future:
The great thing about the future, is that it hasn’t happened yet, which makes it very hard to get wrong. It should go without saying though, avoid that tricky beast known as ‘the near future’. The problem with that is, before you know it, it’s ‘now’ and then not long after, it’s ‘back then’. People get really angry when they don’t get the future that you promised them – I speak as a member of the ‘where the hell is my jetpack?!’ generation.
5/ Use your own past:
If you absolutely have to use the past, use a bit you lived through. I set my latest book in Dublin with the action taking place in 1999. The clever trick there is that I left Dublin in 2000. That way, all I have to do is remember what life was like before I moved abroad and I’ve got a reasonable chance of not screwing up. For example – mobile phones. I know back in 1999 we had them but they were fairly rare. That fact is burned into my memory as my boss gave me his so that I could be on-call while he and the wife went away for a ‘dirty weekend’(people still had dirty weekends in 1999 – even with people they were married to). I still vividly remember how I dropped his prized Nokia while running for a bus and then stood there helplessly as it spun on the ground, the bus hurtling towards it. Miraculously, both the phone and I survived this. Side note: his wife is a bona fide forensic scientist, small world.
So, while you can’t avoid being wrong entirely, you can at least try and make your mistakes look like deliberate artistic flourishes. Failing that, just have really big robots endlessly punch each other and readers will be far to engrossed in waiting for the sweet kiss of death, to notice how you’ve put airbags in a car that doesn’t have them. I hope this helped, although if it did, I think you might be in big trouble.
Caimh’s books are marketed as crime fiction combined with humour and this prequel to the first two books in the Dublin Trilogy is no different although I’d say that the humour element is targeted which suited the sadder elements of this book far better. Fear not though, I still laughed plenty of times at the brilliant scenarios and one-liners, even if a tear also managed to escape my beady eye once or twice.
Back in 1999 that comparatively near past, life was different. There were mobile phones but there were bigger worries about planes falling from the skies when the date clicked over into the millennium and Bunny is squeezing his too large body into his too small Porshe. In 1999 Bunny was working with his partner Gringo when they were tasked by DI Fintan O’ Rourke to stake out the local Mr Big who was in charge of the local estate. Bunny and Mr Big had history, in a good way, because Mr Big was rescued from a burning building as a child by Bunny, but times are a changing and with a number of raids on security vans and intelligence indicating a big diamond robbery is in the offing something has to be done.
The crime fiction element of this book felt tighter than in the other two books, perhaps because despite the fact that we have plenty of laughs from Bunny’s one-liners, there seemed to be less reliance on the humour with both elements truly complementing each other and Caimh’s skill as a writer becoming ever more apparent. The background of Dublin is ever-present with the scenes moving from the housing estate to rural outskirts of Dublin with just enough details to paint a picture.
In particular I loved the scenes with Bunny on the pitch with his hurling team who are based at St Judes – little Deccie stealing my heart with his adoration of his coach, if a little off-beam in his efforts to help
“You heard me, Deccie, didn’t I say to him before the match, just stay in the goal? How hard is that?” “He has no understanding of the nuances of the game boss.” “You’re not wrong, Deccie, you’re not wrong” “D’ye want me to tie his leg to one of the posts again, boss?” Bunny gave the child a look. “No, Deccie, remember we talked about this. Ye can’t do that.” “Yes, boss. Sorry, boss.”
With Gringo not only being Bunny’s working partner but also his best friend, we have the sad situation of his marriage falling apart and Gringo himself letting things slip just at the time when Bunny is making headway in his own personal life with a lovely girl called Simone. But this is crime fiction and it may be a while before we can skip to the happy ever after part.
So with a tight plot, a wide range of human emotions and some brilliant secondary characters which include nuns who you really want to meet – this book is, if anything even better than the previous two. By the end you’ll understand a little more about who Bunny really is and if you had doubted it before, that he’s a top bloke!
I’d like to say a big thank you to McFori Ink and Caimh McDonnell for allowing me to take part in this blog tour and for allowing me to read Angels in the Moonlight which made me both laugh and cry, this review is my unbiased thanks to them.
First Published UK: 26 August 2017
Publisher: McFori Ink
No. of Pages: 320
Genre: Crime Fiction Series Amazon UK Amazon US
About the Author
Caimh McDonnell is an award-winning stand-up comedian, author and writer of televisual treats. Born in Limerick and raised in Dublin, he has taken the hop across the water and now calls Manchester his home.
He is a man who wears many hats. As well as being an author, he is an award-winning writer for TV, a stand-up comedian and ‘the voice’ of London Irish rugby club. His debut novel, A Man with One of Those Faces was released in 2016 and it is the first book of the Dublin Trilogy series. The follow-up, The Day That Never Come was published in 2017. Both books are fast-paced crime thrillers set in Caimh’s home town of Dublin and they are laced with distinctly Irish acerbic wit.
Caimh’s TV writing credits include The Sarah Millican Television Programme, A League of Their Own, Mock the Week and Have I Got News for You. He also works as a children’s TV writer and was BAFTA nominated for the animated series ‘Pet Squad’ which he created.
During his time on the British stand-up circuit, Caimh has firmly established himself as the white-haired Irishman whose name nobody can pronounce. He has brought the funny worldwide, doing stand-up tours of the Far East, the Middle East and Near East (Norwich).
It is winter in the North Yorkshire Moors where Sarah Carpenter is coming to terms with the loss of her husband and the emptiness of her farmhouse now that her daughter Kitty has left for university. Her son Louis is not around much having fallen out with Sarah following the death of his father, although she has a good friend in Sophie, a politician’s wife.
Against this backdrop enters Aiden an old flame of Sarah’s who has rented her holiday cottage and she’s pleased to see him but she does wonder what he is keeping secret from her. And so it starts… another riveting psychological thriller from Elizabeth Haynes.
With the bleak background of the landscape, the feeling of claustrophobia inherent in a fairly isolated and remote home the setting is perfect for this dark and often torrid tale.
The cast of characters is superb and it is a sign of what a talented writer Elizabeth Haynes is that their interactions with each other, in a variety of settings allows us to see different aspects of their characters. At the start Sarah is quite a staid woman, worried about money, her children and to be honest not a lot else, her world possibly having shrunk dramatically now that she is widowed. Her sadness over the relationship with her son is eloquently described with the often helplessness from Sarah’s viewpoint that is so often a feature of this type of schism. Fortunately Elizabeth Haynes doesn’t constrain herself in developing just the main characters, every one we meet in this book is far more than a shadowy figure on the page and the way they bounce off each other definitely takes this book to a higher level than expected. Sophie and her sleazy MP husband George are just two that you may not like, but you are definitely be able to place them in a wider context than is usual with secondary characters.
It’s fair to say her children and her friends aren’t overly impressed with Aiden staying in the cottage when they know so little about him, and then when his choice of profession comes to light they are even less enamoured with the idea. Sarah is hurt by this but she is a loyal woman and although she has momentary doubts she isn’t about to kick Aiden out.
The story is mainly told from Sarah’s viewpoint in the Sarah’s in the third person although we also get Aiden’s side of things is told in the second person which is one of the rare occasions in a book where this actually works without jarring. Added to this we occasionally have a chilling narrative inserted along the way, who this belongs to and why it is there only becomes apparent at the end of the book which ends in a satisfying manner.
I’ve been a fan of Elizabeth Haynes ever since I picked up her newly published book Into the Darkest Corner which incidentally was the read that really got me hooked on psychological thrillers, she certainly didn’t disappoint me with Never Alone, although the moral of the story is that perhaps it is sometimes better to be alone…
Never Alone was my sixteenth read in the Mount TBR challenge as I actually read this book back in June – the 20 books of summer 2017 challenge having somewhat disrupted my reviewing although some of these also count towards this challenge too – a full update on where I’m at will follow once I’ve done a proper count and updated Goodreads!
First Published UK: 28 July 2016
No of Pages: 352
Genre: Psychological Thriller Amazon UK Amazon US
With this, the follow-up to Missing Presumed, being marketed as a literary crime novel, I have to confess I’m not entirely sure what that is, but if it is a multi-layered story that touches on real-life issues as well as having a crime at its centre, with an involved and intricate plot, then this fits the brief.
DI Manon Bradshaw has moved from London back to Cambridge, in part for Fly, her adopted twelve-year-old son in an attempt to keep him away from being stopped and searched purely based on his colour. They live with Manon’s sister Ellie and her two-year old son Solly, oh and Manon is five-months pregnant and assigned to the cold cases. It’s fair to say the whole family are struggling to find their feet when a man named Jon-Oliver is murdered in a nearby park. This sets off a whole chain of events which couldn’t have been predicted.
While this doesn’t have the feel of a standard police procedural, at times feeling as much a commentary on the time we live in, I was hooked right from the start. The storyline is linear with the main part running over a few weeks starting in December with each section featuring the date and chapter headed up by the name of the narrator and where necessary the place because whilst for the most part the action is in Cambridge, some takes us back to Kilburn, London. Normally where we have multiple places and narrators I put a warning into my review about how this isn’t one to read when you are tired but I have to confess I started this one night expecting to read a dozen or so pages and struggled to put it down, even the fact that I was exhausted that particular night didn’t strain my brain. Instead my warning is the short chapters are deceptive and it is only too easy to say I’ll just do one more and then I’ll turn out the light only to find yourself bleary eyed and still going!
Why did I enjoy this so much? Well the plot is tight, and yes it’s complex especially as the connections between the characters are not what you normally get in a police procedural. I loved the characters, I felt that Manon was a more sympathetic character in this book, not quite as abrasive as she is actually outside the investigation and her love for Fly, her adopted son really brings out a different side to her personality. In fact I had a lot of sympathy for a number of the characters whilst others I’m pleased to say got their just deserts. Persons Unknown was involved and had plenty of clues, including the obligatory red-herrings that had me suspecting everyone at one time or another. Having won me over with some of the key characters I was thoroughly engaged, needing to know whether x had visited y at z time to prove my theory or otherwise, which is always the mark of a good book.
When the characters are so well-defined it can be the case that the plotting is looser, but not in this book with both aspects having an equal weighting although perhaps there was a coincidence or two which felt a little too convenient they in no way spoilt my enjoyment.
There is no doubt in my mind that Susie Steiner’s next book will be on my ‘must read’ list she has really proved herself to be a writer of many talents indeed. If character led crime fiction is what floats your boat, this series is on my highly recommended list.
I received my copy of Persons Unknown through Amazon Vine.
First Published UK: 29 June 2017
Publisher: The Borough Press
No. of Pages: 368
Genre: Crime Fiction Series Amazon UK Amazon US
A character led psychological thriller that packs a real punch.
Joe and Hannah Marsden’s fourteen year old daughter has disappeared. Lily hasn’t returned from school and although at first the police were sure she’d turn up soon we first meet Joe as he returns from giving a press conference to appeal for her to get in touch. Hannah didn’t attend, doesn’t want Joe near her and anyway we all know that the police watch the behaviour of those who are part of the televised appeals.
Loretta is the Family Liaison Officer assigned to the Marsden family there to support them through the difficult time, but also to observe, and there is plenty of observations to make that’s for sure. Hannah is distraught, completely poleaxed by her grief whereas Joe secretly wants to escape the confines of the now claustrophobic house but he also wants to know what has happened to Lily.
Our final narrator is Rosie Weatherall, a mysterious addition to the storyline, she is watching the news story of Lily’s disappearance unfold with horrified interest as it reminds her of the disappearance of her elder sister Alice. Rosie’s father has recently been released from prison, convicted of killing Alice fifteen years previously. After struggling to accept that her adored father, a widely respected classical musician could have ever committed such a crime, her mother finally convinced her that it was the case, the evidence was squarely against him.
With secrets bursting to be set free, Her Deadly Secret makes for full-on compulsive reading ably assisted by our three brilliant narrators; Loretta, Joe and Rosie. All three are searching for the truth but that’s not easy when those in the know are masters of deception.
A good psychological thriller has characters you can believe in, even when they may behave in strange ways due to the abnormal circumstances they are plunged into. I absolutely believed, although of course my suspicions were on high alert for criminal behaviour, that these were genuine people. Books in this sub-genre should also follow the unwritten rules of crime writing that the outcome can’t come out of left-field. It is even better when there are some red-herrings to keep the reader wondering. I’m pleased to state that all these conditions were met, and more. Even the minor characters, such as Lily’s own secret boyfriend was believable all the more so because many of these held conflicted beliefs which is always one of the biggest problems for a writer to convey without losing credibility for their creations. But we all can believe one thing, whilst suspecting another from time to time, people generally struggle with two conflicting views are presented to them. This is illustrated through one character in the book, who reports another to the police, and then soon apologises to the suspect, realising that what she thinks she saw, could have in fact been viewed in an alternative way. There are many more such examples which for me only had me all the more wrapped up in the family’s nightmare. Added to that was the wonderful backdrop of Hastings, Loretta’s family life and a religious community called The Children of Light which all served to round this off as an immersive read.
I’d like to thank the author and publishers HaperCollins UK for providing me with a copy of Her Deadly Secret, this honest review is my belated thanks to them for the book and the brilliant reading experience which examines the ripples caused for years when a child is murdered. Back in July when Her Deadly Secret was published, the author kindly wrote a guest post for me on how she finds inspiration for her books which you can read here. If you like the sound of this book, it is currently at a bargain price in eBook format so I’d snap it up quickly while I will be adding the author’s previous two books, Mindsight and Her Turn to Cry to my wishlist.
First Published UK: 21 July 2017
Publisher: HarperCollins UK
No. of Pages: 304
Genre: Psychological Thriller Amazon UK Amazon US