Posted in Book Review, Books I have read, Five Star Reads

Tastes Like Fear – Sarah Hilary

 

Crime Fiction 5*s
Crime Fiction
5*s

I was thrilled to receive a copy of this, the latest in the DI Marnie Rome series, from the publishers Headline as Sarah Hilary really has bought something quite special to a genre which already has plenty of sub-genres. This series is not quite a police procedural, there is far too much detail about the perpetrators and victims thoughts, hopes and fears in her books for that, but nor is a full on psychological thriller, as there is the ever-present police work with its procedures and methodology, although refreshingly, not so much about police politics to fit into that category, but hey wherever these books fit, I love them.

Tastes Like Fear didn’t disappoint in any way at all although I was a little wary when I read the synopsis as the words teenagers and harm jumped out at me, but I needn’t have worried because of course Sarah Hilary has tackled the subject of teenage runaways without resorting to endless descriptions of excessive violence, not that this book is all nicey-nicey, but I really got the feeling that this is a book that will take you behind the headlines, to the reality of life as a teen in the UK (and probably many other places in the world too.)

As in the previous two books there are multiple strands of plot as Marnie Rome and her partner DS Noah Jakes are off trying to find out who the girl was that caused a fatal traffic accident by running out into the road half-dressed. With two sets of casualties from the car accident, a missing runaway girl what the pair don’t need is a body found in a show-room apartment at Battersea Power Station. Just working out how whoever killed the girl could get into the building is a big enough puzzle. And that’s without the personal issues that both are facing with their brothers. These storylines subtly intersect with the other strands of the novel enhancing the story without taking over the investigation into a number of missing girls in the Bristol area.

One of the best things about this series is that it is firmly set in the present time; the author covers subjects as wide as gangs terrorising a council estate along with the misplaced teenagers who are disenfranchised for a whole variety of reasons, and not those that we instantly think of. The way some of our young people need to hide in a world where privacy isn’t always possible. With all the secondary characters as finely drawn as the chief protagonists, this is one book where I didn’t doubt for one moment that the story which was unfolding before my eyes could happen, the mark of a truly skilled writing by Sarah Hilary.

Although the reader has an insight into where the girls are and what is happening in their lives through short excerpts that doesn’t mean that this is a book without a mystery and nor is it one without action, I found myself gripping the book tightly as the ending got nearer and everything began to become clear.

This is an outstanding read, one I would recommend to anyone who likes intelligent crime fiction, this is a book that made me think about those who evade our eyes in the busy modern world. Although I’m sure this would work well-enough as a stand-alone read, you will be missing out if you don’t experience this series from the beginning.

I’d like to thank the publishers Headline who sent me a proof copy of Tastes Like Fear prior to publication on 7 April 2016. This review is my thank you to them.

Previous books in the series:

Someone Else’s Skin
No Other Darkness

Posted in Book Review, Books I have read

A Savage Hunger – Claire McGowan

Crime Fiction 4*s
Crime Fiction
4*s

I really enjoy this series which initially followed the cases Dr Paula McGuire investigated as part of the Missing Persons Unit on the border between Northern and Southern Ireland. The idea of the unit was to overcome the problems of cross-border information exchange but sadly that has fallen away and now Paula is working as a consultant with the police in Northern Ireland.

Claire McGowan cleverly links the missing person in this book, Alice Morgan, an anorexia sufferer with the hunger strikes carried out in 1981 by political prisoners. Alice went missing on the doorstep of a church in Ballyterrin along with a holy relic – the bones of a saint also connected to hunger. Paula is called in to help out in the investigation swiftly, after all her father is a government minister and so despite the student at a private university having a history of disappearing, a search is launched. It doesn’t take too long before the team realise that another young girl went missing from the same church, on the same day, back in 1981.

Having set the scene for investigation we hear more from Alice herself, from her time in a hospital where she was receiving treatment for her anorexia, this makes for disturbing reading. We also have some excerpts from WhatsApp from her circle of close friends, friends who the police are sure know more than they are letting on. I do like it when books set in the present use technology that is popular, it certainly lends some authenticity to the plot.

This is probably has the most interwoven plot of the whole series and that is before we get to Paula’s private life which is going through some turbulence with a wedding to prepare for, a missing mother and a child with an unknown father, her life is anything but simple. I do like getting to know the chief protagonist of crime series and Claire McGowan gets the mix between the investigation and this aspect absolutely right, never forgetting that as much as we want to know more about these issues, it is a crime novel so overall that must be the focus. That said it is great to meet up with some old favourites and to see how life is treating them.

Overall this book was quite sad, the issues covered were executed extremely so well that they made me feel for the characters involved. With life switching between several different institutions; prison, hospital, university and the police it was hard not to compare how easy it is to manipulate those that are weaker, for whatever reason, by those who feel superior. With more than a handful of damaged souls I’m sure I won’t be the only reader that was misdirected very successfully by the author, more than once.

A satisfying and compelling read, if you haven’t read this series, I really do suggest that you start at the beginning and enjoy. If you have read the other books, I’m sure you don’t need me to urge you to get yourself a copy when it is published on 10 March 2016.

I’d like to thank the publisher Headline for allowing me to read a copy of this book prior to publication. This review is my unbiased thanks to them.

The Paula McGuire Series

The Lost
The Dead Ground
The Silent Dead

Posted in Book Review, Books I have read

The Silent Dead – Claire McGowan

Crime Fiction 4*s
Crime Fiction
4*s

I can’t begin to imagine what it must have been like to grow up in Ireland during the Troubles and so it is just as difficult to understand how life is different, and the same, since the Good Friday Agreement which led to the demilitarisation of Northern Ireland. Claire McGowan describes both in what appears to this outsider, in an incredibly thoughtful and realistic way.

As the book opens the Missing Persons Unit set-up to find people on both sides of the border between Northern and Southern Ireland are asked to assist with the discovery of a body, this is unusual, normally their subjects are presumed to be alive. Mickey Doyle has been found hanged, presumed murder and was one member of the Mayday Five, a terrorist group who are strongly suspected of planting a bomb that killed sixteen people, including babies and children. The group have been called in because the remaining four members are also missing but tensions in the town are running high, not least because the Mayday Five have recently been found not guilty and until their disappearance were free to live their lives.

This is a tough book to read because of the raw grief of the survivors of the bomb illustrated in the meetings they hold to discuss those who went about their business on the day the bomb exploded changing the lives of those around them forever. Paula McGowan does a fantastic job of creating the tension between the survivors and the police who are committed to tracking down the Mayday Five, and finding whoever was responsible for Mickey Doyle’s murder. This is definitely a story that captures the conflict caused by doing the right thing for those who carried out a horrendous atrocity.

Part of the tale, that of what really happened on the day of the bombing is relayed in the form of a book by an investigative journalist that Paula uses as a guide to what is known locally to have happened, a source that is useful to her having been in England at the time. This also helps the reader to understand why each question posed to those in the town has to be so mindful of past grudges and the subtleties of the importance of religion seventeen years on from the Good Friday Agreement.

This is the third in the series that features Paula McGuire, a forensic psychologist who works for a missing persons unit based on the border between Paula is a likeable and realistic character. She returned to her childhood home to look after her father but has remained despite his recent marriage to her childhood sweetheart’s mother. There is still a feeling that Paula hasn’t made this her home, and the house has its own ghosts as her mother disappeared one day when Paula was a teenager and to this day no-one, despite Paula using all her investigative skills, knows what happened to her. This book continues that search and brings Paula into contact with more people who might be able to tell her the truth. However with her pregnancy nearing the end, Paula has more pressing matters to resolve, such as who is the father of her child, and building the right kind of relationship with both potential fathers. Oh yes, this book is full of tension, both professional and personal aided by seemingly impossible problems to solve and one where doing the right thing could cause harm to those who arguably hold the moral high ground.

I’ve read and enjoyed both the The Lost and The Dead Ground but really felt that the writing had moved up a notch which was incredibly readable despite the complicated storyline coupled with what is a highly complex background. I’m sure this would work well as a standalone novel but I do think there is lots to be gained from the previous two books in terms of the relationships that have formed and developed along the way.

I’d like to extend a huge thank you to the publishers Headline for letting me read this book in return for my honest opinion. The Silent Dead will be published on 19 November 2015.

Posted in Book Review, Books I have read

How I Lost You – Jenny Blackhurst

Psychological Thriller 4*'s
Psychological Thriller
4*’s

I love a good psychological thrillers and the ones I enjoy the most have characters in a situation which if I’ve not been in, I can easily imagine – How I Lost You is not one of those. The main protagonist is Susan Webster who has spent time in a psychiatric hospital accused of the murder of her son whilst in the grip of post puerperal psychosis. Now by sheer coincidence this is the second book I’ve read this month featuring this condition but I’m glad to say that didn’t really help me to put myself in Susan’s shoes.

Susan leaves hospital knowing no-one except her former roommate, the feisty Cassie, and moves to a small town as Emma Cartwright. She sets up home still not able to remember what happened on the night Dylan, her son died, and volunteers at a local shelter alongside Cassie. Unable to disclose her secret she struggles to really connect with anyone she meets. One morning she receives a photo of a young boy that had writing on the back suggesting that Dylan may still be alive and she struggles between fearing she’s losing her mind or that Dylan is really alive. Secondly she has to worry about who knows who she really is? The only people who know the truth is her probation officer and Cassie.

This is a psychological thriller that in order to enjoy it, you have to go with the flow, and after being slightly irritated at the start with the stilted monologues (never a good idea) where she does the endless struggling as mentioned above, as further clues begin to appear I was able to put these aside and enjoy the book for what it was. Whether that was because the experience Susan is so far outside what I know that I was able to accept her decisions without scoffing at the somewhat obvious stupidity at times, or because of the pace of the book, I’m not sure. What I do know was that I had to know what happened, especially as the excerpts written about a group of schoolboys in the early 1990s which didn’t appear to be connected to the story in any way whatsoever but slowly the strands come together.

Once the background has been laid the pace of the book really picks up and following the entrance of the journalist Nick who seems eager to help Susan to find out what really happened to Dylan, and unusually not for the purposes of a great story on a child-killer, there is plenty of action as they visit those characters who attended her trial. What they find is a mystery more complex than they or certainly I, ever imagined.

There is a mixture of characters from the crazy to the downright bad and few who are genuinely nice people but it is precisely this unconventional spread that is necessary for the tale being told and the maintenance of the tension because you simply don’t know what dramatic event will be around the corner.

A must-read for lovers of psychological thrillers who are in the mood to enjoy a well-told tale and take it at face value.

I was lucky enough to receive a copy of this book from the publishers Headline who gave me a copy of this book for review purposes. How I Lost You will be published on 23 April 2015.

 

Posted in Book Review, Books I have read, Five Star Reads

No Other Darkness – Sarah Hilary

Crime Fiction  5*'s
Crime Fiction
5*’s

One of the things, and there were many, that I loved about Sarah Hilary’s debut novel was it took a fairly common issue and went far beyond the obvious whilst simultaneously giving the reader a complex and well-written crime mystery to explore. No Other Darkness is no different although the issue chosen is not as common-place as domestic violence it isn’t so rare to be unheard of.

The mystery starts with the bodies of two young boys found buried in a bunker in a garden by the owner of the house, a father of two young boys and it isn’t long before DI Marnie Rome and DS Noah Jakes are called to take a look. This is a harrowing story line made more so because we are given a view of the boys last days from the viewpoint of the eldest boy. The detective’s first job is to find out who the boys were and then how they came to be placed in the bunker and by whom The investigation is led by Marnie with her team including DS Ron Carling who is more office based as he looks for leads starting with Missing Persons and the expert help from Fran the pathologist who looks at soil samples and the like.

As in Someone Else’s Skin the author skilfully gives the reader all the clues but allows enough gaps for the wrong conclusion to be reached, time and again as no sooner was one of my theories disproved there was another incorrect assumption to be made. In addition to her other skills this author sets the pace just right, with some contemplative investigation which ends up with an edge-of-your seat action packed finale.

I am a lover of series as I do like the mix of a story arc and current investigation and Sarah Hilary keeps the balance just right with the character’s lives adding to the story with the reader given more information about Marnie Rome’s traumatic background. Noah’s character is also developed and we learn more about his background too and his brother Sol but these strands of the characters’ lives are used to add shades to the story rather than overshadowing it or giving information that has no connection to the case in hand. For once we have a couple of detectives (and a team) which are admirable, there are few of the politics that tend to dominate this genre and despite her background Marnie Rome’s past only serves to underline how ‘normal’ she is for this genre, yes bad things have happened but she is still a compassionate detective who doesn’t allow the past to overshadow her current investigation although she is aware of any comparisons.

If you too are looking for something more in-depth than a simple police procedural then this series is well-worth following and whilst I think this book could easily be read as a stand-alone, you would be seriously missing out if you don’t start at the beginning. I’d like to say a huge thank you to Sarah Hilary who sent me a copy of this book which I had to hide out of sight in a cupboard so that I could read and review it close to the publication date of 23 April 2015.

Sarah Hilary lives in Bath with her daughter, where she writes quirky copy for a well-loved travel publisher. She’s also worked as a bookseller, and with the Royal Navy. An award-winning short story writer, Sarah won the Cheshire Prize for Literature in 2012. Her debut novel SOMEONE ELSE’S SKIN has been selected as a Richard & Judy Autumn 2014 Book Club pick.

Posted in Book Review, Books I have read

The Heart of Winter – Emma Hannigan

Contemporary Fiction  3*'s
Contemporary Fiction
3*’s

Having enjoyed Emma Hannigan’s previous book The Summer Guest I was delighted to be offered a copy of The Heart of Winter. Only on finishing the book did I realise that the Craig family previously appeared in Driving Home for Christmas which was published last year. Although this is a perfectly good read as a stand-alone book I think the early chapters would have read a little smoother if the author hadn’t had to try so hard to cement the characters personalities to allow for those of us who hadn’t already met them.

The Craig family are in the final stages of turning the family country house, Huntersbrook, into a party venue, the whole family has pulled together to keep the house in the family, well nearly the whole family as Pippa the youngest daughter of Holly and Paddy focus is on partying her way through life and leaving others to do the hard work.

Lainey the eldest daughter lives close to her parents with her husband Matt and father-in-law Jacob but it’s clear that she feels that she was hard-done because Holly had suffered from post-natal depression after she was born and she was cared for by her Grandmother Maggie while she recovered. Following Maggie’s death Lainey has thrown herself into the family project as well as looking after her young son Ely.

Joey is the only son and very ambitious, he and his girlfriend Skye are also working hard to get the house ready for its first guests but when Joey gets a promotion he seems to think Skye should change to reflect his new role. He didn’t really impress me very much!

The plot is fairly predictable, with many family dramas including those of the old family retainer Sadie, who at eighty years old is still running after the younger members of the family, whipping up food at the drop of a hat or babysitting little Ely, a real marvel! This is a book about family relationships so there are moments of tension that are eased by a few well-chosen words which put the world to rights. The story is told in alternate chapters by Lainey, Joey and Pippa which is easy to follow as each chapter is headed by the character involved and has the added bonus of giving glimpses of their lives away from Huntersbrook.

I didn’t enjoy this book as much as The Summer Guest mainly because many of the characters appeared a little flat, possibly because there were so many of them. Of the three children, the only one with any spark was Pippa, and as a consequence her story was by far the most interesting of the three. Lainey was just a bit too whiney in her constant harping back to her childhood while Joey came across as a bit of a jerk who did little except think a lot of himself. As family dramas go this is a heart-warming read which serves to underline the importance of family especially during the bittersweet ending.

I’d like to thank the publishers, Headline, who gave me a copy of this book through Bookbridgr in return for this honest review.

Posted in Book Review, Books I have read

One Last Dance – Judith Lennox

Historical Saga 4*'s
Historical Saga
4*’s

I had forgotten how enjoyable a well-written saga can be, that feeling of enormous satisfaction of following a family through their ups and downs, or more usually, downs and further downs, spanning decades isn’t replicated in the same way in any other type of genre and in One Last Dance I felt I’d travelled on a journey with Esme starting at the time of World War I and continuing to the 1970’s.

In 1974 Esme decides she wants her 75 birthday party to be held at Rosindell a somewhat diminished grand house which belongs to the Reddaway family and while we witness a scene where her daughter is somewhat perturbed at this choice of venue the story then switches back to 1917 when Devlin Reddaway visits England while on leave. The story that follows has all the normal components of love, jealousy, secrets and lies that you’d expect from the genre and pleasingly well-executed. The pace is measured and despite there being, as you’d imagine over such a time-span, quite an array of characters, these are well-defined so that there is no confusion. Judith Lennox has created some great characters, which develop well over the course of the book without ever losing their central characteristics thereby allowing the reader to sympathise or react in horror at the actions they choose to take.

The key protagonists are Esme and her elder, more beautiful sister, Camilla and Devlin Reddaway with the relationship between them being central to the story although as the book progresses we get to know the younger generations and understand their lives in context of the past.  Much of the setting is the wonderfully described Rosindell, which Devlin’s father had failed to maintain and the house he is determined to restore to its former glory, but there are other settings that Judith Lennox brings to life as far apart as London during World War II and San Francisco in the 1960’s where another house is built by one of Devlin’s children.

The earlier part of the book concentrates on a close time-span depicting the events that will haunt the family for decades to come while later on the sections depict wider ranging dates which avoids slowing down the pace and better still these sections add further nuance and complexity to the story avoiding the feeling that they are included for filling purposes.  In fact every one of the 500 plus pages adds a little to the story either in way of place, character or plot.

This is a gentle nostalgic story with enough action to keep the reader engaged with fantastic descriptions of both time and place that add to the richness of this read.

I’d like to thank Bookbridgr along with the publishers Headline Review for allowing me to read a copy of this book which was published in paperback on 11 September 2014.

Posted in Book Review, Books I have read

The Dead Ground – Claire McGowan

Crime Fiction  4*'s
Crime Fiction
4*’s

The Dead Ground takes up the story from where The Lost, which was the first in the Paula McGuire series, ended. Paula McGuire, forensic psychologist is still in Ballyterrin, Northern Ireland with her father an ex-policeman and the ghost of her missing mother haunting her.

Paula is a likable character, she has made mistakes, not least with her boss DI Guy Brooking at the MPRU and newspaper owner Aiden O’Hara, but for now she has work to do, someone has snatched a baby from the hospital and there is a race against time to find him. This book has the constant theme of pregnancy and babies running all the way through it which although compelling, can be more than a little disturbing at times. It is impossible not to imagine the televised appeal for the return of a new-born baby or to wonder at the local hatred from both Catholics and Protestants, for the English doctor who helps pregnant women to arrange abortions. This is very much a modern novel which includes postings on social media site as well as placards to cajole Dr Alison Bates and anyone who wants to use her services into stopping. Alongside this is the insistence of the head of Serious Crime, DCI Helen Corry for the area on consulting the local psychic to find the new-born.

There was plenty to keep me turning the pages throughout this book, not least the on-going mystery of Paula’s missing mother as she searches in vain for clues to her disappearance seventeen years previously. I like that Paula makes mistakes, she doesn’t have the answers and she appears to have curbed the more maverick tendencies which featured in the last investigation. The plot moves at a pace with plenty of twists and turns although I had figured most of the whodunit by the time of the reveal.

An excellent read and one that has confirmed that I will be looking out for the third in the Paula McGuire, but one that does come with a warning that the subject matter is extremely sensitive and I for one would not recommend that you read this book if you are pregnant or have recently had a baby!

Although I’m sure this could be read as a stand-alone read I do think you’ll get more from this book if you read The Lost before picking this one up.

I received a copy of this book from the publishers Headline in return for this honest opinion ahead of the publication date of today, 10 April 2014!

Previous books by Claire McGowan
Standalone
The Fall
Paula McGuire Series
The Lost

Posted in Book Review, Books I have read, Five Star Reads

That Dark Remembered Day – Tom Vowler

Psychological Suspense 5*'s
Psychological Suspense
5*’s

A contemplative read which demands to be read, absorbed and reflected upon. Cleverly and carefully it lays the groundwork before revealing what happened on That Dark Remembered Day.

The narrative is shared between Stephen, now a technician at a university but at the time the book opens, in 1983, an awkward teenager, his mother Mary and his father Richard. In 1983 Richard had returned from the Falklands, his final posting before discharge from the arm and at its heart, this book is a reflection on the damage that war inflicts on those who are sent to fight.

Stephen’s story is the thread that runs through the book as the author first presents Mary’s perspective, her excitement of a new venture in becoming self-sufficient in their new home Highfield, how daunted she was when her husband returned coupled with her doubt on how to deal with the shadow of the man he was before. Richard’s story, coming later, is a brutal depiction of a reluctant soldier, so raw and descriptive that it made me re-evaluate those half-remembered news stories of my own childhood.

Tom Vowler’s assured writing covers huge themes, of mental illness, bullying and takes an accurate look at small town mentality where close-knit masks acts of cruelty to those deemed not to belong. When Stephen returns to the town he vowed never to return to he wonders whether the intervening years would have softened the memories, lessened the hurt and that the stones hurled before he left, would this time be left to lie by the roadside.

It took me a while to warm to many of the characters in this book, which says less about the writing than the fact that this ‘psychological suspense’ really does a fantastic job of peeling back the layers of the key protagonist’s minds. The power of the writing meant that it was only once I’d closed the book and reflected on the many aspects, that the compassion I feel for this fictional town’s inhabitants is fully felt, as whilst in the grip of the book I was barely able to imagine the horror that the whole town experienced.

That Dark Remembered Day is a compelling read that uncovers the mind of everyone that was witnessed the awful events of the day in question as well as examining the effects, years later, on Stephen, his first girlfriend Suzanne and his friend Brendan years later.

Due to be published on 13 March 2014 by Headline, I was grateful to receive a copy in return for my opinion on Tom Vowler’s second novel.

That Dark Remembered Day Amazon UK

That Dark Remembered Day Amazon US

Tom Vowler’s debut novel What Lies Within was also a thoughtful psychological suspense novel rather than a thriller and like That Dark Remembered Day was a fresh and unique take on the genre. It was so good that it made my Top Ten List for 2013.

Click on the book cover to read my review!

What Lies Within

Posted in Book Review, Books I have read, Five Star Reads

Someone Else’s Skin – Sarah Hilary

Crime Fiction 5*'s
Crime Fiction
5*’s

I wasn’t quite sure what to expect with this new crime novel, after all it takes something quite spectacular to live up to the billing ‘the crime debut of the year’ especially as it is only February!

To begin with we have the DI, Marnie Rome who has a troubled past. So far so normal for a crime novel, but in her case her back story include murdered parents which has left her determined to succeed in her job, although her personal life seems a little bleak. Her partner is DS Noah Jake, a Jamaican and gay, this presents no problems except with DS Ron Carling who is the macho policeman. However this is much more than a formulaic police procedural, this book is as much about why some of the crimes are committed as it is about how they were, and who did it.

Desperate to bolster their case against a suspect, DI Rome and DS Jake visit a woman’s refuge; they need the resident to make a statement about her treatment at his hands and walk in to find a man lying stabbed on the floor. The action starts with a bang but this turns out to be a nightmare of a case to investigate, the women are far from ideal witnesses but DI Rome is determined to find answers.

Set mainly in London in the present day with enough local references to anchor the reader, I would love to visit Marnie’s favourite café which sells French toast with cutlery warm and wrapped in a thick linen. There is a little jumping back in time mainly in relation to Marnie’s past but also a few excerpts from an unknown man set six months previously. These are all clearly headed so there is no risk of confusion.

This is just the sort of book I enjoy, there are so many different stories all playing out; those of Marnie, Noah, the social worker Ed and the female residents have clear personalities and stories to tell without slowing down the pace or preventing a bucketful surprises along the way. I lovely a book that makes you gasp and this one did. I literally worked out one bit of the puzzle a page before the reveal and it still shocked me. Not bad for someone has read as many crime novels as I have.

This was a brilliant read and I do hope this isn’t the last we hear of DI Rome as I for one thoroughly loved this protagonist as well as the reassurance that the crime genre still has a lot to offer its readers. For once I don’t think the publisher’s have got their claims wildly wrong!

I was extremely lucky to receive a free copy of this book from Lovereading as I am on their reviewing panel.  Someone Else’s Skin will be published by Headline on 27 February 2014.

Someone Else’s Skin – Amazon UK