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

Skin Deep – Liz Nugent

Psychological Thriller
5*s

I wondered when rigor mortis would set in, or if it already had.

Liz Nugent the author with the killer first lines does it again with her third novel Skin Deep! Not only is the first line a shocker she has confirmed to me that perhaps my preference in psychological novels is for the slow build rather than the flashy twists and turns. Slow burn should never be confused with boring, rather in the context of this book it means that every word matters, it has been considered and it means something.

Once I had cleared the bottles away and washed the blood off the floor, I needed to get out of the flat.

Cordelia Russell is living on the Côte d’Azur using her looks and her charm to get by. But her age is catching up with her, no longer do the gentlemen wish to buy her food and drink for the pleasure of her company. But what journey had Cordelia been on before she arrived and realised that beauty is only skin deep.

I could probably have been an actress. It is not difficult to pretend to be somebody else. Isn’t that what I’ve been doing for most of my life?

This is a novel that explores the very worst of human nature, it pulls the reader to places that they would rather not know, insistently, gradually but before you know it you are face to face with it. This is an author who makes you need to know more on one level although you are repelled on another. This is a book where whether it is descriptions of flies buzzing round a corpse, or descriptions of settings, whether that be the blue sea of the Mediterranean or the bleakness of the tiny Island of Inishcrann , which translated from the Irish language means The Island of the Tree, the words used easily conjure up everything.

At the start of Part One, we meet a young girl whose doting father calls her the ‘Queen of Inishcrann’ and she believes that is her destiny. She is the eldest of four children born to the islander and his American wife. The other three children are boys and not favoured by the father. And we all know what is likely to happen to spoilt little madams, don’t we? Well you might think you do…

In between the bleak life in the cold and the strange characters on the island we are treated to some folklore tales, those that root the island in the past. Horrid stories far from the fairy tales that we mock shudder at now. This just underpins the darkness, the bleakness and even if you can’t conceive of the ending, you know it will be bad. These are sinister tales that will play on your mind as much as the story unfolding before you.

The more books I read, the more I appreciate this kind of superb plotting. The kind that makes you want to read the first page, and go back to the beginning with your newly found knowledge as you know some fantastic magic has been woven but you want to see how the stiches were made.

If you want to feel empathy with the characters you read about, you will struggle with this book. This book isn’t populated with lovely people, although you might catch a glimpse of one or two trying to step out of the shadows. But in the main, those living on Inishcrann are superstitious and somewhat out of touch with the norms of life. Too few people trying to stop the authorities from declaring the island inhabitable, means that arguments are quick to flare, to fester and to poison. And as the little girl grows and moves away, to Ireland, perhaps the time for goodness has passed. But, you will be compelled by the characterisation, and it will be up to you to decide whether the character is born, or made.

This is the third book that I have read by Liz Nugent, each one easily gaining five star status and each one leaving me amazed at the blackness of her imagination and gratitude that she sets it out with such graceful and engaging writing.

I would like to say a huge thank you to Penguin UK for allowing me to read a copy of Skin Deep prior to publication, today, 5 April 2018. This unbiased review is my thanks to them and the author, Liz Nugent for a dark compelling read.

First Published UK: 5 April 2018
Publisher: Penguin
No of Pages: 368
Genre: Psychological Thriller
Amazon UK
Amazon US audible only


Previous Books by Liz Nugent

Unravelling Oliver WINNER of IBA Crime Fiction Book of the Year 2014
Lying in Wait Featured in the Richard and Judy Spring 2017 Book Club

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

The Killing House – Claire McGowan

Crime Fiction
5*s

For the sixth episode in this series set on the border between North and South Ireland Paula Maguire returns to Ballyterrin from her new London home for a wedding. Home to where her determination to discover more about her mother’s disappearance when she was just a teenager are strongest.

This is the best series about ‘The Troubles’ that I have read. Paula Maguire’s personal story along with those of her friends, including Aiden whose father was shot dead when he hid under a table as a young boy, really underline what it was like for those who lived there at this time. But the series isn’t just about the past, in this book two bodies have been found at a remote farmhouse and Paula Maguire is asked, as a former member of the missing persons team, and forensic psychologist, to find out who they were.

As in the previous books in the series, Paula’s work in the present is told alongside her determination to understand the past. This is easier said than done when what she discovers could be devastating for her former Police Officer father and the life he now has as husband, father and grandfather. Paula Maguire is just the type of protagonist I like most, she is brave and yet conflicted, she makes mistakes and she tries to put them right and she loves and loses along the way – in other words under Claire McGowan’s pen she has truly come to life.

I love the style of storytelling, and in The Killing House, we are transported back in time to hear the voice of one person held by the punishment team who have them held captive to find out the information for their cause. There are some horrific characters in this book but all held together by the basic goodness of many others, even those who may have done wrong in the past. The author has a way of differentiating between those who got caught up in the times, and those who enjoyed being part of it, exceptionally well so that the reader is able to look at this point in history at a personal level.

The current investigation, and the resultant politics which take into account the peace process are fascinating to learn about. The legal challenges in respect of crimes committed many years ago are put into the context of how the victims and their families, and of course the police officers, are trying to bring comfort in the form of knowledge, without the firm expectation that those who killed will face a trial. This book is full of the action which also underpins the series with danger around many a corner for all involved. There were many fast page-turning moments where I was on the edge of my seat wondering what would happen next.

There is never any doubt at all about the setting, the turns of phrase, without going to ridiculous lengths to recreating the accent, remind you on every page, the remoteness of some of the places describe and of course the interactions between the characters which are both heart-warming at times and so very practical at others.

I suspect that this is the last in this series, and I will miss Paula and what a ride it has been! This book has been meticulously plotted to ensure that the story arc which precedes it is wrapped up properly and although I think the time was right, I will miss the characters which I have invested in over the entire series. It was lovely to be given a proper conclusion to Paula’s personal story which I’m sure mirrors, at least in part, the stories of many others who lived through this time.

As this is what I suspect is the final episode in the series, I wouldn’t recommend starting with this one, you really should read the books in order.

I’d like to thank the publishers Headline for providing me with a copy of The Killing House, which will be published on 5 April 2018. This unbiased review is my thanks to them, and of course the author for a brilliant and satisfying read.

First Published UK: 5 April 2018
Publisher: Headline
No of Pages: 336
Genre: Crime Fiction – Series
Amazon UK
Amazon US

The Paula McGuire Series

The Lost
The Dead Ground
The Silent Dead
Savage Hunger
Blood Tide

Posted in Book Review, Books I have read

The Trick to Time – Kit de Waal

Contemporary Fiction
4*s

Love and loss are the big questions that most of us have to deal with in life which on the one hand makes them universal but of course each love is different as is each loss. Kit de Waal has penned an almost understated story populated by seriously lovely characters devoted to the subject.

Mona sits in her flat in London staring at the day dawning when she notices a man in the block across the way from her. He is also awake and looking out, perhaps reaching out to those around him.

I wanted to both be friends with Mona and mother her, an odd combination particularly as she celebrates her sixtieth birthday during the course of this book. She’s a doll-maker, real old-fashioned dolls are made from wood by the carpenter and painstakingly painted and dressed by Mona and then sold, often to overseas buyers in Japan and America. Each doll is unique with a similarly unique wardrobe. Mona has a shop too and here she works day in day out with young Joley with her big boots and crop tops assisting her. Twice a year she meets her old friend Val from Birmingham, where Mona lived in the early 70s.

Mona also offers a personalised service for bereaved mothers and this is her side-line. Not one that is advertised or has a website like the dolls, but one where people are referred for help when a baby has died. In short Mona is a lovely lady with a big heart and whilst that had probably always been the case, we learn what led her to both professions by going back to the beginning when a young girl crossed the Irish Sea and made a life for herself in Birmingham. Living in a boarding house over time she meets William and so this becomes their story.

This is a gentle book which doesn’t mean boring, in fact far from it. The Trick to Time is fearsomely well-written and despite the subject matter it never descends into mawkishness, but rather I was impressed by Mona’s strength, although like her friend Val couldn’t help but feel that perhaps she should put herself first once in a while.

The book shifts backwards and forwards in time pulling in the details of Mona’s childhood, her mother’s illness, her father’s steadfastness and the ongoing sense of obligation to her distant relation Bridie. Ireland was too stifling for many youngsters at the time and so they moved to Birmingham where they stayed in boarding houses and missed their homes. Mona’s time in Birmingham is full of colour, of love and telephone calls across the water, but nothing stays the same, the trick to time is making the most of the good times.

Although this review mentions just a few characters, there are lots, all exquisitely detailed, and on the whole they are lovely people, unlike the majority that perhaps populate my normal reading matter. This is, like My Name is Leon, undoubtedly a character led novel with a message, but not one that the author feels she needs to force, her writing gives us all and I think that The Trick of Time will touch many people’s lives on a personal level, after all, most of us will love and lose throughout our lives.

I’d like to say a huge thank you to Penguin Books UK who allowed me to read an advance copy of The Trick to Time ahead of publication in the UK on 29 March 2018. This unbiased review is thank you to them and the very talented Kit de Waal who bought Mona into my life.

First Published UK: 29 March 2018
Publisher: Penguin Books UK
No of Pages: 272
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Amazon UK
Amazon US

Posted in Book Review, Books I have read, Mount TBR 2018

And the Birds Kept on Singing – Simon Bourke

Contemporary Fiction
4*s

Manchester 1984 seventeen year old Sinéad McLoughlin is in Manchester, staying with a relative about to give birth. The plan is to hand the child over for adoption and return home to Dooncurra, a small town in the southeast of Ireland and carry on with her life as if nothing had happened. Of course there is the small matter of hiding the details from her parents Patricia and Noel, after all being pregnant at seventeen is not the done thing even in 1984 where she comes from, but she’ll cross that bridge when she comes to it.

Sinéad gives birth to her son, and in one version she carries out her plan, the baby being handed to infertile Margaret and Malcolm Philliskirks believing that this is the best future she can offer her son, in another she names her son Seán, and keeps him.

I enjoy a good ‘sliding-doors’ novel and there are few greater decision points in life than whether or not to keep your son or hand him over for adoption so this is one with the stakes already raised sky high.

In one version we follow Seán, through life, eventually growing up in the same town that Sinéad fled. The consequences of her decision reverberating through the family and her son’s life from thereon in. In the other version Margaret and Malcolm are thrilled to be a family but the exited beginnings don’t guarantee a happy-eve-after for them or their son with all the normal events that can effect any family reverberating through the Philliskirks’ life too.

Ultimately this is a coming of age story, or rather two stories. On the one hand Seán could be seen as a product of his beginnings, an Irish boy surrounded by what felt to be an authentic look at life in a small town through the nineties, on the other Jonathan, who grew up in England a boy who has to come to terms with being adopted.

For a ‘sliding-doors’ story to work the two paths have to diverge to ensure the reader follows without too much confusion and of course those characters and events that appear, however infrequently in both stories, need to be consistent. Simon Bourke handles the problems that could trip-up the unwary novelist with ease. This is an author who is skilled at characterisation and in particular, Seán’s story is incredibly powerful giving rise to a real understanding of who this boy is, how he thinks and critically how he reacts. Jonathan’s story is told slightly more remotely but ultimately is no less powerful for that.

Be warned, this is at times a heart-breaking story and unusually for my reading, the teenage scenes being told by a man about a man can be quite difficult to read. There is swearing, drugs and sex with plenty of forays into a teenage boy’s imagination which lend a very sharp edge to the storytelling. This is also a book that made me shed some tears, although at other times it had me smiling at the relationships between siblings, parents and their children, and friendships. There are all manner of interactions without exception giving the reader that feeling of reality which can be hard to pull off, especially in a wide cast of characters.

An enlightening look at a fairly recent past told with a range of emotions and spell-binding for the force of the characters, And the Birds Kept on Singing is one powerful debut novel.

And the Birds kept on Singing is my nineth book I’ve read for my Mount TBR Challenge 2018 having been purchased in August 2017 so I gain another third of a book token! That’s three books earned!

 

First Published UK: 2017
Publisher: CreateSace Independent Publishing Platform
No of Pages: 596
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Amazon UK
Amazon US

Posted in Blog Tour, Book Review, Books I have read

Turning for Home – Barney Norris #BlogTour #BookReview

Contemporary Fiction
4*s

A Grandfather on his eightieth birthday and his grand-daughter a mere quarter of a century old are the figureheads for the talented Barney Norris’s latest book, Turning For Home but don’t be mislead this is far deeper than the conventional birthday gathering where memories are both revived and made.

Robert Shawcross is eighty and despite the loss of his wife the year before he is holding his annual birthday party, the one Hattie his wife instigated when he was forty, originally conceived as an opportunity for the scattered family to gather. The party itself has diminished over the last few years with the decline in the older family members but Hattie’s sister Laura has taken up the baton and is there preparing the food for the gathering.

Robert is moved to reflect on his life, a civil servant he spent much of his time in Belfast and was there at the time of the Enniskellen bombing on Remembrance Sunday in 1987. A bomb which killed many civilians, missing the British Troops it was planned to kill. The reflection of this time is prompted by the arrest of the Sinn Fein Leader in 2014, the news hitting the press just before Robert’s big party. The Boston Tapes were recordings of interviews carried out with Loyalist and Republican paramilitaries between 2001 and 2006 on the understanding that they would not be published until the interviewee was dead, what it seems no-one had appreciated was that these men could implicate those still living, leading to the arrest of Gerry Adams following a police probe.

So we have real life events based on the ‘Troubles’ with both the Enniskellen bombing and the Boston Tapes but Barney Norris chooses smaller more intimate stories against this gigantic backdrop. We have Robert’s story, the part he thinks he played in the negotiations towards peace along with recognition that he was one small cog in a whole bigger wheel, told alongside his Grand-daughter, Kate’s tale whose far shorter life hasn’t been without its own struggles. Her story is less clear to begin with but with incremental revelations we see a young woman who had much to live for until tragedy struck and her life derailed leading to a spell in hospital. Kate’s story is of loss and of her search for something that perhaps will never materialise. This is a story of families who never really know the truth about each other and individuals who struggle with the gaps between the truth and hope.

And I think perhaps it’s very human as well. Isn’t the life of any person made up of the telling of two tales, after all? People live in the space between the realities of their lives and the hopes they have for them.

This is a deeply poignant book, as books about characters nearing the end of their life are bound to be in some respects but it also has a message of hope. That just because the space between reality and dreams is wider than we’d like shouldn’t stop us from trying. Kate’s story is painful to read at times but worth persevering with, seeming just as relevant to this reader as the wider canvas that is its backdrop.

Barney Norris gives us both stories, interspersed with extracts from the Boston tapes, with lyrical prose and real depth. The struggles the two character’s face being unique to them but the language used will strike a chord as it charts the rise and fall of human emotions that are common to all of our lives.

A fantastic tale of betrayal, of love and hope and all the great emotions we ride throughout our lifetimes bought down in scale reflected through two people’s eyes, hearts and minds.

I’d like to thank the publishers Transworld who allowed me to read a copy of Turning for Home before publication on 11 January 2018, a book I was keen to read having thoroughly enjoyed Barney Norris’s debut novel Five Rivers Met on a Wooded Plain as well as Anne Cater for inviting me to be part of this blog tour. This unbiased review is my thanks to them and of course the author, Barney Norris.

First Published UK: 11 January 2018
Publisher: Transworld Books
No of Pages:272
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Amazon UK
Amazon US

Don’t forget to catch the other stops on the Turning For Home Blog Tour which runs until 17 January 2018!

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

The Heart’s Invisible Furies – John Boyne

Contemporary Fiction
5*s

I’m going to start this review with a serious confession – I requested this book by accident, without even having read the blurb so when it appeared on my shelf I was let’s say ambivalent at best about reading – thank goodness I didn’t realise how long it was (592 pages) before I put it on the spreadsheet that must be obeyed! Well this was the best mistake (and there are a few to choose from) in 2017!

For all that it’s hard to explain just why I loved it so much without giving away any more than the synopsis, so please bear with me while I alternately gush and mush this review.

The Heart’s Invisible Furies is the story of Cyril Avery’s life, from before he was born in 1945 until old age creeps in 2008 and a bonus piece beyond. Yes, I know that sounds like a saga, and it is, but not like any saga I have ever read. What it does have in common with that now unfashionable style is the depth of character that is gained by the sheer length of time covered, but John Boyne has decided that we will only catch up with our protagonist every seven years which means that the first time we meet him, he is a school boy living with his parents Charles and Maude in Ireland. But do not think that a seven-year old boy has nothing worth hearing, the scene is being set with an event that Cyril will carry forward with him and this characterises the beauty of the book; it might be a long book but nothing said ever feels like a filler, each part has either a meaning or its importance will become apparent later on.

I was drawn into the story right from the start with one of the most memorable openings I’ve read in a long while and although I didn’t have any preconceptions (that’s what happens if you choose a book with no more knowledge than the most famous book for children which the author had written) the style was far funnier than those absent preconceptions had anticipated.

But for all they never fought. Maude’s way of dealing with Charles was to treat him like an ottoman, of no use to anyone but worth having around.

That’s not to say this book is one big hoot, it definitely isn’t, to read it is to ride the highs and the lows of Cyril’s life with him as this shy, solitary schoolboy grows into a teenager and then to a man where he becomes a civil servant and beyond where he ventures out of Ireland.

The work itself was incredibly boring and my colleagues a little irritating, the engines of their days fuelled by personal and political gossip.

Sitting next to the vacuous and highly unfocused Miss Ambrosia

She generally had at least five men on the go, everyone from barmen to dancehall entrepreneurs, showjumpers to pretenders to the Russian throne, and had no shame in juggling them like some nymphomaniacal circus act.

The everyday scenes have imprinted themselves on my mind and I was soon willing things to work out for Cyril, because here we have a man who every time things seem to be working out, life has an uncanny knack of knocking him off his stride.
Of course just like in real life, some characters only appear for one of the seven year sections alongside Cyril, whilst some appear then fade into the background before reappearing, and some, sadly are with us for a few sections before disappearing completely. What never happens is that you are bored of any of the rich array of men and women who walk alongside Cyril.

And yet for all that this is a book which has something important to say, most obviously about Ireland and the position the church held, and the way they treated women and other sections of society, but along with the markers to show the passing of time, none of this is driven home in an unnecessarily heavy-handed way.

To bring this rambling and frankly unstructured review to a close, I will just say that I adored this book. I was deeply annoyed that I read it in the run up to Christmas, a time when it was necessary to put the book aside and engage with the three-dimensional people and do endless chores, all the time longing to get back to Cyril Avery and his tragedies and triumphs, the heart-breaking moments which are underpinned with its almost playful look at the absurdities of life.

I’d like to say a huge thank you to the publishers for providing me with a copy of The Heart’s Invisible Furies, allowing me to laugh and yes, sob, with Cyril Avery, this review is my thank you to them and of course the accomplished John Boyne. I just have to say if you read this book, and it is at a bargain price on kindle at this very moment, then do read the afterword by the author which is touching and heartfelt and explains where the inspiration for this book came from.

First Published UK: 17 February 2017
Publisher: Transworld
No of Pages: 592
Genre: Contemporary Fiction 
Amazon UK
Amazon US

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

Sweet Little Lies – Caz Frear

Crime Fiction
5*s

Cat Kinsella is a Detective Constable in the Met, in keeping with the fictional detectives we know and love she does a bit of a shady back-story and is being closely mentored by the SIO DCI Kate Steele after falling to pieces following a recent murder but as we are to find out there is something far darker in her background.

This is a police procedural with a dash of psychological thriller elements and has an overwhelming original feel to it that I was drawn in instantly into Cat’s tale. With the majority of the book set in the present day at the Met following the discovery of a woman’s body in park in Islington, London. What Cat doesn’t tell her fellow officers is that she knows the victim, Maryanne Doyle, or rather knew her, from a holiday to Mulderrin, on the west coast of Ireland back in 1998. Cat was just eight whilst Maryanne was a glamorous teenager who had no time for little kids, unless they had a Tinkerbell necklace that matched her belly button piercing. You’ll have to read the book to find out what that little mystery is about because as the readers find out first-hand through the younger Cat’s eyes as we travel back in time, most convincingly, to an age when Cat was keen on the Spice Girls, adores her father although the secrets they share sometimes make her feel uncomfortable. Why? Well she saw him flirting with Maryanne Doyle before she disappeared sparking a police search, and then he told the police he didn’t know her.

For all the frivolity of the Spice Girls and the like from the 1990s and the appealing character of Cat, at both ages, this book has a complex plot and the investigation throws up all sorts of problems not least when Maryanne’s husband realises that what he thought he knew about her life was false with a capital F. The officer’s biggest problem is to try to sift the truth from the lies. That brings me to the title, none of the lies are ‘sweet’ or even ‘little’ so perhaps Caz Frear should be held accountable for a misleading title? I forgive her though because this is definitely one of the most enjoyable books I’ve read this year. As Cat struggles with her feelings towards her father, her fears that he knows more than he’s letting on this is a portrait of a dysfunctional family that doesn’t go overboard. Instead we are treated  a family who to the untrained eye rubs along as well as most, even if Cat is keen to avoid them over the festive turkey!

The author has balanced the need for memorable characters in the police procedural without letting their lives overshadow the crime itself. Although I was rooting for Caz, I liked this young woman who was living what I imagine is a fairly typical contemporary life, in a room in a house in London, no fancy riverside apartments for our detective! She has split loyalty of the most fundamental kind and so it is easy to wonder not only what she is going to do, but what I would do in the same position.

With brilliant characterisation alongside inspired plotting this is a book that you will not want to put down until you turn that last page. I’m not at all surprised that it won the Richard and Judy Search for a Bestseller Competition 2016, it is very hard to believe that a book that ticks all the boxes so decisively is a debut novel.

I’d like to say thank you to the publishers Bonnier Zaffre who sent me a copy of Sweet Little Lies  months ago, before it was first published in June! I’m sorry it took me so long to get around to reading it but belated thanks for allowing me to read such a fresh and inviting book. I can’t wait to see what Caz Frear comes up with next.

Crime fiction lovers, if you haven’t read this book yet it appears to be at an absolute bargain price for the kindle with the paperback version having been published just this week.

First Published UK: 29 June 2017
Publisher: Bonnier Zaffre
No. of Pages:  470
Genre: Crime Fiction
Amazon UK
Amazon US

Posted in #20 Books of Summer 2017, Book Review, Books I have read

The Doctor’s Wife is Dead – Andrew Tierney #20booksofsummer

Historical True Crime
4*s

On 1 May 1849 Ellen Langley dies in Nengh, County Tipperary the local women gather and stone the house she was living in. Meanwhile Doctor Langley tried to go about the business of removing Ellen’s body from the house; he did, she spent two days in the garden.

This is the account of one woman’s life, a fairly indistinct figure and her sad demise and one that serves as a commentary on how women were both viewed and treated at this time, with a focus on the laws in Ireland at the time. It is clear, for whatever reason, Ellen Langley had been cast aside by her husband and in 1849 that put her in a very precarious position indeed.

This was an interesting read although the explanation of the convoluted family relations slowed pace of the book with mini-biographies of countless kith and kin, fortunately there are some family trees at the start of the book to assist the reader.

Following these early explanations we then move onto the part of the book which was far more interesting, the inquest where Doctor Langley seems at pains to exonerate himself from the faintest whiff of suspicion of wrongdoing. As a Protestant man of social standing, a man who had attended inquests as an expert witness at previous murder trials (there was far more serious crime in County Tipperary at this time than I’d imagined) it is possible that the Doctor was just pre-empting any rumours, after all the fact that his marriage to Ellen had not been happy in the last few months was no secret. Or his efforts to appear innocent were those of a man who was trying to disguise his guilt?

One of the things that always strikes me about historical true crime is how much faster the wheels of justice tended to move in those days. Archaeologist Andrew Tierney has certainly dug deep to find the documents that detail the court proceedings and has resisted what surely must have been a big temptation to flesh Ellen out with more details than are actually available. As a result she remains a shadowy being which made me feel all the more compassionate for this woman who represents so many of her time.

You can’t have a historical account in Ireland without links the conflict between the Catholics and the Protestants and while this doesn’t overshadow the court case it is useful to have the context, if only to gain an understanding of social standing. Alongside that, Ellen died during the potato famine and the author paints a desperate picture of the effect this had on the local population, the contrast between the rich and the poor being readily apparent.

This is a worthy addition to my historical true crime collection and the arrogance and lack of compassion from some players in the court room, all men of course, women were not allowed at this time, was so blatant it defied belief at times, but there is a lot to keep the reader’s attention. And then we get to the ending, court case over, The Doctor’s Wife is Dead leaves us with a surprise discovery which left me shocked.

The Doctor’s Wife is Dead was my fourth read of my 20 Books of Summer  Challenge 2017

First Published UK: 23 February 2017
Publisher: Penguin
No of Pages: 282
Genre: True Crime – Historical
Amazon UK
Amazon US

Posted in Book Review, Books I have read

In Deep Water – Sam Blake

Crime Fiction
4*s

I do like it when despite being part of a series, the author takes an entirely different scenario for their subsequent book. Yes we have Cat Connolly, a boxer, feisty and willing to do what she thinks is right in her role in Garda Síochána, but rather than a crime that spanned generations which we had in Little Bones, In Deep Water focus is on a crime which is very much of the present when journalist, Cat’s best friend and training partner Sarah Jane Hansen goes missing.

The first inkling that all is not well is when Sarah Jane fails to make a training session with Cat and her coach and doesn’t answer her phone. When Cat takes a call from Sarah Jane’s mother saying that she’s worried and her husband Ted Hansen, a reporter for CNN currently on location had warned her off a story, it isn’t long before Cat formally reports her friend as a missing person.

One of the pleasures of reading series is that the successful ones develop the key characters by adding layers to what has already been gleaned; Sam Blake has fully achieved this brief as by the very nature of having Cat investigate the disappearance of her friend, we get to see more of her vulnerabilities. After the investigation in the first book we have more of an insight into her relationship with her boss, DI Dawson O’ Rourke, a man who has become more protective of her following the mental and physical scars that resulted from their previous investigation. This interplay is entirely convincing, a bonus as I do like to feel that what I read in crime fiction is realistic. Fortunately despite the horrifying end to the last book, it soon becomes clear that Cat, despite her struggle to regain her previous fitness levels, was her desire to be a profiler within Garda Síochána and so she is studying as well as training and working. I have to be honest Cat’s schedule exhausted me just reading about it.

Sam Blake doesn’t neglect the secondary characters either, each one was well-drawn and yet distinct and pleasingly quite diverse while avoiding the easy short-hand clichés. We meet the highly successful business men and women, the coach with his own battle scars, a young boy with autism and some young women who are living a life I simply didn’t want to imagine.

There is no doubt that this was a superbly well-researched novel, a proper police procedural with the aspects of the investigation qualified with plenty of explanations which only rarely impinged on the flow of the storyline.
In Deep Water steps into the darker areas of crime, giving the book a real edgy feel helped along by plenty of action. This is one scary ride as the team retrace Sarah Jane’s last known movements, a journey that takes in the seedier aspects of life, one that if dwelt upon could be very depressing. Fortunately with many strands of storyline to juggle there is no time to dwell as this accomplished author pulls the strands skilfully together.

I’d like to thank the publishers Bonnier Zaffre for allowing me to read a review copy of In Deep Water and for Sam Blake for writing such an enjoyable read. This review is my unbiased thanks to them.

First Published UK: 6 April 2017
Publisher: Bonnier Zaffre
No of Pages: 416
Genre: Crime Fiction – Series
Amazon UK
Amazon US

Posted in Book Review, Books I have read

The Escape – C.L. Taylor

Psychological Thriller
4*s

Jo Blackmore has suffered from agoraphobia since the death of her unborn child but she’s got strategies for coping and manages to hold down a job by sticking to rigid rules. Those rules are breached when she is asked to give a lift to a woman on her way to picking up her young daughter Elise from nursery. Paula doesn’t give Jo much of an option to refuse, and once in the car she returns one of Elise’s mittens with the warning:

“Look after your daughter’s things. And your daughter…”

Well can you just imagine the panic especially when it becomes clear that she knows all about Jo, her husband Max, a crime reporter and of course Elise. Jo’s fight or flight mechanism goes into overdrive!

The Escape is full of tension from that bizarre car journey onwards we see Jo juggling her anxiety, her step-father’s illness and her husband’s increasing lack of patience with her. Jo suspects that Max, a crime reporter has led her into danger. Paula, the woman who accosted her, has made it clear he has something that belongs to her, and she wants it back! Max denies all knowledge and Jo is left with few places to turn for help.

The cliché rollercoaster is absolutely the right one to use for this book, but the plot itself has a number of pleasing variations on the theme. In one of the best we discover that Jo is also seeking answers to her early years. She remembers little of her life in Ireland before she moved to the UK with her mother, and her mother has remained tight-lipped about it becoming quite upset when Jo wanted to know more. So naturally when she needs somewhere to lay low, she takes a trip to get some answers. The scenes set in Ireland were fantastic, but the change in scenery isn’t used as an excuse to drop any of that tension, no it is transported across the water with Jo. Now we have the pounding February waves and the bitter winds to accompany the swirling secrets and lies… and danger!

Cally Taylor is the mistress of lifting the stones in a domestic situation and allowing all the creepy crawlies out to unsettle her readers by bringing to the fore the most instinctive of reactions. In The Escape the nightmares of parents the world over are given clarity and it is impossible to resist the ‘What would I do?’ questions run through your mind. It is interesting how the author has chosen not to provide us with an easy to like character and then made me root for her nonetheless and made me admire the writing all the more for the fact. It wasn’t that I disliked the character more that I wished she would have a little more spunk – but then, just maybe, she wouldn’t have needed to escape!

I’ve enjoyed all the authors previous books, she provides us with true-to-life characters thereby instantly stamping realism into the storyline and not just with the main protagonists. I was particularly fond of the B&B owner who having been shouted at by Jo then huffily sets her breakfast down without a word – this is how real people behave, it is rare to have rolling confrontations, and the reader is left in no doubt what her real opinion of Jo was.

The Escape was a thrilling read; it is definitely one of those books to open and then hold on tight and enjoy each and every page.

I’d like to thank the publishers Avon Books for my copy of The Escape which was published on 23 March 2017. This unbiased review is my thanks to them.

First Published UK: 23 March 2017
Publisher: Avon Books
No of Pages:  433
Genre: Psychological Thriller
Amazon UK
Amazon US

Books by C.L. Taylor

The Accident
The Lie
The Missing