Posted in Book Review, Books I have read

Only Child – Rhiannon Navin

Contemporary Fiction
4*s

This book reminded me a little of Room by Emma Donoghue as our narrator is a six year old child struggling to make sense of a terrifying event.

Zach is in a cupboard in the classroom with his teacher and classmates, through the door he can hear loud sounds and so despite having practised ‘lockdown’ events at school before he knows this isn’t a practice.

“Lockdown meant don’t go outside like for the fire alarm, but stay inside and out of sight.”

I have to admit I struggled, straight away, it never occurred to me, despite the rise of violence in schools, particularly in the US, that children practiced for these events in the same way we did the odd fire drill as children. There is no overt violence witnessed that day, or at least not by Zach who having described the noises from his hiding place, the obvious fear of the other little children and the smells as they waited for the all clear. Sadly there are some fatalities. It soon turns out one of them is Zach’s older brother Andy.

“I could pick whatever I wanted, she said, so I put in the dollar and pressed the button for Cheetos. That’s junk food, and most of the time it’s a no to junk food, but today was a no-rules day, remember?”

This was a hard book to read and not just for senselessness that we all feel when we hear about another school shooting. The hard part was witnessing the grief of this one family through a child’s eyes. The reason why is in part the reason why it was such a good idea to read this from a child’s perspective because children are more honest than adults.

“Yesterday we did all the things we do every Tuesday, because we didn’t know that today a gunman was going to come”

Andy had oppositional defiant disorder which in child’s terms meant he made his mother and father angry and sad a lot of the time, and he was mean to Zach and so at first from his childlike perspective maybe life at home will be easier without Zach?

“And I thought about how we didn’t know then that it was going to be the last normal day, or maybe we would have tried not to have all the same fighting we always have.”

Of course it isn’t like that, and as the grief drives Zach’s mother on to campaign for the shooter’s family to be held responsible for their actions, sadly in her mission to ensure they are punished, she seems to have overlooked Zach’s continuing trauma. Zach’s father returns to work and Zach is left to amuse himself which he does in touching and yet believable ways. Always important when you are reading from a child’s viewpoint. He is an appealing child, and the power in his character, as in the rest of the book, is that it is realistic. People don’t instantly turn into ‘angels’ when tragedy strikes, in fact they often do incomprehensible things, all completely understandable, but it is a brave author who shines the light on how this can play out for both the family involved, and the wider community.

This was a thoughtful book, it dealt far less with the initial crime than I expected and the authors insights and portrayal into ‘life after’ were hard-hitting and to an extent confront all sorts of emotions felt that can’t be easily expressed by adults as a different expectation is laid on those bereaved. I was completely tied into the story and ended the book with tears dripping off the end of my nose – this definitely belongs to that list of books whose characters I won’t forget in a hurry.

I’d like to thank the publishers Pan Mamillan for allowing me to read a copy of Only Child, This unbiased review is a thanks to them and the author for such a well-written, if emotional, story.

First Published UK: 8 Feb 2018
Publisher: Pan Macmillan
No of Pages: 352
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
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Posted in Book Review, Books I have read, Five Star Reads

Dead If You Don’t – Peter James

Crime Fiction
5*s

Well Roy Grace is back for the fourteenth time in Dead If You Don’t which in short is an action packed police procedural that shouldn’t be missed.

I am a huge fan of this series and always look forward to the next book more or less from the time I close the last page and so it may surprise you to hear I had a moment of disquiet when I realised the opening scenes featured a Kip Brown and his teenaged son, Mungo, going to a big game at the Amex Stadium. OK I got that it was an important match with the locals Brighton and Hove Albion against Manchester City no less but I’m no fan of football and out of all crime fiction storylines, bombs rank bottom of the pile. The Head of Security had been warned that a bomb was going to be left in the Amex stadium unless a payment in bitcoin was made before kick-off. Oh dear, was this going to be the one novel in this series I didn’t enjoy because of my dislike of the combination of football and bombs? No, of course it wasn’t because Dead If You Don’t isn’t just about bombs and football, that was just setting the scene for something far more complex.

We have big businessmen, near bankruptcy a bunch of criminals to keep everything spicy and Roy Grace at the match with his son Bruno. Glenn Branson is with security at the stadium keeping an eye out for the promised bomb and then it all kicks off aside from the football!

As always Peter James keeps things real with his thorough research with the police giving this series a real air of authenticity whilst still ensuring that the storytelling isn’t overwhelmed with procedures and policies. I love the team, Norman Potting is still his un-PC self although more subdued than he was at his most annoying. Glenn has also overcome many of his personal problems and is reaching for the next rung on the career ladder but there is little time for the personalities to go wild in this book because Roy Grace is busy co-ordinating a missing boy, a bomb scare, a dead drugs mule and a dismembered body. Quite a lot to take on in a weekend! Dead If You Don’t is almost wall-to-wall action so although we get snippets about Roy’s wife Cleo and his sons Bruno and Noah they are very much in the background, unlike some of the previous books.

This is a scary ride of a book indeed, nearly as scary as Norman Potting’s erratic driving as they race to a potential scene of a crime. It’s a measure of the skill of the writing that I felt I was alongside poor Roy Grace as he urged Norman to go faster than a snail’s pace only to nearly be swung into the path of a van when he complied.

I’m not going to say any more – this was just as good as all the previous books in the series, if anything it felt more action packed with the switch of focus from the police and their families to the criminals and their nastiness and seeming complete lack of morality. And the ending is fantastic – a little bit of a moral to round the whole shebang off!

I’d like to say thank you to Pan Macmillan for allowing me to read a copy of Dead If You Don’t before publication today. This unbiased review is my thanks to them and the talented author Peter James. Roll on episode 15!

First Published UK: 17 May 2018
Publisher: Pan Macmillan
No of Pages: 400
Genre: Crime Fiction – Crime Series
Amazon UK
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Roy Grace Series in order
Dead Simple
Looking Good Dead
Not Dead Enough
Dead Man’s Footsteps
Dead Tomorrow
Dead Like You
Dead Man’s Grip
Not Dead Yet
Dead Man’s Time
Want You Dead
You Are Dead
Love You Dead
Need You Dead

Posted in Book Review, Books I have read

The Good People – Hannah Kent

Historical Fiction 4*s
Historical Fiction
4*s

This is a book steeped in the folklore and superstition that I’m sure reigned worldwide at the beginning of the nineteenth century but possibly had its most ardent followers in the Irish countryside with its stories of fairies, changelings and many rituals to ward off evil.

Set in County Kerry in 1825 in a remote valley lying between the mountains of south-west Ireland,near the Flesk river we meet Nóra Lehay when she learns of the death of her husband Martin. Only earlier that year the pair had suffered the loss of their only daughter Johanna and as a result their four year-old grandson Micheál. Poor Micheál is unable to walk and Nora has kept him hidden from her neighbours but now with the house about to fill up with mourners, she decides to give him to her neighbour, Peg O’Shea to mind.

The women gather at the well and swap gossip and Nóra’s bad luck is part of the daily currency. Peg is more understanding, with Nóra struggling to cope as she refuses to take Micheál out of their home, she suggests she goes to the hiring fair to get herself a young girl to lend a pair of hands.

This book is beautifully written and I became immersed in the small house, the winter pressing down on an already bleak home. The simple lifestyle with the local handy woman dispensing herbs and cures for all manner of ills was easy to imagine with the lyrical writing and the occasional Gallic phrase served to add a layer of authenticity to what felt like a meticulously researched book. The superstitions that seemed so quaint at the opening of the book soon take a darker turn with many of the villagers reporting bad luck in the form of the drying up of milk from the cows and the lack of eggs from the hens. These basic needs are so important when the inhabitants are living from hand to mouth, and soon the murmurs of something causing the bad luck begin to turn into positive finger-pointing and some of those fingers point at Micheál.

There is no doubt at all that Hannah Kent knows how to tell a story, she is a master of the show and not tell with the various superstitions on which the villagers rely on are seamlessly interspersed throughout the tale. The atmosphere she creates as the backdrop oppressive with little relief and I felt that I was immersed in a world far away from my home comforts. The characters were well-drawn and although I wouldn’t have wanted to share the bleak winter with some of them, had enough of a back-story for me to understand them. This wasn’t after all a world where a battered wife could up sticks and leave. There is one woman, the handy woman, Nance Roche, who lives close to the part of the forest where the fairies are thought to dwell, whose life seemed to be a litany of hardship, and was one of many who illustrated quite how strong the survival instinct is. Her story combined with that of Mary the maid, just a young teen, confronted with caring for a young boy who couldn’t walk or talk and screamed through the night was almost too awful to imagine. The hardship was sadly all too easy to imagine.

The Good People is a heart-breaking novel which provoked a feeling similar to that I had when reading the author’s debut book Burial Rites, a feeling that the outcome was inevitable, yet I read it desperately hoping for something to happen that would change its course. The story is all the more devastating because like Burial Rites it is inspired by a real event.

I’d like to thank the publishers Pan Macmillan for allowing me to read a copy of The Good People ahead of the publication of the hardback on 9 February 2017.

First Published UK:  9 February 2017
Publisher: Pan Macmillan
No of Pages:  400
Genre: Historical Fiction
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Posted in Book Review, Books I have read

Death Comes Knocking – Graham Bartlett with Peter James

Non-Fiction 4*s
Non-Fiction
4*s

Death Comes Knocking is a non-fictional look at policing in Brighton, the place which is where the fictional Roy Grace carries out a similar role to that of the author of this book, Graham Bartlett worked his way up through the ranks to the position of Brighton’s Police Commander and during the course of his career has dealt with crimes and criminals of all shapes and sizes.

Sometimes policemen who turn their hand to writing go for the fictional genre, and can woefully overburden the reader with how different real-life work is to those of the fictional characters we all love. I think what Graham Bartlett along with Peter James, have produced is far more interesting because the real and the fictional feature alongside each other celebrating the similarities but adding a side-serving of realism to the proceedings.

In nineteen chapters the book follows Graham’s life through his career picking out cases which definitely appealed to this reader. The books starts hard when one criminal gang decide to pull the trigger at a fellow Police Officer, but there are also tales of stolen gems, drugs, murder, bent policemen and the strategic policing of events like football games and demonstrations. Many of these tales reference back to episodes in the twelve Roy Grace books written by Peter James.

The stories told are interesting because the authors concentrate on the characters involved as well as the crimes being committed. There is one very touching story about a man who got involved in drugs and other’s where the authors meet up with some of the named criminals and victims years later which provides far more than a list of facts, procedure and policy but gets to the real truth of how these crimes can have consequences many years down the line.

Bravely the author also documents his private life, telling us how, unlike Roy and Sandy Grace, his marriage has stayed strong despite life’s misfortunes and the unpredictability of working hours in the force. Only on a very few occasions, oddly enough when the author was describing some of his colleagues, did the writing style feel a little on the stilted side. It didn’t put me off reading the book but I did wonder if he was aware that they would be eagerly reading the book to see what he’d said about them?

Of course with a career that lasted for thirty years Graham has seen lots of changing in policing. Some of the changes he documents are the obvious ones such as the advent of DNA and the increase in CCTV and later other technology to help in the solving of crimes, but other less obvious to those of us on the outside have also changed over the years.

I am sure that this book will appeal to both those who enjoy ‘true-crime’ but don’t want to dwell on the infamous criminals, which these books usually focus on, and of course to lovers of Peter James’s Roy Grace series. The latter category of readers can hear a little about the real people who inspired, and gave their names too, some of the fictional characters in the books and more description about the actual places detailed in these novels.

Death Comes Knocking has a very informal feel for a non-fiction piece of work in this genre because of the links to the fictional but that was exactly what kept me reading. I was worried that it would be too dry for my taste but far from it, I was eager to hear about a forging operation run out of Brighton as much as I was the poor woman who was the victim of a stalker, the variety alone felt astonishing until you remember how many different crimes Graham must have worked on over his time in the police force.

My copy of Death Comes Knocking was sent to me by Midas PR on behalf of Pan Macmillan, the publishers. This unbiased review is my thank you to them, and the authors.

Publication Date UK: 14 July 2016
Publisher: Pan Macmillan
No of Pages 327
Genre: Non-Fiction
Amazon UK
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Posted in Book Review, Books I have read

A Twist Of The Knife – Peter James

Short Story Collection 4*'s
Short Story Collection
4*’s

I am a big Peter James fan with each one of his Roy Grace series being on my list of must purchase on publication date books. I’m not however a big fan of short stories although I admire those that are well-written but I don’t feel I get the same sense of satisfaction as reading a full-length novel.

Within this book there are thirty stories which is quite a collection including two Roy Grace stories, including one from his early days as a Detective Constable and a more recent Christmas outing when he helps out policing big entrance on Brighton Pier by parachuting in to deliver presents to children from a local hospice. There is also a short story which was the basis of the very first Roy Grace book Dead Simple.

There is also a collection which showcases the supernatural themes that grace other Peter James novels including a couple of true stories told to him by a local clergyman. I didn’t know that the Anglican Church officially employed a Minister of Deliverance who visits haunted houses, these stories even had this sceptic nearly convinced. Other themes include plenty of comeuppance for those entering into extra marital affairs, a fairly bleak look at the loss of shine in long-term marriages and a few that I’m convinced were moral boosters when the author turned forty (highlighted by the similar sentiments in two adjacent stories.) There are very short stories, less than a page and longer more in depth ones, and only one which I didn’t take to at all.

This is a great book to dip in and out of as a quick read and some of the twists quite unexpected, the last story in particular was quite gruesome but in most any harm done is off-stage so not too upsetting for gentler souls to read before going to sleep.

Many of these stories appeared in Short Shockers One and Short Shockers Two although I’m reliably informed that there are some new stories included. I’d like to thank the publishers Pan Macmillan ahead of publication date of 6 November 2014.

Posted in Book Review, Books I have read

Another Night, Another Day – Sarah Rayner

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

Sarah Rayner’s novel, One Moment, One Morning chief protagonist was Karen whose husband died suddenly on a train one morning. I was drawn into this story and sympathised greatly with Karen in her loss so I was thrilled to find out that Karen was one of the main characters in Another Night, Another Day.

In this book, also set in Brighton, she is attending Moreland’s Psychiatric Clinic and we are introduced to a wider cast of characters who are all at the clinic for mental health issues. Alongside Karen we follow Michael and Abby’s stories as they are all treated at the clinic.

This is a sympathetically written book which opens with two therapists at Moreland’s discussing the death of the patient. From then on each chapter focusses on each of the character’s lives, starting with their lives prior to entering the clinic. We see Michael struggling financially whilst hiding the details from his family, Karen trying to support her mother with her father’s illness and Abby who is overwhelmed with the imminent separation from her husband and who faces daily disapproval from others when out with her son, Callum, who is autistic.

The most interesting section of the book for me was the part set in the clinic where the reader gets an insight into the techniques used by the therapists to help the patients. At this point we are introduced to more of the patients, notably, Lilli a TV star, Colin and Rita with the interaction between the patients uplifting what could have been quite a depressing read.

Although I think many people are much more sympathetic than in previous times, to those suffering from mental health issues, this still needs improving and if a book like this can give others an insight into the different ways these illnesses affect sufferers then that can only be a good thing. I think the author managed to stay just about on the right side of the line between informing and preaching about the issues and the state of the NHS, although anyone who has a family member entering a NHS unit would be concerned reading the contrast between the cosy atmosphere in Moreland’s and the far more dangerous one in the NHS hospital.

This isn’t a plot or character driven book, it is more of a fictional accounts of problems that are suffered by many along with the wider families and because of this the pace is quite sedate despite the amount of issues covered. Despite that it is a very readable book which had me rooting for each and every one of the characters.

I’d like to thank the publishers Pan Macmillan for giving me a copy of this book in exchange for this honest review ahead of the publication date of 17 July 2014.

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

Want You Dead – Peter James

Crime Thriller 5*'s
Crime Thriller
5*’s

In the tenth outing for Roy Grace we meet Karl Murphy, ‘a decent and kind man, a family doctor with two small children whom he was bringing up on his own.’ Karl was not someone who expected that anyone could possible hate him enough to want him dead. After all when we meet him he is preparing for a date with Red Westwood, an estate agent he’d met through a mutual friend.

It isn’t very long until the bodies start piling up for Roy Grace, slightly inconveniently, as he is preparing for his wedding to Cleo complete with a short honeymoon without baby Noah. For me half of the pleasure in this series is meeting the characters who seem like old friends. Roy Grace is a solid Police Officer, heading up a team of distinct but likable characters in the now familiar Brighton and Hove. All my favourites are there, not unchanged, because that would be implausible, but still instantly recognisable such as the socially inept Norman Potting, Grace’s second in command, Glenn Branson, and the dedicated and tenacious Bella Moy. However this book’s focus isn’t merely about solving a crime, it about the crime, the perpetrator and the victim. The reader is one step ahead of Grace and his team via the narration by a man on a mission, a man with an obsession and a man who has a plan! We also have insight into the woman being hunted, the effects on her life and her family. And then we have Grace and his team trying to work out why, how and when the next devastating attack is going to be.

I always clear my schedule for the release of the latest in this series, which is a rare honour, because is that they are all immensely readable, ingenious plots, current and believable, in this case a little too believable for comfort. With reliable characterisation to back up this list of accolades it is one book of the year that I KNOW I am going to enjoy, this one was no different. Now, I’m looking forward to discovering what the wispy ends that have been left hanging, will tie up to next time.

This series stands head and shoulders among most of Peter James competitors something clearly illustrated in this novel.  It is a confident and accomplished writer that can produce a book that with plenty of surprises along the way that made me gasp, wince and stifle a sob, despite knowing more than Grace and his team and is one not to be missed for fans of this series. You haven’t read one? Why ever not? Start at the beginning with Dead Simple.

I would like to thank the publishers Pan Macmillan for providing me with a review copy ahead of the publication date of 2 June 2014 in return for this honest review.

Roy Grace Series by Peter James books in order:

Dead Simple
Looking Good Dead
Not Dead Enough
Dead Man’s Footsteps
Dead Tomorrow
Dead Like You
Dead Man’s Grip
Not Dead Yet
Dead Man’s Time
Want You Dead

Other books I’d recommend that feature stalkers

The Book of You – Claire Kendal
Sleep Tight – Rachel Abbott