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

Dark Waters – Mary-Jane Riley #BlogTour #BookReview

I was absolutely delighted when Mary-Jane Riley asked me to kick-off the Blog Tour to promote her latest book, Dark Waters having been a huge fan of the previous two books in this series which features journalist Alex Devlin.

I have interrogated Mary-Jane Riley about Dark Waters in the following Q&A Session.

Well Mary-Jane Dark Waters is the third in the journalist Alex Devlin series; is it getting easier to write the books now the character is developed or does it sometimes curtail how you’d like her to behave?

Hmm, interesting question, Cleo. I’ve always found Alex pretty easy to write. It’s like I’ve always known her, perhaps because there’s a bit (a lot?) of me in her. I do usually know how she will react to events, and that’s what makes writing the novels with her centre-stage so satisfying. It’s not what I want to happen but what Alex wants to happen, how she reacts, the decisions she makes. I hope she always behaves true to character, and there’s no point in making her do something she wouldn’t. Does that make sense?

Tell us a little about Dark Waters, was there a Eureka moment which inspired the novel?

Dark Waters begins with the discovery of two bodies on a boat on the Norfolk Broads. The idea of using the Broads wasn’t so much of a eureka moment of inspiration as a slow realisation…. The Bad Things is set on the Suffolk coast, After She Fell on the crumbling cliffs of North Norfolk, so for my third I felt I wanted to go inland. And then I thought about the atmospheric Broads and how a boat could stay moored for several days before anyone would wonder what was going on….. That was the basic premise and I built the novel up from there! Sometimes that’s all you need, and I asked myself the usual questions: who were the people who had died? How had they met their end? Why were they on the boat? Did they know each other? And so on. I think I have probably done a disservice to the Broads, though, it really is a gorgeous place to visit!

Do you have an idea what situations you are going to place poor Alex in next? Yes, that’s me checking that there is another book in the pipeline!

Yes. Oh, you want me to say more? Well… no, you’ll have to wait….

How long does it take to produce your first draft of each book? Yes, this is me trying to work out how long I have to wait for the next book!

It varies, and though I would love to be one of those people who writes the whole story as a first draft, I’m not. First of all I think about the story. A lit. Then I write bits, some of which will be scrapped. After that, when I think I know what I’m doing, I tend to write a third, then go back over that and edit. After the second third I’ve just about got the story I want to tell in my head or in my notebook as bullet points and can write the last third pretty quickly…or at least that’s what I’m telling myself as I’m just past that stage now! Then I read it through again and edit, and for my final edit I print it out and go through it. It probably takes about nine months in all.

You chose to set the series mainly in Norfolk with the memorable opening of two bodies being found on a barge in the county, however we also travel across the county boarder to Cambridge University. How much research do you do on the settings to make them feel so authentic?

I’m glad they feel authentic, thank you! I’ve lived in East Anglia for many years, and when I was a BBC reporter I travelled quite widely across Norfolk and Suffolk, so I know the area pretty well. My husband and I do take day trips out to the main places where the books are set – so Southwold for the The Bad Things, a village called Happisburgh for After She Fell and Wroxham and Ludham for Dark Waters. We do an awful lot of walking around and I take photos, and we usually ending up eating fish and chips. For the Cambridge section of Dark Waters I went to Cambridge, and I also spoke to a good friend who was at the university, so she could give me some insights!

In this episode, without giving too much away, Alex is having family problems. She really hasn’t had an easy ride so far in this area so I’m wondering do you secretly hate her or is it more that you enjoy showing her tenacious nature?

I love Alex! In Dark Waters she really suffers from being in the sandwich generation, don’t you think? Still trying to look after her son, Gus, and also her parents, particularly her father whose health is failing. I think it’s true of the lives of many women between, say, forty and fifty, don’t you? I do love how she battles through and survives both mentally and physically.

This book delves way back into the past in one strand of the storyline. I find this kind of storyline very appealing but wonder how hard is it to choose how much to reveal of the past when the main action is taking place in the present?

That’s another great question! I write the different strands separately and I’m not sure I actually ‘choose’ how much to reveal, it sort of happens naturally…. I suppose, thinking about it, that I look to that storyline as an echo of the past – I don’t want to overwhelm the present action. I usually end up cutting a lot of the past story, making it, hopefully, tighter.

Do you have a writing routine?

A very loose one…. I like to get some writing done in the morning after I have walked the dogs, even if only a little because at least I’ve got started. Hopefully I’ll do a couple of hours (with frequent breaks!) then maybe an hour after lunch and another hour early evening….that is in an ideal world….one I don’t really inhabit!

Do you read books in the same genre that you write in?

I do, I love the genre….reading and writing it. I enjoy a good thriller too and a long, rich saga!

What was your last read?

I have a couple of books on the go…. Wendy Cope’s new poetry collection Anecdotal Evidence, and an interesting spy thriller The Language of Secrets by Asuma Zehanat Khan, but that’s not what you’re asking is it! I have just finished Skitter by Ezekiel Boone, which is about man-eating spiders and the end of the world. I love a good sci fi /dystopian thriller…..

My Review

Crime Fiction
5*s

Wow, having fallen a little bit in love with tenacious journalist Alex Devlin at the start of this series; Where the Bad Things Are, there is always a tiny worry that your heroine can let you down. Oh no, this book opens with a frankly gruesome description of bodies decay and didn’t stop twisting my emotions hither and thither until I sadly turned the last page.

Two bodies are found dead in a barge on the Norfolk Broads and Alex just happens to be in the area at the time. Seeing a chance to make a scoop she chats to the boat owner and the police ringing her old boss Bud Evans to see if he’s willing to run a piece. Within a day or so the verdict of suicide being the one the police are going with unsurprisingly as the deceased connected over the internet on a suicide website. Now I love it when crime fiction takes in (the often depressing) contemporary twists and although I’d vaguely heard of such sites, I was interested to see the character’s take on them too.

As always Mary-Jane Riley spoils her readers with a number of different strands all being played out simultaneously giving the reader no chance to catch their breath. We have the most recent past covered to give us some idea of what has happened in the gap between the end of After She Fell and the start of Dark Waters. We see the family continue to come to terms with the actions of her sister which dominated the first book and we also visit Cambridge University in the early 1970s, in haunting extracts from a first year’s foray into this great place of learning.

I love the fact that Alex is a journalist rather than a Police Officer as that way she isn’t so bound by procedures, or the need to act as a team. Some of the lighter scenes see her negotiating a way to stay on the story when Bud dispatches Heath from the crime desk to file the story. The battle between doing a more worthwhile story rather than extreme coupon is so compelling that Alex, much to the disgust of her friend Lin, is prepared to use her free time to dig into the lives of those who died on the barge but only if Heath lets her in on what he’s found out so far. I wonder how often this kind of dynamic plays out in the world of the freelance journalist.
As in the previous two books, you can’t doubt that any of these characters are anything other than real people.

With so much action going on it must be easy for the author to lose the oomph that makes the characters who they are, but not Mary-Jane, each one from primary to secondary characters are absolutely alive and kicking (well apart from the dead ones!) The plotting is ingenious with the steps along the way being revealed at just the right point to keep the storyline moving forward without ever feeling that the author is holding out on us.

I raced through Dark Waters, thrilled to catch up with Alex, delighted with the twists and turns that this tale took us on and so I turned the last page, sad to say goodbye, until next time!

First Published UK: 16 March 2018
Publisher: Killer Reads
No of Pages: 332
Genre: Crime Fiction – Series
Amazon UK

Alex Devlin Series

The Bad Things
After She Fell


Synopsis

DARK WATERS is the third crime thriller in the series featuring journalist Alex Devlin. It begins with a macabre discovery on board a pleasure cruiser on the beautiful Norfolk Broads – the decomposing bodies of two elderly men. It appears the dead men did not know each other and police suspect an internet suicide pact.
Alex’s search for the truth reveals a darker story. She finds a connection between the two men and possible links to other unexplained deaths.

As she investigates further, the stakes rise and her own family becomes embroiled in the mystery. Her inquiries lead her to the University of Cambridge. Could the roots of the puzzle lie there with a tragedy that unfolded amongst a group of carefree students many years before?

Long-buried secrets come to the surface and Alex’s life and the lives of her family are on the line. As the past and the present collide, Alex questions everything she thinks she knows about those she loves.

Find Mary-Jane Riley on social media

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/maryjanerileyauthor/
Twitter: @mrsmjriley
Instagram: maryjanerileyauthor

Bio

Mary-Jane wrote her first story on her newly acquired blue Petite typewriter. She was eight. It was about a gang of children who had adventures on mysterious islands, but she soon realised Enid Blyton had cornered that particular market. So she wrote about the Wild West instead. When she grew up she had to earn a living, and became a BBC radio talk show presenter and journalist. She has covered many life-affirming stories, but also some of the darkest events of the past two decades. Mary-Jane has three grown-up children and lives in Suffolk with her husband and two golden retrievers.

DARK WATERS is her third crime thriller featuring investigative journalist, Alex Devlin.

If you like what you’ve read the links to buy the books are here!

Dark Waters
After She Fell 
The Bad Things 

 

Posted in #20 Books of Summer 2016, Book Review, Books I have read

Reconstructing Amelia – Kimberly McCreight

Psychological Thriller 4*s
Psychological Thriller
4*s

Kate Baron is a successful litigation lawyer and single mother to Amelia. Despite her hectic life Kate has made a success of their small family with time put aside to concentrate on Amelia to make up for the hours spent working late. Amelia used to have the company of her nanny who had looked after her since she was a small child but at fifteen Kate was persuaded by Amelia who argued she was too old.

One day Kate gets a call from Amelia’s school while she is in one of the most important meetings of her career, Amelia has been suspended, the matter to be discussed in person with the Headmaster. Later that day Amelia is found dead; soon classified as suicide but then Kate gets a text that claims that her daughter’s death wasn’t suicide at all. Kate sets about what really happened to Amelia and the texts, emails and social media pages, including a blog will make the most hardened adult wince.

This book quickly drew me in to the heart of the tale which is Kate’s belief that she knew her daughter but as soon as she starts investigating, she finds out that Amelia had secrets, lots and not just from Kate but from her best friend too. Female teenage friendships are complicated at the best of times but in the progressive American High School that Amelia attended there were also secret societies complete with initiation tasks and a complete stink, rather than a mere whiff, of bullying about them. Could membership, or not, really be behind the loss of life, of all that potential?

As the gap between mother and daughter is laid bare, the tension mounts as Kate is determined to uncover the truth and it would seem that there is more than one person who is determined to obfuscate what really happened that day. And the author manages that tension superbly with only too realistic text exchanges between Amelia and Ben, a friend from out of town, revealing one version of events whilst an anonymous blog is busy revealing the secrets of many of the pupils to all and sundry telling a slightly different one. We also get Amelia’s perspective of her life in the lead up to the fateful day as well as Kate’s in the present, and in the past – be warned, keep your eye on the dates that head up each narration to be sure where you are on the timeline!

This was a far more engaging read than I expected and there were plenty of secrets to discover but this is one of those reads where I think you have to go with the flow and not question some decisions and actions too closely, if you do you may find yourself wondering quite how likely some of the scenarios posed really are. This is a dramatic read, one that could make parents of teenage girls get into a spin and worry themselves stupid about the dangers of social media, but in many ways, although the book uses social media as a vehicle to illustrate Amelia’s life, at the heart of the book is a young girl’s loneliness and her need to be accepted by her peers, and that story definitely pre-dates facebook, mobile phones and emails. One thing is for sure Kimberly McCreight has created a haunting story which won’t be forgotten in a hurry!

First Published UK: 20 June 2013
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
No of Pages: 400
Genre: Psychological Thriller
Amazon UK
Amazon US

Posted in Book Review, Books I have read

The Beauty of the End – Debbie Howells

Psychological Thriller 3*s
Psychological Thriller
3*s

After her debut novel The Bones of You this author has chosen to provide us with another original idea as a premise for her second novel The Beauty of the End.

“I was fourteen when I fell in love with a goddess. Goddesses have that effect, even on teenagers such as I was. Being plump or uncool has no bearing on the ability to fall in love—and my fate was sealed.”

Noah Calaway is still haunted by the love of his life, his first love, April Moon. As he is cocooned from the world in the present day in his remote English cottage, writing a novel, he receives a phone call from an old friend Will. Will tells Noah that April is in hospital suffering from the overdose, but worse, she is accused of the murder of a man and will be arrested if she surfaces from her coma. Since Noah was a lawyer, and because he still loves April he races to the hospital where she is recovering and seeks to find out as much as possible about her life since he last saw her. He is convinced that April would never have resorted to violence, there must be another explanation.

This is a fairly slow-moving tale told in multiple time-lines between 1989 when Noah was fourteen and the present day. Told mainly from Noah’s viewpoint, he charts the ups and downs of their relationship until they parted when she left him shortly before their wedding. In amongst Noah’s narrative we have excerpts from a teenage girl having therapy; how Ella is related to the story is a mystery though.

This isn’t a book that rattles along, with the information drip-fed and the characters almost without exception either unlikable or plain weird, it did take a while to take shape but fortunately the rewards of sticking with both the pace and the characters is rewarded as the seeds sown early on in the book bear fruition.

The writing has a lyrical edge to it giving an almost dream-sequence feeling to some parts of the book which competed with the mystery angle of the murder, why April left Noah and who on earth is Ella? Lyrical it may be but the writing doesn’t flinch from packing an emotional punch every now and again with some painful truths being revealed.

“We were butterflies. Some of you fly, the rest of us get our wings ripped off. My wings had gone before I knew you. And I’m not sure wingless butterflies have anywhere to go.”

Although I was keen to understand what had happened, both in the years Noah and April had been apart as well as the investigation that Noah undertook, I’m not sure that I was fully engaged in the story itself partly because the latter parts of the story were a little bit too far-fetched which knocked my belief in the entire novel. This is definitely at the more literary end of the thriller selection of books and incredibly sad. In conclusion, if you are in the mood for a slow-burner with many layers, you can do far worse than to read this book.

I’d like to thank the publishers Kensington Books for allowing me to read a copy of this book which has led to this unbiased review.

 

Published UK: 14 July 2016
Publisher: Kensington Books
No of Pages 352
Genre: Literary Thriller
Amazon UK
Amazon US

Posted in Book Review, Books I have read

Kiss Me First – Lottie Moggach

Contemporary Fiction 4*'s
Contemporary Fiction
4*’s

I have to confess I really wasn’t sure about this debut novel by Lottie Moggachk until I was a good way through the story but it was worth persevering with. So what was the initial problem? I didn’t feel any empathy for either of the main protagonists Leila a young computer nerd whose mother died from MS or Tess a slightly older woman who suffered with bipolar disorder. I was also unsure how the depressing the read was going to be; suicide is not a comfortable subject for most of us.

The two women are introduced through Adrian, a forty-something man who runs a philosophy discussion website that Leila has become addicted to. When Adrian suggests that Leila takes over Tess’ life a project is born whereby all previous on-line conversations, memories and pictures are shared so that Tess’ friends and family will believe they are from her.

As the book continues the story comes together narrated by Leila describing how and why she agreed to carry on with Tess’ correspondence. The story is touching at times, has good points to make about journalism and once it pulled together is a good read.

Lottie Moggach is Deborah Moggach’s daughter and has clearly inherited her storytelling ability; hopefully more books will follow.