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 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

Blood Tide – Claire McGowan

Crime Fiction
4*s

I have followed this series set in Ballyterrin with Paula McGuire our brave yet personally conflicted protagonist and enjoyed each and every new outing but the change in setting to Bone Island complete with lighthouse definitely added something quite special to the already enjoyable mix.

Paula McGuire is living with her daughter Maggie in her parent’s old house in Ballyterrin while the man who so nearly became her husband in A Savage Hunger is in jail accused of murder, refusing to see her. Paula is still searching for the truth about what happened to her mother many years ago during ‘The Troubles.’ What makes this series quite so believable is this backdrop of times both past and present to the forensic psychologist’s life.

A call comes through to Paula as her role as a missing person specialist; a couple have gone missing from Bone Island. The lighthouse where they live is locked from the inside but there is no sign of Matt Andrew, a keen ecologist or his partner, the local doctor Fiona Watts. With a violent storm raging and some seriously closed lipped locals the sense of danger is never far away in this atmospheric and creepy novel. The weather almost acts as a character in its own right, hindering the search for the missing, adding danger to the trip to the island and of course preventing anyone who might want or need to, from leaving for safety.

Paula is conflicted, she wants to see the island to remind herself of the last holiday she spent with her mother Margaret and father P.J. now retired but formerly a Roman Catholic RUC Officer. On the other hand she has left her daughter in the capable hands of her best friend with her father and his second wife Kathleen.

Paula is a professional and she does her best to get beyond the silence and the half-truths that she is being fed. What she needs to discover is whether this treatment is the same for all outsiders or is it reserved for their visit?

There are a number of strands to the storyline in this the most tense and action packed of the entire series. As well as the obvious link of missing people, both past and present, we have a strand to do with the environment as well as the hostility of the small community to outsiders, but throughout it all Paula’s complicated personal life is given equal dominance. A troubled sleuth is hardly a rarity in crime fiction but Paula has no obvious vices although perhaps the complications could have been kept at arm’s length if she hadn’t decided to return to Ballyterrin and even the most generous reader has to admit that she could do with being a little bit sensible over her choice of relationships.

We might be spending our time on a windswept island full of strangeness, secrets and suspicion but back home the private investigator is continue his enquiries into Margaret’s disappearance along with looking for evidence to free Aiden. Will there be success on either front? Well… you’ll need to read Blood Tide for yourself to find out!

I’d like to thank the publishers Headline for providing me with a copy of Blood Tide, this unbiased review is my thanks to them.

First Published UK: 23 March 2017
Publisher: Headline
No of Pages:  352
Genre: Crime Fiction – Series
Amazon UK
Amazon US

The Paula McGuire Series

The Lost
The Dead Ground
The Silent Dead
Savage Hunger