Posted in Rachels Random Resources

The Lost Notebook by Louise Douglas.

A notebook full of secrets, two untimely deaths – something sinister is stirring in the perfect seaside town of Morranez…

It’s summer and holidaymakers are flocking to the idyllic Brittany coast. But when first an old traveller woman dies in suspicious circumstances, and then a campaign of hate seemingly drives another victim to take his own life, events take a very dark turn. Mila Shepherd has come to France to look after her niece, Ani, following the accident in which both Ani’s parents were lost at sea. Mila has moved into their family holiday home, as well as taken her sister Sophie’s place in an agency which specialises in tracking down missing people, until new recruit Carter Jackson starts.

It’s clear that malevolent forces are at work in Morranez, but the local police are choosing to look the other way. Only Mila and Carter can uncover the truth about what’s really going on in this beautiful, but mysterious place before anyone else suffers. But someone is desperate to protect a terrible truth, at any cost…

Louise Douglas’s latest novel has a slow start, but then drew me in as it delved into the past and the Balkan War. We are in a small seaside town in Brittany where Mila and her cousin Sophie grew up. Now Mila is back with her life turned upside down. In London she was starting to write her novel and enjoying her relationship with boyfriend Luke, in fact they have even talked about marriage. Then across the channel something terrible happens. Sophie and her husband are lost at sea, leaving their teenage daughter Ani an orphan. Mila’s aunt asks her to travel over to Brittany, to help with their business and bring some comfort to Ani. Mia and Ani have been living in the sea house for a few months now and Mila has so many mixed feelings about looking after her niece. She loves Ani, but isn’t sure she’s very good at being a parent. She finds it hard to have the tough conversations and thinks that Ani will be much better off when she flies out to the Swiss boarding school she’s enrolled at for the new term. Mila is sure they’ll be better trained to deal with a bereaved teenage girl than she is. When Ani disappears one afternoon, Mila finds her at an old camper van in a nearby field where an elderly lady appears to be living. Gosia looks like shes been living on the road for a long time and Mila is concerned about her, but first needs to get Ani home. However, the very next morning she notices smoke rising up from the field where Harriet’s camper van was parked. By the time she gets there Gosia has died.

Gosia’s death is the first in a series of disturbing events for Mila. Mila’s aunt continues to run the investigations business she set up with Sophie, and in the short term Mila has been helping out. However, for the long term her aunt has hired someone from the girl’s past and as soon as Mila hears Carter Jackson’s bike roaring into town she knows there’s unfinished business. Mila had complicated feelings for Carter, made even more painful by the fact he was so clearly in love with Sophie. Mila isn’t happy with him being back in the area, doesn’t know if she can trust him and hates those painful adolescent feelings he reawakens. Close to the sea house, there is an archaeological dig taking place at a series of dolmans or ancient dwelling places. The wife of the dig’s professor has been in to the agency to ask if they will follow her husband, because she has suspicions about him being involved with someone on the dig. Mila thinks it’s just the sort of PI work the company doesn’t get involved with, but with Carter happy to take the assignment and the money needed by the business they go ahead. When photographs turn up showing the professor meeting a young girl, local tensions start to build. Especially when someone blows up the image and fly-posts them around town with the title ‘Professor Pervert’. When the professor goes missing Mila starts to wonder if they’ve been paid to frame an innocent man. Then he turns up dead, an apparent suicide that Carter and Mila think may be staged. What does the professor know and is there a link between him and Gosia?

I found Mila a bit frustrating if I’m honest. It’s clear that all Ani needs is someone to show they love her and that they want to be with her. Mila feels constantly between things and her niece is actually very wise when she points out that Mila is constantly saying she needs to get back to her life, as if what she’s doing now isn’t living. What has happened in Morrannez to change Mila? Is it the slowed own pace of life, or that feeling of being home? Is she actually enjoying the parenthood she feels has been thrust upon her? She says she wants to be with Luke, but only ever calls him to ask for his police perspective on the case. She can write wherever she is so does she even want the life she had in the UK any more? I knew what I wanted to happen, mainly for Ani’s sake more than anything as she’s already been left by two parents. The case really gelled for me as Mila comes across clues such as Gosia’s scrapbook/ journal and the video clip she watches from the Bosnian war. This piece of film is such a moment of horror amongst the lighter tone of the book so far, that it has a huge impact. The politics and complexities of the Balkan War are well researched and it was so interesting I wished it had been introduced earlier in the novel, perhaps as a separate time strand. I felt as if I was really gripped by the mystery for the first time, but it didn’t seem long before the e-book ended. This might not seem so jarring when reading a physical copy as we get more sense of where we are in a novel when we’re turning the pages. I truly enjoyed the way the threads of the case linked back in history and I also liked the short trip back to Sophie and Mila’s teenage years to get a flavour of their friendship. The relationship between Ani and Mila tugged at my heartstrings though and kept reading in the hope that Mila would find a way of being with Ani and perhaps staying in France where I felt she belonged.

You can buy the book here – https://amzn.to/3HNYxqV

Meet the Author

Author Bio – 

Louise Douglas is the bestselling and brilliantly reviewed author and an RNA award winner. The Secrets Between Uswas a Richard and Judy Book Club pick. She lives in the West Country.

You can find out more about Louise using the following links.

Facebook:https://www.facebook.com/Louise-Douglas-Author-340228039335215/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/louisedouglas3

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/LouiseDouglas3/

Newsletter Sign Up: https://bit.ly/LouiseDouglas

Bookbub profile: https://www.bookbub.com/authors/louise-douglas

Posted in Orenda, Random Things Tours

Black Hearts by Doug Johnstone

As all subscribers and Twitter followers must know by now, I am a huge fan of The Skelf series. I’m a Skelfaholic and I’m in a strange cycle of waiting for the next book to be published, devouring it overnight, then longing for the next one again. It’s even worse this time because I have it on good authority that this could be the penultimate book in the series. So one more book and no more Skelfing! I’m going to be like a weasel with a sore head when I have to go cold turkey. It has been wonderful to be back in Edinburgh with this family of three: part private investigators, part undertakers and all round incredible women. For those who haven’t met them yet, the Skelfs are three generations of women. Grandmother Dorothy is in her seventies, but is still active in both the investigative and the funeral parts of the business. In her spare time she still drums like a badass and has a lover almost twenty years her junior. Daughter Jenny is back home, living above the business and struggling with memories of psychopath ex- husband Craig. She’s drowning her pain with alcohol and sex.

Jenny’s daughter Hannah is now a PhD student, working in the astrophysics department, but still finding time to help out in the family business. She’s now married to girlfriend Indy, is feeling settled and might be slowly moving past what happened to her father. Each novel begins with a memorable opening scene and here we kick off with a fist fight at a funeral. The women are also brought diverse and unusual cases, both for funerals and their PI work. A gentleman approaches Dorothy after his wife’s funeral, to ask if they can help him deal with a nighttime visitor. He believes his wife’s spirit is punishing him and he has the bruises to prove it. Hannah is approached by Laura at university, the young woman claims to know her, but Hannah has absolutely no recollection of her. When Laura starts to turn up wherever Hannah goes, she starts to suspect mental health problems, but nothing dangerous. She stops being harmless the closer she gets to the family, especially when Hannah drops into the funeral parlour and finds Laura talking to Indy. Laura wants them to do her mother’s funeral, but Hannah thinks it’s unwise. How can she let this fragile girl down gently?

Aside from their cases Johnstone also picks up those storylines that weave throughout the novels. In the main we are drawn back to Craig, Jenny’s ex-husband and Hannah’s father, who is still haunting the family. Jenny is the most visibly affected by her interactions with Craig’s family, most notably his sister, who seems to have inherited his ability to manipulate and turn to violence to get what she wants. Will Craig ever leave them alone and will Jenny be able to tread the line between her own pain as his ex and Hannah’s pain as his daughter. Both tend to overlook the grief that Dorothy still feels at the loss of her own husband Jim, complicated now by her relationship with police detective Thomas. Indy’s grief is also overlooked a lot, especially since she’s just gone through disinterring her parents in order to give them the cremation in line with their faith. Hannah and Jenny bring the drama and it’s Jenny I was particularly worried about. She’s getting messy, day drinking and embarking on a highly controversial sexual relationship with the wrong person. She never wakes up feeling better, but in the moment she has to drown out the constant pictures in her head. It’s clearly PTSD and she’s in danger of drawing others into her drama, especially Archie who works for the funeral business. Can she rein her behaviour, when professional help seems doomed to failure at this point?

Aside from these incredible women, and the lovely Indy of course, the things I most love about these books is Doug Johnstone’s love for Edinburgh and the way he weaves incredible ideas, philosophy and physics into his novels. I’ve not been to Edinburgh since I was in my twenties, but the way he describes the city makes me want to go back. He doesn’t sugar coat the city either, there’s good and bad here, but as a whole these books are a poem to a place that’s in his soul. Dorothy muses on her home town a lot in this novel and considering she was born in America, this place is her heart’s homeland. She ponders on the people this city produces, including her husband and child, the history, and the architecture almost as if she’s taking stock. She concludes that she’s a person who always looks forward to where life’s going, but grief and loss are like the waves and there’s no telling when it will wash ashore again. Jenny tends to frequent the less salubrious areas of the city. She’s stuck. Her past has quite literally washed ashore and the problem with losing someone is you’re not the only one grieving and everyone grieves differently. She’s not mourning Craig as he truly was. She’s grieving the loss of all that hope; the hope they both had for the future on their wedding day and when Hannah was born. Similarly Craig’s mum and sister aren’t missing the Craig who committed all those terrible crimes. Violet misses the little boy she had and the life she wanted for him and his sister just misses her baby brother.

I loved the elements of Japanese spirituality and having read Messina’s novel The Phonebox at the Edge of the World, I loved the concept of the wind phone. I’ve always thought that a good way of letting go of the past, especially when you’re struggling emotionally, is to make a physical gesture or step in the direction you want to go. That might mean taking off a wedding ring when you’re getting divorced, or moving house to somewhere that isn’t filled with old memories. I found talking to my late husband in my head a bit strange and it only made me miss him more. So I wrote to him in my journal instead. To have a phonebox dedicated to speaking with those who have died seems a very effective way of keeping them in the present with you, but in a controlled and deliberate way. I was reminded of the Samuel Beckett quote:

“Memories are killing. So you must not think of certain things, of those that are dear to you, or rather you must think of them, for if you don’t there is the danger of finding them, in your mind, little by little.”

Hannah seems to be the person who’s most accepting of her losses. She always seems older than she is and with Indy alongside her she has all the support she needs. There’s so much wisdom in these two young women, honed from a combination of Indy’s spirituality, years of working with grieving families and Hannah’s physics knowledge, especially where it tries to explain the universe. The supermassive black holes that are thought to be at heart of every galaxy are mysterious. We know that they have a huge power that acts like a magnet, drawing in items from across the universe into the void. Each of the Skelf women have their own grief to bear, a black hole at the centre of their heart. Each must find their own way to remember a little, to prevent becoming overwhelmed by their memories. To prevent that black hole from drawing in every part of them. Only by reconciling this, can they live in the present moment and make plans for their altered future, a future I can’t wait to read about.

Meet the Author

Doug Johnstone is the author of twelve novels, most recently The Great Silence, described as ‘A novel [that] underlines just how accomplished Johnstone has become’ by the Daily Mail. He has been shortlisted for the McIlvanney Prize for Scottish Crime Book of the Year three times, and the Capital Crime Best Independent Voice one; The Big Chill was longlisted for Theakston’s Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year. He’s taught creative writing and been writer in residence at various institutions, and has been an arts journalist for twenty years. Doug is a songwriter and musician with five albums and three EPs released, and he plays drums for the Fun Lovin’ Crime Writers, a band of crime writers. He’s also player-manager of the Scotland Writers Football Club. He lives in Edinburgh.

Posted in Publisher Proof

Blackstone Fell by Martin Edwards

Rachel Savernake investigates a bizarre locked-room puzzle in this delicious Gothic mystery from the winner of the CWA Diamond Dagger.

1930. Nell Fagan is a journalist on the trail of a intriguing and bizarre mystery: in 1606, a man vanished from a locked gatehouse in a remote Yorkshire village, and 300 years later, it happened again. Nell confides in the best sleuth she knows, judge’s daughter Rachel Savernake. Thank goodness she did, because barely a week later Nell disappears, and Rachel is left to put together the pieces of the puzzle. Looking for answers, Rachel travels to lonely Blackstone Fell in Yorkshire, with its eerie moor and sinister tower. With help from her friend Jacob Flint – who’s determined to expose a fraudulent clairvoyant – Rachel will risk her life to bring an end to the disappearances and bring the truth to light.

A dazzling mystery peopled by clerics and medics; journalists and judges, Blackstone Fell explores the shadowy borderlands between spiritual and scientific; between sanity and madness; and between virtue and deadly sin.

It was the female characters that drew me into this interesting mystery that travels from London to the village of Blackstone Fell. Three particular women caught my eye and my imagination throughout the novel: Cornelia ‘Nell’ Fagan, Rachel Savernake, and the minor character of Ottilie Curle. All three women are very different from the usual heroines of Gothic Literature and a world away from their own Victorian mothers. In fact when I compared them with other women in the novel they don’t conform to the average respectable middle class lady one bit. Nell drew me into the story first, perhaps because she’s best described as ‘a bit of a character’. Everyone in Fleet Street knows her and she’s a regular in all the hang outs including the pub. Nell smokes cheroots, drinks like a fish, earns a living as a journalist, is a bit loose with the truth and loves to tell a story. Recently she’s lost her steady job and has been scouting around for stories that might enable her to start freelance work. She stumbles on the mystery of Blackstone Fell and there’s nothing better than a locked room puzzle to get the cogs turning. She bravely decides to undertake research on the ground and where better to stay than the very gatehouse where two men disappeared 300 years apart. She soon gets the message that there are people still living in the village who don’t want this story investigated. Realising it’s more than she can manage alone she begrudgingly asks for the help of Rachel Savernake. Can they solve the mystery together?

Rachel is another independent woman, financially independent and fiercely intelligent. She loves to solve mysteries especially those involving murders. She’s incredibly observant and perceptive, knowing immediately when Nell is spinning a yarn or lying by omission. She has certain standards for those who work alongside her, expecting loyalty and complete honesty. When these standards aren’t met she is ruthless in her decision to dispense with people. There’s a ruthlessness about her investigation technique too. When she finds information or solves a mystery, she doesn’t just hand over what she knows to the police. Sometimes that’s the right thing to do, sometimes she knows of a better way to dispense justice, whatever form that might take. One character suggests she plays God and there is an element of that in her personality; a certain arrogance that she’s right, combined with the self-belief that only she knows the best way for someone to pay for their actions. I was also fascinated by Tilly, the medium first consulted by Nell who reappears in the story. She’s from a background of poverty, using the only gift she has to make a living. I was interested in the way her appearance is depicted. Like Martha, who looks after Rachel, Tilly is a marked woman. Martha has a scarred face from a burn, whereas Tilly has a scarred neck from a thyroid condition. Marked women have quite a history in Victorian fiction and they are often used to make a point, like Rosa Dartle in Dickens’s David Copperfield. Martha’s scars are a contrast, enhancing the beauty of the rest of her face. Tilly’s scars and her obesity are used more like a smoke screen. People’s prejudices around women who are marked or deemed unattractive, can throw them off the truth about a person. The fact that her servant is a ‘Moor’, is another aspect that’s unconventional. I realised that Tilly might be all too aware of how people see her and has used that knowledge to hide behind their assumptions.

I loved the novel’s setting. Blackstone Fell couldn’t be more gothic. Not only does the village have a creepy gate lodge where two men have disappeared: there’s a tower that looks more like a folly rather than a practical home; the river with it’s beautiful, but dangerous fall, where one wrong step could mean being dragged into the water and dashed to death on the rocks below; the endless fog and boggy ground of the moor has it’s own dangers for those who’ve become lost or disoriented. Then there’s the sanatorium, with it’s isolated location, mysterious residents and methods. Finally there’s the vicarage, where the fire and brimstone vicar seems to have a disintegrating relationship with his much younger and highly strung wife. Phew! It was a lot to keep straight in my head at times.

The historical background is fascinating too. We’re between two world wars where so much change has occurred both for individuals and society. The social order has shifted, with more upward mobility, more freedom and improved rights for women. I loved the power dynamics at play here and the sense that these years are an in between space. The vicar and his wife illustrate the old Victorian, traditional idea of a women’s lot in life. It seems archaic when compared to the independent paths that Rachel, Nell and even Tilly have carved out for themselves. Tilly’s success as a medium echoes a societal trend, fuelled by the loss of loved ones, both in WW1 and due to Spanish Influenza. Through the medical men in the story, the author touches on the rise of Eugenics Theory at this time; the idea that there were weaker or lesser races and hereditary disabilities that needed to be eradicated. This could be used as a way to rid oneself of an unstable or inconvenient wife or an old uncle with dementia standing between someone and their inheritance. However, when applied to society at large it became the gateway to Mosley’s ‘BlackShirts’ and Hitler’s Final Solution. The plot itself is an interesting puzzle, although at times I did flounder a bit to remember all the aspects or keep characters in order. I’m willing to accept this might be my brain at fault, so I really welcomed the clue finder at the end of the book that helpfully showed me where to find clues for every thread. There were twists right up to the final page so I defy anyone to work it all out, before Rachel explains her reasoning and unmasks the villains. This was an intelligent mystery, with solid female characters, all set within a period of history that provides an unsettling backdrop to the action.

Meet The Author

Martin Edwards has received the CWA Diamond Dagger, the highest honour in British crime writing, given for the sustained excellence of his contribution to the genre. His recent novels include Mortmain Hall and Gallows Court, which was nominated for two awards including the CWA Historical Dagger. British librarians awarded him the CWA Dagger in the Library in 2018 in recognition of his body of work. His eight and latest Lake District Mystery is The Crooked Shore and earlier books in the series include The Coffin Trail, short-listed for the Theakston’s prize for best British crime novel. Seven books in his first series, featuring Liverpool lawyer Harry Devlin, starting with the CWA John Creasey Dagger-nominated All the Lonely People, have been reissued by Acorn in new editions with introductions by leading writers including Ann Cleeves and Val McDermid.

Martin is a well-known crime fiction critic, and series consultant to the British Library’s Crime Classics. His ground-breaking study of the genre between the wars, The Golden Age of Murder won the Edgar, Agatha, H.R.F. Keating and Macavity awards. The Story of Classic Crime in 100 Books won the Macavity and was nominated for four other awards, while Howdunit, a masterclass in crime writing by members of the Detection Club, won the H.R.F. Keating prize and was nominated for five other awards. His long-awaited history of the genre, The Life of Crime, will be published in May 2022. In addition Martin has written a stand-alone novel of psychological suspense, Take My Breath Away, and a much acclaimed novel featuring Dr Crippen, Dancing for the Hangman. He also completed Bill Knox’s last book, The Lazarus Widow. He has published many short stories, including the ebooks The New Mysteries of Sherlock Holmes and Acknowledgments and other stories. ‘The Bookbinder’s Apprentice‘ won the CWA Short Story Dagger, for which he has been nominated for three other stories. He has edited over 40 anthologies and published diverse non-fiction books, including a study of homicide investigation, Urge to Kill. An expert on crime fiction history, he is archivist of both the Crime Writers’ Association and the Detection Club. He was elected eighth President of the Detection Club in 2015, spent two years as Chair of the CWA, and posts regularly to his blog.

Posted in Random Things Tours

The Girl in the Photo by Heidi Amsinck

As many of you know, I’m a big fan of Scandi and Nordic Noir whether it’s on television or in book form. I was also drawn in by the beautiful covers of these books, in fact I’d like a pair to frame and put on the wall. Sometimes books don’t live up to their covers, but I throughly enjoyed the first book following the investigative reporter known only as Jensen. My Name is Jensen set up the main characters beautifully so it was good to be back in the company of both Jensen and her ex-lover, DI Henrik Jungerson. In this second novel both our main characters are in a state of transition. Jensen is no longer working for newspaper Dagbladet and is working freelance, in a style that becomes a mix of private investigator and reporter. She has the help of a young man called Gustav, the nephew of her editor at the newspaper. Jensen knows he has been in trouble at his school, but not the extent of his problems. As they try and get used to each other’s style of working, Jensen is also adjusting to a new apartment with a difficult landlord. The first crime seems to be a burglary gone wrong, with an elderly woman brutally murdered and an incredibly expensive diamond necklace missing. Henrik is the officer on the case, but Jensen is hired by the woman’s rather unpleasant daughter to find the necklace. More murders follow, but what Henrik notices at each crime scene is a photo of the same young girl. They’re not obvious, just placed somewhere in the room, but Henrik doesn’t like coincidences and wants to connect the investigations. His superiors are unconvinced, especially as Henrik’s issues at home and with drink are starting to get out of control. Working the same case means he will cross paths with the one woman in Copenhagen he wants to avoid, Jensen.

This was an interesting case, told by Jensen and Henrik in turn, from their own perspective and with their individual ideas on what the victims have in common. They are remarkably alike in the way they think and are drawn together both by the threads of the case and what feels like a gravitational force. Nobody thinks like Jensen, except for Henrik. She knows he is only a step behind her. Nobody on the force thinks like Henrik and he almost craves her presence, not necessarily in an emotional way, more than that he wants someone to keep up with him and to bounce ideas off. Jensen has the freedom of being freelance, to work when she wants and makes choices on how she investigates that a police officer couldn’t. Breaking into a client’s summer cabin is risky, but it gets her further forward in the case. Henrik couldn’t do this, because he’s hemmed in by police rules and regulations. Yet there are perks to being an officer, such as the ability to look at official records, that Jensen wishes she had. He can also command respect and get families to cooperate in a way she can’t and this can really hamper her investigation. Despite these differences, no one else has worked out the significance of the photograph, in fact he’s pretty much been told that this is a simple case and he should stop complicating matters. Yet he can’t leave it alone. He knows it’s the key. Really they’re a perfect team, pushing each other on and keeping up with each other intellectually.

I enjoyed Jensen’s working relationship with Gustav. She soon realises he’s a bit of a maverick and that he’s been expelled from school for something much more significant than Margarethe is letting on. The mystery itself is an interesting one, not as clear cut as it first appears and with some deeply unpleasant characters too. The pacing is excellent too. Each character coming at the mystery from their own starting point and working towards each other. The author adds to the information we have in every chapter, just enough to keep the reader engaged, but tantalised and eager to read the next section. As for their personal relationship I found it hard to empathise with Henrik’s perspective. He seems to see her as a temptation that he’s unable to shake off; once in her orbit, he’s inexorably pulled towards her. If he piles all the guilt onto Jensen and avoids seeing her, he avoids facing the fact that he made a choice to cheat on his wife. Then, when he realises that Jensen’s landlord is interested in her, he becomes the jealous spurned lover. As if he didn’t choose to stay with his wife. The author manages to convey these complicated psychological aspects of her characters, so even though we might not agree with their perspective, we can understand their emotions. I was left feeling that we’ve only just scratched the surface when it comes to these two characters and I’m interested to see where we go next.

Meet The Author

Heidi Amsinck is a writer and journalist who was born in Copenhagen and now lives in London. She was London Correspondent for the
Danish daily Jyllands-Posten. She has written many stories
of BBC Radio 4, all read by Tim McInnerny. She was previously shortlisted for the VS Pritchett Memorial Prize. My Name is Jensen, her first thriller, was published to critical acclaim in 2021 and has also been translated into Danish and German.

Posted in Random Things Tours

Honor by Thrity Umrigar

In this riveting and immersive novel, bestselling author Thrity Umrigar tells the story of two couples and the sometimes dangerous and heartbreaking challenges of love across a cultural divide.

Indian American journalist Smita has returned to India to cover a story, but reluctantly: long ago she and her family left the country with no intention of ever coming back. As she follows the case of Meena – a Hindu woman attacked by members of her own village and her own family for marrying a Muslim man – Smita comes face to face with a society where tradition carries more weight than one’s own heart, and a story that threatens to unearth the painful secrets of Smita’s own past. While Meena’s fate hangs in the balance, Smita tries in every way she can to right the scales. She also finds herself increasingly drawn to Mohan, an Indian man she meets while on assignment. But the dual love stories of Honor are as different as the cultures of Meena and Smita themselves: Smita realizes she has the freedom to enter into a casual affair, knowing she can decide later how much it means to her.

There were times when this novel became almost too painful to read, but I’m glad I continued until it’s bittersweet conclusion. At home in America, journalist Smita is every inch the modern career woman, living a single and globetrotting life. She has a series of ready packed cases so she can zoom off to the airport at a moment’s notice to cover a story anywhere in the world. There are similar, psychological cases in her mind, packed and closed until she’s called to certain destinations. In fact one hasn’t been opened in years, until she’s called by a journalist friend in India who has ended up in hospital mid-story. On the basis of a misunderstanding, Smita flies out to Mumbai thinking her friend needs personal help and looking after. Yet it’s professional support she would like, needing Smita to travel into a more rural area of India and cover the story she has been engrossed in. A woman called Meena is the story. Along with her sister Radha she defied her brothers to take a job outside the home, in a sewing factory. The brothers run their home along strict rules and the sisters are supposed to stay at home, care for the house and serve the brothers. Meena’s final downfall was love, when at the factory she met a kind, gentle and intelligent man. Meena’s family followed the Hindu religion and her brothers would never let her choose for herself, especially when her choice is a Muslim man. When she defied them a second time she sealed their fate. They are set on fire by her family and their village. Smita is the only one to survive.

Not only did Smita survive, but she escaped to the home of her mother-in-law. Now with a little girl to look after, Smita is recovering from her burns but her injuries are devastating. With the help of a charity she is taking her brothers to court for their actions and the verdict is due this week. Reluctantly, Smita takes on the story and agrees to meet Meena with the help of Shannon’s friend Mohan as driver and translator where required. There isn’t much that shocks me in life, but the terrible cruelty of what’s been done to Meena made me seethe with anger. I simply cannot comprehend how family members could wreak such revenge on their own sister, although sadly I have watched dramas about such murders in this country. Although we have a long way to go in conquering the patriarchy in the UK, we have to remember other countries have their own battle and are often a long way from the comparative equality we enjoy. A recent drama showed how this violent killing is based in culture not religion. It showed a community using it’s young men to watch their women, standing outside taxi firms and take away shops they policed their area and noticed when a girl was starting to wear Western clothing or too much make-up. These communities worked like Meena’s village, curbing bad behaviour before it gets out of hand. They doled out punishments to those girls who transgressed and the families carry them out, so that community members could see how their women respected them. It’s never about men saving the women’s honour; it’s about saving their own.

The author drew me deeply into this novel and complexities of life in India: the stark differences between the more cosmopolitan cities like Mumbai and the rural areas; the intolerance between religions and cultures; the massive contrast between the freedoms a Western Hindu woman like Smita has, compared with Meena. Smita actually embodies all of these differences. In order to make a transition to the rural area they’ll be visiting she asks Mohan to take her to a shop where she can buy more traditional clothes, because she doesn’t have anything suitable and they must be the everyday kind, not those for tourists going to a wedding. Mohan is a world away from Meena’s brothers, but he still has a tendency towards an old-fashioned chivalry, somehow reminding Smita of her father. His need to ‘look after’ the women around him feels like part of the culture she considers outmoded, but it’s only a small part of who he is. He bothers her, because she knows from experience that men who think they need to rescue women can also think they own them. I found the flashback to Smita’s teenage years in Mumbai particularly evocative and shocking. It’s no wonder Smita never stays in one place very long, she knows that even your closest neighbours can turn and betray you in an instant, better to keep moving. Yet this trip may challenge her to put down roots and be part of something; is she ready to confront what happened and make a change? As for Meena, her story left me feeling so sad and angry that such injustices can and do happen. Her life, being worked and insulted by her mother-in-law while constantly living in fear, seemed intolerable to me. I hoped that the brief, but fierce love she had experienced, was enough of a consolation. She must live for her beautiful little girl. I was troubled and engrossed by this novel and I’m still thinking about it several days later. It’s evocative, intelligent and a fascinating insight into the cultural complexity of India.

Meet The Author

Thrity Umrigar is the bestselling author of The Space Between Us, which was a finalist for the PEN/Beyond Margins Award, as well as six other novels, a memoir, and three picture books. Her books have been translated into several languages and published in over fifteen countries. She is the winner of a Lambda Literary Award and the Seth Rosenberg Prize and is a Distinguished Professor of English at Case Western Reserve University.

Posted in Orenda, Random Things Tours

Night Shadows by Eva Björg, Aegisdóttir

The small community of Akranes is devastated when a young man dies in a mysterious house fire, and when Detective Elma and her colleagues from West Iceland CID discover the fire was arson, they become embroiled in an increasingly perplexing case involving multiple suspects. What’s more, the dead man’s final online search raises fears that they could be investigating not one murder, but two. A few months before the fire, a young Dutch woman takes a job as an au pair in Iceland, desperate to make a new life for herself after the death of her father. But the seemingly perfect family who employs her turns out to have problems of its own and she soon discovers she is running out of people to turn to. As the police begin to home in on the truth, Elma, already struggling to come to terms with a life-changing event, finds herself in mortal danger as it becomes clear that someone has secrets they’ll do anything to hide…

I devoured this crime novel in a day while ill in bed. I could barely look up from the book to talk to anyone, because I was so deeply embedded in the cold, bleak Icelandic landscape and the twists and turns of this fascinating story. Having read the previous novels in the Forbidden Iceland series, I was immediately at home with detective Elma and her partner Saever. The investigation starts with a fire in a neighbourhood of Akranes, a small town near Reykjavik. The neighbours hear the smoke alarm and come running to the house to check no one is home. The family are said to be away, but as the fire is put out a body is found in one of the bedrooms and turns out to be the teenage son, Marinó. Elma can’t understand why he is still on the bed, as if asleep. If the neighbours were woken by the fire why wasn’t this boy and why is his the room where the fire started? Soon they get their answers – he is full of sleeping tablets. It seems a party was held at the house that weekend, with a few of the neighbourhood’s teenagers attended. Elma needs to know what went on that night, who was there and where was Marinó when they left. The case becomes complicated when it becomes clear a young woman is missing. Lise was working as an au pair for one of the families living near the fire and was seen at the party. Lise was looking after the daughters of couple Laufey and Unnar, but had decided to leave and had packed everything before the party. She was ready to return to Holland the following morning. Laufey remembers seeing her bags packed that evening and when they were gone the next morning she assumed she’d left for an early flight. But Lise never reached Holland.

I enjoyed reading Elma’s voice in the first novel of this series so it was nice to pick up where we left off. Motherhood is a thread throughout the novel and it was almost as if Elma was learning exactly what being a mum entailed. She is close with her own family, despite sister Dagny getting on her nerves she realises the importance of having them around her and being there for her nieces. Within the teenagers who were present at the weekend party there is a young mother, who is trying everything to keep her relationship with the father going and overlooking a lot too. Laufney is the mum we follow most and she is almost coping as a single mum, with husband Unnar usually out and doing one thing that really infuriates me – referring to ‘babysitting’ his own children. Their own first child is a teenager, living in his own pad in the garage but still enjoying the comforts of home. Laufney is so proud of her son Andri who is soon moving to Sweden to play football at a professional level. Their two daughters are much younger. Klara is ten years old, quiet and slightly reserved, but very talented at drawing. In fact Elma finds her drawing so striking that she notices it pinned on the fridge. With the family in the main house, a girl is drawn up against the window, looking inside. Saever ccomments its like something from a horror film and he’s eerily prescient. It’s Anna the youngest daughter of the family who is sitting on the loo in the middle of the night and notices movement outside. A girl with long hair and a bulky coat is staring into the house. Anna knows it is Lise and shes not scared of Lise who was kind to her, but Lise is dead and dead people don’t come back. She goes to Klara for comfort and she reassures her, she knows she’s seen Lise because a few weeks ago she’d been been in the garden. In one of the scariest scenes Ive read in a while, the girl notices Klara and strides directly over to the window, peering in with both hands resting on the glass. I was sorry that I just happened to be reading that scene at three a.m.

The crime itself and Elma’s personal life is about loyalty and how far we’d go to keep those we love safe and for mothers that’s such a strong instinct. Elma finds these deep instincts at the forefront of her mind throughout, both personally and professionally. One of the biggest question marks I had is over Laufey and Unnar’s marriage. He is very easy to dislike thanks to his habits of sleeping with other women, even those that should be totally off limits. Yet I found myself more horrified by some of the things he did and said around his wife and children. Klara seemed to be on a diet and I was sure this was a result of Unnar’s comments to Anna about Laufey’s weight and how she didn’t want to become fat like Mum. He also makes it clear that he finds her too serious and no fun anymore. These little chips at someone’s confidence are abusive and I didn’t like that the same attitudes were being taught to the girls. I was becoming more and more uncomfortable about him and felt he could be the murderer, then kept looking at the younger generation and kids like Isak who is disrespectful to his girlfriend. It showed how these attitudes are still cross-generational. Could the murderer be one of these youngsters? CCTV showing a slight figure in a down coat near Marinó’s home led me down that path.

I loved how the book addressed Elma’s relationships and how she investigates. Even knowing she has a partner who will back her to the hilt, doesn’t stop her running away with a lead every now and then. As soon as she’s had a hunch, she has to act on it, and that doesn’t usually involve telling someone where she’s going or waiting for back up. This can lead her into danger, something that’s terrifying for those who love her and needs to change. Especially now that life is going to be significantly different. I’m already looking forward to the next chapter for this intelligent and perceptive detective.

Meet the Author

Born in Akranes in 1988, Eva moved to Trondheim, Norway to study her MSc in Globalisation when she was 25. After moving back home having completed her MSc, she knew it was time to start working on her novel. Eva has wanted to write books since she was 15 years old, having won a short story contest in Iceland. Eva worked as a stewardess to make ends meet while she wrote her first novel, The Creak on the Stairs. The book went on to win the CWA Debut Dagger, the Blackbird Award, was shortlisted (twice) for the Capital Crime Readers’ Awards, and became a number one bestseller in Iceland. The critically acclaimed Girls Who Lie (book two in the Forbidden Iceland series) soon followed, with Night Shadows (book three) following suit in July 2022. Eva lives with her husband and three children in Reykjavík.

Posted in Publisher Proof

Sunday Spotlight! Whatever Happened to Evie Del Rio by Sarah Watts

Evie Del Rio was the one, as far as Ed Nash was concerned.

Their teenage love was the inspiration for his song ‘Used to Be’ and helped Ed’s indie band, The Mountaineers, to international fame.But when Evie and her family suddenly up sticks and leave their London home without a forwarding address, she leaves a heartbroken Ed behind too.

Over thirty years later, washed up rocker Ed is suddenly back in the limelight when Evie’s love song is used as the theme tune for a new TV drama. Once the song is later featured on TV documentary ‘Musical Muses: The Girl in the Song’ it’s suddenly not just Ed who’s asking…

What happened to Evie Del Rio?

As a child of the 90’s I loved how this book opened with teenager Cassie finding out her mum is the inspiration behind one of the songs of the decade. Thanks to the 90’s becoming all the rage and an inspiration for TV, ‘Mum’s Song’ as Cassie and her brother now call it, is having a resurgence. Written back when her mum and musician Ed Nash were dating in the 1980’s, it wasn’t released until his band The Mountaineers produced their debut album ten years later. Now it’s one of the most downloaded songs of 2018. Cassie thinks the song isn’t bad, but the lyrics that have graced many a wedding become a bit cringe when you realise they’re about your Mum. As a teen I dreamed of meeting Damon Albany, who of course would fall madly in love with me and I would become his muse. So there was an element of nostalgia and wish fulfilment drawing me in from the first page.

Then we see the same situation from Genie’s point of view. Genie is Cassie’s mum and was once Evie Del Rio. Now she’s Genie, mum of two and with ‘a lovely big hunk of a husband’ called Gray. I was intrigued by what had made Evie’s family leave London all those years ago. Along with the change of name, there seemed to be something more going on than avoiding embarrassment over a song and a long ago romance with a rock star. Son Will is really taking the brunt of his mum’s newfound notoriety. Even adults think Genie was some sort of sex kitten and teenage boys don’t hold back. They chant about how many pop stars his mum has shagged on the football field, well they did until he broke someone’s nose. Yet Ed keeps blithely on, talking about his relationship with Evie and the origin of the song. Genie says he’s embellishing, but something about that time clearly gets under her skin. As we travel back and forth to Genie’s teens, when she’s still Evie, we slowly see more of their story revealed and secrets emerge that have been kept for a long time.

I thought this was an interesting idea for a book and as a middle aged stepmum to teenage girls I loved the idea of them getting an insight into the past. Imagine suddenly finding out that the person they see every day was once as exciting and full of promise as they are now. The multiple perspectives kept my interest, because it showed how the situation affects different members of the family. I loved Genie’s husband Gray, a lovely, solid and reliable anchor in a difficult time for his family. There are sensitive issues, but they are handled with care and empathy. I would recommend this nostalgic read, full of endearing characters and with a central mystery that unfolds slowly and with sensitivity.

Published by Cahill Davies 8th July 2022

Meet the Author

I’ve always enjoyed the written word and I have a great passion for music so I decided to put the two together and the result is my debut novel ‘What Happened to Evie Del Rio?’

I like to think I’m enjoying my ‘middle youth’ rather than my ‘middle age’. I’m married and Mum to two sons and a black rescue cat called Hector.

I enjoy going to gigs and discovering new music. I also love reading women’s fiction but I do have a bit of a penchant for crime and psychological thrillers! If I’m not on social media, reading or listening to music then you will probably find me on a football pitch cheering on my youngest son and his team.

Posted in Publisher Proof

The Last Hours in Paris by Ruth Druart.

After Ruth Druart’s previous WW2 novel While Paris Slept I’d been so embedded in the story that I felt emotionally drained from the terror and trauma experienced by her characters. While that novel gave us WW2 from the perspective of a French police officer and a Jewish mother, her latest novel comes from a very interesting and possibly less explored voice of the conflict. Our novel centres around young French woman and a German soldier who cross each other’s paths due to a love of books. We roam from Paris to Brittany and to England, hearing the stories of our main characters from both points of view at different times in their lives. However, the novel starts several years later with Joséphine, a young woman who has just finished her baccalaureate and is looking forward to summer. She wants to visit England because it’s where the Beatles are from, but her mum Élise and the woman they lodge with, Soizcic seem very resistant. It’s the usual teenage argument, made all the more dramatic because the women are carrying a huge secret. One that will be uncovered if Joséphine keeps to her plan to find her birth certificate, so she can obtain a passport. She intends to go with or without her mother’s permission. Élise had always promised herself to tell Joséphine the truth she’s been hiding, but the time never seemed right and besides it was easier to keep the illusion. Élise has always told her daughter that her father’s name was Fredéric and he died in the war. The truth is more complex and shrouded in the secrecy and shame of another time. If Joséphine finds out, will she ever forgive her mother?

Our story moves back in time to the 1940’s when Élise is living in an apartment in occupied Paris with her Mum and younger sister Isabelle. She hates ‘the Boche’ who have taken over her beautiful city and filled it with fear and hatred. Jewish families have disappeared and just as hated as the German occupiers are people who collaborate with the enemy, whether they’re bar owners whose tills ring with German money or the women who serve as their mistresses. Élise has noticed them walking with officers in the gardens, wearing perfume and sporting real stockings rather than a painted and often wobbly line drawn down the back of the legs. Élise has a secret, she has been working at an orphanage and helping Jewish children escape across the border. I loved the bravery of this young woman and her ability to see most people as human beings, at a time when the hatred of others due to their race or religion was at it’s devastating worst. She meets a young German soldier in her friend Monsieur Le Bolzec’s bookshop and at first is horrified that the elderly bookseller is finding sympathy for him. Sébastian may sound German, but his mother was French and his fluency in the language means he’s working in an office translating letters. Élise is cool towards him at first, but then he warns her that she’s in danger. She has been helping Jewish children pass from an orphanage and over the boarder. Sébastian translates a letter denouncing the orphanage, he keeps it and warns Élise, even organising a car to remove the remaining children. This act of service and his willingness to put himself in grave danger brings them closer together, but will anyone accept their feelings for each other.

Ironically it’s the danger of war that brings these two characters together, but the liberation of Paris that will tear them apart. The author’s research is impeccable and I learned things I hadn’t realised about the war and particularly it’s aftermath. I had some idea of the treatment meted out by the French on women thought to be collaborators, but Ruth Druart’s vivid description brought out a huge sense of injustice in me. These women made choices due to their situation: if a German soldier approached me to be his mistress, I might do it if my children were starving or I’d lost my home. There was no mercy or insight into why such a choice might be made. I was also surprised at how long the British kept prisoners of war beyond the ceasing of hostilities. The Geneva Convention states that they should be released immediately, but here we see men kept for three years beyond the war ending. I think the author really captured the chaos of an occupying force retreating and how people have become displaced from their homes, their families and their lovers, especially where the relationship is controversial. People lost each other for decades – my mother-in-law was taken out of the Warsaw Ghetto when she was a child and was taken to England, separated from both parents. Her father looked for her and his wife straight after the war with no luck and eventually settled in America and moved on with his life, coming to terms with the fact they had probably been killed. They were still alive though and his wife was finally reunited with their daughter in England and her father’s other family in America. Druart shows how our links to each other can be lost, but for Élise there are particular betrayals that have kept her apart from Sébastian . Betrayals that are hard to forgive. I found this part of the book so poignant and I loved how Paris needed time to heal, both it’s buildings and it’s people. They had adjusted to occupation and now must rebuild their city, bringing back it’s joi de vive. As Élise observes the difference war has made to her beloved city I could almost hear the oppressive sound of jackboots echoing off the buildings and reminding every citizen they are no longer free.

I was drawn to Sébastian and truly understood his feelings of oppression. He was no more free than Élise, forced to join the Hitler Youth, he was trained as a soldier so had no choice but to serve. It was so moving to see him post-war in an English cinema watching film of what the Allies found when they liberated Auschwitz. He his horrified and is filled with guilt for serving a leader who could do this to others. He knows he is different, but to a Frenchman or an Englishman there is no difference between him and the SS; they are all Nazis and are all responsible. He carries that shame with him into all he does. I also felt for Élise and her loneliness, because despite having Joséphine and their friend Soizcic she has a solitary existence. I hoped for a happy ending for her, but I won’t spoil your reading pleasure by revealing what does happen in Joséphine’s timeline. I urge you to read it, because it has real impact. Hearing the voice of the enemy is unusual and impresses upon us that no matter what side we’re compelled to be on we’re all human. We don’t choose who we fall in love with and that love never dies, no matter how much time has passed or how far apart we are.

Published by Headline 7th June 2022.

Meet the Author

Living in Paris for the last thirty years inspired me to write, and my debut novel, While Paris Slept, came out in 2021, followed by The Last Hours in Paris, to be released in July 2022. Both books are set during the occupation of World War II, a time which intrigued me as I imagined the French having to live and work alongside the occupiers.

I love the power of story, and believe that sharing stories from different perspectives and different backgrounds can help us understand the world better. Having studied psychology at Leicester University, I have always been interested in the workings of the mind, and especially in what motivates people. I find people fascinating and love creating my own characters, each one flawed and touching in their own way. 

I don’t believe in the single story, and in my books I like to present different perspectives, leaving the reader to make up their own mind as the characters face moral dilemmas and difficult choices. I hope you enjoy reading them.

Posted in Publisher Proof

Truly, Darkly Deeply by Victoria Selman

My other half was worried when he saw my bookmark.

Twelve-year-old Sophie and her mother, Amelia-Rose, move to London from Massachusetts where they meet the charismatic Matty Melgren, who quickly becomes an intrinsic part of their lives. But as the relationship between the two adults fractures, a serial killer begins targeting young women with a striking resemblance to Amelia-Rose.

When Matty is eventually sent down for multiple murder, questions remain as to his guilt — questions which ultimately destroy both women. Nearly twenty years later, Sophie receives a letter from Battlemouth Prison informing her Matty is dying and wants to meet. It looks like Sophie might finally get the answers she craves. But will the truth set her free — or bury her deeper?

I found this a truly compelling read, shot through with moments of fascination and revulsion. I don’t think I’ve ever read a book that looks at serial murder from this perspective. I remember reading one of Sue Townsend’s first Adrian Mole books, set in the early eighties they cover a period when Peter Sutcliffe, the ‘Yorkshire Ripper’, was eventually caught. Adrian observed in his diary that his wife must have known what her husband was. Or did she think ‘Peter home covered in blood, says he was run over by an offal cart’. Humour aside, we often think this when serial killers are caught and it turns out they’ve been a ‘normal family man’ at home. We want our killers to be monsters, strange looking loners, men who have always ‘kept to themself’. It’s unimaginable to think they might have murdered, then gone home and had a family barbecue. This is such rich territory to exploit and Victoria Selman has done it beautifully here in her narrator Sophie and in her creation of Matty Melgren.

I’m going to share a personal response to one of the aspects of the book I found so beautifully constructed that it rang completely true. My ex-partner was emotionally and psychologically abusive. We were together five years and I had therapy for several years afterwards to feel completely myself again. I’d been gaslighted for so long that my sense of self was broken and I didn’t even trust my own judgement anymore. People always ask why you stay with someone like this and the answer is always that they weren’t like this at first. People like this know how to manipulate, to love-bomb you at first and charm everyone around you. The change is subtle, barely noticeable. Then if you do notice, it was a joke or it came out wrong. By the time they really show their true colours you’re so nervous, under confident and broken that you see yourself differently. Maybe you deserve this? Maybe this is just what relationships are like. The author captures this perfectly in Matty Melgren’s relationship with Sophie’s mum, Ams. Told from Sophie’s perspective, Matty dances her mother round the living room and leaves her loving little Post-It notes, surprises her with flowers and takes her breakfast in bed. Sophie describes the change:

“Things started to change; gradually, the way the tide comes in. Inching closer so you don’t notice it until your shorts are wet and your sandcastle’s a shrinking mound.’

We see Ams start to doubt herself. One scene that really unsettled me for being exactly what my ex would do concerned Ams getting dressed for a works drink party. She puts on a red dress that’s off the shoulder and Sophie thinks she looks pretty. Matty agrees, but wonders whether she might want to wear something ‘less showy’ for a party her boss is attending. She has a black tunic, but it’s a bit frumpy. She puts on the black and leaves for her party and once she’s gone Sophie challenges him. She thought her mum looked pretty in the red. ‘Me too’ Matty replied, commenting that she ought to have more confidence in herself. It’s subtle, but it has Ams doubting her judgement and is driving a wedge between her and her daughter. He encourages Sophie in rebellion and cheeky come backs. Sophie’s fear that he will leave like her father, is a easy thing to exploit and he does. He uses Sophie to pile shame on her mother when she’s ‘demanding’ which translates as Ams asking for her needs to be met. I found his manipulation of Sophie uncomfortable reading, but Sophie presents it differently. She blames her burgeoning hormones and admits it might have been an unconscious desire to draw him to her and isolate her mother. It’s perhaps the success of this bonding process that makes Matty think he can push the boundaries; to exploit her age and natural curiosity in an uncomfortable and completely inappropriate way.

In between Sophie’s story, are contemporary opinions of Matty Melgren and those around him. There are also the terrible facts about the murders and the female victims who are otherwise eclipsed by the fascination into how the killer’s mind worked. I loved the way the author would juxtapose events to place a spotlight on the killings. It brought up a feeling of revulsion, even though the two events are really unrelated. What Sophie and Ams were doing while these murders took place has no connection, but somehow we feel it and it’s a technique many newspapers use to push their agenda. Ams is creaming butter and sugar to make a birthday cake, with the radio playing in the background reporting that two more bodies had been found strangled by their underwear and one almost decapitated by a shovel. Sophie connects the timing years later. Matty suggested that they celebrate Sophie’s birthday properly and make a fuss. Ams thinks that she’s creating patterns that weren’t there, but it’s easy to see why. She’s remembering them, obliviously celebrating her birthday, while two women lay brutalised and their killer was sat charming her school friends.

Sophie couldn’t possibly have known, but she’s heard so much criticism over the years that she’s internalised it. Why didn’t she know? They must have been stupid not to see it. She’s still being manipulated and gaslighted, this time by the press and general public. The tension builds, compelling the reader on towards a resolution to Sophie’s musings and to her scheduled prison visit. It’s an insight into how murder destroys two families, that of the victim but also that of the murderer. Being left with all these internal questions and a sort of survivor’s guilt. I wondered whether it is ever possible to go through an experience like this and trust a man again. Would Sophie have been able to live a normal life after this experience in her formative years? Victoria Selman has written a novel that made me feel so many different things and had enough psychological trauma to keep a counsellor like me thinking long after the book was closed. She also deserves congratulations for concluding it in a way I never saw coming.

Published by Quercus 7th July 2022

Meet The Author

Victoria Selman is the author of the critically acclaimed Ziba MacKenzie series. Her debut novel, Blood for Blood, was shortlisted for the prestigious CWA Debut Dagger Award and an Amazon Charts #1 bestseller for five weeks, selling over half a million copies. 

Victoria has written for the Independent, co-hosts Crime Time FM with critics, Barry Forshaw and Paul Burke, compiles the Afraid of the Light charity anthology series and was shortlisted for the 2021 CWA Short Story Dagger Award.

Her first standalone thriller, TRULY DARKLY DEEPLY, is being published by Quercus in July 2022.

Posted in Publisher Proof

London in Black by Jack Lutz

A TENSE, TICKING-BOMB THRILLER SET IN A GRITTY NEAR-FUTURE LONDON

LONDON 2027

Terrorists deploy London Black, a highly sophisticated nerve gas, at Waterloo Station. For ten percent of the population – the ‘Vulnerables’ – exposure means near-certain death. Only a lucky few survive.

LONDON 2029

Copy-cat strikes plague the city, its Vulnerable inhabitants kept safe by regular Boost injections. As the anniversary of the first attacks draws near, DI Lucy Stone, a guilt-ridden Vulnerable herself, is called to investigate a gruesome murder of a scientist. Her investigation soon unearths the possibility that he was working on an antidote – one that Lucy desperately needs, as her Boosts become less and less effective.
But is the antidote real? And can Lucy solve the case before her Boosts stop working?

I felt thrust into a post-apocalyptic London in this mix of dystopian thriller and police procedural. I was immediately on board with our narrator Lucy, a super sweary and ballsy detective. A very young DI who’s well known amongst colleagues for not taking any bullshit, but also bringing with her a huge amount of baggage. She has a tough exterior, even using boxing to cope with her mental health, but is constantly treading a fine line between losing her temper and having a panic attack. She is also a ‘super recogniser’ – able to recognise anyone if she has seen them before, even if it was just passing them in the street. It’s quite something to read how her brain works as she almost shuffled through the faces stored in her brain like a game of Guess Who. Her constant medical issues are enough to induce panic as she faces measuring her Boost levels constantly, then worries when they seem low for that time of day. There’s also the event that happened – a terrible trauma that she hates to recall and doesn’t talk about. All of this creates quite a flawed and frustrated character, but I did see past a lot of the guarded behaviour and found her quite endearing. Maybe because she has this huge vulnerability. Flashbacks take us to her life before the Waterloo Station event and the normal life she’s known is suddenly eroded. Her pharmacist boyfriend realises she’s a ‘Vulnerable’, but thinks she’s safe because of all the Boosts they have at the hospital pharmacy. It’s when he realises that there aren’t enough and doses will have to be rationed that the scale of what has happened hits him. They have gone from a world where anything they need is accessible to them to one where their security, health and welfare is in doubt. It’s such a massive shift in their living standards it’s hard to comprehend. When we come back to Lucy’s present and see her psyching herself up to inject, the reality of how reliant she is on these booster injections is visible in her black and bruised abdomen.

I found it hard to believe that this is a debut novel, it’s incredibly well plotted and so imaginative. It’s hard enough to create a dystopian thriller that’s believable, but I think the plausibility was helped by recent terrorist attacks and the pandemic. We know now that these things can happen so the deployment of London Black seems like a possible future event, as scary as that is. I thought it was clever that even society’s language has been changed by the attack, in much the same way that we have new phrases and words in common use since the start of the pandemic. The idea of being a ‘vulnerable’ scared me, so Lucy’s determination to take part in the world and investigate this murder impressed me. The severity of the symptoms is horrifying so I’d be locked in my flat with a food delivery service on speed dial. I really did have a constant low level anxiety throughout. However, the murder case is so intriguing I couldn’t put the book down. Who would kill a man that might have the antidote the world is looking for? It’s Lucy’s only hope for a normal life so her determination to solve the murder is understandable. I really loved her developing relationship with DI King and would love to see more of them both going forward in future novels. The author has plotted a great crime novel on the back of a dystopian thriller. It’s anxiety inducing, compelling and has a complex heroine that I was rooting for throughout.

Published by Pushkin Vertigo April 2022.

Meet The Author

Jack Lutz lives in London with his wife and daughter. He is fascinated by the city he calls home and loves to read about and explore it. The idea for London in Black came to him as he changed trains on the Tube. London in Black is his first novel.