Posted in Netgalley

The Close by Jane Casey. A Maeve Kerrigan Mystery.

I absolutely loved being back in the world of Maeve Kerrigan. So much so I read this straight through in one day. The set up was brilliant – a modern slavery racket is suspected and Maeve must get close to one of the conspirators, an unlikely criminal. The mayor of London’s assistant has brought a sad case to their attention. A young man called Davey who died after suffering neglect, starvation and physical abuse. He was the perfect target for slavery, an easily influenced man with learning disabilities but physically strong and capable. Strangely, there have been other young men go missing from the system after using the same address, that of an elderly lady in a normal suburban close. There needs to be close surveillance so Una Burt puts her best officers on it, Maeve must move into the close with Josh Derwent as her boyfriend, pretending to dog sit for the usual occupant. Josh thinks Maeve needs a break from her normal routine, because after the court case convicting her partner of domestic abuse Maeve has been drifting and not herself at all. Similarly, Maeve thinks Josh could do with a break away from his live in girlfriend Melissa. How will they fare as a couple on the close and will they be able to flush out the conspirators in the slavery case?

I loved the tension between Derwent and Maeve in this story, close together in the house and away from all their usual distractions it brings their chemistry into focus. Every time they behaved like a couple it felt completely natural, until it was imagining them going back to colleagues was unthinkable. They have had so many obstacles in their time as friends, always something preventing them from becoming more, so could this be the perfect timing? At times the tension in their house was more unbearable than the tension in the case! There are parts of Derwent that I don’t like, but I can see ways in which he’d be good for Maeve and vice versa. They ingratiate themselves with the neighbours easily because they sense this chemistry, they seem like a real couple. The elderly lady in question is tricky, seemingly an innocent and kindly woman but if she is involved with mistreating these men, her kindness is all a front. She reveals that she does provide a bed for young men with disabilities from time to time, but doesn’t elaborate on whether it’s an official arrangement. When Maeve discovers there’s a oreviously unknown son, whose wife runs a care home, the chain starts to come together. However this isn’t the only crime lurking under the respectability of suburbia. The author uses short chapters narrated by a man who is very unpleasant and possibly dangerous. He lurks after dark watching through the windows of those who don’t close their curtains, even Josh and Maeve. He has a very incel vibe, so could he be a lone male with little female attention and experience, or is he hiding his feelings about women under the veneer of a happy family man?

I enjoyed watching these people through Maeve’s eyes as her instincts are usually spot on and her insight seems to be coming back to her as the novel continues. This break is exactly what she needed. Her interactions with a lady with dementia in the close are brilliant because Maeve doesn’t dismiss what she claims to have seen just because of her illness. Maeve knows there are moments of lucidity and keeps thinking about what she’s said and trying to interpret it. When she goes missing in the dark Maeve is desperate to find her, but so is our unknown man and it’s a real heart pounding part of the book, hoping against hope that Maeve gets to her first. It’s clear that this seemingly happy and respectable close is anything but, with the men hiding all sorts from irritating foibles to murder. Towards the end I was powering through the pages to find out who was hurting girls in the close, whether Maeve’s fire and copper’s instinct was returning, but also whether Josh and aMaeve were going to confront their feelings for each other. This was an addictive thriller, focusing on one of my favourite fictional police duos and I loved seeing them in a different environment, but still flushing out crime.

Published by Harper Collins 2nd March

Meet The Author

Jane Casey is a bestselling crime writer who was born and brought up in Dublin. A former editor, she has written twelve crime novels for adults (including ten in the Maeve Kerrigan series) and three for teenagers (the Jess Tennant series). Her books have been international bestsellers, critically acclaimed for their realism and accuracy. The Maeve Kerrigan series has been nominated for many awards: in 2015 Jane won the Mary Higgins Clark Award for The Stranger You Know and Irish Crime Novel of the Year for After the Fire. In 2019, Cruel Acts was chosen as Irish Crime Novel of the Year at the Irish Book Awards. It was a Sunday Times bestseller. Stand-alone novel The Killing Kind was a Richard and Judy Book Club pick in 2021, and is currently being filmed for television. Jane lives in southwest London with her husband, who is a criminal barrister, and their two children.

Posted in Personal Purchase

Other Women by Emma Flint

It is 1923 and a country is in mourning. Thousands of husbands, fathers, sons and sweethearts were lost in the war, millions more returned home wounded and forever changed.

Beatrice Cade is an orphan, unmarried and childless. London is full of invisible women who struggle to find somewhere to work through their grief. But Bea is determined to make a new life for herself. She takes a room in a Bloomsbury ladies’ club and a job in the City. Just when her new world is taking shape, a fleeting encounter threatens to ruin everything.

Kate Ryan is an ordinary wife and mother. Following the end of the war, she has managed to build an enviable life with her husband and young daughter. To anyone looking in from the outside, they seem like a normal, happy family. But when two policemen knock on her door one morning and threaten to destroy the facade Kate has created, she knows what she has to do to protect the people she loves. And suddenly, two women who never should have met are connected for ever . . .

I can’t say enough great things about this incredible novel, but I’m going to try and do it justice. It’s a historical mystery, extraordinarily clever psychologically and made me think about feminism, sisterhood and the difference between what society expects women’s lives to look like and the life decisions we make for ourselves. Flint has told her story through the eyes of the Kate and Bea, two women who are strangers, but connected by one man. Bea was an orphan and is now an unmarried woman in her late thirties. She’s the book-keeper for a firm in London who has pretty much resigned herself to being a career girl and living in a woman’s hostel. All this changes when she meets the handsome and charming Tom Ryan, a salesman at her firm. Bea struggles to believe that this man, with his movie star looks, would be interested in a woman like her. She expects him to chat up the young women, who have noticed him and are giggling, but he makes a point of stopping at her desk. He comments on her name, telling her that Beatrice was the great love of a poet. Bea is smitten and agrees to meet him, despite the fact that he is married. She is mentally aware of his wife’s presence, the third person always standing between them. Despite this, will Bea allow herself to succumb to Tom’s advances and can it end any other way but heartbreak or disaster?

Flint’s setting is vitally important to this story. We can draw parallels between contemporary women and these two characters, but they are also very much products of their time. This is a post-war Britain and everything has been changed by a war so terrible it is known as the Great War. Men have come home destroyed by what they’ve experienced physically and mentally.

‘There were empty sleeves and eye patches that one must not stare at or draw attention to; there were crutches and bandages and dreadful ridges of thick pink skin; and sometimes there was simply an absence in a face where a man had left a part of himself – the brightest and most vital part – in a muddy foreign field.’

Whereas women could be said to have flourished. Yes, there’s the ever present weight of grief and loss, but some of the changes in women’s lives had been positive. Both Kate and Bea are working women, and represent the many women who became wage earners during the Great War, plugging the gap in the employment market as more men joined up to fight. This was liberating for many women, who were then reluctant to move back to the domestic sphere after the war. There were also a shortage of men in the marriage market, some women had lost their fiancé or husband but there were others who came of age just after WW1 for whom eligible men were scarce. Having the option of throwing themselves into an absorbing career instead proved very fulfilling for some, like Morley’s office manager who clearly expected Bea to be left on the shelf and had marked her out as a potential replacement. Women being outside the domestic sphere meant that the pre-war rigid barriers of social class started to be breached. Different classes of people mingled in work places and matches that would have been impossible a few years before became more common. Bea still longs for love, but as her personal life becomes complicated and painful she does muse on what she has lost. As a single working woman she had women friends and lived in a vibrant city where she could take herself to the theatre, to a museum or for tea with friends. Now that she can see the reality of a relationship, she wonders was she better off before?

Bea knows there is a difference between herself and the girls who have young men to wait for. These are carefree girls, full of life, ‘neat and slender – sleek hair, dainty ankles, flickering glances and quicksilver laughter.’ She’s of a different sort, in looks and class. Where her married sister Jane looks on career girls as modern, smart and fashionable Bea looks a little closer and sees

frizzed modern hairstyles that they’d seen in advertisements and that didn’t suit them; women with lines around their eyes that no amount of cream or powder would cover. And women who, despite the well-cut clothes, had red rough hands and nails cut to the quick.’

Bea is well aware she is plain and there are references to Jane Eyre in the way she sees herself. After talking to Tom, she sees herself in the bathroom mirror and is shocked at the difference between her tumultuous, rich inner life and this pale, plain outside. She feels such overwhelming emotions that she disassociates from her rather normal body; ‘how can all these feelings come out of this plain face and body?’ It immediately took me to the conversation between Jane and Rochester when she challenges him for underestimating her:

‘Do you think, because I am poor, obscure, plain, and little, I am soulless and heartless? You think wrong! I have as much soul as you, and full as much heart!…’

In fact Tom uses the comparison to flatter her, praising her strength and courage in living such a lonely life. Patronised by her sister too, she is full of anger inside and expresses the creeping fear that not only is she without a husband, she’s noticed younger, smarter girls starting to come into the workplace. Bright, young things who might be better at her job and quicker. She admits to being afraid of the day when the axe falls, her clothes become shabbier and she gets more desperate. Yet is it any better to be at the mercy of a man? As Kate’s story unfolds we can see that the state of being a wife, is just as unstable and scary, because where Bea has all the responsibility and makes decisions for herself Kate is powerless, entirely dependent on the whims of her husband. A husband who is capable of terrible things. The more Kate starts to learn about her husband, tiny jigsaw pieces start to slot together in her head. She has to admit to herself that she has always known there was something hidden underneath:

‘Hadn’t I known – hadn’t I always known – that he had something terrible inside him, something that lay rotting under the smooth surface of our normal life? I saw glimpses of it sometimes. I thought of his face as he persuaded me, sweet-talked me, into doing things I did not want to do. I thought of how dirty, how shamed, I felt afterwards.’

Set in the 1920’s, this story is based on the true case of Emily Kaye and her married lover Herbert Mahon. The novel’s aim was to give voice to Mahon’s wife and so Kate’s voice came to life, creating a brilliant interplay between her narration and Bea’s. I loved how well the pace was controlled, from relatively slow at the beginning to a breakneck pace towards the end as Kate makes sense of what has happened and holds the key to solve the mystery. I loved how the author showed us the truth of contemporary attitudes to women, that a man can do something terrible, but it will always be the woman’s fault. How Bea is simply disregarded as shameless, getting old and desperate, brazen and responsible for enticing Tom, despite him being married. It’s quite shocking, but then when I thought about our tabloid’s attitudes to women, I realised that women are judged every day for their appearance, their sexuality, their life choices and if ever there is a marital affair in the papers the ‘other woman’ is always blamed. It’s scary to think how little some people’s attitudes have changed, but thank goodness we can earn for ourselves, own property and have bank accounts. I loved the sense of sisterhood the author brings into the story and it made me think about how it’s the women in my life who have held me up when I couldn’t manage alone. I was on tenterhooks wondering whether Kate would realise that to choose the sisterhood is to change things for her own daughter. To make a decision towards a better world for women. This book was a brilliant piece of historical fiction, an addictive mystery that stirred up the emotions and had me completely hooked. As soon as I’d finished, I wanted to read it again.

Published by Picador 23rd February 2023

Meet The Author

Emma Flint was born and grew up in Newcastle upon Tyne. She graduated from the University of St Andrews with an MA in English Language and Literature, and later completed a novel-writing course at the Faber Academy. She lives and works in London.

Since childhood, she has been drawn to true-crime stories, developing an encyclopaedic knowledge of real-life murder cases from the early 20th century. Her first novel, Little Deaths, was longlisted for the Women’s Prize for Fiction, for the Desmond Elliott Prize, for the Crime Writers’ Association Gold Dagger Award, and for The Guardian’s Not the Booker Prize.

Other Women is her second novel.

Posted in Netgalley

Cut Adrift by Jane Jesmond.

I really enjoyed our first outing with Jenifry (Jen) Shaw so I jumped at the chance to read the second outing for this daring and independent woman. Jen is taking time off to go climbing and has chosen Alajar, Spain as her destination, drawn in by a mysterious postcard showing a bar with decorative cork tiles on the ceiling. We met the shadowy undercover police officer Nick back in Cornwall and in the brief time they met their combined skills kept each other alive. There was also a connection between them that couldn’t be explored due to Nick being pulled straight back into another case. So when the postcard arrives with ‘wish you were here’ as the only message, Jen decides to take a chance and find the bar hoping this might be the right time to connect properly. Their time is limited though and it’s not long before Nick is off on another case. Jen does have a family issue to sort out though. Her brother has called in a panic to say that their father is planning to sell the family farm in Cornwall and the only person who can stop him is their mother. As usual their mother is elsewhere and not easy to contact, apparently teaching yoga to refugees in Malta. Jen takes advantage of Nick’s absence to fly to Malta in the hope of explaining to her mother what she needs to do to save the farmhouse where Jen and her brother grew up.

When Jen arrives though, her mother seems to be in the middle of a crisis with a family of refugees. The mother Nahla is an old friend of Morwenna’s and she’s with her two children Aya and Rania in a state of distress. This links back to a heart stopping prologue where we see that Nahla’s husband has been killed in Libya and the family have fled the country in a boat bound for Malta. Aya is so traumatised that she’s silent and both Rania and her mother are displaced and shellshocked by their experience. Now they’re forced into a refugee camp where disease, crime and trafficking are rife and no one can be trusted. Jen knows her mother and there’s no point trying to bring Morwenna’s mind back to home when she’s on a crusade. Jen’s now committed to helping Morwenna bring her friend and her daughters out of the refugee camp and settle them into a new home. The story is both heart stopping and heart rending. The author knows exactly how to pace her story with thrilling, fast paced set pieces followed by periods of calm that gave me chance to breath and think about what’s just happened. The scene with the fire in the clinic on the refugee camp had me gritting my teeth with anxiety, as Jen desperately tries to save those inside through the roof. Jen’s climbing skills are always at the forefront of the action and I trust her skills, but a part when she’s having to free climb a cliff with a complete novice was nail-bitingly tense.

The Maltese setting is fascinating with a sharp contrast between the picturesque streets with bougainvillea cascading prettily from the walls and the squalor of the camp. The distance between the Malta of the tourist trail and the Malta of those who arrive in the trafficker’s boats is vast. Morwenna is living across the two worlds, set up in a beautiful home with her lover Peter but entering the camp every day to teach yoga and help out at the clinic. The desperation of the refugees is made very clear and the way the traffickers ruthlessly exploit that desperation is horrifying. Nahla expects their escape from Libya to be uncomfortable and frightening, but she doesn’t expect their belongings to be discarded, to be forced into fighting others to make sure her and her children are on the boat, or to have her youngest child Aya hit when she can’t help but cry. Aya’s behaviour from there on is that of a deeply traumatised child, who automatically folds herself into tiny spaces without complaint knowing not to make a sound until she’s told to come out of hiding. Both girls are so vulnerable, clinging to the only person they recognise and so open to exploitation. It is difficult for Jen to get to the bottom of who is behind trafficking from the Maltese camp and when it becomes clear that secret services are also embedded in the camp it becomes even more complex. They have an entirely separate agenda, trying to separate potential terrorists using large movements of people from the Middle East and North Africa to slip into the UK undetected.

Jen is even more of a force to be reckoned with in this second novel and seems surprised at the connection she makes with Nahla’s daughter, particularly Rania. She’s more than an equal for those refugees stirring up trouble in the camp and her fitness skills mean she can escape many tense situations, but there were times when I was very worried. Her urge to protect the girls left her very vulnerable at times, luckily there was help from others but there were a couple of occasions when this was resolved by coincidences that stretched my credibility a little. Despite that I understood why the author had made those choices, for the development of other aspects of the story. Overall this was a page turning thriller, with a heroine I really enjoyed spending more time with.

Published by Verve 28th Feb 2023

Meet the Author

Jane Jesmond writes crime, thriller and mystery fiction. Her debut novel, On The Edge, the first in a series featuring dynamic, daredevil protagonist Jen Shaw was a Sunday Times Crime Fiction best book. The second in the series, Cut Adrift, will be published in Feb 2023, and A Quiet Contagion, an unsettling historical mystery for modern times, in Nov 2023. Although she loves writing (and reading) thrillers and mysteries, her real life is very quiet and unexciting. Dead bodies and dangerous exploits are not a feature. She lives by the sea in the northwest tip of France with a husband and a cat and enjoys coastal walks and village life. Unlike her daredevil protagonist, she is terrified of heights!

Posted in Netgalley

Picture You Dead by Peter James

Detective Superintendent Roy Grace finds himself plunged into an unfamiliar and rarefied world of fine art. Outwardly it appears respectable, gentlemanly, above reproach. But beneath the veneer, he rapidly finds that greed, deception and violence walk hand-in-hand.

It was lovely to be back in the world of Roy Grace, a character I was introduced to by a lovely new neighbour nearly ten years ago. When she moved in across the road from me with her English teacher daughter, they both had an extensive library. So, she asked me over for a cup of tea and to look through their boxes of duplicate books. She’d noticed I had a substantial library of my own when she popped round to introduce herself. This unexpected rummage through their cast offs brought both Elly Griffiths and Roy Grace to my notice. Luckily for me, both mum and daughter had a full set of Grace novels so I was able to spend a few weeks slowly working my way through his entire story. I managed to get access to Peter James’s latest through Netgalley a couple of months ago, but have been a little late in writing up my review.

This time Grace’s case takes him into the world of art collecting and finds that when a collector wants a particular painting, they might pursue it using any means at their disposal, even murder. Everything is set in motion by a couple called Harry and Freya Kipling, an ordinary couple who work as a builder and a teacher. On their weekends they like nothing more than browsing car boot sales for bric a brac and on one particular day Harry brings home a hideous painting of an old hag. He explains to Freya that he bought it for the ornate frame, hoping they could use it for a different painting. He leaves it in the conservatory, but on a sunny day the heat coming through the glass starts to burn the painting. That’s when the couple notice there’s something completely different underneath and after asking an expert Harry cleans the picture with acetone. Underneath is a fêtes galantes style painting of a couple in a garden that looks like others by Fragonard. Of course Harry doesn’t imagine for a minute that it’s worth anything, but for fun they attend a local filming of the Antiques Roadshow. As they queue up in front of the painting expert, they’re shocked to be taken aside and told the he would like to do some quick research on the their picture before filming. He then drops a bombshell, that this painting could be a missing Fragonard; the Spring painting in a series on the seasons. Alone it’s worth upwards of a million pounds, but with the others in the series it’s worth much more. The Kipling’s treat the painting almost like a ticking time bomb, something that worsens when their episode of the roadshow is televised. Now everyone knows they own this painting, including people who want it and will stop at nothing to obtain it.

This is an incredibly tough time for CSI Grace and his wife Cleo, he has only just lost his son Leo in a tragic accident and they are preparing for his funeral. Leo had only lived with Roy and Cleo for a few months, after his mother Sandy’s death in Munich. Sandy was Roy’s first wife who went missing early on in his career, causing so many problems and putting Roy in a position as suspect in her disappearance. He hadn’t even known Sandy was still alive, let alone he had a son, so it’s been a rollercoaster of combined grief and joy. To find out he had a son was shocking and to lose him so soon afterwards has been terrible, plus Cleo is close to giving birth to their second child together. His DI Glen Branson is at loggerheads with his fiancé over her job as a journalist, specialising in crime. Her ambition can mean criticising the force, something Glen is very sensitive about. With all this at home, at work Roy and Glen are looking at a cold case, the murder of an antiques and art dealer on his return home one evening. He was killed in his car on his own drive, as he waited for his electric gates to open, by someone who knew his movements very well. When the Kiplings have their house broken into, with nothing taken, it seems certain to be linked to their appearance on the Antiques Roadshow. Then when another body turns up, this time outside the home of renowned art forger Dave Hegarty, the coincidences start to pile up. As Roy’s team work their way through the collectors of Fragonard, will he find one who’s willing to kill to complete their collection?

This is a very different world to the one Roy’s team usually inhabit, but as always where huge amounts of money are involved, people are ruthless. The author is an absolute master at giving us moments of personal joy and anguish, alongside extreme tension and fear. One section of the book has a home invasion that’s absolutely heart-stopping! Then next we’re at Leo’s funeral, an incredibly personal moment where we’re taken into Roy’s anger over Sandy’s disappearance and guilt about his relationship with his son. Alongside this is the anticipation about the birth of his second child with Cleo, due in the next few weeks. The case is fascinating and I fell completely into this world of art collecting, from those who can afford the real thing to the world of forgeries where being as good as Dave Hegarty can bring plaudits and plenty of cash too. I felt so bad for the Kiplings, who had simply bought a painting at a boot sale and didn’t deserve any of the horror and stress that followed. It was good to be back with the team again; Tanya showing her usual organisation and Norman’s terrible jokes from the 1980’s really bringing the reader back into their world. Then of course there’s Brighton, with the usual mix of the seedy and strange that comes with Roy’s job and how it contrasts with the quieter rural life he’s chosen for his family. I only hope from here on there’s less personal turbulence for a character I’ve come to enjoy so much.

Meet The Author

Peter James is a UK No.1 bestselling author, best known for his Detective Superintendent Roy Grace series, now a hit ITV drama starring John Simm as the troubled Brighton copper. Much loved by crime and thriller fans for his fast-paced page-turners full of unexpected plot twists, sinister characters, and accurate portrayal of modern day policing, he has won over 40 awards for his work including the WHSmith Best Crime Author of All Time Award and Crime Writers’ Association Diamond Dagger.

To date, Peter has written an impressive total of 19 Sunday Times No. 1s, sold over 21 million copies worldwide and been translated into 38 languages. His books are also often adapted for the stage – the most recent being Looking Good Dead.

Visit Peter James http://www.peterjames.com

Follow Peter on Instagram > @peterjamesuk

Follow Peter on Twitter > @peterjamesuk

Follow Peter on Facebook > http://www.facebook.com/peterjames.roygrace

Posted in Personal Purchase

The Last Remains by Elly Griffiths

It’s always a treat to be back in Norfolk with Dr. Ruth Galloway, in fact it feels like I’m visiting an old friend. One of those friends you maybe only see once a year, but you just pick up where you left off like you’ve never been apart. This time we’re in the very North of Norfolk, branching into Cambridgeshire and even my home city of Lincoln too. The last book was set in the middle of the pandemic and in The Last Remains we’re still dealing with the aftermath. There’s a sense of dislocation from regular life, but weirdly there’s restlessness and a lsense of urgency too. An urge to start getting things done. It’s no surprise that several characters have big changes on the horizon. Ruth’s university are thinking of scrapping the archaeology department. Nelson remains single, but is still living in the marital home he shared with wife Michelle. Cathbad is still struggling with the ongoing symptoms of long COVID, much to his partner Judy’s concern. The group of friends are once again drawn together by a body. This one is walled up in an old cafe that’s being renovated. Ruth thinks the skeleton is female and has been placed there deliberately. She’s not ancient either, with Ruth ruling that the bones are not historic and likely to have only been there twenty years. What follows is a delve into the more recent past and a group of archaeology students spellbound by the knowledge of their tutor Leo Ballard. Could this go back to an evening of students and their tutor camping in the forest and talking about Norfolk mythology? At least there is one person to ask who’s very close to home and he’s always around where strange Norfolk legends are concerned.

The case is a complex one, with the themes of twinning and disguises. There are also interesting contemporary issues, especially for anyone like me who went to university for the first time in the 1990s. If we apply today’s standards of conduct to the relationships between students and tutors in the past, it’s clear the lines are more blurred. Leo Ballard was happy to have his students at his home and have camping trips with them too. The students would also congregate at the cafe where the body is found – The Green Man. The cafe was run by a man called Peter Webster who had two daughters- Gaia and Freya – who also studied archaeology. However, the walled up skeleton is a student from Lincoln called Emily who was on the receiving end of a blow to the head. Emily was a student at Cambridge University and went missing after the camping trip to Grimes Graves, a prehistoric flint mine. It was thought she had been travelling on the train to Lincoln to visit her parents, but was seen to get off at Ely and simply vanished. I was creeped out by Leo Ballard immediately and I didn’t like his manner when talking about young girls. He seemed to take advantage of his position to lure young students into relationships with him. Freya Webster points out that he never visited the cafe himself, but he felt present because of how much his students talked about him. His following of students felt like a cult, impressed by his knowledge and taken in by his stories. In fact he wasn’t above a bit of theatre, since all students remember seeing a strange figure with horns emerging from the woods when they were camping. Was this a group hallucination or did someone in the group want to genuinely scare the students?

Cathbad, everyone’s favourite druid, is not his usual self. He is still experiencing breathing problems when exerting himself, he sleeps more than he used to and has difficulties remembering things. It seems that even he is questioning his longevity and is acting out of character, such as taking the whole family to mass at Easter. So, when he goes missing, his partner Judy is distraught. I think she fears he’s gone walkabout, a spiritual walk taken when the individual knows they’re going to die. It’s a change that Ruth is struggling to deal with, especially since Cathbad has always seemed invincible. She’s facing enough changes of her own with the department of archaeology under threat of closure and she questions what more she could have done, but she’s written books and even had a television series. She’s probably the nose high profile archaeology tutor she can think of. She doesn’t like changes that threaten her and Kate’s settled existence on the salt marshes, next door to the sister she has only recently found. Kate is now at secondary school and is used to the changes of the last year. She is not surprised at the occasional presence of Nelson in the early morning and he also arrives most Saturday evenings bearing pizza. Ruth has a lot of respect for Nelson’s wife Michelle, who had the guts to break the endless deadlock of their three sided relationship. She has moved to Blackpool with Nelson’s youngest, George. Now that Nelson is free though, she isn’t sure what it means or what she wants. She senses Nelson moving ever closer to the big discussion of their future, but finds herself avoiding it. She can’t imagine ever being anywhere but here with Kate and Flint, looking out to sea from her little cottage. However, what if Michelle returned?

There’s plenty of tension here, in the case and in the relationships. The sequence with Ruth and Kate at Grimes Graves made me feel claustrophobic! Ruth has interest from David, another department member, and his declaration of love has surprised her, despite friend Shona saying it was obvious. David is going to work at Uppsala University in Sweden and would like Ruth to go with him, where a new post is waiting for her. If she stays at UNN there’s an assistant dean’s position possible. I felt like Ruth was waiting for a big gesture from Nelson. She doesn’t want him by default, just because Michelle has gone. When Michelle returns and is at their marital home, Ruth disengages. Nelson needs to choose and he needs to do it independently. Will he do this or will it just be easier to slip back into his marriage? Does Michelle even want that? I like that Ruth loves her independence and values her life without a man very highly. He has to prove what he will add to her life, because it’s really great as it is. I was on the edge of my seat wondering what she would choose. I was also worried for Cathbad, but loved the way these friends come together as a community. Judy and Ruth support each other and their children get along really well too, so they come together to wait for Cathbad’s return, trying not to think about the alternative. I will say that there’s a wedding a the end, but I’m not telling you which characters tie the knot. It’s going to be fascinating to see Ruth, perhaps in a new location and different job going forward. However, I think there will always be part of her and Flint’s spirit wandering the marshland.

Out now from Quercus

Meet The Author

Elly is the author of two crime series, the Dr Ruth Galloway books and the Brighton Mysteries. Last year she also published a stand-alone, The Stranger Diaries, and a children’s book, A Girl Called Justice. She has also previously written books under my real name, Domenica de Rosa (I know it sounds made up). The Ruth books are set in Norfolk, somewhere Elly went for holidays in her childhood, but it was a chance remark of my husband’s that gave me her idea for the first in the series, The Crossing Places. They were crossing Titchwell Marsh in North Norfolk when her husband, who’s an archaeologist, mentioned that prehistoric people thought that marshland was sacred ground. Because it’s neither land nor sea, but something in-between, they saw it as a bridge to the afterlife; neither land nor sea, neither life nor death. In that moment, she said, she saw Dr Ruth Galloway walking towards her out of the mist… Elly lives near Brighton with Andy. They have two grown-up children and a cat called Gus who accompanies her as she writes in the garden shed.

Posted in Personal Purchase

The Homes by J.B. Mylet

Lesley and Jonesy have been in foster care together ever since they can remember, in the same room and often in the same bed if Jonesy creeps in late at night. Our narrator is Lesley and she stands out as a little different from the other girls in the homes. She’s clever and goes to the grammar school instead of the one on site. She’s good at maths and seeing patterns in things, so what starts happening at the homes seems to her like a puzzle she can solve. Because someone at the homes is killing girls, possibly raping them and killing them. Who could it be?

The Homes are a sprawling institution made up of 30 cottages filled with the orphans of Glasgow and those needing care. So large, it has it’s own hospital, church and school, with every cottage run by a house mother and father with a Christian ethos. Set in the 1960’s and based on the Quarrier’s orphan village near the Bridge of Weir, where the author’s mother spent some of her childhood. He writes these girls as very isolated and dealt with at a distance, not just from their families, but from the staff too. He throws us in at the deep end with a morning that Lesley’s been dreading. Today she has to face the school bully Glenda, who lives a few cottages up. The adults know that Lesley is very likely to take a beating, but they do nothing. As she leaves for her school bus, Lesley can see a crowd of girls gathering at Glenda’s gate hoping for blood. It’s fair to say they get a bit of a surprise when the encounter doesn’t play out the way they expect. I felt as if the children were treated like animals, like when I’ve brought rescue cats home and left them to sort out their hierarchy amongst themselves. Even so, I would worry if any of them were distressed or fighting. These kids are fed, watered and disciplined, but they’re not cherished.

Only once called by her Christian name, Morag is known as Jonesey and she is a larger than life character. I loved the little characteristics that Lesley relates to us, such as the giggling in church, the constant chatter, and the way she often slips into Lesley’s bed at night but still isn’t restful. Even in her sleep Lesley is often woken by Jonesey’s jerking limbs, she’s like a puppy whose brain is asleep but whose body is still on the go. She’s absolutely irrepressible and incredibly loyal to Lesley, often waiting outside for her bus to arrive in the early evening, wriggling like that excited puppy again. By contrast, Lesley is outwardly very quiet. Her inner world is lively though, bright and full of questions. She has a dogged determination that helps her at school with tricky maths problems, but proves to be a nuisance to the police and the perpetrator of these terrible murders. Unfortunately, her amateur sleuthing is not quick enough to save the third victim. In between the case we learn a lot about the upheaval Lesley has suffered in life. She’s visited by her gran mostly, but she isn’t great at answering all the questions Lesley has. She’s clearly very fond of her granddaughter, but doesn’t want to get into the minutiae of why her mother placed her in care. Her mother visits less, but when the answers finally come there are painful truths to process. I was so glad she had Jonesey and her therapist Eadie but I worried for her going forwards and eventually leaving care. I bonded with Lesley, enjoying her intelligence and sense of fun as well as the way she coped with difficult situations.

A bit like Lesley I suspected every character along the way, knowing that people who work with children are not always doing it for the right reasons. There are people at the homes who are there for their own ends. There are various levels of abuse going on in the community. They’re forced into a religious upbringing they may not want and the expectations, particularly of girls, is tied up in that Christian morality. The discipline is down to each house parent and is always strict, but could also be violent and humiliating. At worst these children are preyed upon by the most horrific kinds of abuser and the tension builds towards a conclusion that not only unmasks a killer, but blows the lid open on everything that is wrong with the institution. I thought the historical setting was captured incredibly well, not so much the location but the emotional landscape of the 1960s. This was a time of secrets, when children were seen and not heard and definitely didn’t have rights. A time when young women were still shamed for their burgeoning sexuality and perfectly normal urges and their consequences. This was the time when my mother was growing up and it felt as if the author had the context just right. I thought the author perfectly balanced Lesley’s personal realisations and growth, with the tension of the murder investigation. As the inhabitants of Lesley’s cottage sit down for Sunday lunch with their houseparents, the Pattersons, she has a very grown up revelation. In the space of her week, this is the only time they feel ‘like a big normal family’ and it’s becoming apparent that all adults will eventually let her down. By the end I realised Lesley had drawn me into her story to such an extent I was wondering about her future. Despite the murders being solved, I was reluctant to close the book and leave her behind.

Published by Viper, 26th May 2022.

Meet the Author

J.B. Mylet was inspired to write The Homes based on the stories his mother told him about her childhood. She grew up in the infamous Quarrier’s Homes in Scotland in the 1960s, along with a thousand other orphaned or unwanted children, and did not realise that children were supposed to live with their parents until she was seven. He felt this was a story that needed to be told. He lives in London.

You can follow James on Twitter @JamesMylet, or find him on Facebook.

Posted in Netgalley

The Only Suspect by Louise Candlish

Alex lives in one of a row of cottages, once intended for workmen, now homes for middle class Londoners looking for more space in the suburbs. He lives with wife Beth and their dog Olive, enjoying quite a settled and peaceful existence. Even Alex’s job as an auditor has a certain amount of quiet respectability about it – some might even say boring respectability. However, when Beth’s pregnant friend Zara ends up without a roof over her head, she becomes a catalyst for change in the house and in Alex and Beth’s marriage. She becomes a third party in the relationship, staying much longer than expected and even worse, she and Alex don’t get on. They start to butt heads over his indifference to Beth’s interests, such as trying to get the pathway opposite them opened up and turned into a community nature trail. As Zara and Alex continue to clash, Beth notices things – for example his indifference to Zara’s pregnancy, especially considering they’ve been told they can’t have children – and this starts to bother her. He has no social media presence, won’t have his photo taken and is very threatened by Zara’s questions about his past. When he explodes, after Beth buys him an Ancestry DNA kit for his birthday she seriously starts to wonder. What is her husband so scared about?

The author sets this uneasy dynamic in the present day, but interweaves it with another timeline, around twenty years in the past. A young man called Richard narrates his own love story with a temp girl he meets in the foyer of their offices. She has just started to eat lunch in the foyer because there’s a new frozen yoghurt machine. After a few lunchtimes chatting in the building, they start meeting for lunch, either sitting outside or taking strolls into St. James’s Park. As they get to know each other, Richard is starting to fall for Marina, but their time together is so rationed. He can never take her out after work, she goes straight home. She can never stay the night, except for Thursdays, but even then she arrives later in the evening and disappears early next morning. They never go to Marina’s flat. In fact he’s surprised when she agrees to come to his birthday party, organised by new flatmate Rollo. Rollo is sure he knows what’s going on and can’t believe Richard is so naïve- Marina is hiding something, or perhaps someone.

Louise Candlish really is clever when it comes to twists and turns and this novel has a couple of whoppers. Some I didn’t see coming at all, both in the past and the present. There are a couple of red herrings too, just to make the story more interesting and send the reader down a few blind alleys. The characters are nuanced and full of faults, making it harder to work out which ones have the normal human flaws and which are just downright evil. I found Beth’s friend Zara so annoying, she’s inquisitive and inserts herself into private conversations and really does seem to have a bee in her bonnet about Alex. She’s manipulative too, using Beth’s grief at being unable to have a child to get comfortable in their home. It felt like she had no intention of leaving, involving Beth more and more in the pregnancy and actively baiting Alex in front of his wife. It could be that she just thinks Alex treats her friend badly, but it could be that she wants Beth and the house to herself. In our past section I felt some sympathy with Richard because he was just so trusting and is let down badly. As the events in the past start to escalate the book becomes so tense. I was addicted, reading the last half in one long session. Alex is as tense as we are and his desperation to stay in the background of Beth’s community venture starts to look very suspicious. Beth is angry because he’s being unsupportive, but it’s possibly much more than that. I could see that he was experiencing real fear, but what does he think will be discovered and what is the link to the nature trail? It’s a labyrinthine plot but I didn’t miss a thing, totally focused on the outcome of this mystery. Candlish has an incredible knack for creating these middle class communities that look the height of respectability from the outside and turn out to be anything but. Thankfully, I didn’t get attached to any of the characters so I could take a twisted sense of pleasure in watching this particular house of cards come tumbling down. This book is addictive, intense and as always, an absolute treat.

Published 2nd February 2023 by Simon and Schuster UK

Meet The Author

Louise Candlish is the Sunday Times bestselling author of fourteen novels. Our House, a #1 bestseller, won the Crime & Thriller Book of the Year at the 2019 British Book Awards, was longlisted for the 2019 Theakston Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year, and was shortlisted for the Goldsboro Books Glass Bell Award. It is soon to be a major ITV drama made by Death in Paradise producers Red Planet Pictures. Louise lives in London with her husband and daughter. Visit her at LouiseCandlish.com or connect with her on Twitter @Louise_Candlish.

Posted in Sunday Spotlight

Sunday Spotlight! D.S. Adam Tyler Series by Russ Thomas

I picked Russ Thomas’s last novel on NetGalley because I noticed it was set in Sheffield. Since I live just across the river from South Yorkshire, Sheffield is our nearest big city. It’s my ‘go to’ place for the theatre, concerts and decent shopping. In fact Meadowhall was vital when I was a teenager, because we were pre-internet and if you didn’t shop further afield you would find yourself at a club in the same Dorothy Perkins top as everyone else. So my introduction to DS Tyler was actually the second book in the series called Nighthawking and it was set around the Winter Gardens. I found myself drawn in by the case being investigated, but also by Adam himself. He’s a rather complicated character with a difficult childhood and the trauma of finding his father hanging in the family home when he came home from school. Subsequent investigations into Richard Tyler’s death concluded it was a suicide, brought about by corrupt dealings with organised crime and the fear of being discovered. As if that’s not hard enough to live down, Adam’s godmother and the woman who brought him up is now DCI Diane Jordan. Adam is either treated with suspicion for being corrupt like his father or for being the DCI’s pet. Finally, there’s his sexuality, which shouldn’t have a bearing on his work relationships, but probably does in a macho environment like the police force.

Since I had organised time to spare this December to read freely – a true Christmas gift for a book blogger – I decided to read both the first and the latest instalments of the series. In the first novel, Firewatching, Adam picks up a case that’s both cold and red hot. A body is found bricked up in the walls of a country house, a house that’s lain empty since the disappearance of the owner several years before. From the injuries to the fingers of the body, it’s clear the victim was walled in alive. DI Dogget is on board for the murder case so Adam is called in to work alongside him. However, it’s soon clear that the case does have a connection to Adam and he’s soon hopelessly compromised. Matters in his personal life also become tangled in the case, but most disturbing is that the reader knows someone close to Adam is not what they seem. They’re a blogger, but their muse is fire. How far will they go to entertain their readers? This is a fantastic start to a series, managing to establish a character and his back story, while still presenting a solid and tricky crime to solve. I loved the two elderly ladies linked to the big house, living close by in their little bungalow. They have lived together nearly all of their lives, after a friendship cemented by helping out in the horror of the Blitz where fire destroyed large swathes of London. Adam’s friend was also interesting, a woman civilian in the station who wants to get him involved in the LGBTQ+ group and improve his social life. She is dragging him out pubbing and clubbing when she can persuade him. Police officers have to tread very carefully though in their local pubs and clubs. You never know who you might meet. This is an incredible Russian doll of a case with one crime inside another needing to solved before they get to the truth of the house’s terrible history.

The third and latest novel, Cold Reckoning, is now available in paperback and starts with a very effective cold isolated country walk. Matilda Darke is escaping the claustrophobic house she shares with her mum and the caring role she has now her mum has fibromyalgia. It’s a clear, crisp morning near the lake and Matilda hears a gunshot. Making her way home she stumbles across a man coming out of a cabin. Neither expected the other to be there, but his cold hard stare sends an immediate chill through Matilda and she knows this man means her harm. So she runs and never stops to even look behind her. This opening leaves us asking so many questions. Was this where the gunshot came from? Was she right to be scared? Does the man know Matilda and her walking routine, or was she just in the wrong place at the wrong time? Adam’s life is also upside down, because DCI Diane Jordan, his godmother, has gone missing. This is so out of character he knows something is terribly wrong and with the search for her on his mind he’s called on to help DI Doggett with a very strange case. In a lakeside cabin there are signs of a struggle and blood spatter consistent with a gunshot wound, but there’s no body. Nearby though, a body is suspended in a frozen lake. The man has no wounds and has been dead a lot longer than this lake has been frozen. How do these two things fit together or are they a complete coincidence?

I thought this latest novel was clever, not just the case which again strays close to home for Adam, but the details of the characterisation. From their rather gruff and begrudging start back in the first novel Doggett and Tyler have become a team. There’s a trust that’s built between them and they are keeping a lot of information close to their chests, the knowledge of a possible conspiracy between the police, local dignitaries and organised crime. It might even have a bearing on Adam’s father’s death, but there’s still a lot to unravel. Their close conversations and sudden silences when others enter the room has been noticed. DC Rabbani has come a long way since Tyler seconded her to CID in the first novel. She has great instincts, is good with people and she’s furious that the other two members of the team have been keeping something from her. So furious that she could be persuaded to keep the acting Chief Constable in the loop about their suspicions. Rabbani wants to be part of the team, and although the two detectives only want to protect her, she sees their secrecy as a lack of trust. Tyler is a conundrum. Seeing him try to take steps towards improving his mental health is great, but he can only let some of his guard down. He’s also not learned a lesson about keeping his private life and working life separate. By this third instalment I felt like I’d really come to know these characters and care about them. Added to that, the cold cases really are complex, taking us back into the past and into situations that people have tried to leave behind. Witnesses are reluctant and when they’re being asked to remember twenty years ago their memories can be shaky. DI Tyler is a flawed hero, but he does want to find the truth and bring justice to those who have been wronged. However far back he has to dig to find the answers. Im now looking forward to our fourth instalment.

Meet the Author

RUSS THOMAS was born in Essex, raised in Berkshire and now lives in Sheffield. After a few ‘proper’ jobs (among them: pot-washer, optician’s receptionist, supermarket warehouse operative, call-centre telephonist, and storage salesman) he discovered the joys of bookselling, where he could talk to people about books all day. Firewatching is his debut novel, followed by Nighthawking and Cold Reckoning.

Posted in Netgalley, Publisher Proof

The Dazzle of the Light by Georgina Clarke

Just a couple of weeks ago I was waxing lyrical about Kate Atkinson’s novel Shrines of Gaiety and then another novel passes my way covering the same territory and the same time period. While I loved Atkinson’s novel on it’s own merits, this one feels more urgent and alive. I felt immediately in the story and fascinated by the two main female characters. Ruby is one of a female gang known as the Forty Thieves (the Forties) who commit crimes from pick-pocketing for the young members to shoplifting and even jewellery theft for those more experienced members. Ruby has been one of the Forties for years and due to her looks doesn’t always attract suspicion in the fancier stores. In fact, she’s on a joint job with her lover Billy from the Elephant Boys, when she first runs into Harriet Littlemore. Harriet is the real deal, a young woman from a very good family, engaged to an up and coming member of parliament. Harriet has ambitions beyond being an MP’s wife, she wants to be a journalist and her father permitted her to ask for a job with the evening paper. She’s been hired to write pieces for the woman at home, such as ways to wear the new style of hat, but Harriet has ambitions for so much more, thinking she might write a piece about the young thief she’s seen. However, her fascination with Ruby seems to be much more than journalistic interest.

The story follows these two women as they each pursue their ambitions. Ruby wants to do more work with the Elephant Boys. She wants to take on bigger jobs and wear beautiful clothes and jewellery. When she meets Harriet again, on a shoplifting run in a department store, she cheekily suggests she should update her style. Perhaps she should cut her hair in the new shingled way that’s the height of fashion, Ruby tells her, then she could wear the new style of hat she’s considering. Like a woman in a trance, Harriet goes to a French hairdresser and has her long hair cut short. She’s amazed by how much it suits her and hopes to see Ruby with her new fashionable look, even if it does cause a stir at home, particularly with her traditional mother. She’s furious when the story about the jewellery heist she witnessed is written by one of the male reporters at the paper. So she decides to write a piece on Ruby, the Jewel of the Borough, and gets one of the artists to draw a sketch from her description. In a way, Harriet admires Ruby. She sees Ruby’s freedom, her nerve and confidence, and contrasts it with her own restrictions. She has no idea what her article will truly mean for Ruby. We see what Harriet can’t, because we’ve met the rest of the Forties and Ruby’s other mentor Solly, who runs a jewellery business. The women of the Forties are in a hierarchy, with Annie ? At the top. Many have been thieving since they were children, looked after by the Forties in return for their tiny hands making their way into pockets. The ones that are married are struggling to feed their kids and to avoid their husband’s fists. Most have done time in Holloway and without the Forties, they and their families would be cold and hungry. From Ruby’s perspective, money is freedom and Harriet certainly has plenty of that.

I loved the way the author showed, that despite their differences in class and means, Ruby and Harriet are still second class citizens due to their gender. Although Ruby has earned some equality thanks to her sleight of hand and is chosen by leader Annie, to do jobs with the Elephant Boys, her personal life is very different. Solly is a father figure to her and always keeps a room for above the jewellers, but when it comes to her lover Billy she has no real power. She has confidence in her allure, but when she’s forced to lie low for a while Billy soon moves on to the next warm body. She often has to give up her body to seal a deal, whether it’s a little extra for the man who fences the more risky pieces of jewellery she’s stolen or romancing someone to get information out of them for Peter who runs the nightclub. This work gives her a rather glamorous roof over her head when she really needs it, but she definitely earns her money. Peter has a big job coming up with the Elephants, something that involves men of money and influence. Ruby has no clue how respectable these men are, or their standing in society. It seems to her that all men will use women, no matter how respectable they may seem. Harriet is completely powerless when it comes to the men in her life. She has a life set up for her as Ralph’s wife and her parents can’t understand why she isn’t satisfied with her lot. She has money, beautiful clothes and a handsome fiancé who is going to be a man of great influence. They can’t understand that she wants something for herself, something she has earned on her own merits. I couldn’t put the book down because I wanted both of these women to break out of the prison they are in, choose a different life and perhaps become close. I didn’t want the system to win.

The setting for this fascinating story is beautifully built by the author. We’re post-WW1, a period of huge shifts in the class system and changes for both men and women. The author shows how the class system and expectations of women have changed through Harriet’s relationship with her parents. They still have pre-war attitudes and are expecting Harriet to fall in line. Even the changes she makes to her appearance show that shift from the restrictions of Edwardian dress and the relative freedom of the 1920’s fashions with shorter skirts, no restrictive undergarments and shorter hair. These fashions suit women who are busier and don’t have hours to dress in the morning. Financial changes mean only the very wealthy can afford the help of a ladies maid every morning. Ruby can wear the latest fashions to please herself, when she can afford them. She loves the glamour of the clothes she wears to the club, where she needs to attract the more discerning gentleman.

For the men, those who were in the trenches found them democratising. Bullets and shells don’t care about the class you’re from and although there was still a hierarchy, they died in the mud together. This led to some strange allegiances back in the post-war world. It’s clear to Ruby that there’s a big job on the cards, Billy has hinted as much and her time at the club throws her close to the planning. There are men involved who would never normally give the Elephant Boys the time of day, so they must need them to do the dirty work. These are men from the highest class, who usually drink at their club or the Savoy, but don’t mind slumming it at the club if it makes them money or the company of a woman like Ruby. I desperately wanted some of them to get their come uppance, knowing that’s not always the way of the world. The real winners though are those that can move between worlds, like Peter Lazenby. Though the polish and charm of all these men hides something more brutal. Despite her misdemeanours I was as charmed by Ruby as Harriet was and I wanted her to find a middle ground where she survives comfortably. As for Harriet I wanted her to break out of her parent’s upper class restrictions. I wanted her to have a love affair with someone unsuitable and a friendship with Ruby, if not a full on passionate affair. This was a fantastic book, full of characters, historical detail and that verve and energy that seems synonymous with 1920.

Published by Verve Books 17th November 2023

Meet The Author

Georgina Clarke has always been passionate about stories and history. The Lizzie Hardwicke novels give her the opportunity to bring to life her love of the eighteenth century and her determination that a strong, intelligent and unconventional woman should get to solve the crimes – rather than be cast in the role of the side-kick. Georgina was born in Wolverhampton, has degrees from Oxford, Cambridge and London, but now lives in Worcester with her husband and son and two lively cats.

Her first two novels, Death and the Harlot and The Corpse Played Dead, are published by Canelo. She is currently cooking up plots for the next novels in the series. 

If you would like to visit her website, you can find her at: 

http://www.georginaclarkeauthor.com

She is also to be found tweeting (probably far too often than is good for her) at: 

@clarkegeorgina1

Posted in Random Things Tours

The Pain Tourist by Paul Cleave

‘In movies the monsters are always zombies, vampires, or some weird kind of mutant, but in this moment his eleven year old brain tells him he was wrong all this time. What he’s looking at now are monsters. Real monsters.’

I loved the central premise of this novel from Paul Cleave, the idea that there are pain tourists – people who gain satisfaction from soaking up the pain and misery of others. I’ve always used the term ‘emotional vampires’ to describe something similar and it has levels, from those who revel in reading lurid tabloid coverage of a celebrity break-up to something much more disturbing. We all know those people who have a tendency to insert themselves into other people’s life dramas and grief or who get a kick out of watching true crime or the accounts of serial killers, such as the page after page of obscene detail that filled the pages of tabloids following the discoveries at Cromwell Street, the home of Fred and Rose West. It seems lately as if everyone is watching serial killer documentaries and actors from Dominic West to David Tennant are queueing up to play them. I think here, by imagining the more disturbing lengths someone might go to in order to feel part of that crime or tragedy, the author really made me think about this trend.

The novel opens as a tense and violent crime is being committed. An eleven year old named James is watching his parents being threatened at gunpoint by three masked men who have broken into the family home in the night. As the intruders try to obtain the whereabouts of a safe from his parents, using whatever means to make them talk, James is trying to set up an escape plan for his sister Hazel. As both James and his mother’s lives were threatened, my heart was racing wondering why his parents don’t tell the gunmen! James’s quick thinking saves his sister, in a heart-stopping escape she gets to a neighbouring house, but it earns him a bullet to the head after watching both his parents killed. The terrible tragedy is compounded by the fact James’s family did not have a safe. However, one had been recently fitted a few doors away where a diamond dealer had just moved in with his family.

Cleverly, Cleave then splits the narrative in two directions, in an almost ‘sliding doors’ type story. James’s life continues into the future with his family intact or James comes out of a nine year coma, convinced he’s been living a life way beyond the four walls of his hospital room. For the cops who worked the case, a lot has happened in the last nine years since they failed to solve the murder of Hazel and James’s parents. Theo Tate left the force and is now a private investigator after a terrible tragedy touched his own family. Rebecca Kent is still a police officer, but is marked by tragedy in a more physical way, every reaction from strangers reminds her she now has a scar running down her face. The pair come together to revisit the case, when Kent is informed that James has woken up. Now, despite her relentless hunt for a serial killer nicknamed Copy Joe, Kent is tasked with reopening the cold case. Feeling hopeful that James may remember some new detail to add to existing evidence she also wonders if he could become a target for the killers, who are still at large? James can’t speak, but can communicate with pen and paper. The investigators are shocked by the detail packed into James’s story as he starts to write more. His ‘ComaWorld’ diary seems to flow out of him with very little thought or res. Nine notebooks, one per year, document a life unlived by anyone but James. Familiar names and events start to become apparent to his sister, such as his accuracy on each day’s weather or the book she was reading to him slipping into the narrative. What nobody expected him to reveal is that Kent has more than one serial killer on her hands.

This was such an original and complex thriller. As you might expect, considering I’m a writing therapist, the ‘Coma World’ stories were fascinating to me. The aspects of real life that Hazel notices are brilliant plot devices, but also play with the idea that the unconscious mind is still very much alive and picking up on what’s going on around it. From a therapy angle, James’s narrative could be seen as the mind’s way of healing itself while his body is asleep. One therapy technique I’ve seen involves the client writing a different narrative ending to something that’s happened. It helps the client discuss how a different ending might feel – would they feel more closure about the event for example? By exploring this, we can then discover and discuss why the real ending caused so many problems. The way James writes, in longhand and over a period of days fascinated me too. Is he scared if he doesn’t write it down it will be lost to the truth? The complex level of detail is incredible, as if he’s still seeing it running like a movie in his mind’s eye. I wondered how he kept it so rigidly to one year per book, suggesting there was a lot of detail he chose not to record. What we choose to edit out of a narrative is sometimes as important as what we leave in. When it becomes clear he’s been aware of other patients in the room, we can see how his mind is weaving their names and other facts into his narrative – he’s heard all their conversations too.

Tate and Kent were great characters to guide us through these complex interwoven cases. Kent is driven, but slightly less idealistic than Tate. She’s made peace with the fact that some cases don’t get solved in a way he hasn’t. It’s clear why she’s stayed inside the police force and he’s preferred to forge his own path. He’s an incredible investigator but perhaps not so good at office politics and coping with an imperfect system. Kent is desperately trying to solve the case of Copy Joe, a serial killer who copies the methods of previous serial killers, like the Christchurch Carver. Whoever he copies, he likes to leave the crime scene exactly the same way, almost like an homage to the murderers, showing his admiration. Are they looking for a fan of the ‘True Crime’ genre? Someone who perhaps started with the odd book, the podcasts, and the documentaries until he’s had to experience the same thrill. It’s an uncomfortable concept and made me question our enjoyment of such narratives, especially when true crime documentaries are constantly in the daily top ten on Netflix or other streaming service. When it comes to curiosity, how far is too far? When does an interest become an urge, an action. Tate’s private life was so devastatingly sad and I was moved by his visit with his wife. He loves her still and they sit and talk like any other married couple, the difference being, that as soon as Tate walks out of the room she will forget everything all over again. He chooses to bear a terrible loss alone. This showed another, devastating, side of brain injury -a patient who is physically capable, but with a brain that erases every interaction leaving a blank slate. She is happy in the moment, but that present moment is all she has.

From the explosive opening, which really gets the adrenaline flowing the tension ebbs and flows depending on the narrative or case we’re following that chapter. Towards the end, as all these cases come together in one terrible night, the heart really started pounding again. I did get a bit confused between locations and who was where towards the end. So I had to keep going back, desperately trying not to miss a moment as the twists and turns came thick and fast. I found it was Tate and Kent I was rooting for, not just that they would solve their cases, but that they would survive! I found the way James was constantly moved around in these final chapters a bit concerning. My experience in occupational health and care needs had me asking all sorts of questions. If James couldn’t walk how was he managing in these different spaces, using various different surfaces to sleep on from beds to couches? I kept wondering how he was getting to the loo – I’m laughing at myself as I write this, because honestly the way my brain works! This says so much about my inner life. I just kept thinking ‘how has he been discharged from hospital without an occupational therapy assessment and a multi-disciplinary meeting?’ Of course these facts are like the days James edits out of his narrative, not very interesting or helpful to the plot. The details of a character’s loo habits tend to dissipate the tension and excitement. This was an incredibly fast read, giving you some idea of the pace and that addictive pull you want in a thriller. Each character is cleverly written to draw you in, but you’re always left on edge and unsure. The multiple endings are brilliant, I just thought it was solved and I could breathe, then the author pulled the rug out from under me. Yet I loved that we get to have multiple endings, as James’s doctor suggests they write a book together, framing the narrative in yet another way.

Meet The Author


Paul is an award-winning author who often divides his time between his home city of Christchurch, New Zealand, where his novels are set, and Europe, where none of his novels are set. His books have been translated into over twenty languages. He’s won the won the Ngaio Marsh Award three times, the Saint-Maur Crime Novel of the Year Award, and Foreword Reviews Thriller of the Year, and has bee shortlisted for the Ned Kelly, Edgar and Barry Awards. He’s thrown his Frisbee in over forty countries, plays tennis badly, golf even worse, and has two cats – which is often two too many. The Pain Tourist is his (lucky) thirteenth novel