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

Posted in Random Things Tours

Suicide Thursday by Will Carver

I’m usually well ahead of time when it comes to my blog tour reviews, sometimes by a month, but this one ……. AAaaarrrghhh! I can’t put into words why I can’t put into words what I thought about this novel. If you’ve read the book you’ll understand. I don’t think there’s a literary convention Will Carver hasn’t wanted to subvert. It’s been difficult to write reviews for Will Carver’s books in the past, but I’ve never been down to the wire like this before. I’ve been trying to scribble down my thoughts only hours before the review is due. So, I’m sorry if this doesn’t always make sense, or if it doesn’t do justice to Carver’s inventiveness and originality, but it’s the best I can do. This writer is simply too clever for me!

Eli Hagin can’t finish anything.

He hates his job, but can’t seem to quit. He doesn’t want to be with his girlfriend, but doesn’t know how end things with her, either. Eli wants to write a novel, but he’s never taken a story beyond the first chapter.

Eli also has trouble separating reality from fiction.

When his best friend kills himself, Eli is motivated, for the first time in his life, to finally end something himself, just as Mike did…

Except sessions with his therapist suggest that Eli’s most recent ‘first chapters’ are not as fictitious as he had intended … and a series of text messages that Mike received before his death point to something much, much darker…

Mike can do something Eli can’t. Eli can’t commit to a narrative, leaving behind him reams of first chapters. He can’t commit to Jackie either, even though they’ve been together for the length of time it would take most people to live together or get engaged. Mike wanted to kill himself and he’s followed it through. Eli finds him sitting there, on his newly polished living room floor, with his hands embedded in the lacerations on his thighs. Even in his numbed and shocked state, there is jealousy that Mike has finished what he started.

Eli, Mike and Jackie are a trio. Eli and Mike are friends. Jackie and Eli are in a relationship that Eli doesn’t want, or does he? There are times when he could end it, but doesn’t. It is their anniversary two days after Mike dies. Two days after Jackie slept with Mike. Eli knows, but seems ambivalent. I found myself laughing at their ludicrous anniversary dinner, where Eli’s scrabbling on the floor for some dropped cutlery and Jackie semi- manipulates this into a proposal. Eli has turned indecision into an art. He has a job, but doesn’t enjoy it. He wants to leave, but just can’t make the first step. Eli feels a lot of the same emotions as his friend Mike. The ennui, the despair and the sense of being lost. Yet Mike had the guts to do something about it.

I was fascinated with the chapters headed ‘Fake Therapist’. In fact Eli has a session on Suicide Thursday and as he points out, just because it’s such an important day for Mike, it doesn’t mean he can miss therapy. Immediately, I wondered how he would know it’s the day that Mike is going to commit suicide. It seems to me that there’s a problem with the fake therapist? The problem being ….. there’s no therapist.

Eli then has to speak first (of course he does, no one else is there). He still regurgitates the same information he always does, almost as if each session is with someone new. There is no accumulation of knowledge or shorthand that comes from working with a therapist for a while. In fact each session is like one of his first chapters – the same stuff just expressed differently. I was interested in his knowledge of therapy, such as the comment on eye contact and his inhibitions. Has he had therapy in the past? Is that where he was confronted by things he didn’t want to talk about? The comment about any corporeal therapist directing the session, wanting to talk about Mum when he isn’t ready, is a bit of a giveaway. It seems therapy is great, as long as he can control it.

‘I pull the chair from beneath my desk in the first-chapter library and move it to a position where it can face the couch – my £2000 black, leather, archetypal therapist’s couch. It’s on a slight angle, a classic psychoanalyst’s trick to avoid eye contact, allowing me to overcome any inhibitions I may have. I place the Dictaphone on the seat, lie back and wait for the first question.’

I can’t tell you anymore of the story, not only would it ruin the reading experience, but I don’t really know where to begin. I can’t place it in a genre. I can’t really explain my reaction to it. The story unfolds in such an unorthodox way I’m scared of revealing something that I’ve dismissed as unimportant, but that opens up the whole story for someone else. I think it’s one of those books, where the meaning is dependent upon the reader. There were revelations that really made me rethink Eli, such as those text messages he sent to Mike before his suicide. It then changes everything you’ve read before. I would call this an ‘active’ reading experience. My brain, my emotions and often my ability to sleep were constantly engaged. As for trigger warnings, I can’t imagine that anyone who’s affected by suicide would pick up a book with this title. I didn’t find the subject matter triggering, despite personal experiences, but I was slightly disturbed that I wasn’t more triggered by Mike’s despair and eventual suicide. It think it’s because I was so engaged thinking ‘WTF?’ I was so busy thinking, I didn’t respond emotionally. If you like your books to be original, creative, mind-bending and tricksy, then this is the one for you. I didn’t respond to it at first. In fact it took a bit of work, but I can promise I’ll still be thinking about it weeks from now.

Published by Orenda Books 24th November 2022

Meet The Author


Will Carver is the international bestselling author of the January David series and the critically acclaimed, mind-blowingly original Detective Pace series that includes Good Samaritans (2018), Nothing Important Happened Today (2019) and Hinton Hollow Death Trip (2020), all of which were ebook bestsellers and selected as books of the year in the mainstream international press. Nothing Important Happened Today was longlisted for the Goldsboro Glass Bell Award 2020 and Theakston’s Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year. Hinton Hollow Death Trip was longlisted for Guardian Not the Booker Prize, and was followed by three standalone literary thrillers, The Beresford, Psychopaths Anonymous (both optioned for TV) and The Daves Next Door. He lives in Reading with his family.

Posted in Random Things Tours

Throwback Thursday: A Song of Isolation by Michael Malone.

#RandomThingsTours #OrendaBooks #ASongOfIsolation #blogtour

I’m now at a point with Orenda books where I feel I could pick up any of their titles and be assured of a complex and intelligent read. Michael Malone is a completely new author to me, and this was controversial subject matter, but from the first few pages I felt assured that I was in excellent hands. This latest novel concerns a man called Dave, who seems to have it all. He has a job within his father’s business, a beautiful home and a long-term relationship with the well-known actress Amelie Hart. His whole world falls apart when out of the blue he is arrested, accused of molesting the little girl who lives next door. Damaris lives with both parents and seems like a lonely little girl, often desperate for someone to play with when Dave is working in the garden. They’ve played football and frisbee together several times, but on this occasion, the police allege that Damaris has gone home on her bike claiming Dave has touched her inappropriately. A medical examination reveals bruising consistent with sexual assault. From this point on Dave is living in a nightmare, continually asserting his innocence while every sign seems to point to his guilt. Within days he is charged and remanded into a sexual offender’s unit, because being in the general prison population would be unsafe. Amelie is devastated, although she was having doubts about their relationship she believes Dave is incapable of such a crime and now has to run the press gauntlet. Dave’s parents also believe he’s innocent, but as his mother points out ‘people will say there’s no smoke without fire’. This brings them unwanted press intrusion and has the potential to ruin his fathers business. They all wait on tenterhooks for the trial, needing to hear Damaris’s account and praying that it will clear Dave’s name.

There was such an easy flow to the writing I became drawn into these people’s lives very quickly. I believed in them. It is gritty in parts, but it needs to be. I think the author was very aware of treating the subject matter with patience, care and dignity. Whether Dave is found guilty or not, abuse of some sort has happened to Damaris. If it’s not sexual assault, and if they’ve planted this story knowing it’s a lie, her parents. have psychologically abused their daughter. It’s a violation, not of her body, but of her mind. I read the first few chapters keeping an open mind on the question of whether the events of that day happened according to Dave’s account or the account Damaris gives via video link to the court. The author manages to tread a fine line here, allowing the reader to make up their own mind and conveying both narratives with empathy. He never lets us forget that if even if Damaris gives a false account, it’s an account she believes and both of them are victims here.

I appreciated how the author shows us that in these cases the damage spreads far and wide like circles on a pond. For Amelie, the fame she had already turned her back on after a traumatic experience of her own, comes back to haunt her. She had shunned Hollywood for a quieter life, but now she has paparazzi at the door, speculation on her role in the abuse, and well known panel shows discussing her relationship. People who have known the couple give their accounts of how they could see ‘something off’ about David. I found myself moved by the accounts of verbal abuse from the general public and Amelie coming home with hair covered in spit. David’s parents receive similar treatment and find the trial a huge strain on their health with terrible consequences. Not that everything is well in Damaris’s home. Her parents are arguing and she is bombarded with professionals wanting to hear her account over and over. It’s worth pointing out for readers that we don’t hear a graphic account, but I think it is a more powerful a book because the author uses suggestion. The scenes where her parents are going over (or planting) her testimony are disturbing. Her Uncle Cammy comes round a lot more to see his niece, but finds his sister is often at the bottom of a bottle. He brings gifts, even when it’s not her birthday, setting off arguments about Damaris feeling different to the others at school and becoming spoilt. Damaris already knows she is different. My heart went out to this lonely, manipulated, little girl whose innocence has gone, if not on that day, then in the process required by court and her parents. Her confusion at her mum and dad using grown-up words and talking about body parts with her really stayed with me.

There is a sense of powerlessness running through this novel that is almost claustrophobic. Dave is swept up by a tsunami and dumped into a totally different world. It’s shattering to his sense of self – inside he is still the Dave he knows, but now everyone he meets views him differently, creating a chasm between his inner and outer selves. Even worse, as his time on remand continues, he finds himself acting very differently. Despised in the prison population and treated with suspicion by the prison officers, he feels constantly on his guard. He is forced into threatening behaviour and even acts of violence to keep others at bay. Paranoia sets in as he starts to realise that even inside and supposedly watched at all times, people from the outside could be influencing events. A begrudging friendship is forged with one cell mate, but even he can be turned into an assailant when his loved ones are threatened. Dave has always thought that Damaris’s family were simply broke and making false accusations for money. Now he starts to suspect that justice isn’t enough and someone very sinister wants him dead.

However, there are chinks of light in this nightmare that signal a sense of hope. I loved how Amelie and Dave’s parents form such a strong bond. For someone unsure about their relationship, Amelie is steadfast in her support. There is a lovely moment where Dave’s mum and Amelie hold hands in the courtroom. His mum has always wondered whether Amelie was truly serious about their relationship, but as they connect she can feel that this woman loves her son. Dave’s dad, Peter, treats her like family. He makes sure she is ok emotionally and promises to support her whatever she needs. With Dave refusing to see her, and outright hostility from the press and the public she will need to disappear into hiding again. Luckily, she has a French passport and can disappear into another country. The loneliness these characters feel forges a bond that wasn’t there before. They are being punished and serving time for something they haven’t done, found guilty in the court of the media and public opinion. I think their mutual support is a sign that healing can be found eventually. I found myself longing for the truth and a process of healing for Dave and Damaris equally.

Michael Malone is a very gifted writer. He has taken a difficult subject and created a compelling and powerful novel. For me, it was the profound sense of loss that hangs over this story that was most heartbreaking, emphasising the book’s title. Damaris loses the one person who has noticed her loneliness and vulnerability. When cross examining Damaris’s mum, the defence barrister asks when she last played football or frisbee with her daughter and she can’t remember. Even when talking to the police Damaris calls Dave her friend and this could be the confusion of a groomed child, but it feels genuine. On one hand I was desperate to believe Dave’s innocence. Yet, if they are found to be making false allegations, Damaris’s parents would be charged and she could possibly end up in care. Even if Dave is eventually found to be innocent he has lost so much: his job, his reputation, his relationship with Amelie and even his mother. Whatever the outcome, nobody wins here. Despite that, there is a sense that this is a phase of life that will pass, that maybe there will be healing and the chance to connect again. To take that song of isolation and turn it to one of hope for the future.

Posted in Random Things Tours

Red As Blood by Lilja Sigurdardóttir

After a couple of years of book blogging, I’m coming to the conclusion that Orenda Books are infallible when it comes to choosing what to publish; I’ve not come across a bad book yet. Of course there are some I like more than others, but that’s just personal taste. I read the first in this series based around financial investigator Āróra and it set the scene well. Āróra has returned to Iceland in order to look for her sister, who went missing while living in a volatile relationship. It was an enjoyable beginning, but this book was absolutely, unputdownably, brilliant. It had me reading at 3am, chewing my fingernails with tension and unable to get up the next morning until I’d read the final page.

Our heroine is still in Iceland and even has a new home, but hasn’t yet broken it to her mother that she’s staying put. The truth is she can’t leave, not until she’s found her sister Īsafold or at least her body. She’s bought a drone and when she has time, can be found driving the endless tracks formed between lava floes with her drone covering the ground either side of the car. She’s also still working and has picked up an interesting case from businessman Flosi, whose wife Guaron has been abducted from their home while cooking their evening meal. She was halfway through cooking langoustines with lemon and garlic butter and in the kitchen theres an overturned chair and bread burning in the oven. All that’s been left is a printed letter on standard paper warning that Flosi shouldn’t involve the police and they will be in touch with a ransom demand. Āróra isn’t the police, so Flosi is hoping that she can help him find the money for the ransom and manage the situation, but Āróra is thinking of the best way to bring the police into the situation without the kidnappers knowing. Daniel is the best police officer for this kind of complex situation. The team move in slowly, disguising themselves as family members and friends supporting Flosi, but in the meantime looking into all the circumstances surrounding Guaron’s disappearance. What Flosi doesn’t seem to realise is that, by it’s nature, an investigation like this looks closely at everybody, including those closest to home.

I’m interested in Āróra as a character. She’s driven, both at work and in her quest to find her sister. I love her inner world, particularly the pull she has between the UK and Iceland. Her drive and resilience seem largely nurtured by her father who was a professional strongman and believed in training his daughters in the same way he would a son. It is his voice she hears when she’s finding things difficult or when she’s in a really tight spot and fighting off those who might harm her. It’s as if he’s the voice of the logical side of the brain, the side that she tries to kick into at times of stress. She’s also very logical and methodical with her work, able to find subtle clues and complex patterns within financial information that others might miss. She soon realises that Flosi isn’t necessarily the mild mannered local businessman he appears to be. This makes her wonder, if he’s willing to withhold information on his business dealings what else is he omitting from his testimony? However, where personal feelings for others are concerned, Āróra’s calm and methodical nature does become overwhelmed. Many people have gently reminded her that she might never find Īsafold, but she can’t let the search go because she’s consumed by guilt that this last time her sister called her for help, she didn’t come. Daniel also overwhelms her sensible side and we see that more here as the pair are drawn to each other, but will she allow herself to explore those feelings?

We are also allowed into the lives of Daniel and his team, showing the toll that their job takes on their personal lives. Helena is a brilliant investigator, but doesn’t allow herself to get too close to people. She has a system for her personal life, a small number of women whose company she enjoys who are also comfortable with a no-strings arrangement. When she wants company she calls them in order of preference to see who is free for the evening. Yet she never lets herself share a meal, a movie or anything about how she feels with them. Daniel finds his job a huge hindrance to a personal life, especially like this case where he has to drop everything at a moment’s notice and disappear for a few days or weeks with no explanation or contact. He is consumed by his job too, but there are hints of a softer side to him,not just in the way he feels about Āróra, but in the way cares for Lady G a trans woman who lives in his garden office.

The case is fascinating, with hints of dodgy money dealings and possible involvement with the Russian mafia. Flosi has a more complex life than at first appears. He has a daughter called Sarah who works with him, but doesn’t like to live with him due to tensions with Guaron. Guaron is his second wife and it’s as if Flosi hasn’t grown up and realised that long term relationships are not as exciting as those first thrilling months when we fall in love. It is all sharing meals, watching tv at night, and the gentle domestic routine. He already rejected this way of life when he left his first wife, but at the first sign of trouble she is still willing to come over with Sarah and cook for the team and offer Flosi support. There are signs his relationship with Guaron has reached that comfortable stage, but he isn’t forthcoming with the team about his doubts or his solutions to the boredom he’s felt in his marriage. Every little piece of information has to be dragged out of him, but is he being deliberately obstructive? Sometimes he seems genuinely clueless about the importance of being honest in finding his wife. I wasn’t sure he even wanted her found, and with a resentful daughter, over-involved ex-wife and other distractions my suspicions were pulled in one direction then another. The author paced these revelations beautifully, raising the tension and sending me racing through the pages. This really is an intelligent thriller that will not only keep your attention but will keep you guessing all the way to the end.

Meet the Author

Icelandic crime-writer Lilja Sigurdardóttir was born in the town of Akranes in 1972 and raised in Mexico, Sweden, Spain and Iceland. An award- winning playwright, Lilja has written four crime novels, with Snare, the first in a new series and Lilja’s English debut shortlisting for the CWA International Dagger and hitting bestseller lists worldwide. Trap soon followed suit, with the third in the trilogy Cage winning the Best Icelandic Crime Novel of the Year, and was a Guardian Book of the Year. Lilja’s standalone Betrayal, was shortlisted for the Glass Key Award for Best Nordic Crime Novel. In 2021, Cold as Hell, the first in the An Áróra Investigation series was published, with Red as Blood to follow in 2022. The film rights have been bought by Palomar Pictures in California. Lilja is also an award-winning screenwriter in her native Iceland. She lives in Reykjavík with her partner.

Posted in Orenda

Sunday Spotlight! Orentober: A Celebration of Orenda Books.

Day 8: Favourite Prologue.

Along with many others, particularly my Squad Pod Collective ladies and the lovely Danielle and Kelly who devised the challenge for Bookstagram, I have been following the Orentober Challenge. Today’s has been a struggle because picking a favourite prologue from all the books I’ve read is a touch difficult. So today, I’ve turned my usual photograph into a blog post where I’m featuring two of my favourite prologues. I’ve also chosen my prologues from a couple of older titles that some newer readers might not have come across before.

I dreamt vividly the night she died. I’ve had this dream before. In it I am running. Always running. My heart thumps in my ears. My breath comes in short, painful gasps. It is dark and cold and the trees reach out to grab at me, as if they are alive, as if they are trying to capture me with their long, twiggy fingers. Their roots are thick and hidden and I trip repeatedly. I think my feet must hurt. I look down to see that I am wearing only one slipper. When did I lose the other?

Fear has taken hold of me now. A rising panic fills me and I begin to struggle for breath. My chest is tight, like a giant’s hand is squeezing and squeezing, making each gasp impossible. It is getting darker. I must keep running. And then, just when I think it’s all over, there it is, a glorious sunrise appears ahead and forces back the darkness. She is sitting, as she always does, in the pool of light on the forest floor. A little girl in a white nightie, soft, golden curls framing her pale face. I run to her and she lifts her head. When she sees me, she smiles. I wave and she waves back and then I laugh because she is wearing my other slipper. We both have one bare foot and one slipper. How funny! As soon as I laugh, the light begins to fade and so does she. I scream so loudly my lungs feel as if they might split open. I have to reach her before she melts away. But it’s always too late. As I stretch my fingers out to touch her, she vanishes. My hand grasps at nothing, like catching smoke.

Published by Orenda Books 2016.

I love this prologue because it grips me from the first sentence. I know something terrible has happened and this is our narrator’s dream, an otherworldly response from her subconscious. We don’t know how it happened, but we get so much of the narrator’s emotions – the panic, desperation, the sense of a struggle between the evil darkness and the light. The strange detail of the slipper, showing a connection between the narrator and the little girl. Is it a subconscious version of herself that she’s trying to return to? Or is this a real life girl, someone that’s part of her? Her little sister. Maybe her daughter. There’s a hint of Rebecca to the style of this prologue; ‘last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again’. I think that connection also sets the reader at the centre of a mysterious story, something the narrator is relating to us after the event. It’s so compelling and odd, that I automatically wanted to devour this story and now that I’ve picked it up to quote here, I want to read it again.That’s what a great prologue does.

‘Certain dank gardens cry aloud for a murder; certain old houses demand to be haunted… Within these ivied walls, behind these old green shutters, some further business smoulders, waiting for it’s hour’. Robert Louis Stephenson

‘There’s an unfamiliar smell in the air today. Something like wet pine cones and mulched earth. A hint of old sweat, something sweet, like a lily, and the sticky ripeness that comes with unwashed bodies. The Family like to tease me with my overactive imagination and my exaggerated sense of smell. I like to think I have a mild and unusual form of synaesthesia- certain smells triggering sounds and feeding my mind with wild possibilities. As for the imagination, it might be overactive or it might just be that I’ve attuned my senses to pick up things others choose to ignore. I can hear Cyril, tapping his walking stick on a fence post from the other end of the flower garden, but perhaps it’s the still air that’s making the sound travel. Usually I can hear the birds nesting in the trees down by the entrance to the long drive-way. Blackbirds or ChiffChaffs with their distinctive melodic tweets; and sometimes squirrels as they patter through the undergrowth, in the hedgerows that border the vegetable patches. But today there is silence, apart from Cyril’s stick. And the air is filled with smells, not noise. I breathe it in, waiting, realising I am the only one here, in the grounds, awaiting their arrival. Wondering who they are and why it is they have managed to secure a place here without any of us meeting them before, without them learning about any of our rules and ways.

Again, this is an incredible opening that makes me want to dive right into the first chapter and damn the housework. There are enough clues to put us on edge, even before the Prologue! That cover with the looming building and it’s gothic architecture, eerily reminiscent of the Dakota Building in NYC where John Lennon lived and was murdered. The title leaves a strange feeling, ‘lingering’ usually referring to something that’s stayed past its welcome whether it’s a visitor or an unpleasant smell. If we wanted a guest to remain we tend to say they stayed, not they ‘lingered’. Then those incredible lines from Robert Louis Stevenson, from his essay The Lantern Bearers, are all about setting the scene. A lantern bearer goes before others, shining their light into darkness and seeing what lies ahead. Here the lines quoted do just that – they signal to the reader what lies ahead, something unusual, unsettling, something that has caused our narrator to go out searching. Something has triggered her senses, her unusual senses; she can taste what she sees and pick up clues from what she smells. We get the sense our narrator is in an institution or sanctuary of some kind. Somewhere run by rules and agreement from all parties that live there. Whatever is coming this morning is not agreed. It comes with no warning, were it not for our narrator’s amazing senses. She can smell danger coming. I’m now dying to read on and I hope you are too.

Published by Orenda Books 2018.

Thank you to Karen Sullivan at Orenda Books for allowing me to use the prologues quoted in this blog.

Posted in Monthly Wrap Up

Books of the Month! September 2022.

What an excellent reading month it’s been and a good mix of independent publishers as well as the majors. As part of the Squad Pod Collective, this month we’ve been reading Sandstone Press novels as part of our Sandtember feature. Next month will be Orentober – a celebration of Orenda Books, two of which feature here. I’ve been a lot busier and had so much more clarity this month, possibly something to do with us moving into the cooler months of autumn which are my favourite of the year, possibly due to it being Halloween, my birthday, Bonfire Night and the run up to Christmas. Plus Strictly is back on the telly. Here we have mainly thrillers and crime fiction, but very different from each other. I think some of this month’s books may easily reach my Books of the Year list in December. Hope you all have a great October!

This is an October review, but I read it as soon as it was delivered to my Kindle. I loved her first in the series so I was eager to see what Āróra was up to now. I won’t tell you too much, just a quick outline of what to expect from this excellent thriller. When entrepreneur Flosi arrives home for dinner one night, he discovers that his house has been ransacked, and his wife Gudrun missing. A letter on the kitchen table confirms that she has been kidnapped. If Flosi doesn’t agree to pay an enormous ransom, Gudrun will be killed. Forbidden from contacting the police, he gets in touch with Áróra, who specialises in finding hidden assets, and she, alongside her detective friend Daniel, try to get to the bottom of the case without anyone catching on.

Meanwhile, Áróra and Daniel continue the puzzling, devastating search for Áróra’s sister Ísafold, who disappeared without trace. As fog descends, in a cold and rainy Icelandic autumn, the investigation becomes increasingly dangerous, and confusing. Chilling, twisty and unbearably tense, Red as Blood is the second instalment in the riveting, addictive An Áróra Investigation series, and everything is at stake…

Out 13th October from Orenda Books

I thoroughly enjoyed this twisty thriller from an author I read automatically these days, knowing I’m going to get a quality thriller. Here we’re brought into the arty, bohemian world of the Churcher and Lally families and their adjoining houses on the edge of the heath. Frank Churcher and his friend Lal have been friends since the 1970s when they shared drugs, alcohol, women and ideas. Frank has called everyone together to celebrate the 50th Anniversary edition of his book The Golden Bones. This could be one reunion that tears the family apart…

Nell has come home at her family’s insistence to celebrate an anniversary. Fifty years ago, her father wrote The Golden Bones. Part picture book, part treasure hunt, Sir Frank Churcher created a fairy story about Elinore, a murdered woman whose skeleton was scattered all over England. Clues and puzzles in the pages of The Golden Bones led readers to seven sites where jewels were buried – gold and precious stones, each a different part of a skeleton. One by one, the tiny golden bones were dug up until only Elinore’s pelvis remained hidden.
The book was a sensation. A community of treasure hunters called the Bonehunters formed, in frenzied competition, obsessed to a dangerous degree. People sold their homes to travel to England and search for Elinore. Marriages broke down as the quest consumed people. A man died. The book made Frank a rich man. Stalked by fans who could not tell fantasy from reality, his daughter, Nell, became a recluse. But now the Churchers must be reunited. The book is being reissued along with a new treasure hunt and a documentary crew are charting everything that follows. Nell is appalled, and terrified. During the filming, Frank is set to reveal the whereabouts of the missing golden bone, but as one of his grandchildren climbs the tree for the treasure all hell is going to break loose. This was an addictive thriller, with complicated family dynamics and a brilliant final chapter.

Orenda Books must get so fed up with me banging on about the genius of Doug Johnstone and his wonderful creations; the Skelf women. Set in Edinburgh, Grandmother Dorothy, daughter Jenny and granddaughter Hannah live in the shadow of death every day. Jenny and Dorothy live literally above a morgue, as the family’s funeral business is run from the ground floor. They also run a private investigation business from their kitchen table. But now their own grief interwines with that of their clients, as they are left reeling by shocking past events. As usual there’s a shocking opening, with a fist-fight by an open grave. This leads Dorothy to investigate the possibility of a faked death, while a young woman’s obsession with Hannah threatens her relationship with Indy and puts them both in mortal danger. An elderly man claims he’s being abused by the ghost of his late wife, while ghosts of another kind come back to haunt Jenny from the grave … pushing her to breaking point.

As the Skelfs struggle with increasingly unnerving cases and chilling danger lurks close to home, it becomes clear that grief, in all its forms, can be deadly… you can look for my full review of this in my Sept 2022 archive, but it really is a cracker.

This was one of those blog tours I was asked to do and I went in blind. I knew nothing about the author or the book, but straight away I was intrigued. You are invited to cast your eye over the comfortable north London home of a family of high ideals, radical politics and compassionate feelings. Julia, Paul and their two daughters, Olivia and Sophie, look to a better society, one they can effect through ORGAN:EYES, the campaigning group they fundraise for and march with, supporting various good causes. But is it all too good to be true? When the surface has been scratched and Paul’s identity comes under the scrutiny of the press, a journey into the heart of the family begins. Who are these characters really? Are any of them the ‘real’ them at all? Every Trick in the Book is a genre-deconstructing novel that explodes the police procedural and undercover-cop story with nouveau romanish glee. Hood overturns the stone of our surveillance society to show what really lies beneath. Be prepared to never take anything at face value again.

Now I’d been waiting all year for this one. It’s been up there with Jessie Burtons House of Fortune as the ones I’ve most been looking forward to this year. I wasn’t disappointed. Kate Atkinson has written a crime novel that lays bare a decade in flux, a London that’s drowning in decadence and a generation determined to leave loss and grief behind them.

1926, and in a country still recovering from the Great War, London has become the focus for a delirious new nightlife. In the clubs of Soho, peers of the realm rub shoulders with starlets, foreign dignitaries with gangsters, and girls sell dances for a shilling a time. At the heart of this glittering world is notorious Nellie Coker, ruthless but also ambitious to advance her six children, including the enigmatic eldest, Niven whose character has been forged in the crucible of the Somme. But success breeds enemies, and Nellie’s empire faces threats from without and within. For beneath the dazzle of Soho’s gaiety, there is a dark underbelly, a world in which it is all too easy to become lost.With her unique Dickensian flair, Kate Atkinson brings together a glittering cast of characters in a truly mesmeric novel that captures the uncertainty and mutability of life; of a world in which nothing is quite as it seems. I loved the historical background to this fascinating story and my only complaint was that I wanted to spend more time with some of her characters. See my September archive for the full review, but I was dazzled and drawn deeply into Atkinson’s world.

Tuva Moodyson is another character I’m always banging on about on Twitter. I think she’s an incredible woman and I love the representation of her disability too. Here Tuva is back at work after the shooting of her girlfriend, police officer Noora. Noora survived but now exists in a persistent vegetative state, in bed and cared for round the clock by her mother. In the circumstances, Noora’s parents understood that Tuva needed to go back to work. Dean takes us straight into the action, as Tuva finds an armoured hunting dog wounded by the side of the road. In the course of taking the dog to the vet, Tuva leans of a farm further down the road where a group of survivalists live. It’s not long before she hears that a girl’s gone missing from Rose Farm, and while the police will be investigating, Tuva wants to find her story. There are two businesses on the farm, a café and spa, so Tuva visits to get to know a couple of the residents up there. Andreas, who patrols the compound with his dogs, shows Tuva the security system and training they have in place for their members, including underground bunkers if necessary. Are these people simply ‘preppers’, getting ready for the end of the world, or is something more sinister going on? Who is the mysterious Abraham? What was missing girl Elsa Nyberg to do with the preppers and is she still alive? As usual, Tuva throws herself in and soon her own life is in danger.

This was an interesting and addictive book from Lucy Banks and I loved it. The public think Ava is a monster. Ava doesn’t think she’s to blame. She’s spent twenty five years in prison and now it’s time to start a new life. With a changed identity, her name is now Robin, she has a roof over her head and she hopes for the quiet life she’s always wanted. However, her idea of quiet is an uninhabited island off the coast of Scotland, just her and the seabirds. This reminds her of the places they lived when she was small, when her father was working for a bird protection charity. He would teach her to catch and tag the puffins. There’s no hope for a quiet life, as probation officer Margot pops in unexpectedly pushing her to apply for jobs because ‘the state can’t keep you forever’. There’s Bill next door, who likes a chat and flirt over the garden hedge, not to mention his daughter Amber who really isn’t sure of their new neighbour. Finally there’s her unwanted visitor; the strange person in black who lurks and watches; the person who sent the poison pen letter; the person who throws a brick through the window. We see everything through Robin’s mind and a slow unease starts to creep in here and there. Is she the murderer she’s been painted as or is she misunderstood? I went from feeling sorry for Robin, to being terrified of her. Absolutely brilliant!

So that’s this month. I’m having a week’s break from blog tours to read Robert Galbraith’s The Ink Black Heart, which has been staring at me from the TBR shelf for past fortnight. Here are some of next month’s reads.

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 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 Random Things Tours

The Shot by Sarah Sultoon.

Samira is an up-and-coming TV journalist, working the nightshift at a major news channel and yearning for greater things. So when she’s offered a trip to the Middle East, with Kris, the station’s brilliant but impetuous star photographer, she leaps at the chance
In the field together, Sami and Kris feel invincible, shining a light into the darkest of corners … except the newsroom, and the rest of the world, doesn’t seem to care as much as they do. Until Kris takes the photograph. With a single image of young Sudanese mother, injured in a raid on her camp, Sami and the genocide in Darfur are catapulted into the limelight. But everything is not as it seems, and the shots taken by Kris reveal something deeper and much darker … something that puts not only their careers but their lives in mortal danger.
Sarah Sultoon brings all her experience as a CNN news executive to bear on this shocking, searingly authentic thriller, which asks immense questions about the world we live in. You’ll never look at a news report in the same way again…

Sarah Sultoon’s debut was a hard hitting belter of a novel so I was really looking forward this one, set in the world of war journalism -something that seems so pertinent right now as I watch Orla Guerrin and Jeremy Bowen on my TV screen, showing us the evidence of what can only be called war crimes in the Ukraine. Having read some of Janine di Giovanna’s writing about covering the genocide in Rwanda, Bosnia and now in Syria, I had a good idea of what the war correspondent’s life looks like. She describes lots of waiting around, mixed with personalities that are driven and easily bored. When you combine that with the things they’ve experienced it can be a potent mix, leading to abuse of drink or drugs in order to cope. It means being shipped off to one of the most dangerous places in the world at a moment’s notice, living on adrenaline and even the risk of being seriously injured, as happened to BBC Security Correspondent Frank Gardener. It’s the type of work that can become addictive, ruin relationships and damage health. I saw that dynamic being played out in Sultoon’s novel following hardened correspondent and star of the show Kris, and his producer Samira who is eager and new to the job.

Kris has something of the hero about him, always looking slightly battered and dishevelled, and ready to jump back into the fray before his injuries have healed from the last mission. He’s loud and full of machismo, but this is a surface layer. He does care about the people he’s reporting on and wants to express to the world everything he is seeing in conflict, but it also takes a toll. We see it as he returns home injured, he’s already desperate to get back out there and his mind is barely on his wife, or her concerns about their son and what he understands about his father’s job. Sami is ambitious, stuck on night shifts but lurking around the news room for that elusive shot at an overseas production role. She finds it when Kris saunters back in looking for trouble and there’s news that the American president is making a flying visit to Afghanistan. Kris is up for a quick trip and Sami is in the right place at the right time. He’s quickly impressed by how organised and well researched she is. Even before they reach Afghanistan, Sami is already thinking about the opportunities to land a big story and with Kris on board, she asks to be taken around an Afghan hospital. In the women’s hospital they find the hidden victims of the Taliban, women who have tried self-immolation as a way out of their restricted lives, but only succeeded in creating a world of agonising pain.

Sami and Kris are praised back at home and become a close team, although Sami does feel that no matter what they report, viewers are not waking up and taking notice. It’s all a journalist wants, ‘the shot’, the one that has impact worldwide and changes the way people think about a place, or a war. The one that has people approaching their MP and protesting for change. They find it covering the conflict in in Darfur, Sudan. A shot of a young mother, the victim of a devastating assault by the armed Arab militia the ‘Janjaweed’, one picture representing a dark, genocide lurking just under the surface of what we know. A way to refocus the eyes of the world on a truly terrible and largely forgotten war, crime. The author has a brilliant way of bringing us right into the moment, without long flowery descriptions, such as the way the sheer beauty of Afghanistan is described with its ring of snowy mountains round Kabul. This gives an eternal feel to the place, it is ancient and will stand here long after the war is over and everyone has returned home. In other scenes it’s something as simple as the clean clothing Kris puts on when he returns home; his cargo trousers and a fleece top, always the same. In barely any words it tells us Kris has a ‘uniform’ and that he’s never off duty and won’t be staying for very long. This isn’t an easy read. War is brutal and should be depicted that way. This really shines the spotlight on those supporting staff, the war correspondents are risking their lives of course, but so are their guides and interpreters. It really brought home to me the fear these men must have felt when America withdrew from Afghanistan suddenly and power was back in the hands of the Taliban. Those who’d worked with the foreign correspondents and without who’s help we wouldn’t have known the raw truth of the conflict, were abandoned and turned away from the airport in those chaotic last days for not having the right papers. I often wonder how many of them are alive now. This is urgent, brutal writing and the pace never lets up, giving us a taste of the adrenalin rush for the correspondents and the terrible fear that their families must live with at home. All of them are the emotional casualties of war.

Meet The Author

Sarah Sultoon is a journalist and writer, whose work as an international news executive
at CNN has taken her all over the world, from the seats of power in both Westminster and Washington to the frontlines of Iraq and Afghanistan. She has extensive experience in conflict zones, winning three Peabody awards for her work on the war in Syria, an Emmy for her contribution to the coverage of Europe’s migrant crisis in 2015, and a number of Royal Television Society gongs. As passionate about fiction as nonfiction, she recently completed a Masters of Studies in Creative Writing at the University of Cambridge, adding to an undergraduate language degree in French and Spanish, and Masters of Philosophy in History, Film and Television. When not reading or writing she can usually be found somewhere outside, either running, swimming or throwing a ball for her three children and dog while she imagines what might happen if… Her debut thriller The Source is currently in production with Lime Pictures, and was a Capital Crime Book Club pick and a number one bestseller on Kindle.

Published on 28th April 2022 by Orenda Books.

Posted in Random Things Tours

Quicksand of Memory by Michael J. Malone

Jenna is trying to rebuild her life after a series of disastrous relationships. Luke is struggling to provide a safe, loving home for his deceased partner’s young son, following a devastating tragedy. When Jenna and Luke meet and fall in love, they are certain they can achieve the stability and happiness they both desperately need.

And yet, someone is watching. Someone who has been scarred by past events. Someone who will stop at nothing to get revenge…

I was looking forward to this latest novel from Michael Malone, because he writes intelligent thrillers that unfold at their own pace. Some thrillers move so quickly I have to re-read the ending to work out what happened, but he never prioritises action or quick shocks over the story or development of character. This grounded and realistic way of letting the story unfold is what really works about his writing and I was eager to get started. Loss and the ways it affects generations of families is the central theme of this latest novel, where we meet Luke who has just lost his partner and become sole parent to his young stepson. Luke is trying to cope with his own grief while supporting his stepson and trying to establish his own counselling practice. However, there are other losses in Luke’s past, some of which he’d rather not revisit. He had terrible car accident as a young man which left his best friend dead. While we’re wondering about Luke’s version of the accident and exactly what was going on between him and his friend, he starts working with a new client. When she was a teenager, Jenna had a boyfriend who was killed. She still feels bad over where their relationship was when she lost him, because she had doubts about being with him and there were huge secrets she hadn’t shared with him. Jenna isn’t sure whether Luke is the counsellor for her and doesn’t book another appointment with him. Does Luke pursue his client and is his interest purely in helping her?

Grief has kept him away from the therapy room, but now Luke needs to prioritise creating a reasonable income for him and stepson to live on. He takes a client by the name of Jamie, but is Jamie who Luke thinks he is? From a counsellor’s perspective Luke doesn’t have great boundaries and the counsellor in me could see he was setting himself up for costly law suits or a hearing about his professional standards and fitness to practice. He sees Jenna after she was a patient and thinks they have a spark, but can he pursue feelings for her without repercussions? He also spends time with Jamie outside of sessions and even trusts him with his stepson incredibly quickly. Luke doesn’t allow time for a person’s character to reveal itself and instead depends on his own gut when making judgements about others, but that judgement seems impaired. He isn’t consulting with a supervisor and we don’t see him consulting his ethical framework. The three basic principles of counselling are empathy, unconditional positive regard and authenticity and while Luke certainly has skills in the first two areas, his authenticity is non-existent.

Luke has secrets. In fact he has a link to his clients that’s hidden and not just from the reader either. Luke isn’t being honest with himself about who he is and while counsellors shouldn’t tell clients their life story, his background should have been disclosed to his professional body. How can Luke expect a client to trust him, when he isn’t even honest with himself? He’s not being authentic in his own life and relationships. Jenna is looking forward to working on herself when she arrives at Luke’s garden counselling room, but something stops her from returning. It’s when they later form a friendship that Luke might have discussed his past, but he doesn’t. Luke does have some great counselling qualities and is an incredible stepfather, but its almost as if he feels these life changes have cancelled out everything that went before. His past unveils itself like a set of Russian dolls, each one looking finished, but with yet more revelations to come. What he ultimately learns is that by compartmentalising certain experiences and keeping secrets, he has even been kept from the full truth about his own actions and could have been saved from years of self-criticism and guilt.

Malone is brilliant at creating characters, with unexpected pasts and incredibly human flaws. I love that conflict his characters create within me about who I’m rooting for and why. Jamie’s sister Amanda feels incredibly vengeful, but there’s some empathy in me for the way she was changed forever by a series of losses when she was a child. Having lost her family she is buffeted about by the care system and further separated from her brother Jamie. Her entire energy is focused on revenge and she manages to pull Jamie into her machinations by triggering his guilt for getting an easier ride as a child. Jamie is torn between loyalty to his sister and anger at the people he’s been told are responsible and on the opposite side, his own more measured judgement on events and the people he meets on her quest for revenge. It’s clever how Malone links everyone in the book and carefully drip feeds information on them, allowing our opinion to twist and turn. There are sequences that are meandering, letting us find out piece by piece what happened in the past, or slowly revealing a character. Then there are gripping events that have your heart racing and the pages turning quicker so you can find out what happens next. Every single character is bogged down in the quicksand of the title, trying to shake free from those historic events that trigger disturbing memories. Only when they resolve these memories can they start to live in the present and they are all at a different point in their journeys. Counsellors believe that every client is capable of change and I like the way that this hope of resolution is woven into the book, even for those characters who think themselves irredeemable. This is another complex, gripping and emotionally intelligent work from Malone who is fast becoming one of my ‘go to’ writers.

Published 9th December 2021 Orenda Books

Michael Malone is a prize-winning poet and author who was born and brought up in the heart of Burns’ country. He has published over 200 poems in literary magazines throughout the UK, including New Writing Scotland, Poetry Scotland and Markings. Blood Tears, his bestselling debut novel won the Pitlochry Prize from the Scottish Association of Writers. His psychological thriller, A Suitable Lie, was a number-one bestseller, and the critically acclaimed House of Spines, After He Died, In the Absence of Miracles and A Song of Isolation soon followed suit. A former Regional Sales Manager (Faber & Faber) he has also worked as an IFA and a bookseller. Michael lives in Ayr.