Posted in Random Things Tours

Clara and Olivia by Lucy Ashe.

“Surely you would like to be immortalised in art, fixed forever in perfection?”

I would kill to dance like her.

Disciplined and dedicated, Olivia is the perfect ballerina. But no matter how hard she works, she can never match identical twin Clara’s charm.

I would kill to be with her.

As rehearsals intensify for the ballet Coppélia, the girls feel increasingly like they are being watched. And, as infatuation turns to obsession, everything begins to unravel.

We’re in Black Swan territory here with the company at Sadler’s Wells as they rehearse Coppélia, which couldn’t be more apt for the story of Clara and Olivia. Clara and Olivia are identical twins, shaped by their ballet mad mother to become the perfect ballerinas. The girls are so identical that in order to assert her own identity Olivia wears her hair in a higher bun than her sister, with a rose attached. There are ballerinas who must be the epitome of perfection and blend in with the chorus so the audience sees perfectly synchronised ballet; the company as one rather than individuals. Olivia has taken her mother’s lessons to heart and is that perfect ballerina, she blends perfectly into the company, but she’ll never be the prima ballerina. Clara has that something extra.

Coppelia is about a man who creates a dancing doll, the image of a perfect ballerina. It’s so beautiful that Franz, a young man from the village, falls in love with it and sets aside his real sweetheart Swanhilda. To teach him a lesson Swanhilda dresses as the doll and pretends it has come to life. While the ballet is a comic one there is a more disturbing similarity, between the doll and the ballerina when each dancer stands at the barre every morning, identical in uniform and in movement. These are the parts the audience doesn’t see, that daily dedication to the same movements over and over until they are second nature. We are also blind to the years before this, where each dancer has persevered through pain and injury or given up sleep overs with friends, teenage boyfriends and even school work to become as light as air on the stage. To move like butterflies, while their worn out and broken shoes are the equivalent of Dorian Gray’s picture in the attic. When watching a ballet it’s not hard to imagine a giant puppet master behind the scenery controlling this whole row of ballerinas so they move as one. With the echoes of Black Swan in my head I was feeling a creeping sense of unease and psychological drama, both around the sisters and whoever it is who watches them.

There are two men in the book, employed or contracted by the ballet company and they too are caught up in this theme of appearances being deceptive. Samuel is a giant. A large, ungainly man whose looks mark him out as different. People would struggle to imagine that it is he who makes their pointe shoes; something that looks so delicate should not be made by people who look like him. When he finds out that the shoes he’s making are for Olivia Marionetta he knows he must find some way to mark them out as different from all the others, just as he noticed her among the other dancers in the company. He always writes the dancer’s name across the sole in pen, but her shoes should have something more. He takes his inspiration from the white rose he has seen pinned just about her bun and engraves it into the sole then, as he leaves the shoes in her pigeon hole, he places a white rose on top. Samuel is lucky that despite his size he can travel around the theatres and dance studios largely unnoticed. His contribution is unseen and therefore, he is invisible. So he has no doubt that Olivia won’t guess who has paid her this tribute, even if he has been hanging around the rehearsal room. He noticed that despite looking identical, the girls are not the same. Olivia is obedient and keeps her eyes cast down during rehearsals, not daring to challenge the dance mistress. Whereas Clara scares him, she knows she is an excellent dancer and there’s a challenge in her moves and the way she looks directly at the dance mistress. When given direction, she turns away and rolls her eyes at the other dancers. Clara knows she outshines the others, but he hopes his shoes will make Olivia feel adored too.

Nathan is even closer to the dancers during rehearsal because he is their practice pianist. He and Clara go out with the company at night while Olivia stays home, soaks her feet and mends her shoes for the following day. Her legs will be refreshed and her bag carefully packed, whereas Clara knows her feet will ache from practice, followed by dancing through the clubs till the early hours. She also knows that when she opens her bag, her tights will be full of hair grips. Usually the girls share clothes, but Clara has been wearing a dazzling green coat that Nathan bought her. Of late she has started to find the coat a little claustrophobic, the belt too restrictive and the shoulders too heavy. Nathan too seems to get a little closer each time, his hand always at her waist and his knee pressed tightly against hers under the table. She was also a little unnerved at the line of verse he scribbled when they were playing a game – ‘A lovely apparition, sent to be a moment’s ornament’ – while she isn’t sure what it means, something about it bothers her and I thought back to the puppet ballerina Coppelia. Nathan appears to be the perfect companion for a beautiful young dancer, but the closer he gets the more she wants to pull away. She imagines his houseboat, the ideal home for a young bohemian musician, but despite it being a few moments away from her flat he never takes her there. Is the look and idea of her more alluring than the reality? In their own private rehearsal he pushes her, far beyond tiredness and hunger. In the dressing room after he apologises, she notices how he looks at the dancer’s jumble of make up, jewellery and bits of costume that haven’t been returned to wardrobe. The one thing he becomes fixed on is a tiny figurine of a ballerina, like the ones you might find in a girl’s jewellery box, permanently on point and turning endlessly without exhaustion or hunger to mar her beauty. No real woman could be so perfect.

Although I found the novel a little slow at first, but I soon realised that the inner thoughts and feelings are slowly building towards action. Once strange things start happening around the theatre the pace picks up and I became intrigued. In the well under the theatre, where the dancers like to go for pre-performance rituals, a single shoe is found floating in the water like an evil portent. Then life changes start to come tick and fast. Clara receives an offer she has never imagined, but it will mean moving away from Nathan and choosing independence from her sister. Their mother, the woman who inspired their career choice, is deteriorating in a nursing home. Her imminent passing is another sign – do they still need to be in each other’s pockets? Usually they need their combined strength but without their mothers rigid ideals to live up to could they go it alone? The author hints at these changes of identity, with one sister choosing to borrow the other one’s clothes, perhaps hoping for a little of their attitude too. She often feels like a mere echo of her sister, but I worried that this ‘doubling’ would land one or both of them in further danger. This tension is offset by Samuel’s story, of being led away from an obsession towards something more real. Living instead of watching. If the ballerinas represent perfect objects of desire, he is being offered a real relationship. But is it Samuel who watches the twins and can he see that someone to love and support you is more important than appearance? As the hidden desires and obsessions of these characters come to the surface and explode into action more than one of them will be in danger. This thriller has real atmosphere and characters with fascinating psychological issues that drive the plot.

Published 2nd Feb by Magpie Publishing.

Meet the Author

LUCY ASHE trained at the Royal Ballet School for eight years, first as a Junior Associate and then at White Lodge. She has a diploma in dance teaching with the British Ballet Organisation. She decided to go to university to read English Literature at St Hugh’s College, Oxford (MA Oxon), while continuing to dance and perform. She then took a PGCE teaching qualification and became a teacher. She currently teaches English at Harrow School, an all-boys boarding school in North London. Her poetry and short stories have been published in a number of literary journals and she was shortlisted for the 2020 Impress Prize for New Writers. She also reviews theatre, in particular ballet, writing for the website Playstosee.com.

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

The Mysterious Case of the Alperton Angels by Janice Hallett

I’m going to start with a bold statement. This is my favourite Janice Hallett novel so far. I’ve been lucky enough to finish my blog tours very early this year, so I now have free reading time until January. That doesn’t mean I don’t have a bulging TBR though. My shelves are groaning with books I’ve purchased and physical proofs that I’m behind on. Similarly, my Netgalley shelves are embarrassing! So I still have things to read, its just I can read them in the order and at the speed I want. I’ve also had my usual autumnal multiple sclerosis relapse ( one at the spring equinox and one in the autumn like clockwork) so I’m rarely able to go out and I’m sat resting for long periods. So thanks to that combination of circumstances I was able to pick this up on Friday and I finished it within twenty-four hours. I was enthralled, addicted and so desperate to find out what actually did happen on the night when the police found a strange cult massacre in a deserted warehouse.

Open the safe deposit box. Inside you will find research material for a true crime book. You must read the documents, then make a decision. Will you destroy them? Or will you take them to the police? Everyone knows the sad story of the Alperton Angels: the cult who brainwashed a teenage girl and convinced her that her newborn baby was the anti-Christ. Believing they had a divine mission to kill the infant, they were only stopped when the girl came to her senses and called the police. The Angels committed suicide rather than stand trial, while mother and baby disappeared into the care system. Nearly two decades later, true-crime author Amanda Bailey is writing a book on the Angels. The Alperton baby has turned eighteen and can finally be interviewed; if Amanda can find them, it will be the true-crime scoop of the year, and will save her flagging career. But rival author Oliver Menzies is just as smart, better connected, and is also on the baby’s trail. As Amanda and Oliver are forced to collaborate, they realise that what everyone thinks they know about the Angels is wrong. The truth is something much darker and stranger than they’d ever imagined. And the story of the Alperton Angels is far from over.. After all, the devil is in the detail…

This author is an absolute master of this genre, adept at throwing all the pieces of a puzzle at you, in an order that will intrigue and tempt you to solve it. Eventually I always feel like I’m holding the equivalent of those giant boards used by TV detectives and CSIs to record all the facts of a case, but mine is in my head. We are then fed these snippets of information by different narrators, who we’re not always sure about and might be there to mislead us. In this case, our main narrator is writer Amanda Bailey and we are privy to all her communications: letter, emails, WhatsApp conversations and recorded conversations or interviews. Her transcripts from interviews are typed up by assistant Elly Carter – who brilliantly puts her own little asides and thoughts into the transcript. Amanda seems okay at first, but there are tiny clues placed here and there that made me doubt her. As she starts research for her book on the so-called Alperton Angels, she finds out that a fellow student from a graduate journalist’s course many years before, is working on a similar book for a different publisher. Maybe she and Oliver should collaborate, suggests the publisher, share information but present it from a different angle. Over time, through their WhatsApp communications, we realise that Oliver is far more susceptible to paranormal activity. In fact he seems to be a ‘sensitive’, often feeling unwell in certain locations or with people who have dabbled in the occult or in deeply religious beliefs.

I spent a large part of my childhood in a deeply evangelical church, a sudden switch from the Catholic upbringing I’d had so far. Even though I’d been at Catholic School, had instruction with the nuns at the local convent and went on Catholic summer camps, I never felt like an overwhelming or restrictive part of life. It felt almost more of a cultural thing than a religious thing, and no matter what I was being taught to the contrary I would always be a Catholic. Many people would dispute that evangelical Christianity is a cult, but my experience with it did flag up some of the warning signs of these damaging organisations. We were taught to avoid friendships or relationships with people not from the church, even family. Our entire social life had to be within church circles, whether that be the Sunday double services with Sunday School inbetween, or mid-week house groups, weekly prayer meetings, women’s groups and youth club on Friday nights. If you attended everything the church did, there wasn’t a lot of time for anything else. I was told what music I could listen to, the books I could read and suddenly my parents were vetting all my programs for pre-marital sex and banning them. They even burned some of their own music and books because they were deemed unsuitable or were ‘false idols’. I worked out at the age of twelve that something was very wrong with this way of life, but the hold of a group like this is insidious and it has had it’s long-term effects. Talking about angels and demons fighting for our souls and appearing on earth was quite normal for me, although it sounds insane now. So, the premise of Gabriel’s story and his hypnotic hold over his followers felt very real too. I was fascinated to see whether something divine was at work or whether Holly. Jonah and the baby were caught up in something that was less divine and more earthly, set in motion by the greed of men.

It’s hard to review something where I don’t want to let slip any signal or clue, so I won’t comment on the storyline. It’s drip fed to you in the different communications and I loved how we were presented with other people’s opinions and thoughts on the discoveries being made. Who to trust and who to ignore wasn’t always clear and the red herrings, including the involvement of the Royal Family, were incredible. I felt that Amanda had an agenda, that possibly had nothing to do with the story at hand and was more about a personal grudge. Janice Hallet’s research is impeccable and here she has to cover the early 1990’s and 2003, as well as the workings of the police, special forces and the social services – some of which is less than flattering and even corrupt. The e-copy I had from NetGalley was a little bitty in it’s format and I can’t wait to read my real copy when it arrives and see if there’s anything I’ve missed. It wouldn’t be surprising considering the detail and different versions of events the author includes. I found delving into the True Crime genre fascinating considering how popular it is these days, something I’m personally very conflicted about. This has all the aspects of a sensational True Crime investigation with a more nuanced perspective from other characters to balance things out. I was gripped to the end and the end didn’t disappoint.

Published by Viper 19th Jan 2023.

Janice Hallett is a former magazine editor, award-winning journalist and government communications writer. She wrote articles and speeches for, among others, the Cabinet Office, Home Office and Department for International Development. Her enthusiasm for travel has taken her around the world several times, from Madagascar to the Galapagos, Guatemala to Zimbabwe, Japan, Russia and South Korea. A playwright and screenwriter, she penned the feminist Shakespearean stage comedy NetherBard and co-wrote the feature film Retreat, a psychological thriller starring Cillian Murphy, Thandiwe Newton and Jamie Bell. The Appeal is her first novel, and The Twyford Code her second. The Mysterious Case of the Alperton Angels is out in January 2023.

Posted in Netgalley

At The Breakfast Table by Defne Suman

I don’t know a lot about Turkey, so I jumped at the chance to read this book that delves into Turkish history and the heart of it’s people. Set in 2017, at Buyukada in Turkey we watch as a family gathers to celebrate the 100th birthday of the famous artist Shirin Saka. They are expecting reminiscences that are joyful, with everyone looking back on a long and succesful artistic career, and on family memories spanning almost a century. Some members of the family are set on this opportunity to delve into family history. However, for Shirin, the past is a place she has been happy to leave behind. In fact she has concealed some of her experiences even from her closest family. In particular her children and great-grandchildren have no idea what those experiences were, despite being aware of their psychological consequences. Some are thinking of Shirin and hoping she can open up and heal. Others want, perhaps, to find answers for their own struggles. In an attempt to persuade her into telling her full story, one of her grandchildren invites family friend and investigative journalist Burak, to celebrate her achievements but in the hope of helping her too. Burak has his own reasons for being there – he was once the lover of Shirin’s granddaughter. I wondered if the younger members of the family truly understood the well of pain that Shirin has kept from them? They have never gone through the type of experience and turbulence Shirin and those of her generation have. Unable to express her pain any other way, Shirin begins to paint her story. Using the dining room wall she reveals a history that’s been kept from her family, but also from the public’s consciousness, an episode from the last days of the Ottoman Empire.

As a believer in the healing power of many different art forms, including writing, I was very interested in how her family’s plan would work out. We don’t always know how people will react to opening up in this way, it’s why trained therapists like me are taught to create a safe space for people to talk and reveal their secrets. Even the client has no idea how they will react, so I felt Shirin’s family were playing with something they didn’t understand. Why would they think their grandmother would want to delve into her trauma on her birthday, let alone divulge her history to Burak? Surely therapy would have been more appropriate first? To tell her history, the author splits the narrative across four characters, each one is a member of Shirin’s family and friend group. This gives us a wide angle lens on the past. I loved the atmosphere created and the way the author didn’t exoticise Turkey. She still showed us a place of vibrancy and colour, but this wasn’t a tourist’s view. It was the Turkey of the people who work and live there. I felt there could have been more balance between the past and the present, because I was interested in Shirin’s recovery from these memories being dragged up, especially at such an emotional time. As it was, the book felt off balance, more heavily weighted in the past and from four different perspectives rather than just Shirin’s.

However, the four narrators did work in terms of showing the same events from different perspectives. There were times when one character’s view of the facts was so far from the truth it had an emotional effect on me! This is an emotionally intelligent author at work, she wants us to feel that dissonance so we can understand the painful consequences of these misunderstandings. I’m a big believer in generational trauma and how strong it’s effects can be. We see that, despite Shirin thinking she’s shielded her children and grandchildren from these events, they have still been deeply affected by her trauma. They are traumatised because of her pain and how it influenced her personality and her actions, without ever knowing the full story. I could imagine the relief of understanding why a parent has behaved a certain way, especially if it caused you pain. Despite me wishing I could have spent more time with them, we do see enough of the present to know that despite the stress fractures in this family, they still love each other. Their playfulness and sibling banter was realistic and touching. The dynamics of their interactions were so deeply rooted in the past, but we’re the only ones who can see it all with our privileged 360 degree view. This was a fascinating look at a family’s history and how their intertwined lives spiral out from one single event so long ago.

Translated by Betsy Göksel. Published by Apollo 1st September 2022

Meet The Author

Defne Suman was born in Istanbul and grew up on Buyukada Island. She gained a Masters in sociology from the Bosphorus University and then worked as a teacher in Thailand and Laos, where she studied Far Eastern philosophy and mystic disciplines. She later continued her studies in Oregon, USA and now lives in Athens with her husband. Her books include The Silence of Scheherazade and At The Breakfast Table. Her work is translated to many languages all around the world.

Posted in Publisher Proof

Where I End by Sophie White

I don’t really know where to start with this extraordinary novel from Sophie White. I finished it and sat in a stunned silence for while, unsure what I’d just read. I love books that stir up feelings and there were so many: empathy, sadness and curiosity soon gave way to confusion, disgust and horror. This is a psychological horror that’s not for the faint hearted, but it’s also incredibly lyrical, atmospheric and strangely beautiful. We follow teenager Aoileann and her claustrophobic life on an island somewhere off Ireland, where there are few residents, even fewer visitors and a dialect that bears little relation to the outside world. Aoileann’s whole world is the house where she helps care for ‘the thing’ a wreck of a human being who never speaks and whose every need is met by others. Our unease, already awakened by the strange atmosphere and narration, is further aroused when we find out ‘the thing’ is Aoileann’s mother. How did she end up in this state, unable to do anything for herself, suffering from bed sores and her hands bloody stumps from scratching at the floor during her occasional nocturnal rambles? Why are they caring for her in this rudimentary way? Aoileann’s grandmother has instigating the care routine, a rather Heath Robinson affair done with no occupational therapy, no medical equipment or intervention.Why does her grandmother Móraí insist that Aoileann stay indoors, away from other islanders and with reminders to never talk about ‘the thing’? My mind was filled with so many questions, and alongside them grows Aoileann’s curiosity about why she’s never been to school and why she had to fight to be allowed to swim in the sea. Most confusing of all is that Móraí spits on the ground where Aoileann has walked, like a Romany warding off the evil eye.

Sophie White sets the scene so incredibly well with three sections that encompass Aoileann’s world, entitled my mother, my home and my house. The house has a forbidding look. Where once it had windows and a door that opened onto the sea view and towards their neighbours, these apertures are now blocked with stones. This is a house and a family that doesn’t look outward or admit visitors. When Aoileann talks of her home she talks about the island, not the house or her family. She is a wild thing. She belongs to the sea. She hates the land. The cliffs and beaches are perilous and Aoileann feels unnerved when she thinks about the small part of the island she can see and the deep expanse of land ‘lurking beneath us’. Yet in the water she feels free. Despite it being a watery grave for the island’s fishermen, as she slips under it’s silken surface she feels most like herself and swims like a Selkie. Their house is at the dangerous end of the island, the last dwelling on the road that ends with a sheer drop. Her mother is another landscape with it’s own treacherous drops and cavities to swallow one whole. Until now her she has been tended to by Móraí, but with a new visitor centre being built for bemused tourists, she is needed elsewhere for her knowledge of the island’s history. Caring for ‘the thing’ will become Aoileann’s main role. She already hates the thought of it, the monotony of an endless routine, just pushing things in and clearing them out of her ruined body.

The author’s depiction of the diseased or deformed body as a horror took me in two different directions. Intellectually my mind went to Kristeva’s essay on abjection ‘The Powers of Horror’ in which she theorises on the human response to a breakdown between subject and object; in this case our revulsion for the materiality and fragility of the decaying human body, reminding us of our own mortality and eventual decay. Viscerally I felt instant nausea, a type of bodily-felt memory of when I was a carer for my terminally ill husband. In my own writing about the experience I have struggled to be this raw and truthful about how repulsive caring for bodily functions can be, because of the love and sense of protection I still feel about him fifteen years later. I didn’t want people to display those aspects of his care, both for his privacy and because I didn’t want others to remember his declining physical body rather than his spirit, that indefinable ‘thing’ that made him who he was. I knew there were things I felt revulsion about, so what would others think? Here though, there are no tender feelings to complicate the reality of her mother Aoibh’s ruin, we can experience it all. These descriptions are strangely routine, the strange system of ropes and pulleys used to hoist the body from the bed are relayed to us with a detail that’s forensic and almost boring. It’s as if the person relaying the narrative is as worn down by this daily grind as the grooves in the wooden floor made by dragging the chair back and forth from bathroom to bedroom. Then the reality of caring for someone helpless hits us at full force, as she relates how ‘opportunistic bacteria and fungi find life enough in her to breed in places where her skin pleats and gathers’. I remember the drying of these places, the careful patting dry rather than rubbing, the application of barrier cream and the red welts left if a spot was missed. The part that provoked the most visceral reaction in me was the detail of her ruined hands, with just thumbs remaining untouched, her fingers mostly ‘end just passed the knuckle. The pad of her right index finger has worn away entirely and the bone extends like a tiny pick from the flesh’.

It’s with this implement that ‘the thing’ scratches marks in the floor, marks they must sand away before her Aoileann’s father visits and finds out his wife is moving. Aoileann starts to wonder if these marks are an attempt at communication so she records them in a journal and tries to piece them together. If she can, they will be the only words she has ever heard or seen from this wreckage of a mother, created the day something terrible happened and turned her grandmother into a permanent nurse maid, drove her father from the Ireland and left Aoileann with a mother who couldn’t communicate and a grandmother who had nothing left to give. Motherhood has been a fertile ground for horror ever since Frankenstein’s monster first opened it’s yellow eye and came to life. There are parallels here between Aoileann and the monster, firstly the idea of monstrous birth and that nature/ nurture debate on whether such creatures are born or made. There are vivid descriptions of pregnancy, casting a foetus as a parasite, growing inside with the potential to drain the life out of it’s host. Also, Frankenstein only thought about the creation of his monster, not what to do with it should he ever succeed. The monster’s abandonment and confusion is akin to Aoileann, craving love from the women she lives with or her distant father, whose attention is focused solely on the thing in the bed when he visits. Was she born cursed? Or was she cursed by others; her family or the islanders? There’s an emotionally devastating paragraph where she relates her desperate need to be held by a helpless mother and a grandmother who has always held herself apart.

‘if I did pull myself to her and laid my head against her belly, she became rigid and stayed that way until I understood moved away again. When the bed-thing didn’t respond to me, it felt ok because I had never seen it use it’s arms for anything, but Móraí’s arms were capable’.

This neglect has created a strange, damaged, girl and in psychological terms it is easy to see how she becomes attached to Rachel, a visiting artist staying at the new centre and tasked to produce artworks inspired by the island. Rachel is a new mother and Aoileann is fascinated by her bond with her baby Seamus. The love doesn’t fade, even when ‘it’ shrieks constantly and doesn’t let Rachel sleep at night. Aoileann is also drawn to Rachel’s fecund, maternal, body in stark contrast to her own mother’s wasting and slackness. Strange feelings start to stir in Aoileann, feelings she’s never felt and doesn’t understand. There’s excitement at the ideas and opportunities Rachel represents and the sheer productivity of someone who can nurture both her baby and her creativity. Yet there’s also a strangely curdled mix of lust and a neglected child’s need to be nurtured and cradled in the same way Rachel cares for Seamus. I felt for Aoileann, but strangely couldn’t like her. I could see the terrible void at the her centre, created by an unspoken tragedy that befell her family, but also a total lack of love and tenderness. A tenderness that’s missing in the way they care for her mother Aoibh, ‘the bed-thing’. Normally, I’d feel sadness for this girl and her strange, bleak, emptiness. What I actually felt was that the void inside was too big, an emotionless black hole that might swallow up anyone who tries to care. As the book comes towards it’s conclusion the tension is almost unbearable, the horror intensifies and I feared for for anyone who stood between Aoileann and what she needed. Bear in mind that this may be a difficult read if you are pregnant or a new mum. For everyone I’d say this is a raw, open wound of a novel. The gaping, open mouthed cry of a soul that doesn’t even know what is missing.

Meet The Author

SOPHIE WHITE is a writer and podcaster from Dublin. Her first three books, Recipes for a Nervous Breakdown (Gill, 2016), Filter This (Hachette, 2019), and Unfiltered (Hachette, 2020), have been bestsellers and award nominees, and have been described by Marian Keyes as ‘such fun – gas, clever stuff,’ and by White’s mother as ‘very good, of its type.’ Her bestselling memoir Corpsing (Tramp Press, 2021), was shortlisted for an Irish Book Award and the prestigious Michel Déon non-fiction Prize. Sophie’s publications include a weekly column ‘Nobody Tells You’ for the Sunday Independent LIFE magazine. She
has been nominated three times for Journalist of the Year
at the Irish Magazine Awards. She is co-host of the chart-topping comedy podcasts, Mother of Pod and The Creep Dive. Sophie lives in Dublin with her husband and three sons.

Where I End by Sophie White published on 13 October 2022 by Tramp Press as a Flapped Trade Paperback at £11.99
Sophie White is available for interview and to write pieces
For further information, please contact Helen Richardson at helen@helenrichardsonpr.com

Posted in Netgalley

Caged Little Birds by Lucy Banks.

Oh my goodness this book packs a punch! The author has created an incredibly complex character and took me from slight unease to wide-eyed horror at what was happening. Robin is trying to live a quiet life these days. She wishes she could live where there’s nobody else, just miles of wilderness, a rugged coastline and hundreds of sea birds. Yet she’s grateful for the roof over her head and the benefits she has to start her new life with. She’s grateful to be able to eat what she wants, when she wants and to have a hot shower without a queue and no fighting for the shampoo and conditioner. She doesn’t feel like ‘Robin’ though, such an insignificant and ordinary bird. In prison she was called ‘Butcher Bird’ and the public hate her, so even now twenty-five years later she can’t be Ava any more. As Robin settles into her new home and new identity, she becomes aware that someone knows who she is. Can she stay under the radar and stick to all the conditions of her release? Or will she be flushed out and shown to be the monster people think she is?

I loved the way Banks writes Ava, we see everything from her perspective and her mind is such a complicated place to be. I found myself in the strange position of being in her head, but feeling strangely detached and unsure of her. It becomes clear early on that Ava was convicted of murder and has served her full twenty-five year tariff, so there are things about the modern world she doesn’t fully understand. Social media seems ridiculous (in fact, when I try to explain Facebook it sounds ridiculous) and she’s baffled by the little rectangular boxes people carry everywhere, even paying attention to that more than the people they’re with. It’s unusual to see our society this way, with the things we take for granted shown as alien. She’s trying to fit in with her parole conditions, but they break into her peaceful world when she doesn’t want it. There are weekly appointments with the psychiatrist and home visits from Margot her probation officer. Everyone is telling her how lucky she is to be looked after by the state like this, but given the choice Ava would prefer to fend for herself. She goes to pointless interviews, where her crime means she will never be hired, but they fulfil a condition of receiving benefits. There are obligations and places to be at certain times, something she has never been used to.

I had the impression that Ava has always lived inside her own head, rather than being present in the world. We learn that her childhood was spent on a remote Scottish island where there was a huge seabird colony. With no mother, Ava is kept out of school and taken to work with the birds, helping her father, identify, check and ring them for identification. He removed any meaningless junk from the house, including Ava’s toys and her late mother’s armchair, assuring her she wouldn’t need them because she’d be outside. There are other figures that loom in Ava’s past too; Henry who she’s had a relationship of sorts with; Ditz, a fragile young woman from prison who hanged herself; then someone she addresses as ‘you’. The importance of these people and their place in Ava’s life is slowly unveiled as Ava either reminisces or becomes paranoid about them. Another catalyst is Bill next door, or more importantly, his daughter Amber. Bill has been friendly and welcoming, chatting over the fence and eventually asking whether she’d like to go for a walk. However, his daughter is more suspicious, or is it just Ava’s paranoia? Their relationship is very uneasy and Ava is sure that Amber wants to expose her, she’s just waiting for an opportunity. A poison pen letter and a brick through the window add even more pressure to the mix.

Ava strikes this reader as someone with a personality disorder. The isolated childhood and lack of schooling have left her lonely, naive and unable to form boundaries with others, as she’s never had anyone to form a relationship with. She’s grown up as easy prey for those who seem able to sense someone vulnerable and manipulate or use them. Unable to deal with rejection in the usual way someone her age might by reflecting on the experience, feeling sad and angry, maybe seeing a counsellor. She doesn’t even go get drunk, eat ice cream, and malign him to her friends, because she doesn’t have any. Her response is immature, because she is immature emotionally, but perhaps no one could have predicted the events that followed. Lucy Banks brings the past into the narrative as Ava ruminates on what happened. She’s triggered by what she sees as another rejection, so her rage and anger are disproportionate to the situation. She becomes that young girl again. At this point I started to be scared for anyone who came into her orbit. I think the way the writer slowly allows this unease to develop between reader and narrator is brilliant. I noticed that her sleep pattern changed, her paranoia starts to build, she starts to link past and present events in a way that isn’t logical, and acting on emotions rather than fact. Another clue is her inability to take responsibility for anything that has happened, she veers around it or presents it as something that just happened. I wasn’t sure whether I was in the mind of a murderer or the mind of someone who is simply struggling with their mental health, distorting the facts and hallucinating the more violent aspects of her story. I won’t tell you which it is, because slowly finding out is so satisfying and such an enjoyable read. The writer has created a highly original narrative voice and a reveal that I hadn’t worked out. I veered between being scared for Ava and scared of her. This really stands out as one of the best books I’ve read this year and I recommend you read it too.

Published by Sandstone Press 15th September 2022

Meet The Author

Lucy Banks is the author of The Case of the Green-Dressed Ghost, described by Publisher’s Weekly as ‘Ghostbusters with a British accent’. It’s the first in the series, exploring the strange, sinister (and often slightly silly) world of Dr Ribero’s Agency of the Supernatural. 

In 2016, Lucy also won Amazon’s A New Night Before Christmas writing competition with her entry about a slug living under a family’s floorboards, who assumes Christmas is not for him, until he comes face to face with Father Christmas. 

As you might guess (being all too familiar with slugs and ghosts), Lucy hails from South-West England – an area rife with spectral tales and plenty of bugs. She lives in Devon with her husband and two children, and in addition to writing, is an avid reader – less of a bookworm, and more of a book-python!

Posted in Squad Pod

Nobody But Us by Laure Van Rensburg

I heard such great things about this dark thriller that I’ve been chomping at the bit to read it asap! It was our Squad Pod read for last month and as usual I’m late. The blurb grabbed me right away and my mind went immediately to Gone Girl so I expected some twisted people and storylines. That tagline is designed to draw us in, but also has a hint of humour as if she’s mocking the genre – meet 2022’s most f*cked up couple. I was waiting for a gap in blog tours and managed to get a sunny weekend, my day bed set up in the garden and a willing slave to keep me supplied with drinks and adjusting my parasol. It didn’t take long to hook me.

Ellie and Steven have finally managed to find a gap in their busy schedules to get away for a few days and celebrate their six month anniversary. They’re heading to an isolated cabin in the woods, many miles away from the hustle and bustle of New York. It will be the perfect opportunity to spend some quality time together and really get to know each other. A perfect weekend for a perfect couple. Except, that’s not quite the truth. Ellie and Steven are far from perfect. They both have secrets. They’re both liar. Steven isn’t who he says he is. But then neither is she …

The setting was clever too, usually I’d expect a log cabin in the woods or a period house as a background, but this is a contemporary, architect’s house. I didn’t think a modern house could be scary, but I found it’s glass and steel exterior very unwelcoming – there’s nothing cosy about this weekend. In fact the perfection, the materials used and the sheer amount of space seem strangely oppressive. The contrast with the forest outside is jarring, the natural surroundings make it feel like the owner is pitting his house against the elements, imposing man made order on the natural chaos outside. Yet, when the storm sets in, nature seems to be getting it’s own back, with the large glass panels showing the storm’s fury. Trees are lashing against each other and the snow is coming thick and fast. In fact the weather adds to the sense of isolation, no one is coming to save them, no matter how much they scream.

The story is told by the two characters in turn, relating the details of their weekend away, but also drifting into their pasts so we get some idea of how Steven and Ellie came to this point. Still, the biggest revelations are kept back from us so we don’t have the full picture. This drip feed of information kept me hooked. I needed to know what happened next and who the characters really were under their facades. Mostly though I wanted to know what had set these dramatic events in motion. I couldn’t love these characters, so I wasn’t invested in one side or the other at first, but as the flashbacks came I was surprised to find I did have flashes of sympathy for Ellie or Steven, depending on what had happened to them.

I enjoyed the way the author played with that edge, between what was once acceptable and now isn’t. In light of the #MeToo movement many women in my 40+ age group who can look back at events from the 1990’s and think they wouldn’t be acceptable now: a stolen kiss at a party; a hand on the backside while waiting on a table; pressure to go further sexually than we might have been comfortable with. Now, relationships where there is any form of power imbalance are viewed as wrong. The married man and the teenage babysitter, the older boss and young employee, or student and tutor relationships were happening around me at that time and I don’t remember thinking they were intrinsically wrong, just a bit dodgy. Now, thirty years later, the mood is very different. But of course that’s only one aspect of this complicated story. This is a gripping, atmospheric and explosive novel. If you love thrillers this should definitely be on your summer reading list.

Laure Van Rensburg
Posted in Netgalley

Sundial by Catriona Ward

I was left slightly shell-shocked by Catriona Ward’s new novel Sundial, a state of mind that is rapidly becoming her trademark as a writer after her mind – meltingly strange and clever previous novel The Last House on Needless Street. When people ask me what it’s like to read her novels I liken it to the early films of M. Night Shymalan. Remember when you first watched The Sixth Sense? I remember sitting in the cinema as the final credits rolled thinking ‘what have I just watched?’ Then wondering if I could simply stay for the next showing and watch it again, knowing what was actually happening. They’re novels that won’t immediately show up as film or TV adaptations, because directors will be scratching their heads, wondering how best to tell the story visually, while keeping the revelations under wraps till the end. I’m waiting to see how someone manages the narrating cat, but if anyone can do it it’s Andy Serkis, who is currently developing last year’s smash hit.

I haven’t read her earliest work, but didn’t know what to expect in this new novel and whether she would be able to deliver those WTF?? moments that characterised The Last House on Needless Street. Well it turns out she can and she has. At first I was reading what seemed like a normal family drama and I wondered if we were going to have a change in style. Then there was a moment, everyone who has read it knows where I mean, where the everyday and mundane became strange and distorted. I felt the hairs stand up on the back of my neck. Rob is mother to two daughters, Annie and Callie, and wife to Irving. They are a normal nuclear family, or so they seem. Rob finds out that Callie has the potential and the urge to hurt her little sister. She also finds that Callie is collecting the bones of small creatures, including a puppy from a dumpster. She also whispers to imaginary friends. Rob senses that there might be a darkness in Callie that reminds her of Sundial, the home in the desert where she grew up. Rob resolves to take Callie with her to the Mojave, and back to Sundial which has lain empty since she and Irving became a couple. She thinks this trip into the past will give her answers, but once there she is overwhelmed by memories of the past. Might she have to make a choice between her two children?

The author lets Rob start the story in the family home, establishing the dynamic of their family and the way we view them as readers. As we change to Callie’s narration, things seem very different. We realise that Callie is actually scared of her mother and this ‘mother/daughter’ trip they’re taking. She thinks Rob is looking at her differently and is worried about being alone with her. Consequently, we’re on edge with both narrators. I was never sure which one was telling me the truth of events or whether there is even is one established truth. The author is so brilliant at creating a ‘hall of mirrors’ effect where each reality becomes distorted, but in such a different way that I was struggling to get a grasp on who was dangerous and whether anyone would be leaving the desert in one piece.

With such complex books that are dependent on the scary location and unexpected revelations it’s very hard to know what to tell. I feel that Rob thinks she will shock Callie into a different path by telling her the story of her upbringing, even though I’m not entirely sure she has the ‘true’ version of events. We find out that she lived with her adoptive parents at the ranch, where dogs were kept for scientific experiments into behaviour. I’m not a huge believer of trigger warnings, but if you are genuinely upset or angered by this type of experimentation on animals then maybe this isn’t the book for you. I found this element disturbing and it definitely added to the dark atmosphere of their home. When we drop back into her childhood we know Rob believes that her father and stepmother, became a couple after the death of her mother who she only has fleeting memories of because she was so young. She doesn’t mind her stepmother, but feels an obligation to dislike her out of loyalty. However, slowly we slip through versions of this story rather like a set of never ending Russian dolls until I didn’t know who to trust. This is a perfect psychological horror where the supernatural elements may be real, or may be a delusion or hallucination formed by an unstable mind. There’s a truly sad moment where I can see Rob’s world could have become wider and full of life experiences we want for our children like friends, education and travel. Can she break with Sundial or will she be pulled inexorably back into her past?

It’s fair to say that no one is what they seem in this story. I was very interested in whether the family would be reunited again, but this seemed to become further and further away. There are believable elements; as a lot of people with horrific childhoods do, it seemed as if Rob may have replaced the ranch with another house of domestic horrors. Or had she been so tied to her past she had recreated it? There was manipulation and abuse evident alongside the hauntings. It would maybe be a stretch to say I enjoyed this book, because if it were possible I’d have been reading with my hands over my eyes! I didn’t always want to see or know more. Yet I can see that it’s a brilliant piece of writing that stirred up so many emotions from fear to hope, back to being completely terrified again.

Published by Viper 10th March 2022

Meet The Author

CATRIONA WARD was born in Washington, DC and grew up in the United States, Kenya, Madagascar, Yemen, and Morocco. She read English at St Edmund Hall, Oxford and is a graduate of the Creative Writing MA at the University of East Anglia.

The Last House on Needless Street’ (Viper Books, Tor Nightfire) was a Times Book of the Month, Observer Book of the Month, March Editor’s Pick on Open Book, a Between the Covers BBC2 book club selection, a Times bestseller, and is being developed for film by Andy Serkis’s production company, The Imaginarium.

Little Eve‘ (Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2018) won the 2019 Shirley Jackson Award and the August Derleth Prize for Best Horror Novel at the 2019 British Fantasy Awards, making her the only woman to have won the prize twice, and was a Guardian best book of 2018. Her debut Rawblood (W&N, 2015) won Best Horror Novel at the 2016 British Fantasy Awards, was shortlisted for the Author’s Club Best First Novel Award and a WHSmith Fresh Talent title. Her short stories have appeared in numerous anthologies. She lives in London and Devon.

Posted in Throwback Thursday, Uncategorized

The Family Upstairs by Lisa Jewell.

As some of you may know, reviews can get very personal for me. Probably because I’m a therapist and used to lots of self-reflection. When a book hits me emotionally I really think about why and this book had me scurrying to my journal. Lisa Jewell is a master of these domestic thrillers and the psychological suspense created when groups of people are in conflict. Here the conflict is controlled within one house 16 Cheyne Walk in Chelsea, overlooking the river. That is until it’s secrets explode and the truth of the mystery is scattered across the world.


Three narratives weave in and out of each other to tell the story. We meet twenty five year old Libby with her little garden flat and her job at the kitchen design company where she’s worked for five years. Everything about Libby says organised, professional and quiet. That is until a bombshell is dropped on her life. Woven with this is the story of Lucy – if that is her real name. She is living in France but at the moment we meet her is homeless along with her two children and the dog. The family are reduced to sneaking in to the beach club to get showered but that doesn’t happen everyday. Lucy is at rock bottom. She can’t husk for money but needs money to collect her violin. They have nothing left to sell. Does she go and ask her violent but rich ex-husband for help? Or does she let the children stay with their grandparents? Either way she needs her violin and once she sees the date, she develops an urgent need to make her way back to London and a certain house in Chelsea.

Our third narrator is Henry, relating what happened at the house back in the early 1990s. Henry just about remembers family life when things were normal and it was just the four of them: mum, dad, Henry and his sister. He has vivid memories of going to private school in his brown knickerbockers and sitting drinking lemonade while his Dad read the newspaper at his club. The house was filled with curiosities such as animal heads, ceremonial swords and red thrones. It’s so distinctive in style that when the money starts to run out the house is scouted as a location for a music video. The fiddle player in the band is Birdie and she loves the house. So much so that when she needs a roof over their head, she and her partner, Justin, come to stay in the upstairs room. Henry’s father has had a stroke and doesn’t have the same strength and power he used to have. He seems to sit by and watch as Birdie and Justin take up residence.
Later another couple join the group. David Thomsen is a man Henry dislikes almost instantly because he seems to sense what his Dad and Justin fail to see. David has charisma and seems to have an effect on every woman in the house. His wife Sally and two children, Phin and Clemency, also join them. It starts to feel like they’re living in a commune but the only consolation is Phin. To Henry, Phin is beautiful with floppy hair, cheekbones and a distinctive style. When Phin takes him shopping, Henry develops a crush and trails after him, wanting to be like him. When it is suddenly announced at the dinner table that David and Birdie are now a couple Henry senses this is the start of something evil. They bring out the worst elements of each other and start to assume a power in the house that goes unchallenged by his parents or the other adults. They are told what they will eat, do and even wear. Henry knows this is out of control and this is only the beginning of the damage this man will inflict in the house.
Libby has been set a letter by a group of solicitors telling her she has been left a house. When the solicitor walks her round to the house she realises she is rich. The house is abandoned, but huge and in prime position. It could be worth millions. The solicitor also gives her a newspaper cutting describing the strange events that took place there exactly twenty five years before. Libby has always known she was adopted, but this tells her she was the lone survivor in the house, tucked in her cot with a lucky rabbits foot under the mattress. Downstairs were three people, dressed all in black and dead from poisoning themselves with belladonna. One was David Thomsen. The news story talks of a cult forming within the house and aside from Libby, whose real name is Serenity, all the children living at the house were missing. Libby feels there is more to this story and wants to meet the journalist who wrote the article. What is the answer to how this happened? And who is sneaking in and out of the attic space at the house?


There are so many questions that I won’t answer for fear of ruining the book, but I will tell you about the effect it had on me. When I was 12, the same age as Henry, my parents joined an evangelical church that became all-consuming and took over our lives for a few years. Up until then we’d been part-time Catholic’s and I’d gone to Catholic school for a while through my first confession and communion. These new people felt weird. They were so fervent and all that speaking in tongues was odd. But it got worse. My parents started to have no other social life from church. We were forced into church activities for kids. My dad lit a bonfire and they burned their secular music and all of my mum’s ‘inappropriate ‘ books like the Judith Krantz and Jackie Collins novels. I was scared by this. I started to wonder who my parents were as I was more restricted on what I wore, listened to and read. I couldn’t go to anything where there was a sniff of boys and from what I could see there was a lot of coercive control over women and girls particularly. I felt Henry’s fear when reading this book. I know what it feels to be a kid, looking at your parents and thinking they’ve been taken in by something dangerous. That beliefs are being forced on you and you can’t live like other kids. To feel like all of your security is being taken away.


Of course my solution wasn’t as dramatic as Henry’s but I did have to create coping mechanisms. There are times now when we can laugh about it, because as my brother and I have grown older we have become one of those families that openly discuss everything. However, I still occasionally have dreams where my parents can’t see or hear me and I think it has also bred a lifelong mistrust of authority. So I can understand the seismic effect the arrival of Dave Thomsen had on these children, with repercussions way into adult life. Whether it’s changing who you are to escape, or bouncing from one failed relationship to another or being unable to move on, even geographically, they are all responses to trauma. With a brief nod to the future at the end of the book the author does leave a tiny seed of hope that in future generations a type of healing can be reached. This is a dark, disturbing, look at how sometimes home is the most dangerous place to be.

Posted in Netgalley

The Other Passenger by Louise Candlish

#TheOtherPassenger #NetGalley #SimonandSchuster

I’ve started to think of Louise Candlish as one of my ‘go to’ authors for classy thrillers with unexpected twists. As always she drew me in with the characters, but at first I wasn’t quite feeling it. I was curious, but I found myself waiting for something to happen. Then there was a moment – if you’ve read it you’ll know where I mean – where everything changed and I realised everything I thought I knew about a character was wrong! After that I had to keep reading, and I kept reading till I finished at 3.20am precisely.

Our narrator is Jamie Buckby, who lives with his partner Clare in a beautiful home near the River Thames. Clare is a partner in an estate agency and Jamie.. well, Jamie is between jobs at the moment. After an incident on the tube made him infamous, he is working as a barista in a small, independent coffee house. Since the tube incident, Jamie has been commuting to work on the riverboat. Open air, a beautiful view of the city and a great way to relax on your way to work. Also, passengers aren’t crammed in like sardines, sweating in the heat, stuck in a tunnel, panicking and pulling the emergency cord. Anyway, the book begins in that weird week begin Christmas and New Year when two detectives meet Jamie off the boat before work. They’re concerned about the whereabouts of one of Jamie’s fellow passengers, Kit. However, Kit isn’t simply a fellow passenger. Clare and Jamie have been together a while and felt in need of some excitement, so invited one of Clare’s new employees and her partner over for drinks. Melia and Kit are young, attractive and have that hint of danger. They drink, but also dabble in a bit of coke. Melia is stunningly beautiful and on one evening in Clare and Jamie’s kitchen, she corners Jamie and says she finds him attractive. Jamie is twice her age at 50 years old and very flattered, but has a lot to loose. Not only his long standing relationship with Clare, but everything that comes with it – her family, her financial support, and the large Georgian house with communal garden that they share, but Clare owns. Will he be tempted to risk everything?

The book’s structure brings us back and forth, to the Christmas week and Kit’s disappearance, then back into the past few months and what’s really been going on in plain sight and in secret. Then, just when I was starting to get a handle on what’s really happened, Candlish pulled the rug right out from under me! Then I had to reevaluate everything I’d read before.

I love books that surprise me. Especially when I’ve become very invested in the story and have started running up my own theories on what’s going on. I became very interested in Jamie’s partner Clare. To some degree she has led a very privileged lifestyle both in London and back in her family’s home in Edinburgh. However, she has been a great partner for James and has supported him through the tube incident, his period not earning and even further into the novel as the questioning about Kit’s disappearance becomes more focused on James. Her strength and dignity shows when she still firmly supports him, despite their relationship being on shaky ground at times. Meanwhile, Melia is a master manipulator and actress – I will never trust anyone who’s performed Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. This is not just a book about being deceived though. This book is about self-deception. About thinking you can party like twenty year olds when you’re middle-aged. About ignoring the reality of your situation, your finances, the roof over your head. About ignoring the reality of how attractive and how desirable you are. It was great to read a book where the women have all the power, whether it’s because they’re young, smart and beautiful, or whether they’re classy, wealthy and dignified. Even the seemingly quiet, unassuming, riverboat passenger Gretchen, has some tasty secrets of her own. This is a very taut, well-written thriller, that is difficult to put down and even harder to second guess.