Posted in Random Things Tours

Bad Apples by Will Dean.

Wow! Will Dean does like to put his heroine in some terrifying situations. There is so much about this series that I love, then a good 20% that makes me feel a bit sick or unsettled. In the last book it was snakes that had me a bit on edge. This time? Well it’s saying something when a severed head is the most comfortable thing about Tuva’s investigation.

We’re back in Gavrik, deep in the northern most part of Sweden and Tuva is back at the local newspaper, but has a more senior role and a new colleague to oversee in the shape of eager young newbie Sebastian. In fact, things are pretty good in Tuva’s world. Best friend Tammy is back in her food truck dishing up the best Thai food around. Tuva is in a steady relationship with police officer Noora, which works really well although they have to keep a boundary between police work and what ends up in the paper. As part of her new role, the Gavrik newspaper will now also cover the nearby hilltop community of Visberg. With a treacherous ascent road through the forest, there’s really enough danger in this assignment, but when Tuva stops for a moment in her truck, she winds down the window and hears a terrified human scream. Never one to run away from danger, she hurries towards the noise and finds a woman covered with blood and a body, without it’s head. The man is Arne Persson: resident of Visberg; local plumber; member of the choir and the town’s chamber of commerce. Tuva’s introduction to Visberg is going to be an unpleasant one. Instead of getting to know the residents and building trust, every one of them will know she discovered Persson’s headless body and every one of them could be a possible suspect.

Dean has a wonderful way of describing these remote northern towns and their eccentric residents. I often wonder whether it is living in such an inhospitable environment breeds eccentricity or whether odd individuals are attracted to it’s remoteness. Quirky details are brought into the narrative that feel surreal and put the reader on edge. Local pizza maker Luke Kodro obliges residents with the oddest pizza toppings I’ve ever heard of – ‘fillet steak, onion, mushroom, bearnaise, peanuts and banana’. However, many view him with suspicion because he’s from Bosnia and one even names him as the ‘our local, friendly, war criminal’. There’s also Hans Wimmer who has a shop in the town square selling all sorts of timepieces, but down in the basement has rare clocks including some handmade ‘organic’ examples. We also meet old friends like the Sorlie sisters, running a pop-up shop selling their unique trolls and masks for the town’s peculiar celebration Pan Night. Tuva asks about this festival, but most residents are secretive about what it entails. Even the sisters warn Tuva that it’s a celebration for hill folk only and that outsiders aren’t welcome after dark. This piques Tuva’s curiosity and she overcomes her revulsion enough to buy an animal mask from the sisters and plans to gate crash. The Pan Night chapter is a highlight of the book for me and the way the author covers all the senses gives the reader a truly immersive experience. There a bonfires, falling apples being crushed underfoot, animal masks, people walking backwards or getting frisky under park benches and the most disgusting balloons it’s ever been my misfortune to imagine. In this town, any one of the residents might have killed Arne Persson and I was a long way from solving the case.

I love how Tuva has changed since the first novel. There was a guarded quality to her at first, a sense of keeping herself separate that might have something to do with her deafness or possibly life experiences. Here there’s a softening to her character. She’s still brave and resilient, with an intrepid sense of adventure, but her ties to people have always been minimal. Her friend Tammy has recovered well from her kidnap ordeal and they are still close, looking after each other as family. Her boss Lena also looks after Tuva in a motherly way that’s very different to the difficult relationship Tuva had with her late mother. I noticed a relationship building between Tuva and the little boy at the flat next door, who isn’t having the easiest family life and seems to trust Tuva. She agrees to baby sit him on a couple of occasions and is touched by his faith in her. I guess most importantly, the biggest change is her long term relationship with Noora. This seems to have a stabilising effect on Tuva, although the relationship terrifies her as much as it makes her happy. What is the future for the couple? Could Tuva be comfortable even sharing her living space with another person? She isn’t sure, even though she knows she loves Noora.

This book picks you up and takes you on a fascinating and thrilling ride that builds in tension to a terrifying ending that I didn’t see coming at all. I had to stop reading at one point, because I realised I was so tense I was gritting my teeth! I’m sure the author has a hotline to my fears and this ending tapped into them perfectly. Needless to say, if I was Tuva, I’d be packing up the Hilux and leaving the hill folk to murder each other! I think the way the author depicts Tuva’s deafness is interesting. Usually Tuva uses it to her own advantage – taking her hearing aids out when she’s writing a piece means she can focus and taking them out at home means she can’t hear next door. However, it can also leave her vulnerable and the author uses it to intensify the horror element of the book, particularly towards the finale. There’s something about another person touching her hearing aids that feels so personal and also like a violation, depending on who it is. Every time I know a Tuva Moodyson book is coming, the excitement starts to build. By the time it’s in my hands I’m ready to drop all my other reading to dive in. Of course when something is so anticipated there’s also a fear about whether the book will live up to expectations. Bad Apples did not disappoint and is a fabulous addition to this excellent series.

Published by Point Blank on 12th October 2021.

Why not check out the other reviews on the blog tour..

Meet The Author.

If you don’t already follow Will Dean on Twitter you’re missing out on fantastic photos, including those of his huge St Bernard and the country surrounding his cabin in the woods. He grew up in the East Midlands and had lived in nine different villages before the age of eighteen. His debut novel, Dark Pines, was selected for Zoe Ball’s Book Club, shortlisted for the Guardian Not the Booker prize and named a Daily Telegraph Book of the Year. The second Tuva Moodyson mystery, Red Snow, won Best Independent Voice at the Amazon Publishing Readers’ Awards, 2019, and was longlisted for the Theakstons Old Peculiar Crime Novel of the Year 2020. His third novel, Black River, was chosen as Observer Thriller of the Month. Will Dean lives in Sweden where the Tuva Moodyson novels are set.

Posted in Publisher Proof

The Night Singer by Johanna Mo.

You’ve got no idea what you’re dredging up. You’re going to ruin everything.

The past is not going to stay buried in this unputdownable crime novel, the first in a series featuring Detective Hanna Duncker. Fans of Ragnar Jonasson and Ann Cleeves will be gripped by this moving and atmospheric crime novel, already a bestseller in Sweden. Hanna Duncker has returned to the remote island she spent her childhood on and to the past that saw her father convicted for murder. In a cruel twist of fate her new boss is the policeman who put him behind bars. On her first day on the job as the new detective, Hanna is called to a crime scene. The fifteen-year-old son of her former best friend has been found dead and Hanna is thrown into a complex investigation set to stir up old ghosts.

Not everyone is happy to have the daughter of Lars Duncker back in town. Hanna soon realises that she will have to watch her back as she turns over every stone to find the person responsible…

I was drawn deeply into Hanna’s world straight away in this brilliant piece of Scandi Noir. This is the first in Johanna Mo’s Island Murders trilogy, and is already a hit in Sweden. Hanna has returned to her home town of Öland for a post in the local police force. She has to hit the ground running though, because instead of quietly getting to know her colleagues, she is straight onto a crime scene. The body of a young 15 year old boy has been found and everything points to murder. Hanna is partnered with Erik and tasked with breaking the news to the boys family, but there’s one problem. The murdered boy’s mother Rebecka, went to school with Hanna and recognises her the minute she opens the door. If she’d hoped to keep her past secret, or at least in the background, this case will blow her identity wide open. Joel’s birth father also went to school with Hanna and has a reputation for being a bully, in fact Rebecka has openly admitted he was violent during their relationship. Could he possibly have killed his own son? It’s clear that Hanna could be very beneficial to the enquiry – Rebecka trusts her instantly and confides in her on their first visit. Yet her ex-husband Axel, now a well-known businessman in Öland, seems antagonised by Hanna’s presence. In his first interview, Axel tries to manipulate and wrong-foot Hanna by bringing up their past, even twisting the truth to hurt her. He even notices her ‘tell’, because when she’s anxious her fingers automatically rub her arm where her nightingale tattoo is.

‘She wanted to tear back the black material covering her tattoo of a nightingale, the bird that would help keep the darkness at bay. After her mother’s death, her grandmother had given her a small wooden nightingale to keep by her bedroom window. She claimed that because nightingales sing at night, it would help Hanna with her nightmares, but her bad dreams hadn’t gone anywhere. When she complained, her grandmother had stroked her cheek and said: I know those dreams are horrible, but they would be even worse without the bird. Those words had taken hold, and Hanna had kept the bird ever since’.

Yet there’s a worse secret in Hanna’s past than anything that happened at school. She is Lars Duncker’s daughter and his conviction for murder 16 years earlier is still fresh in a lot of the local’s minds. Can her past stay where it belongs, enabling Hanna to remain focused on who murdered Joel? Could being the daughter of a murderer actually help her to solve the crime she’s investigating? Or will being Lars Duncker’s daughter draw attention away from the case?

Johanna Mo

I loved the structure of this novel, as one timeline follows the investigation and the other tracks the preceding 24 hours, from Joel’s point of view. I found the second timeline really emotional, because this is Joel unfiltered, as only his closest friend knows him. We learn things about him and his life that his parents don’t know, some of which really hit me in the heart as a step-mum of teenagers.

‘As usual. Mum won’t believe him if he tells her how dark and ugly he is inside. She won’t believe what he is thinking about doing. Everything he has already done. But he’s so tired of acting. Of pretending to be someone he isn’t’.

The thought that they might keep things to themselves, scared of my reaction, made me so sad. Yet, this felt like an honest depiction of teenage life, where our friends rather than our family probably know us best. Where crime fiction is often focused on action, or the thrilling twists and turns, this felt quieter and more real. In fact the reason I originally started to read and watch Scandi Noir was because it depicted how violent crime affected the families and friends involved. This reminded me of a another crime writer I read this month, Eva Björg Aegisdottir, who does this very well in her Forbidden Iceland series. It felt like a more feminine gaze showed the devastation caused emotionally. From Joel’s nuclear family and slowly tracking outwards to friends, teachers, neighbours we see all the victims of a murder. Joel’s story takes centre stage, rather than his killer.

I thought the detail of the case was incredible, with every little lead followed up until the truths of the whole town start to come to light. A murder investigation unearths all kinds of secrets and lies before it can be solved. It was interesting to watch Hanna as she tries to settle back in to her home town, and make friends with her colleagues. The author cleverly shows how both she and Erik could come out of an interaction with very differing ideas about what the other one thinks. Hanna assumes people will be prejudiced against her when they find out whose daughter she is, and some are, because someone is ringing her work phone with silent calls which escalate to sounds of a fire burning and a blood curdling scream. As each narrative came closer to revealing the answers, the tension started to build. I liked that the story dealt with a very timely issue and all aspects of the case felt well resolved. However, when it comes to Hanna’s own story, there were enough loose ends left to explore in more detail over the next couple of books. I would recommend this to all crime lovers, but particularly those who enjoy an intelligent, complex and emotional crime novel that focuses on the victims rather than fetishising the killer.

Published 3rd August 2021 by Headline Review

Check out the rest of the blog tour for more about The Night Singer.

Thanks to Headline Review for inviting me on the blog tour.

Posted in Random Things Tours

The Last Snow by Stina Jackson.

What secrets are hidden within the walls of a desolate farmhouse in a forgotten corner of Lapland?

I was chilled by this novel from the first page, as a young girl flits through the woods, only visible in flashes of a pale, frosty moon. She is making her way towards an all-night garage and truck stop, one of those places that feel weirdly outside of time. I could already sense the isolation of this part of Sweden, so far north it’s in the region of Lapland. I could also imagine the boredom and recklessness this teenage girl feels, then I worried about the home she is from.

Then we jump to the present day. Early spring has its icy grip on Ödesmark, a small village in northernmost Sweden, abandoned by many of its inhabitants. But Liv Björnlund never left. She lives in a derelict house together with her teenage son, Simon, and her ageing father, Vidar. They make for a peculiar family, and Liv knows that they are cause for gossip among their few remaining neighbours.

Just why has Liv stayed by her domineering father’s side all these years? And is it true that Vidar is sitting on a small fortune? His questionable business decisions have made him many enemies over the years, and in Ödesmark everyone knows everyone, and no one ever forgets.

Now someone wants back what is rightfully theirs. And they will stop at nothing to get it, no matter who stands in their way…

Usually when writing about a thriller I’m talking about the build up of tension, the breakneck pace of the writing as we reach each reveal. Here Stina Jackson has done completely the opposite and it’s so effective. The pace is glacial, quiet and even contemplative. The result is that you become so lost in the pages that you forget you’re supposed to be breathing. The dreamlike quality of those first lines stays as you are introduced to Liv, working her job in a filling station. There’s a sense that time has stood still. As her father draws up in his old car to pick her up, she could still be a teenager at her Saturday job. Then we find out she has a teenage son and realise she’s older, but very little has changed for Liv. I felt that sense of suffocation, as they return to the house that’s barely standing, with no neighbours in sight, and her father ruling the roost. There’s inertia here; Liv hates being here but can’t summon up the energy to leave. She’s beaten down mentally by privation and the harshness of her father and the landscape. This isn’t a formulaic crime novel, this is also about families and all the emotions encompassed in these relationships. There’s jealousy here, hate and resentment, but also love. Yet over all of that there’s that suffocating sense of paralysis. As if nothing will ever change here.

Liv does have an escape. It’s a tried and tested escape she’s used since she was a teenager. At night she makes her way to an old cabin on their land, takes off her clothes and climbs into bed with the tenant. There’s a calm and matter of fact feel to her liaison, she’s clearly been here many times before. Maybe this is the closest she can get to a relationship. It’s a step up from her midnight travels to the truck stop and the cab of any trucker she can find. At least now she’s a woman, her father Vidar doesn’t track her down and drag her home. Vidar is harsh, cold, mean and according to local gossip, sitting on a fortune. They needn’t live the way they do. Our other perspective in the novel is that of local drug dealer, Liam and his brother Gabriel. Liam feels like Liv’s counterpoint in the novel. He wants to change his life, but is controlled by his brother who has heard of Vidar’s supposed fortune. These two families will come together in a violent and brutal way. All of these characters are so well drawn and they come to the reader in the same way people do in life. Some are open from the beginning, like Vidar who doesn’t hide his cruelty and unpleasantness. Others are more quiet and sly, we have to work to get to know them. Between all of these characters though, there’s a volatile mix of bad blood, greed and so much suppressed rage. When this spills over we are left thinking we know who’s to blame, but we don’t.

The story does slip back and forth in time from the opening scenes in 1998 to a later point as the past informs the future and vice versa. It’s important to concentrate in the past sections, because it really does inform people’s motivations and character. It’s a slow burn, but still kept me gripped throughout. Then the ending comes and while it was shocking, it made sense. This felt like some of the best Scandi Noir series I’ve watched – heavy on atmosphere and character, but takes it time unfolding the narrative and showing us where everyone fits, till the final revealing scene.

Meet The Author


Stina Jackson (b. 1983) hails from the northern town of Skellefteå in Sweden. Just over a decade ago she relocated to Denver, Colorado, where she penned her debut novel, the acclaimed The Silver Road. A runaway bestseller, the novel established Jackson as a rising new star within Nordic suspense.