Posted in Back of the Shelf

Back of the Bookshelf! The Woman in the Window by A.J. Finn

I reached to the back of the shelf for this 2018 paperback copy of The Woman in the Window. There’s a strong Rear Window vibe to this thriller, as our lead character Anna Fox, is trapped within her house, only living through the lives of her neighbours, who she watches through her binoculars. Instead Rear Window’s physical disability, she is restricted by her mental health, which has suffered a response to extreme trauma. Some unknown traumatic incident has resulted in agoraphobia and she has spent ten months inside her large New York house, like a ghost. Before this, Anna was a successful psychologist and the fact that her affliction is a mental health issue really muddies the waters here. How far can we trust what she sees and experiences? Does her training mean we trust her more, or less?

No longer living with her own husband and daughter, she becomes obsessed with the Russell family across the road. A mother, father and teenage son. She is especially interested in the son, and his mother who she meets and names Jane Russell because of her likeness to the beautiful movie star. Her world is filtered through binoculars and her only interest seems to be the black and white movies she watches religiously most evenings. Then one night, as she surveys the neighbourhood, she sees something horrifying at the Russell’s. A scream rips through the evening air and alerts Anna to the Russell’s windows and all she can do is watch in horror. She can’t go out, so rings the police. What follows has everyone questioning Anna’s judgement, including herself. As she starts to suspect someone is getting into her house, her fears increase and she continually talks to her husband and daughter to assuage her anxiety. As she does we start to wonder, where exactly are her family? Why did they leave and will they ever return?

This is one of those thrillers that I can devour in one sitting. It has an elegance and old-fashioned feel that Hitchcock would have optioned on the spot. Incidentally, there is a Netflix series that I’m now dying to watch. Anna is intriguing. I wanted to trust her, but my head was constantly full of questions. I was instantly suspicious of her charming and handsome downstairs lodger too, as well as Mr. Russell. The depiction of Anna’s panic attacks was so realistic and had me holding my breath. The severity of her symptoms, on the few occasions she does try to go beyond the front door, had me fearing the revelations about her past. The pacing was perfect, the tension never let up and I found myself taking it everywhere so I could squeeze in a few more pages whenever I got the chance. I was so impressed when I found out this was a debut, because it feels like a classic. I also made the assumption it was written by a woman, which showed up my reading prejudice about men writing women characters. In all this was an enjoyable and enthralling tale, with a nod to film noir that was very satisfying for this black and white movie lover. I can’t believe that this has been at the back of my shelf until now and I’m glad I decided to give it a go.

Meet The Author

A.J.Finn

THE WOMAN IN THE WINDOW has been sold in 43 territories around the globe. The film adaptation, starring Amy Adams, Gary Oldman, and Julianne Moore, will be released worldwide in autumn 2019. The movie directed by Joe Wright, written by Tracy Letts, and produced by Scott Rudin.

I spent a decade working in publishing in both New York and London, with a particular emphasis on thrillers and mysteries. Now I write full-time, to the relief of my former colleagues. THE WOMAN IN THE WINDOW was inspired by a range of experiences: my lifelong love affair with suspense fiction, from the Sherlock Holmes stories I devoured as a kid to the work of Patricia Highsmith, whom I studied at the graduate level at Oxford; my passion for classic cinema, especially the films of Alfred Hitchcock; and my struggles with depression and mental health. The result, I hope, is a psychological thriller in the vein of Gillian Flynn, Tana French, and Kate Atkinson, among others.

Stuff I love: reading; swimming; cooking; dogs; ice cream; travel. (Note that third semicolon. It’s crucial. I do not love cooking dogs.) I collect first-edition books and enjoy spending time with my French bulldog, Ike.

From A.J. Finn’s Amazon Author Page 21/01/22

Posted in Random Things Tours

Bitter Flowers by Gunnar Staalesen

PI Varg Veum has returned to duty following a stint in rehab, but his new composure and resolution are soon threatened when a challenging assignment arrives on his desk. He is offered a job by his physical therapist Lisbeth, with whom he has built a friendship during treatment. She has a friend who needs a house sitter and she drives Varg out there to look around, only to find a man dead, floating in the elite swimming pool. As Varg leaps in to check for signs of life, Lisbeth goes missing. Most chillingly, Varg Veum is asked to investigate the ‘Camilla Case’: an eight-year-old cold case involving the disappearance of a little girl, who was never found. As the threads of these apparently unrelated crimes come together, against the backdrop of a series of shocking environmental crimes, Varg Veum faces the most challenging, traumatic investigation of his career.

This is one of those slow burn thrillers and we find Veum at a pivotal moment in his life, just out of rehab and fighting a reliance on Aquavit. Whilst not fully back to his investigative peak, Lisbeth’s idea of a simple house sitting would have suited him perfectly, with no pressure. The circumstances he then finds himself in are really not going to help his recovery, it’s enough to find himself embroiled in a murder investigation, but even worse, could he actually be a suspect? Instinct takes over though and Varg can’t help looking into the victim’s life, once he is identified as Tor Aslaksen. He is also very concerned about the disappearance of Lisbeth, as he battled to save the dead man’s life. Needless to say he faces some very awkward questions from Inspector Hamre about how he ended up there, alone in a strange house with a dead man. His digging reveals a connection to a case from some years before, that of a missing child. As if that wasn’t enough, when he looks into the victim’s employer, his company is under suspicion for environmental crimes, namely the alleged improper disposal of toxic waste. There are noisy protestors demonstrating on site and within the conflict there are two brothers, who were childhood friends of Aslaksen and stand on opposing sides of the demonstration. These strands seem so disparate, but the author cleverly threads them back to the murder victim with so much care, taking his time to unwind the truth. Yet, he also keeps a steady tension and occasionally surprises the reader as Varg’s curiosity takes him into dangerous and threatening places. is enough to heighten Veum’s interest. Nobody’s fool and uncompromisingly persistent, Veum is intrigued enough to take a closer look, thereby uncovering a connection to the unsolved disappearance of a seven-year-old girl nearly a decade earlier in the dead of night. Casting his net wider and following the threads back to their fruition, Veum tries to make sense of the past and it’s significance on current events, specifically the murder of Tor Aslaksen and all that follows.

Gunnar Staalesen

I gradually started to bond with Varg, possibly due to the first person narrative; we’re with him all the way because we make discoveries at exactly the same time he does. His narrative can be abrupt at times, but always questioning and challenging those around him. As we experience his inner voice, unedited and raw, we can feel his struggles and the way his personal demons affect his life and his investigations. Yes, he has weaknesses, but his intelligence and determination are undimmed. I felt that, despite these struggles, I was safe with him as a narrator. I was firmly on his side throughout and didn’t doubt his innocence once. I didn’t work out the reasons for the murder, nor the tragic events which followed, but I did feel a constant sense of foreboding even from the first chapter. The author has a good grasp of human nature and how trauma affects people in very different ways. The psychology of addiction was also well observed and I enjoyed seeing Varg’s progress as he tries to recover while investigating a complex and emotional case. His developing relationship with Karen and friendship with Siv are handled with care and a gentleness I didn’t expect.

The case itself is emotive, allowing the reader to learn about Varg’s fragility, as he faces the horror of a child missing for eight years. By taking us back into Varg’s past, we can really see progression in his character; how did he get from there to his current stint in rehab? His previous career in child welfare has left him cynical, but he isn’t completely jaded yet. Everything he has experienced makes him more humane with an automatic reflex to fight for the underdog. I loved his underlying thirst for social justice too, something that could remain hidden from others, behind that calm and focused exterior. Staalesen provides the reader with a steady drip feed of Varg’s discoveries and this pace helps us understand the key characters better, especially where he becomes a nuisance by popping up to question certain people time and again. Even threats and constant police pressure can’t stop him from interfering and he is dogged in his determination to discover the truth. This is not a high octane thriller, but it’s more thorough and compelling because of that. Varg is not one of those showy, ‘on the edge’ investigators either, but the gradual opening up of his character allows us to trust him and truly know him. This felt like to me like a real PI might have worked back in the 1980’s, investing the time and noting the small details that crack a case. We never get the sense, as with other, flashier, P.I. characters, that he is more important than the case. There’s only a hint of fast action and real danger, but it has more impact and authenticity because of that restraint. This is complex, intelligent and authentic storytelling with a hero I enjoyed getting to know.

Posted in Netgalley

The Secret by Debbie Howells.

The village of Abingworth is a rather exclusive area to live, with large houses placed in countryside gardens, surrounded with wooded areas and plenty of privacy. This is a village where the residents don’t have a huge sense of community or honest, real friendships. This is one of those areas where keeping up appearances is everything and for those with a social standing, it’s most important of all. Of course there’s so much more going on than anyone would admit too. Troubled teen Hollie has gone missing. Just beforehand, she briefly visits her friend Niamh and tells her a secret. Niamh swears to keep it safe. However, as detectives arrive and start to ask difficult questions, can Niamh tell this is thuja secret to help find her friend? Or is it something so terrible that only by keeping quiet, can she keep her friend and herself safe?

This was an entertaining domestic thriller with some fairly dark themes too. The story is told through two narrators, Elise who is Niamh’s mum and Jo who is the detective on the missing person’s case. Elise is a flight attendant, working unusual hours on mainly short haul flights. In the first few pages as Elise drives a short distance home from the airport she has a lot on her mind. She is quite matter of fact in about her husband Andrew’s serial infidelity and muses on who it could be this time. Early on, the author takes us on a night out with Elise and Andrew, who is the local GP. This is not so much a relaxed evening out, as it is a show. They must present their most united front in the local, so that everyone they meet must be sure of their relationship and their respectability. The truth is much different.

This book brilliantly portrays coercion and how domestic abuse develops, slow and insidious, until you almost don’t recognise yourself. There are plenty of twists and turns here that keep you guessing, but one revelation jarred a bit and it felt weird that it hadn’t been mentioned sooner. It turns out that this picturesque village has some terrible secrets, all centring on a mansion where Hollie liked to trespass and explore. Elise wants to find out what happened to her, but also protect her daughter Niamh – the last person to talk to Hollie. Does she know more than she’s letting on? I was hooked till the end, as I usually am with this author. I hate false situations where people are putting on a front constantly, the question here is are they doing this to fit in or do they have something to hide? This is another entertaining thriller from this author and will keep you guessing.

Published by Avon 6th Jan 2022

Meet The Author

Having previously worked as cabin crew, a flying instructor and a wedding florist, Debbie turned to writing during her busiest summer of weddings. After self-publishing three women’s commercial fiction novels, she wrote The Bones of You, her first psychological thriller. It was a Sunday Times bestseller and picked for the Richard and Judy book club. Three more have been published by Pan Macmillan: The Beauty of The End, The Death of Her and Her Sister’s Lie. Her fifth, The Vow, was published by Avon in 2020 and was a #1 ebook bestseller. It will be followed by The Secret, out in January 2022. Alongside her thrillers, Debbie has returned to writing women’s fiction novels and The Life You Left Behind will be published in February 2022 by Boldwood. Debbie writes full time, inspired by the peacefulness of the countryside she lives in with her partner Martin and Bean the rescued cat.

You can visit her website at http://www.debbiehowells.co.uk or blog at http://www.howellshenson.com. 

Follow her on Instagram @_debbiehowells, on Facebook @debbiehowellswriter or on Twitter @debbie__howells.

Posted in Domestic Thriller, Publisher Proof

The Second Woman by Louise Mey.

I was truly gripped and unsettled by this domestic thriller, and it’s themes of control and coercion. The author truly understands this type of relationship and the psychological trauma that slowly trickles down to the rest of the family. Sandrine is our main character, a discreet, gentle and loving woman who doesn’t want much. She just wants a loving husband, someone who wants to go to bed with her every night and wake up with her every morning. She wants someone who shows his affection and holds her hand in front of others. She’s so concentrated in looking for this, that when Mr Langois appears on the horizon, he is going to be her ‘one’. Mr Langois does offer her some of what she wants. She now has a beautiful place to live and is close to his son, which does show an element of trust. Yet, she can’t forget that this is a house where a woman went missing. His first wife was there and then she disappeared. In fact, she is presumed dead, and Sandrine, who is discreet, loving and oh so grateful, slips into the void left behind. She has been doing her best to bring back a smile to the grieving husband and little Mathias. However, he will never really be her son, and Mr Langois is not really her man. In the back of her mind, she feels the woman who was there before, the one who made this house a home and belonged here in this family, Then suddenly the woman who’s been haunting Sandrine reappears. Alive. Sandrine’s world crumbles and falls apart.

This book is both compelling to read, but also intelligent and profoundly disturbing. Whereas the first half is largely setting the scene, the second part becomes more and more chilling. We are treated to all the twists and turns related to the disappearance of the first wife while she infiltrates Sandrine’s life; what follows is so insidious and feels evil. It’s very well written, with a brilliant depiction of Sandrine’s personality change, from a woman who only wanted to have her own man to love and feel loved back, to an obsessive. The obsession is borne of her low self-esteem and could lead her from jealousy into being a full-blown monster. The story is written with waves of the worst tension, and this never lets up, especially once Mr Langois’ first wife returns and begins manipulating. The author manages to scare us without a need for physical violence, something which doesn’t surprise me as I am a survivor of coercive control. By the time I’d found the strength to leave, I didn’t really know who I was anymore. It took so long to try and put myself back together. This book has that strange quality of being fascinating yet repulsive at the same tune. I sort of felt the way I do when watching nature documentaries. It’s incredible to watch the ability of the beautiful creature at the top of the food chain, but also dreadful to watch the pain and fear of the animal being hunted. It’s horrible, but you can’t turn away. This is such an immersive read, you’ll look up from the page and wonder where you are.

Published 2nd September 2021 by Pushkin Vertigo

LOUISE MEY is a Paris-based author of contemporary noir novels dealing with themes of domestic and sexual violence, and harassment, often with a feminist slant. The Second Woman is her fourth novel, and the first to be translated into English. LOUISE ROGERS LALAURIE is a writer and translator from French, including Frederic Dard’s The King of Fools and The Inspector of Strange and Unexplained Deaths by Olivier Barde-Cabucon, both published by Pushkin Vertigo. Her work has been shortlisted for the Best Translated Book Award, the Jan Michalski Prize for Literature and the Crime Writers Association International Dagger.

Posted in Monthly Wrap Up

Books of the Month! November 2021

This has been a difficult reading month and I haven’t read as much as usual, but these were my favourite reads. Two members of the family have had surgery this month so a lot of the usual routine has been a bit upside down. The last week, while winter has started to bite a little, I’ve had a lot more pain and stiffness, as well as being plagued by MS symptoms of vertigo and fatigue. Some days I’ve felt like I only open my eyes when someone wakes me to have a meal. The countdown to Christmas also started in earnest, so I’ve been ordering early to avoid disappointment. I do the majority of my shopping online these days so it’s really a pleasure rather than feeling sweaty and unwell in a shop packed with other people. I did venture out with my stepdaughter last weekend to buy new decorations for our Christmas tree. It’s a tradition I set up to get to know them better and now it’s annual mission. Since it’s our first Christmas in the new house and our living room colour scheme has changed we decided to go pink and blue. We did well and how have an eccentric collection of tigers, monkeys, tiny pink Minis and VW Beetles with Christmas trees on the roof, slices of cake and topless unicorns wearing just a tutu! Mainly though, with my lowered immune system I’m trying to avoid large groups of people. Thankfully my booster is now booked, but it’s not until the end of December so I’m keeping to my strict bubble again until we know more about the new variant. So, that’s me. Out of the books I’ve read there have been some brilliant reads and don’t forget to check last Sunday’s Spotlight post which featured the books I’m buying as gifts this year.

The Ladies of the Secret Circus by Constance Sayers

We open in Kerrigan Falls with Lara on the eve of her wedding as she starts to enchant her wedding dress to make it perfect. However, in the morning the groom has disappeared, mysteriously leaving his car behind at the scene where another young man disappeared thirty years before. Both men have links to Lara and her family. In her search for answers, Lara finds her great- grandmother’s diaries and reads the tale of a circus so secret it can’t be seen. The circus is the perfect antidote to the sweetness of Kerrigan Falls. I won’t ruin your discovery of this world, but it is truly fascinating, macabre, beautiful, magical and horrifying all at the same time. I was hooked by the scene the author was describing and fascinated by Lara’s family history. The small details, such as the circus only appearing to those with a personal invitation which bled if it was torn, were quite disturbing. The magic practiced there had parallels with Lara’s skills – simple tabby cats turned into ferocious big cats. There were surprises I hadn’t expected and Cecile’s final diaries are the vital first hand account of the circus’s history, as well as her own love story. I was immersed in this magical tale and didn’t really want it to end.

Before My Actual Heart Breaks by Tish Delaney

Oh my goodness, my heart did break for the intelligent, spirited and strangely beautiful Mary Rattigan. She is a character who will stay with me, especially the childhood Mary and her battles with Mammy – a woman who I hated so strongly it was as if she was a real person! The Rattigan’s life on her parent’s farm is at odds with her romantic and wild nature. She wants to fly. She will not be satisfied until she flies out of her dirty and dangerous surroundings, leaving ‘The Troubles’ behind her. She doesn’t care where she goes, as long as she’s free and lives happily ever after. However, life has a way of grounding us and Mary is no exception. In a life punctuated by marriage, five children, bombings, a long peace process and endless cups of tea Mary learns that a ten minute decision can change a whole life. These lessons are hard won and she’s missed a hundred chances to make a change. Can she ever find the courage to ask for the love she deserves, but has never had? I am probably a similar age to Delaney so I felt an affinity with Mary and understood her. Mary’s need to be loved is so raw she can’t even articulate it. How can she understand or recognise love when she’s never felt it? She has been told she’s nothing, so nothing is what she deserves. Delaney writes about love and the realities of marriage with such wisdom and tenderness that I was rooting for Mary Rattigan till the very last page.

Wish You Were Here by Jodi Picoult

Diana and her boyfriend Finn live in New York City, he is a doctor and she works at an auction house for fine art, on the verge of promotion to become an Art Specialist at Sotheby’s. She’s trying to acquire a Toulouse Lautrec painting that hangs in the bedroom of a Japanese artist -loosely based on Yoko Ono. Then, everything changes. Finn and Diana have a very set life plan and part of that was an upcoming visit to the Galápagos Islands. However there are rumours flying around in the medical community of a strange new virus in Wuhan, China. It seems like SARS in that it affects breathing, because it causes pneumonia and requires huge amounts of resources to keep patients alive. Diana’s boyfriend feels torn, as a doctor he’s worried and thinks they should be preparing but the president is on TV telling everyone it’s no worse than flu. What’s the truth? When Finn’s hospital announces all leave is cancelled they know the virus is coming. Diana asks what they should do with the Galapagos holiday and he tells her to go without him. So she arrives on the last boat just as everything shuts down and she has to take the kind offer of an apartment from a cleaner at the hotel called Abuela. This is just the start of an amazing and uplifting adventure for Diana, in a paradise separate from the COVID-19 nightmare happening in New York. The joy of this book is that it takes the reader in several different directions, some of them very surprising indeed. This is my first full on pandemic novel and it was tough but surprisingly uplifting too. A real return to form from Picoult who I absolutely love.

On the Edge by Jane Jesmond

I was thoroughly gripped by this tense thriller set in Cornwall and concerning Jenifry Shaw – an experienced free climber who is in rehabilitation at the start of the novel. She hasn’t finished her voluntary fortnight stay when she’s itching for an excuse to get away and she finds one when her brother Kit calls and asks her to go home. Sure that she has the addiction under control, she drives her Aston down to her home village and since she isn’t expected, chooses to stay at the hotel rather than go straight to her family home. Feeling restless, she decides to try one of her distraction activities and go for a bracing walk along the cliffs. Much later she wakes to darkness. She’s being lashed by wind and rain, seemingly hanging from somewhere on the cliff by a very fragile rope. Every gust of wind buffets her against the surface causing cuts and grazes. She gets her bearings and realises she’s hanging from the viewing platform of the lighthouse. Normally she could climb herself out of this, most natural surfaces have small imperfections and places to grab onto, but this man made structure is completely smooth. Her only chance is to use the rapidly fraying rope to climb back to the platform and pull herself over. She’s only got one go at this though, one jerk and her weight will probably snap the rope – the only thing keeping her from a certain death dashed on the rocks below. She has no choice. She has to try. I was already breathless and this was just the opening! What follows is a thrilling debut that is so incredibly addictive you’ll want to read it in one go.

The Watchers by A.M. Shine

This is a disturbing and beautifully written horror novel about Mina, a young woman living alone in urban Ireland. She is largely a loner, except for her friend Peter who is a collectibles dealer and often pays Mina cash to travel and deliver his client’s purchases. On this occasion she’s to take a golden parrot to a remote part of Galway, but the day trip becomes something she lives to regret. Having broken down on the edge of a forest, Mina realises that the likelihood of anyone passing by and helping are probably minimal. So, with the parrot in tow, she sets off walking in the hope of finding a remote farmhouse. She feels unnerved, although she can’t say why, then she hears a scream that isn’t human, but isn’t like any animal she’s ever heard either. As the shadows gather she is beginning to panic, but sees a woman with a lamp standing by a concrete bunker and although that seems odd they hurry inside. As the door slams behind them, the screams grow in intensity and volume, almost as if they were right on her heels. As her eyes adjust to the light she finds herself in a room with a bright overhead light. One wall is made entirely of glass, but Mina can’t see beyond it and into the forest because it is now pitch dark. Yet she has the creeping sensation of being watched through the glass, almost like she is the parrot in a glass cage. A younger man and woman are huddled together in one space, so there are now four people in this room, captive and watched by many eyes. Their keepers are the Watchers, dreadful creatures that live in burrows by day, but come out at night to hunt and to watch these captive humans. If caught out after dark, the door will be locked, and you will be the Watcher’s unlucky prey. Who are these creatures and why do they keep watching? This really is terrifying and you won’t be able to stop reading until the very unnerving end.

Insomnia by Sarah Pinborough

This is a sneak preview of a release for next year and one I couldn’t resist reading on NetGalley as soon as I was approved. This book hooked me straight away, which isn’t surprising considering this author’s talent in creating nerve-tingling domestic noir. Emma has survived childhood trauma to make a success of her life and is now a well-respected solicitor with a lovely family and beautiful home. The only thing is she can’t sleep. As her fortieth approaches her insomnia gets worse and she is terrified, what if this is just the start of the breakdown her mother suffered at the same age? She always said that Emma had the ‘bad blood’ and as her symptoms increase Emma is coming apart. I read this in two sittings, engrossed by Emma’s story and trying to work out whether she is being set up and if so, who by? Look out for this one at the end of March 2022.

Posted in Publisher Proof

Volta by Nikki Dudley

When Briony Campbell confesses to killing her boyfriend, a straightforward crime of passion soon turns into a baffling mystery. Haunted by demons from his past, lawyer S.J. Robin is assigned to the case. But as confusion – and the body count – rises, he’s forced to question who is guilty and who is innocent. Can he see justice served and hold on to the woman he loves?

I’ve been slightly daunted by writing the review for this thriller, because I’m desperate not to give anything away. Volta really is a fast paced read, with a plot full of twists and turns and an engaging central character. Even more unusual, is the distinct thread of romance throughout. From the moment Briony wakes up covered in blood, I was drawn into the story. There’s an almost cinematic quality to the writing, because we’re totally in the moment as Briony wakes up and as her senses take in the terrifying situation she’s in so do ours. It’s a moment of of stillness that’s rare in the book. Then we pan out and see our other character’s reaction to the crime. Briony makes an statement to lawyer S. J. Robin that seems clear cut, but he soon realises the case is not that simple and as it becomes ever more entangled, it even brings his own demons to the surface.

The novel has three narrators: S.J, Briony and Mari. Mari is both Briony’s therapist and possible love interest to S.J, in a complicated coincidence. From the first time we see them together, it’s clear that S.J and Mari have history. Even more complexity comes in, when we realise that the investigator, Aris, is Mari’s brother – and they are a really convincing pair of siblings. It’s a small interrelated group of characters, and it creates a slightly claustrophobic feel. S.J relates his tale in the first person, and for some reason that makes me think he’s giving a true version of events. It’s an unconscious bias that I think comes from being a counsellor and ‘prizing’ the client’s account, never showing judgement or disbelief. However, I do love it when a novel’s narrator proves to be untrustworthy and as the story unfolded I started to feel a little unsettled by some aspects of the story – specifically S.J and Briony’s narratives. They each had an experience of trauma in their respective childhoods; from this it is easy to draw parallels between them. However, when a narrative’s in the third person we can see others interacting with our character, having inner thoughts about them and possibly being aware of their back story. A first-person narrative has no corroboration and though the difference in narrative perspective seems subtle it does have a large impact. S.J is intriguing. We learn very early in the novel, that he’s dealing with past trauma and his positioning as a victim also elicits sympathy from the reader – that is until doubts start to creep in. We learn that his psychological trauma could be permanent or at least difficult to heal, and this could create a further bond between him and Briony that is possibly unhelpful, both personally and in the investigation. I was left questioning what exactly had happened in Briony and S.J’s pasts? Did what happened with Briony relate to those circumstances? Can the victim have justice if S.J wins justice for Briony – are they the same thing? In between is the push and pull of S.J and Mari, whose attraction gave the book more of a light-hearted feel

Although the novel moves along at an incredible pace, I could identify certain threads or themes running throughout, always at the back of my mind like a constant nagging voice. I seemed to be thinking constantly, even when I wasn’t reading the book! Make no mistake these are complicated characters, with psychological damage that’s affecting their everyday lives and their work. Their relationships are difficult, or even broken. The author’s grasp of the consequences of trauma are nicely nuanced and I felt safe in the hands of a writer who understood psychological trauma well. In fact the reader works as a fourth character, bringing their own bias and assumptions to their assessment of Briony. The word ‘Volta’ is defined as a literary device, used in poetry. It’s a rhetorical shift, or a dramatic change in mood, emotion and tone. That’s how this book feels as a reading experience, I found myself shifting constantly in my assessment of Briony based on how one of the other characters viewed her or when a twist in the narrative turned everything on it’s head. This would be a great book club choice, because I imagine every reader has a different perspective. This is a strong, intense and clever thriller with characters to match.

Meet The Author


Nikki is a novelist and poet who grew up in London. She attended state school in Camden and spent her time hiding in the library. She is managing editor of streetcake magazine, which publishes innovative writing. She also runs the streetcake writing prize and MumWrite, a development programme for mums. Her novel, ‘Ellipsis’ was published by Sparkling Books in 2010. Additionally, she has been published in magazines and online. Her chapbook ‘exits/origins’ and collection ‘Hope Alt Delete’ are published by The Knives, Forks and Spoons Press. She won the Virginia Prize for fiction 2020 and her novel, Volta, was published by Aurora Metro Books in 2021. Her pamphlet, ‘I’d Better Let You Go’ was published by Beir Bua Press in 2021.

Nikki loves mysteries, thrillers and things that make her think. Some of her favourite books are Catch-22, the Raymond Chandler books, How to Life Safely in a Science Fictional Universe and anything by Yoko Ogawa. 

Her other interests include watching many genres of films and attending events such as poetry readings, sport, and gigs. You can start conversations with her by discussing your favourite type of cake, your favourite Avenger or telling her a fun fact. She loves travelling and trying local cuisines.

Posted in Random Things Tours

On the Edge by Jane Jesmond.

I was thoroughly gripped by this tense thriller set in Cornwall and concerning Jenifry Shaw – an experienced free climber who is in rehabilitation at the start of the novel. She hasn’t finished her voluntary fortnight stay when she’s itching for an excuse to get away and she finds one when her brother Kit calls and asks her to go home. Sure that she has the addiction under control, she drives her Aston down to her home village and since she isn’t expected, chooses to stay at the hotel rather than go straight to her family home. Feeling restless, she decides to try one of her distraction activities and go for a bracing walk along the cliffs. Much later she wakes to darkness. She’s being lashed by wind and rain, seemingly hanging from somewhere on the cliff by a very fragile rope. Every gust of wind buffets her against the surface causing cuts and grazes. She gets her bearings and realises she’s hanging from the viewing platform of the lighthouse. Normally she could climb herself out of this, most natural surfaces have small imperfections and places to grab onto, but this man made structure is completely smooth. Her only chance is to use the rapidly fraying rope to climb back to the platform and pull herself over. She’s only got one go at this though, one jerk and her weight will probably snap the rope – the only thing keeping her from a certain death dashed on the rocks below. She has no choice. She has to try.

I don’t know about you, but my heart was racing and this was just the opening! I thoroughly enjoyed this intense thriller, so much in fact, I read it in one sitting. This was too good to put down. Jen can trust no one, as she tries to investigate her own attempted murder. The dark, taciturn, Nick Crawford has to be dodgy. He’s not from the village and claims to be a carpenter, but Jen has her suspicions that his business is a cover. After all, she should know, she has been dealing with drug dealers her whole life. Could it be him who drugged her, then left her for dead at the lighthouse not knowing about her past; the talent for climbing she inherited from her father and the buzz she’d get from free climbing the seemingly impossible. Even man made structures were no match for her and the rush was incredible, hanging out with other adrenaline junkies – the base jumpers, the parkour and free running enthusiasts. The way the author wrote about this world was fascinating and very beguiling. I’m fond of saying to clients in workshops that as adults we forget to play, I now fulfil that by crafting, sewing and writing stories. My early readers will know that I broke my back when I was 11 doing somersaults in the playground when I should have been high jumping. The author truly made me think of a time before my accident when I was largely free to do as I liked. My brother and I would climb a pair of willow trees, bent so far over one of rural Lincolnshire’s many drainage dykes, that a child could lie full length in them. He would be fishing. I would take a sketchbook or journal and spend the day scribbling or sketching flowers. In the descriptions of Jen’s climbing days I remembered the freedom of a body that was loose and easy to use. The body that took me up Snowdon and other mountains, or went wild swimming and could take on any challenge without fear of pain or exhaustion. Times where it’s just you and nature. Jen promised her brother Kit that she would give up free climbing after a terrible accident left one of their friends paralysed. I understood giving up something that’s such a huge part of who you are and the need to replace that adrenaline rush with something, to self-medicate.

The sense of place was incredible. The author conjured up my Cornwall almost immediately with her descriptions of the tin mine, the crashing sea on the cliffs and fog on the moors. I recognised the sea mist that seems to coat your car and your windows. The weather was hugely important, with storms amping up the tension in the opening chapters and the fog of the final chapters adding to the mystery. Will we find out who is behind the strange and dangerous events Jen has uncovered or will it remain obscured? Cornwall is the perfect place to hide criminal activity, hence the history of smuggling and piracy, so why would it be any different today? Has the cargo changed? I loved that the author wove modern events and concerns into the story, because it helped the story feel current and real. The concerns around development and tourism are all too real for a county, dependent on the money tourism brings, but trying to find a balance where it doesn’t erode the Cornish culture. Local young people are priced out of the property market and we get a sense of that here with Kelly who left to become a dancer until a knee injury forced her home to live with her brother Talan. Kit and Jen both left in order to make their way in life, setting up a climbing business that Jen managed. Yet they are in financial dire straits after Kit and his wife try to renovate the family home into a well-being centre. Jen and Kit’s home, Their house is more of a stately home, but not an attractive one – Jen refers to it as a grey block or brick with none of the embellishments expected of a historic building. Their mum says Kit has renovated the soul from the house, and since the family spend most of their time in the unrenovated kitchen I was inclined to agree. However, without the new business opening and attracting tourists they’ll be ruined. It’s a constant love hate relationship between Cornishman and incomer.

The final chapters, as Jen discovers what’s going on in her home village, is absolutely nail-biting. I was also holding my breath in parts. I won’t give anything away but the revelations are startling and no one is who they seem. I was surprised by most of the twists and it made for a fantastic conclusion. As I usually do with a author thats new to me, I didn’t read any of the promo stuff until I’d finished the book. When I’d recovered from holding my breath, I looked the author up because I was keen to read her back catalogue. Surprisingly, this is her first novel. I’d be incredibly proud of it. It’s well-paced, exciting, and has a great central character who doesn’t need a rescuer. She can save herself. I loved the way the author built atmosphere and that simmering tension that grabs you at the outset and doesn’t let up. I’m not surprised this was picked out of a pile of submissions; it stands out. If this is what Jane Jesmond is opening with, I can’t wait to see what she’s doing next.

Meet the Author

On The Edge is JANE JESMOND’s debut novel and the first in a series featuring dynamic, daredevil protagonist Jen Shaw. Although she was born in Newcastle Upon Tyne, raised in Liverpool and considers herself northern through and through, Jane’s family comes from Cornwall. Her lifelong love of the Cornish landscape and culture inspired the setting of On The Edge. Jane has spent the last thirty years living and working in France. She began writing steadily six or seven years ago and writes every morning in between staring out at the sea and making cups of tea. She also enjoys reading, walking and amateur dramatics and, unlike her daredevil protagonist, is terrified of heights!

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The Quiet People by Paul Cleave

Whenever I go to literature festival or author events through my local bookshop, people always ask where the writer gets their ideas from. In the case of crime writers we really want to know, because we’re thinking: is this what real life crime is like? Are there people who commit these terrible (and usually highly creative) crimes? How does the writer know this much about the crimes they depict? We want to know if they have ever been tempted to commit a crime and if anybody could commit the perfect crime, surely it’s people who’ve been writing and researching it for years? They know the pitfalls and have the forensic know-how to get away with it. So,could a crime writer commit the perfect crime? This is the corner that Cam and Lisa Murdoch find themselves in, when their son Zach goes missing one night. As a crime writing duo the two are well known, but live a quiet family life with their son in Christchurch, NZ. In a meltdown the night before, Zach has told his father he wants to run away and in an exasperated moment Cam tells him to go ahead. Could he really have climbed out of the window and gone? Cam and Lisa don’t think so, then when a footprint is found outside his bedroom window their fears are confirmed – this must be an abduction. Yet everyone knows, in child disappearances, the first suspects are always the parents. But will they be the last?

This is my first Paul Cleave novel, and I was drawn in by the premise. We read the story through the narration of Cam and one of the investigating officers DI Rebecca Kent. The chapters are short and alternate between the two perspectives, creating an interesting narrative where one moment I was on the Murdoch’s side and the next moment I could understand the police’s outlook. The first half of the book was really slow, with a drip feed of information. The second half was like a car with no brakes, careering towards an inevitable explosion. I thought DI Kent was a decent, honest officer, with great instincts and a lot of compassion for the Murdochs. I loved being inside her professional mindset, seeing how she kept a polite demeanour with suspects, while questioning or even disbelieving everything they’re telling her. The author shows how every action can have multiple interpretations. Early on in the book, when Zach is playing on a bouncy castle, Cam’s attention wanders for a moment and he can’t see his son anywhere. Frantically looking for him, he goes onto the bouncy castle looking for him, accidentally knocking a girl over in his hurry. He then grabs hold of another boy and tries to show him a picture of Zach on his phone, an actions that’s completely misinterpreted by the boy’s father. Is Cam just an anxious, frantic parent who isn’t thinking clearly or is he a deliberate abuser of children? It depends on who you are in the scenario. Kent keeps an open mind – suspect everyone, expect anything and don’t take one person’s word. She’s always calculating in her head, checking and balancing actions and behaviour.

Cam is an interesting character who goes through an enormous amount of change in the novel. We see how his son’s disappearance slowly alters his personality and he’s hard to root for. It’s as if he’s woken up inside one of his own books, fully experiencing what he might put one of his characters through. He depends on Lisa, his writing mate and wife, but are they going to be made stronger by this tragedy or does it have the power to tear them apart? They certainly have different temperaments, with Lisa being the calmer one, but I was fascinated to see how she would respond when Cam tells her about Zach’s threat to leave and his answer. The author creates such a tense atmosphere building both inside and outside their home. He depicts the frenzied attention around the case of a missing child, that reminded me of the public’s interest in the Madeleine McCann or the Shannon Matthew’s cases. It was horrible to see how the general public congregated outside the family’s homes, shouting for justice and piling pressure on the family and police alike. This chaos was so well depicted in the novel and ended up spawning one of the most explosive and memorable scenes.

This was a compulsive page turner, especially once you reach the half way point. The short, snappy chapters help with this, there’s always that temptation of just one more. There were also brilliant cliff hangers, places where it felt the book was about to end, but didn’t, and then took things in another direction entirely. I loathed the journalist Lockwood who starts out with a vendetta against the Murdochs for apparently stealing a book idea from him. Could he be taking the ultimate revenge? Could the Murdochs really be the villains after all? The truth, when it is finally laid bare, is a massive shock for the reader. I couldn’t have suspected and even DI Kent is completely taken by surprise. This is the sort of case that would never leave the investigating officer and I felt that so much about her would change from this point. I loved the way that Cleave showed the influence of the press and social media on cases that catch the public imagination. No one is innocent until proven guilty any more. Worryingly, it felt like there was no privacy either with devices like mobiles, spy cameras and our addiction to social media placing so much of our private sphere into the world. It also makes things more difficult for Cam and Lisa, who have been recorded at festivals and on TV for a number of years. It’s so easy to watch them and to discredit the couple with a well chosen statement taken totally out of context. It’s also scary to see the influence and tragic consequences that the media circus can have. Although, I did laugh at the pyramid of nuns and priests that turn up in the mob, it’s the image from the book that will stay with me. This was a fascinating thriller, with a complex investigation at it’s centre. Prepare for a twisty tale, full of red herrings and tiny clues, where you’ll struggle to trust anyone.

Meet The Author


Paul Cleave is currently dividing his time between his home city of Christchurch, New Zealand, where all of his novels are set, and Europe, where none of his novels are set. His eight novels have so far been translated into over a dozen languages and nearly 20 territories. He has won the Saint-Maur book festival’s crime novel of the year in France, has been shortlisted for the Ned Kelly award, the Edgar Award, the Barry Award, and has won the Ngaio Marsh award for NZ crime fiction three times.

Posted in Netgalley, Publisher Proof

We Are All Liars by Carys Jones.

The ‘Fierce Five’ have always been the best of friends. Gail, Allie, Emily, Stacie and Diana are all different in character, but have complimented each other. Gail is the organised one who tends to get them altogether. Allie is quiet and tends to be more introspective than the others. Emily is the traditional one, with her twins and husband Adam at the centre of everything she does. Stacie has been married twice, someone who is proud of being straight talking, but is still holding a lot inside. Finally there’s Diana who came from a more deprived background than the others and has a more cynical or realist’s perspective on life. They are all invited by Gail to celebrate her 35th birthday at her cabin, an isolated and atmospheric spot in the Scottish Highlands. The girls plan on catching up, having a drink and enjoying the remote location where they’re removed from their everyday lives. However, when a snow storm threatens to cut them off completely, events are set in motion that no one expected.

This was my first book from Carys Jones and she certainly knows how to ratchet up the tension. This wasn’t my first remote chalet thriller this year because there have been a few books with a similar premise such as Catherine Cooper’s The Chalet and Ruth Ware’s One by One. I found this story compulsively readable, with well-drawn characters and a real sense of surprise and menace. The story is told in two timelines, the current stay in the cabin and then back into the girl’s pasts where we could explore their past interactions and the events that shaped who they are. These sections were not necessarily chronological, but each section informed the situation in the present. A third section is written as the transcript of a police interview with an unnamed person of interest. Since one of these transcripts starts the book off, we know how important they are to the story and that something very very wrong has happened on the girl’s weekend.

The storm is menacing and I felt like the author depicted it like a sixth character in the novel. Even though it’s outside, it seems to influence what happens inside, so as the storm builds so do the friend’s emotions. When the storm is at it’s height the secrets, and lies of the book’s title, come to the surface and events take a drastic turn. I loved the way the author depicted this complicated friendship, because it was realistic. Often large friendship groups like this do have factions – two of the group who are closer than the others, another pair keeping a secret from the group or one member feeling isolated from the others. It’s impossible for groups like this to weather the years without changes happening. Individual experiences shape and change us over time and that might mean friendships wax and wane, but in groups like this those changes can cause resentment and jealousy. This happens especially if two people bond over an experience they’ve both had, switching allegiances such as friends who’ve both have children tending to gravitate towards one another. As the secrets come tumbling out and the girls battle to cope with the revelations and the effects of the storm things reach boiling point. Which of the friends will snap? This is an entertaining novel about old friendships that might just put you off your next school reunion. Tense, claustrophobic, and an unexpected ending. I’ve been reading this in a remote cabin in North Wales and it definitely added to the experience!

Author Carys Jones

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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.

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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.