Posted in Publisher Proof

Girl, 11 by Amy Suiter Clarke.

VIGILANTE

True crime podcaster Elle Castillo has long been obsessed with The Countdown Killer.

VICTIMS

Twenty years ago, he went on a killing spree. Each new victim was a year younger than the last.

VENGEANCE

Now, he’s back.

Elle must stop the deadly countdown before the killer can claim his next victim.

Girl 11 is the perfect read for fans of True Crime, whether they’re addicted to Netflix series or listen to podcasts. True crime podcasts have played a part in two other books I’ve read in the past six months, so their popularity has come to the attention of authors wanting to keep their crime fiction as up to the minute as possible. Here, Elle is a podcaster turned sleuth and she is determined she has what it takes to catch the Countdown Killer. We’ve all sat and watched documentaries – I admit an addiction to Forensics: The Real CSI – and considered the evidence, only to find ourselves screaming at the the detectives on screen to go back and look at x or y that didn’t make sense or a witness who seemed a little too interested in the details of the crime. I imagine what it must be like to psychologically profile a suspect, or to come up against them in interview.

Elle takes armchair detecting one step further by carrying out her own investigation into crimes, often involving children. The structure of the book is clever, as a transcript of her podcast is placed between each chapter. This divides the book quite neatly into the detail of Elle’s past research into the crime, and the present day action that drives the story forward. This latest podcast on The Countdown Killer details crimes from twenty-four years ago. The killer abducted and murdered young women according to their age, starting at twenty, but then threatening to count down from there, reducing each victim’s age by one year each time. Then the killer stopped abruptly, leaving most crime enthusiasts thinking he was dead, but Elle isn’t so sure, especially when another child goes missing. When asked by the police to consult on the new case she considers whether it might be the same killer, but her colleagues start to question her judgement. Is she too fixated on the Countdown Killer? Also, is it wrong that every time I read that name I imagined a killer rampaging through the C4 Countdown studio?

I thought the set up of the book was excellent and the first half really grabbed my attention and pulled me into the story. I thought the ritual nature of the original murders and the whole of the cold case, was fascinating and if it was a real podcast I could imagine a lot of people enjoying the content. Yet, having set a brilliant scene and pace, I thought the second half of the book slowed down and didn’t keep me as engaged. I knew what was coming a little too much, and I waited patiently to be disproved or for a huge twist that didn’t come. Having read the Six Stories series of Matt Wesolowski, which also follows a cold case podcast, I felt this wasn’t as inventive as it could have been. I did really enjoy Elle though. She was an interesting and intelligent woman, very good at her job and almost forensic in the detail she brings to her podcasts. I felt there was more than just prurient interest in the crimes she details, she truly wants to solve these cases and get justice for the victims. I enjoyed the interviews she carries out with experts too. I thought her private life could have done with some fleshing out, because I felt I only knew Elle through her work, rather than feeling she was a fully rounded character. This was an interesting debut, and I think the format of the podcasts could work very well as a series going forward and I think there’s much more to come from this author in the future.

Published 26th April 2021 by Pushkin Vertigo.

Meet The Author

Amy Suiter Clarke is the author of GIRL, 11 and is a writer and communications specialist. Originally from a small town in Minnesota, she completed an undergraduate in theater in the Twin Cities. She then moved to London and earned an MFA in Creative Writing with Publishing at Kingston University. She currently works for a university library in Melbourne, Australia.

Posted in Netgalley

House of Whispers by Anna Kent

Some secrets aren’t meant to be kept…

When Grace returns to Abi’s life, years after they fell out at university, Abi can’t help but feel uneasy. Years ago, Grace’s friendship was all-consuming and exhausting.

Now happily married, Abi’s built a new life for herself and put those days behind her. And yet as Grace slips back into her life with all the lethal charm she had before, Abi finds herself falling back under her spell…

Abi’s husband, Rohan, can’t help but be concerned as his wife’s behaviour changes. As their happy home threatens to fall apart, he realises that there’s something deeply unnerving about Grace. Just what influence does this woman have over his wife, and why has she come back now?

I seem to have read a few books in the last year that focus on the dynamics of female friendship. From the teenage years of Madam, where the school regime pits the girls against each other, to the middle aged years of The Nearest Thing to Crazy where a woman forms a friendship with a newcomer to the village and regrets it bitterly. This seems like a very rich mine for writers to delve into and this is an interesting addition to these psychological thrillers. Our oldest friends, so the saying goes, remain friends because they know where the bodies are buried. Our ‘besties’ are often the closest person to us in life, and in my experience have held me up when times have been too hard to keep going. When these close relationships go wrong, the mental scars can last a lifetime. Abi and Grace’s relationship seemed to become toxic at university, when Abi suspected Grace of trying to control her life. Soon after university Abi married Rohan and now they are renovating a house together. The house was derelict and as they’ve settled into it and started with their plans, Abi feels the years of history in the old house. The creak on the stair created by decades of weary feet. The sense of owners long gone and the weight of their memories.

When Grace writes to say she’s coming to the U.K. after years working abroad, the timing is serendipitous. Rohan has to work in New York for a while. Abi is going to be creating pieces for an art exhibition. Grace needs a place to stay till she finds her feet, and Abi feels enough water has passed under the bridge, maybe it will be fun to reconnect with her old friend? She’s probably changed in the intervening years and a catch up could be just what she needs to inspire her art. Besides it will be nice to have some company while Rohan is away.

It turns out that Abi is right, she does find her house guest inspiring and I was drawn in to the author’s descriptions of her work which were vivid and full of life. Her output soars and she’s making great headway into the pieces needed for her exhibition. I was interested in the psychology of creativity and the author taps into that long term link between artistic success and the deterioration of the mind. As Abi’s art is elevated, the rest of her life is soon suffering. It seems that maybe Grace has not changed after all. Abi can recognise her controlling behaviour and the passive aggressive way she deals with conflict, but wonders if she can handle it until her work is ready. No artist wants to give up their muse and Abi thinks that because she can recognise the behaviour, she won’t be manipulated. It’s like watching a fly edging ever closer to a spider’s web.

We know there has been a traumatic event in Abi’s past because the author drip feeds us little snippets of the past, in order to increase the tension. What this also does is create a bit of suspicion around our narrator. She values honesty in herself and others, even where it might sound harsh, but is she affording us the same honesty? Should we really trust our narrator. I thought the author cleverly linked the state of the house with Abi’s state of mind. She starts to neglect the house, becoming ever more hyper-focused on her paintings. Her life is starting to fall apart. Her in-laws are very concerned, but are struggling to intervene. As Rohan returns he notices a change in his wife, but puts it down to a fierce burst of creativity. However, as time passes he starts to wonder whether this friendship is healthy for his wife and their marriage. Yet, Grace seems to possess an incredible charm. Will she start to manipulate him too? There are interspersed sections that read like formal interviews with Rohan, but we don’t know if they’re with a lawyer, the police, a psychiatrist..? This had the effect of making me race forward with the book, dying to know how it unfolds. In the end though, it was best to just sit back and let the twists and turns reveal themselves. This was a competent and enjoyable thriller, with a fascinating and dangerous female friendship at the centre.

Published HQ 5th August 2021

Anna became a published author after the manuscript for her first novel, ‘Coming Home’, won the Montegrappa Prize for First Fiction at the Emirates Airline Festival of Literature in 2013. The book itself was published in 2015 and, since then, she’s written three more novels in the ‘domestic noir’ genre: ‘The Disappearance’, ‘The One That Got Away’ and ‘I Know You’.

On her Amazon author page she admits that she likes to set things up for her readers so they think they know what’s happening and then, very gently, she starts to pull the carpet out from underneath so that the reader– and often the characters themselves – are never quite sure what’s really going on. Scratch the surface of her characters’ lives and you’ll always find something dark going on. She’s currently working on a fifth book, which will be something slightly different.

She live in Dubai, UAE, with her husband, two children and a little Tonkinese rescue cat. She writes every day while the cat sleeps alongside her on a pile of old manuscripts. Writing isn’t an easy job, but she wouldn’t change it for the world.

Posted in Publisher Proof

My Best Friend’s Secret by Emily Freud.

Kate Sullivan has a beautiful home, a job she loves and a handsome fiancé: all she’d ever dreamed of since getting sober and painstakingly piecing her life back together.

But a chance encounter with her old best friend Becky threatens Kate’s newfound and fragile happiness. Kate remembers nothing of their last drunken night out, the night Becky broke off their friendship without warning or explanation.

With Becky back in her life, Kate is desperate to make amends for the past. For the closure she craves, Kate needs to know what she did that ruined everything.

But what if the truth is worse than Kate could have imagined?

This novel gripped me from the beginning and I could relate this back to being a young woman, unsure of my place in the world and being uncomfortable in my own skin. It’s depiction of how our fears and demons can shape us if we let them, and the dangers of self-medicating our anxiety and lack of confidence. It was such a thoughtful and honest exploration of female friendship and what can happen when those bonds are broken. As is usually the case in this type of domestic noir when the novel opens Kate appears to have everything. She’s just about to marry her American fiancé Ben, they have a beautiful home and she’s settled into a job she loves as a teacher. However, all of this hasn’t come easily for Kate, because she spent a few of her young adult years totally out of control. Thanks to the 12-step programme she has found a way out of alcoholism, and is on an even keel.

Yet, her past does threaten her perfect future when she meets an old friend by chance. Back in her wilder, drinking, days Becky was a partner in crime. In fact the pair were best friends, until one drunken night out, after which Becky never spoke to Kate again. Kate has no memory of that night. On meeting Becky, she feels the need to make amends for whatever happened that night, even though she doesn’t remember what she’s done wrong.

What distinguished this book from the average thriller was Freud’s compassionate and thorough understanding of alcoholism and the psychological journey individuals take when they embark on their recovery with AA. It was beautifully written, slightly slow in parts, but infused with a creeping unease throughout. I loved the psychological ins and outs of Kate’s journey, because we are inside her mind as she battles her past and tries to hang on to the life she loves. Freud really does nail the complexity of our inner voices and how they can trip us up and knock us off balance. That endless negative chatter that tells us we can’t do this, we’re not worthy and don’t deserve the good things we have in our life. I felt so much empathy for Kate and wanted her to be resilient enough to resist the chatter, and stay on course. I thought the author showed incredible knowledge and compassion for how childhood trauma affects our lives, particularly the struggles to form good, solid relationships. This was a powerfully written thriller, and I will be looking out for whatever the author writes next.

Meet The Author

In her other life, Emily Freud makes TV. She has over ten years experience in development and production and has worked on some of the most loved, talked about and award-winning series in recent years. Credits include: Educating Yorkshire, First Dates, and SAS: Who Dares Wins. This lifelong fixation with story and character is the thread that runs through her work, and ultimately led to the pursuit of a writing career.

‘My Best Friend’s Secret’ is her debut novel, published by Quercus.

Posted in Publisher Proof

The Heights by Louise Candlish.

I feel slightly sucker punched only seconds after finishing this fantastic new thriller from Louise Candlish – a name I only came across when it appeared as a ‘you might also like’ recommendation on Amazon, but is now top of my list when it comes to twisty, delicious and impossible to put down thrillers. After the final twists in The Heights I think this might be her best yet. She has an incredibly incisive way of portraying middle class southern morés and the way they change and mutate under immense pressure. It’s like reading a weaponised Jane Austen for the 21st Century; what if Willoughby had been a killer or Wickham had kidnapped then killed Lydia? These are the same type of people, centuries apart, but still playing out gender and class politics. Except now it’s from a beautiful Victorian semi (with a large family room leading to bifold doors into the garden with pizza oven).

Kieran Watts has been dead for over two years. Yet, there he is, on the roof terrace of an exclusive building in Shad Thames. Called the heights – all lower case – this is a tall, thin building that you might not notice at all, had you not been standing in the window of the flat opposite. There are subtle changes. The physique for a start has had some work. There may even be a touch of plastic surgery here and there, but you know it’s him. Even though he’s meant to be dead. You were sure he was dead, because you were the one who had him killed.

Ellen Saint lives with husband Justin, their daughter Freya and Ellen’s son Lucas from her previous marriage to Vic. They really are the perfect family unit, with a shared parenting ethos for Lucas and everyone getting along well. Lucas is a bright teenager, possibly on course to apply to Oxbridge, who loves gaming and spending time with friends and girlfriend Jade. Then along comes Kieran Watts. Kieran moves nearby after being taking into care and placed into a foster home with Prisca. This puts him into the catchment area for Lucas’s school and on Kieran’s first day, Lucas is asked to ‘buddy’ Kieran and help him settle in. The two boys really hit it off and from here starts a spiral that’s only travelling one way, towards tragedy. Firstly, Lucas goes out a lot with Kieran and some older kids, who have cars. Then his grades start to slip and he uses bad language at home. Ellen fears his late nights, mornings in bed and red- rimmed eyes are down to drugs. She tries to reduce his time with Kieran, but only succeeds in pushing them together. Lucas and his girlfriend Jade, find Kieran funny. Ellen doesn’t. She sees the way Kieran looks at her. It’s bad enough when he’s dead behind the eyes, but when focused on her, Ellen sees defiance, challenge and threat. Tragedy strikes one evening, as the boys are out in Kieran’s car and veer off road into a lake. Kieran escapes, but Lucas’s seatbelt is jammed. Ellen can stop imagining her son in his final moments of realisation, panic and terrible fear. Kieran will be made to pay for this.

Ellen is a very single-minded character and I was never sure whether I liked her or not. There are times I think she was a snob, only wanting her son to be with other middle class kids. She also seems to be obsessed with Lucas at the expense of her daughter. Obviously she loves her children, but how much of her interest in Lucas is fuelled by his good looks, his academic prowess and future promise as a potential Oxbridge student. There is an element of Ellen’s concern which is caught up in what others think. She’s still very close with Vic, Lucas’s father, but he has a very different way of parenting. He has no qualms about Kieran, and let’s them hang out at his place. Ellen likes to think that she and Vic are on the same page and is proud of their ability to co-parent alongside her new husband Justin, but is Vic really in tune with Ellen’s values? I kept wondering if this small act of undermining Ellen, was a sign of greater betrayals to come. Similarly, Ellen acts unilaterally as soon as she sees Kieran at the heights. I was surprised that she never once talked with Justin, so they don’t work together on this discovery. After Kieran was sentenced for his part in Lucas’s accident, Ellen starts a media campaign about stronger sentencing for deaths caused by dangerous driving. However, Vic is her partner in this with Justin holding the fort at home. Don’t they agree? Or does Ellen simply disregard his feelings? Her love for her son and her deep sense of grief are driving her forwards and are stronger than her feelings for either husband or her daughter.

As usual Louise Candlish has written a fantastic thriller here. It has all the ingredients that keep you reading till the early hours. Short, snappy chapters keep the pace and tension throughout. There are twists and turns galore! Her incredible ability to analyse and dissect human nature is forensic in its detail. She lampoons middle class concerns here perfectly, from Ellen’s home that Vic remarks is just the right location and style for his ex-wife, to her determination that Lucas is Oxbridge material and shouldn’t be dragged backwards by someone like Kieran. Her children, on the other hand, are more than happy to mix with friends from different backgrounds. Ellen would probably consider herself liberal, but her actions and attitude betray other, perhaps more conservative values. Her very public campaign for longer sentencing seemed to be a distraction, something to throw herself into that potentially delays her grief. It was fascinating to see how such a seismic loss, affects each family member differently. This combination of raw family emotion and tense, thrilling, revelations makes for an incredibly intelligent and enjoyable read that’s impossible to put down until you read the final page.

Meet The Author

Louise Candlish is the author of 15 novels, a fact she can’t quite believe herself. THE HEIGHTS is her newest – Louise Candlish describes it as a ‘twisty revenge thriller whose narrator, Ellen, has a strange fear of heights known as ‘high place phenomenon’. You could say she’s my most Hitchcock-inspired character yet! I can’t wait for you to read it and share your thoughts.’

‘A bit about me: I live in a South London neighbourhood not unlike the one in my books, with my husband, teenage daughter, and a fox-red Labrador called Bertie who is the apple of my eye. Books, TV and long walks have been my top sanity savers during recent times. Oh, and wine’. From her Amazon Author page.

Posted in Netgalley, Publisher Proof

The Woman in the Purple Skirt by Natsuko Imamura.

This was an unexpectedly quirky and refreshing take on the obsessional friendship trope, a theme I’ve loved ever since watching Single White Female back in the 1990’s. This is the first of the author’s novels to be translated into English from the original Japanese. I was surprised by that, because there was something about the writing style and the main character that I thought would appeal to the British reader. I thought earlier novels might have also appealed to British readers. The daily eccentricities of the the Woman in the Purple Skirt the man m were charming and intriguing, so it was that and my curiosity about the motives of the Woman in the Yellow Cardigan that drew me in to the story. There is also an interesting, melancholic sense of humour that struck me as something British reader would enjoy.

There are some characteristics that the two women share, such as living standards and finances. It’s possible that both are lonely and are living from hand to mouth, but what drives the Woman in the Yellow Cardigan to get up and watch her every move? What does she want? Eventually, she lures the Woman in the Purple Skirt to a job with the cleaning agency where she works as a hotel housekeeper. This brings the women into proximity, but instead of a friendship emerging, the Woman in a Purple Skirt falls into an affair with the boss. This is the main difference between the women; the Woman in a Yellow Cardigan only watches, while the Woman in a Purple Skirt actually lives. I felt this distinction very strongly and wondered whether there would be resentment or even anger towards the Woman in a Purple Skirt. This is where the book really ventures into thriller territory as the women meet and we see the dynamics of female relationships, the obsessiveness and that human need to be seen, recognised and even desired. This woman simply wants to be noticed and considered by someone else. Why do people recognise the Woman in the Purple Skirt? What does she have that makes people sit up and take notice?

I found myself thinking about the word ‘sonder’ – one I’m using for my own writing at the moment. It’s a German word to describe the realisation that every random passer by has a life as rich and varied as our own. This seems to be what the Woman in the Yellow Cardigan wants to know, the rich complexity of the Woman in the Purple Skirt’s life. The woman always wears a purple skirt, it is possibly this and her set daily routine that makes people notice her. As she leaves her apartment every day she is followed and insulted by neighbourhood children, in fact she’s great entertainment for the neighbours who seem equally fascinated by her set routine. Every day she walks to the bakery and buys a single cream cake, takes it to the same park bench and eats it. No one knows who her family are or where she’s from. Her jobs are temporary, she lives alone and doesn’t even attempt to relate to others. She is an enigma, and the Woman in the Yellow Cardigan watches her every move, until she knows her daily routine uby heart. Even her appearance is intriguing. From a distance she could pass for a schoolgirl, but up close she has liver spots that belie her age. Her hair is dry, she lives in a small, shabby apartment and is short on money. She looks like one thing, but could very well be another. She’s different, but seems to have carved a life out in the world, something that the Woman in the Yellow Cardigan seems to find so difficult.

I thought it was wonderful to have two such complex and multi-dimensional female characters, especially where the relationship between them is the focus. There was a peculiar creeping unease built into the narrative. Japan seems to exude ‘otherness’ like nowhere else, a theme explored in the film Lost in Translation. I lived next to a Japanese Garden for seven years, where English plants and trees were pruned into the shapes of Japanese topiary. Stepping into it from my cottage garden made felt like entering a surreal and alien landscape. That’s a little bit what this book felt like. It was original and refreshing, perfect for if you’re in a reading slump, and a fascinating take on the thriller genre.

Posted in Personal Purchase

The Hollows by Mark Edwards.

Mark Edwards has become one of my favourite authors over the last few years. His books are fascinating, addictive thrillers where an ordinary domestic situation is subverted or even blown wide open. There’s maybe a new person brought into the situation who upsets the dynamic or a massive life change that makes a character question their life. This was a slightly different premise, but still based around a modern family, with more than a nod to another of my favourite authors – Stephen King. The title reminded me of the wooded area where the kids would meet in King’s novel It, there are allusions to burying a live cat that brought to mind Pet Semetary, the backwater town has the feel of Salem’s Lot and the passing drunk who helps Tom at the end has the feel of the janitor at the Overlook Hotel. As soon as Tom arrived at the cabins it reminded me of the secluded cabin in Bag of Bones. This gave me the sense we might be getting a supernatural element to this thriller and there’s definitely a pagan or Wiccan aspect to the tale.

With his marriage over and his career in freefall, journalist Tom decides to reconnect with his fourteen-year-old daughter, Frankie. Desperate to spend precious time together now that they live an ocean apart, he brings her to Hollow Falls, a cabin resort deep in the woods of Maine.

From the outset there’s something a little eerie about the place—strange whispers in the trees, windchimes echoing through the forest—but when Tom meets true-crime podcasters David and Connie, he receives a chilling warning. Hollow Falls has a gruesome history: twenty years ago this week, a double slaying shut down the resort. The crime was never solved, and now the woods are overrun with murder-obsessed tourists looking to mark the grim anniversary.

It’s clear that there’s something deeply disturbing going on at Hollow Falls. And as Tom’s dream trip turns into a nightmare, he and Frankie are faced with a choice: uncover the truth, or get out while they still can. There were times in the book when I was screaming at Tom to just pack the car up and leave without looking back! The killing from twenty years ago is a heavy influence on the story. Two teachers on a field trip with their students, sneak away at night to a clearing in the forest and start an illicit affair. Both are married and it is a double shock to their spouses to find out they’ve been cheating and murdered. The bodies are posed in a symbolic way with Wiccan symbols painted in their blood. The suspect is a local teenager with an interest in death metal and all things pagan. He disappeared at the same time as the murders, and Tom’s daughter Frankie is spooked by tales of him still living wild in the woods to this day. She forms a friendship with Ryan, son of the true crime enthusiasts David and Connie. They take a walk into the local town, Penance, which is a real backwater with locals who are openly hostile to those at the holiday village. The teenagers run into some other kids, but they’re not friendly. The way the author describes brother and sister duo Buddy and Darlene, standing together, arms by their sides and completely motionless – is creepy and reminiscent of the twin girls from The Shining. Ryan takes pictures and lampoons the locals on Instagram using hashtags they’re going to find, putting himself and Frankie in danger.

The author really ramps up the tension to great effect. Little creepy incidents like a dead rabbit at the cabin door, Tom thinking he’s seen a horned goat man, as well as Connie’s hints about a big surprise for her true crime followers on barbecue night, keep camp residents on edge. Then more serious incidents start to occur – Frankie and Ryan are pelted with rocks, an unlucky guest with a heart condition sees what she thinks is Satan. The stakes are getting higher, building towards the Saturday event. Tom makes friends with local bookshop owner Nikki, there’s an instant charge between them, but can he trust her? As he starts to look into the murders and myths surrounding the Hollows, using his investigative skills, he realises that Nikki was about the same age as suspected murderer Everett. Everybody seems to know each other in such a small town so did she know him? Suspicions reach boiling point, and when Frankie and Ryan go missing in the midst of the party preparations Tom has no idea who to trust and how to find his daughter.

Mark Edwards never lets me down. His thrillers are always well thought out, psychologically unsettling and paced beautifully. I didn’t work out the whole mystery, and the eventual reveal developed in an unexpected and rather grisly way. There was something slightly comical, as well as horrifying, about people wandering the woods in animal masks – particularly when the horned goat happens upon a very religious woman with a very weak heart. I must admit to a rather dark sense of humour because that made me laugh. I enjoyed the friction between locals and holiday makers, because it’s true of many beautiful places. The locals need tourists, but it’s an uneasy partnership. The pagan backstory to the forest being sacred ground, that should remain wild, linked in to this and felt very apt in a time when humans have ruined their habitat. I think the prurience of true crime fans was also timely with many of my friends glued to crime documentaries on Netflix. I’m also a Stephen King fan so I enjoyed the nods to his creations and the whole ‘townie versus country locals’ vibe that permeates a lot of his work. I devoured this so quickly that I’m already thinking about thr next book from this ‘must buy’ author.

Meet The Author

Mark Edwards writes psychological thrillers in which scary things happen to ordinary people.

He loves hearing from readers and always responds. Mark can be contacted in the following ways:
Email: mark@markedwardsauthor.com
Twitter @mredwards
Facebook/Instagram: @markedwardsauthor

You can download a free box set of ‘Short Sharp Shockers’ by visiting http://www.markedwardsauthor.com/free

Mark has sold over 3.5 million books since his first solo novel, The Magpies, was published in 2013 and has topped the bestseller lists numerous times. His other novels include Follow You Home, Here To Stay and The House Guest. He has also published six books co-authored with Louise Voss. His latest book is The Hollows, published in July 2021.

Mark lives in the West Midlands, England, with his wife, their three children and two cats.

Posted in Netgalley, Publisher Proof

The Therapist by Helene Flood.

Helene Flood has written a fascinating thriller about a therapist, set in Oslo. It’s complexity of character and their motivations probably comes from the fact that the author is a psychologist. Straightaway, I was invested and really excited me to get inside the character’s minds. Sara. and her husband Sigurd live in his family home, a large three storey house they’re currently renovating. Next door is a small addition to the property, housing Sarah’s office and therapy room. On this Friday, Sara is seeing three clients and then settling in for a quiet weekend while Sigurd is on a boy’s weekend away with his best friendS. At lunchtime he leaves Sara a message to say they’ve arrived safely at his family’s cabin and his friend is gathering firewood. She expects to speak to him that evening, so is shocked when one of his friends calls to ask where Sigurd is, as he hasn’t arrived yet. In the days following Sigurd’s disappearance Sara must cope with a very thorough detective searching her house and dissecting her relationship, an intruder breaking into the house, breaking the news to her distracted and narcissistic father, and constantly wondering where Sigurd has gone. On top of everything, she has clients to see.

The story is told in two narratives from Sara’s point of view. In one, we’re in the present day, experiencing the investigation and Sara’s interactions with family and friends in the wake of Sigurd’s disappearance. In the second we meet a very different Sara, as she first meets Sigurd, spends time with friends and makes the decision to move to Oslo. This Sara seems lighter mentally, she’s obviously younger but not by much, so what has changed? The past Sara seems to be enjoying life, despite a stressful clinical post with drug users. Sigurd is also completing his training in architecture and is incredibly busy. The distance between them is something she hadn’t anticipated, she knew they would both be busy, but thought the strength of their feelings would keep them on track. A brief interlude away at a festival with friends sees Sara’s mood lift completely. She starts to relax and enjoy herself. However, there will be secrets kept about this weekend that have huge implications for her future.

Present day Sara seems very controlled and reserved. The author creates this interesting gap between Sara’s interior world and the way she presents herself to the world outside. She is always thinking, analysing and wondering, but her conversation is minimal and gives very little away about how she feels. There’s something called cognitive dissonance going on here, a huge gap between the Sara she presents to others and how she truly feels. There are three core values a therapist should have when seeing clients: authenticity, non-judgement and prizing the client. Sara seems strangely detached from her emotions – still seeing clients even after Sigurd’s disappearance as if nothing’s happened. While this is great for continuity, it isn’t very authentic and I felt that instead of practicing authentically she is wearing her therapist’s role like a mask. Even before she knows about her husband, Sara’s thinking is very ordered. She has the day split into therapy hours, admin time, lunch until she can throw on some pyjamas and chill out. It feels like she’s listing tasks just to get through the day, mentally ticking it off seems like a habit borne out of anxiety or trying to keep motivated when depressed. I wouldn’t say she’s enjoying life much. Their home seems the same, with plans for a beautifully finished house, that are currently a list of tasks they can’t afford. In trying to achieve something ambitious and beautiful, they’ve made their current lives very uncomfortable and messy. The state of the house seems to get Sara down and Sigurd wants her to take on more clients so they have more money to get on with the plans. However, I don’t think Sara is in the mental state to cope with more therapy hours.

I loved the author’s creation of Sara’s narcissistic father, a professor and philosopher with controversial right wing views about crime, family and vigilantism. Sara describes talking to her father, almost like an audience with royalty. It’s so rare to have all his attention on you, it’s difficult just to be his daughter. He seems to give off the sense they should be grateful for his unwavering attention and if either daughter struggles to make use of the time, conversation soon turns to him, his work or one of the many students who seem to loiter round the house like acolytes. In fact Sara is so bewildered by his attention on this occasion she doesn’t tell him her devastating news, but instead debates something totally unrelated with him then goes home again. It’s no surprise that she keeps her vulnerabilities and worries to herself – there’s never been anyone interested in hearing them. Even her sister Annika, although she looks after Sara, drops into her role as lawyer as well as sister. This is partly to remind Sara how she’s being viewed by the police, to remind the police not to take liberties, but also to give herself a professional role to hide behind. It is only when one of Sara’s friends arrives and acts naturally by hugging her, that she even feels like crying.

As Sara starts to undertake her own investigation, secrets start to emerge about the couple’s life together. There has been some distance between them for a while. Her relationship with his family is not a warm one, with Sigurd’s mother resentful that they live in her childhood home – left to Sigurd by his grandfather. They don’t even attempt to look after h er and she foresees a long wrangle over Sigurd’s will. There were arguments at Sigurd’s work with differences in architectural perspectives, and who is the mystery blonde that sometimes wait for Sigurd after work? If his work on the Atkins house was finished long ago, why is it still in his diary and where is he really spending his time. The author keeps us brilliantly on edge with red herrings and reveals galore. We see the police through Sara’s eyes, which might explain why they seem curiously non-committal about everything. We never truly know how they feel about Sara or where the investigation is going. Obviously she is a possible suspect. However, there are points in the investigation, when Sara is sure there is an intruder at the house, where they seem indifferent to her worries and her safety. I was never quite sure whether Sara was the ultimate unreliable narrator and would turn out to be implicated in her husband’s disappearance. She seemed detached from the reality of it, even within the context that their relationship has deteriorated over time. The ending was a surprise and the double reveal was beautifully done, and very satisfying. I stayed up late to finish the last few chapters, because I was so hooked on the story. This was a psychological thriller I would definitely recommend.

Meet The Author

Helene Flood is a psychologist who obtained her doctoral degree on violence, revictimization and trauma-related shame and guilt in 2016. She now works as a psychologist and researcher at the National Centre for Violence and Traumatic Stress. She lives in Oslo with her husband and two children. The Therapist is her first adult novel. It has been sold in 27 counties and film rights have been bought by Anonymous Content. Her second novel, The Lover, will be published in English in 2022.

Posted in Random Things Tours

Fragile by Sarah Hilary.

There’s a lot packed into this complex thriller about human relationships, traumatic childhoods, damaged adults, social justice, and the differences between those who are deemed to be respectable and those society deems outcasts. It’s an addicting and sometimes uncomfortable read, but it’s themes pour scorn on those who dismiss genre fiction as having nothing important to say. Across two timelines, one current and one a year in the past, we follow our main character Nell. Currently she’s homeless and her lover, Joe, has disappeared into the night with a well- groomed older woman. Nell tracks them to a tiny house, almost impossibly narrow, and invisible from certain points in the street. It’s a three storey, possibly Victorian town house and must be worth a fortune. Waiting impatiently for Joe to emerge she spends her last handful of change on a cup of tea in order to sit in the warmth of a cafe. The only person who comes out is a young girl with a blonde plait hanging over her shoulder. As she comes in for a drink Nell makes a choice to go over and talk to her and finds out she’s been interviewed for a position as assistant to the house owner – a man. In her desperation to find Joe, Nell decides she needs to get inside that house and comes up with a plan.

In her past, Nell has been in the care system, ending up in a group home in Wales with a foster carer called Megan Flack. She is a career rather than a vocational carer, collecting the money but rarely doing the job. She is neglectful at best, but there’s much more going on under the surface. Nell has learned to look after a home because she was always picking up the slack with housework, cooking and mothering the younger children, particularly the cute 6year old Rosie who clings to Nell. When Joe first arrives at the home Nell is knocked sideways by how beautiful he is. Two teenagers under one roof, with plenty of time to themselves creates the perfect opportunity and they are soon joined at the hip. In the heat of the summer they go bathing at a nearby pool, but Joe doesn’t always want the younger kids there and Nell is having to make hard choices. What has happened to cause the pair to flee their foster home? They end up in London, sleeping on the streets, until one night Joe disappears into Starling Villas.

The book’s structure is clever and works really well to pace the action and build tension. We learn a little bit more about the present, then go back into the past; a past that constantly updates and informs the present again. There was a growing sense of unease, as I got further into the book. I was never sure who was truly playing who. Caroline was unnerving and hard to like, because she never seemed to show any vulnerability. Megan was worse though; cold,manipulative and completely without empathy. The thought that there are people like this looking after children who are already traumatised and suffering from attachment issues. There was a social conscience here. The fact that a magistrate, a man who decides the fate of children like this, can be licentious and exploitative behind closed doors shouldn’t be a surprise, but somehow it was. There was something about Robin that I trusted, despite all the evidence to the contrary. We all know that status is conveyed according to how people appear and what they own. We might automatically assume that the well-read man living at Starling Villas is a fine, upstanding citizen. We also might assume that those brought up in the care system, the homeless and the hopeless, are capable of just about anything. What did drive Nell and Joe to pack and leave Wales, so suddenly? Why is Megan still seeking them out?

Nell is a wonderful character, all tough exterior but marshmallow inside. Her vulnerability is evident in her interactions with Robin, her new employer. She’s a hard worker, trained by a foster mother who seems to have hated some of her charges as much as doing anything that made her break a sweat. Nell’s been a mother figure at an age when she still needed one herself. She’s used to making a home too, making the best of the meagre things she can find to enhance her surroundings and lift her spirits. She’s tough enough to survive most things, even a winter on the streets in the capital, but the things that have happened to her still haunt her mentally. She’s been let down so many times it shouldn’t hurt anymore, but it does, especially when she’s let her guard down and softened slightly. Even though some of her behaviour is morally questionable, she’s so young and has had so few chances in life, I found myself rooting for her. The author’s knowledge about a childhood spent in care and what it can do to the rest of your life shows research, listening to personal accounts and experience. Not everybody survives, some will be institutionalised for the rest of their lives, while those who do survive the system don’t always leave unscathed. I think this was represented so well through the characters in this novel. Thankfully, not all foster parents are like Megan Flack.

This was a great read, compelling and difficult to put down once you’re hooked by the story. Every character has nuance and flaws, meaning in both the past and current narrative, you’re never quite sure who to trust or what to believe. I was haunted by little Rosie, just like Nell is. The author has created an addictive thriller, but given it heart and poignancy too. I was completely drawn in until the very last page and the ending was beautifully written.

Meet The Author

Sarah Hilary’s debut novel, Someone Else’s Skin, won the 2015 Theakston Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year and was a World Book Night selection. The Observer’s Book of the Month (‘superbly disturbing’) and a Richard and Judy Book Club bestseller, it has been published worldwide. No Other Darkness, the second in the series, was shortlisted for a Barry Award in the U.S. Her D.I. Marnie Rome series continues with Tastes Like Fear, Quieter Than Killing, Come and Find Me, and Never Be Broken. Fragile is her first standalone novel. –This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Posted in Publisher Proof

Sleepless by Romy Hausmann.

Reading this book was a little like trying to get a knot out of a necklace chain, it seems impossible to unravel, until suddenly one move loosens it and the whole thing unknots very quickly. Our central character, Nadja Kulka, was convicted for a terrible crime in her native Poland, many years ago. Now she’s out of prison she’s looking for the simple everyday things that others have: a job, a nice flat to live in and eventually a few friends. She just wants a ‘normal’ life. She does make one friend. Laura Von Hoven is her boss’s wife and a beautiful woman, who’s very free spirited. When she asks for Nadja’s help, of course she wants to give her friend a hand. However, Laura has killed someone and wants Nadja’s help to conceal the body. Nadja doesn’t feel like she can refuse, showing how her earlier trauma, from the original crime and punishment, has affected her emotionally. She’s full of anxiety, awkward with people and easily talked into bad ideas. Nadja isn’t a likeable character at first, there’s a stand-offish, prickly sort of manner she has that keeps people at a distance. Yet, underneath these defences, she’s vulnerable and naive. When they find the perfect place to hide the crime, an abandoned cabin in the woods, the rest seems easy. However, their seemingly simple plan falls apart and Nadja finds herself in a game of cat and mouse. It’s a deadly game and one that’s stacked against Nadja, because she’s the perfect murderer as well as a perfect victim.

I was very disorientated at first by the disparate strands of this complex thriller. We have three separate narratives, two different narrators plus a set of letters that don’t sound like they belong. I thought there were three different people here, because the author of the letters feels different to the others. Unlike her novel Dear Child, these separate threads feel a long way apart and it’s impossible to make them diverge into one clear narrative. I found the chopping and changing too ‘bitty’. I would pick it up after a break and found I couldn’t pick up the thread without going and re-reading previous pages. It was only when I read a good third of the book that I really started to make sense of the story and these narrative voices clicked into place. However, after sitting back and thinking, I wondered if this confusion wasn’t deliberate? Haussmann doesn’t strike me as a writer who makes mistakes, I think her plotting and structure are very deliberate, so what is she trying to telling the reader with this complicated beginning?

In retrospect, I feel that the author likes to manipulate and control her readers. She was giving us the same experience as her characters, like we’re in the centre of a complicated web waiting for a spider to strike. I was exasperated with certain characters here and there, but I found myself willing Nadja to come out of this okay, despite her past and her faults. My advice is to keep reading; things become clearer and after that prepare to set aside a whole evening to finish the story in one go. The pace quickens, increasing the tension and rushing us towards a conclusion. By this point I was intensely invested in the characters and how this would play out. I wasn’t disappointed and Hausmann kept a few final twists in reserve, that I didn’t expect. This isn’t an easy read at first, but it’s clever and psychologically astute. I loved trying to work out who had the upper hand in the web of lies. So in the end, this book firmly places Hausmann as a must read author for me.

Meet The Author

Romy Hausmann was born in the former GDR in 1981. At the age of twenty-four she became chief editor at a film production company in Munich. Since the birth of her son, Romy has been working as a freelancer in TV. Dear Child is her thriller debut. She lives with her family in a remote house in the woods near Stuttgart.

Posted in Netgalley

The Maidens by Alex Michaelides

There’s probably a word in another language that properly describes the weird combination of trepidation and excitement a bookworm feels when they see a second book coming. You see they loved the first one. It was different. With an incredible twist that no one saw coming! It was like seeing The Sixth Sense for the first time, being blown away, then wondering what M. Night Shymalan could possibly do to follow it? If this is what it likes for the reader, imagine the writer’s fear in following such a smash hit as Alex Michaelides’s The Silent Patient. It must have been incredible. So I approached The Maidens as if it was a piñata filled with bees!

The premise sounded interesting. Psychologist Mariana Andros is summoned to Cambridge University by her niece Zoe. It’s a place filled with memories for Mariana, because it’s where she met her late husband Sebastian. For Zoe it is now the place where her best friend Tara has been murdered. Zoe is very special to her aunt, because they are each other’s only family. They have been closer since the death of Sebastian, who drowned on a romantic holiday in the Greek Islands only a year ago. Mariana knows how desperate Zoe must feel, so cancels her group therapy clients and sets off to meet her in Cambridge, where she stays in university lodgings. Here she meets the charismatic and Byronic Professor Fosca who teaches Classical Philology. Mariana is disturbed by him and his habit of gathering together ‘special scholars’ who receive group tuition from him. They are called The Maidens – although whether this is Fosca’s invention or the girls we are never sure and, of course, each one of them is incredibly beautiful, including their missing member, Tara.

Zoe is convinced Fosca is behind the murder, but with no evidence except a strange feeling and dislike of his odd circle of academic groupies, nothing can be done. I had the feeling that this tutor was perhaps a genius in his field, but was socially awkward and unaware of societal norms. Did he think his maidens gave him an air of eccentricity perhaps? However, he was too obvious to be the real villain of the piece. Yet, no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t guess the answer. Thankfully the book had a great pace and once it had it me hooked, I just couldn’t leave it alone. I read it in my car on the way to our holiday cottage, in the bath, and in the park. However, I still couldn’t possibly have guessed at the incredibly tense showdown at the end.

For me there were some negatives. I had difficulty connecting to the characters emotionally, especially Mariana who never fully came to life for me. The Greek tragedy element was clever, as quotes on postcards sent to the victims felt like clues to the killer’s identity. However, I was taught classics at school so these references were familiar to me and I wondered how this whole theme would be received for someone without any knowledge of Greek myths. I also felt that how Mariana inserted herself into the investigation was highly unlikely. However, I did enjoy the academic setting and I felt the author captured that sense of importance academics can have about their subject area. I thought the he represented academia well, like being in a bubble, living and breathing your passion. The murders punctured their way through this protective layer, bringing the real world into a rarefied way of life. The passing connection to The Silent Patient wasn’t needed, but did add an interesting aspect to the ending; I now have my own epilogue running in my head, following certain characters into that other fictional world.

I was disturbed by the visitation of a swan, described as having black eyes that bored right through Mariana. I wondered what this represented and thought of the famous Greek myth of Leda and the swan – where Zeus disguises himself as a swan in order to rape/seduce Leda who has no knowledge of the swan’s true identity. For me this conjured up ideas around love or infatuation being blind, loving and trusting someone who isn’t what they seem. What I loved most of all though, was perhaps linked to the swan. The author has created a therapist with all the skills of perception and understanding in her toolbox, but an inability to apply them in her own life. She loves those closest to her blindly, never seeing their true nature just as Leda only sees a swan. Swans are also our analogy for someone very serene on the surface, but masking anxiety or the great effort it takes to be present. Swans look beautifully calm and composed above the water and this reminded me of Mariana; the calm and stability is only skin deep. I thought the novel was part psychological suspense, part crime fiction, and part gothic novel, but it was definitely all thriller.

Meet The Author.


Alex Michaelides was born and raised in Cyprus. He has a MA in English Literature from Trinity College, Cambridge University, and a MA in Screenwriting from the American Film Institute in Los Angeles. The Silent Patient was his first novel. It spent over a year on the New York Times bestseller list and sold in a record-breaking 49 countries. He lives in London.