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The DCI Jonah Sheens Series by Gytha Lodge

UPDATED 05/04/2021: #3 Lie Beside Me review posted below!

I previously posted my review of number #1: She Lies In Wait in April 2020, and eagerly anticipated the release of number #2: Watching From The Dark from reading the extract at the end.

I rather quickly settled into liking Gytha’s writing style, but also how she builds her characters and their subsequent development, so read on below for my thoughts on the series so far…

#1: She Lies In Wait

Despite a couple of small continuation errors I spotted, on the whole it’s a well written first thriller, filled with interesting characters, especially her police team who’s backstories make you thoughtful and I for sure will want to read her next book; “Watching from the Dark” published this year (the prologue snippet at the end of “She Lies in Wait” has me hooked already!). I get the sense that Gytha Lodge is an author who will specialise in not so much why people do what they do, but rather why they don’t do what they should have. I find that quite exciting and so I’m looking forward to reading her next Jonah Sheens book, as I very much liked him as a character and want his personality to expand as the series continues. The other members of the police team have me intrigued as well, so all in all the author has captured me hook, line and sinker!

So, this book seemed to have a fairly typical outline – something bad happened to one out of a friendship group 30 years ago and the police have to determine the truth about who’s responsible and what happened through unpicking a network of lies. But, this book has more ‘oomph’ that just the simple, generic plot idea. There is this toxicity that oozes from the pages, and it’s mixed with fierce protection and betrayal that really gets to you as the reader. I ended up feeling lots of emotions towards each character; mostly heart-breaking sympathy or utter disgust. Ultimately, this group of young friends had just planned a fun night camping, so how could it possibly have gone so horribly wrong? Or, was something or someone else to blame?

This story-line is laced with misdirection and I loved it! I was kept entirely on my toes, because each twist and turn sent my thinking in a different direction, which helped the ‘real feel’ of the book, because I can imagine genuine police investigations have to deal with secrets, lies, held-back information, not to mention actual, and faked, blurred memories. I felt the 30 year later cold case aspect linked with the present day very well, as the daunting realisation (and resignation) came across in a strong manner from all characters; not just the suspects, but police team included so they felt authentic (and human!). I’m glad the police characters in this book aren’t ‘acting superheros’ with extraordinary training and powers, but seemingly-average, hard-working, each with their own strengths to bring to the table coppers.

Opportunity became key. It comes down to who possibly could actually have done it, because once all their stories are fitted together, there is one last puzzle piece and it’s a “of course” moment! This story explores truly horrible themes, all of which are habitual among teenagers, but the consequences in this instance will break your heart. Gut-wrenching innocence and naivety from all parties jumbled up with nail-biting suspense kept me turning page-after-page. I have no shame in admitting that a gentle tear or two rolled down my face reading the last chapter (and I am not a crier). The emotion had just built up over the course of the book and I suppose it was the sense of relief and justice that got to me in the end, but the book evoked a response from me, so the author has done her job!

I feel that this book is highly topical because the pressures on young people to conform and fit in are so high these days and I hate it! I feel like I want to scream “stand your ground” at teenagers to make them realise there isn’t any mileage in following the conventional life route, not that it would ever alleviate the pressures they feel from others. Giving in because you don’t think there’s another option or that it might not be as bad as you think is something that I wish more awareness was raised about. There is always another way. You always have a choice. Surrounding yourself with friends who won’t force you to do something you don’t want to do isn’t cowardly or pathetic, it’s creating a safety net of genuine people who care and will be beside you for the entirety of your life, and could keep you from ending up in a situation like in this book. There is no doubt in my mind that the sequence of events in this book could be a true story, having played out similarly at some point, and it makes me so sad.

All-in-all, a fresh and chilling story about friendship that may leave you reaching for a tissue, with a lasting perception of no matter how old and grown up you get, the person inside doesn’t change. Not completely. Some people are just wired with menace and sickening control, and no amount of learning social skills can change their background and fundamental principles. A lot of fault and blame is thrown around, as would be a natural response given the case, but it added to the perplexing nature of the crime because you really couldn’t see a clear perpetrator right until the end. Dark, deep and tough to read in places; this thriller will get you on the edge of your seat wondering who lied. And why? – GJ

#2: Watching From The Dark

The premise of this book is delightfully simple – everyone has secrets. Who’s hiding what, and why? But it goes into so much more depth than that; I was fully drawn in, so much so that I found myself shouting at my neighbours New Year’s fireworks to be quiet as they were distracting my reading of the last chapter at 00:06 2021!

The layers to every character are great, properly keep you guessing, and while you may figure out a few, others will be total “oooh” and “whaaaat” moments when revealed. At the forefront this book centres around misguided love, but factoring in a fiercely protective network of jealous friends makes it delicious to read. The detective side of the writing is set up to follow a procedural police route, but the background and development of each team member adds extra spark.

I won’t spoil the plot or go into too much detail here, but I liked the simplicity of the resolution, mixed with the misdirection throughout the investigation. I think there were a couple of loose ends that weren’t tied up, but for the most part it was a thorough report into solving a fictional crime. Gytha truly can create the feeling of real-life confusion that must be experienced by detective teams around the world and I, personally, enjoy this approach to crime novels. When a storyline has less fantasy and luck moments, with just the right piece of evidence miraculously appearing at a crucial moment or accidentally bumping into a suspect, you can believe the author has really invested time in their research and planning, which as a avid reader, I appreciate!

There was an eye-opening moment in Watching From The Dark surrounding cyber security, where the technical implications made a chill run down my spine… so the novel really suits it’s name!

The first extract from Lie Beside Me has really caught my attention too, so as soon as I am able to either buy it in person from a bookstore or order it online I will be doing so!

I’m excited to see what Gytha has planned for Jonah Sheens and his team in her next book: #3 Lie Beside Me due to be published 16th February 2021! – GJ

#3: Lie Beside Me

Through connecting with authors on Instagram I feel very happy and lucky to be directly sent copies of their books and this was one of those times that receiving bookmail was extra exciting! At the end of #2 Watching From The Dark there was an extract of the first chapter of Lie Beside Me and I was utterly hooked and couldn’t stop thinking about the cliffhanger it ended on. So, when my copy arrived and I started to read on I honestly could not predict which way it was going to go.

The characters in Lie Beside Me are so varied and cover so many social dynamics that it seemed a little like the author had a diversity checklist to tick off, but this is by no means a negative comment, just purely an observation that it’s a fresh, modern story reflecting a complex society where people of all backgrounds and situation can mix and be thrown into a whirlwind murder investigation together.

I constantly flitted between suspicion and sympathy for the main suspect character, but I think this was by design because you naturally assess her decisions based on your own morals and each reader will have a different approach as the storyline expands into addressing many social issues. The plot development along with the detective characters flows so nicely, it really builds and I genuinely enjoy reading her novels because I find them very relatable and realistic.

The layout is formatted like a police procedural thriller so it does involve scenes at the station and in depth information into solving the case but this is interesting to me, but perhaps not to all other thriller readers. I would like to think that there is a book #4 on the way, but I am also intrigued to see if Gytha writes any standalones or book series featuring other characters, I for sure will be buying those too. There’s always room for a Gytha Lodge book to lie beside me on my bedside table. – GJ

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The Deaths of December by Susi Holliday

“It looks like a regular advent calendar. Until DC Becky Greene starts opening doors… and discovers a crime scene behind almost every one.” Christmas advent calendars are notorious for being fun and the excitement of revealing behind the hidden door is unrivaled. So, sending a handmade one of crime scene photographs to a police station hinting that 24 murders have, or will have, take place is a refreshing storyline with a festive twist, and it’s one that I enjoyed immensely.

The sequence with which the magnitude of crimes was unveiled is suspenseful and daring; the quest to match the date on the door with it’s photograph and victim plus the added strain on the detective team as it comes to light that there are 4 doors empty… but has the killer left these for a reason? Or does he already have plans in place?

The format is interspersed with “The Photographer’s” POV which added depth to the storyline and kept the plot thriving. Mixing cold and current cases is always a tricky area of the thriller genre because if it works well it’s really good, but it can fall flat if it’s too heavy either way but the balance here was good. My attention was kept hold and I read this really quickly as I just wanted to see what was behind the next door and if the police team would make the links in time to prevent more deaths!

The author, Susi Holliday, has chosen a niche segment of crime thriller writing and exploited it very well! The language and tone were coordinated, characters thought out, backgrounds kept relevant and concise… just a great thriller! The Christmas aspect naturally will draw you to read it at a certain time of year, but it’s not overly saturated with festive extras so it can be enjoyed all year round. Refreshing, different and worth a read as a cosy standalone book. Did make me reluctant and suspicious to open post for a while though! – GJ

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Hangman by Daniel Cole

I was intrigued in the idea of a joint investigation between the UK and USA police forces as I find myself increasingly interested in the different justice systems. Working linked crime scenes in countries so far apart is also a concept I haven’t found explored too often in crime writing. I hadn’t read any previous work by this author, and although the cover says “author of international bestseller Ragdoll” I didn’t realise that it was a prequel to Hangman and that the two books were linked. So, I was effectively starting with the second book in a series here.

Ragdoll is alluded to a lot throughout Hangman and I instantly wished I’d picked it up first, I even contemplated stopping reading, going to buy Ragdoll, then continuing with Hangman afterwards. But, I carried on and the story can flow fine, just some of the character background is missing, but you can guess the gist. It does work as a standalone book, and I’m also not sure I gelled with the detective characters enough to want to read other novels featuring them.

This plot is incredibly dark and very gruesome, stuff of nightmares. I think I was haunted by imagery of certain scenes for a few nights after reading, so don’t tackle this one if you’re faint-hearted or not good with gore and psychotic murder scenes.

I liked the pace of the book and it kept me turning the pages, although I found the detective characters a little hard to follow and track because of the location difference, plus there was an element of cooperation vs independence throughout. More like it was being treated as a competition rather than parallel crime solving. There’s a lot of arrogance, stubbornness and hunches as opposed to realistic, solid police work and I’m not a fan of thrillers that use a lot of artistic license and fantasy opportunism.

The book was well written and I enjoyed Cole’s humourous anecdotes, I just don’t think the characters developed as much as they could have, but that may be my fault for not reading Ragdoll first. I am unlikely to go and pick Ragdoll up now, nor Endgame is the 3rd in the series, after Hangman. If you enjoy sadistic and horrific crimes then this series would suit you, I could compare the gore to Karin Slaughter but I much prefer Slaughter’s plots and repeating characters. Just not a favourite read of mine. – GJ

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Come Sundown by Nora Roberts

After enjoying Obsession by Nora Roberts so much back in June 2020, I picked up Come Sundown. I was attracted to this book by the mention of a family ranch, vigilante strong female character and a wrongly accused lover in the blurb, little did I know there would be so much more among the 547 pages.

A dream of mine for a while now is to spend some time at an authentic horse ranch in Montana, USA, accelerated by watching episodes of Heartland on Netflix, but this book also threw in a helping hand, too. Nora Roberts’ ability to describe a setting so vividly and comprehensively is just off the scale, even if I paused my reading for a while, as soon as I opened the pages back up I was immediately transported back to the scene. The family network and community described was extensive and slightly hard to keep track of at times, but this is a minor quibble.

The plot is layered and intersected with flashes back to 1991 and some parts are hard to read. The subject matters raised in the story-line include abuse and rape, so not for the faint-hearted, but I did find them to be sensitive and tasteful, not overly saturated. The underlying love theme softens the hardcore lines, which is needed in a book this long; you don’t feel like you’re constantly trudging to a crime’s resolution, the parallel stories criss-cross throughout and keep it light.

This family-oriented thriller is a beautiful insight to never giving up hope, even in the worst of situations. A truly enjoyable book from the ever-great Nora Roberts. Comedic nuggets thrown in at just the right moments, but still enough mystery to thrill. A complex novel with many explored areas, but definitely worth a read. Passion, obsession, murder. A lot can happen… come sundown. – GJ

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An Unwanted Guest by Shari Lapena

This is the first novel by Shari Lapena that I’ve read, but it certainly won’t be the last. In true murder-mystery style ‘An Unwanted Guest’ traps you with the characters in a hotel caught in a snowstorm, unable to leave. And then, a guest is found dead. Well, the first guest is found dead. Cast your mind to the body count of a typical Midsomer Murders episode and you won’t be far out. But, who is the killer, and why?

I thoroughly enjoyed the traditional Agatha Christie feel of this book, and the tension between the apparent strangers kept me hooked the whole way through. I liked Lapena’s writing style, adding in time and date breaks but also writing from multiple POV’s, but always in 3rd person so there is a continuous narrative but from all angles. I found this rounded out the impact of the plot well, because each character had their own voice to expel suspicions and explanations. Utterly intriguing right to the very end sentence.

Because there was quite a high character count, I didn’t form any particular connections to any of them, but they were all relatable and each had their own idiosyncrasies and merits. I don’t think it was the author’s aim for the reader to side with anyone, because the format oozed misdirection and you found yourself forming your own opinions naturally and these switched regularly as each development was enlightened in the investigation.

Twisty and tense in a deserted location – perfect domestic thriller territory! As the relationships between the hotel dwellers and their fellow guests progressed, I was kept enthralled and captivated. ‘An Unwanted Guest’ comes recommended, especially on a cosy Sunday afternoon under a blanket with a hot beverage. There is no escape, but once you’re hooked in, you yourself won’t want to leave until you know the truth – GJ

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Sweet Pea by C J Skuse

This book made me feel things I’ve never felt before. I’d like to think I’m pretty hardened to gruesome thrillers and gritty subjects… but this book is something else entirely. As I was reading it, I remember saying to my friends and family that I don’t know if it’s actually possible to “enjoy” the words written on the paper pages without feeling like you’re actually a psychopath yourself!

It is brilliantly written, there is no doubt that C J Skuse has a lot of talent and has exploited a very niche area of the crime and thriller genre. Writing in the 1st person was very clever indeed because the reader can’t help but be captured by Rhiannon’s narrative and you feel like her thoughts are your thoughts… which is terrifying. I bought this book because my parents call me ‘Sweet Pea’, and I was intrigued by the blurb and tagline – “The last person who called me Sweet Pea ended up dead”…

The “kill list” idea is something that I don’t think anyone can deny having thought about, perhaps without realising it, but I think all humans possess the natural traits to harm (and potentially kill) if pushed/persuaded/triggered hard enough. Rhiannon is such a perfectly normal and relatable character with this insane dark streak that I liked… although it scared the hell out of me. I read some of the scenes genuinely wincing and with one eye closed (like it might make the impact of the words half as bad) thinking “oh god this is hell” to myself… but still couldn’t put it down. I did take more breaks than I normally do, to walk around, get some fresh air and give myself a shake up to remind myself that I’m not actually Rhiannon.

All in all… it’s dark, sordid, explicit, gruesome, totally unique and worth reading if you can stomach a hardcore psychological thriller. Definitely an X-rated book for 18+ readers though, it’s pretty detailed in a lot of ways including the death and sex departments. I feel almost morally compromised to say ” I recommend you read this!”… because I honestly don’t know if anyone should be reading it. Ever. But, if you do pick it up – ‘Good Luck’ – and don’t say I didn’t warn you! – GJ

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Burnt Island by Kate Rhodes

(3rd in the Hell Bay/DI Ben Kitto Series)

I purchased this book back in May 2020 when I took advantage of Tesco’s 2 for £7 deal and ended up coming home with 4 new books because they were on offer and I couldn’t choose just 2! I moved into a new house in December 2020 and I’m lucky that it has an open fireplace so it seemed fitting that I would read Burnt Island whilst sitting in front of it. I also just want to comment on the beautiful cover art – it really is eerily warm and inviting, despite the pre-warning that something sinister is going to occur within.

Now, I didn’t realise that this book was part of a series when I bought it. The blurb didn’t hint at it at all (and in fact this works as a standalone because there aren’t any huge hints at preformed relationships that were pertinent to this case) but this is actually the 3rd in the Hell Bay/ DI Ben Kitto series. I will be seeking out the first 2, and the 4th which was just published in October 2020.

Back to Burnt Island; it’s very good. The close-knit community of the islanders was a refreshing angle because a fair few thrillers have been set in remote locations recently, always seemingly cut off by an unplanned event, but in the case of Burnt Island all the characters are isolated by definition. I’ve visited Cornwall on family holidays when growing up, but never really investigated the Scilly Isles, so I thoroughly enjoyed learning about island life (albeit with a little artistic licence as disclaimed in the Author’s Note).

I loved the plot, the characters, the setting, the language, everything! Kate Rhodes has a great writing ability, and whilst this is the first book I’ve read by her it won’t be my last. Atmosphere and pathetic fallacy are major pros of her style, but I also liked that she stuck to 1st person from DI Ben Kitto throughout. Feeling his thought processes and theories made him real, not a fantasy figure unlike other fictional detectives who seem to have never-ending luck and things just fall into place, this DI made mistakes and got it wrong along the way, but never relented. His perseverance and connection to the island’s inhabitants was inspiring and made him a truly likeable character. The crime was horrendous, but told with total humanity and the outcome received apt justice.

“No place to run. No place to hide.”- Burnt Island’s tagline is powerful and emotive. The truth of living on an island in general, let alone one as small as St Agnes means that sometimes, not always by design, you are truly cut off from the outside world. But, if that happened to me, I’d feel safe if DI Kitto was on duty – I can’t wait to go back and read his origin story and follow him further into the mysteries that occur on the beautiful Scilly Isles. Maybe one day I’ll even get to visit and explore. – GJ

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A Stranger on the Beach by Michele Campbell

I cannot decide if I liked this book or not.

The blurb drew me in, and I was hoping for a really interesting, twisty thriller with some dark, parasitic insights, but what it actually was was rather annoying. It was a he-said-she-said format about bad, spontaneous life choices and how to escape predictable situations. There were some good bits, don’t get me wrong, and I did flit between Caroline and Aidan, switching my opinion of both of them throughout but more through frustration than enjoyment.

I did like that the dialogue was split between Caroline in 1st person and Aidan in 3rd, but normally you create more of a connection with the 1st person character because you can put yourself in their shoes, feel their reactions from an “I” perspective, but because Aidan was contradicting the series of events I just felt confused and kept rolling my eyes at the pages.

A lot of other reviews for this book were highly positive so maybe I just didn’t gel with the author’s style. I haven’t read anything else by this writer before, and I believe she had written 2 other books before this one and was listed as a Sunday Times bestseller, so maybe I am in the minority. I think the storyline was well thought-out and plotted, but I found the writing execution tiresome. If I met a stranger on the beach I can’t say I’d have the same reaction as Caroline, but it does ask the question – is anyone really a stranger? – GJ

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The Turn of the Key by Ruth Ware

Ruth Ware is very distinguished thriller writer, firmly on my go-to-author list because I’ve enjoyed all her books I’ve read so far. My edition of this book was published in the UK in April 2020, and in April 2020 the social media world went mad over this book. The actual world was going slightly mad itself and so it seemed a rather apt time to have such a frenzy, but it was warranted… because this book is so creepily brilliant and will drive you mad with mystery as you read it.

I watched an Instagram live Q&A with Ruth during my furlough time off, and she talked about her inspiration being loosely based on The Turn of the Screw by Henry James (which I’ve not read), so I was going into this book blind with no precursors. And, I’m glad to say that I didn’t have a presumed opinion, but even if I did I wouldn’t have been right because you are led down so many twists and turns and kept entirely on your toes… to the point where I had to stop myself reading it before bed otherwise I’d be so creeped out I couldn’t fall asleep.

The house itself acts as it’s own character which is thoroughly disturbing and the contrast between modern technology and vintage property reflects the clash between the nanny character Rowan and the children. I found the ending a little rushed but I think the quickening of pace was intended to mirror the exasperation Rowan was feeling so it did work within the storyline. I would recommend reading this book to anyone… well, maybe not if you work in childcare, or are sitting in the dark alone, or live in a big, old house. But everyone else should pick it up, because it really gets your brain asking that age-old question “If something looks too good to be true, is that because it really is?” – GJ

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The Woman Who Went Overboard by Florence Wetzel

I was lucky enough to be sent this book from the author herself after connecting on Instagram through the #bookstagram community. I actually read this book in August 2020 during a very warm English summer, which felt rather bizarre and contradicted the pathetic fallacy and atmosphere immediately. But, nonetheless I dived straight into reading it and found myself instantly transported to the Norwegian Sea.

The settings were beautifully described and I was able to picture each scene just as I was able to observe the character interactions just as if I were another passenger on board the cruise ship. There was something very realistic about each personality; I could relate them all to people I have met, which helped establish my connection, or lack of in some cases. I seemed to flick back and forth between sympathy and disgust at the actions of the main character Agnes. Her behaviour, although completely plausible in real life made for some truly awkward reading and also some laugh-out-loud moments. Her cringey persona is accompanied by heart-warming desire with lethal instincts.

It was easy to follow the short snippet chapters, as well as the fast-forward moments to present time, and I have to say I did enjoy the book! It was different to other thrillers I have read and the social aspect of thought-processes and spontaneous reactions when it comes to desperate love were a welcome twist to the story line! I have a natural interest in Scandinavia and so the language interjections and traits of the staff were familiar to me and I thoroughly liked the realism created.

I could compare this book a little to The Woman in Cabin 10 by Ruth Ware, which I also enjoyed, so Florence Wetzel is in good company. Both books have, however, made me question whether I’d like to cruise around Scandinavia on a boat… I might stick to flying or driving. – GJ

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Alice Teale is Missing by H.A. Linskey

This book really intrigued me from the blurb – how can a 17-year-old girl just vanish and no one know anything about it? It was also a lovely surprise to find it set in Northumberland where I’ve spent some time over the last couple of years and could relate to the places being described. I think it’s a great added bonus when a book has a personal touch, even a thriller or crime story where the subjects can be tough to read, the familiarity of the setting can be comforting… or unsettling.

I loved the twists in this book and found it really was a head-scratcher. I did guess the main twist, but maybe because I was trying to look for one and figure it out as I read along. There’s a lot of story planning and the author does well to keep the reader drawn in all the way through. There was a mix of like-able and hate-able characters, but the balance works well. I found the police duo to be an unlikely match and awkward at the beginning but I do think they gelled towards the end and helped it become more realistic.

There are some hard subjects to read about in the plot, so beware if child abuse, teenage bullying and coming of age are triggers for you. It was an easy book to read and the author uses colloquial language to help set the scenes, which adds a sense of homely-ness. In a nutshell, this book is a social/domestic thriller about a young girl trying to make good decisions but gets caught up in a secret with serious consequences. I would read another book by the author, but he’s not an auto-buy for me as there were a few points where I thought the book could be improved and therefore isn’t as highly recommended as others I’ve read and raved about. – GJ

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The Dead of Winter by Jean Rabe

This was the first time I’ve read a digital copy of a book off a device, as opposed to holding the physical book in my hands. It felt… weird, but I did see advantages and gained insight into why Kindles and E-readers are so popular. I’ll still always prefer to hold the actual paper or hardback, though. I guess it just feels more natural and traditional to me, and I’m a little bit old school when it comes to technology and to me reading is an escapism from screens and devices.

This book was emailed to me from a company promoting the author’s blog tour on Instagram. The 4th book in the Piper Blackwell series came out on July 15th 2020, but I always like to start a series at the beginning so they sent me the 1st book, which is The Dead of Winter.

I resonated with the new young female sheriff character and found her character to have a lot of promise for the series going forward. I would like to see how she develops and takes command of the Sheriff department and it’s officers as in this book it was clearly portrayed to be a rocky start for her. Coming across adversity and discrimination was a strong theme, but not overpowering which was good, as the repetition could have got a bit much to deal with. As her experience grows I think the stories will improve too and be able to showcase more of her talents and past skills.

The plot was well thought out and suitably creepy with good twists and turns, although I thought the ending was a little rushed and abrupt. The detail and settings were described well and for someone who doesn’t live in, nor have I visited America, I was able to visualise the scenery and layouts with a good amount of resemblance. I liked the pace and thought the author’s writing style was easy to read but with just the right amount of technical language and police procedure.

Overall, I enjoyed the storyline and would go on to read the others in the series. I liked that the main character was in the Sheriff’s department, not a cop or detective or FBI agent, so the different law enforcement angle was refreshing and I’d like to learn more about the distinguishing roles, as we don’t have Sheriffs in the UK. A great, creepy Christmas thriller. – GJ

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New Author’s Debut: Carolina Dance by Alex Cage

Instagram and social media platforms are a greatly positive way of connecting with people who share an interest of yours and it is also an easy way to get in contact if you have a product or service to recommend or offer. Using these tools very much applies to new and upcoming authors, who’s books you might not come across in the more conventional avenues and it’s important that their stories get discovered, read and talked about – because they are so good!

I was very excited to receive a message from Alex Cage asking if I’d like to read his latest novel, which was Book 2 in the Orlando Black Series, but I always prefer to start at the beginning with a new author, because I love seeing how the author grows in them-self and how their writing and characters develop. So, he mailed me Book 1, titled “Carolina Dance” and after opening my book-mail package, absorbing the blurb, opening the glossy cover and reading the first few chapters, I was hooked!

The first big event in the storyline is when Orlando Black, an Ex-Special Forces operative is walking back home from getting a morning cup of coffee from a local cafe when he is suddenly surrounded by police cars and taken to the police station! He gets mixed messages from the officers about the circumstances and what’s going on, and then as his day goes on it becomes more apparent that there’s a much bigger scenario going on and he’s found himself involved in the middle of the drama. The plot has a traditional well thought-out plan and I like that as it’s not too far-fetched or drawn out and the links as the case progresses work well. Although Black is no longer a serving officer, he clearly knows the law and police procedure, which hint to his intriguing past and definitely make me want to read the next book in the series.

I enjoyed the unusual martial-arts training aspect to Black’s personality and how Alex Cage initiates the scenes; they almost played out in slow-motion (reminding me of the fight scenes in the recent Sherlock Holmes films where each move is predicted ahead in frozen time, then played out in full speed). I found having the protagonist in a freelance/consultant position, but using hands-on combat skills to remain at the forefront of the action was a great balance; a fresh approach to a police-procedural thriller. Whilst Black constantly wishes he wasn’t involved and just wants to return to his quiet, peaceful life he does manage to control the investigation which shows great leadership even though he has an aura of a lone-wolf. The thought-processes Black goes through give great insight and even at the big finale scene his intuition tells him there’s a twist, and then there’s a secondary big finale! I loved reading the action and espionage and could really imagine it playing out exactly as describes, which owes to how well Alex Cage sets the scenes and locations.

It seems, no matter where Orlando Black goes, trouble sure does follow! I can definitely recommend Alex Cage as an upcoming author and I’ll be keeping my eyes open for more of this work in the future. Carolina Dance is a great action-packed 1st novel and the interactions between all of his characters kept me engaged. I liked the co-operation between the mix of agencies and departments because it helped the story evolve and added vamped-up tension where needed. Alex Cage is a diverse author who gets you right in the middle of the activities as if you’re really there. – GJ

Extra information below:

3 short stories featuring Orlando Black were published in 2019: Queen City Ruby, Sunshine Scandal and Once You Go Black.

Expected out in July 2020 is the second novel in the Orlando Black series: Bayside Boom.

Alex Cage’s books are available for e-readers and Kindles in various formats, including from Amazon.com.

Check out Alex’s website at http://www.alexcage.com or connect with him on Instagram @alexcageauthor.

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I Let You Go by Clare Mackintosh

Having previously read and liked I See You and Let Me Lie by Clare Mackintosh, I was excited to read I Let You Go. The blurb draws you in with the mysterious November event that changed Jenna’s life and the premonition that it will catch up with her. I have to say, the outcome wasn’t what I imagined. The truth and solution is quite hard to read; in fact the whole book addresses a lot of serious issues, but I do feel that it’s important for authors to not shy away from these troubling subjects.

So, this book is divided into 2 parts, with part 1 ending 162 pages in on a cliffhanger. At this point you question everything you’ve just read, but the confusion is exhilarating and spurs you on to keep reading. I was unsure why there were 2 parts and what a link could be, then through the change in perspective gradually dawns on you where its heading (I do still wonder whether it actually needed to be split as it carries on from the first part pretty much the same.)

Reading how the relationship progresses between Jenna and Ian from both sides is so interesting from a social point of view, but on an emotional level it is so distressing! The miscommunication, mistaken betrayal and loyalty all in the name of “love” just makes you want to scream because although they both misread situations, it is relatable and clear how it is so easily done in real life. How an intense desire turns into predator vs prey through systematic control and manipulation. Clare thoroughly knows her characters inside and out, because the language and atmosphere in the abusive scenes is spot on, and the insight into authority and consent is eye-opening and heart-breaking… but potentially so real.

The parallel story throughout the book is centered around the detective Ray, his team and his family, but I really didn’t side with him at first; I kept having this feeling he was going to go off rogue, and I didn’t think the book needed another flighty, unreliable character. Jenna was understandably wary and jumpy, and Ian had his fits of rage and unprovoked attacks. Ray does have questionable integrity but on the whole his instincts seemed to be in the right pool. I think I would have preferred him to be a good through and through family man just to add a bit of softness and tone, but as this book doesn’t focus too hard on the police operation, he nevertheless rounds the book into a well-written thriller.

Overall, you can tell the book has been planned and well thought-out with a lot of emotion and serious issues addressed. There was a cliffhanger at the end of Let Me Lie which felt a little unnecessary and the same at the end of I Let You Go. The book would suit a happy ending, and it kind of bugs me that because it isn’t part of a series there isn’t a next book to address the hanging question. This wasn’t my favourite book by Clare Mackintosh, mainly because the subjects explored were so tough to read and it wasn’t “enjoyable”, plus the ending left me feeling “meh”. I will still pick up her next books to read, so she’s definitely a highly recommended author, just this one missed the spot for me. – GJ

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The Obsession by Nora Roberts

Nora Roberts is one of those authors who can do everything. And do everything really well. She has written fantasy, romance and thriller novels with a bibliography spanning over 215 novels! I picked up “The Obsession” on a whim, not knowing anything about the author and just thought the blurb sounded good… And it quickly became a favourite book of mine. Inside the back cover of this one was an advert for another book of hers called “Come Sundown”, so I bought it, read it and this confirmed that I enjoy her writing style and feel like I could confidently choose anything written by her and love it… she’s on my list of highly recommended thriller/suspense authors!

“The Obsession” has the first 100 pages filled with the tragedy of one family back in 1998, and in particular the effect it has on one of the two children. It seemed a little implausible to me, at first, that just after the first shocking crime seems to be behind them, another strikes the same family in 2002, but this does happen in real life and really makes your heart ache for all of them. I love Naomi as a strong female lead and I can feel a lot of similarities between myself and her, including the love of photography and North-West American States (I’d love to visit or live in “Big-Sky Country” Montana one day). Unlike me, Naomi upped and moved to a remote, run-down house in rural Washington State to start her life over and leave her old life behind her. Her determination and resilience is inspiring and you do will her to relax, let her walls down to her new friends, but her distrust is understandable and quite rightly founded. Things start going right for Naomi and you feel genuine happiness for her, but death seems to be following her wherever she goes and she won’t be safe until the person is caught…

I loved reading how Naomi grew personally and professionally over the course of the novel and getting inside her head and her home is such a major part of the book. There are a lot of pages (528) but I do believe that it is all essential to getting the tone ‘just right’ and building up to the climax. I did guess the ending about 2/3rds of the way through, but it was still so exciting to read and I raced along, turning the pages frantically with my heart in my mouth. The descriptions and imagery are beautiful and breathtaking and I completely felt like I was walking around with her. I could reread this book over and over and still be transported to the settings I’ve conjured up in my head.

Not being one for romance or chick-lit genre I wasn’t sure how I felt about the introduction of the mysterious local guy who would inevitably try and seduce Naomi, but I fell in love with Xander and the other characters too and I was truly invested in the whole community by the end. The writing is just great, I’ve never read a book where I can imagine myself entirely there (almost like an extra in a film – I felt like just another person sitting at the dinner table or in the background etc) but Nora makes you feel included in the story. This is true of both the books of hers that I’ve read, so her talent is widespread, not just a one-off here. If you want an American escape filled with tragedy, danger and ultimately heart-warming love, then “The Obsession” should be your next pick. Okay, I think I’m now obsessed with Nora Roberts… – GJ

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The Neighbour by Fiona Cummins

With ‘Lockdown’ causing dedicated bookstores to close temporarily, supermarkets who sell books became a “saving Grace” for avid readers. Although, I do much prefer to visit an actual bookstore; I just find the atmosphere friendlier and comforting and the customers in there share a love of literature, not just aimlessly perusing every aisle on their weekly shop. Supermarket deals of 2 for £7 or £8 are extremely tempting and chosen books tend to take up noticeable space in my basket or trolley. “The Neighbour” by Fiona Cummins is a book that jumped at me from the Tesco shelf, maybe the bright blue and yellow contrasting cover, but also the seemingly ‘normal’ title grabbed my eye. But, there is nothing normal about this book…

The unassuming name of this book and ordinary-ness of the subject – everyone has neighbours even if you live in the middle of nowhere, there’s still a household closest to you somewhere, got me to thinking “how can the author have written a thrilling story about neighbours?”. Well, she has. And it is deliciously, and disturbingly creepy. The story has many layers and they are all laced together, some by just a few choice threads, others founded more solidly. There’s a map at the front of the book illustrating the layout of the street and I found it useful to flick back to the drawing as the chapters changed to see how the neighbour’s houses were situated in relation to each other.

I loved the format in that the timeline jumps around in short, timestamped, dated and located chapters, but also in the present “now” as the police are approaching the culprit, gaining ever closer as the story progresses. I enjoyed that whilst the chapters followed different strings of the story surrounding each residence, they were all written 3rd person, except for the “now” which was 1st person. I did feel that this choice of perspective limited the emotion and empathy I felt for the detective character (but this isn’t essential in a standalone novel, but required much more in a series) and quashed some of my horror and surprise at the tragedies. Plural. The body count is Midsomer Murders-esque.

There’s a lot of backstory and history linking to an event in 1985, but I didn’t find the story too complex to follow. I felt some of the reveals were a little predictable, but not in a bad way, I felt they were a nod to more traditional “murder mysteries” such as Agatha Christie. The author has engineered the characters so there’s a myriad of questions regarding identity, child abuse, suspicious disappearances, marital affairs and more! Is anyone who they say they are? Is anyone telling the truth? The style of writing allows for double bluffs and I enjoyed those moments – the dropped breadcrumbs steer the reader into one way of thinking then ‘bam!’ it goes in a different direction.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book (ploughing through it in 2 days is a huge positive) and I honestly could not stop turning the pages! Some of the imagery is graphic, so be warned, especially if you have an issue with dolls/puppets. I just devoured the chapters as the police honed in on the little details divulged by the residents and the resolution started falling into place. I did guess the method of death about half way into the book but not the ins and outs or circumstances, nor the why, so the ending was still an “ahhh” moment. The weather has been glorious in the UK this last week of May, so I have been reading outside in the garden surrounded by my own neighbours… And as the hook on the cover says: “You see them every day. But do you really know them?”… – GJ

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New Author’s Debut: The Colours of Denial by Arti Manani

Writing your first book must be a daunting experience as an upcoming author. You have an idea, write it, get it printed and available to sell… then wait for people to buy it. With the power of social media you can now contact like-minded or influential people freely and this is a huge benefit to the whole literature community. The advantages to the author, readers and publishers/promoters are second to none because the author is being given a chance to have their work read, readers might be discovering a great book/new favourite author and publishers/promoters don’t want to miss out on publishing or promoting the next potential big name in the genre!

Arti Manani, the author, contacted me on the Thrillerseekers Instagram page and after conversing a little while sent me the first chapter of “The Colours of Denial” to read and I have so say I was gripped and intrigued! The first chapter of a book has to make you want to continue reading and it had raised a lot of questions for me so box number one ticked! She then sent me a copy of the book from Amazon UK, where it is available to purchase (at £7.99 for paperback or £4.30 on Kindle) and even with the lockdown pressures on the postal services I received it in a few days. I actually hadn’t been able to stop thinking about the book after reading the first chapter so it was good that it was delivered quickly as I just wanted to continue reading!

I can confirm that I did enjoy the read, as Arti had hoped in her note; I finished it in 2 sittings. There is something that compels you to keep reading, and I can’t put my finger on whether her writing style just draws you in so much that you can’t release your hold on the book to put it down or if the plot is so interesting that you’re desperately trying to figure out where the story is heading.

This book has a lot of descriptive features throughout, metaphors and similes run riot, so much so that I did occasionally have to go back and start reading a sentence again just so I could get the picture clearer in my head. The strong imagery works to create this sense of fantasy vs reality and that’s a really key theme throughout the book. “What’s real and what’s not?” plays a big part in the plot, and I liked that! Deciphering the truth and picking out the correct jigsaw pieces from a jumble in order to make the right picture is how I felt whilst reading. There is a breadcrumb reveal in every chapter, but on a few occasions I started second guessing thinking “oh wait no maybe it’s this scenario instead”, so your brain is constantly whirring, piecing it all together. The timeline is sporadic and jumps back and forth but all the while avoiding the main “7 months ago” event so it reflects the characters behaviours and feelings surrounding whatever tragedy has occurred. It keeps you hooked right to the very emotional end!

I have to say, it’s very cleverly written. I did wonder what all the description was going to amount to as it’s clear that some of the nightmare/dreams/voices in Sophia’s head were significant… but why? The ending did move me to tears as the realisation dawned of the true scenario, because there’s this sense of relief and positivity as the rollercoaster comes to it’s final stop. This book is a psychological domestic thriller and it does get in your head! The conflict, habits and actions of the characters make you think so many different things along the journey and not all of them were good, I had a real wariness surrounding Oliver but my mistrust was mistaken for misguided intentions of unfaltering love, devotion and denial. This book addresses some really strong issues including control, personal perceptions, mental health and self-esteem/confidence, but especially loss and love and the hook on the cover is true – “the only way out is to face the truth”. I enjoyed my read of this 225 page thriller and the new author has a lot of promise; you’ll have a whirlwind ride if you pick it up but you won’t regret it and I wish her all the best with future books. – GJ

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The Katharina Code by Jørn Lier Horst

:- My introduction to Nordic Noir

I previously mentioned in my recent Currently Reading post that this book was originally a Christmas present for my dad as he’s always enjoyed Scandinavian crime novels, but read nothing by this author, and I always wanted to borrow it after him. The Nordic Noir genre has fast become a favourite among thriller readers, but this is my first introduction to the written version, although I have watched TV series’ such as The Killing, The Bridge and Borgen. My love for that part of the world is heightened by my travels to Sweden over the years. So, if like me you hadn’t entered into Scandi-noir before, I can recommend starting with “The Katharina Code” as I thoroughly enjoyed it start-to finish and I feel enticed to explore the genre more.

Penguin Random House’s website describes the genre well “For fans of crime fiction, Nordic noir represents the bleakest of the bleak, often centering on brutal crimes tinged with shocking violence. The tales invariably feature protagonists who, while possessing a generally ferocious sense of justice, are nonetheless tortured, brooding, and generally introspective. The settings, whether city streets or remote villages, are desolate and harsh. Combine these elements with densely plotted mysteries that often feature more than a few shocking turns and a spartan, direct prose style to accentuate the genre’s dark themes and it is not difficult to see why Nordic noir has been so influential and successful a piece of the crime genre.” – (https://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/the-read-down/nordic-noir-best-books-to-get-to-know-the-genre)

As the book is translated from Norwegian to English I did find the sentence structure to be staccato and felt like almost “broken English”, although the translation is very good, it just doesn’t have the natural flow of an English author. I think this actually make me liked it more! It feels authentic and there’s something familiar and comforting about the characters to me. I have to admit I almost read the words with an accent as I could envisage them being spoken to me in English by native Scandinavians. I did find it slightly perplexing that the author used the characters full names throughout, even though none of them shared a first name so it wasn’t to prevent us from getting confused. Just was a little unusual for me to keep seeing the surnames, but I think this helped to keep suspect characters at a distance and not too personally involved. I found the imagery easy to visualise and the settings aptly sparse and desolate, but well described with suitable detail.

The plot isn’t overly complex, but I think that could be due to the Cold Case aspect, but it’s very intriguing especially when it merges with another case and I could not work it out! I got fixated on suspecting someone because of their suspicious and unexplained behaviour but ultimately “The Katharina Code” does have a simple explanation and I liked that there wasn’t an influx of unnecessary characters. It was a tight knit investigation with added trepidation and suspense and I found the tone paced just right for the story-line. I liked how the answer gradually fell into place, almost like a drip-fed reveal as they were twists but not shouted in your face – subtlety worked well in this case, as I think it reflected how a cold case would be handled in real life. I also enjoyed the personal touches and insights into home lives outside of the police inquiry.

Jorn Lier Horst’s current portfolio of books – credit to https://www.fantasticfiction.com/h/jorn-lier-horst/

“The Katharina Code” is the first book in the ‘Cold Case Quartet’ by Jorn Lier Horst, with the 3rd book due out in 2020. His lead detective character William Wisting features in 6 other books of his namesake series, then the to-be-completed 4 cold case novels too.

A new series was started in 2019 which is a combined venture with another author – Thomas Enger. I would be interested to read this one to see if the 2 author’s backgrounds show through in the characters. Jorn Lier Horst was previously a Senior Investigating Officer in the Norwegian police force, while Thomas Enger studied journalism. This format similarly mirrors the journalist presence in “The Katharina Code” that I enjoyed immensely and added great depth to the story-line.

In summary, I enjoyed my first delve into Nordic Noir and I will become a firm resident and aim to buy more novels from other authors, as well as continuing with William Wisting. Although the genre is relatively new to me, there is already a list of classics I feel I should purchase; Stieg Larsson- The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Jo Nesbo – The Bat and Henning Mankell’s “Wallander” series. I started reading as the weather took a chilly turn in the UK and this suitably matched the pathetic fallacy, but as I neared the end it warmed up again to 28 degrees here so felt a little odd reading about lashing rain and wood-burning fires in glorious May sunshine. Nonetheless, I will be coming back for more, and I hope you do too! – GJ

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The Killer on the Wall by Emma Kavanagh

I read this book over Christmas in 2017 and I can still remember the story line vividly and how much I loved it. I was spending the Christmas period in Newcastle and I happened upon this book set along Hadrian’s Wall and it seemed rather apt to have it as my choice of book as I was journeying close to the setting. I was grabbed from the first sentence and honestly enjoyed every page. It’s an easy read, with great tone and flow to keep you gripped throughout. I remember feeling torn between not wanting the story to end and desperately wanting to know the resolution.

This book definitely had an impact on me, it’s not particularly gruesome or scary, but more the realisation that people you trust and love might make bad decisions and it has a larger knock-on effect that ever thought possible. The first timeline in this story is 1996 where Isla Bell finds 3 bodies on her morning run, then as she heads for home to get help she finds a fourth person, but he’s not dead yet. Isla’s dad, Eric Bell, is the policeman who solves the case and puts the serial killer away. We skip forward 20 years to 2016 where Isla is interacting with the convicted “Killer on the Wall” as part of her job, but bodies start to turn up again.

I just loved the suspense, the twists and being entirely captivated by the characters and story. There’s multiple POV’s all written in the 3rd person alternating throughout – mainly Isla, Mina and Ramsey but also Eric. The 2016 portion runs from 21st October to 3rd November, so only a period of 13 days, but I couldn’t put the book down so it felt like it all blurred by a lot quicker and I didn’t feel the benefit of the daily timeline. If you read at a slower pace then the daily chapters will feel very realistic and I almost wish I’d paced myself but I was having too much fun. I liked that each POV was written simulataneously on each day, because the parallels of their lives, jobs and the effect the case has on them is so interesting. They’re all intertwined and the author has a really good way of letting them interact but keep their own part of the story separate so the narratives are definitive. This helps it feel realistic, like maybe more of a family/domestic thriller as the small-village location where everyone knows everyone is a major factor in the plot.

Emma Kavanagh has written 3 other books before this one, and I hadn’t read any of them, but I really enjoyed her writing style and she really made my empathise with certain characters but also question and feel unsure about others. I also thoroughly enjoyed the science aspect in the story, because it’s quite common for serial killers to be called psychopaths but there’s a lot more psychology and testing available now to determine differences. I found Isla’s work as a forensic psychologist fascinating and terrifying! At the end of the book Emma writes an Author’s Note that explains the authenticity and research behind the book and I love how much is true and real! A light-hearted thriller about a truly dark and horrifying topic, but nonetheless will forever be one of my favourite books and I can’t recommend it enough. I do want to purchase other books by the author to see if I enjoy those as much and find another new comfort read… not that I take comfort reading about serial killers… that’s not what I meant… you know what I meant… I hope! – GJ

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16th May 2020: The Katharina Code by Jørn Lier Horst

Installment #2: The Katharina Code by Jørn Lier Horst

GJ with The Katharina Code on an overcast, chilly UK Saturday
Blurb of The Katharina Code

This evening I’ve decided to mix things up a little bit from my usual reviews; I’m going to explore the story behind my Currently Reading pick!

A hobby of mine since I was 12 years old is going Drag Racing and the European championship includes countries such as France, Germany and Sweden. In 2010 the team of friends I crewed with took the race cars to Sweden and having never travelled to any Scandinavian country before, I didn’t know what to expect – but aged 15 I fell in love with the country. We’ve been back a few times since 2010, but each time I’ve had to reluctantly get the plane home. In fact, the whole team loved Sweden so much that my friends moved over there permanently a few years ago.

There’s something special about Scandinavian culture, lifestyle and landscape that I feel really drawn to. Partially this could be attributed to when the Danish crime drama “Forbrydelsen“aired on UK TV and my dad would record episodes, then we’d sit and watch them together on Sunday mornings. We loved watching “The Killing” in Danish with English subtitles, then also the US version along with “The Bridge”, “Wallander” and “Borgen”.

The portrayal of quintessential Scandinavian/Nordic life on TV and in books, even in the crime genre, still feels welcoming to me. Having spent time in Sweden, I felt very safe both in rural and town locations, but I’m not naive to think that crimes simply don’t occur, however I still enjoy reading about and watching them. Visiting my friends for a long weekend in snowy February a few years back solidified how much I enjoy being over there in all seasons and weathers – the picturesque red and white houses in the snow look so beautiful, just like a traditional Christmas card.

I bought this book as a Christmas present for my dad a couple of years ago as he’d been enjoying reading other Scandinavian authors for a few years, but hadn’t read anything by this guy. He was pleased with the book, read it and said he enjoyed it and so has passed it to me so that I can read it too. The weather went from scorching early summer sunshine in April to chilly, overcast winter in May here in the UK, so I picked this Nordic crime thriller as my next currently reading so I can cosy up on the sofa and dream of being in a snowy, wintery cabin in the Swedish countryside. – GJ

My TBR pile on 16th May 2020
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The Lost Man by Jane Harper

Jane Harper is fast becoming a formidable name in crime writing circles; her first 2 books “The Dry” and “Force of Nature” received great responses and this is her 3rd. It is a standalone and does not follow Federal Agent Aaron Falk like the other 2 do, although there is one nod to “The Dry’s”story-line. This book is definitely classified as a family/domestic thriller as there is no police team or definitive investigation aspect. With this being a fresh, independent story, there is no influence from characters in previous books about how the events could have played out and what conclusions we reach as we’re reading. But, as the cover says…Three Brothers. One Death. No answers.

The plot surrounds the mystery of how a local man was found dead in the middle of nowhere in the Australian outback, by himself. Could it have been an outsider? In such a small, tight-knit community, it seems unlikely, but that heightens the more disturbing reality that if it wasn’t suicide, then someone he knew left him out there, alone, to die. With such a small span of characters to choose from, the older brother Nathan takes it upon himself to probe deeper into recent affairs and discover what really happened. Although he was the middle brother, it seems that Cameron Bright was placed on a pedestal as he ran the family homestead, but perceptions of him start to skew as more information comes to light about occurrences leading up to the fateful day. The reality of his manner, mindset and actions slowly become apparent and so you do not feel shocked or surprised at the outcome, perhaps a little grateful and as if it may have been deserved.

A desperate sadness lingers throughout the whole book, not only surrounding the circumstances of the death, but the backstory of the family and other characters too. This isn’t a story which portrays Australia in a happy light, and especially as the timescale is over the Christmas period, the tone is flat and joyless, but that’s of course intentional to reflect the grief. Cameron suffered cruelly and although I felt no guilt for him by the end, reading that he “chased the shade until he couldn’t anymore” is heart-wrenching. When you consider the true ramifications of that phrase; the eerie silence from the relentless heat as his energy ebbed away is just awful. There was no point in trying to move, so he just stayed in the small patch of shade from the headstone as long as possible, hoping that someone might find him alive…

Imagery is a particular strong point of Jane Harper’s writing and her ability to set the scene so you feel as though you can picture the landscape through your own eyes is so impressive. She’s able to exhibit exemplary pathetic fallacy by effectively assigning Australia it’s own identity, making it one of the key characters in all her stories. The remote location of both the homestead and Cameron’s death offer a potential for serenity and calmness but the reality is far from that. The red dust evokes this overwhelming sense of desolate dryness which is paralleled in the increasing lack of emotion from the dead brother’s family as more is revealed about Cameron’s true personality. I particularly liked the clever oxymoron ‘December heat” which to me, as a UK resident, is baffling and completely unfathomable, but exceptionally powerful.

Clear family tension attributed to secrets, betrayal and domestic abuse along with strong regret fuel this sorrowful thriller. An undercurrent that the Australian desert, like it’s human inhabitants, is unforgiving and despite the clear consequences, souls are still drawn to the prohibited solitude like a ‘moth to a flame’. It’s made clear that it would be a suicide mission trying to navigate out there alone, even if you know the land well, but the sweet pull of the danger acts like a mirage enticing people towards it’s grip. It’s a dark thriller with a few, good twists but it’s not fast paced or exhilarating, more a despairing mystery but it is so very well written. If you want a break from exciting page-turners and want to get absorbed in another land, then I recommend picking up “The Lost Man”. I can promise you’ll be engrossed, but be careful, you don’t want to get too lost… – GJ

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Th1rt3en by Steve Cavanagh

This is unlike any thriller I’ve ever read before. The bold, red highlights on the fairly unassuming, plain black cover was the first thing to catch my attention, then no traditional “blurb” further intrigued me and lastly the testimonials from other high profile authors solidified my decision to pick up this book would be worthwhile. I haven’t read any of the other books in the Eddie Flynn series by Steve Cavanagh, but I have been assured by other members of the social media book community that they are on par with Th1rt3en and I have added them to my TBR list. They all work as standalones as Eddie’s backstory in each is kept brief. So, I start with the prologue… it ends 6 pages later with a sucker punch… and I’m drawn in to the story.

Setting the prologue aside, the whole book is set over 5 days; Monday to Friday and this “real-time” timeline effect suits this book to a T. It is fast paced, with relentless action coming at you from all directions; it’s both exhilarating and exhausting to read. But I didn’t want to, nor could I put it down. The notion in the tagline on the front cover “The serial killer isn’t on trial… He’s on the jury” strikes you with fear before even turning to the first page, because… what if it happened in real life? Would, or could, he be found out?

Taking a factually-driven journey into the USA’s legal system, FBI profiling, NYPD corruption and into the mind of a sensually numb criminal is not for the faint-hearted. I was both terrified and captivated by the concept of a procedural thriller exposing legal corruption whilst simultaneously revealing psychopathic elements of human nature. I found that I was constantly on tenterhooks from the exciting cat and mouse chase between the lawyers, law enforcement and fugitive. If you can cope with gruesome murder detail and the psychological effects from a impenitent killer who doesn’t show a shred of regret, then you might just make it to the end and possibly enjoy yourself along the way.

There are 2 main narrations throughout the book; Eddie Flynn the defense lawyer and the criminal who’s on the jury. I found surprising comfort in the 1st person interjections from Eddie Flynn, as he is the only character written from this POV, all others are 3rd person. I did wonder how the book would have read if the killer’s narrative was 1st person, but the 3rd person perspective works well to keep the reader from sympathising and associating with the character, so does work better with an antagonist. In some sections I couldn’t help but feel the “bad guy’s” motivations aren’t actually that unrealistic and could easily reflect the views of a real citizen. This brought up a scary sidenote because as the story goes on you, as the reader, become almost desensitised to death; it’s just “brushed off” as normal occurrence. “Oh he’s killed another person… next page…”. Not an entirely welcome mindset, so I had to keep reminding myself that no matter no real this story-line felt, it’s not a true-crime read.

So, although I was engrossed in the casual killing and brutality coursing through every page, I loved the breadcrumb twist reveals throughout, which, accompanied by the juror profiles really sets this book apart and splits up the narrative. Giving the brain a break from the nonchalant, ruthless killing feels necessary as it can overwhelm at points due to the brusque nature of the male characters. The badass females add a femininity to the story, which is otherwise dominated by male characters, but all the while not softening or dampening the unperturbed, detached lack of remorse on either side. He doesn’t want to be caught and will do anything to keep them from finding him, but they need to catch him and will do anything to do it. It’s hard-hitting to read, but tantalising and delicious at the same time; the criminal’s predictable unpredictability just keeps you on the edge of your seat. I held my breath for a lot of this book.

I’m a UK resident and I know very little about the legal system here (shame on me). All I know about the USA’s legal system is what I’ve seen on American cop shows, films and TV drama Suits (again shame on me). So, I have no real ground to stand on when I say parts of this book made me feel outraged at the US justice system, because although they publicly campaign for ‘innocent until proven guilty’, the prosecutor character did not demonstrate that every citizen deserves and is entitled to a fair hearing. I never really connected to the defendant character in the case, but he didn’t feature centrally in the plot, it was very much Eddie Flynn vs Prosecutor vs Criminal throughout. And that’s partly why I got morally angry, because the courtroom scenes were lawyer vs lawyer; it became a pissing contest between themselves and increasingly less about the life of the defendant. Eddie is a great character, and I liked him a lot, but his humble brilliance wasn’t always convincing and I did sense a showman under his skin. Ego is a powerful and dangerous thing, especially when an innocent person’s life depends on your ability to not only convince strangers on a jury that your client didn’t do it, but because you know the person who did do it is sitting amongst you.

There was a hint of “hollywood” throughout the book, in the way that the excitement was unrelenting and I could picture how the fight scenes would play out in a film script. Eddie Flynn is a con-man turned lawyer who seemed to keep running into physical confrontation with opposing characters in the way I can imagine a lead protagonist in an action film would. He always seems to survive with just enough damage to hurt but not fully incapacitate himself and let him live to fight another day. This can be partly attributed to his friends in high places and also the back up ladies turning up “just in time” at those crucial moments, which felt a little cheesy as it repeated a few times, but sure added an element of “girl power” to the plot. It sure would make a spectacular production, possibly even a series to explore his evident back story that I wish to read about in previous books.

I, personally, enjoy the structure of procedural thrillers, especially when I gain insight into multiple aspects of crime and consequence, but I know it’s not for everyone. The twists came thick and fast and made this a gripping un-put-downable read with definite “oh damn” moments. The profiling theme throughout was fascinating, coupled with the awareness, explanation and description of congenital analgesia kept me continuously engaged with all the characters. The omit of penance made this a dark and disturbing read, but so very, very good. If you can grit your teeth and bear the apparent unfazed, undaunted revels in taking human life without so much as a hint of inner turmoil or backward glance at remorse then this is a book for you. I just hope the situation depicted in this story never appears on a news headline – that really would validate that number 13 is lucky… or unlucky… depending which side of the jury box you’re on. – GJ

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Black Widow by Chris Brookmyre

485 pages of heart-pounding, gritty, suspense-filled Thriller goodness. This book had me gripping the edge of my seat one moment, then feeling sympathetic or laughing the next. All the chapters are individually named, which is a unique touch; I liked that. There are multiple POVs in this book, the majority written in 3rd person, but Diana in the 1st which I really enjoyed as you got into her head, therefore letting the reader feel her processes. This offers a necessary softness and also adds comedic and realistic value to the story-line. This book is incredibly sordid and you won’t see the twists coming, and you’ll love it.

This story is not told in direct chronological order, but has flashbacks and offerings of each scenario viewed from multiple characters which works to influence your thoughts and make you think you know what’s going to happen… but don’t try to guess. I realised quite early on that there was going to be a complex parallel story, as there’s no way this would be a cut-and-dry piece of crime fiction; Diana was too brilliant for there to be a simple explanation. I really actually liked Diana from the start. For all her faults and the consequences, I saw a lot of genuine humanity in her and reading from her perspective was enjoyable and definitely added spark to the plot. Strong female characters don’t get much stronger that how Dr Diana Jager appears, but there’s so much more to her and the author gets deep into her psyche.

The police team’s interjections were a minor part, but crucial to exposing the true sequence and I think the plot would have been lost without their small part to play. There are quite a few extended characters who’s relevance seemed small, but at the end it showed how important they are, so the temporary confusion is resolved. Associated with that is the fact that the blurb is deliberately misleading and it is so well worded to make you think that this could be a “normal” mystery thriller. It is not.

Jack Parlabane features in 9 of Chris Brookmyre’s books, and Black Widow is the 8th in the series but works as a standalone, and a very good one at that. He is a character with integrity and purpose, plus a great intuition to be open minded, and I loved that his “rogue” moments were’t over dramatised. He’s written in the 3rd person which takes a little away from his personality, I wonder if the book would have read differently if he was 1st person perspective? I would like to read more in the Jack Parlabane series but I think that’s more based on how much I enjoyed Chris Brookmyre’s writing style and story planning.

I would encourage anyone to read “Black Widow”, but also I doubt you’d be disappointed if you picked up any book by this author. Just like the spider namesake, this book creeps all over you, making you wince and shiver but also with a paralysing fascination that keeps you following its movements. There are strong themes of control, consent, deception and trust and it’s not for the faint-hearted as the brazen disregard for privacy will unleash your inner anger deep in your core. Misdirection and perceptions of love and identity keep you deliciously whipping the pages through the short snippet chapters. Fast-paced and utterly thrilling – I loved it; it gave me everything I want from a thriller – a dream of a book. But, this is no fairytale. – GJ

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Let Me Lie by Clare Mackintosh

I first read “I See You” by Clare Mackintosh and loved the creepy suspense she effortlessly created, so when I saw she had another book out it was an auto-buy for me, as I wanted to see if she could replicate her impressive writing style. I was not disappointed, not that I thought I ever would be. There is no link between the books, no series or follow on here, which is refreshing having each new book as a standalone story to get immersed in. By page 15 of “Let Me Lie” I was hooked.

This book discusses complex themes including suicide, mental health, domestic abuse, alcoholism and family. Memory and perception of memories features heavily and that is mainly down to grief, but also how children are shielded from adult events. Grief affects people in many different ways, and Clare has written “Let Me Lie” with sympathy in all the right places, but it doesn’t overpower the story. I would categorise this as a family-orientated thriller because it has a small number of characters, and although it is written from multiple ‘Points of View'(POV) it stays succinct and relative. Sometimes when books involve too many characters it becomes sprawling and hard to keep track of, but this is a contained and piercing mystery thriller.

Anna, the daughter of the 2 supposed suicide victims, has a baby of her own, and whilst I don’t have any experience of motherhood (nor do I have any plans to) I found her responses and actions natural and I can imagine them striking a chord with mothers. Gut instinct is an inexplicable feeling but being a combination of mind and body, it creates this definitive belief, or disbelief, and Anna’s determination reflects that she needs answers to questions. The process of involving the police figure is interesting, and Murray’s personal life adds another dimension to this story-line. I liked that this wasn’t a typical detective thriller; you are very much reading about the people themselves, not just the crime(s) and how the investigator does their job to figure it out.

The character of Murray and his narration will break your heart. I admit my emotions got the better of me in a few places in this book. Overwhelming sadness and love course through every page of this book, but I found some parts especially got to me. As each twist comes you distinctly find yourself distrusting certain characters, but then there’ll be a counterargument and you’re kept on your toes between feeling like there’s something not right and having it explained. You are in this fast paced ping pong match and I liked that the action stayed close by, in a local setting between a small number of people. Made it feel real. Because this does happen; people do feel convinced that suicides aren’t what they seem and may involve foul play. But looking deeper into the lives of people you love may not give you the answers you’re looking for… or it may raise questions about how well you really knew them.

This book is also very clever in the way that it leads you to a crossroads, dropping crumbs all the way along about which way it’s going to turn, then at the last second, swerve a different way. I just could not guess the twists, and by about halfway through I stopped trying to guess and just enjoyed reading and following the plot. I let the waves of shock roll over me, then relax in the serene floating moments, all the while tensed for the next big wave. The deception and misdirection is delicious. The entwined lives of the characters make you look at your own life and wonder how far would you go to help someone escape a life that put them in danger? Be prepared for a rocky and emotional ride, but this is a must-read. It is harrowing and will leave you potentially grief-stricken, but so worth it to find out the truth. Or what we’re told is the truth… just because the pages ended, doesn’t mean the story has reached it’s conclusion… – GJ

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A Brush with Death by Quintin Jardine

Once again I feel like I’m late to the party, with this being the first book I’ve read by Quintin Jardine. There’s an extensive list of previous works inside the cover and quite honestly I’d not heard of him before! After posting on the ThrillerSeekers Instagram that I was reading A Brush with Death, I had a comment from a member of the Bookstagram community saying that the Bob Skinner Mysteries are great and I should start at the beginning. After finishing this book, I wholeheartedly agree. There are brilliant characters and I now want to follow them from the start. “Skinner’s Rules” is now on my TBR list…

The first thing that struck me about this book was the relationship between DI Lottie Mann and DS Dan Provan. There is this immediately apparent brotherly/sisterly love which is endearing whilst remaining professional even though they both seem to have deeper emotions they avoid to admit. This fierce protection and close-knit community feeling extends to their family; both at work and home. There is this long chain of history throughout which explains the relationships between the different organisational forces involved; it’s obvious that for this high profile case lots of sectors have their part to play. I think Quintin formulated a perfect blend of domestic, international and espionage policing in this book. Once you’ve got your head around the links between characters it all comes together with many exciting twists, but not in a “hollywood spy” and overly dramatic sense.

Respect is hugely key here. Not just in the form of police force hierarchy, but the clear past experience and teamwork required to pick apart the sequence of events. The ‘threat’ of Bob overruling Mann and Provan is indistinct and although questions are raised about his technical title, his consulting capacity seems to be widely welcomed. I think it captured the familiarity of when a former commanding officer reappears on your case, you’d naturally slip under their command again, like if you meet a teacher later in life, you automatically resort to calling them Sir/Miss. There’s a lack of conflict and in-fighting within the officers, which was fresh to read, as there’s usually a defiant character who rebuts authority at every turn and it can get wearing and induce many an eye-roll.

The original crime itself is interesting, I will admit that I did guess the method of death but the circumstances in the reveal at the end were a huge twist I did not see coming! I liked the misdirections because it showed insight into a real investigation and how complicated it can all get but also highlighted the simplicity of some situations. I liked the even pace as it showed actual research into procedure and that there are no priority cases and you can’t skip lines regardless of how good you are at your job. This also helped to build the tension within the professional and personal lives of the main characters. At first I thought I was a little underwhelmed with the ending, but on reflection it felt right because there was no malice, as with poisonings in general, but it suited the tone of the book and how the victim was consistently perceived as a ‘gentle giant’ which helps to inflict empathy onto the reader at multiple points.

Adding in comprehension of the legal systems was a welcome undercurrent throughout, I genuinely enjoyed learning about the procedures and requirements – once again adding this perception of realism to the plot. I found it refreshing that while Bob Skinner’s involvement seemed questionable at time, there was never once a mention of “owing favours” to other officers to get what is needed. It’s a bugbear of mine when characters with a substantial history with colleagues use “you owe me” for a thing that happened long ago and thus starts a tennis match of them batting goodwill forward and back.

A common love of the force shines through from all the characters and I like the genuine feel that they are happy to be involved whatever their capacity. The blurb told me that Bob Skinner was a retired officer so naturally you think he might have a personal connection to the victim, or the DI isn’t up to the case, but it’s none of that, it’s just his adoration for policing that makes his employer keep him in active service. I hope there are real Bob Skinners out there. He seems almost like a modern-day Scottish James Bond; I wonder if that was Quintin’s intention? The Scottish colloquialisms interjected added harshness or softness where required, not to mention the gentle humour and I very much enjoyed their presence. All in all, I would recommend “A Brush with Death” as it works as a standalone mystery thriller, but I will be sourcing a copy of “Skinner’s Rules” and I suggest you do the same. There’s clearly more to Skinner, Bob Skinner than what I’ve read in this book, and I am left feeling intrigued… I wonder if likes his martini shaken or stirred? – GJ

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The Girl in the Ice by Robert Bryndza

This book has always stuck with me ever since I read it and I do want to continue reading the Erika Foster crime thriller series, (my TBR pile is steadily growing out of hand…) and once I do, I shall be adding it to my Series Review section. I was first struck with the opening scenes leading up to the discovery of the body and even to this day the imagery comes back vividly. That’s a sign of a great author and Robert Bryndza is just that.

So, my copy of this book has a very eye-catching cover. Even as I pick it up now, it still feels so creepy but also makes me want to read the book all over again. Once I finished the book, I felt that the blurb revealed a little too much as the link to the other three bodies wasn’t made until at least 3/5ths of the way through and although it is shocking in it’s own right, the blurb kind of made me anticipate that it was coming so it wasn’t as much of a shock that it should have been.

I can only compare the brutality of the crimes and the descriptive imagery in this book to Karin Slaughter (it’s a compliment as I love her books) as they are extensive and particularly harrowing by nature in this story-line. Robert has an impeccable way with words and the setting of the scenes and locations used fits with the stark contrast of class reflected in the plot. There is this combination of political and social avenues explored not only in the investigation itself but among the team of police officers themselves. Almost as if the author wanted to tick every discriminatory box possible; gay, black, male, female, sexist, ageist etc. I’m not adverse to it, and it think it works, but as the relationships grew between Erika Foster and her new team members I felt it was a bit waning to discover that the personal lives of each officer eliminated an option in the categorical spectrum just to essentially cover all characters basis’.

There is an extreme theme of authoritarianism flowing from first page to last, and I like a strong female lead character as much as anyone but it became wearing and exasperating as she relentlessly disobeyed orders although she would always justify it and somehow convince the superior officer based on an unspoken personality trait. I enjoyed this book, don’t get me wrong and I don’t want it to seem like I’m tearing it apart. Erika is a feisty, strong-willed, outspoken, arrogant, straight-to-the-point character who strives to deliver unbiased justice at heart and my God if I ever needed a detective to prove me innocent and fight for me then I would pick her! It just became a little unrelenting and I found myself skimming some of the paragraphs where she was inevitably called into Marsh’s office… yet again.

I mentioned earlier a political aspect but it is a unwavering theme throughout, but the author does a good job of writing in an impartial way and although naturally you empathise with the “lower class” characters and hate the “higher class” wealthy ones, it is a balanced book and I respect his ability to get that across in words. The ending was a little “just-in-time” and superhero, but exciting to read and fast-paced nonetheless. All in all, if you can stomach Erika Foster’s cat-with-9-lives approach to her job as a detective then it is a great book. I will want to read the next one “The Night Stalker” to see how, or if, she develops and for the sake of her superior officers and the reader’s sanity, I hope she grows up and comes across a little less entitled and brash. -GJ

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She Lies in Wait by Gytha Lodge

I have no doubt that writing a debut novel must be a daunting experience, but I found the dedication to her parents at the beginning quite puzzling. I thought it could be that maybe the author is just self-deprecating or young or nervous, but admitting you wrote “a truly awful first book” did make me pause before I turned the page to being reading the prologue. With the doubt in my mind from the dedication I almost half-expected an “awful” read… but (thankfully) it’s a really good story!

Despite a couple of small continuation errors I spotted, on the whole it’s a well written first thriller, filled with interesting characters, especially her police team who’s backstories make you thoughtful and I for sure will want to read her next book; “Watching from the Dark” published this year (the prologue snippet at the end of “She Lies in Wait” has me hooked already!). I get the sense that Gytha Lodge is an author who will specialise in not so much why people do what they do, but rather why they don’t do what they should have. I find that quite exciting and so I’m looking forward to reading her next Jonah Sheens book, as I very much liked him as a character and want his personality to expand as the series continues. The other members of the police team have me intrigued as well, so all in all the author has captured me hook, line and sinker!

So, this book seemed to have a fairly typical outline – something bad happened to one out of a friendship group 30 years ago and the police have to determine the truth about who’s responsible and what happened through unpicking a network of lies. But, this book has more ‘oomph’ that just the simple, generic plot idea. There is this toxicity that oozes from the pages, and it’s mixed with fierce protection and betrayal that really gets to you as the reader. I ended up feeling lots of emotions towards each character; mostly heart-breaking sympathy or utter disgust. Ultimately, this group of young friends had just planned a fun night camping, so how could it possibly have gone so horribly wrong? Or, was something or someone else to blame?

This story-line is laced with misdirection and I loved it! I was kept entirely on my toes, because each twist and turn sent my thinking in a different direction, which helped the ‘real feel’ of the book, because I can imagine genuine police investigations have to deal with secrets, lies, held-back information, not to mention actual, and faked, blurred memories. I felt the 30 year later cold case aspect linked with the present day very well, as the daunting realisation (and resignation) came across in a strong manner from all characters; not just the suspects, but police team included so they felt authentic (and human!). I’m glad the police characters in this book aren’t ‘acting superheros’ with extraordinary training and powers, but seemingly-average, hard-working, each with their own strengths to bring to the table coppers.

Opportunity became key. It comes down to who possibly could actually have done it, because once all their stories are fitted together, there is one last puzzle piece and it’s a “of course” moment! This story explores truly horrible themes, all of which are habitual among teenagers, but the consequences in this instance will break your heart. Gut-wrenching innocence and naivety from all parties jumbled up with nail-biting suspense kept me turning page-after-page. I have no shame in admitting that a gentle tear or two rolled down my face reading the last chapter (and I am not a crier). The emotion had just built up over the course of the book and I suppose it was the sense of relief and justice that got to me in the end, but the book evoked a response from me, so the author has done her job!

I feel that this book is highly topical because the pressures on young people to conform and fit in are so high these days and I hate it! I feel like I want to scream “stand your ground” at teenagers to make them realise there isn’t any mileage in following the conventional life route, not that it would ever alleviate the pressures they feel from others. Giving in because you don’t think there’s another option or that it might not be as bad as you think is something that I wish more awareness was raised about. There is always another way. You always have a choice. Surrounding yourself with friends who won’t force you to do something you don’t want to do isn’t cowardly or pathetic, it’s creating a safety net of genuine people who care and will be beside you for the entirety of your life, and could keep you from ending up in a situation like in this book. There is no doubt in my mind that the sequence of events in this book could be a true story, having played out similarly at some point, and it makes me so sad.

All-in-all, a fresh and chilling story about friendship that may leave you reaching for a tissue, with a lasting perception of no matter how old and grown up you get, the person inside doesn’t change. Not completely. Some people are just wired with menace and sickening control, and no amount of learning social skills can change their background and fundamental principles. A lot of fault and blame is thrown around, as would be a natural response given the case, but it added to the perplexing nature of the crime because you really couldn’t see a clear perpetrator right until the end. Dark, deep and tough to read in places; this thriller will get you on the edge of your seat wondering who lied. And why? – GJ

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Federal Agent Aaron Falk Series by Jane Harper

I’d previously reviewed Jane Harper’s first book – ‘The Dry’ as a solitary post, and because I’d enjoyed it so much, I read her second, and third books in quick succession! This made me realise that her second “Force of Nature” continued to follow Federal Agent Aaron Falk, turning it into one of my favourite up-and-coming thriller series’. I’m also very excited to hear that ‘The Dry” is being made into a film with Eric Bana in the starring role – due out in August 2020 (but don’t quote me on the release date!) So, here is a compilation of my reviews of the 2 Aaron Falk novels (so far, because I hope for more)…

#1: The Dry

This is a very atmospheric book. Haunting and gripping. The parallel story-lines in this book intertwine perfectly and leave you transported to Australia both past and present. The underlying current in this book is that secrets kill. And people say they want to know the truth, but the truth is that they actually don’t.

The desperation and determination in this book is heartbreaking. You feel the Falk character’s tension and unrest, but this does not deter him from addressing events. The urgency is overwhelming, but the force to be patient is overpowering. Be methodical. To do it right. Leave no stone upturned. Partnering with a local cop is a sobering realisation that ‘feeling’something isn’t as it seems, isn’t actually enough without evidence. And evidence is so, so key in this book. If one piece is all you have, then is it really better than having nothing?

For a first book by this author, this is a beautifully told story packed with emotion, and she really taps into your soul. You ache for the characters, most people can only imagine the toll of a drought on a community, let alone coupled with horrific crimes and the ugly past rearing it’s head at any and every opportunity. Everything a reminder, subtle or otherwise. It must be utterly exhausting, and it pours from the pages into the reader’s imagination so well. The pathetic fallacy is perfectly simple but for such a complex landscape, it works.

I’ve not visited Australia, but this book made me want to. And also not want to. At the time of writing this, April 2020, my mind is filled with the stark reality that this book could be based on a true story. September 2019 onwards presented horrendous news stories ricocheting around the world about fires in Australia from years of previous droughts. Everyone knows they get “hot weather” down under, but this was something else completely. National Emergency status was implemented and sitting in the rainy, cold UK watching the footage just made you feel helpless, but so very hopeful. Because the truth of it is that nothing can outrun a fire. You also can’t outrun the truth; one day it will all catch up with you. – GJ

#2: Force of Nature

“Five went out, Four came back…”. The hook on the cover undoubtedly intrigued me to immediately turn to the first page. 5W’s + 1H = Who? What? When? Where? Why? How? But the answers to each of those ‘simple’ questions are anything but straight-forward. This story-line has deliciously twisted motives with hazy lines between the meaning of family; both in a personal and professional sense. Filled with mystery and intrigue… I was gripped from page 1.

I love the contrast between corporate and wilderness Jane achieves. It works to frame the plot in an atmospheric and panic-filled setting. You have these entangled work relationships with hierarchy, respect and loyalty, but all peppered with history and forlorn regret. You are hit with this constant theme of distrust which builds the tension and force, whilst the rescue team try to gradually tear apart the woven carpet of demons, thread-by-thread to figure out what went wrong to lead to only 4 women resurfacing. ‘Force of Nature’ is such an apt name for this book because it perfectly depicts the effect of an unknown environment on human beings. This thriller is a team-building social experiment gone-wrong, mixed with a terrifying potential cold-case reappearance, but it is so much more that that because there are other motives at play. Question: how well do you know the people you work with?

Alice Russell is a character who you can’t pin down throughout. There’s this constant to-ing and fro-ing as you try to decide if you should hate or admire her. I feel that sympathy isn’t the right word, but maybe it is. At the end of the day, she is just a fiercely competitive woman with her own secrets, but does her snobbish manner and desire to humiliate and belittle everyone around her mean she deserves the course of events? There is a lot of blame brandished around, which in the circumstances, is natural, I suppose. Survival instincts are tainted by delirious illusions and with the panic coursing through their veins it would be hard to distinguish guilt from terror.

Residual bitterness from underlying history between pairs of characters is beautifully mirrored and heart-breaking. Families have this canny way of blurring perceptions and altering memories so you remember what you want to, or what you wish had happened rather than the actual facts. Protection, in many ways, might be the strongest theme throughout this book. In the form of self-preservation and arrogance, you wistfully wish the characters would cooperate, but as a defence mechanism aimed at others you rejoice at their cooperation. It is so hard to explain without giving away any spoilers that this book’s complexity and divine characters make it such a great read.

It focuses slightly less on Aaron Falk as a character, than I maybe would have liked, but there are hints back to ‘The Dry’, which (I hope) means there’s more to come from him, but maybe Jane is gathering up ammunition to release in a new future thriller. Overall, I loved ‘Force of Nature’ and would 100% recommend you read it. It does work as a standalone because of the gentle nudges to the previous Aaron Falk book (do read ‘The Dry’ as well though!). I will say, don’t take this book away to read whilst camping… it may be a little “too real” for comfort, because what would you do if one of your group didn’t come back…? – GJ

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The House Across the Street by Lesley Pearse

I have grown up with a love of all things retro and vintage; music, fashion, classic films set in the 50’s and 60’s and whilst I have a very limited history knowledge (something I want to address) I enjoy hearing stories about those time periods. My parents were born in the early 60’s and so I thought this book might help give me some context and insight to the stories they’ve told me about growing up through that time. So, not only did the blurb grab me by sounding so intriguing but I also established a personal motive to read this book and couldn’t wait to see what it was like!

The first thing that struck me when I started reading this book was Katy’s conflict between fitting in with stereotypes and her defiant determination to be anything but. I love a headstrong young female character and she sure delivered punch. I really enjoyed the typical 60’s moments; they completely transported me to the time and place with a great sense of realism. The main themes explored through the book are heart-breaking to the point where you don’t think you can feel any more sympathy or rage. The humanitarian effort sought out is commendable and heart-warming and a huge part of you wishes this book was based on true stories, provided there was always a happy ending.

The loyalty between Katy, her dad and the other characters she encounters produces such a strong sense of family and it is refreshing to read about such a formidable support network, albeit with it’s apparent outliers, but ultimately a thoroughly solid set of characters. I wonder if it is the historical aspect that has allowed for a more “working together” feel of the characters throughout – I have an opinion that “modern” thrillers can sometimes have too much competition and aggression between the characters and a constant grievance with authority can get a bit wearing. Katy is a strong character, with a clear aversion to following the grain, but she’s not arrogant or haughty. Cavalier, yes, but I can associate with that.

This book is not grizzly or gruesome, but it’s disturbing in it’s own way. The crimes are delivered to the pages “softly”, which does not take anything away from how truly awful they are, but just reflects the human nature of this book and it’s focus on people’s personalities. I did grip me because the occasional harshness was unexpected and caught you off-guard along with surprising revelations! Don’t be fooled, this book is not warm and cuddly, it is brutal but in it’s own dignified way. A delightful breath of fresh air to mix up your reads.

I did discuss this book with my parents as I read, to get a sense of how plausible they thought it was compared to what they remember of the time, and they were impressed with the accuracy. I have to say I thoroughly enjoyed this book; I liked the pace, strong characters, realistic settings and in general the plot and story-line! It did strike a chord with me personally, but shouldn’t books do that? They should evoke a response from the reader and so I can recommend Lesley Pearse as an author who has done just that in a lovely, but nonetheless disturbing way; I had a few nights tossing and turning after I finished this one, I must admit.

I will also say that this book has a strong undercurrent of ‘Man vs Woman’, which might naturally appeal to more female readers than male, but it justly reflects what was going on in the 60’s. It was a hugely sexist and stereotypical time, and it all seems alien to me having been born in the 1990’s and growing up through times where discrimination is largely dissolved (I am aware it still goes on in many forms) so I feel exceptionally lucky that there were real people existing in the 60’s like those in this book, so that I have the life I do. So, to them, Thank You. – GJ

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No One Home by Tim Weaver

So, I know I posted this book on my ‘Currently Reading’ not that long ago (14/04/2020) but the honest truth is… I finished it that night. I couldn’t stop. I was so totally engrossed that I sat on the sofa with a cup of tea about 5pm, and 2.5 hours later I closed the book, it was dark outside, my tea was stone cold and I was starving. If you start this book I can guarantee you will get so drawn in that it feels like you’ve lost time, like a paranormal event taking over your body. But it’s worth it. It’s an awesome read.

I feel almost disgusted and annoyed with myself that I haven’t read any of Tim Weaver’s books before; as mentioned in my CR post his first was published in 2010 and I feel compelled to go back and start from the beginning (cue adding 9 more books to my TBR and starting a new ‘Series Review’). So, as I’m late to the party and joined the characters in their latest case I did have questions… but this book does work as a standalone, because the author does refer to the key points in their past but not all the ins and outs so you aren’t completely confused but are left intrigued and curious to read previous books.

The main character, David Raker, has complex relationships with figures from his past, and they seem desperate to resurface at every opportunity. This added element of returning characters mirrors the cold cases and I loved the combined plotting. Everything links seamlessly and what you get is this beautifully written story with jaw-dropping twists that leave you feeling almost shell-shocked. The pace of this book will give you paper cuts you’re turning the pages so fast, no joke, it is so, so good. You are an innocent party on this reading rollercoaster, so please sit back and enjoy the ride. Oh, and you might want to cancel any plans when you open the first page.

The lead characters all have such a span of depth, humanity and honour. They are on their individual quests for justice in their personal and professional lives and the burdens that come with it are oppressing and overwhelming. You get a real sense of pressure, not only implemented by outside influences, but the characters themselves – a true testament to their integrity. You like them. You will them to succeed. You will them to make it out alive. This book is very dark. Shockingly dark, so be prepared to grit your teeth as events unfurl. There is absolutely no way I could have predicted the ending; every twist takes you shooting off down an unknown path and I swear a little “ooh” gasp came out my mouth each time. I do not want to give anything away at all, so I won’t say any more, but you must enjoy this book undistracted and fully committed or you could miss the glorious, hidden subtleties in Tim Weaver’s impressive writing ability.

More so now than ever, being in “lockdown”, we need to grasp any opportunity for escapism and I can 100% recommend this thriller as a fantastic option. If you were to ask my family and friends which book I’ve relentlessly raved about recently, they would unanimously reply: this one. I almost wish I could read it for the first time again, just to feel the tension, power and emotion all over again; it’s addictive. I can’t stop thinking about this book, and I’ll bet if you read it you won’t either. Utterly brilliant. -GJ

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The Guilty Party by Mel McGrath

“You did nothing. That doesn’t mean you’re innocent.” The tag line is intriguing, thought-provoking and compelling; immediately your brain starts whirring with possibilities as to what it could refer to. As with any crime, there’s portioning of blame and victimisation, but this book explores the circumstances that surround human decisions and the flight or fight instinct when faced with certain situations. The bright and colourful cover of a story who’s blurb ultimately talks about friendship may make you think this could have a happy ending. But, it’s far from it.

Firstly, I was struck that the book was going to be formatted as a sort of ‘memoir’ primarily from one of the characters in the 1st person, but then as I read on the other characters were written 3rd person, which I thought it was a little odd, but it actually works. It works this way so that you get the true sense of hunters versus prey. The personal touch added by Cassie in 1st person really helps to portray the other characters in their genuine light. They can’t hide.

There are 2 main timelines running through this book; “that night” in August and a 4 day period September/October on the South Coast. I like how the flashbacks are mixed in, but not in chronological order. It really adds to the sense of suspense, because the vital moment isn’t revealed until the end, so you get given the run around by the author each time an anomaly is divulged you think you’re close to the resolution, but no, the story continues on.

Delving into the notion that everyone’s lives are connected, no matter how loosely, and that they will inevitably cross over at some point is so very interesting. Do strangers really exist? This intertwining paradigm can almost impersonate parasitic ivy vines weaving their way around an object until it is held so tight and cannot escape. Lies create loose ends and those loose ends are the vines that suck you down deeper. Sometimes, not even telling the truth will loosen the grip they have on you; it can just raise more questions, and cause even more trouble.

Groups of friends unknowingly create this impenetrable bubble around their lives, secrets and memories. All of which get blurred by time, alcohol (and other substances) and each time a story is recalled it can change slightly; a “chinese whisper” effect. But when a crime (or crimes) are involved, there is a truth. There is an accountable person, or persons, regardless of if or what they remember. And if other people were present, even if they weren’t directly accountable, they weren’t necessarily innocent either. This is an interesting, questioning, socially-orientated book, and I would recommend reading it if you like an unconventional approach to shake up your usual reading because it’s not a typical thriller, so it makes a nice change from a run of traditional novels. And who knows, you might learn something about yourself – because if you were there that night, what would you have done? And are you sure? – GJ

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The DI Adam Fawley Series by Cara Hunter

This post is going to be updated as and when I read the next thrillers in the series, but today I’m starting with the first 2! I highly recommend this series – Cara Hunter is a talented English author and her books are both deliciously comforting and unsettling. Continued below…

#1: Close to Home

Close to Home is the first thriller in the DI Adam Fawley series. The synopsis is that a young girl goes missing from a party and this detective is called in to investigate because everyone says they saw nothing, but that can’t be possible, so he’s their best bet in figuring out the truth.

As a reader, when you get introduced to a long-standing character, especially a detective, you want to build a relationship with them. You want to like them as if they were a real person. Feeling their thoughts, their decisions, their frustrations; you want to trust them, rely on them. From the other side of the pages you are willing them on to solve the case, but also hoping they come out of any scrapes unharmed; you form this sentimental attachment to the character. And it’s no bad thing, especially in this example of DI Fawley.

You get the immediate impression that he must have a background with missing children, but there’s a lot more to it than that. He’s a great character with a well-rounded personality, naturally with his own internal battles of ghosts and demons, but handled with appropriate sensitivity. He’s grounded and, dare I say it, just seems like a “normal bloke”, but it increases his relatability to the average reader. The author has planned and thought-out this book with an amazing sense of familiarity and “normalness”, so DI Fawley fits in perfectly.

This book has unique interjections throughout, as well as timeline jumps, which both help with the sense this book is almost set in “real-time”. The way it feels like you are inside the police investigation chronologically, but also flashbacks, then in the present with social media updates – this book has great atmosphere and pace to it.

The actual story-line of this book explores a few avenues and I like that it doesn’t jump around too much, which I feel can be disorientating to follow, but in this instance it works well to simulate how new leads in a case do spring up, and also the reality that it’s unlikely to be cut and dried. It’s rarely simple. And also, not everything is what it seems. Especially the twists… you really won’t see them coming! – GJ

#2: In the Dark

In the Dark is the second book in the DI Fawley Thriller Series and I’m not ashamed to say I stalked the publish date to ensure I could get my hands on a copy as soon as it arrived in stores! I loved the atypical ending to #1 in the series “Close to Home” and it really spurred me on to read the next book to see what else the author can come up with.

So, a summary for the blurb of “In the Dark” is that a mute woman and child are found in a confused elderly man’s basement and no-one has an idea who they are or how they got there. DI Fawley is tasked to unravel the circumstances around how they came to be there and what the real sequence of events is, and boy oh boy you are in for a ride. Honestly, this book will shock you to your very core. You just don’t know what to believe (partly because you don’t want to believe that what you’re reading is possible) and this disturbing cases raises big questions over the definition of what constitutes a “victim”.

I enjoyed the cold case aspect in this book too; refreshing to read a different format to #1. I was hoping that whilst these books share the same lead characters, I didn’t want them to become samey and predictable. Don’t get me wrong; “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it”, so if an author gets a good thing going then it doesn’t need to be changed up, but I did welcome this new and different approach from Cara Hunter and I wonder what book #3 and #4 will be set out like.

Versatility is important when developing a detective character and keeping the reader engaged across all aspects of the story. The actual ‘crime’ needs to grip you, and also the background of the characters to ensure we keep coming back for the next installment. Not only are detectives battling for justice in victims’ lives, but they have to balance their own as well; there are some sections in this book that really show you insight into the policing world, and I like this realism – you get the impression the author has really spent time observing “the typical English copper” because it feels authentic. You could imagine it as an episode of infamous Morse; the Oxford setting a pinnacle of English crime drama.

I know I’ve probably talked more about the characters in this review more so that the plot of this book but I am just so reluctant to give anything away! I did not see the twists coming at all – they’ll completely blindside you and make you wince! Gosh, you feel yourself turning your head away from the page and reading some parts out the corner of your eye because you think it might make it a little easier to absorb the words. But no. It’s still awfully haunting, uncomfortable and may make you squirm in your seat and lose a little sleep, but it’s worth it!

I cannot wait to purchase and read #3: No Way Out and #4: All the Rage. My “To Be Read” list is increasing day by day! Hmm… I wonder if I can take a shopping trolley in to Waterstones…? – GJ

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14th April 2020: No One Home by Tim Weaver

Installment #1: The story behind No One Home by Tim Weaver

GJ with No One Home over a rare sunny Easter Bank Holiday




Blurb of No One Home

This afternoon I’ve decided to mix things up a little bit from my usual reviews; I’m going to explore the story behind my Currently Reading pick!

So, I was browsing a supermarket a few weeks ago and I saw this book on the shelf and it caught my eye. I hadn’t heard of the author, Tim Weaver, before but I don’t know how or why not? His first book was published in 2010 and my goodness how I wish I’d discovered him sooner – I will be adding all of his previous books to my TBR list and will start at the beginning!

I always prefer to purchase books from a book store; we’ve got to keep them on our high streets otherwise they will disappear and there is nothing better than wandering around a bookstore on a Sunday morning wanting to buy everything! (Also, one of my favourite films is the classic You’ve Got Mail and so loving your local bookstore has always resonated strongly with me from an early age).

So, I walked from the fore mentioned supermarket to Waterstones (I feel very lucky there is one in my local town centre) and purchased the book there. Result! This was Sunday 22nd March 2020, and on Monday 23rd the UK went into “Coronavirus Lockdown”and the store closed temporarily, along with almost every other shop. It’s a surreal time in history at the moment; it’s like someone has pressed “pause” on life as we knew it and normality still hasn’t been resumed.

The UK feels like a very different place right now, heightened even more so by glorious weather over the Easter Bank Holiday which is traditionally unpredictable and ultimately freezing, raining, or snowing. But not this year. This year, we were blessed with blazing sunshine at highs of 22 degrees and crystal clear blue skies, but all whilst not being allowed to leave your home except for essential trips.

So, I’m taking a lot of comfort in sitting outside in the garden with a sun lounger, cup of tea (naturally), and reading a good book. And I am finding myself very gripped and drawn into No One Home. I’ve read 2/3rds in 2 days and I am picking it up every opportunity I get! Completely un-put-down-able. I feel thankful for books right now, and with my TBR pile 14-strong I could happily remain in quarantine for a few more months. Although, let’s hope its over as soon as safely possible, but until then, I’ll just keep on reading! – GJ

My TBR pile on 14th April 2020

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The Guest List by Lucy Foley

There is something triumphant and exhilarating about treating yourself to a fresh hardback, especially one signed by the author. I enjoyed Lucy’s previous, and first, thriller ‘The Hunting Party’ very much (there’s a review on my blog feed) so, I was full of anticipation to read her next book. I was particularly taken with the red tipped pages on this edition – it felt like a premonition that this was going to be a menacing read, as though blood had stained the pages.

The beauty of writing in the first person narrative is that you can share as much, or as little as you like about the personality and past of the character. The author has mastered this way of dropping titbits that can be interpreted in so many different ways that as soon as you think you have a handle on them, your opinion switches from just a few words, or from another character viewing an interaction differently. It’s easy to follow the flashback interjections, timeline and narrative switches as the sections are delightfully snatchy and manageable – it’s great to pick up and put down without the fear of getting lost or drawn into a long chapter.

The premise of this book is heavily weighed down by self-opinion and how the characters want to appear to others, let’s just say it’s relatable – everyone knows people like that in real-life. But the complexity of the story and how it unfolds to reveal each tangent is really great. You want to pick someone to be the victim and someone to be the killer, but you cannot pin it down; you think you’ve got it sussed, on the home straight, then suddenly you swerve and feel back to square 1. I love this “tennis match” back-and-forth aspect, although it can get a little wearing but I think the author judges that herself well because at those points a big story development or reveal follows to set things solid.

The wildness of the setting coupled with the feral male characters’ antics leaves you feeling ragged and wanting to escape. The over-whelming power of memories and how time warps them for some people is an interesting thread throughout the book, but there is a potent undercurrent of pretence. Identity is explored very well and it shows how we could all be connected without realising it, but how dangerous it can be if certain people figure it out.

I felt more prepared for this thriller, than ‘The Hunting Party’, who’s style came as such a refreshing shock and that’s why I raved about it, but this doesn’t mean ‘The Guest List’ is a less well-written book. I just knew more of what to expect regarding the layout and composition, nonetheless enjoying it. I almost think the crime itself was “deserved” (not that I’m condoning murder…) but it really had you going until the killer’s admittance, because it could have almost been anyone! Gets you thinking; how well do you really know the people in your life? If THAT many people want to kill you, but you think you’ve got them all wrapped around your little finger? It really is a good book, in a great setting and I would recommend giving it a read. Just not on a remote island… in a storm. – GJ

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Cuckoo by Sophie Draper

How refreshing to have a book set in the typical English countryside, but not be quaint or twee; no this is far, far sinister. This is an unsettling book to read, but it hit a weirdly personal note of reassuring familiarity with me as I spent time with family in the Somerset countryside growing up and it made me cast my mind back and reminisce (to happy times, I might add).

This is the first book released by the author and it is so well paced that you are completely drawn in to the nail-biting events that unfold. The book envelopes you in this world of deception, secrets, all leaving you feel uneasy, yet… You. Cannot. Put. It. Down. I swear I could have read this book in one afternoon, all whilst perched on the edge of my sofa. You are constantly on edge with your heart pounding but cannot stop turning the pages. Twist after twist comes, leaving you none-the-wiser until, the link to the prologue at the end reveals all. And you can breathe again.

Sophie Draper has perfectly woven the story-lines to leave you angry, sympathetic, sad, relieved, happy and breathless. This book has calculated characters with a underlying “will good prevail over evil?” tone, but there is no chivalry involved here. As the story is revealed and the past explained in more detail, you have the gut-wrenching, harrowing empathy naturally felt when children are involved. She writes it so well, your heart really is in your mouth when you realise the truth about what happened and why everything else panned out the way it did.

Spooky, atmospheric and chilling, this book leaves you wanting more from the author, so I was happy to hear she has a second book called Magpie out now (it’s on my long, long list of TBR!) – I hope it’s as good as this one. There is a sense of pent-up excitement and foreboding as you get deeper into this book, you just do not know where it is going to end up, it’s almost as if it has taken over you. I suppose, just like a cuckoo takes over it’s victim’s nests. If you start reading Cuckoo, be prepared to clear your calendar… – GJ

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The Dry by Jane Harper

This is a very atmospheric book. Haunting and gripping. The parallel story-lines in this book intertwine perfectly and leave you transported to Australia both past and present. The underlying current in this book is that secrets kill. And people say they want to know the truth, but the truth is that they actually don’t.

The desperation and determination in this book is heartbreaking. You feel the Falk character’s tension and unrest, but this does not deter him from addressing events. The urgency is overwhelming, but the force to be patient is overpowering. Be methodical. To do it right. Leave no stone upturned. Partnering with a local cop is a sobering realisation that ‘feeling’something isn’t as it seems, isn’t actually enough without evidence. And evidence is so, so key in this book. If one piece is all you have, then is it really better than having nothing?

For a first book by this author, this is a beautifully told story packed with emotion, and she really taps into your soul. You ache for the characters, most people can only imagine the toll of a drought on a community, let alone coupled with horrific crimes and the ugly past rearing it’s head at any and every opportunity. Everything a reminder, subtle or otherwise. It must be utterly exhausting, and it pours from the pages into the reader’s imagination so well. The pathetic fallacy is perfectly simple but for such a complex landscape, it works.

I’ve not visited Australia, but this book made me want to. And also not want to. At the time of writing this, April 2020, my mind is filled with the stark reality that this book could be based on a true story. September 2019 onwards presented horrendous news stories ricocheting around the world about fires in Australia from years of previous droughts. Everyone knows they get “hot weather” down under, but this was something else completely. National Emergency status was implemented and sitting in the rainy, cold UK watching the footage just made you feel helpless, but so very hopeful. Because the truth of it is that nothing can outrun a fire. You also can’t outrun the truth; one day it will all catch up with you. – GJ

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The Woman in Cabin 10 by Ruth Ware

The jeopardy of the blurb gets your heart pounding before you’ve even opened the book to the first page. Be prepared to feel paralysing fear on behalf of the main character. Not only is she trapped in all aspects of her life; personal and work but is now on a boat. In the middle of the North Sea.

This is a very clever thriller. The classic ‘whodunnit” story-line mirrors the traditional style of the famous Agatha Christie, where a limited number of people are stuck in one location and the methodical way to eliminate suspects and who couldn’t possibly have done it, until one is left. And they must be the person responsible. Means, Motive, Opportunity. The mantra. But this book has exceptional twists. From the very beginning you get a sense that nothing is as it seems and people may not be who they say they are, but without contact to the outside world, how can you check? And who do you trust?

A constant battle rages between ally vs enemy and I think it compliments the internal battles the lead character has. But, all the while proving intuition and instincts are invaluable among desperation and second-guessing. There’s a strong impression that the whole trip has been engineered to force encounters for the pure reason to influence Lo’s opinions on the other guests and as the reader you feel her frustration at this. What is true and what really happened?

When faced with a survive or die decision, it’s truly amazing what the human body, and mind for that matter, can endure. It’s also incredible what appealing to someone’s humanity can achieve; how alliances can be formed in order to stay alive. This book is so very good, and will get you to question yourself, your motives, your mental and physical strength. When surrounded with unknowns and your mind playing tricks on you, how far would you go to prove it was real? – GJ

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Black-Eyed Susans by Julia Heaberlin

There is something eye-catching about the cover of this book. It seems almost like innocent, summery fun with just a hint of naughty. I guess the depiction of a naked woman covered in flowers tends to be a sensual image; for example rose petals on a king-size bed for a wedding anniversary. Don’t be fooled; there is nothing romantic about the storyline of this book. Except, perhaps that in life you meet people who would do anything for you, and you would do anything for them. And sometimes without telling them. There’s a strong undercurrent of responsibility and protection in this book, and it is very well written. I loved it. Don’t get me wrong, it’s hard to read at some points, but persevering to the end is rewarding.

This book has a complex concept of guilt, self-preservation and loyalty. Fierce loyalty. Unwavering loyalty. In a happier circumstance you can easily see how it could make you love someone, but this is a harrowing book. The plot is stuff of nightmares, one of those news stories that makes you look away from the television screen and hope to God noone you know is involved. I believe there’s a part of human nature that draws us into the grotesque and macabre. It disgusts us but we still want to lean in to hear more; learn the gruesome details.

Exploring the mental impact of life-changing events and the power of the brain to protect it’s host is a delicate subject, but the author addresses it head-on. The division of the timeline in this thriller adds to the composition, with some parts acting as flashback moments, others in the present day. The confusion feels real. Like you are in her head and you don’t know what is memory and what is fashioned to protect herself from the stark reality. The journey the main character takes to find the truth is nothing short of torture, imagine having to trick your brain and plough through the protective layers; like peeling an onion layer by layer even though your eyes are already streaming with tears.

I enjoyed reading this thriller a lot. It was quite different to any other story I’d read, I did have my suspicions as to what may have happened to the killer, but I could not identify the killer. I was gently surprised, but also felt peaceful and happy at the ending. A sense of vindication. A sense of justice. I love the “cold-case” aspect and the scientific interjections were fascinating. This book leaves you feeling hopeful for any family and friends out there who have unanswered questions about a loved one; some day they may get peace. Forgive the cringe X-Files reference but “the truth is out there”. Sometimes just a little more digging is required to find it. -GJ

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The Hunting Party by Lucy Foley

Read this book. You will not regret it.

So, the bright yellow, simple, minimalist cover grabs you first. It’s so different to other book covers, normally they’re dark colours or picture a crime scene. So, you pick it up, turn it over, find yourself walking over to the counter and the next thing you know you are walking out of your local Waterstones holding this book with anticipation coursing through your veins. It also confirms it’s a worthwhile purchase when the lady behind the counter taps the cover with her finger as you are paying and says “I’ve read this, great thriller, you will love it”. The smile on your face as you walk out knowing you’re in for a great read.

This is not like any book I have ever before, it is so unique and I just loved every page. You feel entirely trapped, just as the characters are, but as the reader your want to not leave this beautiful setting tainted with tragedy is so strong, and that is unmistakably down to the writing of the author. She manages to effortlessly encapsulate you in the story, so much so that you ARE there. You FEEL it. Its a real skill to get a reader so invested, but she has done it very very well indeed.

There is a small period of time in the middle where you feel a little tired of the guessing game, but then a twist comes and you’re thrown back into the proverbial warzone, senses heightened and buzzing again. You just cannot be certain what you know, you question everything about everyone, every character is a suspect and I love that. It’s a true murder mystery, a classic whodunnit but in a breath of fresh air; a modern, young approach.

Lucy’s chosen writing style suits this plot very well, the continually switching perspective volunteers additional information, so you are building this “big picture” in your head about this group of friends and how people aren’t who they say they are, how you can be wrong about what or who you think you know. It’s full of life lessons that things aren’t always what they seem and there’s another side to every sequence of events, it’s just down to whether or not you choose to believe it or, if you even want to listen. Some people just think they always know best. Some people think they are always right. They’re not.

I am not going to give anything away, it would be a travesty to ruin this for future readers. Honestly, just read it. It’s so good. – GJ

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One False Move by Robert Goddard

So, the blurb on this book is very well written. It’s punchy and evokes curiosity, so safe to say it caught my attention as the IT/technology angle stood out from other Thrillers. I wondered how it was going to link together and what the story was going to be like, and ultimately what the ending could be. I was hoping there was going to be a strong female lead, but I was sadly mistaken.

The book starts well, the first 160 pages were fast paced, gripping and had great characters. The next 40 pages were like a political history lesson, and I know the intention was to build background, but it went on for far too long and I ended up skim reading most of it as it just wasn’t interesting or particularly relevant. The basic sequence of events required to explain the background and the relevance to the previous 160 pages could have been summarised far better and left pages spare to concentrate on linking this anecdote to the main characters. I found a fair number of characters turned out to be irrelevant and appeared just to make up the word count and so I found myself questioning if any of characters were important or if they were all flaky and pointless.

I got bored, that’s the honest truth. The exasperation and helplessness felt by the Nicole character was mirrored by me as I felt the book was going nowhere with any real intention or exciting outcome. It was predictable as you knew nothing bad was going to happen to Nicole, Forrester or Joe even though the author was trying to make you think they were in real danger. The threats were empty and it felt weak. You could predict the showdown at the end would be a double-cross to ensure that the main characters all end up fine and survive. It felt rushed and not well thought out. Almost like you were just reading for a means to an end just to finish the book in case it got good.

This book had no impact on me; I haven’t read anything else by the author but he is an esteemed writer, having won a Lifetime Achievement in crime writing, so perhaps I needed to choose another title first in order to understand his style better. I would read another book by him in the future, but I won’t be rushing out to buy one straightaway. – GJ

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The Distant Echo by Val McDermid

I’d never read a Val McDermid book before. Not for any particular reason, other than I’d just never picked one up and started reading it, although she had been recommended to me many times. Mostly, by my mum (who is a big fan of hers and even tracks her TV appearances down to make sure she watches her in conversation) – I’m very lucky that both my parents love reading! This book was loaned to me by my mum, as she had read it previously and thought it would be a good starting point for me to catch Val McDermid fever. It’s the first in the Karen Pirie series, and whilst she isn’t the main police character in The Distant Echo, and actually doesn’t appear until near the end, the small insight into her character bodes well for the future of the series.

So, one evening I read the blurb again, then opened the cover to the first page and couldn’t stop. Okay, so I really mean it, I could not stop reading this book as I just had to find what happened. I would characterise Val McDermid as a “traditional” author, a classic writer if you were, maybe purely based on her stature in the literary world. Don’t get me wrong, this book had twists and kept me on my toes, it was by no means predicatable or obvious. I did guess who had committed the original crime about 2/3rd of the way through but enjoyed being given the run around and the “is it or isn’t it them” right to the last scenes.

The cold case aspect always interests me, as I think it gives a sense of reality to fiction novels. These crimes we love to read about, they happen in the real world and sometimes there isn’t a perfect ending, sometimes they don’t get figured out just in time, sometimes they are never solved and those families and friends live with it every day. The Duff family’s response to the original murder really hits you, but you do get a sense from Val’s writing that there is a secret they are hiding and the twist is really great. It’s a masterclass into manipulation and emotional blackmail, but you are torn between believing and investing in it and questioning what else is really going on.

The impact the crime had on the lives of all of the characters comes through so impeccably and you find yourself empathising with even the ones you suspect might have done it. I found myself flitting back and forth between two characters as suspects, I think by Author’s design, but this only added to my inability to stop reading. I immediately liked the Tom Mackie character and desperately didn’t want him to be a victim. I was certain he was innocent, along with the other 3 boys and the funeral scenes in particular cemented your thoughts that they were being wrongly targeted. I drew this mythical alliance with the boys willing them to figure it out and reach the end unscathed.

This book made me question my friendships and how honest people are when the stakes are high. Naturally, the flight or fight instinct is coupled with survival of the fittest and thinking about who would run, stay or throw you under the proverbial bus in your own life is an interesting concept. All in all, would recommend this book immensely and I cannot wait to read A Darker Domain. Yes, I’ve already bought the next book in the Karen Pirie series… Val McDermid fever is seriously taking it’s hold on me. – GJ