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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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