Where the Missing Go by Emma Rowley

Orion | 2018 (14 June) | 313p | Review copy | Buy the book

Where the Missing Go by Emma RowleyKate Harlow volunteers part-time at a missing persons helpline. It’s the sort of place that youngsters can ring, completely anonymously, to pass on a message to worried parents to let them know that they’re safe. Kate has her own personal reasons for working in such a place. Kate’s teenage daughter Sophie vanished a couple of years ago. Sophie had stayed at a friend’s house for the night and then not come home. Her Dad, Mark, was too late to see her note, to go searching in time. Marriages don’t easily survive such a thing and this one hasn’t. And then one night, Kate takes that call in the centre. It’s Sophie, leaving a message for Kate and Mark Harlow, to say she’s safe. But through all of the emotion, Kate can hear that Sophie sounds far from safe. She sounds frightened and alone. Kate is determined to find her daughter and bring her home.

Where the Missing Go is one of the few psychological thrillers that I was drawn to straight away and was determined to read. It’s such a great premise – that a mother hears the voice of her lost child, the child she thought could be dead – and the novel delivers well on its promise.

Much of the novel is delivered from Kate’s point of view as she thinks back over the days, weeks and months that led up to Sophie’s disappearance as well as the painful days that followed it. Kate is an ambiguous narrator. Her feelings for Sophie overwhelm everything and yet, if we pay close attention, we can see through Kate’s eyes to the teenager below. Perhaps the signs were there from the very beginning.

This, though, like many psychological thrillers, is a tale in two parts and so we are also given Sophie’s point of view and then the novel reaches into more familiar psychological thriller territory. While I did prefer the first half of the novel, I found myself caring very much for Sophie and her story gripped me.

Emma Rowley writes very well. She’s created characters here that I wanted to know and it’s the people who drive on Where the Missing go. We feel Kate’s pain. This is one of those pageturning thrillers that are such fun to read. I read it in a day, very pleased to have enjoyed a psychological thriller that stands out from the crowd.

I’m delighted to post my review of Where the Missing Go for the blog tour. For other stops on the tour, please take a look at the poster below.

Where the Missing Go blog tour

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The Poison Bed by E.C. Fremantle

Michael Joseph | 2018 (14 June) | 406p | Review copy | Buy the book

The Poison Bed by Elizabeth FremantleIt is Autumn 1615 and the court of James I is swept up in a scandal. Two of its most celebrated and glamorous members, Robert and Frances Carr, the earl and countess of Somerset, are imprisoned in the Tower of London, accused of murder, of poisoning a man who knew far too much about the King, about Robert and about Frances. As a result, his life was forfeit, and now somebody must pay. But for Frances in the Tower, imprisoned with her newborn baby and the wet nurse, this is the time for her to look back on her short and eventful life, on her upbringing among the cruelly ambitious and powerful Howard family, on her unhappy first marriage, and on her passion for the beautiful Robert Carr, himself beloved by the King.

The Poison Bed is a story with two sides if not more and, as a result, it moves back and forth between chapters dedicated to ‘Her’ and to ‘Him’. In this way we get to know both Frances and Robert, although the reader must keep their wits about them. We, after all, were not there at the time. We are merely an audience. And in James I’s court with its love of wit and drama, little should be taken at face value.

This new novel by Elizabeth Fremantle (here published with a slight change of name) marks a little bit of a change by this fine author. Her previous novels have been more conventional works of historical fiction, focused on the Tudor and Jacobean periods, and bringing to life such incredible women as Katherine Parr (Queen’s Gambit), the Grey sisters (Sisters of Treason), Penelope Devereux (Watch the Lady) and Lady Arbella Stuart (The Girl in the Glass Tower). All four are wonderful novels (I love the first two in particular) and have such a powerful, brilliantly evoked historical setting and context. In The Poison Bed, Elizabeth Fremantle picks another formidable and remarkable figure from history, Frances Carr, and gives her story a bit of a psychological twist. The book is being billed as the Jacobean Gone Girl and I can understand why the comparison is being made because it really does have the feel of that novel in several ways.

The murder at the heart of the novel and the ensuing arrest of this most glamorous couple are a perfect subject for historical fiction, not least because it reveals so much about James I’s court. His sexual relationship with Robert Carr is given a significant place here. Frances Carr’s position in the court is ambiguous and curious. So much is hidden by the threat of scandal but it certainly tantalises. Frances dominates the book in a way that James fails to dominate his court and government and it is up to the reader to make up their minds from the stories offered up by both Frances and her husband, Robert.

It’s in the second half of the novel that it takes on more of a psychological thriller feel and, possibly because of that, it’s the first half that’s my favourite for it’s then that Elizabeth Fremantle builds up a vivid painting of life in the early 17th century for the very wealthy and ambitious. The Howard family is outrageous and the little child Frances is very much their pawn. I really enjoyed the depiction of James I and his circle. James isn’t a character that we meet too often in historical fiction but he certainly makes for a fascinating subject and the author does such a fine job of animating a figure that I know mostly from portraits. Robert Carr left me comparatively cold. He is completely out of his depth in James I’s government and he flounders. His devotion to Frances, though, is undoubtedly intense. There are so many richly drawn, larger than life characters in The Poison Bed. I love the way that we flit between them.

Elizabeth Fremantle writes so well. This is sparkly, witty prose, dancing between characters, between past and present. The reader is rewarded for paying attention because it can be a challenge keeping up with some of the figures in the book, not to mention their moods. Personally, I think that the story behind The Poison Bed is intriguing enough (and in such safe hands here) that the psychological thriller element wasn’t needed but it may mean that a wider readership will discover the joys of Elizabeth Fremantle’s historical fiction.

I must mention the cover of this hardback – look how beautiful it is!

Other reviews
Queen’s Gambit
Sisters of Treason
Watch the Lady
The Girl in the Glass Tower

I’m delighted to post my review as part of the blog tour. For other stops on the tour, please take a look at the poster below.

Poison Bed Blog Tour Card

After He’s Gone by Jane Isaac

Self-published | 2018 (18 June) | c.265p | Review copy | Buy the book

After He's Gone by Jane IsaacWhen Cameron Swift is shot dead outside his home by an unknown biker, his young family inside the house is devastated. DC Beth Chamberlain becomes their family liaison officer. After months of training, this is the first time she’s been given the role and it couldn’t have happened during a more high profile case. With the media parked outside the Swift home, the tragedy is being played out in public, but it’s just about to get even tougher for Sara Swift and for Beth. Cameron Swift was a man with secrets and they’re not going to be buried with them.

After He’s Gone marks a change of direction for Jane Isaac. After three DI WIll Jackman crime novels (one of my favourite crime series), the author turns her attention to the family liaison officer, one of the lesser known roles in a criminal investigation. It’s inspired, really, because this role brings an original and fresh perspective to a crime novel. The case in question is also perfect to show it off and demonstrates just how key this role can be. Arguably, nobody is closer to the victim’s family in these early days of grief, anger and pain than the family liaison officer.

Beth Chamberlain is such a fascinating character, trying to establish her place within the team and with this new role and knowing she must suppress some of her personal feelings in order to be taken seriously. There are a lot of people she must impress. This is a close team. It would be so easy to make an error of judgement. And matters aren’t helped by the fact that her sister’s ex-husband is being assigned to the team. There’s a history there that Beth would like to stay hidden.

The storyline in After He’s Gone is wonderful and kept me reading late into the night as the secrets of Cameron Swift’s life and death are revealed. It’s a compelling plot. I liked the way that the novel moves between Beth, Sara and other key members of the investigation. Nobody has the full picture but everybody, including the press, wants to know.

Jane Isaac is so good at creating characters we care about and Beth Chamberlain is no exception. She is very likable but she also makes mistakes and so seems very human and real. I also cared about Swift’s family. Their conflicted feelings are presented in a believable and sympathetic manner. There’s such an anger there, competing with the grief. And I loved how this played out, culminating in such a satisfying conclusion.

After He’s Gone is a hugely enjoyable and original crime thriller, very well written, with such a good story and intriguing characters. I do hope that we meet Beth again, and that she becomes more forgiving of herself. I want everything to be good for Beth. And that, I think, is a sign that Jane Isaac has done her job very well indeed.

This is a self-published book and its kindle edition, which I read, is of a very high standard.

Other reviews
Before It’s Too Late
Beneath the Ashes
The Lies Within

Old Baggage by Lissa Evans

Doubleday | 2018 (14 June) | 320p | Review copy | Buy the book

Old Baggage by Lissa Evans

It is 1928 and Matilda Simpkin finds a small wooden club in a cupboard and with it comes a stream of memories that carry her back to the early years of the century when Mattie fought alongside her comrades for the suffrage of women. Matilda’s past is extraordinary – her deep-rooted unease around the police is easily explained by the abuse she witnessed and suffered at their hands as a suffragette. She keeps the medals which commemorate each protest, each imprisonment, each force feeding. But the fight was in the past. Mattie is lost and she is without purpose. But when she meets by chance a fellow suffragette she discovers that her old friend has been caught up in the flame of the growing movement of fascism. Suddenly Mattie discovers a new battle to fight – the need to educate girls and women of all ages and classes so that they can vote with awareness and knowledge. So that fascism will be defeated.

We first met Mattie in Crooked Heart, an exquisitely warm novel that took us to the last days of Mattie’s life during the Second World War, a life that helped to shape that novel’s young hero Noel. In that novel, Mattie played a relatively minor role but it was an unforgettable one. How good it is that now, several years later, we can enjoy Mattie’s company again, this time during her middle years when yet again her theories about education, the establishment and individual responsibility will have such an impact on the young people around her.

As Mattie sets up her band of Amazons (young women from all walks of life) on Hampstead Heath, in direct opposition to a fascist organisation of marching uniformed boys and girls, we become caught up in the hopes and aspirations of another generation of women. Women who, thanks to Mattie and others like her, will be able to have the vote, will be able to have dreams and possibly even fulfil them. We are introduced to a number of such memorable girls and women who are all inspired by Mattie. We pop into their lives and they are all so different and so utterly enchanting.

I fell in love with so many people in Old Baggage, not least of whom is Mattie herself. Lissa Evans writes so beautifully and takes us deep into Mattie’s thoughts and worries, her passions and her love, her self-doubt, and, most poignantly of all, the great losses she suffered during the First World War. The war ended ten years before but its legacy scars those who survived it. None of this is laboured – Lissa Evans presents it all with such skill and empathy, everything blended perfectly into the whole. The result is Matilda Simpkin, a woman who deserves and wins our love, for her heroism and her flaws. She is remarkable.

There are others I fell for here as well. Mattie’s companion Florrie (known as The Flea) is so beautifully and delicately drawn – she continues to carry out work for the poor, selflessly and at great personal cost. There are others we meet just briefly but their impressions last much longer. I loved poor Aileen especially. But the tragedy and sadness works so effectively because it is often masked by wit and humour, warmth and care.

Old Baggage is one of those fabulous books that reaches the heart, that makes the reader laugh and cry, sometimes on the same page. Writing this beautiful doesn’t come along every day and I cherished it. I can only hope that we meet Mattie once again, perhaps going even further back in time to those Suffragette years. There’s so much I want Mattie to tell us about her life! But if this is goodbye, I’ll not forget Matilda Simpkin.

Old Baggage is a timely commemoration of the bravery and sacrifice of suffragettes and suffragists but it also takes a look at what happened next, once these extraordinary women were reabsorbed into society during the aftermath of the First World War. It presents a beautiful portrait of Mattie, Florrie and their comrades while also celebrating the role of women as a whole, for whom there was and still is so much to do.

Other review
Crooked Heart

Shelter by Dave Hutchinson

Solaris | 2018 (14 June) | 304p | Review copy | Buy the book

Shelter by Dave HutchinsonIt’s almost a hundred years since the Sisters, a fragmentary asteroid, hit Earth. Much of the planet was overwhelmed. Those who survived the initial impacts, with their floods and fires, then had to endure the Long Autumn, a time of famine and starvation, brutality and cruelty. Finally, it’s drawing to an end. Earth is beginning to recover. But everything that was once taken for granted is gone. The past is now something to be scavenged.

At last the rains that have deluged southern England are beginning to dry. But most people haven’t been further than a day’s horse ride in their entire lives. Rumours, though, are moving between the communities of isolated farmers and small towns. Oxford, for example, is a no-go area, although nobody is really sure why. There’s a foreign fleet moored off the coast but nobody knows why it’s there, and there are boats moving silently through the flooded Somerset Levels. West and East are no longer connected by land. There is talk of a tyranny in Kent that is drawing people to it. Elsewhere, it’s the daily struggle for survival that consumes the mind.

Shelter by Dave Hutchinson, the author of the compelling near-future Europe novels, is the first of the shared universe Tales of the Aftermath series which will be continued by Adam Roberts later this year. Dave Hutchinson is such a fine writer. His prose is bleakly beautiful and his characters carry their doom within their souls. In Shelter, Dave Hutchinson continues what he does so well.

The setting of Berkshire and Oxfordshire during the apocalyptic aftermath is painted brilliantly. This is my neck of the woods and I loved to see it portrayed in such unusual style. It made me take another look at the world around me and imagine it all ravaged. This feels real. It’s frightening, alien and terrifyingly possible. This book frightened me.

The characters have so much to suffer through. Shelter isn’t an easy book to read, at least for me, largely because its people have had to compromise to survive to such an extent that possibilities of a future hope now seem destroyed. We meet quite a large group of characters scattered across this region. Time is needed to get to know them all as we move from one community to another and discover the harsh reality of each. At times we might feel liking for one or other of them and then that empathy is smashed on the rocks. There are moments here that shocked me, one in particular, so much so that I had to put the book down for a day or two.

While I admire so much the vision and prose of Shelter, and relish its Oxfordshire and Berkshire setting, I found the novel too grim for me. The behaviour of most of these people is so ugly. The Long Autumn has robbed them of their humanity. Perhaps there is hope now that the weather is settling and the past is beginning to be forgotten but for many salvation is an unimaginable dream. So while I appreciated elements of Shelter, not least its power and bleak beauty, I found it hard to read. But, if you enjoy a compelling apocalyptic tale and can cope with characters who appear to have no mercy left in them, then I think Shelter could be for you. Dave Hutchinson continues to be one of the most exciting and soulful writers of contemporary science fiction.

See David’s review at Blue Book Balloon.

Other review
Acadie

‘Digging up inspiration’ – guest post by Nicola Ford, author of The Hidden Bones

The Hidden Bones by Nicola FordNext week, Allison & Busby publishes The Hidden Bones by Nicola Ford, the pen-name of Dr Nick Snashall, National Trust Archaeologist for the Stonehenge and Avebury World Heritage Site. With credentials like those, this is a novel that I am very excited about and I’m delighted to feature a guest post by the author to celebrate the publication. I was an archaeologist myself for many years and so I was really keen to know more about the archaeological inspiration for The Hidden Bones, especially the inspiration of the prehistoric landscape of Stonehenge and Avebury, a place I love very much. Thanks so much to Nicola for such a fascinating post. My review will follow next week.

First, a little of what the novel is about:
Following the recent death of her husband, Clare Hills is listless and unsure of her place in the world. When her former university friend Dr David Barbrook asks her to help him sift through the effects of deceased archaeologist Gerald Hart, she sees this as a useful distraction from her grief. During her search, Clare stumbles across the unpublished journals detailing Gerald’s most glittering dig. Hidden from view for decades and supposedly destroyed in an arson attack, she cannot believe her luck. Finding the Hungerbourne Barrows archive is every archaeologist’s dream. Determined to document Gerald’s career-defining find for the public, Clare and David delve into his meticulously kept records of the excavation. But the dream suddenly becomes a nightmare as the pair unearth a disturbing discovery, putting them at the centre of a murder inquiry and in the path of a dangerous killer determined to bury the truth for ever.

The Hidden Bones: digging up inspiration

Call me biased but I think I have the two best jobs in the world: crime writer by night and archaeologist by day. In my day job I work in two of the most astonishing landscapes on the planet. And that’s official! It’s why Stonehenge and Avebury are a World Heritage Site. So I didn’t have to look far to find the inspiration for my debut crime novel The Hidden Bones. The Marlborough Downs deep in the ancient Wiltshire landscape is where much of the action takes place and that’s where you’ll find Avebury – the largest prehistoric stone circle in the World. But the ancient hills are littered with Bronze Age burial sites just like the barrow cemetery at Hungerbourne.

In The Hidden Bones Clare Hills and David Barbrook rediscover the artefacts and archive from a glittering excavation that has been lost to public view for the best part of four decades. The goldwork from the site is directly inspired by an Early Bronze Age burial in the Stonehenge landscape, known somewhat unglamorously as Wilsford G8. They’re simply stunning pieces of craftsmanship that in real life were dug up at the beginning of the eighteenth century. And if you’d like to see them for yourself and not just rely on Clare Hills word for what they look like you’ll find them on display in the incomparable Wiltshire Museum in Devizes. In the book I wanted to capture the excitement not only of what it’s like to work on fabulously rich finds like these but to unlock the secrets of past lives. Much of what archaeologists like Clare, David and I do is back-breaking hard graft or the result of hundreds of hours spent in windowless museum stores. But the pay-off is that moment of revelation, when you pick up a piece of pottery or hold a stone axe and know that the last person to hold it was laid to rest five thousand years ago. In The Hidden Bones you get to short-cut that and to be there at the moment of revelation.

Archaeology is about layers and things are always more complicated than they appear. The Hidden Bones combines the story of the modern day rediscovery of the original finds and the excavation of the site they came from. But Clare and David also have to dig into the history of the original dig in the 1970s to reveal the truth of what happened at Hungerbourne.

The inspiration for the ‘Brew Crew’ photograph of the original dig team came from a site that was dug in the 1920s and is one of the most famous in the country. In the archives of the museum in Avebury there is a wonderfully evocative black and white shot of the marmalade magnate turned archaeologist Alexander Keiller and his team during their excavation of the Neolithic site at Windmill Hill. And unusually for the day the team comprised not only workmen but a whole bunch of highly talented women. Digs are hard work but enormous fun and there’s a special something that binds a dig team together. When I saw that photo for the first time the sense of camaraderie that you get on an excavation, now as then, leapt off of the print. But there was something else there too. A something that asked who got along with whom? Were any of these people more than just good friends? And what secrets did they share? And who among them might have taken those secrets to their graves? And with that The Hidden Bones was born.

Buy the book.

For other stops on the blog tour, please take a look at the poster below.

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The Blood Road by Stuart MacBride

HarperCollins | 2018 (14 June) | 488p | Review copy | Buy the book

The Blood Road by Stuart MacBrideDetective Inspector Bell is the last person that Inspector Logan McRae and his colleagues expect to find dead in his car with a big stabby hole in his chest – they buried him two years ago. With full police honours, too. And now it looks as if Bell didn’t just fake his own death and run off to live the life of riley in sunnier climes but that he also murdered the person who was buried in his place. This is not looking good for the police. And it doesn’t help that they’re still waiting for a break in the case of the missing little girl, Ellie Morton.

Logan works for Professional Standards now, policing his own colleagues. Bell’s case clearly falls into this remit but, as he digs deeper into what could have been so important to make DI Bell come back to Scotland only to die for a second time, it’s all starting to look very complicated. And it’s only a matter of time before more dead people turn up and more children start to disappear.

My feelings of love and adoration for Inspector Logan McRae know no bounds. With no doubt at all, Logan is my favourite fictional detective (although he has one possible rival in my affections – his colleague Roberta Steel) and Stuart MacBride my favourite crime writer. I could read these books day in, day out and still want more. His books last year, A Dark So Deadly and Now We Are Dead were my two top books of 2018 and they weren’t even Logan books, although celebration is in order because in Now We Are Dead we were rewarded with 600 pages of Roberta Steel! I digress… So, I was very ready for another Logan McRae novel and The Blood Road is the eleventh and how welcome it was. It is every bit as brilliant as I knew it would be.

There are lots of reasons why The Blood Road is a stand out novel – the sheer quality of the writing, the wit and ingenuity, the characters (both the familiar and the unfamiliar) and the story, which, as usual for these books, tears right into the heart of the reader. The story of the missing children in The Blood Road is extraordinarily powerful and emotional. These little boys and girls are portrayed with such care and warmth that I wept for them and we understand fully why Logan, Roberta and everyone else will stop at nothing to save them. They are totally obsessed. Rules fall by the wayside. The tension is immense.

And then there are the characters. How I love Logan and Steel. There’s nobody else like Roberta Steel – thank heavens. If you’ve not met her before then you are in for an absolute treat. Just try not to eat first. She breaks every rule in the PC rulebook, her behaviour is shocking, she wears the scratchiest underwear and…. well, I think you must discover the rest for yourself. Her relationship with Logan is second to none. There is a great deal of history between them and so you’d do well to have read the earlier books but, if you haven’t, you’ll soon catch up and then want to know more. Only one person can hold their own in a novel with Steel in it and that person is Logan McRae. It’s so good to see him again as he tries, once again, to hold his life together and move it along. And then there’s Tufty… Poor Tufty.

In The Blood Road we have it all – murder and mystery, humour and wit, tragedy and distress, action and bewilderment, the pure bizarre and multiple puzzles, rainy Aberdeen, people at their best and at their very, very worst, Logan and Roberta. I love that these books are longer than most. Every page is a joy. I look forward to a Stuart MacBride book just about more than any other and The Blood Road, like every other book of his I’ve read, reminds me why.

Other reviews
Logan McRae series
In the Cold Dark Ground
A Dark So Deadly
Now We Are Dead