The Caller by Chris Carter

Simon & Schuster | 2017 (Pb 27 July) | 496p | Review copy | Buy the book

The Caller by Chris CarterTanya Kaitlin’s quiet night in is interrupted by a video call from her best friend Karen Ward. At first, Tanya can see nothing but Karen’s eyes but, as the camera pulls backwards, Tanya can hardly believe the scene before her. Karen is gagged and bound in a chair. A distorted voice tells Tanya that if she looks away, if she calls the police, or can’t answer two simple questions correctly, then Karen will die and the death will not be an easy one. Try as she might, Tanya is unable to answer the second question. What happens as a result is something that Tanya will have to live with for the rest of her life. It’s Los Angeles Detectives Robert Hunter and Carlos Garcia who have to pick up the pieces of that call. But this is just the first time. Soon there is a call to another person who has to answer two questions to prevent their loved one being slaughtered in front of their eyes. And then there’s another.

Robert Hunter isn’t your normal detective. Quite apart from the fact that he seems relatively settled and content in his private life, he is also extraordinarily gifted intellectually, particularly in psychology and his observation skills are second to none. Robert Hunter watches and he listens and he waits for that feeling that tells him that his hunch is true. Carlos Garcia takes a back seat by comparison but his own instincts are finely honed and his influence on Hunter is strong. It’s soon clear that they are faced with a killer who is as careful and clever as he is sadistic and cruel. But not everything is going his way – perhaps he should have taken more care with his choice of victim.

The Caller is the first novel by Chris Carter that I’ve read. I’m not a big reader of American serial killer fiction but The Caller jolted me awake. I picked it up one day and when I put it down again I was over 400 pages in. If it hadn’t have been so late I would have finished it there and then but I wanted to save the last fifty pages for when I was wide awake and could savour every word. I loved every single page and I was utterly engrossed in it.

The murders are undoubtedly ingeniously gruesome and they did make me hold my breath but, even though I’m a squeamish reader, I could not turn these pages fast enough. This is a novel that pushes on at an incredible pace. And I really enjoyed Hunter. He’s my kind of detective. He’s calm and slightly aloof but strong and dedicated. He’s committed to pursuing LA’s most violent criminals but he also takes the time to read in a library at night. He doesn’t seek out romance but occasionally it can find him but not much is made of it. The emphasis throughout is on the relationship between victim, murderer and detective.

The Caller has such a great story and it’s put together brilliantly. The focus moves back and forth from Hunter to victim and this drives on the urgency while also making the reader feel emotionally invested in what happens and more than a little shocked by what unfolds before us. Without doubt this was one of the most fun reading experiences I’ve had this year. Thrilling, exciting, horrifying, backed up by fascinating characters, both good and evil – perfect!

Night Without Stars by Peter F. Hamilton – Signed paperback giveaway!

Today sees the publication of the paperback of a new Peter F. Hamilton paperback – always a cause for celebration. Night Without Stars, which concludes the two-part Commonwealth series Chronicle of the Fallers, is out in paperback today and the publisher has kindly given me a signed copy of the book to give away.

If you’d like to enter, please either email me ( or give me a tweet. This is open to anyone in the UK and the deadline is Monday 31 July.

To get you in the mood, here’s my review of this corking novel by an author whose books, with no doubt at all, would be my desert island picks.


Pan | 2016, Pb 2017 (27 July) | 784p | Review copy | Buy the book

Night Without Stars by Peter F HamiltonNight Without Stars concludes the two-part Commonwealth series Chronicle of the Fallers begun with The Abyss Beyond Dreams. Under no circumstances whatsoever would I recommend that you read one without the other. This review assumes that you’ve read – and most probably adored – The Abyss Beyond Dreams.

Thanks to Nigel Sheldon, the Commonwealth’s first great explorer (along with Ozzie) and a legend in his own interminable lifetime, Bienvenido has been expelled from the Void. But this was no peaceful event, the cost was great, and now the planet exists in a starless night, one of several planets in an isolated solar system. Each of these planets was expelled from the Void, each containing mysteries, secrets and outright horror, as one might expect from planets judged so troublesome that the Void could no longer tolerate their existence. Mother Laura Brandt had used Commonwealth technology to open up wormholes to these other planets, searching for possibilities of escape from this blackest night, but the failure was outstanding. And release from the Void had not meant an end to the Fallers – the Trees continue to orbit Bienvenido, releasing their parasitic eggs to the surface of the planet where they exist to replicate and consume their victims.

Bienvenido is not the planet it once was. It has become a police state, controlled by the PSR which despises the Commonwealth just as much as it hates the Fallers. The Elites, those who are born with the genetically modified improvements of the Commonwealth, are ostracised, treated as second-class citizens. But the PSR are in for a shock. The Elite have managed to infiltrate all levels of society but so too have the Fallers and now it is time for the greatest showdown of them all – the Faller Apocalypse will happen and mankind must unite if it is to have any chance to succeed. The stakes have never been so high. And when a small Commonwealth starship lands on the planet containing a tiny baby, its message of hope is undeniable – for some, that is, not for all.

My adoration of Peter F Hamilton’s novels has been well-recorded on this blog over the years and the original Commonwealth duology (not a fan of that word), Pandora’s Star and Judas Unchained, hold a very special place in my heart, Pandora’s Star being my most favourite novel. You don’t need to have read these first, although if you do you’ll have the pleasure of meeting old friends (and beasts) once again, and you certainly don’t need to have read the Void trilogy either. These novels sort of independently co-exist in the same time frame as The Abyss Beyond Dreams and Night without Stars and don’t have a direct impact on their events. But these two novels together form a perfect addition to this most rich and generous of space opera universes, the Commonwealth. There are even shadows of the Night’s Dawn trilogy, which are so fantastic to spot.

Night Without Stars is a good length – about 800 pages (I read an ebook proof so length was hard to measure) – and it is so full of life that when I reached the end and thought back I could hardly believe how far this wonderful novel had carried me. There are such memorable characters, all trying to deal with the planet’s forced expulsion from the Void. When the novel begins, arguments and beliefs seem almost petty. When we reach the second half of the novel, nothing less than the survival of humanity on the planet is at stake. Laws and prejudices are far less relevant. But this is not an easy thing for some characters to accept.

This is a planet undergoing a most critical transformation. It desperately hurts. And when enemies have to work together it’s never going to be easy. But the darkness of this world and its brutal politics is offset by the charm of the scenes in which this baby is cared for. There is great humour and enormous empathy for the efforts of the surrogate father who had little choice about raising this infant but in doing so has found his destiny.

It is a joy to travel around Bienvenido, encountering its different communities, even its alien species. Although this is science fiction mostly (although not entirely) contained within one planet we’re not allowed to forget the strange universe in which Bienvenido now finds itself. Humans are not alone. And then there’s the Fallers of course – we see a little bit more of them in this novel, reminding me of the Night’s Dawn possessed.

Night without Stars is a tremendous novel. It is vast, ambitious and wondrous. Its main characters, male and female, are intriguing and constantly evolving. It has a complicated plot but the novel is so well-structured and it takes us in all sorts of fabulous directions. It completes and complements The Abyss Beyond Dreams perfectly. The Abyss took place within the Void and now we see life outside out it. Both are captivating and as a pair it is unmissable. I can only hope and hope that this is not the last time Peter F. Hamilton returns us to the Commonwealth. But, if it is, what a gift we have been given.

Other reviews
Pandora’s Star
Judas Unchained
Great North Road
The Reality Dysfunction (Night’s Dawn 1)
The Neutronium Alchemist (Night’s Dawn 2)
The Naked God (Night’s Dawn 3)
The Dreaming Void (Void Trilogy 1)
The Abyss Beyond Dreams (Chronicle of the Fallers 1)

The New World by Scott K. Andrews

Hodder & Stoughton | 2017 (27 July) | 342p | Review copy | Buy the book

The New World by Scott K AndrewsThe New World completes the TimeBomb trilogy, Scott K. Andrews’ thoroughly entertaining young adult science fiction time travelling adventure series that began with TimeBomb and continued with Second Lives. This is a deliciously convoluted and complex trilogy, with more time travelling paradoxes than you can shake a cat at, so you’d have to be barking to read The New World without having read the other two books first. This review assumes you’ve had the pleasure.

Having said all that, I don’t want to give much away here about the contents of this book or the two that went before because there’s pleasure to be had in trying to unknit the knots that Scott K. Andrews tangles before us. But over the course of the novels we have grown very attached to our gang of three: Dora (the 17th-century maidservant), Kaz (from our present) and Jana (from the 22nd century). All three have changed enormously since we first met them in extraordinary circumstances. Approximately five years have passed, I think, since the beginning, but there is nothing linear about time in these novels. We have leapt around, backwards and forwards through the years and centuries, as our three attempt to put right the crimes against time that are being committed by Quil and the President of the US (or World, as she likes to describe herself).

If you can’t remember too clearly the events of the earlier novels, which would not be surprising, there’s a handy synopsis of past events at the beginning of The New World and this really helps to immerse the reader in this complicated yet thrilling world once more. There’s a lot of going back over past events in this third novel as the narrative attempts to tie up loose ends and unravel knots before its conclusion. This does mean that, mainly for the first half of the novel, there’s a lot of talk about memories. But this is done rather well, particularly for making us understand the torturous relationship between Quil and Jana. It’s moving, it really is. Added to that is the growing emotional bond between Jana and Dora, which is such a wonderful part of the book. A side effect is that poor Kaz plays a much smaller role in this third novel. But we need to spend the time with Quil, Jana and Dora. This is where the heart of the story lies and it is a thoroughly satisfying place to be.

In the second half of The New World, the action really kicks off as events build up to the glorious denouement of the trilogy. You’ve got to keep your wits about you to keep up – how many earlier versions of one character can there be? – but the effort is well worth it. I loved the end and thought it did a fine job of completing the circle. It’s satisfying as a fun thrillfest but also as an emotional journey.

The plot is undoubtedly complicated and, at times, exceedingly confusing. As one character muses: he could really have done with a flow chart to keep track of all of the timelines that have been contaminated and altered. At the times when the story is at its most confusing, then it’s best simply to enjoy the ride and let the paradoxes sort themselves out – or not. These are wonderful characters and the story is a lot of fun, backed up by some emotionally powerful threads about love, loss and betrayal. I really enjoyed myself reading this trilogy and I’m very sorry to say goodbye to Dora, Jana and Kaz.

Other reviews
Second Lives

Perfect Prey by Helen Fields

Avon | 2017 (27 July) | 464p | Review copy | Buy the book

Perfect Prey by Helen FieldsA charity worker is sliced to death in broad daylight at a music festival. A palliative care nurse is crushed to death in her home. Further deaths follow. The murders are very different, suggesting more than one killer is at work, but the links between them indicate that the city of Edinburgh is entering dark days indeed. Days in which those who do good for society are particularly at risk.

DI Luc Callanach is assigned one set of murders while DI Ava Turner investigates the other. To complicated matters, Joe Edgar, an old boyfriend of Ava’s, has turned up in Edinburgh from London to investigate a major cybercrime case. Luc is having to deal with the ramifications of something in his past and Edgar is not helping matters as the space around Ava turns into a battleground. Extreme lengths will need to be taken to bring down the killers and help comes from the unlikeliest of sources. Toes will be trodden on, boundaries will be overstepped. The repercussions may be vast.

Perfect Prey lets you know very early on that we’re in dark and gruesome territory. The murders are vile indeed. No wonder Callanach and Turner are obsessed with solving them and we follow them every meticulous and grim step of the way. The novel has an interesting twist in its structure. The first half is a conventional police procedural but at the 48% mark (I was reading a kindle version!), it shifts and the narrative opens up to include the darker world that Callanach, Turner and their allies are trying to infiltrate. This came at the perfect moment, in my opinion, and lifted the novel from something that had begun to drag into an exhilarating and page-turning second half and finale.

I found Perfect Prey to be a difficult read at times. The gory murders and the casual cruelty of some of the novel’s characters were grim to read. There was one character in particular who drove me to the limits of my endurance, so much so that his thread of the story did mar the novel for me a bit. Callanach’s new neighbour also drove me mad, I’ll be honest. The private lives of Callanach and, especially, Turner influenced the book to a very large degree, at times slowing down the movement of the novel. Fortunately, the shift in narrative that I mentioned before really did the book a big favour and gave its momentum a much-needed kick. The grim mood, though, does persevere until the very last page. I should mention that I wasn’t able to finish the previous novel, Perfect Remains, and so Perfect Prey represents a big step forwards – I found it a much better novel.

Perfect Prey is ingeniously plotted, supported by two very strong characters in Callanach and Turner. Despite my issues with the novel, I was riveted by the second half and clung on to its every word. I just hope that the future might brighten up a little for our courageous and determined policing duo – but I rather suspect it won’t.

Dead in the Dark by Stephen Booth

Sphere | 2017 (13 July) | 400p | Review copy | Buy the book

Dead in the Dark by Stephen BoothTen years ago Annette Bower disappeared from her home in Bakewell in the Peak District. She went out to walk her dog and never returned, unlike the dog which later turned up at home. Her husband, Reece Bower, was the obvious suspect and the police were convinced that they had the right man. But murder is a difficult charge to make stick when there’s no body, even more so when the supposed victim’s father insists he spotted her in Buxton some time later. Now, all these years later, the case is about to be reopened and for the strangest of reasons – Reece Bower has also vanished. Detective Inspector Ben Cooper is certain that this is no simple missing person case. He’s sure the two disappearances are connected. Maybe at last the police can find out what really happened to Annette Bower.

DS Diane Fry is still working for the Major Crime Unit based in Nottingham. There is no beautiful scenery here, like there is for Ben. Instead she is faced with a tense urban community, torn apart by poverty and, since the closure of the coalmines, a lack of jobs. Life is particularly hard for the large population of immigrant Poles who are trying to make a life in the deprived town of Shirebrook. When one is found dead, Diane has a job on her hands to make anyone even talk about it.

Dead in the Dark is – and I can hardly believe it – the 17th novel in Stephen Booth’s wonderful Cooper and Fry series. I have yet to read them all, although I’m getting round to it, but I’ve never had a problem dipping into any of the books. They are all self-contained, although this does mean that you can miss out on the development (and history) of the relationship between Ben and Diane. I must admit that I regard the two as rather disconnected but this will probably change once I’ve read more of the earlier novels.

Dead in the Dark presents two cases – Ben’s and Diane’s. I love this series especially for its Peak District setting and so, not surprisingly, it’s Ben’s that caught my attention most of all. I love the descriptions of the landscape and I also love how Ben Cooper is such a part of it. He walks it, he has family who farm it, it’s in his blood. The Annette Bower case is particularly intriguing and I can understand why it gets under Ben’s skin. As his boss tells him, Ben is a policeman who is respected for his hunches, and his hunches are put to good use here.

Diane Fry’s case is much more gritty and this is backed up by the themes of immigration and politics – topical but no less painful for that. I completely empathised with the author’s viewpoint and it certainly made me think but I did find it a harder story to read. Rightly or wrongly, like Ben Cooper, I’m happier when walking the hills and dales of the Peaks.

This is fine storytelling. It doesn’t rely on twists or shocks, just good plotting and policing, and an intriguing case. As usual with this series, we’re introduced to an interesting set of characters who help and hinder Ben as he tries to get to the bottom of peoples’ lies and secrets. But Ben himself is such a likeable man who, despite the sadness in his past, contrasts with Diane who is clearly troubled. I love reading about these characters. I love the world in which Ben moves and I really enjoy the cases with which he is confronted. I always look forward to the next instalment of this wonderful series and now I must try and be patient again. But at least I have some of the backlist to catch up with while I wait.

Other reviews
The Murder Road
Secrets of Death

Unleashed by Peter Laws

Allison & Busby | 2017 (20 July) | 350p | Review copy | Buy the book

Unleashed by Peter LawsFifteen years ago young Holly Wasson hung herself in her bedroom in 29 Barley Street, Menham in South London, amidst rumours and reports of poltergeist activity in the house. Holly’s older sister Rachel barely recovered from the trauma, leaving her home and mother behind as she made a new life for herself elsewhere. But now she has returned, called back by her childhood friend Jo Finch, and in the worst of circumstances. Their friend Steph Ellis has been killed, horrifically and publicly. The signs are ominous and frightening – has the poltergeist returned to Menham to finish what it began all those years ago? Psychic couple Bob and Joyce Hodges seem to think it has and they’re intent on gathering the original group of friends together to see it off once and for all.

The police are not quite sure what to make of it and so they call in Matt Hunter, a former minister and now a professor of sociology. Matt has had some success in the past with this sort of thing and he is determined to get to the truth of it all and put the idea of a poltergeist to rest. But what if it’s real?

Earlier this year Peter Laws introduced us to Matt Hunter in the sensational novel Purged and how brilliant it is to have the follow-up novel, Unleashed, so soon. Matt has done well from the success of his earlier case but otherwise the two novels aren’t connected and so you can read one without the other. I’d suggest you do, though, for the background information Purged provides about Matt and his family. Unleashed builds on the mood of Purged and takes us even deeper into the darkness of poltergeists, restless spirits, paranormal beliefs and, above all else, fear.

Unleashed presents a deliciously creepy portrait of fear and it grips completely from start to finish. The intensity is increased by the narrative which moves between Matt and other characters, especially Rachel, the young woman drawn back to the house that terrified her years before and killed her sister. 29 Barley Road is a chillingly modern interpretation of the Haunted House and it’s just as scary when viewed from the outside. What did people see on the rooftops? And what is wrong with the pets? But this novel isn’t a conventional horror story – it’s a clever thriller and the terror doesn’t always lie where expected. Although, having said that, there is a fantastic seance scene in Unleashed that scared the heebie jeebies out of me! I love to be scared by a book and this did a great job of it.

I love the character of Matt Hunter and I hope we enjoy many more books with Matt and his family. But in Unleashed Matt has to share the limelight with some great personalities, notably the Hodges and Rachel. Knowing who to trust here is as much a problem as pinning down a poltergeist and it makes for a great thriller with just the right amount of creepy chills.

Other review

Tomorrow’s Kin by Nancy Kress

Tor Books | 2017 (11 July) | 352p | Review copy | Buy the book

Tomorrow's Kin by Nancy KressAliens have arrived in New York. Their spaceship, known as the Embassy, floats on a platform in the city’s harbour but nothing has been seen yet of its inhabitants, although communication has been made. The aliens, dubbed the ‘Debnebs’ out of a mistaken belief that they had arrived from the Debneb star, are, thankfully, friendly but are unable to show themselves due to the danger physical contact could bring to themselves and to humanity. But after two months, the Debnebs reveal that they are ready to meet their human hosts. Dr Marianne Jenner, an unremarkable scientist working on the human genome, is picked as someone they particularly wish to make contact with. And so Marilyn and a few other scientists are brought to the Embassy and taken inside its strange walls.

The Debnebs warn of a threat that is travelling to Earth, due to arrive in only ten months. All life could be extinguished. The only chance is for human scientists to work with the Debnebs to come up with a solution. Time is short, the outcome unlikely, but there is little choice for Marianne and the others. But as the doors seal behind them and work commences, the rest of humanity is affected by the knowledge of both the aliens in New York and the threat that they warn against. People are affected in different ways but nobody is immune, including Marianne’s three grown children who each react to the challenges facing mankind in their own way.

Tomorrow’s Kin has a deceptively calm beginning. All seems normal. Marianne is receiving acclaim for some of her breakthroughs in tracing the human genome into its distant past while her two sons and daughter are each living their own separate lives. But everything is thrown into uncertainty by the revelations that follow thick and fast throughout this thoroughly absorbing and captivating novel. First contact stories are a favourite of mine and almost without fail they suck me in and Tomorrow’s Kin did this very quickly indeed, largely, I think, because of the sophisticated and seemingly simple way in which we’re guided into the Embassy and into knowledge.

There are plenty of big themes here, notably the shaping of the family. Several years are covered and more than one generation plays a role. Despite all that is going on, we’re still given time to immerse ourselves in Marianne’s family life with all of its complications, both for better and worse. When the grandchildren play their role later on, I was particularly hooked. I love what these children bring to this novel. But apart from family, the novel is equally concerned with our relationship to our own planet, to Earth. This is a novel with environmental warnings but they are made very well indeed. This isn’t a book that bludgeons the reader with message and policy. It achieves its aim with wit and a gentle touch. We are shown the effects that an alien species can have on another, or on a world, in so many ways. There is a sensitivity in the way that some people react to their world that strongly affected me.

Tomorrow’s Kin is the first in a trilogy and this is such good news. The novel ends at a good point – there is some conclusion but it also opens another door to any number of possible futures. Nancy Kress’s writing is wonderful – this is the first novel by her that I’ve read – and I loved its style, pace and humour. Tomorrow’s Kin tells a great story very well indeed and I can’t wait to see where we’re taken next.