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I Know Who You Are by Alice Feeney

HQ | 2019 (16 May) | 344p | Review copy | Buy the book

I Know Who You Are by Alice FeeneyAimee Sinclair is a TV and film actress on the brink of stardom. She is just finishing a movie in the UK and has an audition coming up with one of Hollywood’s top directors. For the moment, Aimee is one of those people who gets a double take in the street. But soon everyone will know her name. Everything is going so well. And then the day comes when Aimee gets home from work and discovers her husband Ben missing. He’s left his wallet, phone, keys, even his shoes behind, but Ben is gone. When she calls the police, she’s horrified to discover that they expect foul play, that she is a suspect. For it seems the police have had their eye on Aimee. They’re not the only ones. Aimee had been the victim of a stalker some time ago and Aimee now fears that the stalker is back. What do they want? And do they know something about Aimee’s past? It’s that which terrifies Aimee the most.

I was such a huge fan of Alice Feeney’s previous novel Sometimes I Lie, one of the best and twistiest psychological thrillers I’ve read, and I couldn’t wait to read I Know Who You Are. Alice Feeney is the master of the Unreliable Narrator and in Aimee Sinclair she has created another original and complex main character, who is both entertaining and largely unknowable. I loved the fact that Aimee is an actress. The perfect career for the Unreliable Narrator if ever there was one. And while this sets off all sorts of warning alarms, the novel doesn’t entirely develop in the way you think it might.

This is such a fun and entertaining novel. I really enjoyed the glimpses into Aimee’s acting world. Her position is fragile. Her reputation is paramount. Everything could end in a moment. And we meet the people who might make it end. This means lots of red herrings and false threads as this is a competitive world where nobody should be trusted. It’s hard not to feel empathy for Aimee, especially now that the ground has been pulled out from under her feet.

But there is more than one story in I Know Who You Are and the parallel tale set in the past is riveting. This is fantastic storytelling – it’s poignant, sad and horrific all at the same time and really demonstrates the skill of the author’s writing and plotting.

There is something rather bonkers about the way in which the story unwinds but nevertheless I Know Who You Are is a fun, light and fast psychological thriller that is hard to put down and very enjoyable to read. Alice Feeney really does come up with such brilliant main characters. I can’t wait to see who she comes up with next!

Other review
Sometimes I Lie

I’m delighted to post my review for the Blog Tour celebrating the publication of I Know Who You Are on 16 May. For other stops on the tour, do take a look at the poster below.

I Know Who You Are blog tour banner

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No One Home by Tim Weaver

Michael Joseph | 2019 (16 May) | 528p | Review copy | Buy the book

No One Home by Tim WeaverOne Halloween night, over two years ago, the four households of the tiny Yorkshire village of Black Gale come together for a party. They’re the best of friends, a tight community of neighbours. But that night all nine of them vanish into thin air, not to be seen again. The trail has gone cold and the police abandoned their search long ago. But the families of the vanished want answers and they take their case to private missing persons investigator David Raker. Raker has his own problems to deal with, and they’re getting very pressing indeed, with the wrong people on his trail. But this could be the diversion he needs, not least because it will allow him to go missing himself for a short while. Nothing, though, could have prepared Raker for what he will discover.

No One Home is the tenth novel in the David Raker series but it’s also, I’m ashamed to say, the first I’ve read. This is one of those series that I’ve had my eye on but haven’t had the time to go back and start from the beginning. I’m one of those readers that waits for a book to come along that will throw me into the series and from that point on, having been hooked, I can go back to the beginning. No One Home is just such a book. I loved the premise – the entire small village disappearing one night, never to be seen again, and at Halloween, too. Irresistible. And so I thoroughly enjoyed the book as a stand alone. It is true, though, that there’s a lot going on in Raker’s life that I couldn’t possibly fully follow. But there was more than enough information for this not to matter too much, although I think that if you’ve read the series in full, you’ll get more from it. Nevertheless, No One Home is a very enjoyable, gripping and twisty thriller in its own right.

The narrative is divided between Raker’s own point of view and that of Jolene Kader, one of the first homicide detectives in LA who was faced with a dead body dissolving in acid back in the 1980s. This is a brilliant storyline that carries on throughout the novel and certainly does a good job of competing with the Raker storyline for our attention. I enjoyed this thread at least as much and particularly liked the way in which Tim Weaver handles the sexism and inequality that Jolene faced every single day. I cared very much for her and looked forward to her sections of the book.

As for the missing neighbours, this is a fantastic story and for much of the novel I could not see how on Earth this could possibly be solved. I felt completely in the dark and could hardly put the book down as I waited to see what would happen next. This is engrossing stuff. It’s a dark book and there’s evil in some of the characters we meet. At times the tension and the oppression of this evil was a little too much. This is one of those books that grips you but you have to put your head up for air every so often. I love that kind of book that immerses the reader so deeply in its world.

There are issues with the ending. I read the proof and it’s possible that some changes will be made to the order of certain sections at the end. This would go some way to solve some of the problems with the structure of the book at this point, although it might not solve my main issue, which is the way in which one character is treated. As a result, No Way Home isn’t a perfect book, although I think its first half does a very good job of approaching that, but it grabbed my attention and I look forward to reading more.

Children of Ruin by Adrian Tchaikovsky

Tor | 2019 (16 May) | 576p | Review copy | Buy the book

Children of Ruin by Adrian TchaikovskyChildren of Ruin is the sequel novel to Children of Time and so you really need to have read the earlier novel first. In fact, if you haven’t read it, I urge you to do so. Science fiction, in my opinion, doesn’t get any better than Children of Time. It was one of my two top books of 2015 and remains one of my favourite books that I’ve ever read. I couldn’t wait to read Children of Ruin! This review assumes that you’ve read Children of Time and don’t mind hearing a little about what has happened before.

A crew has left Kern’s World and it’s a curious mix of human beings, descended from those who arrived on the Gilgamesh, and a number of the planet’s dominant species – spiders. They work closely together, each involved in experiments to improve communication between human and spider. And overseeing them all on their journey to seek out other life among the stars is Kern, a curious mix of human thought and ship technology. Once a scientist and terraformer, Kern is now an AI of sorts, whose chief concern is the care for the spiders she helped to evolve. But now, with humans aboard her ship, Kern is reminded of the humanity she’s lost, of the human vision and perspective she misses. But their expedition is put in jeopardy when they discover another form of life in another solar system. This species is at war with one another but their attention soon turns to the new arrivals and their reaction is hostile.

Another terraforming vessel has arrived in a system with a large planet, orbited by a moon covered in ocean. The planet, which they name Nod, is covered in mysterious life forms while the moon, Damascus, looks ripe for terraforming. And so, while one team studies Nod, the other sets to work on Damascus, evolving another species from Earth to help with the process. But it is on Nod that the greatest threat can be found, something that puts everything in peril. As one life evolves, another, humanity, might have reached its end.

Children of Ruin is a worthy sequel to Children of Time. I don’t think that anything can equal the first novel’s depiction of the extraordinary evolution of life on Kern’s World, but in Children of Ruin we are treated to some similar themes, as now it is the turn of the octopus to rise beyond its perimeters. The relationship of the octopus or octopi (the term is a topic for debate in the novel) to their ‘maker’ is so well drawn, while the character of the octopus is very different to that of the spiders. Again, Adrian Tchaikovsky explores some big themes about the nature of identity, memory, exploration, consciousness and self-awareness, the fate of Earth and humans, and the nature of life itself – what it means to be alive.

As the novel moves between its two strands, one set in the past and one in the present, we are taken to new worlds and there we encounter wonder but also terror. There are some genuinely frightening scenes here. Life isn’t always beautiful and the struggle to survive can be desperate. This drives the book on, giving it thrills, extreme action, horror, as well as moments of reflection and plenty of fascinating science.

This is engrossing storytelling and incredible worldbuilding. It may even alter the way in which you view life around you. The mix of science and drama is well balanced, engaging both the reader’s heart and mind. This is science fiction of the highest order, taking us to new worlds while illuminating the human condition. A stunning and rewarding read.

Other reviews
Children of Time
With C.B. Harvey and Malcolm Cross – Journal of the Plague Year

Valley of Death by Scott Mariani

Avon | 2019 (16 May) | 435p | Review copy | Buy the book

Valley of Death by Scott MarianiIt’s that glorious time of year again! Ben Hope is back for the first of this year’s two adventures and I couldn’t be more thrilled, literally. I’ve said it many times before and I’ll no doubt say it many more, but these books are my favourite thrillers in the whole world. They always go to the top of my reading pile. I am a certified Ben Hope adorer and with Valley of Death he faces his 19th adventure. It is so good to see him again and I’m delighted, but not surprised, to say that this is a fabulous thriller, every bit as good as the best of the series, and I loved every page.

You don’t need to have read all of the series to enjoy Valley of Death – although why on earth have you denied yourself the pleasure?! – but those of you who have read the books from the beginning will find extra pleasure in these pages. Someone who has played a major part in Ben’s life returns and there is nothing Ben won’t do to help this person out of a dreadful situation. I’m not going to say who it is. You must read Valley of Death and find out!

The action this time takes Ben to India, to an arid wilderness, once the centre of a vast ancient civilisation that died out for reasons that have been lost to time, along with so many of its secrets. But archaeologist Kabir Ray has found something so significant that people will kill to claim the discovery for themselves. Kabir has a target on his back and he’s not the only one. Ben Hope, formerly a major in the SAS and now a consultant in hostage rescue, rushes to India to save lives that have become extremely important to him. The hunt will take him into a hostile desert environment where he will be outnumbered and outgunned. But you have to pity them – they’re up against Ben Hope.

Valley of Death is one of the best of the series so far. I love the mix of archaeology and action. It’s intriguing as well as exciting. The emphasis, though, is firmly on thrills and the pages are packed with fights, car chases and explosions. But there’s still time for Ben to relax with a single malt and a Gauloise cigarette, while he ponders the life choices he’s made. And we’ve been there for every one of them. I love Ben’s character. He’s three-dimensional and so real to me. I love his life in France, his circle of friends and family who come and go through the novels, his dedication and his drive. And even though he is a ruthless killer when he has to be, a formidable action hero, Ben doesn’t feel immortal. I think he knows it’s only a matter of time. I worry for him.

Ben Hope returns in House of War in November. I cannot wait! Scott Mariani, thank you!

Other reviews
Ben Hope 7: The Sacred Sword
Ben Hope 8: The Armada Legacy
Ben Hope 9: The Nemesis Program
Ben Hope 10: The Forgotten Holocaust
Ben Hope 11: The Martyr’s Curse
Ben Hope 12: The Cassandra Sanction
Ben Hope 13: Star of Africa
Ben Hope 14: The Devil’s Kingdom
Ben Hope 15: The Babylon Idol
Ben Hope 16: The Bach Manuscript
Ben Hope 17: The Moscow Cipher
Ben Hope 18: The Rebel’s Revenge

The Never Game by Jeffery Deaver

HarperCollins | 2019 (16 May) | 422p | Review copy | Buy the book

The Never Game by Jeffery DeaverColter Shaw is not your usual private investigator. Neither would he call himself a bounty hunter but he is a reward seeker, just one who doesn’t necessarily do it for the money. His friends, each powerfully placed, seeks out new rewards for him to chase, more innocent people to hunt and rescue, to bring resolution to families. And while he waits for the next case, Shaw continues his own private investigation, travelling the US in his Winnebago, sometimes attracting the wrong kind of attention, sometimes feeling eyes on him. But for now, camped up in California, he is distracted by a new case.

A young girl has vanished and her father is distraught. He’s also poor and can barely afford the $10,000 reward he’s offering. The local police has no interest in what they view as a runaway. But, as Shaw follows the clues, he quickly identifies the scene of a crime. The girl has been taken. And she will not be the last. It all seems very similar to a famous and immersive video game, now distorted and taken to new heights of cruelty. But what does the Gamer want? The case will immerse Colter Shaw and Detective Standish in the obsessive, dangerous and competitive gaming world of Silicon Valley.

The Never Game begins a new series by thriller writer Jeffery Deaver and it is a cracking start! This is a very clever novel. It’s substantial and gives the author time to explore several levels of what is not only a complicated case but also a complex hero. It’s one of those crime thrillers with so much to fascinate and perplex the reader. For me, its main triumph is Colter Shaw. The more that is revealed about the extraordinary background and history of this remarkable and enigmatic man, the more hooked I became. The mysterious background is actually as mesmerising as the kidnapping case, if not more so. I loved the way in which Colter Shaw’s character grows before us. But it’s not fully explained. There is plenty more for future novels to explore.

The novel takes place in Silicon Valley and the countryside and coast of California. It’s an interesting place – rich and aspirational but also full of people struggling to find their way, as well as others who are lost in the alternate reality that the games provide. Jeffery Weaver explores this community and industry in intriguing detail – the people who design the games as well as the people who play them. Colter Shaw could have been a fish out of water. But he isn’t. The case is gripping and it’s also grounded in the lives of those affected by it. Family, friends, acquaintances, local communities suffer. Shaw speaks to them all.

Another element that I enjoyed is Shaw’s relationship with the local police, especially Detective Standish, who is such a fascinating character in her own right. I like the way in which the author spends time creating additional characters that we want to get to know.

I fell for Colter Shaw very early on in the novel and by its end I couldn’t wait to see him again. What a fascinating man he is! I want to know more about him and can only wonder what sort of ingenious and lethal challenge he’ll be faced with next.

I’m delighted to post my review as part of the Blog Tour celebrating the novel’s publication on 16 May and I’m even more honoured to be kicking the tour off! For other stops on the tour, please do take a look at the poster below.

Never Game blog tour

The Scent of Death by Simon Beckett

Bantam Press | 2019 (18 April) | 368p | Review copy | Buy the book

The Scent of Death by Simon BeckettLate one night forensic anthropologist David Hunter is called by police to St Jude’s Hospital in North London. The hospital is derelict, awaiting demolition. A workman has discovered a partially mummified body in the attic. The victim is young and pregnant. It’s a desperately sad scene. But it’s about to get much worse. The attic floor collapses and reveals a walled-up chamber beneath and in it are beds and some of them have more bodies in them.

It’s up to Hunter, alongside DI Ward, to find out who these people are and find their killer. Not surprisingly, the case attracts media attention and the pressure is really on DI Ward. This is the first murder case that she’s led. Her superiors are watching. Hunter doesn’t have things his own way, either. There is another forensic scientist on the scene. But there’s something not quite right about him. But Hunter is determined not to let it get to him. His private life is looking up for once. He’s getting more offers of work. It’s not all perfect by any means but things are certainly on the up. But that’s before the malevolence of St Jude’s Hospital starts to creep its way under Hunter’s skin.

The Scent of Death is the sixth novel to feature David Hunter but it’s the first that I’ve read. I had no trouble reading and enjoying it as a stand alone crime thriller. There is a theme that runs through the book from earlier novels and it’s an important one but it’s very easy to pick things up. The mystery is self-contained and it’s macabre and it’s also absolutely fascinating.

St Jude’s Hospital dominates the novel. It’s dark, sinister and menacing. It’s described brilliantly. Hunter grows to hate it and we can certainly see why. The whole premise of The Scent of Death is irresistible and the book more than lives up to it. The title is also very fitting indeed. Hunter frequently recalls the smells associated with the dead, especially those that have been mummified. The dead play such a key role. We’re not allowed to forget who they are, that they deserve justice.

I enjoyed the interplay between Hunter and Ward and the other officers and officials involved on the case. Everyone seems to have their own reasons to solve it. The pressure is immense. The case is also extremely and pleasingly complicated. I loved the meticulousness of the novel, the detail of the investigation, its tricks and red herrings. The way in which it develops is staggering. I hung onto every word. It’s clever but it’s also gripping. Hunter’s private life is important but it doesn’t overwhelm the mystery – it complements it. The Scent of Death clearly demonstrates Simon Beckett’s storytelling powers. I’m hooked and will not miss any of these books in the future. I like David Hunter very much. I want to meet him again.

The Anarchists’ Club by Alex Reeve

Raven Books | 2019 (2 May) | 370p | Review copy | Buy the book

The Anarchists' Club by Alex ReeveIt was in March 1881 that Dora Hannigan with her two children visited the pharmacy above which Leo Stanhope lodged. Leo hadn’t been able to help her when she asked for credit to buy a medicinal powder. Just a few days later Dora is found dead in the courtyard of the so-called Anarchists’ Club, an establishment where the disaffected and the angry meet to plot vengeance on the establishment. The police find a note with Leo’s address in her purse. Perhaps her visit to the Pharmacy hadn’t been by chance after all. As far as the police are concerned, the connection makes Leo a suspect and that is something that Leo must avoid at all costs. Nothing must be allowed to endanger Leo’s secret. He must keep it safe at every cost. But when a member of the Anarchists’ Club remembers Leo from their youth and threatens to reveal his secret unless he provides an alibi for him, Leo is put in an impossible and dangerous situation.

Then there’s the matter of the two motherless children. Leo’s hunt for them is short. The boy and girl turn up on his doorstep and Leo now learns that it’s not just his own life at risk. But how far will Leo go to protect them as he hunts for their mother’s killer?

The Anarchists’ Club is the second Leo Stanhope novel in a series that began with The House on Half Moon Street. That was such a strong debut from Alex Reeve, clearly a very talented and insightful author, and yet I think that The Anarchists’ Club is even better. There are brief mentions of the previous novel (Leo is still recovering emotionally from past events) but both books stand alone very well indeed.

Leo Stanhope is an incredible main character. I said when I reviewed the earlier novel that he carries the weight of the world on his shoulders and nothing has changed. If Leo’s secret (revealed to the new reader early on in the book) were discovered, he would be destroyed. He hides his emotions but they’re there. He expresses his anxiety by painfully pinching himself. He tries to reveal nothing. It isn’t easy at all when, in this novel, his family try to make contact. And also there’s the matter of his relationship with Dora Hannigan’s two children. It’s in these scenes that this novel truly shows its power. Alex Reeve’s portrayal of Leo and of the children is insightful, emotional and also simply gorgeous. They feel like real people, albeit people clearly belonging to that other age of late Victorian England.

I loved the portrayal of London during the 1880s. Leo is a fine tourguide as he takes us around his city, including (especially enjoyably) the Zoo – I really appreciated the map at the beginning of the book. We meet both poor and rich, the vulnerable and the exploiters. The setting of the Anarchists’ Club is intriguing, although the politics remain very much secondary to the mystery.

And it’s such a good mystery. Alex Reeve maintains the tension and pace as Leo becomes consumed by the need to learn the truth and do right by these children. The case raises all sorts of questions about late Victorian society, including the ways in which it sought entertainment. There are some great scenes here. But the book also throws light on such themes as Victorian attitudes towards women and those without a voice. You sense that this is a time ripe for anarchy indeed.

I thoroughly enjoyed The Anarchists’ Club, reading it in just one day. It’s beautifully written and steeped in its time and place. It shines in particular though for its sensitive and moving portrayal of the troubled Leo Stanhope. This novel confirms the series’ place as one of the finest historical crime series about, with one of the most distinctive and memorable historical detectives of them all. I look forward to more!

Other review
The House on Half Moon Street