Author Archives: Kate (For Winter Nights)

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The Boy on the Bridge by M.R. Carey

Orbit | 2017 (4 May) | 400p | Review copy | Buy the book

The Boy on the Bridge by MR CareyBritain is no more. The Breakdown destroyed it. The land now belongs to the Hungries – altered, infected and no longer human, these lost souls live only to feed. A few enclaves of uninfected humans survive, but not many and they’re under constant threat. Only two outcomes are possible. Either the Hungries will devour the last of the uninfected or an antidote will be found. The first is far more likely than the second. But hope persists.

The Rosalind Frankie, or Rosie, is an armoured vehicle that has embarked on an epic, perilous journey from the south of England to the Highlands. Aboard is a group of soldiers and scientists, existing side by side in the most limited of space. Their mission is to recover biological samples placed across the country. Whether they will live to return with them is another matter entirely. But their responsibility is immense. Time has run out. They know they have to succeed. Six soldiers and six scientists live and work aboard Rosie and each has their own personal tale of survival and hope. Each has something to live for and they all have everything to fear. The pressure on them is so immense that it’s only a matter of time before the cracks appear and then each must look deep within themselves for the strength to cope.

Among the scientists is Stephen Greaves, an autistic boy, and Dr Samrina Kahn, who has more reason than most to fear for her future. These two find themselves drawn together while everyone else wonders what on earth Stephen is doing there. But Stephen is very special indeed. When he looks outside he can recognise something else that hides out there among the Hungries and he can look it in the eyes.

The Boy on the Bridge is the follow up novel to the enormously successful (and now filmed) The Girl With All of the Gifts. It’s been a while coming but it is most certainly worth the wait. It isn’t a straightforward sequel. It doesn’t pick up on Melanie’s story but in her place is another fine set of characters to enjoy as they develop through the pages, continuing the tension between the military and scientists, and also within these groups. There is good and bad in both. So you could read The Boy on the Bridge without having read The Girl with All the Gifts first without any trouble at all, but I do think you’d be missing out on the development of this shattered world, as well as the emotional power of a couple of key scenes.

The writing is as brilliant as ever, loaded with personality and opinion, sharp and incisive. There is horror, so much of it, and you can’t look away from it, it’s so gripping and thrilling, but there are moments of peace and calm as well. Rosie really feels like a refuge despite its claustrophobic spaces. Outside, by contrast, is such a scary place. You wouldn’t want to go outside. But Stephen does.

I’m no fan of zombies, whether in novels or movies, but there’s something about the Hungries that fascinates me, especially those that we meet in The Boy on the Bridge. We’re asked to re-examine what they are and, although this means confronting deep fears, it is so compelling, as well as tragic, sad and gory. There are moments in this novel when I shed a tear, that’s how much I cared for these characters (especially Kahn) and for how well this story (and world) has been developed through both novels.

M.R. Carey is a great storyteller with a fantastic imagination, bringing apocalypse and hope together in the best of ways. I loved this portrait of a devastated Britain, with the mix of the familiar and the irrevocably altered. The descriptions are wonderful. At its heart, though, are its people, non-Hungry or otherwise, and they power this unusual horror novel on. Will there be more? I really hope so.

Other reviews
The Girl With All of the Gifts
Fellside

Skitter by Ezekiel Boone

Gollance (Atria in the US) | 2007 (UK: 27 April; US: 2 May) | 329p | Review copy| Buy the book: UK; US

Skitter by Ezekiel BooneSkitter is the follow up novel to The Hatching so please make no attempt to read Skitter until you’ve read The Hatching first! This review assumes you’ve done just that and you are ready to have your skin creep and crawl in the most deliciously terrifying way once more. As one of the characters puts it, welcome back to the Spiderpocalypse!

The first wave of spider attacks has ended in the withdrawal and deaths of billions of spiders. Unfortunately, they took with them the lives of many millions of people from around the globe. China is a nuclear wasteland and many of the world’s greatest cities lie in ruins. But any hopes that the desperate might have that the attack is over, that the world can rebuild and repopulate, are soon dashed. Scientist Melanie Gruyer’s continued work at the National Institutes of Health in Maryland has revealed a terrible fact. The first wave of spiders was simply paving the way for the second – feeding it, preparing the ground. And this second wave could take mankind to the very brink of extinction. The US President Stephanie Pilgrim is prepared to do the unthinkable to safeguard the nation’s future. But is it too late? Around the world, something unbelievably terrible is beginning to stir.

To say that I adored The Hatching is a ridiculous understatement. I love apocalyptic thrillers and I especially enjoy these novels when they focus on weather disasters (have you read The Tsunami Countdown by Boyd Morrison yet? Why not?) or beasts, particularly the creepy crawly kind (such as Invasive by Chuck Wendig). If ever there was an animal that lends itself brilliantly to wholescale mass panic and annihilation, it’s the spider. Personally, I don’t mind spiders at all. But as for these spiders…. these spiders scare me to death.

Skitter continues the fabulous formula of The Hatching. The novel’s focus is on the US, and most (but not all) of the principal characters are based there, but it also includes many stories from across the planet, including France, Germany, India and, especially, Scotland. We move between a cast of many characters, some of whom we meet just once (for obvious reasons) but there are others that we return to time after time as they either fight to survive or to overcome. We met a fair few of these in The Hatching and it is a joy to return to them, not to mention a relief that some have survived this far. I don’t want to mention who, just in case you’re reading this with the intention of going back to The Hatching.

Skitter might be the middle novel of a trilogy but it is a fantastic disaster thriller in its own right. The novel copes with the aftermath of The Hatching while preparing us for the showdown of the finale, setting it up absolutely perfectly. But Skitter oozes tension, horror, panic, dread, disgusting deaths, hideous spiders, shocking pain and stunned outrage – not only aimed at the spiders but also at the lengths governments will go to for the longterm survival of the human race. All well and good in theory but a lot less noble when you’re running for your life.

We’re thrown into the action from the outset and it never lets up until the very last page when we’re left longing for the concluding novel. Skitter is such a fast read and it is so well written, each page contributing to the overall story. It’s not the sort of thriller you want to put down unread and its pace is pushed along even faster by its brilliant structure that moves us from one state of tension to another and then back again, time after time.

Prepare to get the shivers, prepare to never look at a spider in quite the same way again. Remember what Jaws did for sharks – this time the sharks are tiny, have legs and there are billions of them. Fantastic!

Other review
The Hatching

Into the Water by Paula Hawkins

Doubleday | 2017 (2 May) | 368p | Review copy | Buy the book

Into the Water by Paula HawkinsWhen Nel Abbott is found drowned, her fifteen-year-old daughter Lena is left almost entirely alone. Her best friend Katie drowned in the same stretch of river just a few months before. Lena can hardly fathom that her mother has shared the same fate. But this bit of river in the village of Beckford is known as the Drowning Pool – women have drowned here for years, sometimes by suicide, but also by the hand of others.

Nel’s sister Jules comes to Beckford to look after her niece, and at first neither are happy about it. Jules and Nel had been estranged for many years for reasons that one sister kept quiet while the other could never understand why. The small community of Beckford is grievously troubled by yet another death in the Drowning Pool. For many it stirs up the past, bringing back painful memories of their own losses in the water. As Jules and Lena are thrown into the heart of the village’s trauma, they come to understand how far the hurt has spread and that the significance – and pull – of the Drowning Pool is as dangerous and powerful as ever.

I don’t think there are too many people now who haven’t read Paula Hawkins’ previous novel The Girl on the Train and, while I was one of those with mixed feelings about that book (review), I was so looking forward to reading Into the Water. I’m glad I did. I think that Into the Water is a cleverer thriller than The Girl on the Train, its mystery more satisfying and complex, and its characters better developed. Its structure is also ambitious and very effective.

The story of Into the Water is told from a number of different perspectives. We hear from a whole range of different people and the narrative includes first, second and third person. While I initially found it difficult to keep track of the many different voices, by the middle third of the novel I was completely caught up in the lives of its people. This movement of narrative allows us to venture deeply into these characters’ motivations, feelings and fears. There are a range of agendas at work here and so the struggle to find the truth about why so many troubled women have had their lives ended in the Drowning Pool is never straightforward. As a result we have twists and red herrings galore.

We meet lots of different people but a fair few who stand out, notably Nel’s daughter Lena, the police officer Erin, and Katie’s distraught mother Louise. But all have interesting stories to tell and it’s easy to get caught up in them. Some, though, are darker than others and there are a few which are very dark indeed. Beckford is a place with many, many secrets. The reasons why it’s women who end up in the Drowning Pool and not men are deeply troubling.

Into the Water is a very well-written and intriguing mystery. It is undoubtedly dark and troubling, overshadowed by grief, loss and cruelty. There is little relief from its mood. But it is also extremely thought-provoking and compelling. No single character dominates. Instead, it is the women who lost their lives in the Drowning Pool who haunt these pages, demanding our attention as justice and vengeance are sought.

Other review
The Girl on the Train

From Darkest Skies by Sam Peters

Gollancz | 2017 (20 April) | 328p | Review copy | Buy the book

From Darkest Skies by Sam PetersIt is five years now since the death of Alysha, the wife of agent Keona Rause. Also an agent, Alysha was blown up on a night train as it made its way across their home world of Magenta. Rause doesn’t understand why Alysha was on that train. It wasn’t for passengers. She and a small group of other people had smuggled themselves aboard and they were blown up by a bomber, later caught. He can only assume that Alysha was following leads to a case. But whatever it was, the knowledge died with her and, besides, Rause was forcibly removed from investigations into the bombing, sent to Earth on a secondment for five years. That ended in disgrace when the alien artefact he had been guarding was stolen almost from under his nose. Rause is now back in Magenta, suffering from the terrible increase in gravity, getting used to the endless pummelling of Magenta’s rain, and investigating the death of one of the planet’s very few golden socialites. But Rause has an itch he has to scratch – why was his wife on that train?

Rause is not entirely alone. After his wife’s death, he had her memories and digital presence uploaded into a physical walking, talking ‘shell’. Its intelligence is also incorporated into his ‘Servant’, the AI that everyone carries around inside their brain, easing their way through life. But Liss, as he calls it/her, is completely illegal. And whether Liss is a help or hindrance is another matter entirely as Rause works through his feelings for a wife he mourns and her reconstructed digital presence which he struggles to understand.

The premise of From Darkest Skies is an extremely compelling one, combining some of the familiar ideas of crime fiction with the wonder of its science fiction setting on Magenta, complemented by some intriguing technology. Magenta is an extraordinary planet, named for the violet hue its land and water derives from its ‘organic rock-eating purple alien dust’. It is both beautiful and hostile, as too is its appalling weather which batters the plant with killer winds and painful, stabbing rain for days on end. But the story of how humans reached Magenta is one of the most fascinating things of all about From Darkest Skies. The novel is overshadowed by the enigmatic Masters, the alien race that altered Earth in terrible ways from which it can never recover before disappearing as mysteriously as they arrived. Their intent seemed to be to move humans across the Galaxy, giving them the technology to move freely, while leaving others hopelessly stranded. But why?

From Darkest Skies raises lots of questions, about the Masters, about Alysha, about the murdered socialite and about life as a whole on this unfriendly yet striking planet of Magenta. Sam Peters makes the reader want to know the answers every bit as much as Rause who is barely holding on. I liked Rause very much indeed. I felt for his plight. And I also cared for his fellow agents, some of whom he’d known before and others he hadn’t. They are a colourful bunch, likeable yet crotchety. But who wouldn’t be crotchety on this strange planet?

Sam Peters blends crime and science fiction well. The plotting is excellent and so too is the use of technology. It’s not overplayed but it is intriguing. This is a future society, one shaped by the Masters, apocalypse, the media (social and otherwise) and by a powerful sense of distance from Earth, a distance that is brought home every minute of the day by the unrelenting force of gravity. We’re familiar with walking, talking AIs but I did find Liss pleasingly unusual and unknowable. I really felt for Rause. My only issue would be the difficulty I had remembering some of the unusual names.

From Darkest Skies is a debut novel and it is a fine one. I would definitely welcome another novel set in this enigmatic world of Magenta and the Masters – there is so much more I want to know about both – but I’ll be very happy to go wherever Sam Peters takes us next.

Dead Woman Walking by Sharon Bolton

Bantam Press | 2017 (20 April) | 400p | Review copy | Buy the book

Dead Woman Walking by Sharon BoltonBella is about to turn 40 and her younger sister Jessica has the perfect present for her – a balloon ride above the beautiful countryside of Northumberland. They’ve been looking forward to it for ages. But they drift above something they shouldn’t, a crime scene. And when Jessica looks straight into the eyes of a killer, she knows full well he’s looking right back at her. The pursuit is on. He chases them from the ground, firing shots, creating panic, and it isn’t long before that balloon and everyone riding in its basket tumbles to the ground. There is only one survivor and she must run for her life.

And that is all I’m going to say because Dead Woman Walking is an extraordinary novel, exquisitely plotted, and I don’t want to give away a thing, not even the seemingly insignificant details. It all mounts up and where it takes us is somewhere I’m not going to forget in a hurry. I expected shocks and surprises but I was not prepared for this. As I said at the time, just when I’d finished it: ‘You think you know where you’re heading and then BOOM!!!’ That still sums it up for me. I thought I’d been clever, that I’d worked it all out. Ha!

Sharon Bolton is one of the most original writers of jaw dropping crime fiction about today and I could not wait to read Dead Woman Walking, especially after devouring Daisy in Chains. It did not disappoint. I’ve mentioned how good the plot is, but so too is its mood. This book has menace and dread written all over it. It is extremely tense, the action moving across the miles, the pursuit closer and closer. And the characters are fascinating – those doing the chasing, those being chased and the police. There is also a timelessness about it, contributed to by the stunning yet challenging countryside and the presence of, yes, nuns.

The relationship between Jessica and Bella is especially significant, moving backwards and forwards in time through the novel. There is such tenderness and I fell for them both completely.

I realise that this review is short and (hopefully!) sweet. I just want you to discover Dead Woman Walking for yourself, ideally knowing as little as possible. If you’ve read Sharon Bolton’s novels before then be assured that you’ll get more of what you love here and, if you’ve never had the pleasure, then do dive in with Dead Woman Walking. Although you may get hooked.

Other review
Little Black Lies
Daisy in Chains

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

Dead Woman Walking Blog Tour

The Body in the Ice by A.J. MacKenzie

Zaffre | 2017 (20 April) | 342p | Review copy | Buy the book

The Body in the Ice by AJ MacKenzieIt is Christmas Day in 1795 and this is one of the coldest winters that people can remember. But the villagers of St Mary in the Marsh in Kent will have more reason than most to remember this particular Christmas – a body is discovered, frozen into the ice of a horse pond belonging to New Hall, the deserted grand house on the edge of the village. It’s not, though, as deserted as it should have been. Two men were spotted arriving there a couple of days before but both have now vanished. Reverend Hardcastle, justice of the peace as well as rector, doesn’t delay in pursuing these men but it’s not long before he realises that there is more to the murder mystery than first appeared. And matters are compounded when New Hall’s owners arrive to reclaim their ancestral home, years after abandoning it for new lives in America.

This is a time of unease. Peace has finally been achieved with America after the Revolution and independence but Britain is at war with France and this vulnerable Kent coast feels the threat more than most. And so Hardcastle and his friend and neighbour Amelia Chaytor will receive little help from the preoccupied authorities for their investigations, especially after an obvious suspect makes himself known. But, as the winter continues to hold its grip, Hardcastle is convinced that all is not as it seems.

The Body in the Ice is the second Hardcastle and Chaytor historical mystery by A.J. MacKenzie but, I’m sorry to say, it’s my first. There are links to the first novel The Body on the Doorstep but that didn’t affect my enjoyment or understanding of The Body in the Ice at all. The story stands alone very well and I was gripped from its opening icey chapter, immediately falling for Amelia and the rector (and the dog, even the rector’s sister). But, if you do want to read The Body on the Doorstep, make sure you read that first.

I love historical murder mysteries, especially those that evoke strong feeling for the times in which they’re set, and The Body In the Ice does just that with the American Wars of Independence and the war with France playing their part. I hadn’t thought before about the impact of the American revolution on families in Britain, many of whom would have been divided, but this novel brings that to the fore. But there are other big themes here, such as the treatment of black men and women on both sides of the Atlantic during these days of slavery.

But apart from all the tension and drama of the murder mystery (which is excellent), there is humour, mostly at the expense of the rector’s poor sister, Cordelia. She is a gothic novelist (currently engaged in writing The Lighthouse of Vavassal) and not above providing generous writing advice to the sister of a new arrival in the village, Captain Edward Austen from Hampshire. But Cordelia complements Amelia perfectly and I enjoyed them both.

The Body in the Ice evokes a world of Georgian country villages that revolve around their church and manor house, with a dash of smuggling thrown in as this is the Kentish coast. It is richly atmospheric and wonderfully written, with just the right proportions of domestic and national politics, murder and polite conversation. The ending put me on the edge of my seat – there comes a time when manners have to be put to one side. I will most definitely be following this series from now on. I’m looking forward to The Body in the Boat very much.

The Killer on the Wall by Emma Kavanagh

Arrow | 2017 (20 April) | 384p | Review copy | Buy the book

The Killer on the Wall by Emma KavanaghTwenty years ago Isla Bell’s life changed forever when she found the remains of three murdered people propped against Hadrian’s Wall, as if they had chosen to spend forever sitting beside its stones. More murders were to follow but the small community of Briganton was finally able to let out its breath when the murderer was caught and put away by none other than Isla’s detective father, Sergeant Eric Bell.

Twenty years on, Sergeant Bell is now a Superintendent, while Isla is a forensic psychologist, attempting to identify from medical scans what it is that makes a serial killer keep on killing. One of her subjects is the infamous killer on the wall but even outside work she cannot escape the memories of the past. Briganton is such a small village, everyone knows everybody else – the innocent and the guilty. And then it happens again. All these years later, with the murderer locked away, another body is found against the Wall. And then there’s another…

Emma Kavanagh is one of those authors whose books I long to read. She writes unusual, distinct and clever crime mysteries, each standing alone, asking questions about identity and relationships, to one another, to communities and to the places in which one lives. With The Killer on the Wall, the author has done it again. She has created yet another completely immersive and addictive crime thriller that is driven by its people and its location.

The narrative moves between stories, showing us the devastating impact of these crimes on Briganton by shifting perspectives. Most of the time is spent moving between Isla and Mina, a detective who leads the investigation into this new set of murders. While I enjoyed Isla, Mina is by far my favourite character in the book. She constantly fascinates and intrigues, not least because of her complicated relationship with her boss, Superintendent Eric Bell.

Briganton is an extraordinarily close village, edging up against the defining barrier of Hadrian’s Wall. There’s a sense that this is a place that has been around for millennia and, just as the Wall has been here for so long, so too has the evil of man. Briganton is more than notorious; it is believed to be cursed. And yet people like Isla and Mina cannot live away from it. People might leave it for a while but they always return. Such is the force of the location in this intense novel.

My one issue with the novel is in some ways a side-effect of one of its strengths – this small and remote community is all we have. While that gives Killer on the Wall its mood and intricate relationships, it also gives the story its coincidences and limited pool of suspects. It’s as if everyone we meet is either a victim, suspect or murderer. I did guess the outcome as a result. Nevertheless, this beautifully written novel is bleakly atmospheric and compelling throughout, tied to its stunning yet bleak location, and driven on by its rich line-up of characters. It’s irresistible.

Other reviews
Falling
Hidden
The Missing Hours