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Come and Find Me by Sarah Hilary

Headline | 2018 (22 March | 368p | Review copy | Buy the book

Come and Find Me by Sarah HilaryA riot at Cloverton prison has left several prisoners fighting for their lives after a fire swept through the cells. One convict, Michael (Mickey) Vokey, has escaped, leaving in his trail two severely maimed prisoners. Detective Inspector Marnie Rome is called in to head up the hunt but, for Marnie, this is personal. One of the prisoners in intensive care is Stephen Keele, her foster brother, the young man who slaughtered her parents but with whom she continues to have ties she cannot break.

Two women, Lara and Ruth, were obsessed with Mickey, regularly sending him letters from the outside world, believing in him, maybe even loving him. Then there’s his sister. When his sister suffers a dangerous fall, Marnie is left in no doubt that the answer to where Mickey is now lies with one of the women in his life. As Marnie builds up a picture of Mickey’s life, desires and crimes, she realises that she is no closer to even knowing what he looked like. Everyone has a different memory or perspective. It’s like chasing shadows. And there is no knowing where they will lead her.

Come and Find Me is the fifth novel in Sarah Hilary’s fantastic Marnie Rome series and, while I have loved each and every one of them, it’s fair to say that this could be my favourite. Come and Find Me is spectacular. The writing is of the highest order, as it always is, but what makes this novel stand out is the sheer quality of its clever plot and the way in which we watch characters unravel before our eyes. Nothing is certain. We need Marnie Rome to explain it to us, we need her insight, her empathy and her eyes. And slowly but surely the truth will be revealed.

This is masterly stuff. We meet several powerful personalities whose words cannot be trusted. Everything is rumour, or it’s told through letters and hearsay. Several of the witnesses are prisoners and they are far from being reliable. But neither are the people who guard them. Who to believe? Who is to say who is innocent and who is guilty? And where is Mickey Vokey?

I love the way that the narrative is structured. For much of the time we follow the investigation by Marnie and Noah, but there are other times when we’re taken into Cloverton and we’re given a picture of life in this intimidating place. Fear thrives in Cloverton and we’re made to feel it.

Marnie Rome is a marvellous character and so too is her partner Detective Sergeant Noah Jake. Jake has a lot on his plate at the moment as well. To understand this fully, you need to have read the other books in the series – this also applies to Marnie’s complicated relationship with Stephen – but this isn’t dealt with heavily. After the last novel I was ready for Noah to have some breathing space and I’m glad to see he finds it here. Likewise, the Marnie and Stephen storyline is treated gently in Come and Find Me. This also means that if you haven’t read any of the other novels you will be able to enjoy Come and Find Me on its own. Although I think you’ll then want to read the others.

The emphasis in Come and Find Me is on this cleverly presented and told investigation, which goes to the heart of one’s assumptions and expectations. There is a wonderful elusiveness to the story, a real mystery to it, and the result is an extremely sophisticated and rewarding novel. Sarah Hilary’s novels are essential reading, in my opinion. It was Sarah Hilary’s books that brought me back to reading crime fiction after years away from it and I look forward to reading them for many more years to come.

Other reviews
Someone Else’s Skin
No Other Darkness
Tastes Like Fear
Quieter than Killing


The Lost by Mari Hannah

Orion | 2018 (22 March) | 406p | Review copy | Buy the book

When her sister Kat persuaded Alex to come away with her for a few days to Majorca, Alex was ready to be convinced it would be a good idea. She hated being away from her son Daniel but at least it would give her the chance to do some serious thinking about her relationship with her husband (and Daniel’s stepfather) Tim. Things haven’t been so good lately but, through missing Tim, Alex comes to realise how much she loves him. She flies home full of happy expectations but these are crushed when she is met at passport control by the police. Tim has reported Daniel missing. The nanny Justine was supposed to pick Daniel up from sports after school but she received a message from Tim to say that he would pick Daniel up instead. But Tim insists he didn’t send the message. And now Daniel is gone.

DI David Stone is new to Northumberland. He left the Metropolitan Police under something of a cloud and headed north, losing a rank in the process. DS Frankie Oliver on the other hand is firmly established, the third generation to police Northumberland, she’s warmly liked, has a mischievous twinkle in her eye, but she too has her ghosts. It’s Frankie’s instinct that persuades Stone to take the missing child report seriously. This is the first joint case for Stone and Oliver. Both have much to prove but the case is about to take a turn that nobody could have expected.

I am such a huge fan of Mari Hannah. Her two series featuring firstly Kate Daniels and secondly Matthew Ryan are firm favourites of mine (I have a tradition of taking the Kate Daniels books on holiday) and it was good news indeed to hear that a new book was on the way, featuring new detectives but set in this most stunning part of the world that Mari Hannah brings to life so beautifully.

A potential difficulty here is that Mari Hannah has established characters that so many of us love deeply and it’s not that easy for us to leave them behind and move on, especially when there have been some explosive cliffhangers along the way. We’ve done it before when Matthew Ryan came along but it wasn’t long before he won me over. Stone and Oliver have two hard acts to follow but I’m pleased to say that they’re given here a very promising start. It takes time to warm to Stone. He’s a man with too much hidden inside. It’s difficult to break through the barriers, and nobody knows that better than Frankie. But the chemistry between the two is instantaneous. I fell for Frankie immediately but I think it was only in the final extraordinarily fabulous final third of The Lost that I fully realised how much these two have to offer the reader. But the suspects and victims are every bit as interesting as the police. This is much more complex than you might at first think.

The mystery here is cleverly developed and it is almost entirely character-driven. We spend time moving between characters – suspects, victims and police – and they all have much to offer. I did think that the novel flagged a little in the middle, largely because I had no idea in which direction it was going to take me, but, as previously mentioned, the final third is so breathtaking and thrilling I couldn’t turn the pages quickly enough.

I suspect that Stone and Oliver will hit the floor running in the next novel. There is a lot of back history that needs to be teased out of our two detectives. I think that once this is all in the open everything will move along with a freer pace. I love the setting and I’m really enjoying getting to know the police team. More than anything, though, I know that Frankie Oliver is well on the way to become one of my favourite detectives. She’s a marvellous creation and I can’t wait to see her again. I suspect that Stone feels exactly the same way.

Other reviews
Gallows Drop (Daniels)
The Silent Room (Ryan 1)
The Death Messenger (Ryan 2)

Panic Room by Robert Goddard

Bantam Press | 2018 (22 March) | 384p | Review copy | Buy the book

The Panic Room by Robert GoddardPharmaceutical entrepreneur and billionaire Jack Harkness is currently on bail in London, charged with corruption on a staggering scale, his ankle fitted with an electronic monitoring device to keep him from taking off. Meanwhile, his grand house, high on a cliff on the Lizard in Cornwall, stands empty except for house sitter Blake. But unbeknown to Blake, Jack has given the house to his soon-to-be ex-wife and she wants it sold. Her solicitor Fran Revell hires estate agent Don Challenor to head down to Cornwall to evaluate the house. Don happens to be Fran’s ex-husband. She probably thought that she was doing Don a favour. When Don discovers firstly, a house sitter that nobody knew about and secondly, a panic room that is supposed not to exist and is locked from the INSIDE, it becomes quite clear that far from being a favour, Fran might well have cost them all their lives, including her own. Somebody wants what’s in that panic room and there is nothing they won’t do to get it open.

Panic Room is the fourth Robert Goddard thriller that I’ve read and it’s quite possibly my favourite – although I’m a huge fan of his Max Maxted The Wide World trilogy so I may need to argue with myself on this. Panic Room grabbed me from the very beginning thanks to the intriguing figure of Blake. She’s our narrator for much of the novel and she is obviously keeping secrets from us. Despite all the mystery, I really liked her. And then Don Challenor arrives at the house, a much older man, driving his beloved MG, and I completely fell for him as well. Both characters couldn’t be more different from one another but the friendship that slowly develops between them is great to read. And to be honest, both Don and Blake are really going to need to be able to rely on one another to stay alive, so it’s just as well they get along.

The whole novel has the structure of a countdown and so time feels pressured from the off. As soon as the panic room is found the tension begins to mount, not least because of the terrifying notion that the door has been locked on the inside. The narrative swaps between Blake’s first person thoughts and then the third person sections which follow Don as he delves deeper into a mystery he cannot escape from. He is caught in a knot. The font changes for these perspectives, making it clearer where one ends and another begins. It all serves to raise the book’s temperature and make those pages fly through the fingers.

I loved the plot. Robert Goddard is a master of thriller writing and it certainly shows here. Everything is designed to prevent us from putting the book down unread. The action is so exciting, the baddies deliciously villainous, and looming over it all is the enigmatic and charismatic figure of Jack Harkness. But what we all want to know – the reader, Blake, Don, baddies, Fran, everyone – is what is in the panic room?! And I’m delighted to say that when we do finally find out, I loved how everything came together. This is expertly done. In fact, I think there is only one thing about the novel that I was less keen on – and that is the witchlike (and stereotypical) character of Wynsum Fry.

One of the aspects of Panic Room that I really loved on a personal level was its Cornish setting. I know this part of Cornwall very well indeed and I could recognise many of the places we’re taken to, such as Mullion, as well as pubs that I’ve been to (not least the Blue Anchor in Helston). I loved how this added even more pleasure to my reading of the book.

Panic Room confirmed the place of Robert Goddard in my reading affections and the book actually sparked off a bit of a thriller reading frenzy, which I hugely enjoyed and is ongoing. I now have plenty more of Goddard’s books to read (with such grateful thanks to his publisher) and I can’t wait to read them as well as anything else he writes in the future.

Other reviews
The Ways of the World (The Wide World 1)
The Corners of the Globe (The Wide World 2)
The Ends of the Earth (The Wide World 3)

Obsidio by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff

Rock the Boat | 2018 (13 March) | 615p | Review copy | Buy the book

Obsidio by Amie Kaufman and Jay KristoffBefore I go on to review a book that is guaranteed a place in my top books of 2018 post, a word of caution! Obsidio completes the Illuminae trilogy and, if you haven’t read Illuminae or it’s successor Gemina, then you must take not a step further! Everything that happens here is a direct result of what has happened before and every character has been changed by what they have endured and who they have loved and who they have killed. But you must begin with Illuminae for another very straightforward reason – it is quite simply one of the most extraordinary, ingenious, compelling, obsessive reads I have ever had and you do not want to deprive yourself of the pleasure. And then there’s Gemina, the middle book, which is every bit as good. The fabulous news is that Obsidio, the conclusion, is BRILLIANT! Not many books make me want to shout about them in caps, but this one’s managed it.

So, having assured myself that you have indeed read the previous two books, let me tell you just a little about why I love Obsidio and why this is a landmark trilogy in Young Adult science fiction. Actually, I say Young Adult but I can see no reason at all why anyone of all ages wouldn’t love these books. I’m a Slightly Less Young Adult and they could have been written for me so maybe we’ll ignore that label from here on.

I’m going to tell you next to nothing about the plot as that is something to discover for yourself. But you can rest assured that it’s every bit as thrilling as everything we’ve experienced so far. But there is a sense of things coming full circle as the structure divides between life (such as it is) on the occupied planet of Kerenza, where it all began, and on the spaceship Mao which is hastening to its rescue or to share in its demise. There is simply nowhere else to go. We meet new characters but we also spend good time with old friends. I’m not saying who because survival odds have never been lower. But I soon loved the new people every bit as much as the old, and the relationships between them are as rewarding as they are fraught at times.

This is quite simply brilliant storytelling by two masters of the craft. I cannot praise them enough. This is no straightforward story. There are multiple layers of meaning and feeling. There are characters we think might be bad but then we see another side of them and we realise that they are just people. And fear can make good people act in bad ways whereas sometimes even those who want to be seen as bad, who have committed atrocities, still worry about their cat back at home. This is sophisticated stuff. Many of the characters here are youngsters but they’re growing up fast, having adult relationships and swearing like tomcats (swear words are amusingly blacked out or censored!), dealing with very real danger as well as grief.

Obsidio is all about war and we are spared none of the horror of it. There are moments here that left me shocked and really rather upset. Innocence is no guarantee of survival in this world. Some of it is truly heartbreaking, heroic and utterly tragic and brutal. But this is offset by the humour. These are people who could be dead at any moment, almost before they’ve lived. Better to joke about it. And then there’s Aidan, but we’re not going to talk about him here…

Obsidio continues the wonderful narrative technique of the previous books. The tale is told through surveillance footage summaries, emails, notes, messages on noticeboards, pictograms, cartoons, drawings, forum posts. And this is absolutely captivating. It brings these people alive. There are a couple of sketches that reduced me to tears. But you never know what’s going to be on the next page – the way in which dogfights are portrayed is inspired! There is one page in particular that made me almost shout out loud in triumph!

The Illuminae trilogy is an incredible achievement – for its brilliant plot, for its superb characterisation, for its ingenious style, for the quality of the writing, for the humour and the tragedy, but perhaps most of all for its sheer emotional impact. This is powerful.

The sadness at finishing is, thank the stars, offset by the joy at reading in the extremely entertaining acknowledgements at the end that a new series is in the works – The Andromeda Cycle. What a relief…

I’d be hard pressed to think of another science fiction trilogy that I’ve loved as much as this. These are books to keep and treasure and encourage others to read. So that’s what I’m doing – read it! You will not regret it!

Other reviews

The Smiling Man by Joseph Knox

Doubleday | 2018 (8 March) | 416p | Review copy | Buy the book

The Palace was once a grand hotel in the centre of Manchester but now this enormous building stands empty of guests and staff, reduced to a bargaining chip in its owners’ divorce, its corridors walked only by security guards. But one night Detective Aidan Waits and his partner, Detective Inspector Peter ‘Sutty’ Sutcliffe, are summoned to the Palace. A security guard lies injured and inside one of the rooms a man is dead, his face fixed in a smile. There is no clue to his identity, even his fingerprints have been surgically removed during life. This is a man who wants nobody to know his name. But a clue has been stitched into his trousers. Perhaps there was something this man wanted to communicate after all.

Waits is a detective condemned to the night shift with a partner he detests – the feeling is mutual. Disgrace and scandal have halted his career. He hangs on to his job by his fingertips while his partner Sutty glories in the misery of the poor souls that they encounter on their shift in the dark hours and dark places of this restless city. Waits is determined to solve the mystery of the Smiling Man and his instinct takes him deeper into a case than his superiors would wish but there is a distraction – he is receiving anonymous phone calls, he knows he’s being watched, he knows something is going to happen.

Joseph Knox introduced us to Aidan Waits in his remarkable debut Sirens. That book set a very high standard for its successor to follow but with The Smiling Man, Joseph Knox has achieved something wonderful – a crime thriller that is even better than the fabulous Sirens, a novel that will most certainly feature in my top books of 2018. It is stunning. Its mood – beautifully menacing and sinister – and the figure of Aidan Waits – unlike any other detective I can think of – are wholly original and completely mesmerising. With its frightening, disturbing and desperate kind of dark atmosphere, it is absolutely fascinating.

This is writing of the highest order. And that is most evident with the Manchester locations – usually seen at night – and with the characters of Waits and Sutty. I loved the explorations through the deserted corridors of the Palace Hotel, and the frightening glimpses of light in one of its rooms at night. We also see more of the city’s underworld, reminding us of elements of Sirens. Sutty is an abomination, he really is. Every time you think we might me about to see a redeeming characteristic, his true colours shine out once more and we are repulsed and amused. My feelings for Waits were more complex. We know that he deserves much of the scorn and disgust that is heaped upon him but with him, unlike Sutty, there are moments when he snatches the chance to do good. Or to right a wrong, even if the way he does it is arguably reprehensible. But both Waits and Sutty are set in the context of a police force that has a dark side, just like everything else in this city at night.

The Smiling Man builds on what we learned in Sirens but it can still be read alone. Nevertheless, there is one thread in particular that weaves its way through both novels and so, for the fullest of enjoyment, I’d recommend that you read them in order. The Smiling Man is such a clever, original and engrossing read. This is the crime novel to beat in 2018.

Other review

Let Me Lie by Clare Mackintosh

Sphere | 2018 (8 March) | 416p | Review copy | Buy the book

Let Me Lie by Clare MackintoshOne year ago Caroline Johnson jumped to her death off Beachy Head, just a few months after her husband Tom did exactly the same thing. This is almost more than their daughter Anna can bear. Anna is herself the mother of a small baby, a child that her parents never knew. In an irony that isn’t lost on Anna, her partner is the therapist who tried to help her through her grief. Without her parents’ deaths, she would never have met him and she wouldn’t have her beautiful child, but there is a hole in Anna’s life that is filled with grief and questions. Why did her mother kill herself when she knew so well how the suicide of her husband had affected them all? It doesn’t feel right. And when one day Anna receives a disturbing message, she begins to think that maybe it actually wasn’t right. That perhaps her parents were murdered.

It’s unlikely that the police would be interested in Anna’s claims but luckily for her she comes across retired detective Murray who is passing his time helping out the police as a civilian. There’s something about Anna’s claims that catches his attention and the more he learns, the more he’s inclined to believe her. He has another voice in his ear encouraging him – Murray’s wife Sarah, a woman who fills Murray’s life with worry but so much love.

Clare Mackintosh is the master of the twisty thriller – the brilliant I Let You Go is one of the most memorable thrillers I’ve read – and so I couldn’t wait to read Let Me Lie. Let Me Lie is another very twisty tale, and, as you’d expect from a Clare Mackintosh novel, the shocks come thick and fast. This is not an author who likes the reader to feel complacent and settled!

Surprisingly, though, I enjoyed Let Me Lie most of all not for its main story and its surprises, but for its truly wonderful portrayal of Murray and Sarah. I absolutely loved these characters. They are drawn with such tenderness and care and learning about their lives together was, with no doubt at all, the most appealing aspect of the entire book for me. The twists became almost an irrelevance when placed against such beautiful storytelling.

The author’s novels are inevitably going to be compared with I Let You Go which, in my eyes, is a masterpiece of the genre. I did feel that Let Me Lie suffered with the comparison, largely because I guessed the twists in the plot and I had a pretty good idea very early on how things were going to develop. I do, of course, read a lot of crime fiction and psychological thrillers (largely thanks to I Let You Go) and so I’m pretty good at spotting things these days. Also I didn’t especially care for Anna and the other characters in her family and life. But I suspect that many readers will love this twisty tale.

However, the Murray and Sarah story means that I hung on to every word of their lives and it’s these two that I’ll remember, proving once more what a wonderful writer and storyteller Clare Mackintosh is, especially when freed of the requirement for the obligatory twist.

Other reviews
I Let You Go
I See You

The Last Hour by Harry Sidebottom – a review and extract

Zaffre | 2018 (8 March) | 400p | Review copy | Buy the book

The Last Hour by Harry SidebottomBallista runs for his life through the spiraling tunnels of Hadrian’s Mausoleum in the centre of Rome. As he climbs on to its roof top and stares down at the Tiber flowing many feet below him, his options are limited. The stakes, though, couldn’t be higher. At the last hour of daylight tomorrow, after a day of games and spectacle, the Emperor Gallienus will be murdered as he leaves the Colosseum. Ballista knew Gallienus when they were boys growing up together. He may be the only man allowed to get close enough to the emperor to save him. But before Ballista can save the emperor, he must first save himself.

It is the second half of the 3rd century AD. Gallienus is Emperor. The Empire is on the verge of being torn apart from within. And only one man stands in his way…. The Last Hour is a long awaited Ballista Warrior of Rome novel from the master Harry Sidebottom but it’s a Ballista book with a great deal of difference. This isn’t an adventure that sees Ballista fight for his life and those of his men in the empire’s most remote arenas of war – instead, he is placed in the heart of Rome and his high military rank is irrelevant. Ballista has just one task – to save the emperor, on his own, and to escape the conspirators who are intent on ensnaring Ballista in their trap.

The action takes place over just one day and it never lets up. This is a Roman thriller. There aren’t many of these and if an author can be trusted to do it right it’s Harry Sidebottom. The author brings an awful lot to it more than action and swordfights. As a lecturer in ancient history at the University of Oxford, Harry Sidebottom knows his stuff and he always makes sure that his novels are enriched by that knowledge and understanding, but at no expense to their pace and merit as works of fiction. I always learn things from a Harry Sidebottom novel and The Last Hour is no different.

Throughout we’re given little pieces about Roman history and society – whether it be about the place of slaves and women in that world, or its religion and philosophy, its gladiatorial games or arena punishments, or its streets, tenements, temples, villas and inns. This book provides a fantastic tour of Rome. We move right across the city and, despite the pace, we’re given time to take it all in. And we’re taken to places that are evoked so strongly we can almost smell their stench. There are also references to the previous Ballista novels – we meet people we’ve met before and that adds something rather special. But, on the whole, this is a novel in which Ballista must survive, endure and win on his own and its edge of seat stuff, it really is.

The best historical fiction entertains while also informing. The Last Hour succeeds in this perfectly, injecting so much accessible information and detail into a novel that is intensely exciting, all packed into a 24-hour period. Harry Sidebottom’s recent and superb Throne of the Caesars trilogy looked at a year that shook the Roman empire to its core. The Last Hour evokes ancient Rome in an entirely different way, focusing on just a few hours in such a narrow space, as it affects such a small group of people. And yet it informs every bit as much. Life in ancient Rome comes alive in The Last Hour and I loved every page of it.

Other reviews
Warrior of Rome I: Fire in the East
Iron and Rust: Throne of the Caesars I
Blood and Steel: Throne of the Caesars II
Fire and Sword: Throne of the Caesars III

I’m delighted to post below a taster from The Last Hour to celebrate the novel’s publication this week.


Another scream echoed up the long passageway, then ended abruptly.

Every breath hurt. Sweat was running off Ballista. Would the stairs ever end? It was like some infernal punishment in myth.

A final corner, and there was the door. All the gods let it be unlocked.

The door opened outwards. Ballista closed it behind him, and leant against it as he fought to regain his breath. Forty-three winters on Middle Earth; too long for this exertion.

The roof garden was gently domed, like a low hill. It rose to where a plinth supported a more than life-sized statue of the Emperor Hadrian in a triumphal chariot drawn by four horses. The terrible storms of the last several days had passed, but the air smelt of rain. The stones underfoot were still wet.

There had to be another way down. Ballista pushed himself off the door, set off up the path to the top.

The sun was dipping towards the horizon. It cast long shadows from the cypress trees, dappled where they were festooned with vines or ivy. Less than an hour until darkness.

Ballista circled the base of the statuary. No door, no trapdoor. Nothing. There had to be another way down. A passageway for gardeners, plants, servants. He looked around wildly.

Under the cypresses the garden was thickly planted with fruit trees and flower beds. Paths radiated out. There were hedges, potted plants, heavy garden furniture, small fountains, more statues. The service access would be carefully hidden. The elite did not want to see slaves when they were enjoying the views. There was no time to search.

Ballista thought of the light wells. No, even if he could find one of them, it would be too narrow, offer no handholds. Another thought came to him. He took the path down to the east.

There was a thin wooden rail above a delicate and ornamental screen along the edge of the garden, with yet more statues at intervals. Ballista did not look at the city spread out beyond the river, barely glanced at the swollen waters of the Tiber at the foot of the monument. He gripped the sculpted marble leg of Antinous, the doomed boy, loved by Hadrian. A Roman might have been troubled by the association. As heir to the different world view of the north, such omens did not bother Ballista. He had a head for heights, and leaned out as far as he dared over the rail.

The cladding of the Mausoleum was white marble. The blocks were so artfully fitted together that there was barely a discernible line where they joined. No hope of a finger hold. Seventy foot or more of smooth, sheer wall down to the base, after that ledge perhaps another forty foot down to the narrow embankment and the river. No way to climb down.

Ballista ran back to the head of the stairs, opened the door. The men were nearing the top.