Category Archives: Crime

Watching You by Lisa Jewell

Century | 2018 (12 July) | c.400p | Review copy | Buy the book

Watching You by Lisa JewellJoey Mullin has returned home from working in Ibiza with a husband (Alfie) in tow. For the time being they must make do with lodging with Joey’s brother Jack and his pregnant wife in a large house in a smart part of Bristol. Jenna is not finding it easy to settle and it doesn’t help that she finds herself becoming fixated on her handsome neighbour, Tom, the headmaster of the local school. She just can’t stop herself watching him. But Joey isn’t alone. There are eyes on her as well and there are others in this small community who keep watch to catch out the secrets of their neighbours, some of whom are almost driven to madness.

Watching You is a fantastic novel which, I’m so pleased to say, equals Lisa Jewell’s previous novel, the superb Then She Was Gone. Lisa Jewell is the perfect observer of human nature, understanding so well fears, desires and the danger of obsession. She writes about these things so well and in Watching You, her characters are beautifully drawn, whether they’re children, men or women. We want to get to know them. We want to understand why they are behaving as they do and, when the time comes, we feel deeply for them, even fearing for them.

This is a novel with several themes and one of them is bullying and the relationship of teenagers to one another and to the adults who should be doing a better job of watching out for them. Tom’s son Freddie, Frances’s daughter Jenna are just two of the youngsters who really make Watching You stand out. They both have so much to deal with, each in their different ways. There is no black or white, just young people trying to find themselves. And the adults in their lives are no help at all.

So we have multiple stories, all threading together and mostly circling Tom, the headmaster. Tom is, for me, the least likeable person in the book (although Joey gives him a close run for his money) and his relationship with Joey is fascinating to watch develop, not least because it’s one of the ugly things that blights the lives of others. But their relationship is offset by some other quite beautiful and fragile relationships, especially between the youngsters.

The novel is held together by a series of interviews conducted by the police as they try to solve a crime that we know will happen. It’s to the credit of Lisa Jewell’s immense storytelling gift, that I had very little clue about what was going to happen until almost the very end. In fact, this is one of those wonderful novels that kept me guessing throughout, that kept surprising me in the best of ways, and rewarded my attention. The best psychological thrillers are those that are character driven, and not driven by twists or shocks, and Watching You is one of the very best I’ve read in a long time. I felt heavily invested in these marvellous characters and I loved watching them watching each other. I can’t wait for more from this wonderful, wonderful writer!

Other review
Then She Was Gone

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The Death of Mrs Westaway by Ruth Ware

Harvill Secker | 2018 (28 June) | 400p | Review copy | Buy the book

The Death of Mrs Westaway by Ruth WareHarriet (Hal) Westaway is at her wits’ end. Since her mother died, Hal has eked out a living reading tarot cards and telling fortunes on the pier at Brighton. But she’s got nothing left and now a loan shark is after her. Then, out of the blue, a letter turns up from a solicitor offering her sympathies for the death of her grandmother and advising her that she is one of Mrs Westaway’s beneficiaries. But Hal’s grandparents died over twenty years ago. This isn’t possible. They’ve got the wrong person. But what if she were to pretend to be the right person?

As Hal makes her way to Trespassen House in western Cornwall for the funeral, her feelings are in turmoil and they only get worse when she meets Mrs Westaway’s sons and their families, not to mention their terrifying housekeeper. It’s so easy to be sucked into this life, to tell one more lie, but there’s something unloved about this decaying once grand house. And in its overgrown gardens and cold rooms, secrets refuse to stay hidden.

The Death of Mrs Westaway is such an atmospheric and moody read. This is largely due to the setting, which is wonderfully visualised by Ruth Ware. Trespassen House is remote, it takes trouble to reach it – and to leave it – and it affects everyone who has ever lived in it. This is a creepy and disturbing tale and it grips from the outset.

What I enjoyed more than anything, though, is the novel’s heroine, Hal. Hal is a fantastic creation. She is believable and is always very likeable. She is facing impossible choices and it’s hard to blame her when life has become such a struggle, through no fault of her own. Despite having very little, she is generous and kind to a fault, and when she does her tarot readings she believes that she must care for her clients, that she’s doing them some kind of service to move their lives along. The members of the Cornish Westaway family are also memorable but more than anything they are curious and I enjoyed getting to know them.

This is a psychological thriller and so we’re given twists and surprises but I actually found the mystery secondary to the setting and the characters. I guessed much of what was to happen but it didn’t matter because I was enjoying Ruth Ware’s writing so much. I’ve liked some of Ruth Ware’s novels more than others but The Death of Mrs Westaway is certainly one of my favourites and a real return to form after The Lying Game. I love atmospheric reads, especially when they’re set in this part of Cornwall that I adore so much, and The Death of Mrs Westaway is an immersive pleasure from start to finish.

Other reviews
The Woman in Cabin 10
The Lying Game

Where the Missing Go by Emma Rowley

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Where the Missing Go blog tour

The Poison Bed by E.C. Fremantle

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Poison Bed Blog Tour Card

After He’s Gone by Jane Isaac

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Hidden Bones: digging up inspiration

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

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

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

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

Buy the book.

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

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The Blood Road by Stuart MacBride

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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