Category Archives: Crime

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)

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 Devil’s Dice by Roz Watkins

HQ | 2018 (8 March) | 351p | Review copy | Buy the book

The Devil's Dice by Roz WatkinsLawyer Peter Hamilton is found dead, poisoned, in a cave in the Derbyshire Peaks. His isn’t the first body to be found inside this cave system. It’s a favourite place for suicides and its history is steeped in legend and superstition. To some, it is cursed and so, too, are those found within its shadows. But Hamilton’s death is not straightforward. Chiselled into the wall of the cave, close to the body, is a portrait of the Grim Reaper along with the dead man’s initials. These were carved over a century ago.

DI Meg Dalton is new to the job. She wants to start afresh, to leave behind a past that has left her with a limp but also phobias and fears. She’s found an ally in her partner DS Jai Sanghera but it isn’t easy to establish herself in this largely male team when she seems to be such a magnet for mishaps and troubles. It doesn’t help that she’s starting to feel paranoid, that perhaps someone is following her. But the main challenge comes from the family of Peter Hamilton and those of his colleagues. Everyone has their secrets, their alibis all too easily proved lies, there must be something behind it all, something other than the curse that everyone keeps talking about.

The Devil’s Dice is Roz Watkins’ debut novel and the first to feature DI Meg Dalton. It is absolutely fantastic. I read two thirds of it in one sitting. I gobbled it up and I now know that these books will go straight to the top of my reading pile in the future. It’s so exciting to discover a new favourite author!

This novel excels for all the right reasons, but firstly for Liz Watkins’ wonderful writing. This is the sort of prose that dances along so naturally. It’s full of little humorous asides, which poke fun at human nature. The dialogue sparkles. And then there’s the setting – the Derbyshire countryside provides such a stunning and dramatic backdrop. I love the portrayal of the Peak District in Stephen Booth’s novels and it works just as well here. The caves are terrifying. I could feel the claustrophobic panic levels rise. It’s a desperate place. The weight of the curse certainly adds to the mood. What a place to end up in.

The plot is brilliant. I was totally wrapped up in it. I didn’t guess how it would develop and I loved every step of the way.

And then there’s DI Meg Dalton. How I love Meg. I even love her cat. Meg is a superb creation, completely believable and extremely likeable. She might have her demons but she’s determined to get on with her life. She continually picks herself up and, if somebody gets at her, she’s more than happy to fight back. It’s not surprising that Jai likes her so much. She carries her burdens of guilt like many women and I really empathise with how she copes. Her relationships with her mother and grandmother are so beautifully and realistically portrayed. So we get some big themes but it is by no means all doom and gloom, on the contrary. Meg and Jai are great together, even when faced with the prospect of heading into the depths of a treacherous cave system.

I can’t praise The Devil’s Dice enough. It’s a marvellous, confident and assured debut and clearly heralds the start of a fantastic new series and a long career. I really enjoy reading debut authors – there’s always the chance that you’ll find a keeper. I certainly have with Roz Watkins.

The Liar’s Girl by Catherine Ryan Howard

Corvus | 2018 (1 March) | 336p | Review copy | Buy the book

The Liar's Girl by Catherine Ryan HowardWhen 19-year-old Alison and her best friend Liz won places to study at St John’s College, Dublin’s most elite college, they couldn’t have been more thrilled. This was the start of a whole new adventure, free of parents, curfews and childhood itself. But it was all to go wrong within just one year. Alison fled Dublin, turning her back on Ireland and her studies altogether, settling in the Netherlands where she built a new life for herself and did her best to forget the past. But the past will not let go of Alison.

Ten years later, when a young girl is found murdered in Dublin, pushed into the canal, Irish police journey to the Netherlands to collect Alison. They need her to speak to Will Hurley. He is refusing to speak to anyone but her and he has very little to lose. Will was imprisoned a decade ago, the serial killer murderer of five girls. But now all these years later this new girl has been murdered in exactly the same way. Could Will have had an accomplice? Is this a copycat killer? Or is Will innocent, after all? That possibility could be the hardest of all for Alison to accept because Will was her boyfriend, the man she loved.

The Liar’s Girl is an engrossing novel and a big reason for that is that this is a crime novel driven more by character than by twists. I really liked that. This isn’t to say that the book has no surprises along the way because it does. In fact, there are moments that stopped me in my tracks, not for twists but for shocks. I love Catherine Ryan Howard’s writing – she builds suspense so well and sets scenes brilliantly.

I loved the development of Alison’s character and the growth of her relationships with Liz, Will, her parents and with the two Irish policeman. These are all given time to evolve and they drive this novel on perfectly. I think the character of Will is particularly well drawn.

The narrative works so well at pushing the novel along while building up suspense and pace. We move between the present day and events of ten year before. The chapters are simply named ‘Alison, then’ and ‘Alison, now’, but there are other perspectives presented, nameless ones, and these take us into the shadows.

I am a little tired of thrillers that rely on shocks to end a novel with a bang. It’s almost as if the characters and plot are there simply to serve the twist. Instead, here we have a thoroughly involving mystery thriller with a completely satisfactory conclusion that works. We spend much of the novel inside Alison’s head, we feel her pain, guilt and anxiety. There were moments in The Liar’s Girl that made me sit up with a shock but it’s the characters who make this crime thriller rather special. I loved the previous novel Distress Signals and so the excellence of The Liar’s Girl came as no surprise to me at all.

Other review
Distress Signals

The Collector by Fiona Cummins

Macmillan | 2018 (22 February) | 432p | Review copy | Buy the book

The Collector by Fiona CumminsIf you’ve not read Rattle then tread no further. The Collector follows hot on the heels of Rattle and the two should be read together. This review assumes that you’ve already had the ‘pleasure’ of meeting the Bone Collector.

Our young and valiant hero Jakey escaped the Bone Collector but he had to leave behind little Clara, a fact that will haunt the boy just as it tears apart Clara’s mother, Amy. Life for Amy has stopped. There is so little hope left but what there is comes from DS Etta Fitzroy, whose mission in life is to recover Clara and finally lock the Bone Collector away from the world. Etta is perhaps the only person who believes Clara is still alive. But she can’t have much time left – if she has any at all. As for the Bone Collector, he knows that the police know who he is. He must begin his collection again from scratch but how he mourns the loss of Jakey. How he still wants that extraordinary child in his collection. He needs an assistant, a son even, someone who knows how he feels, someone who is driven to collect. He knows just the person.

Rattle was one of the creepiest thrillers that I read last year, with characters that stayed on the mind. Notably its children. Clara and Jakey are precious and so innocent. Jakey has to deal with a life shortening disease. He won’t make old bones. But he is full of the joy of life, just as Clara believes in her heart that she must be rescued soon because the snow is beginning to fall. Christmas is coming. Father Christmas will save her. My heart fell for these children utterly and there are moments in both of these novels that are painfully poignant and desperate. I’m so glad that Fiona Cummins returned to the story with The Collector. I needed to know what was going to happen.

While Clare and Jakey are innocent, others are not and we’re given a new and intriguing character in The Collector, Saul. He’s complex, undoubtedly odd, and his relationship with his mother is one of the most absorbing parts of the novel. Parenthood is a big theme in these novels and it comes in all shapes and sizes but each type is here under scrutiny.

It’s so good to see the return of Etta Fitzroy, a favourite character of mine in both books. She’s enduring a Herculanean struggle but knows she must never repeat the old mistakes. She is so driven and kind. And another one here who could be described as desperate.

Fiona Cummins writes beautifully and she is also brilliant at characterisation – of both the good and the evil kinds. The Bone Collector himself is truly a demon, despite his physical fragility, but he’s only one of the fascinating characters in The Collector. There are several stories here, all intertwining, illuminating one another. The result is a novel every bit as excellent and chilling as Rattle. It’s a large book but it’s undoubtedly a pageturner. This is an urgent read but with such innocence in danger how could it be anything else?

Other review