Category Archives: Thriller

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

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Thirteen by Steve Cavanagh

Orion | 2018 (ebook: 25 January; Pb: 14 June) | 368p | Review copy | Buy the book

Thirteen by Steve CavanaghIt’s the celebrity trial of the century. Hollywood actor Robert (Bobby) Solomon is charged with murdering his beautiful young actress wife Ariella and their chief of security Karl. Ariella and Karl were found in bed together, Robert’s DNA found on the scene. The case seems cut and shut but the defence knows something that throws Solomon’s guilt into doubt and they want Eddie Flynn to do the dirty work and prove it. Eddie’s not keen but this case offers him the security he needs to do something about the chaos in his private life. And then there’s Bobby Solomon. Eddie looks at him and he sees innocence in his eyes. Of course, he’s been wrong about that before but in this case Eddie couldn’t be more right. We know that and the killer knows that because the murderer is right there in court, sitting as a member of the jury.

Thirteen is the fourth Eddie Flynn novel by Steve Cavanagh and it’s most certainly my favourite of the three I’ve read. The premise is fantastic and I wanted to read this as soon as I heard about it. Courtroom thrillers have never been my sort of thing but every so often there are brilliant exceptions and Thirteen is most definitely one of those.

There’s so much going on here, quite apart from the Solomon case. Eddie, once a conman himself, is caught up in a battle with the corrupt elements of the NYPD. They’re out to get him and that isn’t helping matters. There aren’t many people in the courtroom that Eddie can trust but he is in his element. Some of the legal arguments Eddie users are brilliant. This is his stage and Eddie’s every bit as good an actor as Bobby Solomon.

The novel alternates narratives, so one minute we’re with Eddie and the next we’re with the murderer. The killer is an extraordinary figure – intensely clever yet damaged to such a degree there’s nothing he won’t do to win his game. And it’s a game like no other. The novel takes place over just a few days. It moves at quite a pace. And all the time we know that it’s the life of Bobby Solomon at stake. This extremely unusual and spectacularly audacious murderer is a prime reason for the success and originality of Thirteen. We cannot look away. We long to see what happens.

Steve Cavanagh is to be congratulated for Thirteen. This is taut, tense and immediate prose. This is a very clever thriller. I had wondered how he could continue the story of Eddie Flynn, what further cases he could take that could surprise me. I needn’t have worried. The author has pulled something spectacular out of the bag with this book and Eddie Flynn has grabbed my attention more than ever before.

Other review
The Defence

The President is Missing by Bill Clinton and James Patterson

Century | 2018 (4 June) | 515p | Bought copy | Buy the book

The President is Missing by Bill Clinton and James PattersonPresident Jonathan Duncan is in trouble. Cyberterrorist attacks are on the rise and the President is about to face a special hearing that will accuse him of negotiating with the most feared and hated terrorist of them all, Suliman Cindoruk. The odds of the President being impeached are high. But no matter what his people advise, Duncan’s mind is not on the hearing. Something terrible is about to happen, a countdown to disaster has begun, and the President is going to need all of his wits and cunning to confront it. He has just three days. And it’s a battle he must fight almost on his own because there is a traitor in the White House and Duncan knows that, whoever it is, they must be close to him. With so few to trust, and a lethal assassin on the loose, the President must break all of the rules.

The hype surrounding the launch of The President is Missing has been such fun that I couldn’t resist buying it the day the book came out. I love political and action thrillers and so I wasn’t going to miss out on this one (and the Waterstones edition I bought had red sprayed edges – irresistible). This is presented as Bill Clinton’s first novel but I’m sure I’m not the only one to speculate about how much of this is actually written by Clinton and how much is the work of old master James Patterson. But more than who put the words on the page, what fascinates me, and what especially drew me to the book, is the thought that here we might have a firsthand look into the workings of the White House inner sanctum. While I don’t think that I actually gained any more insight than I would get from watching a series or two of The West Wing, I did like the feeling that the small details were probably accurate, such as the descriptions of the President’s early morning schedule. The little things like that.

Now and again, though, the presence of Bill Clinton is keenly felt and most especially during the intermittent Presidential info dumps. Passages in which Clinton has his say about how the office of the President should function. There is also at one point a long speech. But these moments are few and far between (although I think we could have done without the speech at such a crucial point) and don’t slow the action down too much. And after all, it would be hard to deny Bill Clinton the chance to have his say in what is his book. Party politics, though, doesn’t play a part, although it’s not hard to guess which party the bad guys in government represent.

But of course much of the action of the novel takes place far outside the comfort zone of any President – fortunately – and so most of the time we’re in more conventional thriller territory and it is undoubtedly thrilling! This is one of those books that you keep on reading very late into the night, saying that you’ll read just one more chapter. But, because the chapters are so short and numerous, it’s so hard to stop. Much of the narrative is told by President Duncan in the present tense. This pumps the action along, with the tension ramped up even further by the continual ticking of the countdown clock.

The plot is timely and frightening. Cyberterroism, hackers, saboteurs – these are all fearful beasts – and the stakes here are enormously high and they feel real. There are minor confusions in the plot, there are occasions when we don’t know if a twist is a twist or just a ruse, and that irritated me a little. We also have our conventional thriller types, such as the glamorous and deadly female assassin, and sometimes there is a slight feeling of an anticlimax. But having said all that, I went into The President is Missing with an open mind and, as a thriller lover, I found so much to enjoy here. The pages flew through the fingers and I read all 500 pages or so in a couple of days. If I’d have been off work, I’d have read it in a day. The President is Missing is the very definition of a page turner as all good thrillers should be and I’m really glad I read it. I’m not so sure that the title is a useful one, though, but that’s another matter. If you enjoy action thrillers, give it a twirl! And look out for the editions with the gorgeous red sprayed edges.

Other review
James Patterson with Marshall Karp – NYPD Red 5

Dead Girls by Graeme Cameron

HQ | 2018 (31 May) | c.320p | Review copy | Buy the book

Dead Girls by Graeme CameronTwo months have passed since the terrible, shocking events of Normal and I strongly advise that you read Normal first before you approach Dead Girls. These two novels definitely form a pair, even if the emphasis has changed in the second novel. This review assumes that you’ve read Normal and don’t mind knowing a little of what has gone before.

In Normal we were introduced to the most extraordinary serial killer, a man who murdered young women in the most horrendous ways while, at the same time, learning in spite of himself to love, to relate. Not that it stopped him killing, of course. He just thought about it a little more and allowed his relationships with some of these women to become ever more complex and tangled. In Dead Girls, it’s the job of DS Ali Green to sort it all out. It isn’t going to be easy. Ali is still struggling with the injuries she was left with two months before and some of these have stricken her deep within her mind – she has lost much of her memory, she often says things she can’t remember. She is haunted by what has happened. She should still be on sick leave but she’s been called back to work early. Two of the missing corpses from two months before have turned up – two policemen. It seems to be a message from the killer. They need Ali’s insight. Even if it turns her mad.

These are such witty books, often in the most shocking ways, as we’re presented with awful injuries and murder scenes. But because we see much of what happens here through the muddled mind and eyes of the traumatised Ali Green, it all takes on a slightly curious and even surreal edge. Nothing about this killer is normal. Nothing about what has happened to his victims is normal, even if they survived. We’re constantly reminded in frightening ways of what these women endured, what Ali went through, and what she and others will no doubt go through again. It’s dark and it’s also compelling.

In Normal the main focus was on the killer himself, inviting us to dare to like him. In Dead Girls, the focus has moved to the woman intent on destroying him once and for all, DS Ali Green. The killer is now in the shadows, the beast to be caught. I’m not sure that Dead Girls works quite as well as the brilliant Normal, and that’s largely due to this shift. Normal was so original, so odd, so mad! It was also published three years ago and so it’s difficult now, at least for me, to remember all that happened before. Reading the two together would, I think, be much more effective.

The writing in Dead Girls, though, is as witty as ever and these pages fly through the fingers as we move between Ali’s jumbled world and the desperate plight of Erica, who played such a key role in Normal. We’re introduced to lots of people and many of them are given key moments, making us care for them and fear for them. We’re shown that there is more evil in this world than just its serial killers. Erica’s experiences of life had begun to go wrong long before she caught the eye of this one particular monster.

I was engrossed by Dead Girls (what a fantastic title), reading it compulsively over just one day. These two books are so unusual. Ali Green is also hardly your typical detective. Rules here are thrown by the wayside as Ali’s thoughts jump from place to place and we scurry to keep up as things become increasingly terrifying and ever more bloody. Excellent!

Other review
Normal

Snap by Belinda Bauer

Bantam Press | 2018 (17 May) | 353p | Review copy | Buy the book

Snap by Belinda BauerWhen their car breaks down, Jack, Joy and their little sister Merry try to wait patiently in the car while their heavily pregnant mother Eileen Bright walks to a roadside emergency phone to call for help. But it’s so hot in the car, Merry needs to be changed, and their mum has been gone for an hour. SO 12-year-old Jack makes the decision that they should walk to the phone and find their mum. They do find the phone, hanging loose. Their mother is gone. These are moments that will haunt all three children and, when the police finally come across them and take them back to their father, it destroys his life, too. It’s up to Jack to support them all. Whatever he does, it can’t be enough.

Catherine While is so close to giving birth. Her husband’s away a great deal. Then one night she hears someone in the house and she’s determined to be brave and chase them off. But when she returns to her bed, she finds a knife and a note – ‘I could have killed you’ it says. And that is just the first time in which she is frightened almost to death.

Detective Chief Inspector John Marvel is in disgrace. His methods of policing are dubious to say the least and so he has been sent from London, where he solved murders, to the Devon and Cornwall border where he can chase burglars instead. And so when the chance comes to reopen the case of Eileen Bright, he grabs at it. At last he can redeem himself! If he behaves, of course, which he won’t.

Snap is an absolutely fantastic crime thriller by an author that I’m growing to love more and more with every book. This one is undoubtedly my favourite of those I’ve read and that isn’t surprising – it excels in so many ways. Firstly, the story is superb. It’s clever, goes off in completely unexpected directions and is largely driven along by the most brilliant and memorable characters. Much of the novel takes place in 2001, three years after the disappearance of Eileen Bright, a time before social media, or mobile phones, controlled our lives. DCI Marvel is certainly an old-fashioned detective. He knows how to say the wrong thing and he can’t stop himself. I love, though, how he realises that he shouldn’t do it. That his ill-thought through words make his palms sweat when he thinks on them. There is so much about John Marvel to dislike but it’s so difficult not to like him.

Marvel does make mistakes, big mistakes, and so too does Detective Sergeant Reynolds who is the very opposite of his new boss. His pedantry and his fastidiousness are irritating to Marvel and to us but once again – I found myself falling for him. He is, it’s fair to say, a bit of an idiot, but you can’t help thinking that he’ll improve with time. A lot of time.

But the main bittersweet joy of Snap is Belinda Bauer’s non-sentimental depiction of these three deeply troubled children. Jack is such a wonderful creation but Merry is heartbreakingly loveable, as she clings to her tortoise for comfort and does her best to mow the lawn. Poor Joy is a lost soul indeed. My heart went out to these three while also smiling at their escapades. It’s hard to see how things can turn out well but their strength of character shines through. There are lots of cameo appearances through this novel. Glimpses of characters who are full of personality.

Snap is a novel with so much warmth and compassion. There is humour and wit and also a great sense of pace and tension. The second half in particular is unputdownable as Marvel gets more deeply involved in the case. But what a corking story, told brilliantly well. Belinda Bauer is now one of those authors whose books will go straight to the top of my reading mountain. Snap is definitely one of my top reads of 2018 so far.

Other reviews
The Beautiful Dead

The Moscow Cipher by Scott Mariani

Avon | 2018 (31 May) | 399p | Review copy | Buy the book

When twelve-year-old Valentina disappears when visiting her father Yuri in Moscow, it’s assumed that he has stolen her away. Yuri’s divorce from Valentina’s mother was acrimonious to say the least and his ex-wife has been determined to stop these flying visits from France to Russia. It’s clear that Yuri decided to take matters into his own hands.

Valentina’s great uncle is Auguste Kaprisky, a billionaire who’s used to getting his own way but who has worked with Ben Hope before. Nobody can recover kidnapped victims as well as Ben Hope. The fee is enormous and it looks straightforward, a simple case of parent abduction, but, when Ben arrives in Moscow on the trail of Yuri, it soon becomes clear that this case will be anything but straightforward. It seems that Yuri used to be a spy, a decoder of ciphers, and he’s just deciphered one code too many. The secret message’s contents are enough to get him killed. Yuri and Valentina are on the run for their lives. Ben Hope, though, is not a man who runs from anyone.

The Moscow Cipher is the seventeenth novel in Scott Mariani’s utterly superbly fantastic Ben Hope series. The good news is that if you haven’t read any of these books yet, then you’d be safe to read The Moscow Cipher. It stands alone perfectly, making few references to events in other books and its central mystery is both self-contained and the focus. Often in these thrillers we get caught up in Ben’s explosive private life and he must fight to save the life of someone he loves. There is none of that here. Instead, we get a great story which Ben pursues through these pages with all of the ingenuity, dedication, fire power and energy that we’re used to.

But just because Ben has less personal stake in this case, it doesn’t mean that it’s an easy one. Far from it. I think Ben would agree that there are times here when he comes closer to death than ever before. Ben is increasingly aware of his mortality. Ben might be super but he isn’t a superhero. He bleeds like everyone else. I wish he were more careful but how I love the thrills and tension, and all of the things that make this wonderful figure Ben Hope.

As you can see from the list of other reviews below, I am a huge fan of this series (I probably rave about it more than any other) and I’ve been reading it for far longer than I’ve been reviewing. In my opinion, it’s the best thriller series out there and when one arrives I drop everything else I’m reading. I did just that with The Moscow Cipher and read it in one glorious (actually it was raining) day. Scott Mariani is a master of writing thrillers. Not only has he created a character that I absolutely adore, but he puts Ben in such incredible situations, sometimes involving archaeological mysteries, sometimes involving mad villains, and they’re always completely engrossing.

I loved The Moscow Cipher. It is so exciting, brilliantly written and plotted, with such a great Russian setting and some intriguing characters (I was interested in everybody in this book) and Ben Hope is as magnificent as ever. If you haven’t read this series before, I urge you to dive in. If you have then you’ll be as keen as I was to read this latest adventure. And the good news is the trend of having two a year continues in 2018. The Rebel’s Revenge will be published in November. Hooray! Long may Ben Hope reign!

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

Cross Her Heart by Sarah Pinborough

HarperCollins | 2018 (17 May) | 384p | Review copy | Buy the book

Cross Her Heart by Sarah PinboroughAva knows that her mum, Lisa, loves her but sometimes she wishes she weren’t so overprotective. Ava’s at that age now. She’s 16 years old. She’s got good friends, a boyfriend, and the chance of something even more exciting due to some tantalising messages on her Facebook. Mind you, it also seems that things are looking up for Lisa as well. Her job’s going well, she’s got such a good friend in her colleague Marilyn, and she’s seriously thinking of accepting an offer of a date from one of her business’s clients. But there’s something niggling away in Lisa’s mind. There’s something not quite right, things possibly being moved, strange song dedications on the radio, and more besides. Lisa doesn’t want to worry but every single bone in her body tells her she should be terrified.

And that is all you’ll hear from me about what goes on plotwise within this compelling and richly layered thriller. Sarah Pinborough is such a clever and original writer, with an imagination that challenges everything that we expect from a psychological thriller, and she’s done the same with other genres in the past. You never quite know what you’re going to get but there is one certainty – it will be make you stop in your tracks. And it will make your jaw drop. Not just once but time after time. And that’s just what happens in Cross Her Heart.

The characters created here are fascinating and each of them has their own story and we keep an eye on more than one of them at a time. The narrative moves between three voices in particular but there are multiple characters who move through, some just turning up unannounced and demanding our attention as we work out where and how they’re going to fit in.

I must admit to having one issue with Cross Her Heart but it’s a personal one. There were some brief sections that were too painful for me to read. They tore into my heart and I just couldn’t deal with them. This is testament to the power of the author’s writing and the strength of the feeling that she conveys. Other readers made of sterner stuff will be fine, I’m sure.

I had the floor swept out from under my feet a couple of times during my reading of Cross Her Heart. The plot is extraordinary. Behind Her Eyes was such a clever and original psychological thriller and Sarah Pinborough has challenged it in completely different and fresh ways. She knows how to grab our attention and I’m in awe of how she manages it, with every book she writes whatever its genre. No genre can hold Sarah Pinborough back. She conquers them all.

Other reviews
The Death House
13 Minutes
Behind Her Eyes