Category Archives: Thriller

No Way Out by Cara Hunter

Penguin | 2019 (18 April) | 362p | Review copy | Buy the book

No Way Out by Cara HunterIt is the Christmas holidays when two children are pulled from their burning home in north Oxford. The toddler is dead while his older brother is fighting for his life. The parents are missing. The father, an academic at Oxford University, is supposed to be in London presenting a lecture at a conference. He doesn’t show up and he’s not answering his phone. The mother is nowhere to be seen. The Esmond family seemed the perfect family but who knows what could have gone on behind closed doors? What could have gone so wrong? With theories and rumours more numerous than facts, DI Adam Fawley and his team have a struggle on their hands to uncover the truth. One thing is soon apparent – this was no accident.

No Way Out is the third novel by Cara Hunter to feature DI Adam Fawley but it’s the first I’ve read. There is a great deal going on in Fawley’s life, which means he’s emotionally distanced from the case, leaving much of it to his sergeants and constables. This would possibly mean more to readers who have read the previous two books but it didn’t affect my reading at all. It’s clear what’s going on. It did make me want to re-read the earlier books, though. There are little teasers about this – after all, the books are set in the small world of Oxford, where past crimes are not easily forgotten – but there’s nothing to spoil what’s happened before. But I’m intrigued!

As somebody new to the series, I found Adam Fawley rather hard to warm to but I think that’s because he’s so distracted by his troubled personal life. By contrast, I immediately fell for his team and we spend time with most of them as they do most of the work. The case is a terrible one with these poor children and it gets under their skin. They want to do what’s right by these young boys. Intensifying our empathy for what has happened, throughout the novel we spend time in the past with the Esmond family, getting to know them, as the days count down to the fire. It’s very effectively done.

I really enjoyed the way in which Cara Hunter inserts numerous reports, interviews, newspaper stories and so on, into the narrative. It adds an immediacy and also makes it feel very real and authentic. More than once characters are reminded that this is real life, not fiction – that this isn’t Inspector Morse. Although, the reader is bound to make parallels, especially as No Way Out features University academics and is set in leafy north Oxford. Despite this, there is a grittiness to the book and it feels like a genuine police investigation, with everybody doing their set jobs. This is a team effort and full of little details that keep the reader hooked.

I have to say something about the location because I know north Oxford extremely well indeed. I was worried about reading a novel set there but Cara Hunter does a good job, combining authentic places and names with imaginary streets. I wasn’t expecting No Way Out to come quite as close to home as it actually did! I almost dropped the book at one point in shock! But, otherwise, it was a lot of fun seeing places I know on the page and being able to recognise them.

I think that No Way Out is an excellent police procedural. It’s gripping and twisty but it doesn’t feel gimmicky or out to shock. It’s very well written and its setting in Oxford shows that there is still much more crime to be committed and solved in this small city! I’ll definitely be reading more.

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

No Way Out blog tour


The Passengers by John Marrs

Ebury/Del Ray | 2019 (ebook: 1 April; Pb: 30 May) | 400p | Review copy | Buy the book: Kindle; Pb

The Passengers by John MarrsOne morning a number of individuals think nothing of the journeys they’re about to undertake. They each get into their cars and set off. None of them will get to their destination. Each of the cars is fully automated, without steering wheels or controls, the driver is no longer a driver. He or she is just a passenger driven by an AI. Having control of the radio or tv screen is about the only power that the passengers have, but these people are about to lose even that. A few minutes into the journey they hear a voice and it tells them something that some of them believe must be a hoax – or even a reality TV show game. Their journey will take two and a half hours and at the end of that time, they will probably be dead. And it will all be filmed and projected into TVs and social media streams across the land. Viewers will be asked to make a choice.

Meanwhile, watching on is Libby. Libby is the civilian member of a curious jury that meets to decide who is liable in the event of an accident involving driverless cars. Is it the fault of the victim or the car? But their heated discussions are interrupted by the display of the drama playing out in front of an increasingly large and opinionated audience. As Libby and everyone else meets the helpless, panicked passenger, Libby realises with a shock that one of them looks very familiar to her indeed.

The Passengers is a book that I had to read the moment I was fortunate enough to obtain an advance copy. The premise is, undeniably, a little ridiculous but it is absolutely riveting! Set in the near future, this is a world in which social media is king and when people have got more time to spend on it due to the luxury of being driven around in cars by AI systems. There are sinister connotations to both of these concepts and John Marrs explores them to the full and I was hanging onto every single word.

The passengers are a fascinating and varied bunch, including a young pregnant woman, a suicidal man, an ageing movie and TV star, an unhappily married couple (each in their separate cars), a refugee, a woman escaping an abusive husband, an old soldier, and so on. It’s up to the public, and Libby’s jury, to save them, and social media will be shown at its very worst as it uses preconceptions about colour, gender, morality, religion, age to condemn the innocent – or the guilty. It is so gripping! We see the world at its worst.

One of the (many) things that kept me so hooked on the book is the author’s incredible talent for ending many of the chapters with such a shocking revelation or cliff hanger that at times I was utterly gobsmacked! I even had to mute a squeal when I was reading an especially jawdropping moment on the bus. But these moments aren’t rare. They happen time after time and I was left in utter awe of their creator’s skill.

I’m quite good at identifying the villain in thrillers and crime novels but The Passengers kept me in complete and happy ignorance until the very end. That is such a treat in itself. But this was more than equalled by the brilliant storytelling, the tension that is maintained from the very first page, the shocks that jolted me upright at regular and yet unexpected intervals, and the sheer entertainment of enjoying a sensational, slightly preposterous, story, made so real and thrilling. If you want a fun read, look no further!

Sleep by C.L. Taylor

Avon | 2019 (21 March) | c.400p | Review copy | Buy the book

Sleep by C.L. TaylorAnna has been tormented by insomnia ever since surviving a terrible road accident. She finds her life difficult to cope with in the aftermath and, to make things even worse, she can’t help thinking that she is being followed. Or is this just guilt pursuing her every wakeful thought? Anna is determined to escape and so she heads about as far away as she can. She takes a job as a receptionist in the small Bay View Hotel on the remote Scottish island of Rum. Her job will be to assist the manager David with the guests who arrive to take part in hikes across the island’s glorious peaks. But, along with the first group of seven tourists, arrives a storm that will soon cut the hotel off from the rest of the island, while phone and internet signals will also fail.

Trapped within the hotel, it’s not long before the personalities emerge of each of the guests and Anna realises that she is surrounded by secrets. She wasn’t the only one who fled to the island to escape a past. But, just when she thinks it couldn’t get any worse, it really does and Anna must face the terrible truth that her stalker has followed her to Rum.

Sleep has a fantastic premise and, after starting it late one evening, I was pulled right in and only emerged with 60% of it read in one sitting. It undoubtedly tells a compelling story as it moves between our heroine Anna and the perspectives of others in her life, notably her ex-partner, and in her story. This sort of structure usually moves a story along and it does a good job of doing that here.

I was definitely enticed by the setting on the island. I’m very partial to mysteries set on islands, as my reading this year attests. This does, though, mean that this is a rather popular setting for novels and I’m not sure that Sleep treats the stormy landscape as well as others that I’ve read. And unfortunately I didn’t enjoy the second half of the novel as much as the first. I’ve been thinking about why that is and I think it’s mostly because the story is, for me, overladen with red herrings and twists. It’s almost like it’s working too hard and that it’s also playing with us. I know that most people have really loved this book and so I think this may be something to do with me and my attitude towards psychological novels. I’ve just read too many of them and I’m suspicious of their games. I won’t give anything away but I also really didn’t like the final page.

Nevertheless, C.L. Taylor writes well and I think that Sleep will be a popular read, especially for those who have read fewer psychological thrillers! It’s certainly gripping and extremely hard to put down.

Other review
The Missing

One False Move by Robert Goddard

Bantam Press | 2019 (28 February) | 352p | Review copy | Buy the book

One False Move by Robert GoddardJoe Roberts is an extraordinary young man. He might think that he lives a quiet, unremarkable life in Cornwall working as a financial advisor, but he has a talent that attracts attention. He has a genius for playing the strategic game of Go. He can even beat the computer at it. He can outsmart computers. Venstrom, a gaming company giant based in the Silicon Valley, wants him and so they send Nicole Nevinson to St Maws in Cornwall to sign him up. Money is no object and failure is not an option, as Nicole’s boss yells down the phone at her. But Joe’s current employer and shady businessman, Conrad Vogler, isn’t going to let Joe go in a hurry. And Vogler isn’t going to be all that Nicole has to worry about. Other people are after Joe Roberts and their intentions are dark and significant. Nicole has crossed a line. She is completely out of her depth. Her world will collapse around her. To survive, she must play their game and win.

Robert Goddard is a master plotter. He is a writer of ingenious thrillers. They are awe inspiring. And yet again, with One False Move, Robert Goddard demonstrates just how truly brilliant he is. This is a superb thriller! It’s one of those rare books that sweeps the ground from under your feet. You start the book thinking you have one kind of story and then there’s a monumental shift and you’re thrown into intricately plotted chaos and then it happens again! Nicole Nevinson goes through hell in this novel and we are made to know exactly how that feels for her. There are no constants, no certainties. It’s breathtaking. It is also extremely menacing. The menace starts early on but soon you know that there are degrees of menace which you could never expect. The world is not as you think it.

The gaming element is fascinating and such an effective metaphor for the book as a whole. Characters have to work hard to outsmart and outmanoeuvre more powerful forces. Usually they fail. Working out who to trust is a key element of One More Move. Decisions have to be made in an instant. If you make the wrong move, consequences can be deadly. You can’t undo it.

Nicole Nevinson is such a fine main character and a very effective narrator. She knows little more than the reader about the genius that Joe embodies. She has to learn those skills herself and it’s extraordinary how much happens to her over such a short period of time, how much the world shifts.

One False Move is one of the best thrillers I’ve read in quite a while. It develops in a way that is irresistible. I did not want to put this book down. Its structure and plot is incredibly intricate and rewardingly complex. It’s clever but it’s also genuinely thrilling as well as being superbly written. I’m not sure it’s possible to ask for more.

Other reviews
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Panic Room

The Girl Next Door by Phoebe Morgan

HQ | 2019 (21 February) | 336p | Review copy | Buy the book

The Girl Next Door by Phoebe MorganTo everyone who knows her, Jane Morgan lives the perfect life. She is the wife of an admired, handsome doctor, she has three lovely children, including beautiful twins, and they live in one of the larger houses in the quiet village of Ashdon. Jane is a member – a leader, even – of most of the village’s organisations. She even runs a book club. But then one February the girl next door, 16-year-old Clare Edwards, is found murdered in the nearby Sorrow’s Meadow. As the villagers stumble around in their efforts to support the grieving mother and stepfather, they’re well aware that there’s a killer on the loose. Jane will do anything to protect her family while keeping hidden her darkest secret. No marriage is perfect. Jane’s certainly isn’t.

The Girl Next Door is such a fast and entertaining psychological thriller. We’re used to families with hidden secrets but what I really enjoyed about this novel is the author’s depiction of what seems to hold the community of Ashdon together – the circle of female friends, with their impeccable makeup, their inability to keep their noses out of their neighbours’ business, their fridges full of wine, their snobbishness and their prejudices. In Ashdon, the best way to win approval is to bake a lasagne for a bereaved friend. It’s not what you think that counts, it’s how you act. And Jane, who is looked up to and envied by everyone, except perhaps by the mother of the murdered girl, is queen of Ashdon.

Jane is our narrator and she has a fascinating voice. There are plenty of little digs at her friends and her worry that she’s not keeping up appearances is paramount. But Jane hints that her marriage is far from fine but to divorce would bring shame. Their friend Linda is getting divorced and there’s a queue of people promising to bake for her – although you rather sense that nobody actually has. Jane must stay married. Instead, she focuses on keeping her children safe.

Every so often we hear another voice and that one belongs to Clare as she goes over what happened to her during her last day. I thought this worked really well. Amongst the selfishness and the superficiality, through Clare we see the real actual tragedy of what has happened. A teenage girl has died just as her life was beginning. Clare’s grief at her life ending is mirrored by that of her mother Rachel. Jane notices that Rachel is no longer wearing makeup, that she clings to people. This is a woman stripped bare by grief. It’s very well done.

As for the mystery itself, I did guess relatively early on, which meant that the second half of the novel didn’t quite match the first. Nevertheless, The Girl Next Door is an entertaining, well-written and pageturning portrayal of a family and a community dealing with a terrible act that has no place in a village as perfect as Ashdon.

Winter World by A.G. Riddle

Head of Zeus | 2019 (Hb: 7 February; ebook: 26 February) | 389p | Review copy | Buy the book

Winter World by AG RiddleEarth should be getting warmer. All of the scientists are agreed. But the unexpected is happening and it’s happening very fast. Earth is getting very cold indeed. Glaciers are reclaiming the planet, pushing people into just a few enclaves where conditions are still survivable – for now. There isn’t enough space. War seems inevitable. But it will be brief because the evidence is clear – Earth will be covered in ice in a matter of weeks and most life, including humans, will face extinction. The crew aboard the International Space Station is working on experiments to find out what is going on and to try and put a halt to it. But then an object is spotted against the backdrop of the Sun. It’s a cataclysmic moment for the Space Station and is of great significance for all Earth – we are not alone in the universe. And whatever, whoever it is out there did not come in peace.

As soon as I read the premise of Winter World I was desperate to read it! I love apocalyptic thrillers and even more so when they’re combined with science fiction, especially first contact stories. As soon as this arrived, I read it and it is such an exciting read. There’s a Gravity feel to the opening chapters as ISS Commander Emma Matthews struggles for survival. Meanwhile, on Earth, scientist James Sinclair has his own battles to fight and we follow them both as their stories weave together into a thrilling science fiction apocalyptic adventure.

Half of the novel is set in space while the other half is on a frozen Earth and I enjoyed both of these. The Earth sections focus mostly on people as they try and do the best they can to survive while maintaining their relationships and humanity. I’m glad to say that conflict between nations doesn’t play as large a role as I feared. Instead it just adds tension. Mostly this is a novel about survival on a more personal scale. And it’s in these sections that we get to know Emma, James and their friends and family better.

The space sections are the most exciting. In fact, the action gets so intense at times that it does all get rather confusing and I found those pages a little hard to follow. But the intrigue of what has been discovered in space is absolutely spellbinding. I love this kind of thing.

There’s some science, there’s a little bit of romance, plenty of danger, and there are spaceships, alien artefacts and extreme weather – if I had to put together a recipe for a book I want to read then that would be about it. I do enjoy A.G. Riddle’s books. Some I’ve had trouble with but there are others I’ve loved. I always look forward to them. If you’re after a fun apocalyptic science fiction thriller to take your mind off some of the reality of life on Earth then you’re in the right place with Winter World.

Other reviews
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Never Tell by Lisa Gardner

Century | 2019 (21 February) | 416p | Review copy | Buy the book

Never Tell by Lisa GardnerConrad Carter, a travelling salesman, has been shot in his Boston home three times. His computer has been shot twelve times. The police arrive to find his pregnant wife Evie clutching a gun, blood on her hands. It seems the case is closed almost before it opens. But there’s something about the evidence that doesn’t quite ring true and Detective D.D. Warren begins to suspect that something remarkable might be about to happen. Years ago, the teenage Evie was aquitted for shooting dead her father, a famous professor and a mathematical genius. Accidental death was the verdict then. Is Evie really going to get away with murder, not once but twice? There’s nothing for it. D.D. must dig into the previous case, suspecting it might throw light on the present shooting.

But it’s all about to take an unexpected turn when the victim Conrad Carter is recognised by Flora, D.D.’s civilian consultant and a young woman who survived many months of torture and imprisonment by her captor Jacob Ness. Flora met Carter during her captivity. Carter and Ness knew one another. It will take all of Flora’s strength and courage to relive her past, to try and work out who Carter was and how Evie became involved. D.D. has no choice but to work again with Flora, putting this extraordinary young woman once more in danger.

Never Tell is the tenth novel in Lisa Gardner’s fine D.D. Warren series and the third to feature the brilliant Flora Dane. I love Flora so much and I can’t help but wish that she is a permanent feature in these books. D.D. is a fascinating woman in her own right but as a pair these two are quite possibly my favourites in American crime fiction. Then there’s the setting of Boston, which is such a bonus.

This novel tells such a compelling story, moving to and fro in time as both Flora and Evie reflect on their past and how it has changed them – Flora with her captivity and Evie with the death of her father. Flora’s character is so strong and detached. She has been transformed by her ordeal. She met her match in Jacob Ness and in Never Tell we get to know more about this monster. Although the relationship between Ness and Flora dominates, there is much more to this fine novel. I particularly enjoyed the Evie storyline as well as watching D.D.’s interaction with her colleagues and with the FBI whose involvement adds another layer of tension to the investigation. And then there’s Conrad Carter…

There is a grimness to Never Tell, which, at times, I did find a little distressing. It doesn’t tell the easiest of stories. Lisa Gardner is such a good writer. She combines emotion, action and police procedural so well, fully immersing us in the world of the survivor. It is powerful stuff and there were moments when it became so intense I had to take a breath. It is a painful read on occasion but this is all part of Lisa Gardner’s achievement – Flora Dane is somebody worth caring about. There is, though, hope in this novel and I embraced it. This is such a brilliant series, without doubt one of the very best about in crime fiction today.

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