Category Archives: Thriller

The Perfect Girlfriend by Karen Hamilton

Wildfire | 2018 (Hb: 22 March; ebook: 2 March) | 358p | Review copy | Buy the book

The Perfect Girlfriend by Karen HamiltonJuliette loves Nate. She doesn’t want to be apart from him and the fact that Nate’s an airline pilot means that he can be away from home for more than half of the time. It makes sense, then, that she should become a flight attendant with the same airline. With any luck they’ll be able to share some of the trips and their relationship will be stronger than ever. The fact that Nate broke up with Juliette a few months ago is nothing but a hurdle to overcome. Soon they will be back together and Juliette can continue to share in Nate’s glamorous life. Nothing or noone can stand in her way. After all, Juliette is the perfect girlfriend.

The Perfect Girlfriend is Karen Hamilton’s debut novel, a stand alone psychological thriller with a premise that instantly hooks. As soon as I heard about this, I was desperate to read it and Juliette does not disappoint. She is the perfect anti-hero and even though Juliette’s clearly the villain of the piece, it’s in her company that we spend our time. We see the workings of her brain, the way that she rationalises what she does (and some of what she does is truly shocking – did she really do that?! I found myself thinking that a fair bit), as if it’s all completely normal, and it’s actually quite hard to dislike her. Nate is a bit of a shadowy figure. He’s the ideal, the goal and therefore more two-dimensional. He’s much harder to empathise with than our righteous, proud and ever so determined Juliette.

The first half of the novel was my clear favourite. I loved the way in which Juliette sets up the situation for us, as we see what she gets up to and the lengths she’ll go to to be a part of Nate’s life. This is fascinating – terrifying but fascinating. Watching Juliette try to make and keep a friend is especially involving. We get little hints of how the outside world views Juliette, even though we view most of the world through the blinkers that Juliette constantly wears. I wasn’t as won over by the second half as then we enter into more extreme territory, heading deeper into Fatal Attraction country, as Juliette begins to lose control and chaos descends. But it’s difficult to see how else it could have been.

I really enjoyed the details of life as a flight attendant. Karen Hamilton writes with firsthand experience and it does show, adding a great deal of weight and authenticity to the book. I love the mix of the job’s glamour and tedium, the exotic locations and dealing with difficult passengers on long flights (not to mention the odd spot of turbulence).

The Perfect Girlfriend is such a fun novel, with an anti-heroine that somehow manages to win us over to her side despite the most outrageous behaviour. Throw in some luxurious and exotic destinations and the fascinating world of the flying business, and you have the recipe for a thoroughly entertaining psychological thriller with a difference. It’s certainly an impressive debut.


Panic Room by Robert Goddard

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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 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

Zero Day by Ezekiel Boone

Gollancz/Atria Books | 2018 (UK: 1 March/US: 27 February) | 315p | Review copy (UK and US editions) | Buy the book: UK/US

Zero Day by Ezekiel BooneZero Day is the final part of Ezekiel Boone’s skin-crawlingly brilliant Hatching trilogy, which means that if you haven’t already read The Hatching and Skitter then you must tread no further, certainly not without looking where you’re walking because this is the Spiderpocalypse! This review assumes that you know what’s happened before, although I’ll do my best to give nothing away about any of the people (otherwise known as spider food) within.

The world has endured the first and second waves of spiders but the world is not as it was before. Nucleur missiles have wiped out many of Earth’s biggest cities, in China, the United States and elsewhere. Much of America is now a no go zone, with some politicians advising that everywhere west of New York City should be abandoned to its fate. The scientists know that there is one more wave of spiders to come and this one could mark the end of humanity. But how far should mankind go to fight the spiders? What if man’s extinction comes not from the spiders but from the very actions taken to defend the human race? These are the questions troubling the highest levels of government but meanwhile men, women and children across the globe are trying to survive from one day to the next. Sometimes surrounded by moats of fire or lakes of water – anything to keep the spiders at bay.

This has been a fantastic series from the start and I’m delighted, but not surprised, to say that Zero Day concludes events in fine style. I’m not going to mention any of the people. Not everyone will have made it this far but there are some that have and we are desperate for them to live. We meet survivors across the planet but most of our attention is on the US where politicians, soldiers, scientists and normal families are battling for existence. As we move back and forth between them we are desperate to know how all of this is going to turn out.

While I would have preferred more spiders – and fewer gungho nuclear-missile-waving politicians – in the first half, the second half more than makes up for this and it is thoroughly exciting, spectacularly explosive and deliciously creepy – these spiders are awful! I don’t mind spiders myself but the ones within these pages are enough to fill a lifetime of nightmares.

One of the things that I really love about these books is their humanity. With a very few notable exceptions, most of the people we meet care for each other as much as for themselves, if not more so. Time after time we see people put their own lives in danger to help strangers or those who have become close to them in this time of crisis. There are survivalists who go against all the stereotypes, helping others, risking everything. We have straight and gay relationships, there is a harmony and equality at work here. Society isn’t perfect but I like the world as we see it here. This is good against evil on an almighty scale, with the enemy being not just the spiders but also a few male powerful politicians who belong to an old world that deserves to be eaten by eight-legged monsters.

I read Zero Day in one glorious sitting. I love how frightening and thrilling it is. I knew when I read The Hatching that I was in for a treat with this trilogy and I was so right! And it’s so good to say that the ending is every bit as fabulous as the beginning. I’ll miss these characters but I’m looking forward very much to seeing where Ezekiel Boone takes us next.

Other reviews
The Hatching

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

Gallery of the Dead by Chris Carter

Simon & Schuster | 2018 (8 February) | 500p | Review copy | Buy the book

Gallery of the Dead by Chris CarterWhen model Linda Parker returns home after a full day’s work to her affectionate cat and stylish house in Los Angeles she is in for the biggest shock of her life. It will also be her last. Her murder will horrify even the most hardened of LA’s Police Department, even Detectives Robert Hunter and Carlos Garcia of the Ultra Violent Crimes Unit. The murder isn’t going to stay their sole property for long. Clues link the murder to others across the United States and so the FBI soon come calling to claim the case.

But Hunter is no normal detective. He wrote the rule book of detection as far as the FBI is concerned and they know that his intuition and instinct will be invaluable, not least in linking murder victims who have nothing in common. With Hunter and Garcia working alongside Special Agents Erica Fisher and Larry Williams, this case is going to be like no other that Hunter has investigated. The killer is certainly unique. But Hunter believes that the murderer is leaving them messages. If only he can work out what they are. And quickly, too. Time is short, and for the next victim it’s about to run out.

Gallery of the Dead is the ninth book in Chris Carter’s Robert Hunter series, following on the heels of The Caller, one of my favourite thrillers of last year. Just like The Caller, Gallery of the Dead works really well as a stand alone novel. It’s clear almost immediately how talented and charismatic a detective Hunter is and no time is wasted before we’re all thrown into the midst of the case. And what a nasty case it is, too. It is gory but even though I’m generally a squeamish reader I was fine with it. We’re in serial killer thriller territory here, which feels far removed from real life, and so the author can get away with murder.

The relationship between Hunter and Garcia is very appealing in these books and Gallery of the Dead is no different. Hunter can feel detached and a little cold, although he is working at warming up a bit, but there’s none of that distance with Garcia. And in this novel we have the added bonus of Fisher and Williams. The relationship between the four of them adds a human side that lightens the mood in a thriller that is often intense and strongly focused.

The case is most certainly a good one although I had some minor misgivings about the way in which it unfolds at the end (for reasons I can’t mention here). But, despite this, Gallery of the Dead gripped me from its creepy first pages. It’s a substantial book but I read it in a couple of pages, grabbing every opportunity I could to read it. Chris Carter is so good at moving a thriller along, packing it full of intensity, evil and pace. I’m still catching up with the Hunter series and Gallery of the Dead, on top of the superb The Caller, has reinforced my desire to do so as quickly as possible.

Other review
The Caller