The Noise by James Patterson and J.D. Barker

Century | 2021 (5 August) | 421p | Review copy | Buy the book

Terror has come to Mount Hood in Oregon and Tennant Riggin and her much younger sister Sophie are the only survivors from a small community of people living off the grid. Everyone has either vanished or their bodies have been smashed to pieces. The government gathers together a group of scientists, experts in, among other things, the environment, in medicine, in space. They are sealed off from the rest of the world as they study this terrible phenomenon – death is brought by a catastrophic noise and it seems there is a pattern to it. Psychologist Martha Chan believes the answers can be found with Tennant and Sophie but, with the noise spreading, will there be time to save humanity?

I love a good thriller and The Noise was irresistible to me. It’s got the lot – science fiction, horror, mystery and speculation, apocalyptic threat, action, goodies, baddies, all set within the spectacular and isolated mountains and forests of Oregon. The authors are also a draw, bringing together thrills and horror, and they do it very well.

The Noise is a fast read. It races along, with short chapters which move between the protagonists – the sisters, the scientists, the military, the President and his advisors. It’s all thoroughly entertaining but what gives this novel an edge is the nature of its mystery. I was fascinated by the noise and really wanted to know what it’s all about. Is it manmade, is it alien, is it supernatural? What is it?

Martha Chan is a sympathetic character but, surprisingly, I was most drawn to Lt Col Fraser’s story. He is in many ways the perfect soldier but he battles the noise more than most and his struggle against it is really involving.

There are also some interesting takes on horror themes, such as zombies, and It reminded me a little of Wanderers by Chuck Wendig but in many ways it’s very different. Its ending is absolutely brilliant to my mind. This is a horror thriller that totally delivers at the end and, when you know why, it makes you realise just how clever the novel has been, as well as exciting and tense. The authors of The Noise are a winning partnership and I really hope for more from them.

Other reviews
With Marshall Karp – NYPD Red 5
With Bill Clinton – The President is Missing
With Bill Clinton – The President’s Daughter
With Brendon DuBois – The First Lady

A Winter War by Tim Leach

Head of Zeus | 2021 (5 August) | 400p | Review copy | Buy the book

A Winter War by Tim LeachIt is 173 AD and only the Danube stands between the mighty army of Marcus Aurelius and the complete destruction of the Sarmatians, a fierce, fractious nomadic people. The warrior tribes come together to fight the Romans on the Danube’s ice surface but it is a disaster. Few survive and those that do must make a choice when given a terrible ultimatum by an emperor who believes himself a god. Kai survived, hidden by one of the fearsome horses that his people prize, and must become a leader of sorts, a role that doesn’t suit because to many he is a coward, a shamed outcast. And no-one hates him more than his sister, the most feared of warriors. But, as the winter freezes the ground and people alike, the Sarmatians must walk an uncertain path between honour and shame, watched over by a Roman army, fascinated by their enemy but determined to crush it forever.

The Last King of Lydia and its sequel The King and the Slave are among the most wonderful historical novels that I have ever read, immersing me in an unfamiliar and almost mythical period of history (the 6th century BC), and illuminating that time with its astonishing depiction of Croesus and his transformation from king to slave. Now Tim Leach portrays a clash of cultures on the fringes of a Roman empire ruled by an enigmatic, cruel philosopher emperor. We spend time with Marcus Aurelius, camped by the Danube, and it’s a dangerous place, but most of the novel is spent with Kai and those closest to him, his friend, his daughter, his lover and his slave. And his extraordinary sister.

Through Kai, Tim Leach explores the society of the Sarmatians, its blurring of genders and roles, its strange and terrible traditions, its relationship with horses and the land, and its complete lack of perception about what the Romans really are, what they represent and what they will do. Knowledge brings with it desperation and division. Male and female characters fascinate equally here, which is a real draw of this novel.

Tim Leach writes beautifully. This is gorgeous prose, immersing the reader in the trials of this cold, cold place at such a time of brutal crisis. It’s lyrical and thoughtful. There is plenty of action, some of it quite shocking – these are violent people! – but this is offset by Kai’s journey.

A Winter War is the first in a new series. It’s a complete novel in itself while also making the reader very keen for book 2! I can’t wait to see what happens next  because it is going to be incredible.

Other reviews
The Last King of Lydia
The King and the Slave

A Line to Kill by Anthony Horowitz

Century | 2021 (19 August) | 384p | Review copy | Buy the book

A Line to Kill by Anthony HorowitzFormer Detective Inspector Daniel Hawthorne and his biographer Anthony Horowitz are rather pleased when they are invited to a literary festival on the beautiful and quiet Channel Island of Alderney, although Anthony is a little surprised that Daniel agreed to it so readily. It’s almost as if he knew that they would soon be embroiled in a murder case that has the whole island locked down while the police (and Anthony and Daniel) seek out the killer. There is a fine selection of suspects among the festival attendees, speakers and organisers, not all of whom will leave the island alive. But who among them is the murderer?

I love this series so much and A Line to Kill, the third, is every bit as fun and engrossing as the previous novels, The Word is Murder and The Sentence is Death. The concept is fabulous – the author as a character in his own novel, helping an enigmatic detective to solve murders, but often getting it all wrong while Daniel works it out. These books are wonderful, witty satires on all things literary, whether that’s authors, publishers, agents, reviewers or, in this case, literary festivals.

The Alderney setting is my favourite of all the locations in the novels, not least because I really want to go to the historical literary festival there one of these days (when I can conquer my terror of small planes), and I love the descriptions of the island. There is also a strong sense of history. The horrendous years of the Occupation during World War Two, when the island was prison to thousands of slave labourers and transformed into a fortress, cast a shadow over the novel and adds another fascinating element. The past cannot be forgotten.

I’m not going to give away anything about the plot, other than to say that the suspects are an incredible bunch of characters, including a blind psychic and a celebrity chef. They are a lot of fun to read about while Daniel Hawthorne is his usual aggravating self.

I love cosy, locked room whodunnits and I also like it when cosy crime is played with, as this series does so well. A Line to Kill is a thoroughly entertaining, clever and engrossing read, as are all of the novels I’ve read by this author. I really hope Anthony will assist Daniel Hawthorne in another case and very soon.

Other reviews
The Word is Murder
The Sentence is Death
Magpie Murders
The Moonflower Murders

The Night She Disappeared by Lisa Jewell

Century | 2021 (22 July) | 480p | Bought copy | Buy the book

The Night She Disappeared by Lisa JewellIn 2018, detective novelist Sophie arrives to live at Maypole House, a country boarding school. Her boyfriend is its new head and she finds it hard to settle so far away from her old life in London. When she goes out for a walk in the woods behind the school, she finds a sign nailed to a fence – ‘Dig here’. What she finds will re-open raw wounds among the members of the school and surrounding small community.

In the summer of 2017, teenage mum Tallulah left her baby son at home with her mother Kim to go out on a date night with her boyfriend. They ended up at a pool party at Dark Place, a house in the woods behind the school. Neither Tallulah or her boyfriend Zach were seen again, leaving Kim and the detective in charge of the case in limbo, endlessly searching. But now, after all these months, somebody is trying to get Sophie’s attention and the mystery intensifies.

Lisa Jewell writes such brilliant stand alone crime and psychological thrillers or twisters and with The Night She Disappeared she has done it again. The premise is appealing and the mystery intriguing. I really wanted to know the answer to what happened to Tallulah and her boyfriend Zach.

But this is more than just a crime mystery, it tells several stories in a structure that moves between the present – Kim and Sophie’s stories – and the past – Tallulah’s life as a teenage mum trying to fit in with her friends who are so entirely different from her, all leading up to the night of her disappearance. Following that disappearance, our sympathies move to Kim who now has to raise an unhappy small child. She is filled with love for him but wasn’t ready to raise another child. And, of course, he is a constant reminder of the child she has lost.

So there is the deeply involved story of Kim and then the outsider perspective of Sophie, looking on the mystery with fresh eyes and finding potential suspects all around her. The school and its woods take on a sinister and menacing air as Sophie literally digs for clues.

I did find the ending slightly rushed and a little unconvincing but otherwise I thoroughly enjoyed The Night She Disappeared and found it hard to put down. Its portrait of Tallulah is particularly well done as she does battle with herself. The structure of the novel works very well. Lisa Jewell is such a wonderful storyteller.

Other reviews
Then She Was Gone
Watching You
The Family Upstairs

The Wolf Mile by C.F. Barrington

Head of Zeus | 2021 (ebook: 6 May; Pb: 5 August) | 432p | Review copy | Buy the book

The Wolf Mile by CF BarringtonTwenty years ago the Pantheon was formed – the richest men, the most powerful organisations in the world, created seven kings, each controlling an army of warriors that do battle for one short period each year, watched by thousands of investors. The people of Edinburgh are used to sightings and rumours of strange armoured people on the city’s rooftops, in its streets and hidden passages but few are aware that the Valhalla Horde and Alexander the Lion’s Titans are at war in the Pantheon Games in the city. Tyler Maitland and Lana Cameron are among the latest recruits to the Horde and must fight for their places, while learning the elaborate rules and customs of the Pantheon. Both are looking for answers, particularly Tyler, who believes that his missing sister is lost within the Pantheon. As the season of war comes around again, Tyler discovers that he has a target on his back.

The Wolf Mile is the first in a new trilogy by C.F. Barrington, The Pantheon, and it is just the sort of thriller to grab my attention – secret societies, classical and ancient warlords reborn. As for Vikings fighting Hoplites through the streets of Edinburgh, that was not in my abilities to resist. If, like me, you’re a fan of The Hunger Games and the Matthew Reilly Jack West Jr thrillers, then I think The Wolf Mile will appeal to you.

We’re thrown headfirst into the action, which does mean that, while it is extremely exciting, there are lots of questions to be answered about the set up of the Pantheon and the nature of those who observe its rituals and battles. In a way, we’re viewing it through the eyes of Tyler and Lana, novices in the Pantheon. This also means that we’ll no doubt learn more through the next two books as they work their way through the layers of secrecy. For now, we see how warriors are recruited and trained and how preparations are made for the Grand Battle. It is engrossing.

Tyler is an intriguing individual, raising all sorts of questions about why he was selected. It becomes clear that there may be more to him than meets the eye. I’m looking forward to finding out where he goes from here. Lana is less successful as a character, as are the women generally. I wasn’t keen on her backstory. Tyler’s, by contrast, is much more involving.

The setting in Edinburgh is fantastic. I don’t know the city but it rings true and I loved how the novel moves across it, with modern-day Vikings and Greeks hunting through its shadows, while living ‘normal’ lives during the day. The Wolf Mile is a lot of fun and shows Edinburgh in a whole new light. It’s action-packed and thrilling and I loved the story and concept. I’m looking forward to the second novel, The Blood Isles, which will be out as an ebook this Autumn so not long to wait at all, which is always a good thing with a trilogy.

The Appeal by Janice Hallett

Viper | 2021 (Pb: 1 July) | 447p | Bought copy | Buy the book

The Appeal by Janice HallettThe small town of Lockwood boasts a close-knit community, as exhibited in the regular productions of its celebrated amateur dramatics society, The Fairway Players. The Players are dominated by Martin (director) and Helen Hayward (lead actress) who run The Grange, a local posh country club. But members also hail from their extended family and from two other leading Lockwood clans, the Dearings and the MacDonalds. And then there’s the local St Anne’s Hospital, a veritable hotbed of gossip and the source of more eager thespians. When Sam and Kel Greenwood take up jobs at the hospital, fellow nurse Isabel Beck is keen to enrol them in The Players and get them cast in their new production of All My Sons by Arthur Miller.

It might seem surprising, then, when Roderick Tanner QC assigns his law students Charlotte and Femi to investigate a murder – but whose? All we know is that someone has been murdered, another person is in prison for it, and a third person is free and a killer. So what went so disastrously wrong for The Fairway Players? The clues are here. Can you solve the case?!

The Appeal by Janice Hallett is easily one of the best crime novels I’ve ever read and one of the most enjoyable books of any genre that I’ve read for a fair old while. I love cosy crime so much but especially when it is played with and Janice Hallett does a masterly job of playing all sorts of games with it. Firstly, it’s an epistolary novel – all we get are emails, letters, posters, newspaper reports and text messages. The only commentary comes in those text messages between Femi and Charlotte as they, like the reader, try to fathom out the clues from the correspondence between The Fairway Players.

What makes it particularly clever and completely fascinating, is that we don’t hear from all of the players. Some are referred to but are silent. We have to try and work out what they are up to in the wings or backstage. Others say an awful lot. Too much?

This is a witty book. Some of the observations in the correspondence had me rolling with laughter as we see the contradictions, slurs, sucking ups and lies.

As for the plot, I’m saying nothing. It is an absolute pleasure to watch it unfold in this unusual and engrossing fashion. I guessed some of the clues but by no means all. I may well re-read. I read The Appeal in two sittings over a day. I could not gobble it up fast enough. I long for more from this author and soon. A very serious contender for my top novel of 2021.

Three Words for Goodbye by Hazel Gaynor and Heather Webb

HarperCollins | 2021 (27 July) | 400p | Review copy | Buy the book

Three Words for Goodbye by Hazel Gaynor and Heather WebbClara and Madeleine Sommers were once the closest of sisters but their differences have driven them apart. But now they must come together to fulfil the final wishes of their much loved and dying grandmother, Violet, who has asked them to travel to Europe from their home in America to deliver letters to three people who changed Violet’s life in her own travels across Europe 40 years before, a journey inspired by the great explorer, journalist and close friend Nellie Bly. But the year is now 1937 and Europe is a very different place. As Clara and Madeleine embark on the Queen Mary for Paris, Venice and Vienna, they will find a Europe slipping into the darkness of fascism. There is much for the two sisters to experience before they can return back to New York City aboard the Hindenburg.

I am such a huge fan of historical romance set during the earlier decades of the 20th century and, after reading the authors’ fantastic Meet Me in Monaco, I couldn’t wait to read Three Words for Goodbye. I am fascinated by the 1930s and this novel does such a good job of exploring the culture of the time in the three great cities of Paris, Venice and Vienna, while subtly portraying the sinister menace and threat of Nazism, which increases as the sisters move from France to Mussolini’s Italy and Nazi Austria. The sisters travel in luxury and style, heightening the contrast between their experiences and those of the local people, whose freedoms are being threatened. They are shocked by the violence they witness and the rumours they hear. But the focus, though, is on relationships, both old and new.

The novel is effectively divided into three as the sisters progress across Europe and deliver each of the three letters, discovering more and more about their grandmother’s life when she was a young woman, while also learning about each other and what they both want from life. Clara, in particular, has some significant decisions to make. The chapters alternate between the two women and it works so well.

I loved Three Words for Goodbye. It’s romantic but not sentimental and tells a wonderful story about families, growing up, finding and losing love, being an independent woman at a time when this was not easy, especially if from the kind of background that Clara and Madeleine are from. It also has a fascinating historical setting and the descriptions of 1930s’ Paris, Venice and Vienna, as well as the voyage aboard the Queen Mary, are fabulous. As for the section aboard the Hindenburg…. Hazel Gaynor (one of my very favourite authors) and Heather Webb are a collaborative tour de force and I can’t wait, and hope, for more.

Other reviews
Hazel Gaynor and Heather Webb – Meet Me in Monaco
Hazel Gaynor – The Bird in the Bamboo Cage

Hostage by Clare Mackintosh

Sphere | 2021 (22 June) | 400p | Review copy and Bought copy | Buy the book

Hostage by Clare MackintoshFlight attendant Mina does all she can to get posted on the inaugural twenty-hour direct flight from Heathrow to Sydney. Not because of the media excitement surrounding the flight, or because it will be full of celebrity passengers, but because she needs a break from her estranged husband and difficult, albeit lovable little daughter, Sophia. But it’s not long before things start to go wrong aboard the flight. She finds Sophia’s EpiPen in her bag and then a passenger is found dead in his seat. It seems tragic rather than suspicious, until Mina finds a photo of her daughter, taken that very day, in his pocket. Mina receives a message. She only has to do one little thing and if she does it Sophia will be safe. If she doesn’t, Sophia will die. All Mina has to do is to let one of the passengers into the cockpit.

Hostage continues this summer’s trend for thrills at 30,000 feet but you know you’re in very safe hands with author Clare Mackintosh, who is the very best of thriller writers, largely because she combines incredible, ingenious plots with a great deal of heart and warmth, often exploring with great insight and feeling, as here, the relationship between parents and children. Children are innocent, their parents are not but they do all they can to protect these young souls who depend so completely on them. Loving them isn’t always easy. That’s the honest truth of these books. But it is overwhelming. Mina is very aware that passengers aboard a plane rely on the crew every bit as much. There is a trust there.

Mina’s troubled relationship with her husband, police detective Adam, and with her challenging, vulnerable daughter Sophia, lies at the heart of Hostage. The novel explores difficulties that Adam in particular faces and we fall deeply for Sophia. The plane situation dramatises the choices that both parents must make in a shocking and electric way.

This is a very exciting novel, there is no doubt about that at all. The chapters move between the ground and air and they also move between the passengers, giving us glimpses of the lives, dreams and sins of these people. I must admit that I did have some trouble keeping track as we get to know most by seat number rather than by name. Codes play quite a part in the book. It’s not always easy pinning people’s identity down. But it does serve to make the story deeply intriguing and very fast moving.

The scenes aboard the plane are full of fascinating details – the author’s research has been thorough.

I’m not going to give anything away about what goes on aboard the plane but I will say one thing – the ending of this book is absolutely brilliant! Clare Mackintosh does it again! As if that could possibly be a surprise…. Hostage is the perfect holiday read, not least because – possibly fortunately, having read this – so many of us are grounded.

Other reviews
I Let You Go
I See You
Let Me Lie

The Forevers by Chris Whitaker

Hot Key Books | 2021 (8 July) | 352p | Review copy and bought copy | Buy the book

The Forevers by Chris WhitakerAsteroid Selena is on a collision course with Earth. Several extreme attempts have been made to divert it but all have failed. Now, ten years after its discovery, Mae Cassidy, aged just 17, knows the exact date of her death and it is barely days away. Just like her friends – and enemies – Mae is trying to cope with this knowledge while also dealing with the emotions of growing into adulthood, forming relationships with other teenagers who are also having to shape their last days.

Some fall. There have been three teenage suicides, the latest, Abi, was once Mae’s best friend and now that friendship is being turned against Mae by others in the community. For Mae and Abi were once Forevers, a secret society they developed for coping that makes others feel suspicious and excluded. Meanwhile Selena continues its relentless journey towards the Final.

I can think of no other author writing today who understands and portrays young people as Chris Whitaker can. His wonderful novels (do read them all!) are full of beautifully depicted children and teenagers, many of whom are isolated and lost. It wasn’t a surprise to me that he should now write a Young Adult novel, focusing on the very last generation of teenagers who face unique problems while still going through adolescence and school. Mae is a fascinating character. Her parents dead, she lives with an unsympathetic grandmother and cares for her blind little sister. Mae is already different from everyone else. But now, as the end comes closer, her friendships become more alive as she sees the world with intense, scrutinising eyes.

My favourite character is Felix, the boy who is determined not to sleep a single hour, and will do anything to win over the girl of his dreams who will barely look at him. Here is another reason why I love Chris Whitaker’s books – they are bleak and they are troubled but there is also humour and faith in goodness and kindness. Felix made me laugh time and time again.

The end of the world doesn’t just affect youngsters, of course, and we witness how it damages parents and others. Relationships are tested and ruined. Many become Leavers. People just vanish. Teachers lose motivation every bit as much as their students.

Through it all are memories of the schemes to divert or destroy Selena, and flashbacks to the friendship between Mae and Abi. This is, after all, a novel about friendship and love. For some people, this means religion, for others it means running away in hope of an earthly paradise, and for others it means joining together as the Forevers. It is all so beautifully explored by Chris Whitaker. It isn’t always an easy read – the minds of these teenagers are deeply troubled and fearful – but it is certainly powerful, engrossing and real.

And what a stunning cover!

Other reviews
Tall Oaks
All the Wicked Girls

We Begin at the End

The Serial Killer’s Wife by Alice Hunter

It’s good to be back! I’ve been away for a few days while I descended into the chaos and mayhem of moving house. I can now understand why normal people hire removals and don’t do it all themselves. I now have room for bookshelves and books no longer need to act as furniture. Although, having said that, my books, like everything else I own, are all hiding in unreachable and unlabelled boxes at the moment. On with a review! The first in my new house.

The Serial Killer’s Wife by Alice Hunter

Avon | 2021 (27 May) | 400p | Review copy | Buy the book

The Serial Killer's Wife by Alice Hunter

Beth Hardcastle is a contented woman. She has the perfect life. She has a loving husband in Tom, a beautiful daughter in Poppy and she has her dream job of running a ceramics cafe. She is a valued member of a small community, even thinking of starting up a book club. And then the evening arrives when the police come calling and Tom is absent. They want to speak to Tom in connection with the murder of a former girlfriend who went missing years ago. Beth. When they ask her where Tom is, it’s an easy question to answer. He will be in the office where he often works late. But is he?

The Serial Killer’s Wife has a great premise and is a fun read as we follow Beth Hardcastle’s struggle to face a situation which is entirely out of her control, all under the noses of an enthralled community. The author explores the public and private worlds of a couple, who are now greatly at odds as secrets very slowly emerge. We, the readers, are spectators as Beth attempts to adjust while trying to protect her daughter. There are many questions as the world comes to know Beth as a serial killer’s wife.

I think there are pacing issues with the novel. It takes a fair bit of time to find out why the novel has the title it has and it does get rather bogged down in Beth’s obsession with what the other mums will think of her. In fact, that seems to bother her more than the fact that her husband may be a homicidal maniac. This does make her an unsympathetic character, along with most people in the novel, but this is one of those books where that doesn’t matter. We’re not reading this book to like Beth or Tom but to find out what’s going on.

There are also chapters which go back in time and are from the point of view of the missing former girlfriend. I’m not sure these are entirely successful. There are also some very unsavoury scenes but that’s probably just me being prudish! The chapters from Tom’s point of view are, in my opinion, the best in the book.

The Serial Killer’s Wife is a fast and entertaining read, which reminds us that sometimes you think you know someone and maybe you don’t after all.