Cold as the Grave by James Oswald

Wildfire | 2019 (7 February) | 432p | Review copy | Buy the book

Cold as the Grave by James OswaldTony McLean has recently been promoted to Chief Inspector – and he’s not enjoying it at all. Suddenly, his world has shrunk to a small office and a desk laden with paperwork and reports. He wants to be out there policing. And so, when he gets the chance, he pops out to help with monitoring a rowdy demonstration on the streets of Edinburgh. A door slightly ajar off a quiet street grabs Tony’s attention. In it he finds the mummified remains of a corpse. This looks like a cold case. The body must have been lying there hidden for years. But a post mortem reveals that the body is that of a young girl and, far from having been dead for years, it’s only been a matter of days. And she will not be the last to die in this strange, cruel, cold way. As first on the scene, Tony is determined to play his part in solving one of the most puzzling cases of a career full of puzzling cases.

Cold as the Grave is the ninth novel in James Oswald’s Inspector McLean series – easily one of my favourite series of any kind, whatever the genre. As these books always do, Cold as the Grave went straight to the top of my reading pile and came with me on holiday to Spain. It was the perfect choice. As is usual with the series, there is within these pages a tantalising hint of something dark and sinister, something possibly not entirely human, at work in Edinburgh, and it is engrossing.

Cold as the Grave tells a fantastic story, deliciously complex in plot, and at its heart is a group of people on the fringes of Edinburgh society, its refugees, particularly vulnerable children. Tony McLean is a man who will do everything he can for them. But the forces against him are sinister and dark.

I love the way in which these books contain a hint of the supernatural. This isn’t something I normally go for in fiction but James Oswald makes it work. Weaving through the story is a strand that features fortune tellers, cats, monsters, genies and, perhaps, the personification of evil itself, a figure that McLean has come up against before. There is a dangerous force loose in society. How real that force is, as opposed to being unreal or inhuman, is a question with no answer. It’s wonderfully done and I love how it makes the book so chilly and creepy, with a touch of horror, while also presenting such a realistic and gripping police procedural. The two are married together seamlessly. And then there’s that Edinburgh setting – it’s excellent.

It’s the character of Tony McLean who pulls it all together and unites the two worlds, the light and the dark. There’s a sensitivity to him. He’s warm and caring. His relationship with Emma continues to confuse his personal life and this is dealt with so gently. It’s impossible not to care deeply for this wonderful man.

Cold as the Grave is my favourite of the series, which is no mean feat. I can’t wait til Tony McLean returns.

Other reviews
Natural Causes
The Damage Done
Written in Bones
The Gathering Dark
No Time To Cry (Constance Fairchild 1)


The Silent Patient by Alex Michaelides

Orion | 2019 (7 February) | 352p | Review copy | Buy the book

The Silent Patient by Alex MichaelidesAlicia Berenson had a life many might envy. She had a beautiful house in London, was a famous artist and was happily married to the sought-after photographer Gabriel. Then one August day, the hottest day of the year, Alicia shot Gabriel in the face five times. From that moment on she didn’t speak a word. Six years later forensic psychotherapist Theo Faber begins work at the Grove, the facility where the still silent Alicia is held alongside other violent and damaged women. Theo is obsessed by Alicia’s case and he believes that he will be the one who will finally be able to discover why Alicia did what she did. He will break Alicia’s silence.

The Silent Patient is one of those psychological thrillers that is next to impossible to put down. The reader is grabbed by its irresistible premise and then cannot put it down until they discover how it ends. It’s partly being sold as a thriller with a twist that you won’t work out. Psychological thrillers are often described like this but The Silent Patient is one of the very, very few that I’ve read that actually did catch me out. That was a very pleasant surprise!

There’s not much I can say about the novel because, like most psychological thrillers, they work best when the reader knows little about them in advance, but I will say how much I liked the background to the characters – the fact that Alicia is an artist and the way that Theo can’t stop analysing everything and everyone around him. Alicia and Theo drive this novel on, even though one is silent (although we are given extracts from Alicia’s journal, which does give her some voice). You can’t help but wish Alicia would speak. That adds such tension.

I’m still in two minds about how much I enjoyed some elements of The Silent Patient. But, on reflection, I think this might be because of how disturbing the novel actually is. We are immersed in this world and it’s a damaged, frightening and untrustworthy place. The author does a fine job of evoking an almost claustrophobic fear. Initially, I wondered if the reader is being manipulated by the novel’s end but I’m now coming to the conclusion that it’s really rather cleverly done. This is one of those books – it makes you think, possibly in a quite anxious way. It’s a book you may well respond to.

I’m extremely picky with psychological thrillers, having read too many of them. The Silent Patient, even though it caused me some conflicted feelings as I read it, is one I’m very glad I read.

The Lost Man by Jane Harper

Little, Brown | 2019 (7 February) | 384p | Review copy | Buy the book

The Lost Man by Jane HarperIt is Christmas and the outback desert of Queensland, Australia, is baked by the relentless sun. Three brothers, Nathan, Cameron and Bub Bright, own vast ranches, relatively close to the single street that is called Balamara. It’s the closest thing to a town round here. Where the brothers’ properties meet stands a gravestone, marking the spot where a stockman died a century before. A dreadful, lonely, hot place in which to die. And now it’s become a grave again – Cameron is found lying next to it, the sun having done its deadly work. As Nathan and Bub stand over their brother’s body, they can only wonder why Cameron abandoned a car full of water and other supplies to walk to his death. In an environment as hostile as this, death is not uncommon but there’s a mystery here that may tear the Bright family apart.

The Lost Man is the third standalone novel by Jane Harper and, despite the stiff competition offered by its predecessors The Dry and Force of Nature, I think it’s my favourite and confirms why Jane Harper is an author whose books I will always seek out.

Once again, Jane Harper brilliantly visualises the outback as well as those hardy people who have to make a living from it. This landscape, especially to someone who lives in small, green Britain, is vast, dusty, empty and barren. Above all, it is monstrously hot. A short walk could prove the death of a strong man. We see the preparations that people make to survive the unexpected, which surprisingly includes floods. The Lost Man is full of little details about the safeguards people take – the book that everyone must write in when they go out, the cold larders that must be kept stocked, their goods religiously counted, the cool boxes in the vehicles. It’s a way of life that is both fascinating and fearsome. These are people covered with the scars left by skin cancer incisions, their skin is tough and leathered, they don’t waste time on talk. Women face their own issues. This is a man’s world but it wouldn’t exist without the women they rely on. And yet you can can also sense why these people, the Brights, for example, don’t want to leave. There’s something almost noble in their strength of character and resolve.

The Bright family is scrutinised in these pages. They can go months without seeing each other, perhaps without seeing anyone at all, and so it’s perhaps not surprising that so much is left unsaid. The layers are peeled away as we spend time getting to know the generations of the Bright family. Nathan, in particular, is driven to know what happened to Cameron. The more he learns about Cameron, the more we learn about Nathan. It’s a sad, troubling tale but Nathan lies at the heart of The Lost Man. He is perhaps more lost than anyone.

This is stunning writing and it is supported by such insight into the lives of these men, women and children. It’s completely involving, atmospheric and exposed. The novel takes its time. The emphasis here is on character as Nathan in particular reflects on the events that shaped his own and his family’s life. Nathan’s relationship with his teenage son Xander is lovingly explored. I cared for these people. And the ending when it comes is utterly engrossing. But by that time we have been thoroughly immersed in this harsh land.

The heat, dust and merciless cruelty of the outback desert at the height of summer is relentless and superbly depicted in The Lost Man. The mystery is very much character-driven. It is all about families and relationships between a small group of people who live such remote and difficult lives. But there is as much love as there are secrets. It’s an excellent novel, beautifully written. Jane Harper is an irresistible writer.

Other reviews
The Dry
Force of Nature

The First Lady by James Patterson and Brendon DuBois

Century | 2018 (13 December) | 339p | Bought copy | Buy the book

The First Lady by James Patterson and Brendan DuBoisPresident Harrison Tucker is a popular president and his First Lady, Grace, is well-respected for the work that she does for the country’s disadvantaged children. Tucker’s first term is about up and the country is due to go to the polls shortly. Everyone is confident of a second term. Until Tucker is ambushed by the media with his arm around his mistress. If asked, though, Tucker would say that she’s more than his mistress. Tammy Doyle is the love of his life. The scandal threatens to consume the government. The Chief of Staff Parker Hoyt is the man tasked with trying to pull it all back together. Much depends on the response and attitude of Grace Tucker. Can they win her round? But Grace has had enough. The First Lady manages to give her security detail the slip and she disappears. But, as questions begin to be asked, a terrible possibility raises its head – perhaps the First Lady did not vanish by choice.

I’m such a fan of James Patterson’s thrillers and I loved the premise of this one, particularly as it’s not that long since I enjoyed The President is Missing. This time it’s the turn of the First Lady, although both books (and characters) are unrelated.

As you’d expect from a JP thriller, The First Lady sets off at a pace that sets the speed for the rest of the book. What starts off as a simple scandal becomes something very different indeed. We’re introduced to various people who are involved in the hunt for the First Lady – some to help her, some with other intentions – and they’re quite a bunch. Parker Hoyt stands out but he isn’t alone. For sympathy, though, we’re on the side of the special agent in charge of protection at the White House, Sally Grissom, who has to combine such a stressful job with raising a young daughter alone. Sally is tough and uncompromising. Many of the people who work for her are scared of her. But she’s certainly the type of person you’d want looking after you and trying to find you. I did like her.

The authorship of The First Lady is split and with this thriller it felt more evident than in others. It isn’t the best written of the thrillers, certainly not as good as the excellent The President is Missing, and some of the characters are a little wooden and some of the developments a bit implausible. All in all, it just feels less ‘Pattersony’ than some of the others I’ve read recently. But, having said all that, I had no desire to put it down once I started and I thoroughly enjoyed myself reading it over the course of just one day. I’ll take that!

Other reviews
NYPD Red 5
The President is Missing

The Last by Hanna Jameson

Viking | 2019 (31 January) | 352p | Review copy | Buy the book

The Last by Hanna JamesonJon Keller left his home and family in California for a conference in a hotel in Switzerland unhappy about how he had left things. He really needed to sit down and work things out with his wife for the good of their two adored young daughters. Emails and texts are all very well but home seems such a long way away. And then those emails and texts stop. Everything stops. Modern life comes to an end. Survival instincts have to be dredged up from humanity’s distant prehistoric past. Because one morning, while Jon and his conference colleagues were eating breakfast, nuclear weapons fell on Washington DC and soon they fell everywhere, the last flickers of television chronicled the fall one by one of the world’s cities. Then there was nothing. For Jon, life has shrunk to the dimensions of this hotel, preserved from the bombs by its remote location, so far from cities and any settlements at all.

The Last tells the story of the end of the world from the perspective of one man stranded far from his home, family and country. Jon recounts events in his own words as he records events in a diary. It’s his testimony, a message to his family but ultimately intended only for himself, and its power partly lies in the fact that he can only recall the full details of what happened on that terrible, terrible day bit by bit. And so the narrative frequently returns to Day One.

This is a remote hotel and many fled on the day the world ended and so we have just a small group of men, women and children to observe as they work out how to survive. It’s such a compelling and involving story. But there’s more to it than that when Jon discovers the body of a murdered young girl in the hotel water tanks. Jon is determined to discover the truth about her death, to do right by her as he couldn’t by his daughters, presumed dead in San Francisco. And so The Last is also a murder mystery.

It is, to be honest, a little difficult to focus on the murder mystery in this situation and so our focus instead is on the people in the hotel as they try to form a postapocalypse community, with varying degrees of success. I’m not sure how much I liked Jon but I realise that we’re not seeing him or anyone else at their best. I wasn’t keen on the sections in which characters took refuge in drugs and drink and it was all a bit Lord of the Flies at times, with some relationships becoming tormented. But there are some great and memorable scenes and I loved the way in which the novel developed. It is full of surprises and the end was as good as the excellent beginning.

I love apocalyptic novels and The Last has such a fantastic premise and I particularly enjoyed its setting in Switzerland, becoming increasingly cold and desolate under the encroaching nuclear winter. The joy felt by characters on hearing the rare song of a bird is palpable. There are gems in this novel. I heartily recommend it. And what a brilliant cover!

The Wife – DVD giveaway!

The competition is now closed and the winners will contacted shortly. Thanks to everyone for entering!

This week (in fact today! 28 January), the DVD of The Wife is released in the UK amid quite a bit of Awards buzz, particularly for Glenn Close, who stars alongside Jonathan Pryce. I don’t see many films at the pictures these days but I did see this one – it is about books, after all – and so I am delighted to be able to offer two copies of the DVD as free giveaways, with many thanks to Organic PR.

One will be given away here – just leave a comment in the feedback box below, being sure to leave your email address, to be entered into the hat. The other will be given away on Twitter so look out for my tweet from @Wetdarkandwild. It’s a Region 2 DVD and so the competition is limited to the UK and the Continent.

Here’s a little of what the film is about.

Joan Castleman (Glenn Close) has spent forty years sacrificing her own talent, dreams and ambitions to support her charismatic husband Joe (Jonathan Pryce) and his stellar literary career. Ignoring infidelities and excuses made in the cause of his art, she has put up with his behaviour with undiminished grace and humour.

The foundations of their marriage have, however, been built upon a set of uneven compromises and Joan has reached a turning point. On the eve of Joe’s Nobel Prize for Literature, the crown jewel rewarding a spectacular body of work, Joan will confront the biggest sacrifice of her life and some long-buried secrets.

Based on the bestselling book by Meg Wolitzer, The Wife is a poignant, funny and emotional journey, a celebration of womanhood, self-discovery and liberation, featuring a stunning cast that also includes Max Irons, Annie Starke, Harry Lloyd, Elizabeth McGovern and Christian Slater.

I’ve not read the novel by Meg Wolitzer yet but I’m looking forward to very soon!

Twisted by Steve Cavanagh

Orion | 2019 (ebook: 24 January; Pb: 4 April) | 320p | Review copy | Buy the book

Twisted by Steve CavanaghJ.T. LeBeau is one of the world’s most successful thriller writers. You can find his books anywhere; everyone is reading them. LeBeau is known most of all for his genius with the twist. They’re unguessable. But, despite all of the accolades and all of the awards, he never makes public appearances. In fact, nobody knows who he is. Actually, to be accurate, there were a couple of people who knew his identity but they’re dead now. Better, then, not to find out.

Maria is not a happy woman. She thought she’d married the perfect man. They have a beautiful house by the sea and he gives her all the money she needs. But something isn’t right. He’s often away without telling her why. He has a luxury boat and a sports car, while she drives around in a bit of a heap. Maria suspects he’s keeping a very big secret from her. And so too does her lover Darryl. When they discover a bank statement and some other bits and pieces, Maria realises that her husband is LeBeau. It’s about time he shared the wealth. But the hunter is about to become the hunted.

Twisted is a very clever thriller that plays games with the idea of the ‘twist’, something beloved by thriller writers and readers alike. It’s almost like a thriller about a thriller. Steve Cavanagh writes a twisty thriller about the author of twisty thrillers, while demonstrating that sometimes the very worst thing (indeed, often the very last thing) anyone can experience is a killer twist! So, right from the outset, we’re given a barrage of clues, red herrings and false leads. And we’re not the only ones trying to unravel it. Maria isn’t alone either. A lot of people are trying to work it out when, as we’re warned right at the beginning, sometimes it’s best to leave these things alone. If you want to live.

It’s a fun story and it doesn’t let up for a moment – I read it in just one day. The style is reminiscent of the author’s Eddie Flynn legal thrillers (Eddie is amusingly referred to at one point in Twisted). It’s sharp and to the point, it gives us the facts – even if they’re not true – and makes its case. It is, though, in my opinion, rather clinical and at times does feel like an exercise in thriller writing, so much so that characterisation is left undeveloped. This also means that there are some genuinely shocking moments because the shocks are more important than our relationship to the characters. This, of course, is not necessarily a bad thing in a thriller! I was gripped by Twisted more than I was engaged by it but it’s one of those books that, when you get to the end, you sit back and you’re impressed by how we got there. Twisted is certainly twisty and if you’re a fan of twists, then you’ll enjoy this masterclass.

Other reviews
The Defence