Tag Archives: Blog Tour

The Scandal by Mari Hannah

Orion | 2019 (7 March) | 432p | Review copy | Buy the book

The Scandal by Mari HannahIt’s just before Christmas when the body of a young man is found stabbed to death in a Newcastle street. DCI David Stone suspects a robbery gone wrong but, when DS Frankie Oliver arrives on scene, she gets a terrible shock. The dead man is Chris Adams a court reporter with the Herald. Frankie’s known Chris since they were children together. They were the best of friends. David and Frankie soon learn that Chris believed he was working on a case that would make his career. He suddenly left a group of friends in the pub. He was never seen alive again. Who was he meeting, what was the story he was investigating and who would kill to cover it up?

The Scandal is the third novel by Mari Hannah to feature Newcastle detectives Stone and Oliver. I’ve enjoyed all three – to be fair, I’ve enjoyed everything Mari Hannah has ever written! – but I do think that The Scandal might be my favourite of this series. As with all of the author’s novels, they stand out for their detectives. Kate Daniels remains one of my absolute favourites, but she has rivals in the shape of Matthew Ryan and now David Stone and Frankie Oliver.

Stone has now settled into his job back at home in the north east after years away working for the Met in London. Awful events drove him away from London but his mind is more focused now on the job in hand and on bringing his team together. He’s doing a good job and he has the full support of his DS, Frankie Oliver, who is the third generation to police this region. It isn’t easy for her to follow in their footsteps, especially as her father continues to demand the respect of everyone in the force and still has his ear close to the ground. But she’s managed it. Working from the bottom up, Frankie has made her role her own, although she’s the first to admit that her indomitable father does come in handy at time. She too has tragedy in her history, but she’s laid some ghosts to rest. Regrettably for Frankie, she’s about to get a new ghost to deal with – her childhood best friend Chris Adams.

The relationship between Stone and Oliver is so well presented and is just as important to the novel as the fate of Chris Adams. Mari Hannah is such a fine observer of human behaviour and interaction. Friendships and families, the young and the elderly, play a significant role and it’s especially sad to see how one family in particular has to deal with loss.

I love the meticulous investigating that forms the backbone of The Scandal. This is such a good police procedural. The case is built, step upon step, and we watch it form, becoming distracted at times by red herrings, but marvelling at how it all comes together. This isn’t, I’m pleased to say, a mystery dependent upon twists. This is an investigation built upon solid police work and intricate plotting. It’s a clever novel told very well indeed that builds carefully, resulting in a rewarding and immersive read.

Other reviews
Gallows Drop
The Silent Room (Ryan 1)
The Death Messenger (Ryan 2)
The Lost (Stone and Oliver 1)
The Insider (Stone and Oliver 2)

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

Scandal Blog Tour poster

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Shadows of Athens by J.M. Alvey

Orion | 2019 (7 March) | 376p | Review copy | Buy the book

Shadows of Athens by JM AlveyIt is 443 BC and Athens is at peace after decades of war with Persia. The city is being rebuilt in marble and its wealth is matched by its culture, which flourishes. Athens is also in a good mood. The Dionysia festival is shortly to begin which means five days of holidays as actors and singers compete in the city’s beautiful theatre to win glory for their patrons. The playwright Philocles is trying to focus on the job in hand, which is to win the comedy prize for the wealthy and powerful Aristarchos. It’s a stressful business, making sure that actors are prepared, with costumes and masks delivered, while fighting off the insults of rivals and appeasing the gods with frequent rituals.

The last thing Philocles expects is to find a man with his throat cut outside his front gate. His valuables, including a fine pair of boots, are untouched so this was no robbery. Philocles soon learns that the murdered man had been seeking him out, that the crime is part of something much bigger with significance for Athens. Philocles finds himself becoming the reluctant detective, working for Aristarchos to discover the truth. And he still has that play to present…

Shadows of Athens is the debut novel by J.M. Alvey and is, I suspect, the start of a new series of historical murder mysteries set in the relatively unfamiliar territory (compared to Rome) of ancient Athens. The historical setting is marvellous and the novel really succeeds in depicting a place and time that actually feels, at least to me, almost unknowable. It is so different, despite the patterns of human behaviour that repeat themselves, whatever the period of history, sometimes leading to murder.

The festival of Dionysus dominates Shadows of Athens and it is fascinating, as people travel from all over the Hellenistic world to enjoy the cultural displays. And yet it’s not that straightforward. Athens and its dominions are at peace but it comes at quite a financial cost. Dependent states and cities pay vast contributions to Athens to keep them safe when, for all the world, it looks as if this money is being turned into marble temples. There’s a rumbling of discontent and this adds another layer to the novel.

And then there’s the social history element of the book, which I found particularly strong. Philocles is in a relationship with a woman he loves but is most definitely not acceptable at his family’s dinner table. This is a world dominated by its social codes and religious rituals, challenges to these aren’t acceptable. And so women, foreigners (even people from the next city along the coast), and slaves do not enjoy the same privileges as the male citizens of Athens. Philocles’ household, though, shows a slightly different reality. He has a slave but this man is almost a member of his family, he fought alongside Philocles’ brothers in war. Philocles’ partner is a foreign woman, her skin is dark, she doesn’t hide it from the sun as Athenian women do. She stands out. It’s so interesting seeing the contrast between Philocles’ family and those of his brothers and his patron. Although the slaves in Aristarchos’ household play a similarly ambiguous role. Every male citizen is aware, though, that in order for a slave’s testimony in court to be permissible that slave must first be tortured. That’s the law but it’s not necessarily what one would ever want to happen.

The role of outsiders in Athens is a central theme of the novel. Despite the displays of civilisation, sophistication and culture, we’re made well aware that this is founded on success in war. Military triumph is equated with moral virtue and divine favour. This attitude is very hard for outsiders to come up against. Athenian citizens might be cultured and athletic but they’re also trained killing machines. This undercurrent of violence, which can be expressed in riot or murder, lurks in shadows throughout the novel. Philocles gets a battering more than once.

As we move around the glorious streets of Athens, there is so much to enjoy in this rich and vibrant depiction of ancient Athens and its festivals. This is fine worldbuilding and I think that the murder mystery itself is rather overshadowed by its setting. I also found it a little difficult to keep track of individuals through the pages. However, I liked Philocles and his household very much and I really enjoyed the scenes where we follow him in his day job as dramatist. There is a sense that Shadows of Athens lays the ground for future books and it does that job very well. I look forward to seeing Philocles again.

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.

Shadows of Athens blog tour

Fleet of Knives by Gareth L. Powell – an extract (and it’s one of my favourite bits!)

Fleet of Knives by Gareth L PowellEmbers of War by Gareth L. Powell was one of the science fiction highlights of 2018 and the good news is that Fleet of Knives, the follow up, was published by Titan Books earlier this month. I’ve read it and it is fantastic – spaceships as much dog as they are machine, aliens (some of whom are the stuff of nightmares), battles, crew members we care about fighting to stay alive, and an enigmatic lethal force in the Galaxy that threatens billions. All this and more and I couldn’t read it fast enough. My review will follow shortly but, in the meantime, I’m delighted to post here an extract from early on in Fleet of Knives. And it’s one of my favourite bits! Sal Konstanz, Captain of the Trouble Dog, has discovered that she has more crew members than she might have thought, thanks to her multi-legged engineer Nod.

Extract

“What the hell was that?”
“What was what?” The Trouble Dog spoke via the bead in my ear. “Are you all right, Captain? Your pulse and respiration are spiking.”
“You’re damn right they’re spiking!” My mouth was dry. I could almost hear my pulse. I took a couple of wary steps back towards the exit, keeping my attention rigidly fixed on the hole into which the creature had disappeared. “There’s something loose down here.”
“Could you be more specific?”
“I only caught a glimpse.” I paused and swallowed, wishing I had some sort of weapon. “But it looked kind of like a spider.”
“Ah.”
“A big spider. Tarantula-sized.”
The ship was silent for a moment.
“I’m sorry,” she said. “I should have told you they were aboard.”
At her words, I felt a cold prickle run the length of my spine. “They? There’s more than one of those things down here?”
“There are eleven of them in your immediate vicinity. Two more elsewhere on that deck.”
I heard skittering footsteps and whirled around, just in time to see another of the creatures dart through the door, into the access way beyond. Now, if I wanted to retreat, I’d have to do so knowing there was at least one of them blocking my path.
“What are they? Where did they come from?”
“I think you should speak to Nod.”
“It brought them aboard?”
“In a manner of speaking, yes. I’ve signalled it, and it should be here momentarily.”
I was trying to look in every direction at once, hands raised defensively in case one of the critters leapt at my face.
“What the hell are you talking about?”
“Nod should be the one to explain.”
“But—”
A limb appeared over the wiry rim of Nod’s nest, and I swallowed back a surge of panic. I’d never been particularly susceptible to arachnophobia—but then, I’d never previously been stuck in a hot, noisy and cramped engine room with eleven tarantulas.
“Ship…”
“It’s all right. It’s nearly with you.”
“But there’s one climbing out of the nest. It’s—” I stopped speaking as the little creature heaved itself up onto the lip, and I got my first proper look at it.
The thing stood on five limbs. A sixth was raised in my direction, the fingers splayed like the petals of a flower. Leaning close, I could just about make out tiny, coal-black eyes regarding me from the centre of the palm. A little slit of a mouth opened and closed soundlessly.
“It’s a baby Druff!”
The youngster flinched at the sound of my voice. Its scales glistened like oil on water. It looked me up and down several times, as if trying to decide whether to investigate further or flee.
I spoke quietly, so as not to startle it. “Where did we get thirteen baby Druff?”
When she replied, the Trouble Dog managed to sound both amused and embarrassed. “Nod gave birth last night.”
“Gave birth?” I shook my head, feeling absurd. “You’re telling me our engineer got itself knocked up, and popped out thirteen little copies of itself?”
“I believe it happened the last time we were on Camrose.”
A grating swung aside on well-oiled hinges, and Nod slunk into the room. At the sight of it, the little one squeaked, and ran over to wrap four of its arms around one of its parent’s ankles.
“Captain.” Keeping its head low, it looked up at me.
I crossed my arms. “I think you’ve got some explaining to do.”

Other posts
Embers of War – a review
The recent boom in space opera – a guest post by Gareth L. Powell

I’m delighted to post this extract as part of the blog tour. For more stops on the tour, please do take a look at the poster below.

To Catch a Killer by Emma Kavanagh

Orion | 2019 (24 January) | 416p | Review copy | Buy the book

To Catch a Killer by Emma KavanaghWhen DS Alice Parr is first on the scene at a stabbing, it’s not long before she and the rest of her team understand that this is far more than a mugging gone wrong. Alice is changed by the attack. She holds the hand of the woman whose throat has been cut, only able to utter one word before she falls into a coma: ‘wolf’. Alice is determined to discover the identity of this woman and to catch the person whom, she’s more than certain, will prove to be a murderer. Alice’s boss and colleagues, especially her closest friend Poppy, worry for Alice. It’s not long since she survived a terrible fire. She carries the scars and the trauma. But Alice is not going to give this case away. But who is this victim? The clues she’s left behind will lead Alice on an extraordinary journey of secrets and lies, each more elaborate than the last. And watching it all will be the killer.

Emma Kavanagh is one of my favourite authors, and is one of the writers who got me back into reading crime fiction several years ago. I have much to be grateful to her for. Each of her books stands alone. They’re unusual, distinct and clever crime mysteries, asking questions about identity and relationships. To Catch a Killer demonstrates this yet again. But the first thing to mention is how beautiful the writing is. We spend much of the time in Alice’s head. And, despite the trauma of the recent fire, it’s an utterly believable place to be – Alice feels recognisable emotions, especially guilt and fear, and this is expressed by Emma Kavanagh with such feeling and empathy. I cared for Alice from the very beginning and this continued through the novel, enriching the real power of its complex and thoroughly satisfying plot.

That brings me on to one of the main reasons why To Catch a Killer stands out. It constantly shifts the ground from under the reader’s feet. So little can be taken for granted. But the plot is grown through the most fascinating detective work by Alice and her team as they follow an astonishing trail of clues. Alice is an instinctive detective. We see how she pulls things together, making leaps into the dark and discovering results. But there is a strong sense that understanding remains beyond reach, that the killer is always at least one step ahead and knows it. The reader constantly has to reassess their opinions. Yet it’s not done clinically – there’s emotion here, quite a lot of it. And we get completely involved in the story of this mysterious woman found so close to death by Alice.

A new novel by Emma Kavanagh is always such a treat and To Catch a Killer is especially good. It’s engrossing and extremely difficult to put down as we’re taken deeper and deeper into its layers of mystery. You might work out some of it, as I did, but there will be so much here to surprise you. I was left with an even deeper admiration for Emma Kavanagh’s skill than I had before. I’m not going to forget Alice in a hurry.

I’m delighted to review To Catch a Killer as part of the blog tour to celebrate its publication on 24 January. For other stops on the tour, do take a look at the poster below.

Other reviews
Falling
Hidden
The Missing Hours
The Killer on the Wall

Guest post by Ian Ross, author of Triumph in Dust

The Twilight of Rome series by Ian Ross has given me such reading pleasure over the last few years. Set during the early years of the 4th century AD, the books provide such a fascinating and thrilling portrait of a divided Roman empire at war, covering the rise to power of one of Rome’s most famous (but perhaps not that well known in fiction) emperors Constantine the Great. The centurion Aurelius Castus, a fantastic hero, is placed at the heart of events and it is gripping stuff. In January, the series comes to a close with the sixth book, Triumph in Dust. This obviously makes me sad as I’ll miss it but I’m really excited to see how it will end – for Rome and for Castus. I’ll be posting a review of the novel closer to its publication in hardback on 10 January but the ebook will be available from 1 December. To celebrate the occasion, I’m delighted to join the blog tour with a guest post by Ian Ross on how he picked this particular period of Roman history to bring alive in the Twilight of Rome series.

War at the Edge of the World by Ian RossGuest post

You decide that you want to write a series of novels, following the adventures of a single character through an epic period of history. You’ve always been fascinated by the ancient Roman world, so that seems the ideal setting; but Rome endured for over half a millennium, and featured a wealth of extraordinary events; how do you narrow it down?

You want to choose a period that will allow you the widest geographical scope. You also need a cast of engaging historical figures, familiar to the educated reader but not over-represented in fiction. You want to steer your stories as close as possible to recorded facts, so you need a well documented era, but one with sufficient breadth of uncertainty to allow your imagination free rein. Lastly, of course, you need to choose a setting with the greatest possible dramatic potential, a time of wars and uprisings, plots and intrigues, a moment when the certainties of the past are being overthrown, and a single man – or woman – can rise from obscurity to take a guiding role in great events.

It’s strange to consider, as I reach the conclusion of my ‘Twilight of Empire’ series – the sixth and final book, Triumph in Dust, is published in January – that I did once ask myself these questions. But for me, there could only have been one answer. Years before, when I lived in Sicily, I had visited the ruins of the Roman villa at Piazza Armerina, and seen the fabulous floor mosaics, dating from the early 4th century AD, showing scenes of daily life: soldiers and hunters, aristocrats and slaves, all in dazzling colour. I soon realised that the thirty-year reign of the Emperor Constantine would provide an ideal framing chronology. From his first acclamation at York in AD306, Constantine’s bloody and dramatic rise to sole power would give me a powerful narrative arc, around which my story could evolve. He was also the first emperor to adopt Christianity, and the revolutionary changes in religion would add an extra social dimension to the turmoil of the era.

Imperial Vengeance by Ian RossBut I did not want to tell the story of Constantine himself; instead I wanted to view his world through the eyes of a figure on the periphery of power, a man who could move freely between the frontiers and the very heart of the empire. And so my protagonist was born: Aurelius Castus begins the first novel as a common soldier, recently promoted to centurion of a legion in northern Britain. His adventurous career will take him through the greatest battles of the age, and right across the Roman world from the barbarian wilderness to the palaces of the emperors, then onward to the distant eastern frontiers, as he scales towards the dangerous summit of power.

Now, even as I consider future projects, and once more ask myself those same questions about setting, I know that the world of the ‘Twilight of Empire’ novels will always endure in my imagination. Historical fiction gives us a way of encountering familiarity in the strangeness of the past.

Reviews and posts
War at the Edge of the World (Twilight of Empire 1)
Swords Around the Throne (Twilight of Empire 2)
Battle for Rome (Twilight of Empire 3) (with interview)
The Mask of Command (Twilight of Empire 4)
Imperial Vengeance (Twilight of Empire 5)

Now You See Her by Heidi Perks

Century | 2018, Pb 2019 | 416p | Review copy | Buy the book

Now You See Her by Heidi PerksHarriet is a very protective mother. She can’t bear to let her daughter Alice out of her sight. But then one day Harriet gets the chance to go on a course that could potentially transform her future, giving her a life outside the home. And so, with great reluctance, she agrees that her best friend Charlotte can babysit for the day, taking Alice along with her own children to the school fete. Charlotte swears she only took her eyes off the children for a moment and now she must tell Harriet that little Alice is missing. Both Harriet and Charlotte are devastated and Harriet swears she will never speak to Charlotte again for losing her child and not one of her own. But two weeks later both women are being questioned by the police. The truth will not stay buried.

The lost or stolen child is a familiar theme in psychological thrillers but there is something about the way that Heidi Perks treats the theme in Now You See Her that particularly appeals. And I think that this has a great deal to do with Harriet and Charlotte. Each is such an interesting character and the development of their friendship over the previous few years is portrayed with real feeling. Harriet is not an easy woman to warm to, she’s an outsider, and the mums that gather outside the school gates to collect their young can be every bit as unkind as their offspring. Charlotte won’t stand for it. Their friendship is fragile and they have very little in common except their children but it feels very genuine. I warmed to these two, especially Charlotte.

The police investigation, the stories of Charlotte and Harriet, Harriet’s relationship with her husband, the role of the media and society in forming opinions – these all work together to form a psychological thriller that is more original and realistic than most.

There are tantalising hints throughout the novel from the very beginning, in the form of snippets from police interviews, so we know that something serious lies ahead, perhaps even more so than the disappearance of four-year-old Alice, and this keeps the reader on tenterhooks. The narrative also shifts to and fro in time and moves between the stories of Charlotte and Harriet. The structure works well and keeps the pace moving.

I realised quite early on in which way the novel would go and so this did take the edge off it a little for me. Nevertheless, Now You See Her gives us something different in what is a rather crowded shelf. It is well-written and the pace is maintained throughout, driven by the memorable and appealing characters of Harriet and Charlotte whose friendship is here put to the biggest test.

I’m delighted to post my review as part of the Blog Tour to celebrate the publication of Now You See Her. For other stops on the tour, please do take a look at the poster below.

Now You See Her blog tour poster

Gate Crashers by Patrick S. Tomlinson

Tor | 2018 (1 July) | 416p | Review copy | Buy the book

Gate Crashers by Patrick S TomlinsonThe Magellan or ‘Maggie’ is Earth’s first vessel to travel deep out of our solar system. It’s taken decades for them to reach this far, every year out another sacrifice for its captain and crew who will not see their families alive again. The only real time constant they have is a method of communication with Earth that is so advanced, it’s almost beyond their understanding. But otherwise Captain Allison Ridgeway and her crew are on their own. And then they discover the artefact fixed in space. It’s clearly non-human. It has unintelligible inscriptions on it. It’s just what the crew of Maggie has been after – the answer to that question asked by the people of Earth since time began: Are we alone in space? No, we’re not. Oh dear.

The technology of the artefact is extraordinary and, when Earth hears about it, the powers that be want to understand it, to recreate it, to make it their own. And so another vessel joins Maggie, this time using alien technology to reach the Maggie almost at once. As new and old spacefaring technology collide and they all finally realise the significance of this enigmatic, powerful artefact, survival becomes paramount. It appears that Earth has rather annoyed the creators of the artefact, it’s trodden on some toes and kicked off a rumpus that could have catastrophic consequences. The people of Earth might mean well but perhaps the rest of the universe can’t be bothered.

The premise of Gate Crashers is so fantastic, I couldn’t wait to read it. It fully delivers. I love a space romp with mysterious artefacts, even more so when they bring about that first contact with enigmatic aliens. But what makes Gate Crashers unusual and particularly successful is that here we have a science fiction novel that is full of humour and actually makes me laugh. This is really unusual! I’m a huge fan of the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy novels and any attempt at humour in space since then has fallen flat for me. Gate Crashers clearly has the feel of a homage to Hitchhiker’s, while also going for the fans of the genial and wonderfully easy going spacefaring novels by Becky Chambers, but it also works in its own right. There are plenty of jokes here aimed at those who’ve read a lot of science fiction but, more than that, Gate Crashers is such an entertaining and warm space adventure with moments in it that made me roar with laughter.

The characters are fantastic, whether they’re human or not. Gung-ho Maximus Tiberius isn’t somebody you’d forget in a hurry, however much you might try, while the efforts of ‘Maggie’ to fit in with her crew are poignantly entertaining. It’s just as well that the aliens are in two or three or four minds over what to do with these humans. I really enjoyed the first contact element of the novel, especially when we realise what a bad job the humans are making of it. But the aliens we encounter here are an entertaining mix of species, all with their own issues and concerns, and some downright horrible and frightening. Suddenly the universe feels very big indeed.

There might be humour here but there’s also action and drama and the moments after the artefact is brought inside the Magellan are particularly tense. This is hugely exciting and it becomes even more so when we discover the meaning of the artefact. I think my jaw may have dropped.

Gate Crashers is a hugely entertaining space romp! It’s undoubtedly well-written and witty with some laugh out loud moments to treasure. Humans might be flawed but they’re not the only ones and so the result is a warm, humorous and thrilling look at what might lie in store for mankind once it breaks free of the solar system. I can’t wait!

I’m delighted to post my review as part of the blog tour. You can find other stops on the tour here:

Monday, June 25 Sci Fi Chick
Tuesday, June 26 Books, Bones & Buffy
Tuesday, June 26 Espresso Coco
Wednesday, June 27 Civilian Reader
Thursday, June 28 Bibliosanctum
Friday, June 29 For Winter Nights
Saturday, June 30 Just a World Away