Tag Archives: Thriller

The Twyford Code by Janice Hallett

Viper | 2022 (6 January) | 384p | Review copy | Buy the book

The Twyford Code by Janice HallettMany years ago, schoolboy Steven Smith found on a bus a book by Edith Twyford, a writer now considered old-fashioned, a bit dodgy. It’s covered in strange scribbles and messages. He took it to his teacher Miss Isles who became obsessed with it, believing the book to contain a code that could decipher a great mystery. On a school trip to Bournemouth shortly afterwards, she vanished without trace, her disappearance haunting Steven for the rest of his days.

After a stretch in prison, Steven decides to do something about it. He determines to decipher the code himself and to find out what really happened to Miss Isles. Steven isn’t good at writing and so he records all of his interviews with his old schoolfriends and anyone else he encounters in his investigations to solve his own past. But Steven soon discovers that he isn’t the only person to be intent on solving the mystery of the Twyford Code and by then it is too late. Steven is caught in a web and, just out of reach, the answers to it all tantalise.

The Appeal was my favourite crime mystery of 2021 and one of my very top reads of the year. It’s actually one of my favourite novels of all time, not just for the story it tells but for the way in which it tells it. It’s ingenious. It’s an updated epistolary novel, which involves the reader with the mystery in such an engaging and thoroughly gripping way. It’s a hard act to follow but Janice Hallett is a very clever writer and in The Twyford Code she tweaks the style just a bit to deliver another original and consuming standalone mystery.

This time, the novel comprises a series of transcripts. These contain numerous mis-hearings of certain words, presumably due to the transcription software, adding a very curious element to the prose. This is the sort of novel, like its predecessor, in which the reader needs to keep their wits about them, staying alert and always on the look out for clues. The whole book is a puzzle. But where does it lead?

The Twyford Code is also a novel about a vulnerable boy who grows into a damaged soul. We learn about his relationships with his family, his school days and the trouble that he has found himself in. Now he has a mission. But will it be the death of him?

More than that, I cannot say. These are books to immerse oneself in, to be driven by curiosity and fascination to discover where they lead. I cannot wait for the next novel.

PS – I love the cover!

Other review
The Appeal

The Genesis Inquiry by Olly Jarvis

Hobeck Books | 2021 (12 October) | c.400p | Review copy | Buy the book

The Genesis Inquiry by Olly JarvisElla Blake is a much-respected and in-demand QC when she disappears from view, hiding in her van in Northumberland, finding a refuge in anonymity and the dramatic and historic landscape. It’s a false haven and, as she sinks, she knows that. The chance to repair herself comes from an unlikely source. A Cambridge University college wants her help. One of their dons, Matthew Shepherd, a genius polymath, has disappeared on the brink of discovering something that could change humanity’s future and understanding of the past. Ella is intrigued but, more importantly, heading to Cambridge will allow her to reconnect with her daughter Lizzie. But, as Ella digs deeper into the mysteries of Shepherd’s project and understands the magnitude of its significance, she soon realises that she is in deadly danger and so too are all those she holds dear.

I am a huge fan of thrillers that revolve around historical secrets, archaeological mysteries and enigmatic, dangerous organisations and so The Genesis Inquiry was a book I couldn’t wait to read as soon as I heard of it. What makes this book stand out, however, isn’t so much the mystery at the heart of it (although that is certainly intriguing), but its characters and the developing and changeable relationships between them. I really, really like Ella Blake. She is a woman in the prime of her life who has reached the pinnacle of her career but she has realised that it is built upon glass. She is vulnerable, wracked by guilt and anxiety, and yet you would never know it to look at her. Ella is very easy to relate to. Her relationships with her daughter, her daughter’s friends and with the US agent who helps them with their inquiry, bristles. But the warmth of Ella grows through the novel and it really is extremely compelling and engaging as we become increasingly close to her.

Having said all that, The Genesis Inquiry is a thriller and it is a very exciting affair, as Ella and the others travel great distances on the trail of both Matthew Shepherd and his scattered clues. Obviously, I will tell you nothing about any of that as I don’t want anything to dampen your curiosity as the pages fly though the pages. But I do love a mystery that revolves around ancient manuscripts, biblical texts and ancient and modern science. It all contributes to the importance and significance of the mystery that is to be discovered.

I thoroughly enjoyed The Genesis Inquiry. I loved the places, especially Cambridge and Lindisfarne. I did find that my interest in Ella exceeded the pull of the mystery but I believe that this is actually a tribute to the author’s writing, which I think is very good indeed. I really hope that we will get the chance to meet Ella Blake again.

Five Minds by Guy Morpuss

Viper | 2021 (2 September) | 320p | Review copy | Buy the book

Five Minds by Guy MorpussIn the near future, Earth’s population crisis has been solved through drastic measures. On reaching adulthood, people can select how the rest of their lives will be lived – as a worker in their own bodies, as glamorous and wealthy pleasure-seekers (but for a pitifully short life), as a kind of human-android hybrid. All have their lifespan limited. But, for the longest life, people can opt to share a body – five minds in one body for about 140 years – but with consciousness limited to four hours as each mind takes its turn through the day.

Alex, Kate, Sierra, Ben and Mike have lived together in one body for 25 years. While Mike does everything he can with his time to keep the body fit, others within the commune have treated it less well. The time has come to compete for time credits to buy a new host body. They must play a series of virtual games in the ‘death parks’, places where people play to gain time but so often lose it. But, as the games play out, one of the five goes missing and soon it becomes terribly clear – they have been murdered. Someone wants to kill them off one by one. But who? Could they be sharing a body with a killer?

Five Minds is such an original and clever speculative novel, which takes the concept of a locked room murder mystery to extremes, with some of the suspects confined within one body, and each of the minds using their allotted shift of time to investigate. The chapters move through the structure of the day, moving between the minds, with Alex starting the day. It’s purposefully disjointed with each mind having to readjust to where their predecessor in the body has left them. They can communicate through messages, leaving clues and warnings – or lies and deceits. It’s an intriguing way for a murder enquiry to be conducted.

The science fiction element comes to the fore in the Death Park, a horrendous place of shifting realities and manipulation. Some of the games are frightening, others physically challenging, but the cost can be extreme, even fatal. What a place!

It is a dark novel. There seems no pleasure to be had living in four-hour chunks, in a body that isn’t your own, with the minds of others that you don’t particularly like. What if you’re the one who never sees the sun or even daylight? You can see why few select this course but there is a sadness about the other types of life. The setting of the Death Park seems appropriate to the gloom of a world that has no room for the people who live on it.

Five Minds raises questions about what type of life one might want, what one might be prepared to do to have more time, what time one might give up for a short life of luxury. But it is also an excellent crime novel that goes off in all sorts of unexpected directions. It does get complicated, which you’d expect when nobody has time to see the full picture, and is very clever and satisfying in the way it develops.

The Chateau by Catherine Cooper

HarperCollins | 2021 (2 September) | 400p | Review copy | Buy the book

The Chateau by Catherine CooperAura and Nick have uprooted their young family – boys called Bay and Sorrel – and moved from London to a dilapidated chateau in France. There is an unbelievable amount of work to do on it but a project such as this is just what Aura needs to take her mind off why they left England in such a rush. Best not to think about that. Luckily, chateau buying is all the rage with Brits and so the local ex-pat community soon takes the new couple under their wing, offering practical help as well as glamorous parties. It helps that the project is being observed by a TV documentary film crew. They even manage to get an au pair for no more cost than food and board. It seems too good to be true. And of course it is. The alarm bells are starting to go off even before one of their neighbours is found murdered.

Hot on the heels of The Chalet comes The Chateau. I love the recipe of these novels – a remote location, a small community of strangers, a murderer in their midst, a bunch of lies. I thoroughly enjoyed The Chalet and so I was looking forward to this and it did not disappoint. What a bunch of people…. It’s difficult to know who is the most despicable. Aura is our narrator for much of the book and it’s clear that what she doesn’t say is more important than what she does. The reader is left to fill in the gaps as slowly the truth emerges about what they left behind in London. You’ve got to wonder about anyone who would name their sons Bay and Sorrel, though.

The chateau itself is a fantastic location for a psychological thriller. It’s an abomination. Aura might view it as this beautiful ruin crying out for repair but it’s clearly horrible, dangerous, creepy and malignant. It fits the mood of the novel perfectly and reflects the characters of most of the people in it, including the ghastly ex-pats. Even the film crew are shifty.

I’m not going to give anything away but what I will say is that the way in which this story plays out is thoroughly satisfying. Catherine Cooper is such a good writer, she sets the scene so well. It’s creepy but it’s also fun and a little bonkers! I can’t wait to find out where she’ll take us to next!

Other review
The Chalet

For Your Own Good by Samantha Downing

Michael Joseph | 2021 (19 August) | 400p | Review copy | Buy the book

For Your Own Good by Samantha DowningTeddy Crutcher has been teaching English at Belmont Academy for a long time and, at last, he has won Teacher of the Year. At last. Nobody deserves it more, at least in Teddy’s eyes. He always wants the best for his students, especially those who treat him with respect and have influential parents on the School’s Board. He also likes to teach a different kind of lesson to those who deserve it, especially gifted student Zach and the popular teacher Sonia. To his chagrin, Sonia is about to be given a party to celebrate her tenth anniversary at the Academy. But when a member of the School’s Board, a pupil’s mother, is poisoned at the party, it’s not just Teddy who is shocked into action. This is a school where it seems everyone has a secret and nobody is safe.

Samantha Downing is an absolute genius at witty and wicked psychological thrillers. She did it with My Lovely Wife and she’s done it again with For Your Own Good. Usually, I need to like someone in a novel, at least a little bit, to engage with it but this novel shows that, as long as a book is written as well as this one, that’s really not the case. Pretty much everyone at Belmont Academy, including the over-reaching parents, is despicable! Sonia might be ‘nice’ but she’s living some sort of dream in her head that doesn’t seem to fit with reality. We might feel sorry for one or two of the students but not for long. And Teddy is utterly appalling.

The reader spends time in the heads of several people, although it’s Teddy who sets the mood. The more he reveals of himself the more you can hardly believe what you’re hearing. And then we move into the perspective of other students and teachers and you realise that you’re in some sort of nightmare territory and it’s all brilliantly wicked! As the story goes on, nothing seems impossible. There seems nothing these people won’t do. But do they actually do them? That’s the thing. We spend time in people’s minds – how much of what they think is true?

The plot is fabulous and it kept me reading compulsively.  The more the novel went on, the more intrigued I became. By the end, it was absolutely compelling and engrossing, so much so that I read it in one day. I can’t remember the last time I read a book in one day. This delicious book demanded it.

Other review
My Lovely Wife

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
Target
With Brendon DuBois – The First Lady

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.

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

Falling by T.J. Newman

Simon & Schuster | 2021 (10 June) | 304p | Review copy | Buy the book

Falling by TJ NewmanWhen Captain Bill Hoffman of Coastal Airways agrees to take on another flight, against his wife’s wishes, he takes on the responsibility of over 140 souls. It’s not long into the flight before he realises with stark horror that every single one of them is in jeopardy. He receives a call – his wife and children are being held hostage. Only one thing can save their lives. Bill must crash the plane.

Falling has a fantastic premise and kicks off a summer of plane thrillers (never has travel seemed such a nostalgic pleasure!). The author is a former flight attendant and that inside knowledge really adds to the authenticity in the chapters set aboard the plane. The authentic detail also makes the thriller more frightening.

The chapters alternate between the plane and the drama on the ground as the FBI goes into action and Bill’s wife tries to negotiate with her kidnapper. The scenes on the plane are the most successful and are absolutely engrossing and tense. The characters aboard, especially the experi flight crew, are very well drawn and Bill is great. The horror feels real. The FBI and hostage scenes and characters are less convincing and stall the pace somewhat but overall Falling is a very enjoyable ‘holiday thriller’ with a difference. And what a fantastic cover!

It’s possibly fortunate that you’re more likely this year to read Falling on the ground than in the air…

As a side note, I read the ebook but I can see that the audiobook is narrated by Steven Weber who did such a brilliant job of narrating Harlan Coben’s Win.