Tag Archives: Thriller

Nucleus by Rory Clements

Zaffre | 2018 (25 January) | 384p | Review copy | Buy the book

Nucleus by Rory ClementsIt is the summer of 1939 and, although nobody leaves home without their gas mask, England is carrying on as normal. A more immediate threat comes from the IRA which has begun a bombing terror campaign. But events in Europe cannot be ignored indefinitely and world powers – especially America, Germany and Britain – are well aware that in the war that is to come the atom bomb, if such a thing can be created, will be critical for victory. Cambridge’s Cavendish Laboratory in England has been a centre for scientific discovery and innovation and it is close to a breakthrough. America knows this and so too does Germany. When one of its scientists is murdered and another one disappears, Tom Wilde (a Cambridge professor but an American citizen) becomes caught up in the investigations.

Tom has been instructed by the American government to spy on the inhabitants of a local grand house, Hawksmere Old Hall, including a scientist (and an old friend of Tom’s) Geoff Lancing and Geoff’s sister Clarissa, one of Hollywood’s most beautiful and famous film actresses. Meanwhile Tom’s love Lydia has gone into the lion’s den itself – Berlin. A German Jewish scientist and his family has been smuggled out of Germany but a child has been stolen, presumably for blackmail to make the scientist return. Lydia is determined to find him. But this is a conspiracy that stretches across continents and oceans and both Lydia and Tom are soon out of their depth. As Europe hurtles ever closer to war, the stakes couldn’t be higher, the danger to Tom and Lydia more certain.

Nucleus follows on from Corpus, the first novel to feature Tom Wilde. Before this, author Rory Clements was better known for his Elizabethan spy series but Corpus and now Nucleus demonstrate that he is a master of the spy novel whatever the period in which it’s set. Pleasingly, Tom Wilde is a professor of history, especially of the Elizabethan spymaster Walsingham and I love the way in which these two periods of history 350 years apart are shown to share similarities. Tom has his own spymaster to deal with as well as serious issues of who he can trust – it’s difficult to see the truth when you can only glimpse a small part of the bigger picture.

The plotting is superb and deliciously intricate. You do need to keep your wits about you and keep alert and the rewards are enormous. I was thoroughly immersed in the plot and caught up in the tension. The scenes in Germany are especially intense and I found them terrifying. There is one moment in this novel when I actually gasped and had to put the book down. I even flicked through a few pages to find resolution, I couldn’t deal with what I’d ‘heard’.

I love the portrayal of England during 1939. The Old House is a symbol of decadence and the old way of living, one that will shortly be made irrelevant. Lydia is arguably the most appealing and interesting of all of the characters in the novel. It’s good to read a spy novel in which women play an equal role, although if you’re after glamour you’ll certainly find it in Clarissa.

Rory Clements has created two fine characters with Tom and Lydia and he deploys them with cleverness and skill. There’s an air of intellectualism about these novels – as there would be with a professor for the central character – but there are no ivory towers here. The world is waking up to a second world war and Tom will have to get his hands dirty. I loved Corpus. Published in January 2017, it opened up the year’s reading in fine fashion and Nucleus has done exactly the same in 2018. With no doubt at all, this is one of the best historical and spy series being written today. I can’t wait for more.

Other review
Holy Spy


Anatomy of a Scandal by Sarah Vaughan

Simon & Schuster | 2018 (11 January) | c.400p | Review copy | Buy the book

Anatomy of a Scandal by Sarah VaughanKate is a successful barrister, a QC who prosecutes those who need to be locked away. But she’s just lost a case and it’s hit her hard. But as she sits at her desk in the Inns of Court, London, her clerk brings her the file for a new case and it immediately catches Kate’s interest. It concerns James Whitehouse, a junior Home Office Minister and confidant of the Prime Minister, a friend of his from his Eton and Oxford University days. Whitehouse has been accused of the rape of Olivia Lytton, one of his researchers, with whom Whitehouse had had an affair. It’s hard to imagine a more high profile case. It could give Kate’s career the push it deserves.

Sophie is a woman whose life has been turned upside down. She is married to James Whitehouse, the doting father of their children, whose political career is on the up, and they live in a beautiful house, enjoying such a wonderful lifestyle. Learning that James has had an affair with researcher Olivia Lytton is appalling for Sophie but she knows that she will stand by him. But then, as the reporters camp outside her door, it all gets much, much worse. Sophie loves her husband, he must be innocent. She must hold her family together.

Anatomy of a Scandal is a timely and tense psychological thriller. It presents men of privilege, men who believe that they’re above the law and may have evaded it for decades, but those days are changing. It all sounds very familiar, especially when you throw in Eton schooldays and a decadent and exclusive dining club at Oxford University. Kate and Sophie approach this story from different angles – one is actively trying to challenge the status quo while the other wishes things stayed as they were. It’s hard not to sympathise with both positions. Sophie is part of the establishment, it’s understandable that she wants to keep her perfect life as it was, but this is the type of crime that, if proven, could collapse the world around her.

The novel is presented from several perspectives but mostly from the point of view of Kate and Sophie and also in the present tense. This raises the tension, the clash in perspectives, and also contrasts the legal and personal elements of the story and case. James Whitehouse is a different man to different people and so we’re left to make up our own opinions. This is especially true during the court scenes and the extended inquisition of Olivia in the witness box. So we have the perspective of a third woman and these scenes are perhaps the most powerful of all.

With no doubt at all, Anatomy of a Scandal is a fast and compelling read. Its structure, moving between the main characters and also between the past and present, contributes to the pace. It is also very well-written with fascinating insight into the legal process and also into the psychological state of the novel’s characters. But I did have some issues with it, mostly due to its big twist which I did not care for at all and hoped wasn’t coming. I know psychological thrillers are expected to have these twists but these days it rather puts me off. I’d rather have a story that stays true to its characters and doesn’t bend them to fit the twist. My other main issue was with its similarity to the reported student days of Cameron and Johnson etc in Oxford. It’s all so odious it automatically puts me off every character concerned. As a result, there were a fair few characters here I had no time for and unfortunately that also included Sophie.

Nevertheless, although I had a bit of trouble with some of the plot devices, Anatomy of a Scandal was a book I’d been looking forward to reading and it certainly did keep my attention. Sarah Vaughan writes very well and I’m very interested to see what she does next while hoping that the skill of her writing is allowed to triumph over the ubiquitous twist.

If I Die Before I Wake by Emily Koch

Harvill Secker | 2018 (ebook: 4 January; Hb: 11 January) | 312p | Review copy | Buy the book

If I Die Before I Wake by Emily KochAlex has had a terrible climbing accident. He now lies in a coma and he isn’t expect ever to wake up. But, as the visitors come and go, sometimes holding his hand, touching his face and talking to him, and as the nurses and doctors come in to examine him or turn him over, none of them realise that Alex is aware of every word and every touch. But he can’t communicate. He can’t even move a finger or an eyelid. All he can do is listen and sometimes that means he hears the worst of things. Especially when his girlfriend Bea visits and cries that she may be ready to move on with her life, with somebody new.

But Alex can also hear other things. He can hear that Bea is afraid, that she thinks she is being watched. He also learns that the police are looking into his accident all these months on. Could there be a connection? Could Bea be in danger? But what on earth can he do about it when all he can do is lie on his hospital bed. Nobody could be more vulnerable than Alex is right now. And he’s aware that he might not have much time. His father and sister have the power to have his lifecare turned off any moment they choose.

If I Die Before I Wake adds another twist to the psychological thriller. Everything is presented through the limited senses of Alex. We barely leave his hospital room except for brief flashbacks to memories from his past. And we don’t even see everything that happens in his hospital room. Alex dips in and out of consciousness, his vision is impaired and almost non-existent. He must rely on his other senses as well as his sensitivity to the moods and fears and hopes of his girlfriend, his father and sister, and his closest friends. He must use his instincts and knowledge of their characters to try and work out what is going on. This is also a mental exercise for Alex – to keep his brain working while the rest of him fails.

This premise means an intriguing mystery and we are no more aware of the clues than Alex is. There is also an element of the unreliable narrator about Alex. We don’t know if we can trust him. We barely know him. And, as he moves in out out of wakefulness, we are only too aware that we’re not seeing the full picture. This does add menace and tension to the novel but it also means action is something that can only be imagined rather than carried out. There were times when this slowed the pace down too much for me but the main issue of it was the frustration – we share Alex’s frustration.

I found it refreshing to have a male main character rather than another female victim. This does add an interesting edge as Alex spends time examining his relationships with his father, sister and girlfriend. Arguably, the sections in which Alex looks back on his relationship with his sister are the strongest of the novel and have a resonance beyond the shock felt by any twists in the tale. The novel is written beautifully, with some clever little touches as Alex lies still and hears conversation to the left and then to the right of his bed.

If I Die Before I Wake is a novel with a great deal of emotion and intensity. It is built upon a tragic state of affairs but there are still touches of humour, glimmers of hope, largely due to Alex who has retained his personality despite his terrible situation. The mystery didn’t entirely catch my imagination but this is a novel about what Alex can do to stay alive, how he can keep sane, and Emily Koch’s treatment of that is the novel’s highlight for me. And it is done very well indeed.

2018 crime fiction and thrillers – looking ahead (January to May)

In the last of my three 2018 preview posts, it’s time for crime fiction and thrillers! Many of these are published each month and so this is a particularly selective post. I’m also not a big reader of psychological thrillers so this post very much reflects my personal taste. The books below are published between January and the end of May. I suspect I shall be adding plenty more to this list over the coming weeks… Historical crime can be found in the historical fiction preview post. You can read my selection of historical fiction books here and science fiction here.

Crime fiction and thrillers

The Gathering Dark by James Oswald (January; Michael Joseph)
How I love the Inspector McLean books and I jumped on this the moment it arrived. It’s a corker and I loved it but blimey is it darker than dark…. ‘A truck driver loses control in central Edinburgh, ploughing into a crowded bus stop and spilling his vehicle’s toxic load. The consequences are devastating. DI Tony McLean witnesses the carnage. Taking control of the investigation, he soon realises there is much that is deeply amiss – and everyone involved seems to have something to hide. But as McLean struggles to uncover who caused the tragedy, a greater crisis develops: the new Chief Superintendent’s son is missing, last seen in the area of the crash…’

The Chalk Man by CJ Tudor (January; Michael Joseph)
I finished this very late one night this week – an extraordinary debut. Clever, compelling and surprising, and as much horror as crime. ‘The Chalk Man is coming… None of us ever agreed on the exact beginning. Was it when we started drawing the chalk figures, or when they started to appear on their own? Was it the terrible accident? Or when they found the first body?’

If I Die Before I Wake by Emily KochIf I Die Before I Wake by Emily Koch (January; Harvill Secker)
I’ve recently finished this and so the review is on the way shortly. ‘How do you solve your own murder? Everyone believes Alex is in a coma, unlikely to ever wake up. As his family debate withdrawing life support, and his friends talk about how his girlfriend Bea needs to move on, he can only listen. But Alex soon begins to suspect that the accident that put him here wasn’t really an accident. Even worse, the perpetrator is still out there and Alex is not the only one in danger. As he goes over a series of clues from his past, Alex must use his remaining senses to solve the mystery of who tried to kill him, and try to protect those he loves, before they decide to let him go.’

This is How it Ends by Eva Dolan (January; Raven Books)
‘This is how it begins. With a near-empty building, the inhabitants forced out of their homes by property developers. With two women: idealistic, impassioned blogger Ella and seasoned campaigner, Molly. With a body hidden in a lift shaft. But how will it end?’

Need to Know by Karen ClevelandNeed to Know by Karen Cleveland (January; Bantam Press)
This is an outstanding psychological thriller with a great spy twist! ‘Vivian Miller is a CIA analyst assigned to uncover Russian sleeper cells in the USA. After accessing the computer of a potential Russian spy, she stumbles on a secret dossier of deep-cover agents living in her own country. Five seemingly normal people living in plain sight. A few clicks later, everything that matters to Vivian is threatened – her job, her husband, even her four children… Vivian has vowed to defend her country against all enemies, foreign and domestic. But now she’s facing impossible choices. Torn between loyalty and betrayal, allegiance and treason, love and suspicion, who can she trust? Will her next move be the right one?’

Hell Bay by Kate Rhodes (January; Simon & Schuster)
‘DI Ben Kitto needs a second chance. After ten years working for the murder squad in London, a traumatic event has left him grief-stricken. He’s tried to resign from his job, but his boss has persuaded him to take three months to reconsider. Ben plans to work in his uncle Ray’s boatyard, on the tiny Scilly island of Bryher where he was born, hoping to mend his shattered nerves. His plans go awry when the body of sixteen year old Laura Trescothick is found on the beach at Hell Bay. Her attacker must still be on the island because no ferries have sailed during a two-day storm. Everyone on the island is under suspicion. Dark secrets are about to resurface. And the murderer could strike again at any time.’

The Confession by Jo Spain (January; Quercus)
‘Late one night a man walks into the luxurious home of disgraced banker Harry McNamara and his wife Julie. The man launches an unspeakably brutal attack on Harry as a horror-struck Julie watches, frozen by fear. Just an hour later the attacker, JP Carney, has handed himself in to the police. He confesses to beating Harry to death, but JP claims that the assault was not premeditated and that he didn’t know the identity of his victim. With a man as notorious as Harry McNamara, the detectives cannot help wondering, was this really a random act of violence or is it linked to one of Harry’s many sins: corruption, greed, betrayal? This gripping psychological thriller will have you questioning, who – of Harry, Julie and JP – is really the guilty one? And is Carney’s surrender driven by a guilty conscience or is his confession a calculated move in a deadly game?’

Anatomy of a Scandal by Sarah Vaughan (January; Simon & Schuster)
‘A high-profile marriage thrust into the spotlight. A wife, determined to keep her family safe, must face a prosecutor who believes justice has been a long time coming. A scandal that will rock Westminster. And the women caught at the heart of it. Anatomy of a Scandal centres on a high-profile marriage that begins to unravel when the husband is accused of a terrible crime. Sophie is sure her husband, James, is innocent and desperately hopes to protect her precious family from the lies which might ruin them. Kate is the barrister who will prosecute the case – she is equally certain that James is guilty and determined he will pay for his crimes.’

A Darker State by David Young (February; Zaffre)
‘For the Stasi, it’s not just the truth that gets buried… The body of a teenage boy is found weighted down in a lake. Karin Müller, newly appointed Major of the People’s Police, is called to investigate. But her power will only stretch so far, when every move she makes is under the watchful eye of the Stasi. Then, when the son of Müller’s team member goes missing, it quickly becomes clear that there is a terrifying conspiracy at the heart of this case, one that could fast lead Müller and her young family into real danger. Can she navigate this complex political web and find the missing boy, before it’s too late?’

The Dark Angel by Elly Griffiths (February; Quercus)
A new novel by Elly Griffiths…. perfect. ‘Dr Ruth Galloway is flattered when she receives a letter from Italian archaeologist Dr Angelo Morelli, asking for her help. He’s discovered a group of bones in a tiny hilltop village near Rome but doesn’t know what to make of them. It’s years since Ruth has had a holiday, and even a working holiday to Italy is very welcome! So Ruth travels to Castello degli Angeli, accompanied by her daughter Kate and friend Shona. In the town she finds a baffling Roman mystery and a dark secret involving the war years and the Resistance. To her amazement she also soon finds Harry Nelson, with Cathbad in tow. But there is no time to overcome their mutual shock – the ancient bones spark a modern murder, and Ruth must discover what secrets there are in Castello degli Angeli that someone would kill to protect.’

Gallery of the Dead by Chris Carter (February; Simon & Schuster)
‘‘Thirty-seven years in the force, and if I was allowed to choose just one thing to erase from my mind, what’s inside that room would be it.’ That’s what a LAPD Lieutenant tells Detectives Hunter and Garcia of the Ultra Violent Crimes Unit as they arrive at one of the most shocking crime scenes they have ever attended. In a completely unexpected turn of events, the detectives find themselves joining forces with the FBI to track down a serial killer whose hunting ground sees no borders; a psychopath who loves what he does because to him murder is much more than just killing – it’s an art form. Welcome to The Gallery of the Dead.’

The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart TurtonThe Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton (February; Raven Books)
I have had the pleasure of reading this already and it is absolutely fantastic! Hugely original, clever and mindblowing. A candidate for book of the year already. ”Somebody’s going to be murdered at the ball tonight. It won’t appear to be a murder and so the murderer won’t be caught. Rectify that injustice and I’ll show you the way out.’ It is meant to be a celebration but it ends in tragedy. As fireworks explode overhead, Evelyn Hardcastle, the young and beautiful daughter of the house, is killed. But Evelyn will not die just once. Until Aiden – one of the guests summoned to Blackheath for the party – can solve her murder, the day will repeat itself, over and over again. Every time ending with the fateful pistol shot. The only way to break this cycle is to identify the killer. But each time the day begins again, Aiden wakes in the body of a different guest. And someone is determined to prevent him ever escaping Blackheath…’

The Collector by Fiona Cummins (February; Macmillan)
‘Jakey escaped with his life and moved to a new town. His rescue was a miracle but his parents know that the Collector is still out there, watching, waiting… Clara, the girl he left behind, dreams of being found. Her mother is falling apart but she will not give up hope. The Collector has found an apprentice to take over his family’s legacy. But he can’t forget the one who got away and the detective who destroyed his dreams. DS Etta Fitzroy must hunt him down before his obsession destroys them all.’

Force of Nature by Jane Harper (February; Little Brown)
‘FIVE WENT OUT. FOUR CAME BACK… Is Alice here? Did she make it? Is she safe? In the chaos, in the night, it was impossible to say which of the four had asked after Alice’s welfare. Later, when everything got worse, each would insist it had been them. Five women reluctantly pick up their backpacks and start walking along the muddy track. Only four come out the other side. The hike through the rugged landscape is meant to take the office colleagues out of their air-conditioned comfort zone and teach resilience and team building. At least that is what the corporate retreat website advertises. Federal Police Agent Aaron Falk has a particularly keen interest in the whereabouts of the missing bushwalker. Alice Russell is the whistleblower in his latest case – and Alice knew secrets. About the company she worked for and the people she worked with. Far from the hike encouraging teamwork, the women tell Falk a tale of suspicion, violence and disintegrating trust. And as he delves into the disappearance, it seems some dangers may run far deeper than anyone knew.’

Look for Me by Lisa Gardner (February; Century)
‘Detective DD Warren and Flora Dane are in a race against time to save a young girl’s life – or bring her to justice. A family home has become a crime scene. Five people are involved: four of them have been savagely murdered; one – a sixteen-year-old girl – is missing. Was she lucky to have escaped? Or is her absence evidence of something sinister? Detective D. D. Warren is on the case, as is survivor-turned-avenger Flora Dane. Seeking different types of justice, they must make sense of the clues left behind by a young woman who, as victim or suspect, is silently pleading, Look for me.’

The Liar’s Girl by Catherine Ryan Howard (March; Corvus)
‘Her first love confessed to five murders. But the truth was so much worse. Dublin’s notorious Canal Killer, Will Hurley, is ten years into his life sentence when the body of a young woman is fished out of the Grand Canal. Though detectives suspect they are dealing with a copycat, they turn to Will for help. He claims he has the information the police need, but will only give it to one person – the girl he was dating when he committed his horrific crimes. Alison Smith has spent the last decade abroad, putting her shattered life in Ireland far behind her. But when she gets a request from Dublin imploring her to help prevent another senseless murder, she is pulled back to face the past – and the man – she’s worked so hard to forget.’

Panic Room by Robert Goddard (March; Bantam Press)
‘High on a Cornish cliff sits a vast uninhabited mansion. Uninhabited except for Blake, a young woman of dubious background, secretive and alone, currently acting as housesitter. The house has a panic room. Cunningly concealed, steel lined, impregnable – and apparently closed from within. Even Blake doesn’t know it’s there. She’s too busy being on the run from life, from a story she thinks she’s escaped. But her remote existence is going to be invaded when people come looking the house’s owner, missing rogue pharma entrepreneur, Jack Harkness. Suddenly the whole world wants to know where his money has gone. Soon people are going to come knocking on the door, people with motives and secrets of their own, who will be asking Blake the sort of questions she can’t – or won’t – want to answer. And will the panic room ever give up its secrets?’

Let Me Lie by Clare Mackintosh (March; Sphere)
‘The police say it was suicide. Anna says it was murder. They’re both wrong. One year ago, Caroline Johnson chose to end her life brutally: a shocking suicide planned to match that of her husband just months before. Their daughter, Anna, has struggled to come to terms with their loss ever since. Now with a young baby of her own, Anna misses her mother more than ever and starts to ask questions about her parents’ deaths. But by digging up the past, is she putting her future in danger? Sometimes it’s safer to let things lie…’.

Come and Find Me by Sarah Hilary (March; Headline)
I always look forward to the new Marnie Rome novel! ‘On the surface, Lara Chorley and Ruth Hull have nothing in common, other than their infatuation with Michael Vokey. Each is writing to a sadistic inmate, sharing her secrets, whispering her worst fears, craving his attention. DI Marnie Rome understands obsession. She’s finding it hard to give up her own addiction to a dangerous man: her foster brother, Stephen Keele. She wasn’t able to save her parents from Stephen. She lives with that guilt every day. As the hunt for Vokey gathers pace, Marnie fears one of the women may have found him – and is about to pay the ultimate price.’

The Darkness by Ragnar Jónasson (March; Michael Joseph)
‘Before Detective Inspector Hulda Hermannsdóttir of the Reykjavik Police is forced into early retirement she is told to investigate a cold case of her choice, and she knows just the one. A young woman found dead on remote seaweed-covered rocks. A woman who was looking for asylum and found only a watery grave. Her death ruled a suicide after a cursory investigation. But Hulda soon realizes that there was something far darker to this case. This was not the only young woman to disappear around that time. And no one is telling the whole story. When her own force tries to put the brakes on the investigation Hulda has just days to discover the truth. Even if it means risking her own life…’.

The Smiling Man by Joseph Knox (March; Doubleday)
This was my Christmas read and it is absolutely superb! Even better than the fantastic Sirens so don’t miss it. ‘‘I usually experienced the presence of a dead body as an absence, but in this case, it felt like a black hole opening up in front of me’. Disconnected from his history and careless of his future, Detective Aidan Waits has resigned himself to the night shift. An endless cycle of meaningless emergency calls and lonely dead ends. Until he and his partner, Detective Inspector Peter ‘Sutty’ Sutcliffe, are summoned to The Palace, a vast disused hotel in the centre of a restless, simmering city. There they find the body of a man. He is dead. And he is smiling. The tags have been removed from the man’s clothes. His teeth filed down and replaced. Even his fingertips are not his own. Only a patch sewn into the inside of his trousers gives any indication as to who he was, and to the desperate last act of his life… But even as Waits puts together the pieces of this stranger’s life, someone is sifting through the shards of his own. When the mysterious fires, anonymous phone calls and outright threats escalate, he realises that a ghost from his own past haunts his every move. And to discover the smiling man’s identity, he must finally confront his own.’

The Lost by Mari Hannah (March; Orion)
A new series begins by one of my favourite authors! ”He was her child. The only one she’d ever have. It would kill her to learn that he was missing.’ Alex arrives home from holiday to find that her ten-year-old son Daniel has disappeared. It’s the first case together for Northumbria CID officers David Stone and Frankie Oliver. Stone has returned to his roots with fifteen years’ experience in the Met, whereas Oliver is local, a third generation copper with a lot to prove, and a secret that’s holding her back. But as the investigation unfolds, they realise the family’s betrayal goes deeper than anyone suspected. This isn’t just a missing persons case. Stone and Oliver are hunting a killer.’

The Perfect Girlfriend by Karen Hamilton (March; Wildfire)
‘Juliette loves Nate. She will follow him anywhere. She’s even become a flight attendant for his airline, so she can keep a closer eye on him. They are meant to be. The fact that Nate broke up with her six months ago means nothing. Because Juliette has a plan to win him back. She is the perfect girlfriend. And she’ll make sure no one stops her from getting exactly what she wants. True love hurts, but Juliette knows it’s worth all the pain…’

The Bone Keeper by Luca Veste (ebook release March; Simon & Schuster)
‘What if the figure that haunted your nightmares as child, the myth of the man in the woods, was real? He’ll slice your flesh. Your bones he’ll keep. Twenty years ago, four teenagers went exploring in the local woods, trying to find to the supposed home of The Bone Keeper. Only three returned. Now, a woman is found wandering the streets of Liverpool, horrifically injured, claiming to have fled the Bone Keeper. Investigating officer DC Louise Henderson must convince sceptical colleagues that this urban myth might be flesh and blood. But when a body is unearthed in the woodland the woman has fled from, the case takes on a much darker tone. The disappeared have been found. And their killer is watching every move the police make.’

Turn a Blind Eye by Vicky Newham (April; HQ)
‘A dead girl. A wall of silence. DI Maya Rahman is running out of time. A headmistress is found strangled in her East London school, her death the result of a brutal and ritualistic act of violence. Found at the scene is a single piece of card, written upon which is an ancient Buddhist precept: I shall abstain from taking the ungiven. At first, DI Maya Rahman can’t help but hope this is a tragic but isolated murder. Then, the second body is found. Faced with a community steeped in secrets and prejudice, Maya must untangle the cryptic messages left at the crime scenes to solve the deadly riddle behind the murders – before the killer takes another victim.’

The Craftsman by Sharon Bolton (April; Trapeze)
‘Devoted father or merciless killer? His secrets are buried with him. Florence Lovelady’s career was made when she convicted coffin-maker Larry Glassbrook of a series of child murders 30 years ago. Like something from our worst nightmares the victims were buried…ALIVE. Larry confessed to the crimes; it was an open and shut case. But now he’s dead, and events from the past start to repeat themselves. Did she get it wrong all those years ago? Or is there something much darker at play?’

The Killing House by Claire McGowan (April; Headline)
The sixth and final Paula Maguire mystery… ‘When a puzzling missing persons’ case opens up in her hometown, forensic psychologist Paula Maguire can’t help but return once more. Renovations at an abandoned farm have uncovered two bodies: a man known to be an IRA member missing since the nineties, and a young girl whose identity remains a mystery. As Paula attempts to discover who the girl is and why no one is looking for her, an anonymous tip-off claims that her own long-lost mother is also buried on the farm. When another girl is kidnapped, Paula must find the person responsible before more lives are destroyed. But there are explosive secrets still to surface. And even Paula can’t predict that the investigation will strike at the heart of all she holds dear.’

Cross Her Heart by Sarah Pinborough (May; HarperCollins)
‘‘Cross my heart and hope to die…’ Promises only last if you trust each other, but what if one of you is hiding something? A secret no one could ever guess. Someone is living a lie. Is it Lisa? Maybe it’s her daughter, Ava. Or could it be her best friend, Marilyn?’

The House Swap by Rebecca Fleet (May; Doubleday)
‘No one lives this way unless they want to hide something.’ When Caroline and Francis receive an offer to house swap, they jump at the chance for a week away from home. After the difficulties of the past few years, they’ve worked hard to rebuild their marriage for their son’s sake; now they want to reconnect as a couple. On arrival, they find a house that is stark and sinister in its emptiness – it’s hard to imagine what kind of person lives here. Then, gradually, Caroline begins to uncover some signs of life – signs of her life. The flowers in the bathroom or the music in the CD player might seem innocent to her husband but to her they are anything but. It seems the person they have swapped with is someone she used to know; someone she’s desperate to leave in her past. But that person is now in her home – and they want to make sure she’ll never forget…’.

The Outsider by Stephen King (May; Hodder & Stoughton)
‘When an eleven-year-old boy is found murdered, forensic evidence and reliable eyewitnesses undeniably point to the town’s popular Little League coach. But the jailed suspect, arrested in a public spectacle, has an alibi, and further research convinces Detective Ralph Anderson that the coach was indeed out of town. So how can he have been in two places at the same time?’

Snap by Belinda Baur (May; Bantam Press)
‘Suddenly it wasn’t just a game… Jack’s eleven and he’s in charge. Jack’s in charge, said his mother as she disappeared up the road to get help. I won’t be long. Now Jack and his two sisters wait on the hard shoulder in their stifling, broken-down car, bickering and whining. But their mother doesn’t come back. She never comes back. And after that long, hot summer’s day, nothing will ever be the same again. Three years later, a young woman called Catherine wakes to find a knife beside her bed, and a note that says: I could have killed you. Jack’s fifteen now and still in charge. Of his sisters, of supporting them all, of making sure nobody knows they’re alone in the house… And – quite suddenly – of finding out who murdered his mother.’

The Killing Habit by Mark Billingham (May; Little, Brown)
‘How do you catch a killer who is yet to kill? We all know the signs. Cruelty, lack of empathy, the killing of animals. Now, pets on suburban London streets are being stalked by a shadow, and it could just be the start. DI Tom Thorne knows the psychological profile of such offenders all too well, so when he is tasked with catching a notorious killer of domestic cats, he sees the chance to stop a series of homicides before they happen. Others are less convinced, so once more, Thorne relies on DI Nicola Tanner to help him solve the case, before the culprit starts hunting people. It’s a journey that brings them face to face with a killer who will tear their lives apart.’

The Moscow Cipher by Scott Mariani (May; Avon)
My favourite thriller hero Ben Hope returns! ‘BEN HOPE is one of the most celebrated action adventure heroes in British fiction and Scott Mariani is the author of numerous bestsellers. Join the ever-growing legion of readers who get breathless with anticipation when the countdown to the new Ben Hope thriller begins…’.

Don’t Make a Sound by David Jackson (May; Zaffre)
‘Meet the Bensons. A pleasant enough couple. They keep themselves to themselves. They wash their car, mow their lawn and pass the time of day with their neighbours. And they have a beautiful little girl called Daisy. There’s just one problem. Daisy doesn’t belong to the Bensons. They stole her. And now they’ve decided that Daisy needs a little brother or sister. D.S. Nathan Cody is about to face his darkest and most terrifying case yet…’.

Our Kind of Cruelty by Araminta Hall (May; Century)
‘This is a love story. This is a tragedy. This is a book about a break up so bad that when you put the pieces of the love story back together, what you get is MURDER… Mike knows that most of us travel through the world as one half of a whole, desperately searching for that missing person to make us complete. But he and Verity are different. They have found each other and nothing and no one will tear them apart. It doesn’t matter that Verity is marrying another man. You see, Verity and Mike play a game together, a secret game they call ‘the crave’, the aim being to demonstrate what they both know: that Verity needs Mike, and only Mike. Verity’s upcoming marriage is the biggest game she and Mike have ever played. And it’s for the highest stakes. Except this time in order for Mike and Verity to be together someone has to die…’.

The Cliff House by Amanda Jennings (May; HQ)
‘Some friendships are made to be broken. Cornwall, summer of 1986. If only… thinks Tamsyn, fifteen-years-old, with her binoculars trained on the perfect family in their perfect house… If only she lived at the Cliff House, towering above the sea, with its beautiful Art Deco swimming pool. If only Tamsyn’s life was as perfect as the owners’, the Davenports, with their effortless glamour and privilege. If only Tamsyn’s father hadn’t died and left her mother working as a cleaner, tidying up after the Davenport’s outrageous parties. If only Edie Davenport wanted to be her friend… If only Edie hadn’t met her brother, Jago, and liked him more… Amanda Jennings deftly weaves a deadly tale of loss and longing in this gripping and powerful psychological thriller which will haunt readers long after the final page is turned.’

We’re in for quite a year… Can someone send me an extra pair of eyeballs?

Happy New Year!

The Innocent Wife by Amy Lloyd

Century | 2017 (ebook 6 October; Hb 28 December) | 356p | Review copy | Buy the book

The Innocent Wife by Amy LloydDennis Danson has been on Death Row for over twenty years for the murder of the child Holly Michaels. Her mutilated body was found dumped in a swamp ten miles from her home in Red River County, Florida. Danson was himself just a teen at the time and the evidence was, to say the least, nebulous and so, with his movie star looks and charm, he has become the favourite of true crime documentary makers as well as fans who campaign for his release. When Mark shows his girlfriend Samantha, a school teacher in England, a documentary about Dennis Danson she becomes hooked on the man and on his case and soon she is lost in the online message boards and forums of his campaigners. She writes to him, he writes back. Samantha leaves her life in England behind to meet and then marry this convicted murderer.

And then the campaign succeeds. Dennis is released and now Samantha must make a life with a husband she barely knows. She has so much to learn…

The Innocent Wife has a fantastic premise and draws on that curious phenomenon of the lonely women who fall for men convicted of the worst of crimes. While the safety glass remains between the couple all is well, everything is managed and controlled, but when it is withdrawn and the convict is freed, suddenly trust becomes an issue. For them both, because we have much to learn about the motivations of Samantha as well as Dennis.

This is a dark psychological thriller that grips instantly and I read it all in half a day. It kept me up until well into the night because I simply had to know what was going to happen. Amy Lloyd expertly builds up the suspense and tension as Samantha learns more and more about the man that she has fallen in love with but hardly knows. And vice versa as well. Danson not only has to deal with freedom and life outside a prison for the first time in his adult life, he must also cope with the demands of a hungry media as well as living with Samantha. This raises all sorts of questions about what it is that makes couples compatible, the need for compromise and tolerance, and it is absolutely fascinating watching strangers marry. It’s the little things that often cause the arguments. But for Danson and Samantha there is so much more to contend with. It makes for a compelling read.

Samantha is ridiculously naive and compulsive and not at all easy to like. We see much of the story through her perspective and it does little to win us over to her, while it keeps Danson as an enigmatic and handsome stranger hidden in the shadows. But I did realise that these flaws in Samantha’s character are part of the point. She is lonely and isolated. She is susceptible and obsessive. And that’s why she flies across the ocean to Danson. But I didn’t care for her or Danson, although Danson’s predicament at times appears pitiable. The reader is an observer, detached yet incredulous of what we witness.

I did predict much of the plot. Some of the clues were a little too obvious and parts (particularly the beginning and the end) felt too rushed – all contributing to the rollercoaster pace of the novel – but that didn’t stop me gobbling it up. The speed did mean that this isn’t a book to dwell upon but for a holiday read An Innocent Wife did very well indeed.

Inquisition by David Gibbins

Headline | 2017 (28 December) | 355p | Review copy | Buy the book

Inquisition by David GibbinsIt is 258 AD and the Emperor Valerian has turned on Rome’s Christians, slaughtering them and their pope in the most imaginatively cruel ways, as entertainment for the masses. A Christian legionary runs into the fire-drenched catacombs beneath the city to retrieve his faith’s most sacred object, the Holy Grail, to save it for the future. In 1684 the famous diarist Samuel Pepys is in Tangier to oversee the handing over of Charles II’s defeated colony to the Moors. A mysterious object concealed within an ancient leather saddlebag becomes part of the negotiations. Pepys’ aim is to send it away to safety in the Caribbean, far from the attention of kings and emperors, but something terrible stands in the way – the Altamanus, a merciless element within the Inquisition, and they never lose sight of their target.

In the present day, marine archaeologist and explorer Jack Howard is diving off the Cornish coast on the wreck of a ship that he is able to identify as one of those that Pepys despatched from Tangier. It presents a tantalising glimpse into a mystery ready to be solved and it sends Jack and his diving partner Costas, as well as his daughter Rebecca, on a trail of clues that will lead them across many miles of stormy ocean seas. But every step Jack takes is one dogged by the evil that is the Altamanus and the Inquisition.

If you’re a fan of archaeological adventure then you are in for a treat with David Gibbins’ Jack Howard series. It is unbeatable. I hesitate to call the books thrillers because, although they do contain action, fights, chases and spilt blood, they go deeper than that into the history behind the mystery and their archaeological context is sound. Gibbins is a marine archaeologist himself and it shows on almost every page. These books are full of exhilarating diving sequences, infused with the excitement of discovering historical artefacts as well as the thrill of exploring this dangerous yet beautiful environment. You can learn something while reading these books, as well as being thoroughly entertained and I love them. As soon as Inquisition arrived, I read it.

Inquisition is the tenth book in the series and I don’t think it matters at all if you read this on its own. I love Jack and Costas very much so there’s definitely much to be gained from reading all of the books but I don’t think it would matter too much in which order you read them (with the exception of Pharaoh and Pyramid, which are a pair – and outstanding).

David Gibbins tells a great story and at its heart is the Inquisition, particularly in 17th-century Portugal. While most of the novel takes place during the present day, there is a significant chunk that transports us to Tangier and to Portugal. We witness the tension of the British evacuation of Tangier through the brilliantly-realised figure of Samuel Pepys – most definitely a man with one eye on his posterity (and the other well fixed on alcohol and women). I did enjoy Pepys. David Gibbins is so good at evoking the past. But the section set in Portugal during the Inquisition is far darker and deeply disturbing.

Inquisition is a shorter novel than usual and Costas has far less of a role than normal. While I would have liked much more (of pages and Costas), the focus is very much on the Inquisition and the shipwrecks that evoke so powerfully this bygone era. The mystery is almost secondary to the history and archaeology and that is something I’ve always appreciated in these novels. I love the author’s attention to the details of marine archaeology. You feel like you’re there beneath the waves with Jack and Costas and that anything could be found amongst the rotting timbers of a forgotten wreck. But in this book in particular there is great trauma – the Inquisition that gives the novel its name – and its telling is extremely moving. I will never be able to get enough of David Gibbins’ novels.

Other reviews
The Gods of Atlantis (Jack Howard 6)
Pharaoh (Jack Howard 7)
Pyramid (Jack Howard 8)
Testament (Jack Howard 9)
Total War Rome: Destroy Carthage
The Sword of Attila: Rome Total War II

Into the Drowning Deep by Mira Grant

Orbit | 2017 (16 November) | 486p | Review copy | Buy the book

Into the Drowning Deep by Mira GrantIn 2015 Imagine Entertainment despatched the vessel Atargatis to the Mirana Trench, deep within the Pacific Ocean, to film a ‘mocumentary’. Its subject would be the sea’s most celebrated of legendary creatures. But not a soul would survive the voyage. The ship was found a few weeks later with nobody aboard. Recovered cameras, though, hint at something terrible but some people refuse to believe what they show, calling it a hoax. But the families of the lost need answers. Now, in 2022, a new expedition is about to begin. The Melusine, a luxurious and state-of-the-art science vessel is to return to the Mirana Trench, again sent by Imagine, and this time it is after answers about the fate of those aboard Atargatis as well as the truth concerning these creatures of myth.

The Melusine sails with a team of scientists and filmmakers who have no idea what they’ll find, but among them is marine scientist Tory, whose sister filmed those infamous shots aboard Atargatis. She isn’t alone in feeling driven to confront her fears. But surely they will be safe aboard the Melusine. Its shutters can protect the ship against anything the sea can throw at it. Can’t they?

Into the Drowning Deep is the type of book I love very much if done well – terror at sea, horror in the depths, the uncertainty of survival, with some thoroughly entertaining science thrown into the mix. And I’m delighted to say that I think Mira Grant has succeeded in her aims. This is a meaty book, for want of a better expression. It’s substantial in length, it’s packed with characters each with their own goals, their relationships complex, and the tension builds as the characters are hunted across the ship.

We’re taken deep into disaster territory with a decent amount of horror thrown in. But the stars of this book aren’t the people – although there were a handful of people that I liked very much indeed and spent a lot of time worrying for – it’s the creatures we’re forewarned about from the very beginning. There can be little more appealing in a novel about the secrets depths of the Mirano Trench than these enigmatic beings and they do not disappoint – the descriptions are fantastic. But there’s so much more to it. There are lots of surprises and shocks. And so much blood. I spent a fair amount of time while reading this novel shuddering. I love that!

There are a couple of predictable characters and sometimes you can look ahead and sense what will happen, but on the whole I was thoroughly satisfied with the way that the novel progresses. It’s the first of a series and so there is room for further development at the end but on the whole I think Into the Drowning Deep stands on its own very well. I really liked the detail in the plotting and most of the characterisation. We’re eased into the horror gradually but the foreboding builds from the very start while we’re also given intriguing bits of sciencespeak. The tension is maintained throughout and the action is thrilling. In some ways, Into the Drowning Deep reminded me of Michael Crichton’s novels. How I love technothrillers.

I’ve previously read Mira Grant’s horror thriller Parasite and, while I enjoyed that, I enjoyed Into the Drowning Deep much more. This book is one of those which I actually felt could have been written for me. I love horror set within the claustrophobic confines of a ship at sea but I also have a thing about mythical sea creatures and have read a fair few novels about them over the years. None of it though was anything like this! I lapped it up and I’m looking forward to book 2 very much indeed.

Other review