Tag Archives: Thriller

Ten of my favourite books – Guest post by Liz Lawler, author of Don’t Wake Up

This week, Twenty7 published the ebook of psychological thriller Don’t Wake Up by Liz Lawler. To mark the occasion, I’m really pleased to host a guest post from Liz in which she talks about an irresistible subject – her favourite books. Surely, a near-impossible task and so fascinating to read.

First, a little of what Don’t Wake Up is about (the publication of the paperback follows later in the year).

Alex Taylor wakes up tied to an operating table. The man who stands over her isn’t a doctor.

The choice he forces her to make is utterly unspeakable.

But when Alex re-awakens, she’s unharmed – and no one believes her horrifying story. Ostracised by her colleagues, her family and her partner, she begins to wonder if she really is losing her mind.

And then she meets the next victim.

So compulsive you can’t stop reading.

So chilling you won’t stop talking about it.

Ten of my favourite books

This is a difficult one as I have read every day of my adult life apart from the day my mother died and have read many books, particularly from the crime genre. So I mention but a few that will remain with me.

Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte – I was already in love with Wuthering Heights long before I read it from watching the 1939 Hollywood adaption, with my father. As the tears rolled down my face, I both hated and loved Cathy Earnshaw and Heathcliff for ever having loved each other. When I studied the book for O’ level, I thought it would be a cinch, until I realised how many more characters and much more story was to be told. Both the cruelty and beauty of the story takes my breath away. Wuthering Heights was part of my childhood and always evokes memories of my father, who was not unlike Lawrence Olivier to look at.

Strangers on a Train by Patricia Highsmith – I loved the darkness and psychological twists of this story of two men coming together and trading murders. Such a simple, yet devious idea of how to commit murder – and so easy to achieve – if you can simply carry out the act. The undoing of course is when one of you is not a psychopath.

To kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee – I try not to read this book too often as I always want to feel its impact again. Atticus Finch will forever be one of my hero’s. Despite dealing with such serious topics of racism and rape, Harper Lee manages separate the darkness with warmth and humour throughout. Atticus has to defend a black man accused of raping a white woman while also bearing the responsibility of raising alone his two children, Scout and Jem. Harper Lee’s ability to tell a story is truly enviable.

A Star called Henry by Roddy Doyle – the story of a young lad called Henry Smart in 1901 growing up in the slums of Dublin, facing poverty and violence during the Easter Uprising. There isn’t a book of Roddy Doyle’s that I haven’t liked, but I loved A Star called Henry. I felt familiar with the dialogue of this book because my father was born in Dublin in 1914, and had already painted a picture of the Dublin portrayed by Roddy Doyle. The storyline of Henry and his younger brother, Victor, is truly poignant – it made me cry.

Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck – set in California during the Great Depression about two men, George Milton and Lennie Small, seeking work on a ranch. I read this book in one sitting on a long lazy day after my daughter studied it for GCSE and was envious that she got to read and appreciate it at such young age. I would recommend this to anyone who doesn’t like a long read. It is a great emotional read, particularly the relationship between Candy and his dog.

Birdsong by Sebastian Faulks – I romped through this book once I passed the first hundred pages and stayed hooked till the very end. I was sitting in a pub, on the last few pages, when an old man opposite me asked what I thought of it. Brilliant, of course, was my answer. ‘Aye, he did a good job,’ the old man replied. ‘But it’s the stink that I always remember.’

The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold – I loved the idea of this story – a murdered 14-year-old girl watching from heaven the grief and fallout of her family and unable to be with them. The compelling part of this story for me is that we stand with Susie Salmon and also get to watch, and all we can do is wait and hope that they find Susie.

Winter in Madrid by C J Sansom – set in the aftermath of the Spanish Civil War showing the hardship facing the people under a fascist dictator. Henry Brett, a British reluctant spy, traumatised by Dunkirk, is sent to Madrid to spy on his old school friend, a questionable business man. This is a great spy novel as well as a love story.

The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini – set in Afghanistan, this is such a powerful story – a friendship between two boys, one, the son of a rich man, the other, the son of a servant that is broken in a single moment of horror when one friend betrays the other. A stunning and harrowing story.

Apple Tree Yard by Louise Doughty – I read this before it became a drama and found it truly chilling. How in a moment a life can change forever. No matter that you think you have control of your life, when something takes it away, you are on your own. What I loved about this story is the way it shows the constraints and restrictions on a life just get tighter when you don’t know how to be somebody else.

For other stops of the tour do take a look at the poster below.

The Night Visitor by Lucy Atkins

Quercus | 2017 (4 May) | 357p | Review copy | Buy the book

Professor Olivia Sweetman has it all – she combines her role as a professor of history with a successful writing career as well as being a familiar face on television presenting documentaries. Her latest book is about to be launched at London’s rather unusual and wonderful Hunterian Museum. The book, called Annabel, is based on the diary of Annabel Burley, a pioneering Victorian figure and one of the first female doctors, whose career hid, until now, a potentially enormous scandal. Annabel is Olivia’s first book aimed at a general readership and no-one is in any doubt that it will be hugely successful. Perhaps too successful! Because Olivia is fighting off offers to appear on Strictly Come Dancing. Celebrity Pointless she can just about cope with, but dancing on TV in front of millions?!

But standing there at the Hunterian Museum, watched by fans and colleagues, as well as by her talented husband, David, also a writer, Olivia is terrified. Her life is out of control. And it all began when she met Vivian Tester, the 60-year-old housekeeper of Ileford Manor in Sussex and the curious and awkward woman who found the diary upon which Olivia’s book is based.

The Night Visitor presents the extraordinary tale of Olivia and Vivian in an engrossing and compelling way, with chapters alternating between them and also looking back into the past. Vivian tells her story in her own words and yet she is even more closed off to us than Olivia, whose descent into crisis is told in the third person. Both women protect secrets and they take care to keep them from us but as we move backwards and forwards through time their lives slowly unravel. At times it is deeply disturbing, encouraged by the recurring references to beetles, and there are moments of real horror. The fact that we see some events from more than one perspective also alters their meaning. The ground constantly shifts as we learn that there is nothing we can hang on to.

The novel moves around some gorgeous landscapes, especially in France, and the places and the people in them are beautifully evoked. Lucy Atkins is a wonderful writer. I loved the scenes in France, the mix of summer and something deeply frightening. And sometimes events happen and we never really find out what happened. I liked that. Olivia is in trouble and the vagueness of the threat around her, her doubts about what is happening, intensify our worry and her dread.

There are little glimpses of humour and the macabre. There is something of the Victorian melodrama about some of the novel and Annabel does have significance beyond her diary, particularly in the novel’s portrayal of marriage and female independence.

Both Olivia and Vivian are fascinating characters. I didn’t find either especially likeable, including Olivia, but I couldn’t wait to find out how the story would finish. I did guess little bits of it but not all. I also enjoyed how the novel would make me think one thing and then turn it around completely. This happened in little ways all the time. There isn’t a narrator in this novel that can be trusted. But what they say, they say it beautifully.

The Babylon Idol by Scott Mariani

Avon | 2017 (4 May) | 448p | Review copy | Buy the book

The Babylon Idol by Scott MarianiIf anyone deserves a rest it’s Ben Hope but not a chance. Barely days after his return to his French home and sanctuary, Le Val, having narrowly escaped his last mission with his life, Ben is thrown into the thick of it once more. And in the most shocking of ways. When out fixing a fence on the estate with his best friend and business partner Jeff, Jeff takes a bullet to the chest, shot by a sniper out of sight. First, Ben must deal with the shock as emergency services and police descend on Le Val. But that is soon followed by cold rage when, to distract himself, Ben opens a letter that arrived for him while he was away. An old enemy has written from his Italian prison cell to warn him that one of Ben’s greatest foes has almost literally risen from the dead, determined to seek vengeance on those who destroyed his plans years before. It’s then that Ben realises that the bullet was not intended for Jeff. It was meant for him.

And so begins a cat and mouse chase across Europe as Ben Hope fights to keep alive those on the deathlist, particularly his old colleague Professor Anna Manzini. Doing their best to stay one foot ahead of snipers and thugs, Ben and Anna realise that there might be more going on than they first thought. That this evil monster has learned the subject of Anna’s current research – the long lost and immensely valuable Babylon Idol – and he is going to find it first, over Ben and Anna’s dead bodies if at all possible.

The Babylon Idol might be the fifteenth Ben Hope novel but these fantastic thrillers are as fresh, vivid and brilliantly exciting as ever. Ben Hope is most definitely and assuredly my favourite action hero in fiction and this series is unequalled. I’ve read and adored every single one. It’s particularly proven itself over the last few years with a sequence of thrillers that retains a quality of writing and plot that is astonishing, time after time after time, two books published a year. Last year’s novels – Star of Africa and The Devil’s Kingdom – were phenomenal, forming a mini two-book sequence of their own. Scott Mariani has followed those with a return to Ben’s more traditional roots – following an archaeological or historical mystery while in pursuit of evil – but the quality is absolutely maintained.

The plot of The Babylon Idol is fantastic, with just the right amount of historical background to complement the explosive action. Car rental companies do not like Ben Hope and this thriller yet again shows why – no car is safe with Ben Hope. And not just cars either. All manner of vehicles bear the brunt (not to mention a fair few human beings) as Ben and Anna hurl themselves across Europe and Syria, chased by a seemingly endless supply of villains and brutes. Having just returned from a holiday in Florence, I’m rather relieved that Ben manages to leave most of it still standing.

The surprising thing is that I still feel that Ben Hope is mortal – that a stray bullet could still finish him off. This is because he seems real, despite the heroics and his SAS skills. I read each book worried that this will be the one that sees him carried off. I’ve loved Ben Hope for years. I want him to have a long and safe retirement with his gauloise and whisky.

If you’ve not read a Ben Hope novel before then you could certainly read The Babylon Idol with no trouble at all. But you would miss out on some of Ben’s complicated relationships. A few people pop into this novel who might seem superfluous if you didn’t already know the part they’ve played in Ben’s life – not to mention the baddie who we have seen before. But, despite all that, this is Ben in fresh territory in a thriller that stands alone very well indeed. It’s good to have books like this every so often in a long sequence of novels. They can pull new readers in. I really hope this one does. But Ben Hope has a host of fans who love him, me among them (if you haven’t guessed that already) and The Babylon Idol did just the job. It gives us the chance to relax and enjoy the thrills after the intense and violent drama of the previous two novels. I couldn’t gobble it up fast enough and I loved every action-packed page.

Other reviews
Ben Hope 7: The Sacred Sword
Ben Hope 8: The Armada Legacy
Ben Hope 9: The Nemesis Program
Ben Hope 10: The Forgotten Holocaust
Ben Hope 11: The Martyr’s Curse
Ben Hope 12: The Cassandra Sanction
Ben Hope 11: Star of Africa and Ben Hope 12: The Devil’s Kingdom

Skitter by Ezekiel Boone

Gollancz (Atria in the US) | 2007 (UK: 27 April; US: 2 May) | 329p | Review copy| Buy the book: UK; US

Skitter by Ezekiel BooneSkitter is the follow up novel to The Hatching so please make no attempt to read Skitter until you’ve read The Hatching first! This review assumes you’ve done just that and you are ready to have your skin creep and crawl in the most deliciously terrifying way once more. As one of the characters puts it, welcome back to the Spiderpocalypse!

The first wave of spider attacks has ended in the withdrawal and deaths of billions of spiders. Unfortunately, they took with them the lives of many millions of people from around the globe. China is a nuclear wasteland and many of the world’s greatest cities lie in ruins. But any hopes that the desperate might have that the attack is over, that the world can rebuild and repopulate, are soon dashed. Scientist Melanie Gruyer’s continued work at the National Institutes of Health in Maryland has revealed a terrible fact. The first wave of spiders was simply paving the way for the second – feeding it, preparing the ground. And this second wave could take mankind to the very brink of extinction. The US President Stephanie Pilgrim is prepared to do the unthinkable to safeguard the nation’s future. But is it too late? Around the world, something unbelievably terrible is beginning to stir.

To say that I adored The Hatching is a ridiculous understatement. I love apocalyptic thrillers and I especially enjoy these novels when they focus on weather disasters (have you read The Tsunami Countdown by Boyd Morrison yet? Why not?) or beasts, particularly the creepy crawly kind (such as Invasive by Chuck Wendig). If ever there was an animal that lends itself brilliantly to wholescale mass panic and annihilation, it’s the spider. Personally, I don’t mind spiders at all. But as for these spiders…. these spiders scare me to death.

Skitter continues the fabulous formula of The Hatching. The novel’s focus is on the US, and most (but not all) of the principal characters are based there, but it also includes many stories from across the planet, including France, Germany, India and, especially, Scotland. We move between a cast of many characters, some of whom we meet just once (for obvious reasons) but there are others that we return to time after time as they either fight to survive or to overcome. We met a fair few of these in The Hatching and it is a joy to return to them, not to mention a relief that some have survived this far. I don’t want to mention who, just in case you’re reading this with the intention of going back to The Hatching.

Skitter might be the middle novel of a trilogy but it is a fantastic disaster thriller in its own right. The novel copes with the aftermath of The Hatching while preparing us for the showdown of the finale, setting it up absolutely perfectly. But Skitter oozes tension, horror, panic, dread, disgusting deaths, hideous spiders, shocking pain and stunned outrage – not only aimed at the spiders but also at the lengths governments will go to for the longterm survival of the human race. All well and good in theory but a lot less noble when you’re running for your life.

We’re thrown into the action from the outset and it never lets up until the very last page when we’re left longing for the concluding novel. Skitter is such a fast read and it is so well written, each page contributing to the overall story. It’s not the sort of thriller you want to put down unread and its pace is pushed along even faster by its brilliant structure that moves us from one state of tension to another and then back again, time after time.

Prepare to get the shivers, prepare to never look at a spider in quite the same way again. Remember what Jaws did for sharks – this time the sharks are tiny, have legs and there are billions of them. Fantastic!

Other review
The Hatching

‘Why I write’ – Guest post by Brad Parks, author of Say Nothing

This month, Faber & Faber published thriller Say Nothing by Brad Parks. I’ll be reviewing this shortly but, in the meantime, I’m delighted to host a very entertaining guest post from Brad on why he writes and what he gets out of it. But first, a little of what Say Nothing is about:

On a normal Wednesday afternoon, Judge Scott Sampson is preparing to pick up his six-year-old twins for their weekly swim. His wife Alison texts him with a change of plan: she has to take them to the doctor instead. So Scott heads home early. But when Alison arrives back later, she is alone – no Sam, no Emma – and denies any knowledge of the text . . .

The phone then rings: an anonymous voice tells them that the Judge must do exactly what he is told in an upcoming drug case and, most importantly, they must ‘say nothing’.

So begins this powerful, tense breakout thriller about a close-knit young family plunged into unimaginable horror. As a twisting game of cat and mouse ensues, they know that one false move could lose them their children for ever.

Hugely suspenseful – with its fascinating insight into the US judicial system and its politics of influence and nepotism – Say Nothing is, above all, the poignant story of the terror these parents face, and their stop-at-nothing compulsion to get their children back.

Guest Post: Why I Write

Given recent events, you poor Brits are surely accustomed to crass, boorish Americans—not mentioning names or anything—so this shouldn’t come as a shock:

I got into writing for the money and the sex.

It’s true, oh gentle For Winter Nights readers. My first writing gig was for a local weekly newspaper, when I was fourteen. The job paid 50 cents a column inch, which was more than I could make babysitting.

So that was the money. As for the sex? The gig involved covering the high school girls basketball team.

Now, suspend your disbelief, but at fourteen I wasn’t quite the paragon of strapping masculinity that I am today. I was short, fat, and wore braces. However, I figured that if I was writing for the paper, girls would have to talk to me. And then I’d be able to work my charm on them and get dates.

(Pause).

Yeah, that part didn’t quite work out. But it did introduce me to the joy of storytelling, and to what I soon discovered was the real reason I got into writing:

I love being read.

No matter how cringe-worthy my articles were—and, trust me, they were bad—the mothers and fathers of these girls basketball players would lap it up, and then report back their thoughts about that week’s article.

It made me eager to impress them with my insight, to entertain them with witty turns of phrases, to get them talking about my story in the bleachers at the next game—no matter how sophomoric my prose actually was.

I’ve come a long way as a writer since that time (or at least I hope I have). But some things haven’t changed. My fundamental goal when I sit down to write is still to make people react to my words—whether they’re feeling tension, or laughing, or crying, or something else altogether.

This feels like an especially appropriate confession to make at For Winter Nights, because this blog covers such a wide swath of genre fiction. And, to me, the real hallmark of great genre fiction is that it values the entertainment of the reader over the self-gratification of the writer.

Don’t get me wrong, I get a ton of enjoyment out of this, too—it’s a wonderful, albeit patently ridiculous, way to make a living. But I’m never going to let my own needs take precedence over yours as a reader.

And when I hear from one of you, saying my book made you stay up all night to finish it? From where I sit, that’s even better than money.

But not sex. This writing thing has its limits, you know.

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Say Nothing by Brad Parks is published by Faber & Faber (£12.99)
Brad Parks is the only author to have won the Shamus, Nero, and Lefty Awards, three of American crime fiction’s most prestigious prizes. Say Nothing is his UK debut.

For other stops on the Blog Tour, please take a look at the poster below.

The Follower by Koethi Zan – an extract

The Follower by Koethi ZanOn 23 February Harvill Secker published the ebook edition of The Follower by Koethi Zan, with the paperback due to follow on 18 May. To mark the occasion, I’m delighted to post an extract here as part of the Blog Tour. But first here’s some information abut what the novel is all about…

She’d do anything for her husband.

Julie has the perfect life. A kind boyfriend, loving parents and good grades. She has everything ahead of her.

Cora’s life is a nightmare. A psychopath for a husband, a violent father and a terrible secret. There’s no way out.

But one night, their worlds collide. Locked in an isolated house together, they must work out what has happened – and who they can trust to set them free.

From the bestselling author of The Never List, this is a breath-taking new thriller about the wife of a kidnapper and her relationship with his last victim.

Extract

She crouched in the corner, clutching her pen, her heart pounding in her chest. She was as ready as she could be, but her breathing was too loud in her ears. It was impossible
to concentrate. Impossible to keep the panic from taking over.

It was a long time before anything else happened. Hours sitting in that truck, imagining every possible scenario that could occur when that door was raised up. Hours trying to focus her jumbled thoughts, to sort out the shock from the anger and fear, to force herself to accept that she had to face this horror utterly alone.‘I want my mommy,’ she whimpered to herself. ‘I want Mark. I want to go back in time and make Ryan wait with me. I’m such an idiot. No, I can’t think like that. No crying. ‘Come on, Julie. Come on. No one will realize you’re missing until tomorrow and tomorrow might be too late. You have to get out of here as soon as he stops. Come on, you can do it, buck the fuck up.’

Then without warning, her body was thrown again hard to one side. They were turning. It must have been a tight one because the truck struggled to make it, lurching back and forth as the driver changed gears to get it up the hill. Eventually it reached level ground and then slowed to a stop. Julie stood up and ran her hands along the side of the trailer until she reached the end. She hugged the right wall, hoping he wouldn’t see her at first and she could jump out, get past him, and make a break for it.

As he hoisted the door open, she saw his form in shadow, a bright light shining from behind as his outline was revealed to her inch by horrible inch. His face was familiar, but she had no time to puzzle it out. She screwed up her courage, hunched over, and launched herself out of the truck bed. She bolted sideways, determined to slip around the side of the truck and back down that hill. He’d anticipated that, of course, and he was fast. She never had a chance. He grabbed her by the arm and yanked her around to face him. Her eyes met his – his squinting, terrifying, pale eyes, full of suppressed rage. She went for them, jabbing at his face with her pen but he pried it effortlessly from her hand. She tried to twist out of his grip, to kick him in the groin. He shook her so hard her feet came off the ground and her head whipped back and forth. He pushed a pistol to her face. She froze, staring at the barrel, at his hands clutching it. ‘Please,’ was all she could muster up to say. She’d never seen one this close up, didn’t even know anyone who owned a gun. She stood there, in the cold, in the dark, shivering with fear and blinking back tears. Her mind had gone entirely blank when she saw that hunk of metal. No one had ever prepared her for this. ‘Please let me go. I know it was just a mistake. I won’t tell anyone. I’ll tell them I ran away. I swear I won’t tell them if you’ll just let me go right now.’

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For other stops on the tour, please take a look at the poster below.

the-follower-blog-tour-poster-2

Blackout by Marc Elsberg

Black Swan | 2017 (9 February) (originally published in Germany in 2012) | c.400p | Review copy | Buy the book

Blackout by Marc ElsbergPiero Manzano is driving through Milan when, in an instant, vehicle after vehicle, including Manzano’s own, slams into one another. It is a winter’s night and the dark has suddenly turned blacker. Every light has flickered out, including the traffic lights. The result is chaos. And as the lights and power go off in waves across Europe, a normal day becomes Day 0. Just how long will it take before a society with no power at all loses itself?

As the hours and days pass, and feelings of comraderie brought about by a shared hardship deteriorate into a far more ugly mood, the governments, secret agencies and power companies of Europe and beyond work towards a solution. Discovering the cause is just as difficult a task. Piero Monzano is a useful man. A well-known hacker, he has identified a trail of clues along the power networks and he is the first to uncover the truth behind a terrorist attack on the grandest and most ambitious of scales. It will take all of Monzano’s skill to trace the clues to their source, which is no easy matter when he becomes prime suspect.

Blackout follows these dark events day by day, moving every few pages from one group of people to another, from one end of Europe to the other, focusing on Germany, France, Belgium and the Netherlands. It tells of a race between terrorists and power companies to take control of the network. Monzano, a journalist called Shannon, and a few others link these stages together as they cross the continent in the most horrendous conditions.

This is a novel that tells two stories – the hunt to uncover the truth behind the blackout and to get the power back on line, and then the appalling horror story of what happens day after day to towns, cities, rural communities, society and people when power is gone. No electricity means no lights, no power, no running water, no sanitation, next to no communication or internet, no fuel, no healthcare, no frozen food and no coollants for nuclear power stations. And that’s not even all of it. But each of these things contributes to thousands and thousands of tragedies, some small and some vast. And we are shown some of this and it is at times painful to read.

Blackout is a novel to make you think about how vulnerable we are and how some people are even more at risk. There are people in these pages who have to make the most appalling decisions and all because something that most of take for granted is gone. For me, the terrorist angle here was almost incidental to the very realistically portrayed human story of society, and the individuals and families within it, facing apocalypse. The tone for much of the novel is almost dispassionate, particularly when focusing on the investigation and the technicalities of the blackout, but there are glimpses of true feeling. I think I would have liked more of that but what there is is powerfully done. With the exception of investigator Bollard, the main characters felt to me rather cold and aloof, but we meet other people along the way who play relatively minor roles and yet their personal stories strike deep.

I read this novel (and wrote this review) at a time when I felt worried for the world, during the American election and straight afterwards. But even without that background atmosphere, Blackout is a meticulously detailed and exact depiction of what could believably happen if the lights were to go out. Marc Elsberg does this very well and the result is a chilling, disturbing and frightening thriller, and the pages fly through the fingers.