Tag Archives: Thriller

Sleep by C.L. Taylor

Avon | 2019 (21 March) | c.400p | Review copy | Buy the book

Sleep by C.L. TaylorAnna has been tormented by insomnia ever since surviving a terrible road accident. She finds her life difficult to cope with in the aftermath and, to make things even worse, she can’t help thinking that she is being followed. Or is this just guilt pursuing her every wakeful thought? Anna is determined to escape and so she heads about as far away as she can. She takes a job as a receptionist in the small Bay View Hotel on the remote Scottish island of Rum. Her job will be to assist the manager David with the guests who arrive to take part in hikes across the island’s glorious peaks. But, along with the first group of seven tourists, arrives a storm that will soon cut the hotel off from the rest of the island, while phone and internet signals will also fail.

Trapped within the hotel, it’s not long before the personalities emerge of each of the guests and Anna realises that she is surrounded by secrets. She wasn’t the only one who fled to the island to escape a past. But, just when she thinks it couldn’t get any worse, it really does and Anna must face the terrible truth that her stalker has followed her to Rum.

Sleep has a fantastic premise and, after starting it late one evening, I was pulled right in and only emerged with 60% of it read in one sitting. It undoubtedly tells a compelling story as it moves between our heroine Anna and the perspectives of others in her life, notably her ex-partner, and in her story. This sort of structure usually moves a story along and it does a good job of doing that here.

I was definitely enticed by the setting on the island. I’m very partial to mysteries set on islands, as my reading this year attests. This does, though, mean that this is a rather popular setting for novels and I’m not sure that Sleep treats the stormy landscape as well as others that I’ve read. And unfortunately I didn’t enjoy the second half of the novel as much as the first. I’ve been thinking about why that is and I think it’s mostly because the story is, for me, overladen with red herrings and twists. It’s almost like it’s working too hard and that it’s also playing with us. I know that most people have really loved this book and so I think this may be something to do with me and my attitude towards psychological novels. I’ve just read too many of them and I’m suspicious of their games. I won’t give anything away but I also really didn’t like the final page.

Nevertheless, C.L. Taylor writes well and I think that Sleep will be a popular read, especially for those who have read fewer psychological thrillers! It’s certainly gripping and extremely hard to put down.

Other review
The Missing

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One False Move by Robert Goddard

Bantam Press | 2019 (28 February) | 352p | Review copy | Buy the book

One False Move by Robert GoddardJoe Roberts is an extraordinary young man. He might think that he lives a quiet, unremarkable life in Cornwall working as a financial advisor, but he has a talent that attracts attention. He has a genius for playing the strategic game of Go. He can even beat the computer at it. He can outsmart computers. Venstrom, a gaming company giant based in the Silicon Valley, wants him and so they send Nicole Nevinson to St Maws in Cornwall to sign him up. Money is no object and failure is not an option, as Nicole’s boss yells down the phone at her. But Joe’s current employer and shady businessman, Conrad Vogler, isn’t going to let Joe go in a hurry. And Vogler isn’t going to be all that Nicole has to worry about. Other people are after Joe Roberts and their intentions are dark and significant. Nicole has crossed a line. She is completely out of her depth. Her world will collapse around her. To survive, she must play their game and win.

Robert Goddard is a master plotter. He is a writer of ingenious thrillers. They are awe inspiring. And yet again, with One False Move, Robert Goddard demonstrates just how truly brilliant he is. This is a superb thriller! It’s one of those rare books that sweeps the ground from under your feet. You start the book thinking you have one kind of story and then there’s a monumental shift and you’re thrown into intricately plotted chaos and then it happens again! Nicole Nevinson goes through hell in this novel and we are made to know exactly how that feels for her. There are no constants, no certainties. It’s breathtaking. It is also extremely menacing. The menace starts early on but soon you know that there are degrees of menace which you could never expect. The world is not as you think it.

The gaming element is fascinating and such an effective metaphor for the book as a whole. Characters have to work hard to outsmart and outmanoeuvre more powerful forces. Usually they fail. Working out who to trust is a key element of One More Move. Decisions have to be made in an instant. If you make the wrong move, consequences can be deadly. You can’t undo it.

Nicole Nevinson is such a fine main character and a very effective narrator. She knows little more than the reader about the genius that Joe embodies. She has to learn those skills herself and it’s extraordinary how much happens to her over such a short period of time, how much the world shifts.

One False Move is one of the best thrillers I’ve read in quite a while. It develops in a way that is irresistible. I did not want to put this book down. Its structure and plot is incredibly intricate and rewardingly complex. It’s clever but it’s also genuinely thrilling as well as being superbly written. I’m not sure it’s possible to ask for more.

Other reviews
The Ways of the World (The Wide World 1)
The Corners of the Globe (The Wide World 2)
The Ends of the Earth (The Wide World 3)
Panic Room

The Girl Next Door by Phoebe Morgan

HQ | 2019 (21 February) | 336p | Review copy | Buy the book

The Girl Next Door by Phoebe MorganTo everyone who knows her, Jane Morgan lives the perfect life. She is the wife of an admired, handsome doctor, she has three lovely children, including beautiful twins, and they live in one of the larger houses in the quiet village of Ashdon. Jane is a member – a leader, even – of most of the village’s organisations. She even runs a book club. But then one February the girl next door, 16-year-old Clare Edwards, is found murdered in the nearby Sorrow’s Meadow. As the villagers stumble around in their efforts to support the grieving mother and stepfather, they’re well aware that there’s a killer on the loose. Jane will do anything to protect her family while keeping hidden her darkest secret. No marriage is perfect. Jane’s certainly isn’t.

The Girl Next Door is such a fast and entertaining psychological thriller. We’re used to families with hidden secrets but what I really enjoyed about this novel is the author’s depiction of what seems to hold the community of Ashdon together – the circle of female friends, with their impeccable makeup, their inability to keep their noses out of their neighbours’ business, their fridges full of wine, their snobbishness and their prejudices. In Ashdon, the best way to win approval is to bake a lasagne for a bereaved friend. It’s not what you think that counts, it’s how you act. And Jane, who is looked up to and envied by everyone, except perhaps by the mother of the murdered girl, is queen of Ashdon.

Jane is our narrator and she has a fascinating voice. There are plenty of little digs at her friends and her worry that she’s not keeping up appearances is paramount. But Jane hints that her marriage is far from fine but to divorce would bring shame. Their friend Linda is getting divorced and there’s a queue of people promising to bake for her – although you rather sense that nobody actually has. Jane must stay married. Instead, she focuses on keeping her children safe.

Every so often we hear another voice and that one belongs to Clare as she goes over what happened to her during her last day. I thought this worked really well. Amongst the selfishness and the superficiality, through Clare we see the real actual tragedy of what has happened. A teenage girl has died just as her life was beginning. Clare’s grief at her life ending is mirrored by that of her mother Rachel. Jane notices that Rachel is no longer wearing makeup, that she clings to people. This is a woman stripped bare by grief. It’s very well done.

As for the mystery itself, I did guess relatively early on, which meant that the second half of the novel didn’t quite match the first. Nevertheless, The Girl Next Door is an entertaining, well-written and pageturning portrayal of a family and a community dealing with a terrible act that has no place in a village as perfect as Ashdon.

Winter World by A.G. Riddle

Head of Zeus | 2019 (Hb: 7 February; ebook: 26 February) | 389p | Review copy | Buy the book

Winter World by AG RiddleEarth should be getting warmer. All of the scientists are agreed. But the unexpected is happening and it’s happening very fast. Earth is getting very cold indeed. Glaciers are reclaiming the planet, pushing people into just a few enclaves where conditions are still survivable – for now. There isn’t enough space. War seems inevitable. But it will be brief because the evidence is clear – Earth will be covered in ice in a matter of weeks and most life, including humans, will face extinction. The crew aboard the International Space Station is working on experiments to find out what is going on and to try and put a halt to it. But then an object is spotted against the backdrop of the Sun. It’s a cataclysmic moment for the Space Station and is of great significance for all Earth – we are not alone in the universe. And whatever, whoever it is out there did not come in peace.

As soon as I read the premise of Winter World I was desperate to read it! I love apocalyptic thrillers and even more so when they’re combined with science fiction, especially first contact stories. As soon as this arrived, I read it and it is such an exciting read. There’s a Gravity feel to the opening chapters as ISS Commander Emma Matthews struggles for survival. Meanwhile, on Earth, scientist James Sinclair has his own battles to fight and we follow them both as their stories weave together into a thrilling science fiction apocalyptic adventure.

Half of the novel is set in space while the other half is on a frozen Earth and I enjoyed both of these. The Earth sections focus mostly on people as they try and do the best they can to survive while maintaining their relationships and humanity. I’m glad to say that conflict between nations doesn’t play as large a role as I feared. Instead it just adds tension. Mostly this is a novel about survival on a more personal scale. And it’s in these sections that we get to know Emma, James and their friends and family better.

The space sections are the most exciting. In fact, the action gets so intense at times that it does all get rather confusing and I found those pages a little hard to follow. But the intrigue of what has been discovered in space is absolutely spellbinding. I love this kind of thing.

There’s some science, there’s a little bit of romance, plenty of danger, and there are spaceships, alien artefacts and extreme weather – if I had to put together a recipe for a book I want to read then that would be about it. I do enjoy A.G. Riddle’s books. Some I’ve had trouble with but there are others I’ve loved. I always look forward to them. If you’re after a fun apocalyptic science fiction thriller to take your mind off some of the reality of life on Earth then you’re in the right place with Winter World.

Other reviews
The Atlantis Gene
Pandemic

Never Tell by Lisa Gardner

Century | 2019 (21 February) | 416p | Review copy | Buy the book

Never Tell by Lisa GardnerConrad Carter, a travelling salesman, has been shot in his Boston home three times. His computer has been shot twelve times. The police arrive to find his pregnant wife Evie clutching a gun, blood on her hands. It seems the case is closed almost before it opens. But there’s something about the evidence that doesn’t quite ring true and Detective D.D. Warren begins to suspect that something remarkable might be about to happen. Years ago, the teenage Evie was aquitted for shooting dead her father, a famous professor and a mathematical genius. Accidental death was the verdict then. Is Evie really going to get away with murder, not once but twice? There’s nothing for it. D.D. must dig into the previous case, suspecting it might throw light on the present shooting.

But it’s all about to take an unexpected turn when the victim Conrad Carter is recognised by Flora, D.D.’s civilian consultant and a young woman who survived many months of torture and imprisonment by her captor Jacob Ness. Flora met Carter during her captivity. Carter and Ness knew one another. It will take all of Flora’s strength and courage to relive her past, to try and work out who Carter was and how Evie became involved. D.D. has no choice but to work again with Flora, putting this extraordinary young woman once more in danger.

Never Tell is the tenth novel in Lisa Gardner’s fine D.D. Warren series and the third to feature the brilliant Flora Dane. I love Flora so much and I can’t help but wish that she is a permanent feature in these books. D.D. is a fascinating woman in her own right but as a pair these two are quite possibly my favourites in American crime fiction. Then there’s the setting of Boston, which is such a bonus.

This novel tells such a compelling story, moving to and fro in time as both Flora and Evie reflect on their past and how it has changed them – Flora with her captivity and Evie with the death of her father. Flora’s character is so strong and detached. She has been transformed by her ordeal. She met her match in Jacob Ness and in Never Tell we get to know more about this monster. Although the relationship between Ness and Flora dominates, there is much more to this fine novel. I particularly enjoyed the Evie storyline as well as watching D.D.’s interaction with her colleagues and with the FBI whose involvement adds another layer of tension to the investigation. And then there’s Conrad Carter…

There is a grimness to Never Tell, which, at times, I did find a little distressing. It doesn’t tell the easiest of stories. Lisa Gardner is such a good writer. She combines emotion, action and police procedural so well, fully immersing us in the world of the survivor. It is powerful stuff and there were moments when it became so intense I had to take a breath. It is a painful read on occasion but this is all part of Lisa Gardner’s achievement – Flora Dane is somebody worth caring about. There is, though, hope in this novel and I embraced it. This is such a brilliant series, without doubt one of the very best about in crime fiction today.

Other reviews
Find Her
Look For Me

Dirty Little Secrets by Jo Spain

Quercus | 2019 (7 February) | 416p | Review copy | Buy the book

Dirty Little Secrets by Jo SpainThe exclusive gated community of Withered Vale in Ireland appears to have much going for it. These are expensive houses, their owners are aspirational and wealthy, their children allowed to roam free behind the gates. But not all is as it seems. Secrets lurk behind each of these doors but particularly behind No 4. The body of Olive Collins, the owner of No 4 Withered Vale, lay unnoticed and undiscovered for three long months. It was the cloud of flies bellowing out of the chimney that finally gave the game away. Police officers Frank Brazil, so close to retirement, and his partner Emma, so close to the start of her career, are given charge of the investigation into what might be a suspicious death. As they begin to make their visits around the small number of houses on Withered Vale, there are questions they really need the answer to – why did nobody in this small community notice that Olive was missing? Perhaps because they knew that she wasn’t?

This is such a gripping read! And it is indeed packed full of dirty little secrets and it’s up to Frank and Emma to wheedle them out of the occupants of the perfectly named Withered Vale. We’re introduced to each of the households one by one as key members of the community take over the narrative – we have the cheesy lover, the pretentious (and rich) hippies, the mother and daughter who keep themselves to themselves, the retirees who may or may not have been in their holiday home abroad at the time of Olive’s death, there is the son of a wealthy man who now lives alone and is controlled by his addiction, there’s the loving couple who really hate one another, and there’s the wayward children. And then there’s Olive. Olive better than anyone seemed to know what was going on within each of these elegant houses. Her voice isn’t neglected in Dirty Little Secrets. Olive speaks from the grave.

My favourite characters in Dirty Little Secrets, though, apart from one of the young children, are the police officers, Frank and Emma. They investigate this case, hanging around the Vale constantly, almost as if their bosses are trying to get rid of them. Frank is so close to retirement. It’s as if they want to keep him out of trouble. Emma has much to learn but she has a distinctive feel for the case that Frank is keen to develop. Their relationship is absolutely fascinating. They each have their own past to deal with, which they slowly reveal to the other. It’s poignant and so beautifully done. I grew to care for both of these people very much.

And this is what makes Dirty LIttle Secrets such a sophisticated and elegant triumph. The reader might have their preconceptions about the way in which this novel might develop, not least due to the signpost of its title, but they will be wrong. I’m not going to say anything at all about this except to urge you to keep your expectations on hold.

Dirty Little Secrets is such a clever, rich and witty novel. It has that wonderful Agatha Christie feel of a crime committed by one of a small number of confined suspects. There’s such a charm about the way in which we learn about the goings on in each of the houses. But then the reality kicks in and that’s what left me enthralled. People are complicated, even if they live in Withered Vale or if they have to police it, and Jo Spain teases out their true natures, their involving stories, in such a fascinating way. I loved The Confession but it’s quite possible that Dirty Little Secrets is even better. Jo Spain’s books will always go straight to the top of my reading pile.

Other review
The Confession

Marked for Death by Tony Kent

Elliott and Thompson | 2019 (7 February) | 448p | Review copy | Buy the book

Marked for Death by Tony KentWhen a retired Lord Chief Justice is viciously slaughtered in his home, tortured and crucified, London’s legal establishment is shocked. And then another solicitor is killed in the same way. Someone, somewhere, is clearly out for terrible vengeance and Detective Chief Inspector Joelle Levy is given the job of finding out who that is and why. It’s not an easy task and matters aren’t helped when the most audacious and astonishing gangland killing takes place on her patch. One of the most well-known journalists of the day, Sarah Truman, investigates the crucifictions on her own as a worrying pattern emerges. Meanwhile, Sarah’s fiancé, QC barrister Michael Devlin is consumed by his own court case, in which he must prove the innocence of his client against enormous odds. But both Michael and Sarah have no idea how close the killer will come to their own lives. The clock is ticking.

I loved Tony Kent’s debut thriller Killer Intent and the good news is that its successor, Marked For Death, is every bit as compelling, if not even more so. I was so pleased to see Sarah and Michael return. Both have done well from what happened before. They’ve not only received promotion and admiration in their professions, but they are also now engaged and living together. It’s a good life. It’s about to get turned upside down.

As with Killer Intent, there’s an engrossing story at the heart of Marked For Death. The novel starts with a shock that sets the pace and mood for the rest of the novel. It doesn’t let up at all. There is so much going on as more than one thread weaves its way through the plot. We follow Sarah and Michael in their busy daily lives but we also have a killer to watch. It’s such a good story and Tony Kent tells it brilliantly well.

Sarah and Michael are joined in this book by DCI Joelle Levy and she is given plenty of space, meaning that we get to know her very well indeed. We get involved in her relationships with her fellow detectives, with her child and also with Sarah. I love the depth of character that Tony Kent gives us. It’s skilfully done as it doesn’t in any way distract from the plot. It keeps us invested in what’s going on and raises the stakes. We don’t want anything to happen to these people while fearing that it must.

The author’s legal background adds authenticity to his novels, especially for the character of Michael Devlin and his court case. There are some great moments of cross-examination here, with complex detailed argument (I’ll admit that I had to concentrate a great deal to follow the cross-examination about mobile phone masts!), which I thoroughly enjoyed. This combines so well with the thriller element of the plot outside the courtroom, although there is tension in both worlds. I was gripped by Marked For Death from the outset and it was a perfect read for the Christmas holidays. I just hope they’ll be more soon from this very talented thriller writer.

Other review
Killer Intent