Tag Archives: Thriller

The Chateau by Catherine Cooper

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

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

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

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

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

Other review
The Chalet

For Your Own Good by Samantha Downing

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

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

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

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

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

Other review
My Lovely Wife

The Noise by James Patterson and J.D. Barker

Century | 2021 (5 August) | 421p | Review copy | Buy the book

Terror has come to Mount Hood in Oregon and Tennant Riggin and her much younger sister Sophie are the only survivors from a small community of people living off the grid. Everyone has either vanished or their bodies have been smashed to pieces. The government gathers together a group of scientists, experts in, among other things, the environment, in medicine, in space. They are sealed off from the rest of the world as they study this terrible phenomenon – death is brought by a catastrophic noise and it seems there is a pattern to it. Psychologist Martha Chan believes the answers can be found with Tennant and Sophie but, with the noise spreading, will there be time to save humanity?

I love a good thriller and The Noise was irresistible to me. It’s got the lot – science fiction, horror, mystery and speculation, apocalyptic threat, action, goodies, baddies, all set within the spectacular and isolated mountains and forests of Oregon. The authors are also a draw, bringing together thrills and horror, and they do it very well.

The Noise is a fast read. It races along, with short chapters which move between the protagonists – the sisters, the scientists, the military, the President and his advisors. It’s all thoroughly entertaining but what gives this novel an edge is the nature of its mystery. I was fascinated by the noise and really wanted to know what it’s all about. Is it manmade, is it alien, is it supernatural? What is it?

Martha Chan is a sympathetic character but, surprisingly, I was most drawn to Lt Col Fraser’s story. He is in many ways the perfect soldier but he battles the noise more than most and his struggle against it is really involving.

There are also some interesting takes on horror themes, such as zombies, and It reminded me a little of Wanderers by Chuck Wendig but in many ways it’s very different. Its ending is absolutely brilliant to my mind. This is a horror thriller that totally delivers at the end and, when you know why, it makes you realise just how clever the novel has been, as well as exciting and tense. The authors of The Noise are a winning partnership and I really hope for more from them.

Other reviews
With Marshall Karp – NYPD Red 5
With Bill Clinton – The President is Missing
With Bill Clinton – The President’s Daughter
Target
With Brendon DuBois – The First Lady

The Night She Disappeared by Lisa Jewell

Century | 2021 (22 July) | 480p | Bought copy | Buy the book

The Night She Disappeared by Lisa JewellIn 2018, detective novelist Sophie arrives to live at Maypole House, a country boarding school. Her boyfriend is its new head and she finds it hard to settle so far away from her old life in London. When she goes out for a walk in the woods behind the school, she finds a sign nailed to a fence – ‘Dig here’. What she finds will re-open raw wounds among the members of the school and surrounding small community.

In the summer of 2017, teenage mum Tallulah left her baby son at home with her mother Kim to go out on a date night with her boyfriend. They ended up at a pool party at Dark Place, a house in the woods behind the school. Neither Tallulah or her boyfriend Zach were seen again, leaving Kim and the detective in charge of the case in limbo, endlessly searching. But now, after all these months, somebody is trying to get Sophie’s attention and the mystery intensifies.

Lisa Jewell writes such brilliant stand alone crime and psychological thrillers or twisters and with The Night She Disappeared she has done it again. The premise is appealing and the mystery intriguing. I really wanted to know the answer to what happened to Tallulah and her boyfriend Zach.

But this is more than just a crime mystery, it tells several stories in a structure that moves between the present – Kim and Sophie’s stories – and the past – Tallulah’s life as a teenage mum trying to fit in with her friends who are so entirely different from her, all leading up to the night of her disappearance. Following that disappearance, our sympathies move to Kim who now has to raise an unhappy small child. She is filled with love for him but wasn’t ready to raise another child. And, of course, he is a constant reminder of the child she has lost.

So there is the deeply involved story of Kim and then the outsider perspective of Sophie, looking on the mystery with fresh eyes and finding potential suspects all around her. The school and its woods take on a sinister and menacing air as Sophie literally digs for clues.

I did find the ending slightly rushed and a little unconvincing but otherwise I thoroughly enjoyed The Night She Disappeared and found it hard to put down. Its portrait of Tallulah is particularly well done as she does battle with herself. The structure of the novel works very well. Lisa Jewell is such a wonderful storyteller.

Other reviews
Then She Was Gone
Watching You
The Family Upstairs

The Wolf Mile by C.F. Barrington

Head of Zeus | 2021 (ebook: 6 May; Pb: 5 August) | 432p | Review copy | Buy the book

The Wolf Mile by CF BarringtonTwenty years ago the Pantheon was formed – the richest men, the most powerful organisations in the world, created seven kings, each controlling an army of warriors that do battle for one short period each year, watched by thousands of investors. The people of Edinburgh are used to sightings and rumours of strange armoured people on the city’s rooftops, in its streets and hidden passages but few are aware that the Valhalla Horde and Alexander the Lion’s Titans are at war in the Pantheon Games in the city. Tyler Maitland and Lana Cameron are among the latest recruits to the Horde and must fight for their places, while learning the elaborate rules and customs of the Pantheon. Both are looking for answers, particularly Tyler, who believes that his missing sister is lost within the Pantheon. As the season of war comes around again, Tyler discovers that he has a target on his back.

The Wolf Mile is the first in a new trilogy by C.F. Barrington, The Pantheon, and it is just the sort of thriller to grab my attention – secret societies, classical and ancient warlords reborn. As for Vikings fighting Hoplites through the streets of Edinburgh, that was not in my abilities to resist. If, like me, you’re a fan of The Hunger Games and the Matthew Reilly Jack West Jr thrillers, then I think The Wolf Mile will appeal to you.

We’re thrown headfirst into the action, which does mean that, while it is extremely exciting, there are lots of questions to be answered about the set up of the Pantheon and the nature of those who observe its rituals and battles. In a way, we’re viewing it through the eyes of Tyler and Lana, novices in the Pantheon. This also means that we’ll no doubt learn more through the next two books as they work their way through the layers of secrecy. For now, we see how warriors are recruited and trained and how preparations are made for the Grand Battle. It is engrossing.

Tyler is an intriguing individual, raising all sorts of questions about why he was selected. It becomes clear that there may be more to him than meets the eye. I’m looking forward to finding out where he goes from here. Lana is less successful as a character, as are the women generally. I wasn’t keen on her backstory. Tyler’s, by contrast, is much more involving.

The setting in Edinburgh is fantastic. I don’t know the city but it rings true and I loved how the novel moves across it, with modern-day Vikings and Greeks hunting through its shadows, while living ‘normal’ lives during the day. The Wolf Mile is a lot of fun and shows Edinburgh in a whole new light. It’s action-packed and thrilling and I loved the story and concept. I’m looking forward to the second novel, The Blood Isles, which will be out as an ebook this Autumn so not long to wait at all, which is always a good thing with a trilogy.

Hostage by Clare Mackintosh

Sphere | 2021 (22 June) | 400p | Review copy and Bought copy | Buy the book

Hostage by Clare MackintoshFlight attendant Mina does all she can to get posted on the inaugural twenty-hour direct flight from Heathrow to Sydney. Not because of the media excitement surrounding the flight, or because it will be full of celebrity passengers, but because she needs a break from her estranged husband and difficult, albeit lovable little daughter, Sophia. But it’s not long before things start to go wrong aboard the flight. She finds Sophia’s EpiPen in her bag and then a passenger is found dead in his seat. It seems tragic rather than suspicious, until Mina finds a photo of her daughter, taken that very day, in his pocket. Mina receives a message. She only has to do one little thing and if she does it Sophia will be safe. If she doesn’t, Sophia will die. All Mina has to do is to let one of the passengers into the cockpit.

Hostage continues this summer’s trend for thrills at 30,000 feet but you know you’re in very safe hands with author Clare Mackintosh, who is the very best of thriller writers, largely because she combines incredible, ingenious plots with a great deal of heart and warmth, often exploring with great insight and feeling, as here, the relationship between parents and children. Children are innocent, their parents are not but they do all they can to protect these young souls who depend so completely on them. Loving them isn’t always easy. That’s the honest truth of these books. But it is overwhelming. Mina is very aware that passengers aboard a plane rely on the crew every bit as much. There is a trust there.

Mina’s troubled relationship with her husband, police detective Adam, and with her challenging, vulnerable daughter Sophia, lies at the heart of Hostage. The novel explores difficulties that Adam in particular faces and we fall deeply for Sophia. The plane situation dramatises the choices that both parents must make in a shocking and electric way.

This is a very exciting novel, there is no doubt about that at all. The chapters move between the ground and air and they also move between the passengers, giving us glimpses of the lives, dreams and sins of these people. I must admit that I did have some trouble keeping track as we get to know most by seat number rather than by name. Codes play quite a part in the book. It’s not always easy pinning people’s identity down. But it does serve to make the story deeply intriguing and very fast moving.

The scenes aboard the plane are full of fascinating details – the author’s research has been thorough.

I’m not going to give anything away about what goes on aboard the plane but I will say one thing – the ending of this book is absolutely brilliant! Clare Mackintosh does it again! As if that could possibly be a surprise…. Hostage is the perfect holiday read, not least because – possibly fortunately, having read this – so many of us are grounded.

Other reviews
I Let You Go
I See You
Let Me Lie

Falling by T.J. Newman

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Pact by Sharon Bolton

Trapeze | 202 (27 May) | 384p | Review copy and Bought copy | Buy the book

The Pact by Sharon BoltonSix young students have just finished their A Levels at Oxford’s All Souls School. Each is remarkable, clever and attractive and each is predicted to have a glittering career ahead. But their lives are too safe, they dare each other and play dangerous games. One night it all goes horrifically wrong and it is then that they make the pact. 18-year-old Megan agrees to take the blame. That way they won’t all have their lives destroyed. But it comes as a great shock when Megan is given a sentence of 20 years and she serves every one of them. When she comes out, she is not the same. That is when the five friends, each successful with a great deal to lose, start to become very afraid indeed.

Sharon Bolton is, in my opinion, one of the very best writers of psychological thrillers and we’re lucky to have her. Time after time, she comes up with the most brilliant ideas and leads her readers down such a twisty path and at a rate of knots, too. The Pact is no different. It has a fantastic premise. We’ve had thrillers about groups of old friends before but not like this one. In my opinion, these people are all morally reprehensible and the majority of them know it. Arguably, what matters most to them is being caught, not doing the crime itself. Some may wriggle, and you can’t look away while they do, it’s so compelling, but they cannot escape the judgement of what they’ve done.

I loved the character of Megan. She is genuinely intriguing and odd. She makes each of her friends promise to do a big favour for her on her release from prison. These favours are not at all what you’d expect and add such an element of shock to the novel.

But, as you’d expect from a Sharon Bolton novel, there’s far more to it than that! It’s an engrossing and surprising read. I had a few small doubts about the ending but it still had a great impact on me. One of the things that I really enjoyed is the Oxford setting! This is my town and I recognised so many places, including the snug in one of my favourite north Oxford pubs. This is an Oxford that the author actually knows, which isn’t always the case, and it really adds to the mood of the novel, helping to make the six friends feel real, privileged, sinning and around us, excelling in their jobs (often in the public eye), hiding secrets. It all seems so timely….

Other reviews
Little Black Lies
Daisy in Chains
Dead Woman Walking
The Craftsman

The Split

The President’s Daughter by Bill Clinton and James Patterson

Century | 2021 (7 June) | 620p | Review copy | Buy the book | Listen to the book

The President's Daughter by Bill Clinton and James PattersonThere is a new administration in the White House. Matt Keating, ex-President, ex-Navy Seal, has retired to New Hampshire, while the former First Lady Sam has taken up an academic post. Their daughter Mel is flourishing away from the public eye, old enough now to have had her security shadows removed. But Keating is about to learn that a President is always a President and now, away from the protection of the White House, he is more vulnerable than ever and, more to the point, so is his family. This is brought home in terrifying fashion when Mel, out on a camping trip with her boyfriend, is kidnapped and, when the demands come in, Keating has no choice but to put his faith in his political rival, the new President, once his former Vice President, Pamela Barnes. But, as Matt and Sam grow increasingly desperate, perhaps the former President has options after all.

I can’t believe it’s three years since the last collaboration between Clinton and Patterson was published, The President is Missing. Time has flow by. But I remember vividly just how much I enjoyed it and I am so pleased to see another novel by this duo who marry together thriller expertise and presidential insight perfectly. We have a different President, a different situation, but The President’s Daughter is every bit as thrilling as its predecessor. I read it as soon as I could and also listened to the audio review copy. And that is staggeringly good. There’s money and influence behind this project and that shows in the quality of the audiobook and its cast.

I am a massive fan of action thrillers, especially those with a hint of politics about them and so The President’s Daughter could have been written for me. I’ve found James Patterson’s thrillers a bit hit and miss over the years but the collaboration brings a depth, authenticity and focus that, in my opinion, is very successful.

It’s a great story, very punchy and told through short chapters that alternate perspectives, including those of Keating, Mel, President Barnes, foreign agents, villains. It moves fast for such a substantial novel and we get close to several characters. I particularly liked Mel, who is in such a horrendous situation and deals with it as best as she can. She has coping mechanisms taught to her by her father’s security chief, David, who is himself one of my favourite characters in the novel. It’s not a complicated plot but it is a thrilling one and it is driven. And there are moments of out and out shock. Blimey…..

It is fascinating watching the relationship between Keating, the new President and her husband, her chief of staff. While the plot isn’t complex the relationships are and the benefit of Bill Clinton’s input here is invaluable. He knows what it’s like to leave the White House and what it’s like to be that strangest of political beings – a former President who still remains a President for the rest of his life. What does that mean? This novel explores that.

I can recommend the audiobook, which has a number of narrators and really adds to the pace and immediacy of the plot, which crosses borders and packs quite a punch. A couple of blows had me in tears, they were that powerful. I really, really hope that there is more to come from Clinton and Patterson, and soon.

Other reviews
The President is Missing

James Patterson
Target
With Marshall Karp – NYPD Red 5
With Brendon DuBois – The First Lady

Win by Harlan Coben

Century | 2021 (18 March) | 384p | Review copy and Bought copy | Buy the book | Listen to the book

Win by Harlan CobenWindsor Horne Lockwood III is a man of privilege, a billionaire proud of his emotional stillness, his cold separation from people, except perhaps his friend Myron and maybe his biological daughter. He is the man who, when called, answers the phone with the simple command ‘Articulate’. But when a suitcase containing items stolen from his family years before is found next to the body of a murdered man, Win is mildly ruffled, or at least interested. These items had disappeared on the night twenty years ago that his uncle was murdered and his cousin, Patricia, was kidnapped, stolen away to be raped and tortured at the Hut of Horrors. And then there’s the identity of the murdered man to contend with – Ry Strauss, a hoarder and a recluse, believed to have been a member of a terrorist group in the 1970s, the Jane Street Six. The FBI believes there must be a link with the Hut of Horrors, with Win’s family. It seems only logical that Win should investigate.

Win is, I’m embarrassed to admit, the first Harlen Coben thriller I’ve read but many will know that Win is the sidekick of Coben’s popular detective Myron Bolitar and now he has a novel of his own. This makes Win a great starting point for new readers like me. Myron gets his mentions but this is most definitely Win’s book and it provides such a good entry into this world of Harlan Coben’s thrillers.

Win is quite a character and my feelings towards him are mixed. He’s undoubtedly arrogant, defying anyone to like him, and he has some extremely annoying and obnoxious habits, but the fact that others do seem drawn to him, to want to work for him quite apart from any financial gain, adds to his charisma. But what clinched it for me is Win’s increasing bewilderment surrounding his feelings for his ‘biological daughter’. I found myself liking him, perhaps not a huge amount, but certainly enough to be fascinated by him. He’s undoubtedly unusual and that made a refreshing change.

The big appeal of Win, though, is its extraordinary and fabulous plot. This is a great story with so many layers to it. It’s intricate, it’s involving, it’s terrifying and it is extremely gripping. It’s a puzzle that Win must dispassionately solve but it’s also a dark storm. I love that mix of neatness and chaos. It is brilliantly done by Harlan Coban and, on reading this, I could completely understand why so many people are hooked on his thrillers. I did find myself getting a little lost on occasion but I was happily swept away by it and loved how it all came together.

I listened to the audiobook, which is brilliantly read by Steven Weber. The novel is narrated by Win, which makes it a perfect fit for the audio format when told as well as Steven Weber tells it. He gives Win a voice that fits so well. I was engrossed. Despite the darkness of some of the content, this book is a lot of fun to listen to.

I’m really intrigued now to read earlier novels, to meet Myron for myself and to understand more about his relationship with Win and to find out more about Win himself. I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone quite like him in a book before.