OWENS TAKES ME FROM WHERE THE DEATH TOLLS, TO SINGING THE CRAWDADS PRAISES

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Where_The_Crawdads_Sing_Book_CoverIt’s hard to believe, considering what we are living through now, how ironic this month’s book group choice has been. I don’t think that eight to  ten weeks ago, my friend David, whose book choice it was, could have imagined that we’d  have been enduring a lockdown when reading it and that isolation was a thing we’d be now getting accustomed to both in reality as well as in the pages of this book. This month’s book review is Where The Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens and was published by Corsair (www.littlebrown.co.uk) in 2019.

Katherine “Kya” Clark is the youngest of five children and lives on the coastal marshes of North Carolina in 1952. When her mum walks out on her brood to escape an abusive marriage, Kya’s siblings gradually one by one follow suit leaving her to fend for herself while her drunken war-damaged father comes and goes, but eventually he fails to return too. Kya leads a solitary life in her formative years with just the native animals and sea birds of the wetlands for company, along with the books her mother left behind as a sketchy education. In the local town of Barclay Cove she’s known as “The Marsh Girl” and her only real friend is an old black bait and fuel merchant called “Jumpin”. That is until she meets Tate, the son of a Barclay Cove fisherman.

Tate takes it upon himself to teach Kya to read and write and over time her relationship with Tate develops into a loving and physical one, until he leaves to go to college. Heartbroken and alone again in the marshes, Kya has grown into a beautiful young woman by now and catches the attention of Barclay Cove young buck and womaniser Chase Andrews, who despite coming across as caring, is actually using her and in the end attempts to sexually assault her. Then one day in 1969, his body is found at the foot of a local fire tower in the marshes. With the circumstantial evidence pointing to Kya, she is eventually arrested and her solitary life and the Barclays Cove resident’s prejudice against her comes to a head in the local court. Despite her growing notoriety as a leading writer and authority on the wildlife of the marshes, can Kya and her few friends, prove her innocence against overwhelming evidence, will she ever be reunited with her mother or siblings and what of her first love Tate…?

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Bald head Island NC (Robert Thurston/ Shutterbug)

It’s been a while since I have been so emotionally riven by a book. Maybe it’s the underlying stress and worry that we are all going through during the lockdown imposed on us, as we try to deal with the current pandemic, but most afternoons when reading this alluring and heartfelt book by Owens, I found myself sobbing uncontrollably, now that’s not a pretty sight for a 49 year old man!

From the opening pages, the reader finds themselves moving between a murder mystery and a lovely story of one girl’s struggles to adapt to the loneliness, as well as the isolation and overcome the abandonment by everyone of her immediate family. But eventually, like watching a crash in slow motion, both stories collide and continue as one until the ending where Owens brilliant story telling ability continues to shock and hold your attention in a vice like grip, until you close the back cover and are left exhausted and overwhelmed.

There is nothing in this book that can be faulted, only to stand amazed that this is a debut novel and not the work of a skilled and seasoned novelist. Every character is drawn beautifully and the vivid descriptions of the North Carolina wetlands are so real that one can all but hear the cries of the birds and smell the sea salt on the wind. My first thought and still abiding memory is that it had a Disneyesque feel to it and there were parallels between it and the likes of Huckleberry Finn and Little House On The Prairie.

This is American author Delia Owens (www.deliaowens.com) first novel, but her fourth

Delia Owens

Delia Owens (www.deliaowens.com)

book following her previous works of non-fiction recounting her and her husband Mark’s lives as Zoologists, studying Lions , Hyenas and Elephants in Botswana and Zambia for 27 years. the other titles include , Cry of The Kalahari (1992), The Eye Of The Elephant (1993) and Secrets of the Savanna (2006). Born in Georgia, her mother encouraged her interest in wildlife by telling her to “Go way out yonder where the crawdads sing”, this and the memories gained during her youth, when her family spent most of their summers in the forests of North Carolina, is the inspiration for her first novel. She has since won numerous awards, along with many accolades for the couple’s research work. Delia and Mark now live in Idaho where she’s a keen horse rider. The rights to “Where The Crawdads Sing” have been purchased by Reece Witherspoon’s production company following its selection on her own book group in 2018.

So If you only read one book over this lockdown and want to escape the daily grim stories of death, then I whole heartedly recommend Where The Crawdads Sing. So pop online and order your copy or download the audiobook and lazily drift through the wetlands with Kya and Owens.

 

Reviewed by: Adrian Murphy

KIDD’S THIRD BOOK DOESN’T JAR WITH THIS READER AT ALL

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Things in jars cvrThis seems to be the era of the rise of the heroine. I’ve commented recently that many of the stories we know with male leads are being retold with women as their main characters. Whilst I’m all for strong female leads, retelling the same story and just making the roles female does little for me. I am however interested in true and original stories where women take the lead part, sometimes these have been forgotten by history. It’s nice to see or read something original and feminist.

This was perhaps why I was attracted to this month’s second book review. Its, ‘Things in Jars’ by Jess Kidd, published by Canongate ( http://www.canongate.co.uk ) in paperback in January. The back-cover blurb starts, ‘London 1863. A strange puzzle has reached Bridie Devine, the finest female detective of her age’ My interest was immediately caught. A Victorian detective mystery and a female detective. What’s not to like?

A fan of historical crime fiction since reading Wilkie Collins, ‘The Woman in White’ for my O levels, I was keen to compare it to the likes of the Sherlock Holmes mysteries, the Maisie Dobbs wartime story, The American Agent and to a recent favourite, The way of All Flesh by Ambrose Parry which was set in Victorian Edinburgh in the competitive and deadly world of surgical and anaesthesia discoveries.

Our heroine, Bridie is an orphan child, adopted initially by a resurrection man, supplying bodies to the medical schools and private surgeons. She is then ‘purchased’ by Dr Eames a Dr and surgeon, who notices her quick wits, strong stomach and capable hands. She enjoys a happy period in his household, blighted only by the menacing presence of his son Gideon. When it becomes unsafe for her to remain there, Bridie is moved to the care of Mr Prudhoe, an apothecary and pathologist. Now an independent woman, Bridie spends her time investigating curious deaths for her friend, Inspector Valentine Rose. Whilst investigating two bodies found walled in a church crypt, one of whom doesn’t look entirely human, Bridie is called upon to find a missing girl. This child too, is otherworldly. A thing of beauty and terror that attracts the interest of collectors of curiosities. Can Bridie find her and solve the mystery before its too late?

This book has an exceptional cast of characters. Some reviewers compared it to Dickens and I can see the similarity, the strange descriptive names, in the caricatures. However, I was reminded more of Terry Pratchett and his Discworld novels. That’s probably because his characters were a constant revelation of character observation and satirical humour to me until Pratchett’s untimely death in 2015.Whilst this is set in a real place and time, the use of fable, ghosts and the paranormal, made it feel slightly fantastical. Bridie is a real tour de force of a heroine. Clever, witty, attractive, without being too perfect and thus annoying. I loved the addition of Cora, the seven foot tall ex circus exhibit and now housemaid, who acts as Bridie’s stalwart guardian and assistant.

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Jess Kidd (Irishtimes.com)

I’ve mentioned in previous reviews the current public appetite for all things fable and folklore. This book has them in spades but sprinkled with Bridie’s medical mind and good sense throughout. It’s a great blend. Sometimes we don’t need everything we read, especially in fiction to be based on established truths. A bit of escapism from this world into another time or dimension is great. You can create very human stories with inhuman characters.

This is English author Jess Kidd’s (www.Jesskidd.com) third novel. She has previously published ‘Himself’ (2018), a story of man searching for the identity of the mother who abandoned him and ‘The Hoarder’(2018) – titled as ‘Mr Flood’s Last Resort’(US) a ghost story, cum thriller, that I had previously read and loved. Jess Kidd is originally from Ireland, which is probably why so many of her characters and stories have Irish origins. Both her previous books were shortlisted for multiple Irish literary awards and were BBC radio 2 book club selections, she currently developing her own tv projects with UK and international production companies and is writing a children’s book.

I’d recommend this book to anyone with interest in history, medicine, crime, things paranormal and scientific and things that are a just little bit quirky. ‘Things in Jars’ is a great addition to anyone’s collection.

 

Reviewed by

 

Georgina Murphy

HOLD ON TIGHT AS HAUTY’S DEBUT LEAVES ME IN A STATE OF AWE

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Deep State CoverIn most countries around the world, democracy or the formation of its power structure revolves in some way around the “Estate System”. Primarily limited to the four estates, those representing the Parliament (Legislature), the Judiciary (legal/ justice system), the military and police, the press,  business and finally the consumers or people. But then, in some countries and as the inspiration for quite a few political thrillers, there is the Deep State. Those parts of the government or clandestine powers, working for or against the state, in a covert fashion for their own or others ideals or the ideals. This brings us to this month’s 1st book review, its the aptly named Deep State by Christ Hautry and is published in hardback by Simon & Schuster (www.simonandschuster.com) on the 23rd January.

A year after leaving the US Military, Hayley Chill lands a job as an Intern in the west wing of The White House. Much to the annoyance of her fellow much younger and connected interns, the Virginian native and product of life with little opportunities, starts to make an impression on the Chief of Staff and the President. Shortly after her arrival, she discovers the Chief Of Staff dead, when she arrives at his house one morning with his daily briefing. Unbeknown to the killers they’ve left a vital clue behind and Hayley discovers it, but with the FBI’s lead investigator not entirely believing her story, Hayley is unsure whom to trust. Her boss’ death also brings to the fore other players in the West Wing’s febrile office politics, in the form of his deputy, a woman who has her own ideas about climbing Washington’s greasy pole and keeping Haley away from the spotlight. But when she unwittingly realises that a member of the secret service she’s dating is involved and has to kill him to save her own life, Hayley discovers the conspirators are buried within all facets of the government and threat isn’t stopping at the Chief of staff, but aims to take out the person sitting behind the Resolute desk, the President. With the pool of people she can trust with this knowledge diminishing rapidly, can she stop the conspiracy before they stop her?

It’s been years since a thriller has got me as excited and pumped as this one did. The first one to ever do that was Archer’s “Shall We tell The President”, when I read it almost thirty-five years ago. Albeit, there have been a few in between that have also got my pulse racing like Hauty’s current offering.

I think what really got me engrossed in this story was the idea of a lowly intern in Washington discovering a plot to kill the President and the race against time to stop it. Previously both in film, TV and literature it’s been someone with a bit more power, a military/ naval officer, or an FBI/Police detective. Yes, the pace in the book is frenetic and even though Hayley is basically the US Military’s answer to Katie Taylor, you still feel worried for her and her vulnerabilities, because we the reader know ,what power her opponents wield.

The plot itself may not be original – most political thrillers have a threat to the life of the US president in them, leaving this reviewer wondering what would it be like to read a thriller which puts the Chinese or Russian Presidents life in danger? Why does POTUS get to have all the fun? But in the light of the Russian interference in the last US Election, the plot is topical and gets you again wondering if like the Manchurian Candidate, what types of dark forces are at play behind the scenes and under the surfaces of Washington, London and Moscow, even Beijing.

Hauty’s style of writing is some of the best I’ve read in a while, it comes across as very complete and  shows love for all his characters, whether they are good or bad. Every part of the story and the back history as well as the future of every character is rounded off to the last minute, unlike some books where the support cast just drift off after they’ve served their purpose. Hauty’s have their lives mapped out, even  to the point where wife of one character is described as dying of a heart attack 15yrs to the day when she last made love to her husband…

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Chris Hauty

This is American Screenwriter Chris Hauty’s (www.chrishauty.com) first novel. He’s worked for every major film and TV studio and collaborated with stars such Jessica Alba and Mel Gibson. The book was written in the summer of 2018 in the Rare Books and Music room of The British Museum. He lives in Venice, California with his Triumph motorcycle and a feral cat.

This book is littered with plot twists throughout but just as you think you’ve got a handle on this story Chris drops a piano on the reader, which then decides to roll down the hill over you again for good measure. So my advice is, if you are looking for book to get you through some Coronavirus enforced isolation, or want to start making a list for your summer holiday reads, this book needs to be at the top of your list and no matter what else you forget, don’t leave this until you’ve read every page of this amazing book.

 

Reviewed by : Adrian Murphy

 

This book review is part of a Random Thing Blog Tour, to see what the other reviewers thought visit their blogs listed below. Then if you get a copy comeback and tell us what you thought, we’d really appreciate the feedback.

 

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YOUNG’S LATEST PARANORMAL BOOK RAISES MORE THAN HAIRS AND GOOSEBUMPS

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Tales of Unexplained Mystery Front CoverDon’t we all love a mystery? There’s a huge public fascination with unsolved disappearances and crimes such as the disappearance of murder suspect, Lord Lucan, and the racehorse, Shergar. Every notable anniversary the stories are rehashed with new theories. There’s also a large cohort of conspiracy theorists out there contesting historical events like the moon landing, the assassination of John F Kennedy, with outlandish ideas and what ifs.

I’ve always been interested in the unsolved and paranormal myself, having a childhood  devotion to ‘Arthur C Clarke’s Mysterious World’ TV programme and  later the film of ‘Picnic at Hanging Rock’, where students and a teachers from an Australian school go missing without a trace . Most recently I’ve enjoyed the recreations and explanations provided by ‘Lore’ an Amazon Prime series. I was therefore delighted to get the chance to delve into Steph Young’s latest offering, in our fourth book review of the month, Tales of Unexplained Mystery, self -published on the 2nd December 2019 and available on Amazon.

Steph explores twelve mysterious tales here in great depth. Some of the stories are modern and supply a wealth of media coverage, eye- witness testimonies and, in ‘the Mystery box’, even some CCTV footage for Steph to examine. Some of the mysteries are from long ago and here Steph has to rely on historic accounts and stories passed down over several generations to source her information. Personally, I found the recent cases most fascinating.

Each story is examined in detail. Steph obviously spends a lot of time diligently researching each case. There are vast amounts of evidence presented and discussed here. On the odd occasion things got a little repetitive and convoluted, but in the main the facts are presented clearly and coherently.  Theories are discussed and when possible debunked, but each is given consideration. The reader can feel that Steph is presenting an unbiased account of what happened and what the possible options are for a solution. Her passion and enthusiasm for each mystery shines through.

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Steph Young

This is English author, broadcaster and researcher of the paranormal and Unexplained, Steph Young’s (www.stephyoungauthor.com), 16th self-published book, her previous ones include “Nightmare’s In The Woods” (2016), “Horror In The Woods” (2017), “Terror In The Woods – The Missing” (2017), True Ghost Stories – To Chill Your Bones” (2018).

As I mentioned, some of the recent cases have witnesses and footage view-able online. Having watched Lore and other such paranormal and mystery programmes on the likes of  Amazon Prime and Really, I feel that this would be a great vehicle for Steph to bring these mysteries, and her great research and analytic approach, to a wider audience.

In the meantime, I recommend for the day that’s in it (29th February 2020), you take a leap into the unknown and get this collection of stories for yourself or as a gift for a fellow mystery lover…. Then go online and listen to the various podcasts and interviews with the author.

 

Reviewed by Georgina Murphy

 

This book review is part of a Random Things Blog Tour, to find out what the other reviewers thought visit their sites listed below. Then if you get a copy comeback and tell us what you thought, we’d really appreciate the feedback.

 

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DARK HUMOUR AND FORENSIC INSIGHTS GIVE DAYNES A HEADSTART IN A CROWDED FIELD

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Darkside of mnd cvrThere’s a great public interest currently, in true crime and in the psychology of the serial killer, with a proliferation in TV programmes such as Mindhunter, the Smiley Face killers, Catching a killer and podcasts like Serial. Sky have recently launched a True Crime specific channel so they must anticipate this is a fascination that’s not going to go away anytime soon. There’s also a greater awareness of mental health issues. This was highlighted at my workplace recently and in a series of posters, my favourite was a thought provoking straight line with a line intersecting it about a quarter of the way long. It read ‘people’s lives’ along the whole line and ‘what you know about them ‘ along the quarter section.

So, it’s was an ideal time when this months second book review dropped through the letter box.  It’s The Dark Side of the Mind by Kerry Daynes published  by Endeavour, an imprint of Octopus ( http://www.octopusbooks.co.uk ), on the 20th February.

The book is a collection of true stories from Kerry Daynes’ life as a forensic psychologist. Her job is to delve into the minds of convicted men and women to understand what lies behind their actions. The world of the forensic psychologist can be highly unpredictable- the people you meet are rarely as they first appear. Kerry Daynes has seen it all. Her work has taken her from police interview rooms and the witness box to the cells of maximum-security prisons and the wards of secure hospital. In this memoir she gives us an unforgettable insight into the darker side of the mind.

This was a really interesting and thought provoking read. Kerry Daynes takes us through the story of her professional career in steps with dark humour and a certain amount of introspection. You feel like this was a learning experience for her as much as for the reader. Each chapter focuses on the case of one individual, as well as changes in Kerry’s career path and methodology. She explores the  psychological reasons behind a patient’s actions, with sensitivity and considered reflection regarding her own responses and treatment methods, as well as exposing outdated practices, lazy thinking, the results of cost cutting in mental health services and well-intentioned if unhelpful, one size fits all programmes  in the health and penal service.

There was no showboating here. This was not a bid for fame but a humanizing of those as we think of as ‘other’ than the rest of us ‘normal’ people and explanations of how treatments are developed. We learnt about her own difficulties with a stalker , stress related health issues and feelings of being burnt out when involved in assessing paedophile activities as part of Operation Yewtree, the investigation into child abuse by Jimmy Saville and other TV personalities. This then peaked when she was asked the make an assessment of Mark Bridger, the Welshman who murdered April Jones. Not able to suppress feelings of anger and revulsion for this man , Kerry moved away from criminal forensic psychology for her own mental health and this admission in the book makes her seem more normal , decent and likable than any protestations professional detachment could have done.

I loved the humour in the book. Being from the north midlands of England myself, it made her very real to me as a person. Vets and doctors use a black sense of humour to help them survive the stresses and depressing moments of they work and to me. We also talk about wildly inappropriate things over dinner.

Kerry Daynes

Kerry Daynes (Cheshire Life)

This is English author Kerry Daynes’s ( http://www.kerrydaynes.online )  first book, she has over twenty years experience in the field of Psychology and is the person TV networks and news outlets turn to for expert commentary. Recently she helped SKY TV launch their Crime channel in late 2019 and is the “Profiler” in the award winning ‘Faking It’ series on Quest Red. As well as that Daynes’s speaks as an advocate for better conversations around crime, justice and mental health. She is patron of the National Centre for Domestic Violence and as a victim of stalking herself, acts as a spokeswoman for the Suzy Lampugh Trust’s stalking related campaigns.

This is not a read for those looking for gory details or rubber necking style voyeurism but an insightful and engaging foray into the minds of criminals and how they are not so different from us. Take my advice and get down to your bookshop or download a copy to get your brain whirring .

 

Reviewed by: Georgina Murphy

 

This book is part of a Random Things Blog tour, to see what the other reviewers thought visit their blogs listed below. Then if you get a copy and read it, comeback and tell us what you though, we’d love the feed back.

 

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UNLOCKING THE VAULT REVEALS DAWSON’S LATENT TALENT

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The Vault CoverI was only reading yesterday about the plight of American author Jeanine Cummins, whose new book American Dirt has been nominated as an Oprah’s Book Club choice. As a result, it has brought her to the attention of far right ill-educated armchair activists, who threatened to disrupt a proposed American book tour and thus forced its cancellation. Because they say the author is “Too White” to be able to write a book about south American emigrants trying to get into the United States. In a tweet to Jeanine, I gave her my support and pointed that out if these bigots had put any thought into their arguments they’d realise some of the most successful writers have very little experience of their subject matter and stated that Lee Child was never a military policeman and that Hannah Kent is Australian, but that it never stopped her from writing a successful book on an old Icelandic murder and followed it up with a book on an Irish murder, both decades old. Did the Irish and Icelandic diaspora rise up in arms and protest, no!

So, what is these people’s point? The same can be said of this month’s second book review (Yes! Second and February is only two day’s old), I don’t think the author was ever in East Berlin prior to the fall of the wall .Or I’m assuming, had any dealings with the Stazi, not forgetting killing anyone, for that matter. Yet they have written a book set there and featuring the Stazi, along with British intelligence and trained government assassins. The book is, The Vault ,by Mark Dawson . It was self-published on the 31st January and is available on Amazon.

Its 1989 and MI6 agent Harry Mackintosh and his team have tunneled under the Berlin wall to extract an asset back to the West, but just as they are about to take their man back down the tunnel the rendezvous is interrupted by unit of the dreaded East German secret police, the Stazi.  They are led by its ruthless leader, Karl Heinz-Sommer, who guns down Harry’s French girlfriend Elodie, along with other members of his extraction team. In doing so they also capture the defector. Harry himself just about manages escape back down the tunnel to West Berlin. Back in London, he’s grieving the loss of Elodie and hungry to exact revenge on Stomer ,whilst possibly taking a second chance to get his hands on the defector, if he’s still alive. Mackintosh’s team are depleted and when he asks for replacements, instead of trained soldiers, he gets Jimmy Walker a bank robber from Belfast, whose been given a stark choice of either a long stretch in prison or to help British intelligence on a mission behind the Iron Curtain. The plan is to get into Stomer’s HQ and rescue the defector, but the plans reveal a mythical vault containing, stolen Jewish gold and other valuable pieces of information, which catch Walker’s trained eye. Can the two men overcome their differences to work together and get out of east Germany alive….?

I’ve never met Mark Dawson, but it feels like I’ve known him for years, having been a Facebook friend for a while now, regularly receiving posts on my feed regarding reading his books. But just finding the time to get around to reading them has been the biggest problem, so when the invite to review The Vault popped into my inbox a couple of weeks ago, I jumped at the opportunity. Was I disappointed? No!

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Mark Dawson (bestsellerexperiment.com)

 

 

The book maybe be small in size at 275 pages in length, but in those pages is a story that packs a punch, that could’ve dented the wall if it was still standing. What you get from the first page to the last is a story from an author that realizes that if you strip away all the padding found in most modern spy fiction novels, you can still give the reader an enjoyable and gripping read and leave them excitedly wanting to read more his work.

This book could be a one sitting read and highlights the fact that Dawson is not a new kid on the block but has quietly slipped under the radar, all due to being self published and making his work immediately available online. He’s a writer who has been inspired by the greats like Le Carre, Forsythe and Fleming and well and truly taken the baton and brought their style and dominance of this genre into the modern era.

Yes, the characters are stock in trade and the story-line of an Ex-Provo crossing the line to work for the Intelligence services on large international threats isn’t new. But in Mark’s hands the characters and the story are melded together so well, the reader feels introduced to a truly original and exciting premise along with fresh, gritty and well-drawn heroes and villains.

This is English author Mark Dawson’s (www.markjdawson.com) 38th book, most of them self-published. He’s successfully written four series of books about government assassins, The John Milton series, The Beatrix Rose Series and The Isabella Rose Series along with the Group Fifteen series. He’s also written the Soho Noir series of books about gangland London in the 1940’s and three standalone thrillers of which The Vault will now become his fourth. Mark has led a varied career prior to becoming an award-winning, USA Today and Amazon bestselling author. He was a DJ, has sold Icecream door to door, trained as a lawyer,when he worked on high profile cases in the city of London. Nowadays when not writing, Mark can be found regularly vlogging to his fan-base online. I also discovered through research that he’s got a famous father, the late British actor Keith Barron, best known for his roles on the likes of the sitcom “Duty Free” and “Upstairs Downstairs”. Mark currently lives in Wiltshire with his wife and family.

Now that that I’ve read The Vault, I want to immediately add Dawson’s other series in particular the Milton and Breatrix, Isabella Rose series as well as Group 15 to my TBR list. So, I suggest like me you go and order this book online or download it and its predecessors and lock them away for safe keeping and gradually break into the back catalogue of one of the best kept secrets in spy thriller genre in ages. Who knows, when the contract to write the next installments of the James bond series come up, I don’t see why Dawson shouldn’t be a safe bet for the job.

 

Reviewed by : Adrian Murphy

This review is part of a Random Things Blog Tour, to see what the other reviewers thought of the book visit their blogs listed below. Then, if get a copy of the book and read it, come back and tell us what you thought, we’d love the feedback.

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BURNING QUESTIONS DEFTLY RESOLVED IN SHINDLER’S DEBUT

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9781529301694 THE BURNING MEN JACKETI’m a great fan of TV detective drama. The longer, two-hour episodic versions please me most. Currently I’m loving ‘Endeavour’, an ITV production, which is a prequel to the much loved ‘Inspector Morse’. I much prefer them to one-hour series, where everything is neatly wrapped up in a short time. You can very rarely guess ‘whodunnit’ in the longer dramas but in the one-hour stories, things sometimes seem a little contrived or you can guess at the start. It’s a pet hate of mine that I don’t like detective stories where we hear the murderer’s thoughts or worse, are introduced to them at the beginning. I love the reveal, the twist and the wow factor of the final denouement, especially where the odd subtle clue has been there all along!

So this month’s first review, The Burning Men, by Will Schindler and published Hodder and Stoughton (www.hodder.co.uk) on the 6th February had me twitching from its cover. As followers of this blog know, this reviewer doesn’t read the back blurb. However, here the front cover is emblazoned with “They left him to die. Now its their turn to burn”. So, I started to read with a sigh. How vexing! If I thought I was going to be disappointed, however, I was wrong.

The story has a great premise. Five years previously to its opening events, there was a fire at a major London development. A team of firefighters enter the building to rescue a trapped man. However, they leave the building without a body and shortly after they all quit the fire service and plan to never meet again. Now one of them has been set alight at his own wedding. Then, a second member of the team is found, as nothing but a smoking corpse. What happened that night in the burning development? Does someone know what choices they made over duty? Who is the killer?

Detective Inspector Alex Finn is assigned to the case. Very recently bereaved, he wants to immerse himself back into work as a way to cope with his grief. He has been assigned a new Detective Constable, Mattie Paulson, a woman with her own problems. Add in a longstanding and stalled related investigation and its problematic team and things get complicated. Will Alex be able to keep it together while he solves the case? Will Mattie overcome her own issues to forge a new working partnership with Alex?

As with life, what we know about someone is probably the tip of the iceberg in relation to their history, feelings and motivations. So, we join Alex and Mattie at a pivotal time in their lives. You might have the sense that you’d missed a couple of previous Alex Finn novels and had joined a little late in the party but all great detective characters in a crowded market need a sad back story, a problem with substance abuse, an attitude or a vulnerability to make you root for them. This is done to great effect here. I felt like this wasn’t the first book in a series, even though it was, and for once that was good. For a lover of detective fiction, this was a comfortable, satisfying read. There was nothing outlandish. It did exactly what you expected from the outset, except that phrase on the cover seemingly giving away the identity of the killer. I smugly read on, enjoying the story and the assured writing, but feeling I wasn’t suitably distracted by the range of suspects, because I thought I had it all worked out from the promotional headline. I spent most of the book, complaining about that headline saying, it shouldn’t be on the cover but at the end I was surprised by whodunnit and the clues were all there all the time, cleverly woven into the fabric of the story. I was suckered… I was delighted!

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Will Shindler

This is English author Will Schindler’s (@willshindler) debut novel and the first of a proposed series introducing the characters of DI Alex Finn and his new partner DC Mattie Paulson. Will Schindler has been a broadcast journalist for over twenty-five years and spent a decade working in TV drama as a scriptwriter for popular series like Born and Bred, The Bill and Doctors. He currently combines reading the news on BBC Radio London, with writing.

So, a very warm welcome to DI Alex Finn and DC Paulson. You are definitely on my ‘must get the next in series’ list. I’m keen to learn more about you. This novel and its characters who could easily become a TV series, owing to the author’s experience as a scriptwriter, which is evident though book and would definitely be of the two-hour episode variety.

Please take note! In the meantime, this is a hot recommendation for detective novel enthusiasts, so jump on your “Fire Engine” red bike and race down to your local book shop to buy  it or download  a copy of ‘The Burning Men’ and to blaze through its pages.

 

 

 

Reviewed by : Georgina Murphy

 

This review is part of a Blog Tour, to see what the other reviewers thought visit their blogs listed below. Then if you get a copy of Burning Men, comeback and tell what you thought, we’d really appreciate the feedback.

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THIS READER IS LEFT HOME ALONE BY STOVELL’S OVER USE OF ITALICS

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The Home CoverThe Italic typeface is a cursive font used to denote someone speaking or highlight a foreign word or phrase. It takes its name from the fact that calligraphy inspired typefaces were first designed in Italy and were invented to replace the old Chancery style of writing.  Nowadays we all usually use the default of Calibri or san Serif, when writing an email or composing a word document, as I do with the drafts of these reviews. It may look nice for presentation purposes to intersperse a piece with Italics, but you can have too much of a good thing, as it seems in this months second book review, which is The Home by Sarah Stovell and published by Orenda Books (www.orendabooks.co.uk).

When the body of a teenager is found in a churchyard on Christmas morning, the community is shocked, but are not surprised, as the victim was a resident of a nearby home for troubled kids. As the police investigation gets underway, the lives of three of the children, Hope, Lara and Annie, along with the staff become intertwined. Very soon, shocking and disturbing revelations come to light – pointing to this being a murder perpetrated for revenge.

I’m going to be blunt, this book didn’t get me and I didn’t really get into the book. The main reason for this was that from the outset, whole chapters are printed in Italics. Hey I like Italics as much as the next person, but when the story is interrupted by these long soliloquies of Italicized text, it breaks the flow of the story which already had me jumping about trying follow the different chapters told through eyes of each of three main characters.

This is the second book I’ve read in the past month that’s been set around Christmas time in England, but unlike Shamus Dust by Janet Roger, which is also a murder mystery, the Home had none of the same appeal. It is set somewhere in around the wilds of Yorkshire but where Shamus Dust allowed the reader to almost breathe in their surroundings and feel truly immersed in the tale set in dark seedy world of post war London, Stovell’s book left me grappling to find a character to connect with or even get excited about “who dunnit”.

Sarah Stovell

Sarah Stovell

This English author Sarah Stovell’s (@sarahlovescrime) second book, her first was Exquisite published in 2017. Having spent most of her life in the home counties, she spent a season working in a remote North Yorkshire youth hostel, which made her realise she was a northerner at heart. When not writing she’s a lecturer in creative writing at Lincoln university and lives in Northumberland with her partner and two children.

As I often say, this is just my opinion and if you want to find out what it’s really like, then go out and purchase a copy at your local bookshop, download it, or even order a copy from the Library.  Sarah will hopefully write other books and with the good grace of Karen and the team at Orenda, I’ll get the chance review them and you never know, they may blow my little cotton socks off. but unfortunately this time around, The Home didn’t…

Reviewed by Adrian Murphy

 

This review is part of a Random Things Blog Tour, to find out what the others thought visit their sites listed below. Then if you get a copy and read it comeback tell us you thought, we’d really appreciate the feedback.

 

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PINE, NEEDLES INITIALLY, BEFORE SPELLBINDING THIS READER

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Pine CoverIn my twenties and thirties, I spent pretty much every free moment in Scotland. I was a bit of a Scotland-ophile. I think I knew more about the history and folklore of Scotland than of England. I was therefore surprised not to recognise I was in Scotland during the opening pages of this months second book review, but instead thought the book was set in some remote American state.The book is Pine by Francine Toon and is published by Doubleday (https://www.penguin.co.uk/company/publishers/transworld/doubleday.html) on the 23rd January.

In the story we meet Lauren, the main character, whose mother disappeared almost ten years ago. Father and daughter live alone in a remote highland village surrounded by pine forest. Lauren uses her tarot cards to hopefully find the answer to her mum’s disappearance and the secrets in her dads turbulent mind, while the locals know more than they’ll admit.

When a local teenager goes missing, it’s no longer clear who she can trust. She lives in this isolated Scottish community where everyone seems to be hiding something. Strange things seem to be happening, omens and paranormal activity. Are these all part of the loss and day to day struggles Lauren and her father face? Or this there something more sinister at play?

The realisation that I was reading a book set in Scotland dawned on me with a jolt quite a few pages in. The reference to Moray Firth radio had slipped under my radar amidst the references to pick-ups, trick or treating and Aerosmith. The Scottish names didn’t even seem out of context due to the large Scotland to American emigration of previous centuries. So then I wondered is this an American author? No, wrong again! Francine Toon is a Scot. Maybe I should read the backcover blurb occasionally, you might suggest? But its interesting to avoid doing that and just take your impressions from the story itself. Its illuminating to realise how often the blurb misleads or would have occasionally had led me to dismiss a great book altogether. Its not something I practice religiously, especially having been caught out by great “unfinished” novels before.

Anyway, Pine is complete. No worries there. The book its self is a gem of a find. A satisfying ending concludes a long and twisting journey. It’s difficult to know whether to class it as a thriller, murder mystery, supernatural tale or modern fairy-tale as it encompasses all these genres. There were a few modern references which linked it to recent times but I felt it could have been set in previous decades quite easily as the story seems quite timeless in many respects. The father raising his child alone, a small town full of gossip, bullies, a sense on foreboding with the addition of supernatural phenomena and legend.

Francine Toon Author Picture

Francine Toon

I’ve noticed there seems to be a current, Game of Thrones inspired penchant for all things fairy tale, legend and mythology, or my husband should vary his book choices a bit more. I’ve recently reviewed Fox fire and Wolfskin, a collection of modern feminist fairytales by Sharon Blackie and Lancelot by Giles Kristian about the eponymous mythical Knight. Plus scanning the Goodreads top books for this month alone, I find about a quarter of them could be said to have foundations in myths, fantasy and folklore. However, although this is Francine Toon’s first novel, her previous poetical prowess means her writing is assured and atmospheric. The book is intense and absorbing.  Again, if I’d read the blurb before beginning, I might have been agitated that the disappearance of the teenager it mentions doesn’t actually occur until the book is three quarters over but Toon is building empathy with her main characters and immersing you in their world. I could feel the cold, smell the smells and felt my heart sink as the world spun out of control after the disappearance, when suspicion and rumour started to take hold.

This is Scottish born author Francine Toon’s (www.francinetoon.com) Debut novel. She’s used to having poetry published in The Sunday Times and various anthologies, under the name Francine Elena. Her day job is a commissioning editor for Sceptre Books, while working and living in London.

My only reservation was whether Lauren’s mother would have local suspicions of witchcraft with her new age thinking, crystals, massage and tarot cards in this modern age. I suppose she certainly would have been seen as exotic and odd in a remote community. It was the only thing that jarred slightly. As I’ve mentioned on Library Door before, My mum thinks Yoga is ‘out there’ and hippy so maybe I’m putting my own fairly open minded perceptions about the supernatural into that opinion.

A fairy tale start to the year from Francine Toon. Sinister, gothic and a little bit scary, like all the best stories. I note its already been recommended as the read for January by the Irish Independent. I’m sure it will do well. So, get down to your local book shop and snap up a copy or conjure it up online and start reading it before the stretch in the evenings get longer and the ideal atmosphere for this book is then at midnight under your duvet with a torch.

 

Reviewed by: Georgina Murphy

This review is part of a Random Things Blog Tour, to see what the other reviewers thought, visit their blogs listed below. Then if you get a copy ,comeback and tell us what you thought, we’d love to hear your feedback.

 

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ROGER BRINGS IN A NEWMAN TO REVIVE A CLASSIC GENRE

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JRoger_FC(R9iii).inddOver the past few weeks Australians have been praying for rain in their fire ravaged continent, while in the northern hemisphere, we’ve been praying for a white Christmas for the past four weeks or more. Neither party got much of what they wanted.  Although I did find myself wading through snow over Christmas and it was all down to the first book review of the new decade. Its Shamus Dust – Hard Winter, Cold war, Cool Murder by Janet Roger and Published by Matador (https://www.troubador.co.uk/matador/) at the end of October 2019.

On an Early Christmas morning in a snowbound blitz scarred London, insurance fraud investigator Newman is awoken from his slumber by the telephone. The voice on the other end identifies himself as Councillor Drake from the City of London. He needs Newman to go to a church in the city where a body of one of Drake’s tenants has been discovered and from there find the killer. On arrival at the church, along with the body of a young man, he finds the only witness is a nurse on her way to work. Within a matter of hours the suspect list has risen, so to does their occupancy of city morgue over the following couple of days. What initially looks like a vice crime turns into a case of cross and double cross during one of the hardest winters to hit London. Firmly in the midst of it is our American, war veteran hero, who is trying to stay one step ahead of the police and find the killer with help of the curvaceous coroner Dr Elizabeth Swinford. Can they find the killer? Save the Councillors reputation and stop the killing spree in the financial heart of England’s capital?

Another thing we all look forward to around the Christmas period is a large feast and to make it all go smoothly you try to get every ingredient right. Just like writing a book. To produce a well-rounded and satisfying read, one needs all the right ingredients and in Shamus Dust Janet Roger has done that. From the perfect setting, to a memorable and charming central character and the ensemble cast of supporting characters topped off with the right amount of tension and humour, which allow the reader to become thoroughly engrossed in the book.

Janet Roger

Janet Roger

I started reading this book on the Friday before Christmas, it was pre-dawn on a cold crisp morning in a Starbucks near where I work. Yes, the atmosphere was perfect and never before had a book so made me feel more in the moment than this one and its opening pages. The nearest comparison to this is a Christmas Carol by Dickens and Mystery In White by J. Jefferson Farjeon.

What Roger has delivered in Shamus Dust is a truly remarkable seasonal crime thriller, featuring her dry witted detective who is cut from the same cloth as Sam Spade, Philip Marlowe and Mike Hammer. He is a delight to listen to in your head as you read this book and like his contemporaries, is fallible and prone to getting hurt…

The rich and detailed style of Rogers writing gives more life to her main character, the story and its setting, that if I was transported back in time to 1947 now with a copy, I would not feel out of place and could, by the lovingly detailed descriptions of post war London, find my way around the city. The skill in which she has written and described Newman’s surroundings and characters who inhabit it proves, if proof was needed, that this book was written and researched by a storyteller who is one to watch is the future.

This is Janet Roger’s (www.janetroger.com) debut novel and it has already tasted success, having won the 2019Bev hills award Beverly Hills Book Award, as well as Fully Booked’s Book of the Year and made NB magazine’s top ten.  She trained in Archaeology, History and Eng. Lit. and has a special interest in the early Cold War. She currently leads a nomadic existence, admitting to never staying in one place for a minimum of six weeks and at most three months on the rare occasion.

When Raymond Chandler died in 1959 he left an unfinished novel, that book was Poodle Springs. Thirty years later, the well-known crime novelist Robert B. Parker finished the book using Chandlers original notes. In the future we won’t have to wait for more of Chandlers ideas to be discovered, with this original pairing of Roger and Newman.

If there is anything against the book, its that the detailed descriptions that the author has woven into the story, force the reader to almost stop and visually look around, thus taking slightly from the pace its self. It took me well over a week to read this 300 page book, although I’m inclined to put that down to the added distractions of Christmas.

This week my book group chose the rota for the next 12 months and I got November, as a result Shamus Dust is already vying for my pick along with Mystery In White. But to be fair its only January, there’s a lot of reading to be done between now and then.

So dust off your trilby and raincoat and head down to your local book shop and purchase a copy or download it, before the rest of the world latches onto this rising literary star and Mr. Newman.

 

Reviewed by:  Adrian Murphy