Category Archives: Blog Tour

Blog Tour: Ask No Questions by Lisa Hartley

ask no questions

Today I’m delighted to be taking part in the blog tour for Ask No Questions by Lisa Hartley.  Ask No Questions is the first novel in a new series featuring Detective Caelan Small.

Some secrets were meant to stay hidden… Trust no-one

After an operation goes badly wrong, undercover specialist Detective Caelan Small leaves the Metropolitan Police for good. Or so she thinks. Then the criminal responsible is seen back in the UK.

Soon Caelan is drawn back into a dangerous investigation. But when the main lead is suddenly murdered, all bets are off. Nothing is as it seems. Everyone is a suspect – even close colleagues.

Someone in the Met is involved and Caelan is being told to Ask No Questions.

This isn’t an option: Caelan needs answers… whatever the cost.

I thought that Ask No Questions was a very well-plotted story.  There are two interlinked cases, both of them targeting the same villain, Seb Lambourne.  The original case, that caused Caelan to retire, still poses multiple questions as no one is really sure how it could have gone so badly wrong.  In particular, some people are asking whether Caelan is capable and / or trustworthy, speculating that she may have been in cahoots with Lambourne all along.  This makes Caelan’s current case all the more difficult, as she has to deal with sceptical colleagues whilst still doing her job, which is no straightforward matter.  Whilst it sounds like a relatively straightforward plot, it very quickly becomes more complicated (although never to the point that the reader can’t follow it), and I enjoyed seeing it all unravel by the end.

In terms of the characters, I found Caelan to be a little difficult at first, although I did warm to her as I came to understand her more.  As someone who works undercover a lot of the time, she is used to keeping to herself, and I found the initial lack of detail a little frustrating at first.  I soon gained more insight into her character, however, and this did help to clarify her actions and motivations, and I was cheering for her by the end.  I thought that the secondary characters were lacking in detail, however – there was some background on Ewan, who becomes Caelan’s pseudo-partner, but I didn’t get much of a sense for what the other characters were really like.  The focus is Caelan, however, so I don’t consider this to be a significant issue, it’s more that I’d have liked some additional detail in order to understand those around her more.

There are a few twists in the novel, but I have to admit that I saw some of them coming.  There were a couple of surprises, but I had worked out a few elements ahead of the big reveal.  This is still an entertaining read however, and I think that it will be interesting to see where Hartley takes Caelan next.

Ask No Questions was published on 10 July by Canelo.  Many thanks to Faye Rogers for inviting me to join the blog tour, and to Faye and Canelo for the advance proof.

Rating: ★★★☆☆

About the Author

Lisa Hartley

Lisa Hartley lives with her partner, son, two dogs and several cats. She graduated with a BA (Hons) in English Studies, then had a variety of jobs but kept writing in her spare time. In addition to this new series with Canelo she is also working on the next DS Catherine Bishop novel.

Website: http://www.lisahartley.co.uk/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/rainedonparade


Make sure you check out the other stops on the blog tour:

Ask No Questions Blog Tour Graphic (6)

Blog Tour and Giveaway: The Lighterman by Simon Michael

the lighterman

I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the first two novels in the Charles Holborne series, The Brief and An Honest Man, and I was delighted to be invited to join the blog tour for the release of the third instalment, The Lighterman.  I’m also offering one lucky reader to opportunity to win a paperback copy of The Lighterman – see the end of this post for details of how to enter.

Simon Michael’s follow up to the bestselling The Brief and An Honest Man, continues the adventures of criminal barrister Charles Holborne. The Lighterman provides more of Charles’s personal history, dating back to the war years when he worked on the River Thames with his cousin Izzy. Gangland leader Ronnie Kray is not a man to forgive or forget. Holborne has ‘taken liberties’ and revenge will follow. But how to get at a tough and resourceful Brief with his own history of criminality and a penchant for violence? The answer: find a man who can’t be hanged twice. Now Holborne must dig up the secrets of the past to save two lives… one of them his own. Simon Michael brings the past vividly back to life across a beautifully rendered 60s landscape, and delivers a gripping piece of thriller fiction that will excite any fan of the genre.

In the first two novels in the series, the reader is able to pick up little snippets about Holborne’s background, particularly his East End upbringing and the disagreements with his family when he anglicised his name thereby rejecting, in their eyes, his Jewish heritage.  One of the things I loved about The Lighterman was finding out more about his past, particularly his time in London during the Blitz when he worked on the river with his uncle and his cousin, Izzy.  I thought that this allowed the reader to get a more complete picture of Holborne as a character, and helps to show how he got to where he is today.

Both The Brief and An Honest Man have made reference to the infamous Kray twins, and Michael has been building up to clash between Holborne and the two brothers, whose paths he crossed in his last outing.  It was no surprise that they formed a much more significant part of this novel, as the Kray twins, and Ronnie in particular, seek to avenge themselves.   Thus, Holborne finds himself in a great deal of trouble, and I found this to be an incredibly exciting storyline as things come to a head.

I’ve always found Holborne to be something of a loveable rogue, and this book brings out more of this side of his character as he is forced into some misdemeanours of his own in order to save not just his cousin’s life, but his own as well.  It’s sometimes hard to know if a good man doing bad things is meant to garner sympathy from the reader – in Holborne’s case, his motivations are understandable, even if this doesn’t allow the reader to fully condone his actions.  I was completely on board with Holborne, however – it seems that almost everyone in the 1960s was corrupt in some way, and I think that you sometimes have to play the bad guys at their own game in order to resolve a situation.  As Green Day said “Nice guys finish last”.

I love a good courtroom scene, and Michael once again delivers a fantastically tense case against seemingly insurmountable odds.  I love those moments – the questioning of the witnesses, and trying to bring the jury round to a particular way of thinking.  Scenes like these, when done badly, can come across as dull and repetitive, but Michael has this down pat, which I’m sure stems at least partly from his own experiences in legal profession.

I think that The Lighterman is the best in the series yet, and I found it to be darker and grittier than the first two novels in the series, although still in keeping with the style and tone set in the preceding novels.  I do recommend reading the first two novels in the series before this one – there are references to the previous stories in The Lighterman, and I think it helps to understand what Holborne has been through in the last two novels in order to get the most out of this one.

The Lighterman was published on 8 June.  Many thanks to Matthew at Urbane Publications for the review copy, and to Michelle Ryles for inviting me to join the blog tour.

Rating: ★★★★★

Make sure you check out the other stops on the blog tour:

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Giveaway

As part of the blog tour, Matthew at Urbane Publications is very kindly offering a paperback copy of The Lighterman to one lucky reader.  To be in with a chance of winning, either leave a comment on this blog post or retweet my pinned tweet by midnight on 14 June.  UK entrants only please!

Blog Tour: Under the Approaching Dark by Anna Belfrage

Today I’m absolutely delighted to be taking part in the blog tour for Anna Belfrage’s new novel, Under the Approaching Dark, and I have an excerpt to share with you all!

It had been decided that the former king was to be buried at St Peter’s Abbey in Gloucester. Some days into December, the court was slowly making its way across a sodden and gloomy England, the king preferring to ride apart with his young companions.

They arrived in Worcester in a squall of rain and sleet. Kit had never entered Worcester from the east before, having always approached from the west and over the bridge spanning the Severn, but once through the gate, the town was very much as she remembered it—albeit surprisingly empty of people, which she took to be due to the freezing weather. They made their way towards the river and the huge whitewashed church of the priory of St Mary’s, stark against the grey skies beyond. By the time they were ushered inside the priory’s guest hall, they were muddy and cold to the bone.

Kit settled herself in a corner, waiting for the bustle to settle. The queen insisted on private accommodation, and the little prior bowed and scraped, hands twisting nervously as he assured his lady queen he would do everything to fulfil her wishes.

Kit pulled her damp cloak closer and suppressed a shiver.

“Cold?” King Edward sat down beside her.

“And wet.”

So was he, his hair plastered to his head. A day of constant wind and rain had left him with windburn, he had a streak of mud under his right eye, and his boots squelched when he moved. And yet it wasn’t that which moved her to place a hand on his face—it was the shadows under his eyes, the uncertain set to his mouth.

“It will be over soon, my lord.”

“Will it?” He pulled off his gloves, rubbing his hands. “I am not so sure, Lady Kit.” He scraped at a scab on his hand, studying the little beads of blood intently.

“Once he is laid at rest, things will be easier.” She used her sleeve to wipe his hand clean of blood.

Edward grunted, no more, sinking into a heavy silence. Kit cast about for a somewhat cheerier subject.

 “Looking forward to your wedding, my lord?”

The king blinked. “My wedding?” His mouth curved into a soft smile, and he nodded. “She will be on her way soon.” He gnawed his lip, throwing Kit a look from under long, fair lashes. “I hope she is as pleased as I am.”

“Oh, I am sure she is.”

“Truly?” He smiled again, briefly. He made as if to say something, broke off. Kit waited. “I…” He turned troubled eyes on Kit. “I have never…er…deflowered a maid.”

“I am glad to hear that,” Kit said, laughing silently at his discomfited expression.

“Will I hurt her? I don’t want to, but Montagu says it always hurts the first time for a woman.” He leaned back against the wall, long legs extended before him.

“It doesn’t have to.” Kit recalled her own wedding night. It had been uncomfortable as Adam had been convinced she was no virgin. But he had made amends, loving her with far more tenderness the second time around.

“Lady Philippa will have been told two things: that it may hurt, and that she must lay back and bear it—as any good wife must.” She rubbed at her belly. In response, the child within kicked. “If you want a happy marriage, you don’t want her to lay back and bear it, my lord. You want her to enjoy it.” From the amused look in the king’s eyes and the heat in her cheeks, Kit suspected she was presently the bright red of rowan berries, but she pushed on. “You must…well, I suppose you have to…” She glared at him. “Why don’t you ask Adam instead?”

“He’s not a woman.” The king studied his hands. “I have to touch her, don’t I?” He cleared his throat. “Everywhere.”

“Yes.” Kit fiddled with the clasps of her cloak. “Touch her and kiss her until she strains towards you.”

“What if she doesn’t?”

“Then you’re not touching her boldly enough.”

The king grinned. “Can I hope for some demonstrations, Lady Kit?”

“Most certainly not!” She stood. “If you want further guidance, I suggest you ask someone else.”

“Like Adam.” Yet again that broad grin. “He must do everything right, to judge from your bright face, my lady.”

Kit grinned back, patting her belly. “As a matter of fact, my lord, he does.”


Under the Approaching Dark
by Anna Belfrage

Publication Date: April 28, 2017
Matador
eBook & Paperback; 424 Pages

Genre: Historical Fiction

Adam de Guirande has cause to believe the turbulent times are behind him: Hugh Despenser is dead and Edward II is forced to abdicate in favour of his young son. It is time to look forward, to a bright new world in which the young king, guided by his council, heals his kingdom and restores its greatness. But the turmoil is far from over.

After years of strife, England in the early months of 1327 is a country in need of stability, and many turn with hope towards the new young king, Edward III. But Edward is too young to rule, so instead it is his mother, Queen Isabella, and her lover, Roger Mortimer, who do the actual governing, much to the dislike of barons such as Henry of Lancaster.

In the north, the Scots take advantage of the weakened state of the realm and raid with impunity. Closer to court, it is Mortimer’s increasing powers that cause concerns – both among his enemies, but also for men like Adam, who loves Mortimer dearly, but loves the young king just as much.

When it is announced that Edward II has died in September of 1327, what has so far been a grumble grows into voluble protests against Mortimer. Yet again, the spectre of rebellion haunts the land, and things are further complicated by the reappearance of one of Adam’s personal enemies. Soon enough, he and his beloved wife Kit are fighting for their survival – even more so when Adam is given a task that puts them both in the gravest of dangers.

“The writing is impeccable. The story has everything. Under the Approaching Dark is just perfect in every sense” – Sharon Bennett Connolly, History The Interesting Bits

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Book Depository | Chapters | IndieBound | Kobo

About the Author

Anna was raised abroad, on a pungent mix of Latin American culture, English history and Swedish traditions. As a result she’s multilingual and most of her reading is historical- both non-fiction and fiction. Possessed of a lively imagination, she has drawers full of potential stories, all of them set in the past. She was always going to be a writer – or a historian, preferably both. Ideally, Anna aspired to becoming a pioneer time traveller, but science has as yet not advanced to the point of making that possible. Instead she ended up with a degree in Business and Finance, with very little time to spare for her most favourite pursuit. Still, one does as one must, and in between juggling a challenging career Anna raised her four children on a potent combination of invented stories, historical debates and masses of good food and homemade cakes. They seem to thrive…

For years she combined a challenging career with four children and the odd snatched moment of writing. Nowadays Anna spends most of her spare time at her writing desk. The children are half grown, the house is at times eerily silent and she slips away into her imaginary world, with her imaginary characters. Every now and then the one and only man in her life pops his head in to ensure she’s still there.

Other than on her website, www.annabelfrage.com, Anna can mostly be found on her blog, http://annabelfrage.wordpress.com – unless, of course, she is submerged in writing her next novel. You can also connect with Anna on Facebook, Twitter and Goodreads.

Blog Tour Schedule

Monday, May 1
Review at Oh, for the Hook of a Book!

Tuesday, May 2
Interview at Let Them Read Books
Spotlight at What Is That Book About

Wednesday, May 3
Review at A Book Drunkard

Thursday, May 4
Review at A Holland Reads

Friday, May 5
Spotlight at The Reading Queen

Monday, May 8
Review at So Many Books, So Little Time

Tuesday, May 9
Review at Just One More Chapter

Wednesday, May 10
Review at A Bookaholic Swede

Thursday, May 11
Review at Pursuing Stacie

Friday, May 12
Spotlight at Passages to the Past

Monday, May 15
Review at Historical Fiction Obsession

Tuesday, May 16
Review at Back Porchervations
Guest Post at Ms. Stuart Requests the Pleasure of Your Company

Wednesday, May 17
Spotlight at A Literary Vacation

Thursday, May 18
Review at Svetlana’s Reads and Views

Friday, May 19
Review at Beth’s Book Nook Blog

Monday, May 22
Review at CelticLady’s Reviews

Tuesday, May 23
Review at A Chick Who Reads
Review at The Muse in the Fog Book Reviews

Wednesday, May 24
Excerpt at Jo’s Book Blog
Spotlight at The Paperback Princess

Thursday, May 25
Review at Broken Teepee

Friday, May 26
Spotlight at Laura’s Interests

Sunday, May 28
Review at Bookramblings
Review at Books and Benches

Monday, May 29
Guest Post at Yelena Casale’s Blog

Tuesday, May 30
Interview at Dianne Ascroft’s Blog

Giveaway

To win a copy of Under the Approaching Dark by Anna Belfrage, please enter via the Gleam form below.

Rules:

  • Giveaway ends at 11:59pm EST on May 30th. You must be 18 or older to enter.
  • Giveaway is open internationally.
  • Only one entry per household.
  • All giveaway entrants agree to be honest and not cheat the systems; any suspect of fraud is decided upon by blog/site owner and the sponsor, and entrants may be disqualified at our discretion.
  • Winner has 48 hours to claim prize or new winner is chosen.

Under the Appraoching Dark

Blog Tour: Two O’Clock Boy by Mark Hill

High res TTOCB

I reviewed Two O’Clock Boy in September 2016 prior to the eBook launch, and I’m reposting my review as part of the blog tour for the paperback release this month.


In the 1980s, Longacre Children’s Home gave the outward appearance of being a place for homeless children to grow up in relative comfort and safety.  But beneath the façade, the children lived in fear of the manager, Gordon Tallis.

Thirty years later, and the investigation into the brutal murder of Kenny Overton and his family causes newly promoted DS Felicity (Flick) Crowley to investigate a potential link to the home where Kenny was a resident as a child.

Despite DI Ray Drake’s insistence that she focus on Kenny’s somewhat unwholesome past as a petty criminal, she can’t help but dig deeper.  Is there a connection between Kenny’s recent demise and a string of supposed accidents and suicides that have plagued the former residents of Longacre?  And if so, are there more to come?

Two O’Clock Boy comes with quite a hook:

Two childhood friends

One became a detective

One became a killer…

Given the two very different outcomes – the detective versus the killer – I think that it’s easy to assume that Two O’Clock Boy is a good vs. evil tale, and that wasn’t the case at all.  Drake is an incredibly murky character who is in a horrible position.  I won’t say too much as I’d hate to spoil the novel for other readers, but whilst Drake is desperate to stop the murderer, he is also willing to sacrifice the investigation to suit his own purposes.

This is made increasingly more difficult by the tenacious “Flick” Crowley.  Newly promoted to Detective Sergeant, Flick feels the need to prove her worth, and so it’s a little surprising (and thoroughly pleasing) when she continues to follow her instincts and investigates the possible link to the children’s home, despite Drake’s increasingly disturbing behaviour.

The story is told in the present day with flashbacks to the 80s, and the experience of the children in Longacre.  Whilst some of what goes on there is stated, there is more implied.  I was quite pleased that Hill chose to draw the line that he did, however.  I’ve never shied away from gruesome / unpleasant reading material, but I think that too many authors try to shock their audience when it isn’t necessary, and I liked that Hill didn’t succumb to that.

This is a novel with plenty of twists, although I did work out who the killer was and much of what was going quite early on.  I still enjoyed the novel, however, and I kept reading this fast-paced thriller to see how all the loose ends would be tied up.  I can see this becoming a bestseller, and I would recommend it to all crime / thriller fans – it’s a fantastic, gritty debut with some of the murkiest characters you’ll come across.

Two O’Clock Boy is available now in digital and paperback.  Many thanks to Ella Bowman for inviting me to take part in the blog tour!

Rating: ★★★★☆


Make sure you check out the other stops on the blog tour:

Rearview man in coat walking along urban subway from above

Blog Tour: The Witchfinder’s Sister by Beth Underdown

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Today I’m absolutely delighted to be taking part in the blog tour for Beth Underdown’s debut novel, The Witchfinder’s Sister.

When Alice returns to her home of Manningtree, Essex from London following the death of her husband, she isn’t sure of the reception she will receive.  Her parents have both passed away, and she is unsure of how her half-brother, Matthew, will react.  He never approved of her marriage, deeming her husband to be beneath her, and so Alice isn’t entirely surprised by the somewhat cool reception she receives, and is relieved that he is willing to take her in.

But Alice soon finds that Matthew’s status has changed since she was last in Manningtree, and he is now an important man who is often consulted upon various matters by men of standing in and around the area.  And then she begins to hear rumours of witchcraft, and learns of accusations that have been made against many of the women in and around Essex.  And of a book, in which Matthew writes the names of the accused, and the evidence against them.

Initially dismissive of the gossip, Alice becomes increasingly concerned as more women are incarcerated, and as Matthew begins to involve her in his activities…

The Witchfinder’s Sister is a stunning work of fiction, based upon the actions of Matthew Hopkins, the so-called Witchfinder General.  It opens with Alice locked in a room.  The reader doesn’t initially know why she has been locked away, and the novel then returns to a point nine months earlier and Alice’s arrival in Manningtree.  Underdown has done a fantastic job of slowly building up the tension throughout the novel, and what begins as a woman concerned with little more than how she will be received by her brother soon descends into fear on her part as she realises the activities he has become involved in.  I really enjoy novels that share a part of the ending with the reader at the outset – knowing the destination and not the path that lies between here and there can be fascinating, and so it proves to be the case here.

I thought that Underdown successfully evoked both time and place throughout the novel, both in terms of the culture and the way of life, but also the superstitions that were rife at the time.  Accusations of witchcraft were not new during Hopkins’ time, and would often be made for the most frivolous of reasons:

Talk of witchcraft was often resorted to when other charges were hard to prove.  Women were taken up for it… it was done to teach them a lesson

And so Alice is initially dismissive of the gossip – such accusations happened occasionally, but the women involved are usually released after a relatively brief period in prison.  She soon comes to realise that the situation is much more serious, however, and that the evidence that Matthew collects may result in a much harsher sentence than she would expect:

Suddenly I feared that I had been part of something that could have nothing but the reddest of ends.

The characterisation in The Witchfinder’s Sister is also excellent.  Alice is a strong individual, but very much aware that she has limited options available to her following the death of her husband, and she is almost entirely reliant upon Matthew’s kindness.  Her initial disbelief at the rumours and her situation put her in an extremely difficult position, and it was hard not to empathise with her tale.  Matthew is also a fascinating character, and I enjoyed Underdown’s dissection of what drove him to take the actions that he did.  I don’t know how much truth there is in this aspect of the novel, but I found the reasons provided to be both fascinating and plausible.

I found this to be captivating fictional account of the actions of an infamous individual, and fans of historical fiction will lap this up – I absolutely loved it.

Many thanks to Katy Loftus for providing a copy for review, and to Josie Murdoch for inviting me to take part in the blog tour.  The Witchfinder’s Sister was published by Viking on 2 March 2017 in eBook and hardback.

Rating: ★★★★★


About the Author

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Beth Underdown lectures in Creative Writing at the University of Manchester. Her first novel, The Witchfinder’s Sister, is based on the life of the 1640s witchfinder Matthew Hopkins. Beth’s interest in seventeenth-century England was sparked by the work of her great-uncle David Underdown, one of that period’s foremost historians. She came across a brief mention of Matthew Hopkins while reading a book about midwifery, igniting an interest which turned into an all-consuming hunt for the elusive truth about this infamous killer.


Make sure you check out the other stops on the blog tour!

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Blog Tour: One Little Mistake by Emma Curtis

Today I’m absolutely delighted to be taking part in the blog tour for One Little Mistake by Emma Curtis which will be published as an eBook on 23 February, and in paperback on 29 June by Black Swan.

one-little-mistake

You trusted your best friend… you shouldn’t have.

Vicky Seagrave is blessed: three beautiful children, a successful, doting husband, great friends and a job she loves.  She should be perfectly happy.

But what she is about to learn is that one mistake is all it takes; that if you’re careless with those you love, you don’t deserve to keep them.

When Vicky risks everything she holds dear on a whim, there’s only one person she trusts enough to turn to, her best friend Amber.

One little lie.  One little secret.  One little mistake could destroy her world.


One Little Mistake is one of those novels that it’s difficult to talk about without giving too much away, so I won’t focus on the plot too much in my review.

It focuses on Vicky who makes a spur of the moment decision.  Nine times out of ten, such a decision would probably have no significant impact and you’d think little more of it.  Unfortunately for Vicky, her decision proves to have disastrous consequences in this instance, and she turns to her best friend, Amber, for advice.  What follows shows how Vicky deals with the aftermath of this mistake, which proves to be much further reaching than she could ever have guessed.

Curtis successfully weaves together two narratives throughout One Little Mistake – the first following Vicky’s plight in the present day, and the second set 18 years earlier.  Whilst the flashback scenes are few and far between, I really enjoyed these little snippets and this second story very quickly built up in tension.  I don’t want to say too much about it, but I really enjoyed the second story and the way that the two narratives eventually converged.

I thought that Curtis handled the relationship between Vicky and Amber really well, and the gradual deterioration of this relationship as Amber begins to show her true colours made this an absolutely fascinating read.  Vicky is pitched as one of those people for whom good things just happen.  What is very apparent to the reader is that Vicky has worked hard to get where she is, and I think that it’s very easy to forget the elbow grease that people have often put in to get where they are.  Amber, on the other hand, hasn’t had quite the same level of success that Vicky has experienced, and whilst they are friends, it’s clear from the outset that she is envious of many aspects of Vicky’s life and it doesn’t take much for the reader to see another side to Amber, a side that Vicky isn’t aware of.

Curtis has done a brilliant job of making Vicky easy to sympathise with.  She has made mistakes, but she’s hardly alone in this, and it feels as though the punishment far outweighs the crime.  I did perhaps find her to be too forgiving and perhaps a little gullible, although in this instance it made her endearing rather than frustratingly naive, as can sometimes be the case in a novel such as this.

One Little Mistake is a gripping read and builds up to a tense conclusion which, whilst not entirely unexpected in some respects, was nevertheless a dramatic, if slightly rushed, finale.

Many thanks to Rosie Margesson for providing a copy for review.

Rating: ★★★★☆


Make sure you check out the other stops on the blog tour:

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Blog Tour: Lie With Me by Sabine Durrant

I’m delighted to be taking part in the blog tour for Lie With Me by Sabine Durrant which has just been chosen for the Richard and Judy Book Club.

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Synopsis:

Paul Morris is running out of money, friends and second chances. His literary success of his early 20s is now a distant memory and his new relationship might be his last hope of happiness.

Alice is not like any of the women he’s pursued in the past: wealthy, lonely, driven and with links to the heady days of his youth. When Alice invites Paul to her holiday home in Greece with friends and family, he decides to do whatever it takes to make the romance stick.

But the summer is not the idyll he had planned: members of the party seem far from happy about Paul’s presence and soon the pool becomes a tableau of tension and unspoken grudges.

To further aggravate the situation, ten years ago, a thirteen-year-old girl went missing on the island, and now a fresh sighting and another attack unsettle the long hot days. It soon becomes apparent that Paul is not the only person with an agenda… and his dreams of a life worth living may yet turn into a nightmare he cannot escape.

You can see my review of Lie With Me here, and today I’m delighted to be able to share an extract of the novel with you, taken from the prologue and the first chapter of the novel.


August 2015

It struck me in the night that it might have started earlier. I sat up in horror and, in the darkness, used my fingernail to scratch the word ‘BOOKSHOP’ on the inside of my forearm. It has gone now: the skin is inflamed due to an infected insect bite, which I must have further scratched at in my sleep. Still, the act of writing did the trick, as it tends to. This morning I can remember well enough.

Hudson & Co: the secondhand bookshop in Charing Cross Road. I have been assuming it began there – that none of it would have happened if my eye hadn’t been caught by that silly little shop assistant’s red hair. But am I wrong? Were the forces already in motion, in the weeks and months before that? Does the trail of poison lead back, long before the bloody girl’s disappearance, to university? Or before then, even – to school, to childhood, to that moment in 1973 when I struggled, puce-faced, into this unforgiving world?

I suppose what I am saying is, how much do we collude in our own destruction? How much of this nightmare is on me? You can hate and rail. You can kick out in protest. You can do foolish and desperate things but maybe sometimes you just have to hold up a hand and take the blame.

BEFORE

Chapter One

It was a wet day, one of those grey, drizzly London afternoons when the sky and the pavement and the rain-streaked buildings converge. It’s a long time since I’ve seen weather like that. I’d just had lunch with my oldest friend Michael Steele at Porter’s in the Charing Cross underpass, a wine bar we had frequented since, at the age of sixteen, we had first discovered the discretion of both its location and its landlord. These days, of course, we would both have much rather met somewhere less dank and dark (that chic little bistro on St Martin’s Lane specialising in wines from the Loire, par example), but nostalgia can be a tyranny. Neither of us would have dreamt of suggesting it.

Usually, on parting from Michael, I would strut off with a sense of groin-thrusting superiority. His own life restricted by the demands of a wife, twin boys and a solicitor’s practice in Bromley, he listened to my tales of misadventure – the drunken nights in Soho, the young girlfriends – with envy in his eyes. ‘How old’s this one?’ he’d say, cutting into a Scotch egg. ‘Twenty-four? Saints alive.’ He was not a reader and a combination of loyalty and ignorance meant he also still thought of me as The Great Literary Success. It wouldn’t have occurred to him that a minor bestseller written twenty years ago might not be sufficient to maintain a reputation indefinitely. To him I was the star of ‘Literary London’ (his phrase) and when he picked up the bill, which he could be depended upon to do, there was a sense less of charity than of him paying court. If an element of mutual bluff was required to sustain the status quo, it was a small price to pay. Plenty of friendships, I am sure, are based on lies.

That day, however, as I returned to street level, I felt deflated. Truth was, though I had kept it to myself, life had recently taken a downward swerve. My latest novel had just been rejected, and Polly, the twenty-four-year-old in question, had left me for some bum-fluffed political blogger or other. Worst of all, I had discovered, only that morning, that I was to be evicted from the rent-free flat in Bloomsbury I had, for the last six years, called home. In short, I was forty-two, broke and facing the indignity of having to move in with my mother in East Sheen.

As I have mentioned, it was also raining.

I trudged along William IV Street towards Trafalgar Square, dodging umbrellas. At the post office, a group of foreign students, wearing backpacks and neon trainers, blocked the pavement and I was pushed out into the gutter. One shoe sank into a puddle; a passing taxi soaked the leg of my corduroys. Swearing, I hopped across the road, wending my way between waiting cars, and turned up St Martin’s Lane, cut through Cecil Court, and into Charing Cross Road. The world juddered – traffic and building works and the clanging of scaffolding, the infernal disruption of Crossrail. Rain continued to slump from the sky but I had made it doggedly beyond the Tube station before an approaching line of tourists pulling luggage thrust me again out of my path and against a shop window.

I braced myself against the glass until they had trundled past, and then I lit a cigarette. I was outside Hudson & Co, a secondhand bookshop specialising in photography and film. There was a small fiction section in the back where, if I remembered rightly, I had once pilfered an early copy of Lucky Jim. (Not a first edition, but a 1961 orange Penguin with a Nicolas Bentley drawing on the cover: nice.)

I peered in. It was a dusty shop, with an air of having seen better days – most of the upper shelves were bleakly empty.

And then I saw the girl.

She was staring through the window, sucking a piece of long, red hair, her features weighted with a boredom so sensual I could feel it tingle along my fingertips.

I pinched the lit tip off my cigarette, put the remainder in my jacket pocket and pushed open the door.

I am not bad looking (better then, before everything happened), with the kind of face – crinkled blue eyes, strong cheekbones, full lips – I’ve been told women love. I took trouble over my appearance, though the desired result was to make it look as if I didn’t. Sometimes, when I shaved, I noticed the length of my fingers against the chiselled symmetry of my jaw, the regularity of the bristles, the slight hook in the patrician nose. An interest in the life of the mind, I believed, was no reason to ignore the body. My chest is broad; I fight hard even now to keep it firm – those exercises I picked up at Power Pulse, the Bloomsbury gym, over the course of the free ‘taster’ month continue to prove useful. I knew how to work my look, too: the sheepish, self-deprecating smile, the careful use of eye contact, the casual deep-in-thought mussing of my messy blond hair.

The girl barely looked up when I entered. She was wearing a long geometric top over leggings and chunky biker boots; three small studs in the inside cartilage of one ear, heavy make-up. A small bird-shaped tattoo on the side of her neck.

I dipped my head, giving my hair a quick shake. ‘Cor blimey,’ I said in mock-Cockney. ‘Rainin’ cats and dogs out there.’

She rocked gently backwards on the heels of her boots, resting her bottom on a metal stool, and cast a glance in my direction. She dropped the spindle of ruby hair she’d been chewing.

I said, more loudly: ‘Of course Ruskin said there was no such thing as bad weather. Only different kinds of good weather.’

The sulky mouth moved very slightly, as if vaguely in the direction of a smile.

I lifted the damp collar of my coat. ‘But tell that to my tailor!’

The smile faded, came to nothing. Tailor? How was she to know the coat, bought for a snip at Oxfam in Camden Town, was ironic?

I took a step closer. On the table in front of her sat a Starbucks cup, the name ‘Josie’ scrawled in black felt tip.

‘Josie, is it?’ I said.

She said, flatly: ‘No. That was what I told the barista. I tell them a different name every time. Can I help you? Are you looking for anything in particular?’ She looked me up and down, taking in the absorbent tweed, the cords, the leaking brogues, the pathetic middle-aged man that wore them. A mobile phone on the counter trembled and, though she didn’t pick it up, she flicked her eyes towards it, nudging it with her spare hand to read the screen above the cup – a gesture of dismissal.

Stung, I slunk away, and headed to the back of the shop where I crouched, pretending to browse a low shelf (two for £5). Perhaps she was a little too fresh out of school, not quite my audience. Even so. How dare she? Fuck.

At this angle, I smelt damp paper and sweat; other people’s stains, other people’s fingers. A sharp coldness in here too. Scanning the line of yellowing paperbacks, phrases from my publisher’s last email insinuated themselves into my head: ‘Too experimental . . . Not in tune with the current market . . . How about writing a novel in which something actually happens?’ I stood. Bugger it. I’d leave with as much dignity as I could muster and head off to the London Library, or – quick look at my watch – the Groucho. It was almost 3 p.m. Someone might be there to stand me a drink.

I have tried hard to remember if the door jangled; whether it was the kind of door that did. The shop had seemed empty when I entered, but the layout allowed anyone to hide, or lurk – as indeed I was now. Was he already in the shop? Or not? Do I remember the scent of West Indian Limes? It seems important. But perhaps it isn’t. Perhaps it is just my mind trying to find an explanation for something that may, of course, have been random.

‘Paul! Paul Morris!’

He was standing on the other side of the bookcase, only his head visible. I took a brief physical inventory: close-set eyes, receding hairline that gave his face an incongruously twee heart shape, puny chin. It was the large gap between the two front teeth that sparked the memory. Anthony Hopkins, a contemporary from Cambridge – historian, if I remembered correctly. I’d bumped into him several years ago on holiday in Greece. I had a rather unpleasant feeling that I had not come out of the encounter well.

‘Anthony?’ I said. ‘Anthony Hopkins!’

Irritation crossed his brows. ‘Andrew.’

‘Andrew, of course. Andrew Hopkins. Sorry.’ I tapped my head. ‘How nice to see you.’ I was racking my memory for details. I’d been out on a trip round the island with Saffron, a party girl I’d been seeing, and a few of her friends. I’d lost them when we docked. Alcohol had been consumed. Had Andrew lent me money? He was now standing before me, in a pin-stripe suit, hand out. We shook. ‘It’s been a . . . while,’ I said.

He laughed. ‘Not since Pyros.’ A raincoat, pearled with drops, was slung over his arm. The shop assistant was looking over, listening to our conversation. ‘How are you? Still scribbling away? Seen your byline in the Evening Standard – book reviews, is it? We did love that novel you wrote – my sister was so excited when you sold it.’

‘Ah, thank you.’ I bowed. His sister – of course. I’d hung out with her a bit at Cambridge. ‘Annotations on a Life, you mean.’ I spoke as loudly as I could so the little scrubber would realise the opportunity she had passed up. ‘Yes, a lot of people were kind enough to say they liked it. It touched a nerve, I think. In fact, the review in the New York Times said—’

He interrupted me. ‘Any exciting follow up?’

The girl was switching on a blow-heater. As she bent forward, her silk top gaped. I stepped to one side to get a better view, caught the soft curve of her breasts, a pink bra.

‘This and that,’ I said. I wasn’t going to mention the damp squib of a sequel, the disappointing sales of the two books have had that followed.

‘Ah well, you creative types. Always up to something interesting. Not like us dull old dogs in the law.’

The girl had returned to her stool. The current from the blow-heater was causing her silky top to wrinkle and ruche. He was still prattling away. He was at Linklaters, he said, in litigation, but had made partner. ‘Even longer hours. On call twenty-four seven.’ He made a flopping gesture with his shoulders – glee masquerading as resignation. But what can you do? Kids at private school, blah blah, two cars, a mortgage that was ‘killing’ him. A couple of times, I said, ‘Gosh, right, OK.’ He just kept on. He was showing me how successful he was, bragging about his wife, while pretending to do the opposite. Tina had left the City, ‘burnt out, poor girl’, and opened a little business in Dulwich Village. A specialist yarn shop of all things. Surprisingly successful. ‘Who knew there was so much money to be made in wool?’ He gave a selfconscious hiccupy laugh.

I felt bored, but also irritated. ‘Not me,’ I said gamely.

Absent-mindedly, he picked up a book from the shelf – Hitchcock by François Truffaut. ‘You married these days?’ he said, tapping it against his palm.

I shook my head. These days? His sister came into my mind again – a gap between her teeth, too. Short pixie hair, younger than him. I’d have asked after her if I’d remembered her name. Lottie, was it? Lettie? Clingy, definitely. Had we actually gone to bed?

I felt hot suddenly, and claustrophobic, filled with an intense desire to get out.

Hopkins said something I didn’t completely hear, though I caught the phrase ‘kitchen supper’. He slapped the Hitchcock playfully against my upper arm, as if something in the last twenty years, or perhaps only in the last two minutes, had earned him the right to this blokeish intimacy. He had taken his phone out. I realised, with a sinking horror, he was waiting for my number.

I looked to the door where the rain was still falling. The redhaired temptress was reading a book now. I twisted my head to read the author. Nabokov. Pretentious twaddle. I had a strong desire to pull it from her grasp, grab a handful of hair, press my thumb into the tattoo on her neck. Teach her a lesson.

Turning back to Hopkins, I smiled and gave him what he wanted. He assured me he would call and I made a mental note not to answer when he did.


About the author:

Sabine Durrant is the author of two psychological thrillers, Under Your Skin and Remember Me This Way. Her previous novels are Having It and Eating It and The Great Indoors, and two books for teenage girls, Cross Your Heart, Connie Pickles and Ooh La La! Connie Pickles. She is a former features editor of the Guardian and a former literary editor at the Sunday Times, and her writing has appeared in many national newspapers and magazines. She lives in south London with her partner and their three children.


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