Category Archives: Book reviews

You Don’t Know Me by Imran Mahmood

You don't know me

When I first saw You Don’t Know Me on Netgalley, I was instantly intrigued.  The premise reminded me a little of the film Twelve Angry Men, and I just had to request it.

In You Don’t Know Me, the reader is presented with an unnamed protagonist who is being tried for murder.  In the final days of the trial, when the prosecution and defence give their closing speeches, our protagonist, the defendant, gives the speech himself, following a difference of opinion between him and his defence council.

You Don’t Know Me is a transcript of that final speech, delivered over the course of 10 days.  During this time, he reviews all of evidence that has been presented, calling into question whether it’s as valid and damning as the prosecution would have the jury believe, whilst at the same time giving his backstory, and the events that led up to his arrest and the trial.

You Don’t Know Me is a slightly strange novel, in that it contains only the defendant’s final speech.  The reader – and in my mind, I was essentially the jury in this case – doesn’t see the whole court case, we don’t see the evidence as it’s presented, nor do we hear the prosecution’s arguments as to his guilt or the cross-examinations that take place during the trial.  It is simply his closing speech as he reviews the evidence, one piece at a time, to explain how it came about, and why it’s not as damning as it seems.  No one interrupts or interjects – although he does occasionally make a reference to the Judge who disapproves of some of his language, but it’s just him.

His speech is colloquial in nature, and there are lots of uses of “innit” and “ain’t it” and the like throughout the text.  But for the character that we’re presented with – a young man from London who has managed to avoid falling into one of the gangs in the area by luck as much as anything else – his speech comes across as being authentic.  I’m not normally a fan of colloquial speech and dialect, but it worked here to bring the character to life.

And his tale is an intriguing one. There are eight pieces of evidence that have been presented against him, much of it damning.  But as he progresses with his story, the reader begins to see his side of the events, and how it’s maybe not quite so clear cut as we’ve been led to believe.  As I mentioned, the absence of anyone else in the novel (you do hear from the prosecution briefly at 96% (according to my Kindle at least) through the book) made me feel as though I was the jury, and was being left to form my own conclusion as to his guilt.

This is a gripping novel that presents the reader with a unique protagonist, and it’s the kind of novel that once I started, I didn’t want to put down.  Did he commit the murder that he’s accused of?  Or is he telling the truth through this closing speech?  You’ll have to read it and decide for yourself.

You Don’t Know Me will be published on 4 May by Michael Joseph – many thanks to the publisher and Netgalley for the review copy.

Rating: ★★★★★

Perfect Days by Raphael Montes

perfect days

I’ll be honest and say that I probably wouldn’t have picked this book up if it weren’t for Janel’s (Keeper of Pages) Criminally Good Book Club – whilst I quite liked the sound of it, I’d seen mixed reviews for it suggesting that it was going to be hit or miss.  Unfortunately for me, it fell into the latter camp.

Teo doesn’t really like people, although he’s become used to faking emotions for the people around him, having learnt at an early age that people expect him to act and react in certain ways.

At a barbecue that he doesn’t want to attend, he meets Clarice, and he just knows that they should be together, despite her being his polar opposite and her bad habits such as smoking (he doesn’t) and eating meat (he’s a vegetarian).

After a brief period of stalking, he confesses his feelings for her, and is disappointed that she doesn’t feel the same way and isn’t interested in going on a date with him.  Clarice is writing a screen play, and intends to seek out an isolated hotel where she can write without distraction.

Her plans go awry when Teo kidnaps her, however, and, taking her to the hotel, holds her prisoner.  Lying to their parents and the hotel staff, Teo is sure that if they could just spend some time together, if she gets to know him better, then she’s bound to feel the same way that he does.  Right?

Perfect Days is a short novel, and one that is very quick to read – I got through it in a single, lazy evening.  It’s the sort of thing that you might pick up for a holiday – it’s not particularly complicated, and the Brazilian setting gives it an exotic air.

I found the writing to be quite straightforward, occasionally bordering on simplistic, and this grated a little.  Again, this might suit a holiday read, but the writing style wasn’t really to my taste.  That said, this is a novel in translation, and it maybe be that something was lost during that part of the process.  There are some wonderful snatches of dark humour throughout, however, and I did give the occasional smirk as I was reading.

The novel is told from the perspective of Teo, and it is clear right from the beginning when he claims friendship with the corpse in his anatomy class that there’s something not quite right about him.  I think that there are some characters who are presented as the bad guy that you’re meant to secretly root for, and I’m not sure if Teo is one such character.  Whether this was intended or not, I didn’t root for him – he exhibits psychopathic behaviour from the beginning, and this novel gets pretty dark as he resorts to increasingly desperate measures to keep Clarice with him.

Whilst I didn’t like Teo, I also didn’t particularly like Clarice, and I wasn’t particularly bothered about the outcome for her.  That said, I did like the twist at the end of the novel – I thought it was both clever and unexpected, and I do like to be surprised in this way.

Perfect Days is an unusual novel, and might be worth a look if you’re looking for a quick read that offers something a little different.

Rating: ★★★☆☆

See What I Have Done by Sarah Schmidt

see what I have done

As regular readers of my blog will know, I love stories featuring a true, unsolved crime, and so I was absolutely thrilled to get my hands on a review copy of Sarah Schmidt’s debut novel, See What I Have Done, which is a fictionalised retelling of Lizzie Borden and the brutal murders of her father and step-mother in 1892, a crime immortalised in the rhyme:

Lizzie Borden took an axe,

And gave her mother forty whacks,

When she saw what she had done,

She gave her father forty-one.

On the morning of 4 August 1892, the bodies of Andrew and Abby Borden were discovered by Lizzie, Andrew’s youngest daughter.  Lizzie was arrested for their murders several days later, and was imprisoned for ten months for the duration of the trial, at which she was acquitted.  No one was ever sentenced for the crime.

Schmidt’s tale is set predominantly on the third and fourth of August, and is told from a variety of perspectives – Lizzie and her sister, Emma as well as the Borden’s maid, Bridget, and Benjamin, a man acquainted with Lizzie and Emma’s uncle.

I personally enjoyed Bridget’s narrative the most.  Bridget was 26 years old at the time of the murders, and wants nothing more than to return to her home in Ireland.  As a maid, she is sufficiently connected to the family without being a part of it, and it’s through her eyes that we see how dysfunctional the family is.  That’s not to say that Bridget is a neutral observer, however – she is a servant and that will always cause events to be viewed in a certain light, but she sees more of what goes on in the household than anyone else, and seemed the most grounded of the characters in the novel.

Lizzie, on the other hand, I didn’t like at all.  From the beginning, she is pitched as being manipulative, selfish and spoilt.  She has a very strange relationship with those around her and seems to think that, as the youngest, her whims will always be pandered to, and even at 32 as she was at the time of the murders, she comes across as a petulant, often sulky, child.  I found Lizzie a little difficult to believe as a character in this respect – she just didn’t come across as a 32-year-old, and given the time in which she lived, I think that she’d have had such behaviour beaten out of her by that point.  You could argue that the parents were perhaps too indulgent, although they aren’t presented in that way here.

In my mind, this also raised the question of why Lizzie and Emma (41 at the time of the murders) weren’t married.  Whilst Schmidt does touch upon this subject with Emma, it seemed a little odd, and rather unusual for the time.  That said, the Borden household was anything other than normal, and I’m sure that there were many exceptions to the trend of marrying one’s children off as soon as they reached a suitable age.

Unusually for this kind of novel, Schmidt doesn’t explore the arrest or the trial, although we do hear about it in retrospect.  I wasn’t sure if Schmidt was trying to let the reader make their own judgement as to Lizzie’s guilt or innocence, or if it was just that she wanted to focus on the murders themselves rather than the aftermath.  Whatever the reason, it made this novel a little different to others that tackle a similar event, although I personally quite enjoy the trial and learning the outcome of the accused as part of those proceedings.

Schmidt has a unique writing style, and I think this style will divide readers.  I liked it, even if it occasionally had me off-kilter and meant that I had to reread a sentence, but I do think that some readers will struggle with it.  Additionally, the narrative isn’t linear, although I thought that Schmidt handled this really well, and I enjoyed seeing the same event from different perspectives to put an alternative spin on a particular event.

I feel that I’ve been quite critical in this review, which shouldn’t be taken to mean that I didn’t enjoy the novel, because I did.  I think that for me it raised a lot of questions, and that it stopped just shy of saying “here is the culprit”.  I would recommend it to fans of this kind of novel, though – it’s an entertaining story and I enjoyed learning more about the Borden murders, of which I knew very little prior to reading this.  Schmidt has clearly done a lot of research into the murders, and I thought the narrative she put around the events was compelling – I wanted to know what happened, and whether I was right in the conclusion that I came to.

See What I Have Done will be published on 4 May by Tinder Press – many thanks to Georgina Moore for providing a copy for review.

Rating: ★★★★☆

Ararat by Christopher Golden

ararat

Meryam and Adam earn a living by taking risks – they’ll make a dangerous expedition, often at an inappropriate time of year to spice it up a little, and will film and write about the experience.

Following an avalanche on Mount Ararat in Turkey, a new cave is discovered, one that has been covered by snow and ice for centuries, and that is now begging to be explored.  Meryam and Adam can’t resist the temptation that this presents and, dropping everything, they head out to Turkey to stake their claim.

Arriving there first, they discover the remains of an ancient ship hidden in the cave.  What the ship is and how it got there isn’t entirely clear, but many believe, or at least hope, that it is Noah’s Ark, which, according to Genesis:

came to rest on the mountains of Ararat.

The implications of such a find are huge, but inside the ship they find something else.  A coffin, sealed in bitumen, and inscribed with mysterious symbols.  Opening the coffin, they find a body, vaguely humanoid in form, but with horns sprouting from its head.

As a storm threatens outside of the cave, leaving the archaeological team that have assembled to investigate both the ship and the horned cadaver completely stranded, people begin to go missing, and terror infiltrates the team.

Golden is excellent at creating tension.  From the initial misgivings that tell you that things aren’t going to go quite as planned, he gradually builds up to a deep sense of foreboding which has you mentally screaming at the characters to turn around and get the hell out of there.  But, it would be a poor story if they did so, and the lure of possibly discovering the remains of Noah’s Ark has astounding implications – things would have to be really bad to make you leave that behind, wouldn’t they?

I really enjoyed the clever way in which Golden makes the characters question was is going on.  Is there really an ancient evil lurking in the cave, or do the unusual happenings have a more rational explanation?  Conditions at the top of Mount Ararat, which stands at over 5,000 metres, are less than ideal, particularly with a storm raging outside the cave.  The altitude, and the effect that it has on the body and mind, combined with the implications of their discovery as well as the clash of religions and beliefs resulting from the multinational team that have been assembled to investigate the find all add to the tension, and it does make you wonder whether it is just human nature at play when things first start to go awry.

As it is an archaeological dig, there are a lot of characters, and I found that, the main characters aside, I did struggle to remember who was who and what their role was initially.  From the archaeologists, a priest and an expert in Arkology (yes, that’s a thing!), to the necessary doctors, mountain guides etc. there are a lot of people here, and to develop all of them fully would increase the size of the book massively.  That said, the main characters are all well developed, and I really enjoyed the background that was provided, which gives a lot of insight into the way the characters act and react to the events in the novel.

On a slightly more personal note, I appreciated Golden’s neutrality in discussing the potential discovery of Noah’s Ark.  Whether a believer or not, it’s entirely possible that the earth was flooded, and that someone, called Noah or otherwise, was able to board a boat with some other individuals and some farming stock – taking livestock is a convenient way of making one’s food supplies last for longer, after all. Ararat isn’t a conspiracy theory or an attempt to sway one’s beliefs either way – it simply uses the setting and the potential discovery as a way of telling a great story, and this very much suited my tastes.

I found Ararat to be a fast-paced read, and I raced to the end to find out what would happen.  And there is a brilliant twist at the end, which again is something that Golden does really well.  Recommended for fans of the horror genre who enjoy creepy, insidious and occasionally gory novels.

Ararat will be published on 18 April – many thanks to Phoebe Swinburn at Headline for sending me a copy for review.

Rating: ★★★★☆

Waking Gods by Sylvain Neuvel

waking-gods

Sleeping Giants was one of my favourite novels of 2016, and since I read it last May, I’ve been eagerly awaiting the release of Waking Gods, the sequel and book two of the Themis Files, and I was absolutely delighted when Sarah Harwood sent me a copy for review.

As with any follow, I was also a little nervous, however – would it live up to my expectations?  I’m pleased to say that any concerns were completely unfounded – I absolutely loved Waking Gods!

As this is the second book in the series, you really do need to read Sleeping Giants first, and whilst this review won’t contain any spoilers for Waking Gods, I don’t think that I can avoid mentioning certain elements of the first novel in order to properly set the scene.  You have been warned.

Synopsis (from Amazon):

What’s going on?

Turn on the television.

What channel?

Any channel.

An unknown vessel, not of this world, materialises in London. A colossal figure towering over the city, it makes no move. Is this a peaceful first contact or the prelude to an invasion?

Every child has nightmares. But the only thing scarier than little Eva Reyes’ dreams – apocalyptic visions of death and destruction – is the habit they have of coming true…

Scientist Dr Rose Franklin has no memory of the last few years. The strangers she works with say she died, and was brought back to life. The question is not just how … but why?

Kara Resnik and Vincent Couture fell in love during war, and have found peace since. They are the thin line of defence against what is coming. But they do not know they have been living a lie.

And a man who claims to have the answers has his own agenda. There are things he cannot say – and others he won’t.

All pieces of an epic puzzle. One we have been trying to solve since the dawn of time…

Structurally, Waking Gods takes a similar format to Sleeping Giants, and uses various interviews, reports and articles to tell the story.  As I’ve said before, I’m a big fan of the epistolary format and I think that it’s a great way of telling a story such as this.  I thought that the reports and documents etc. showed wider breadth in Waking Gods – in Sleeping Giants, the focus was largely on Rose and her team, whereas in Waking Gods a wider variety of perspectives was shared.  This made sense for the plot – Sleeping Giants is focused predominantly on recovering and assembling the parts of Themis, and the impact of the events in this second novel are wider-reaching, and it therefore made sense to see a broader range of perspectives as we see how the arrival of a vessel is handled by the powers that be.

Waking Gods reunites the reader with various characters from Sleeping Giants, and I enjoyed finding out more about Rose’s situation.  One of the (many) outstanding questions from the first novel was around Rose’s death and subsequent resurrection, and I was extremely happy to have this explained in Waking Gods.  As you might expect, this situation does pose some existential questions for Rose, given that she personally hasn’t done many of the things that she has been credited for, and I sympathised with her plight.

The reader also finds out more about the nameless interviewer.  In Sleeping Giants, this individual seemed far too knowledgeable and had seemingly limitless control over the project and the team, yet very little was revealed about this person.  In Waking Gods, we find out about his (and it is a he, I was correct in that assertion!) background and what his role actually is.  I won’t say any more on this, but I was pleased and a little amused by the explanation behind this particular character and his actions.

I’ve deliberately not discussed the plot in any great detail in this review – anything I could say has the feeling of a spoiler to it and that’s to be avoided at all costs.  Suffice to say that Waking Gods fully delivers on the promise of Sleeping Giants.  It’s quite different in some ways – whereas Sleeping Giants dealt with the discovery of the parts of Themis and the ramifications of this discovery, the arrival of another vessel has other, potentially more serious, implications.  Neuvel has delivered a stunning follow up to one of favourite books of 2016, and I can’t wait to see what he does next.

Waking Gods was published on 6 Aril by Michael Joseph.  Many thanks to Sarah Harwood for providing a copy for review.

Rating: ★★★★★

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

Defender by G. X. Todd

defender

Defender is one of the novels I picked up at February’s Headline Blogger Evening, and one that I’ve been looking forward to reading since then.

It is a post-apocalyptic novel in which the cause of our demise isn’t entirely clear.  Eight years ago, people began hearing voices.  Whether real or a mass auditory hallucination, the voices caused the majority of people to kill themselves, leaving behind a few individuals who now fend for themselves as well as they can.

Lacey is sixteen, and was shielded from much of what was going on eight years earlier by her grandmother.  Now alone, she now wants to travel from her home in Texas to Mississippi to find her sister, who she hasn’t heard from for years and who may or may not have survived.

Pilgrim, as his name suggests, has spent the last eight years travelling and avoiding other people, his only company the voice in his head.  But when he comes across Lacey, he is encouraged by this internal voice to help her, and the two set out on Lacey’s quest, falling into a whole world of trouble along the way.

Given Lacey’s age and the recent trend for post-apocalyptic novels to be aimed towards the young adult market, you might expect Defender to also fall into this category.  It doesn’t.  This is a dark and often brutal story which very much satisfied my need for a bleak apocalypse to sink my teeth into.  Given the lawlessness of the world as it is presented here, there are those who seek to take advantage of those weaker than themselves, and Lacey and Pilgrim run into some thoroughly bad people on their journey.  It’s not all doom and gloom, however, and Todd throws in a bit of dark, wry  humour along the way to lighten the tone.

Even now that I finished the novel, I’m not sure how I feel about Lacey.  She’s young and has been sheltered from much of what has happened in the world, and so comes across as being extremely naïve, and she seems a little too pure and wholesome to survive in a world such as this.  Survive she has though, which suggests an inner resilience, and whilst I personally prefer protagonists who are a little more kick-ass, she was certainly an original character and quite different to the sort you usually find in novels of this kind.  She’s in for some rough times, however, and whilst the reader knows that there’s something special about her, it’s not clear what it is at this stage.  I think it will be interesting to see how she develops as the series progresses.

If I didn’t really warm to Lacey, I made up for it in my love of Pilgrim, however.  Pilgrim is exactly the kind of lone wolf style character that I like – someone who doesn’t look for trouble, but is more than capable than dealing with it if, and when, it comes looking for him.  Ha also has excellent taste in books.

Defender is a novel in which the cause of the end isn’t explained, at least not in this first instalment.  No one knows where the voices came from or why the result was as it was, and the little that people do know is largely rumour and hearsay.  Whilst some people may find this a little frustrating and may want to know the how and why, I thought that this was reflective of how it would be if such a thing were to actually happen.  With no communication infrastructure left, we’d have no way of knowing what has happened elsewhere, or how, or why, and we’d have to try to piece things together from the snippets of information that we came across.  And this isn’t really a novel about the end of the world – it’s a novel about how those who survive it manage to deal with the aftermath, and I think that Todd did a brilliant job of exploring how such a world might look, and what people would need to do to survive, and that is exactly why I love this kind of novel so much.

Defender is the first novel in a planned series of four, and as such it poses a great many questions whilst answering very few of them.  There is clearly a bigger story to be revealed, however, and I’m expecting another fantastic read when the sequel, Hunted, is published in January 2018 – I already have it on pre-order! 😃

Many thanks to the publisher, Headline, for my copy of Defender, and to Gemma for taking the time to talk books and things with me at the blogger event.

Rating: ★★★★★