Category Archives: Book reviews

Hangman by Daniel Cole


I really enjoyed Daniel Cole’s debut novel, Ragdoll, when I read it last year (you can find my review here), and I was thrilled when I was lucky enough to score an advance copy of his follow up, Hangman, which is published today!

I do recommend reading Ragdoll before making a start on Hangman – there is a little background included in this second novel, but you’ll miss a lot of the context if you start here, and, to be honest, they’re both so good that I don’t know why you’d deprive yourself anyway.

A detective with no one to trust.

A killer with nothing to lose.

18 months after the ‘Ragdoll’ murders, a body is found hanging from Brooklyn Bridge, the word ‘BAIT’ carved into the chest.

In London, a copycat killer strikes, branded with the word ‘PUPPET’, forcing DCI Emily Baxter into an uneasy partnership with the detectives on the case, Special Agents Rouche and Curtis.

Each time they trace a suspect, the killer is one step ahead. With the body count rising on both sides of the Atlantic, can they learn to trust each other and identify who is holding the strings before it is too late?

Hangman is a little different to Ragdoll, and anyone looking to catch up with Wolf (William Fawkes) may be a little disappointed, as it’s now the turn of Emily Baxter – newly promoted to Detective Chief Inspector – to take centre-stage, and I wasn’t disappointed by this at all. Anyone familiar with her character will know what to expect, and anyone thinking that getting to know her better may reveal a softer side to her nature is sorely mistaken. Whilst she’s a great character, she isn’t perfect, and comes across as all too realistic in saying the wrong thing, often at volume and with expletives. Bold and outspoken to the point of bluntness, I absolutely adore her, and even as the reader can see her making mistakes, you’re still very much in her corner.

Like Ragdoll, the plot moves along at quite a pace, and I enjoyed the dual setting of London and New York, which gave this novel something a little different to its predecessor. Forced to work with Special Agents Curtis and Rouche of the FBI and CIA respectively, the politics of working across multiple organisations soon becomes apparent, and this adds another layer to the story. She soon comes to appreciate these two agents, however, and Rouche in particular comes through as a great character. The plot is dark, twisted, and occasionally gruesome, and I did find it a little difficult to follow at times – there are so many people involved in the multiple murders that I did lose track, but it did come together nicely by the end.

And no book this dark should be so funny! There are some genuine laugh out loud moments in this novel, and I love the undertone of humour that Cole injects into his writing. If you liked Ragdoll, you’ll need to get yourself a copy of this come March!

Hangman is published today (22 March 2018) by Trapeze. With thanks to Susan Armstrong for the opportunity to read and review this title in advance of its publication.

Rating: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐


Blog Tour: The Long Forgotten by David Whitehouse

the long forgotten

I’m absolutely delighted to be kicking off the blog tour for David Whitehouse’s latest novel, The Long Forgotten.  This was a novel that I was eager to read as soon as I heard about it late last year, drawn by both the blurb and the comparisons to the works of David Mitchell and Matt Haig.

When the black box flight recorder of a plane that went missing 30 years ago is found at the bottom of the sea, a young man named Dove begins to remember a past that isn’t his. The memories belong to a rare flower hunter in 1980s New York, whose search led him around the world and ended in tragedy.

Restless and lonely in present-day London, Dove is quickly consumed by the memories, which might just hold the key to the mystery of his own identity and what happened to the passengers on that doomed flight, The Long Forgotten.

There are multiple threads to this novel, and it wasn’t immediately clear how they were connected.  Firstly, there is Dove – a young man working in ambulance dispatch who was abandoned as a baby.  Whilst he was taken in by a loving older couple, the emotional scars that he bears as a result of his abandonment and not knowing his birth parents are easy to see, and I felt a great deal of sympathy for Dove as he feels the need to keep other people at arms’ length, his fear of abandonment still strong even as an adult.  He is a lovely if slightly unusual character, and I enjoyed the slow reveal of both his past and present, the latter of which is dominated by the memories that he begins to experience – memories that can’t be his own.

The memories he begins to experience are those of Peter Manyweathers – a man who cleans the houses of the recently deceased – usually when they weren’t found straightaway.  After finding a bog violet on one of his jobs, he quickly becomes obsessed with seeking out rare flowers around the world.  For me, Peter’s adventures were the best part of the novel.  Whilst set in the very recent past, travel at the time was so different to what it is today, and I loved the journeys he made as he sought out increasingly rare blooms that are often situated in inaccessible places, flowering for a brief period of time.  Whilst not much of one for flowers, I couldn’t help but look up some these blooms myself as I read along, thoroughly intrigued by this unusual hobby.

There is also the mystery of the black box flight recorder of flight PS570, which disappeared 30 years ago, and I was intrigued to see how the novel would play out and how the various threads would come together by the end of the story, which didn’t quite end as I expected it to.  This is a wonderfully touching novel, by turns amusing (usually because of Professor Cole, who discovers the flight recorder) and sad.  It explores themes of memory, identity and self-discovery, and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

The Long Forgotten will be published on 22 March by Picador.  Many thanks to Emma Finnigan for the review copy, and to Anne Cater for inviting me to join the blog tour.

Rating: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐

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

The Long Forgotten Blog Tour Poster

Zero Day by Ezekiel Boone

zero day

I’ve been really looking forward to the release of Zero Day – the final book in Ezekiel Boone’s trilogy that began with The Hatching and continued in Skitter.

The world is on the brink of apocalypse.  Zero Day has come.

The only thing more terrifying than millions of spiders is the realization that those spiders work as one.  But among the government, there is dissent: do we try to kill all of the spiders, or do we gamble on Professor Guyer’s theory that we need to kill only the queens?

For President Stephanie Pilgrim, it’s an easy answer.  She’s gone as far as she can-more than two dozen American cities hit with tactical nukes, the country torn asunder – and the only answer is to believe in Professor Guyer.  Unfortunately, Ben Broussard and the military men who follow him don’t agree, and Pilgrim, Guyer, and the loyal members of the government have to flee, leaving the question: what can be more dangerous, the spiders or ourselves?

Both The Hatching and Skitter were thoroughly entertaining novels – fast-paced and full of action, and it’s no surprise that Zero Day continues in the same vein.  I’m a terrible arachnophobe, and all three novels have made me feel as though there’s something crawling on me at various points.  You know the feeling, I’m sure.  And yet I’ve found these novels to be absolutely compulsive reading.  Horrific, terrifying, gruesome, but completely addictive.

As such, it’s a little hard to admit that Zero Day didn’t quite live up to my expectations.  It wasn’t bad, and I really did enjoy it, I just didn’t love it in the same way that I did the first two novels.  For me, there was one main reason for this, and that was the queens.  The second novel set the seed for something much worse than millions of man-eating spiders (yes – something WORSE than that!) rampaging around the globe in the form of the queens.  I really liked this idea – ok, spiders don’t have queens like bees and ants, but I can see how it could work – and yet I felt that this idea wasn’t explored in full, and the reader doesn’t really get to see them in action.  A small complaint, perhaps, but I think this is an idea that has legs (😉) and could have been taken further.

That little bit of disappointment aside, however, I did enjoy the novel, and it does focus more upon the human efforts to end the “spiderpocalypse”.  How this should be done isn’t obvious, however, and whilst Stephanie Pilgrim, President of the United States, has faced down the old-school boys who don’t like having a lady as commander in chief, she now has a military coup on her hands, and is forced to flee.  I’d like to think that if we were on the brink of disaster that we would at least stand together united, and yet I can see how differences of opinion might cause different factions to come into being all too easily.

Whilst this final instalment didn’t quite deliver what I was hoping for, this has been a wonderfully entertaining series that has kept me hooked from the beginning, and it will be interesting to see what Boone does next.

Rating: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐

You can see my reviews for the first novels in the trilogy at the following links:

  1. The Hatching
  2. Skitter 

The Two Houses by Fran Cooper

the two houses

I really enjoyed Fran Cooper’s debut novel These Dividing Walls and I was thrilled to receive an early copy of her second novel, The Two Houses, to review.

The Two Houses sit grey and brooding beneath a pale sky.  They cling to the hillside, cowering from the wind, because always, before everything up here, there is the wind.

The Two Houses were not always two. But if it is human to build – even up here, in this blasted northern hinterland – it is human to break, too.

After an acclaimed career in ceramics, Jay herself has cracked.  Recovering from a breakdown, she and her husband Simon move to the desolate edges of the north of England, where they find and fall in love with the Two Houses: a crumbling property whose central rooms were supposedly so haunted that a previous owner had them cut out from the building entirely.

But on uprooting their city life and moving to the sheltered grey village of Hestle, Jay and Simon discover it’s not only the Two Houses that seems to be haunted by an obscure past.  It becomes increasingly clear that the villagers don’t want them there at all – and when building work to make the two houses whole again starts, a discovery is made that will unearth decades-old secrets…

But who in this village has been hiding them?

From the opening chapter, Cooper sets a foreboding tone with the discovery of what is undeniably a bone at the site of the Two Houses.  The novel then slips back in time a little, to Jay and Simon’s first visit to the houses, and Jay is immediately besotted with them.  I loved the way that the initial discovery in the first chapter sets the tone for the rest of the novel, which is incredibly atmospheric throughout with the mention of ghosts, objects moving inexplicably, and the sound of footsteps when there is no one there.  I think that there are some places where the idea of ghosts and hauntings become more plausible, and Cooper captures that brilliantly in this novel, set up in the isolated hills and dales around the fictional Hestle.

As with Cooper’s debut, the characters in this novel are fully developed, even those who have a relatively minor role to play.  Whilst there were some that I liked more than others, they are all extremely credible, and I loved Jay who is portrayed as a fragile individual recovering from a breakdown.  Simon I liked less, and I found him to be quite unsympathetic, although he is trying to mend whatever it is that has broken between him and his wife, albeit without much success.  Jay doesn’t help matters by pursuing the secrets of the houses and this new community they’ve moved into with something bordering upon obsession, but I understood her need to uncover the secrets of the Two Houses.

And this is a novel with plenty of secrets to uncover, and whilst it’s not fast-paced, I was hooked and as determined as Jay to discover the story behind Two Houses and those in the community who seem to have an unspoken rule not to tell these “offcomers” anything.

A wonderfully creepy novel that has quite a different tone to These Dividing Walls and marks Cooper as an author who can turn her pen to different kinds of novel successfully.  I can’t wait to see what she does next.

The Two Houses will be published on 22 March by Hodder & Stoughton.  Many thanks to the publisher for the opportunity to read and review an early copy of this novel.

Rating ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐

Blog Tour: The Darkness by Ragnar Jónasson

the darkness

I’m delighted to be able to share my review of The Darkness by Ragnar Jónasson as part of the blog tour today.  The Darkness is book one of the Hidden Iceland series, and if this first instalment is anything to go by, readers are in for a treat with this new series.

A young woman is found dead on a remote Icelandic beach.

She came looking for safety, but instead she found a watery grave.

A hasty police investigation determines her death as suicide . . .

When Detective Inspector Hulda Hermannsdóttir of the Reykjavik police is forced into early retirement, she is told she can investigate one last cold case of her choice – and she knows which one.

What she discovers is far darker than suicide . . . And no one is telling Hulda the whole story.

When her own colleagues try to put the brakes on her investigation, Hulda has just days to discover the truth. A truth she will risk her own life to find.

There are many things that I enjoyed about this novel, and the unusual protagonist is one of them.  Hulda is in her sixties and due to retire at the end of the year, and to say that she is not looking forward to it is something of an understatement.  So it comes as a complete blow when she is asked to retire early, being given the opportunity to work one last cold case before doing so.  It’s clear from the beginning that Hulda is a thorough and conscientious detective, and yet she harbours a sense of bitterness about the way she has been treated by the police force, passed over for promotion many times in favour of her younger, often male colleagues.  I felt a great deal of sympathy for Hulda, although she admits that collaboration isn’t her strong point, and understands that this will have played a part in her circumstances.

The cold case that she picks is a fascinating one, concerning the death of a Russian asylum seeker a year earlier.  The investigation at the time ruled it a suicide, and yet Hulda has a number of concerns about the investigation, particularly as the officer involved is known for his lazy, slapdash approach.  Even a year on, Hulda is able to obtain additional evidence and witness statements that suggest that the death may not have been a suicide after all.  Despite the modern setting, there is something quite old school about the investigation, and this does feel like a classic mystery as Hulda tries to work out what happened, doing a lot of leg work in the process and tracking down those who were connected to Elena.

I loved the way in which we learn about Hulda’s background, from her childhood, which wasn’t entirely straightforward, to her relationship with her husband who passed away.  These snippets of Hulda’s past are woven into the main narrative brilliantly, resulting in a fully-formed character with many smaller details thrown in to explain elements of her behaviour and why she is as she is.

There are some books that you start reading and you just know that you are in for a treat.  The Darkness was one such book for me.  From the opening chapter, I was immediately hooked by Jónasson’s slightly unusual protagonist and the situation she finds herself in, and I found Elena’s case to be absolutely fascinating.  The Darkness is intricately plotted and reads like a classic mystery with some darker themes running through it, and it went in a completely different direction to what I was expecting.  I can’t recommend The Darkness enough, and I fully expect it to appear in my list of the top books of 2018.

The Darkness will be published on 15 March by Michael Joseph.  Many thanks to Laura Nicol for the early review copy, and the opportunity to take part in the blog tour.

Rating: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐

Make sure you check out the others stops on the tour:

Blog Tour

We Were the Salt of the Sea by Roxanne Bouchard

we were the salt of the sea

I’m delighted to be sharing my review of We Were the Salt of the Sea today as part of the blog tour alongside the lovely Eva at Novel Deelights.

As Montrealer Catherine Day sets foot in a remote fishing village and starts asking around about her birth mother, the body of a woman dredges up in a fisherman’s nets. Not just any woman, though: Marie Garant, an elusive, nomadic sailor and unbridled beauty who once tied many a man’s heart in knots. Detective Sergeant Joaquin Morales, newly drafted to the area from the suburbs of Montreal, barely has time to unpack his suitcase before he’s thrown into the deep end of the investigation. On Quebec’s outlying Gaspé Peninsula, the truth can be slippery, especially down on the fishermen’s wharves. Interviews drift into idle chit-chat, evidence floats off with the tide and the truth lingers in murky waters. It’s enough to make DS Morales reach straight for a large whisky… Both a dark and consuming crime thriller and a lyrical, poetic ode to the sea, We Were the Salt of the Sea is a stunning, page-turning novel, from one of the most exciting new names in crime fiction.

We Were the Salt of the Sea is a beautifully written novel that is as much a love song to the sea as it is an intriguing mystery to be solved.  It opens in 1974 as a woman gives birth to her child aboard her sail boat.  It then flashes forward 33 years as Catherine arrives on the Gaspé Peninsula in search of her birth mother.  I didn’t completely warm to Catherine at first, although I did feel a great deal of sympathy for her situation, and I found myself warming to her as the novel progressed.

The small town that Catherine arrives in is populated by an extremely close-knit community of idiosyncratic characters.  I love novels that are set in small towns or communities, and Bouchard does it brilliantly here.  Many of the locals work on the sea, and they are an extremely practical, down to earth bunch.  If there was one element of the novel that didn’t work for me personally, it’s that many of the characters have a “catchphrase” or a statement that they’d roll out repeatedly such as “Christ in a chalice”.  I did find this to be a little repetitive, although it does make it very clear who is speaking.  This is a purely personal preference, however, which just didn’t suit my personal tastes, and it is a minor point.

We Were the Salt of the Sea isn’t a fast-paced novel, but it presents an intriguing mystery in a wonderfully unique setting that is brought to life through Bouchard’s fantastic prose. Part crime novel, this is also a work of literary fiction, and won’t suit those who are looking for a fast-paced thriller.  For those who like a small-town vibe with dashes of humour, however, this could be for you.

We Were the Salt of the Sea will be published in paperback on 30 March by Orenda Books, and is available to buy now as an eBook.  Many thanks to Anne Cater for the advanced copy and the opportunity to take part in the blog tour.

We Were The Salt of the Sea BT Banner

Devil’s Day by Andrew Michael Hurley

devil's day

I absolutely adored The Loney when I (finally) got around to reading it last year, and I couldn’t wait to get stuck into Andrew Michael Hurley’s second novel, Devil’s Day.

In the wink of an eye, as quick as a flea,

The Devil he jumped from me to thee.

And only when the Devil had gone,

Did I know that he and I’d been one…

Every autumn, John Pentecost returns to the farm where he grew up to help gather the sheep down from the moors for the winter.  Very little changes in the Endlands, but this year, his grandfather – the Gaffer – has died and John’s new wife, Katherine, is accompanying him for the first time.

Each year, the Gaffer would redraw the boundary lines of the village, with pen and paper, but also through the remembrance of tales and timeless communal rituals, which keep the sheep safe from the Devil.  But as the farmers of the Endlands bury the Gaffer, and prepare to gather the sheep, they begin to wonder whether they’ve let the Devil in after all…

It is Autumn, and John has returned to the family farm in the Endlands, Lancashire, to help with the gathering of the sheep from the moors as he always does.  This year is a little different however.  His grandfather, the Gaffer, has passed away, and, newly married, his wife has come with him for the first time.  John is one of the few to leave the community, and he seems to be feeling some regret about doing so.  The community has always passed the farms down from parent to child, and John seems to feel as though he has betrayed a tradition by not being round to assume his role on the farm in due course.

His wife, Kat, is from a rather different background, however, and whilst she is happy to visit the farm and John’s family, it’s clear to the reader that she doesn’t want to stay there permanently, despite John’s view that as soon as she sees the place, she’ll fall in love with it.  Whilst she gets on with everyone in Endlands, there are some fundamental differences between her and them, such as her choice to be a vegetarian, which is seen almost as an affliction rather than a choice:

How long have you been like that, love?

Johns presumption around his wife’s feelings is one of thing that made me dislike him as a character.  He doesn’t seem willing to see things from her perspective, nor does he seem to consider that she might wish to remain in Suffolk, close to her own family, her job etc. but for him, it’s a done deal, despite his own father’s misgivings.

Endlands is curiously resistant to change and many modern developments seem to be absent from the farms.  This is a community that is fiercely loyal to its traditions – perhaps explaining John’s attitude – and many of the jobs on the farm are done in the same way as they have always been.  Hand in hand with this are the rituals and stories that have been passed down to each successive generation.  Stories and rituals to keep the devil at bay.  It’s easy to see how, historically, the devil might be blamed for illness in the sheep, for example, and whilst it’s easy to dismiss such tales, I think that Hurley does successfully capture the superstitious nature of this community, sufficiently so as to make you wonder what might happen if they didn’t carry out the various rituals that they’ve come to hold dear.  There is a distinctly creepy vibe to the novel at times that kept me on edge, yet also hooked – I really wanted to know what would happen next.

Devil’s Day is a little slow to start, and yet Hurley builds up the atmosphere from the very beginning.  I felt that there were a lot of characters to get to grips with, and I did get a little confused about who was who to begin with.  That said, it’s a novel that is worth persevering with, and I loved the way in which it jumped around in time.  Not only backwards, but also forwards, so that the reader knows something not only of John’s past, but also of his future.  And I love Hurley’s writing, and the Gothic nature of the novel.  I may not have enjoyed Devil’s Day quite as much as The Loney, but I did enjoy it.

Rating: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐