Crime, Fiction

The Poison Garden by Alex Marwood – Review

On Twitter recently someone asked which author you’d read without seeing either blurb or cover, and my immediate answer was Alex Marwood. I’ve read all of her books, which are standalones, and they’re all utterly brilliant. She’s the queen of beautiful tension – there’s no wham bam drama, just this awful foreboding in the telling. You know something terrible is going to happen (and in fact in this book you know that from Chapter One), but her plotting is subtle and gently leads you through twists, turns and revelations.

Her new book is The Poison Garden, a story that explores what happens when a family emerge from a survivalist cult into the real world after a tragedy. Marwood explores the bewilderment of the returnees, who’ve never really known a life beyond their compound and the stories they were told by their leader. This is set against a family member who’d remained on the outside with no knowledge of her extended family on the inside, and who now has to pick up the pieces and adjust. There’s such skill in both plotting and writing here, and you just feel that horrible sense of what might be to come as you move towards the conclusion. I loved it, but read it way too fast and was very sad to finish it.

Fans of Alex Marwood’s writing might like Alice Clark-Platts’ The Flower Girls (although it’s on a similar theme to Marwood’s debut The Wicked Girls). I would also recommend the late lamented Barbara Vine (Ruth Rendell)’s books – such brilliant psychological thrillers. Savour this book more than I did, I read it far too quickly.

This review is of a NetGalley edition. I purchased all of the previous three Alex Marwood books.

Blog Tour, Crime, Fiction

Razia by Abda Khan – Blog Tour

“Farah is a young lawyer living and working in London. She’s just ended a long relationship, and her parents are looking for a husband – whether Farah wants one or not. So far, so normal. But at a work dinner, hosted by a dangerously powerful man, she comes across a young woman called Razia, who Farah soon realises is being kept as a domestic slave.

We follow Farah’s daring investigations from the law courts of London to the brick kilns of Lahore, as she begins to uncover the traps that keep generation after generation enslaved. Everywhere she turns there is deep-rooted oppression and corruption, and when the authorities finally intervene, their actions have dire consequences.

Farah teams up with a human rights lawyer, Ali, and the two become close… but can she trust him; can they help Razia and others like her; and will they ever discover the explosive secret behind these tragic events?”

Razia by Abda Khan

These men and women would work in these fields and stand on the side of roads like this up and down the country, for hours, just so they could earn enough to feed their family dhal and roti. She felt a sudden pang of sadness, a strong feeling of grief, such as she had never experienced before; a fierce and unexpected attachment to these people, and their struggles, even though they were all perfect strangers to her.

Modern slavery is one of those topics that pops up on the news from time to time, but is primarily a hidden abuse that lurks in the shadows. It’s one of things that we think perhaps rarely exists in modern Britain, and yet the Home Office conservatively estimates there are 13,000 slaves in the UK today (see here for a recent example involving 400 victims alone). Abda Khan brings this subject out into the light in her new novel, Razia. Khan’s background as a lawyer and campaigner brings a realism to the story of Farah, a young lawyer who stumbles across a case of modern slavery amongst the highest echelons of society. The story moves from London to Lahore as she tries to help the victim and is an unflinching read – there are some lovely and touching moments, but with this subject matter it was never going to be hugely cheery. This book moved me and opened my eyes to something that I know must be going on somewhere near me. For an exploration of a difficult topic in an accessible way, I would highly recommend it.

For more on modern slavery see here from the charity anti-slavery. Abda Kahn is an author and a lawyer and won the Noor Inayat Khan Muslim Woman of the Year Award 2019. Razia is published to coincide with World Day against Trafficking in Persons, and can be pre-ordered here.

I received a free copy of Razia in return for an honest review. Please do visit the other amazing bloggers on this blog tour, as shown below.

Blog Tour, Crime, Fiction

One Way Out by A.A. Dhand – Blog Tour

A bomb detonates in Bradford’s City Park.
When the alert sounds, DCI Harry Virdee has just enough time to get his son and his mother to safety before the bomb blows. But this is merely a stunt.

The worst is yet to come.
A new and aggressive nationalist group, the Patriots, have hidden a second device under one of the city’s one hundred and five mosques. In exchange for the safe release of those at Friday prayers, the Patriots want custody of the leaders of radical Islamist group Almukhtareen – the chosen ones. The government does not negotiate with terrorists. Even when thousands of lives are at risk.

There is only one way out.
But Harry’s wife is in one of those mosques. Left with no choice, Harry must find the Almukhtareen, to offer the Patriots his own deal.

If you’re a fan of extremely pacy thrillers / police procedurals that are bang up to date, I have good news for you. If you like a copper with a difficult backstory, I have even more good news for you. And if you like a copper with a backstory but are a bit bored with that copper being a middle-aged out of shape bloke with a drinking problem, you probably shouldn’t bother reading the rest of this review. You just filled your bingo card. Go and buy this book immediately.

The set-up on this is cracking. DCI Harry Virdee has a catalogue of family issues, including an interfaith marriage which has not gone down well with the wider family, and a brother with an interesting business model. So when he takes his mum and son out to the park for the day, it seems a pleasant break from everything else that’s going on his life. But when a bomb planted by a nationalist group goes off, he and his family manage to get away safely, only to find that his wife is caught up in an ongoing hostage situation related to the original explosion.

Harry is obviously desperate to save his wife, and his deep knowledge of the local area makes him uniquely qualified to do so. With the help and encouragement of his politician friend, he sets out to find those that the nationalist bombers want handing over to them, the leaders of the radical Islamist group, Almukhtareen.

This is a really tight plot, which cracks along at pace. It’s also highly topical, covering the rise of both religious extremism and nationalism. The hostage scenario is a really clever set up, and I’ll confess to being worried that the rest of the book might disappoint. It doesn’t. Harry is an interesting and complex character who, especially given his own wife is in danger, is quite prepared to resolve the situation by any means. It’s a bit Roy Grace police procedural, a bit Jack Reacher action thriller, all set against a very modern British city. I loved it.

One Way Out is available on 27th June in ebook and hardback. It’s the fourth in the Harry Virdee series. I received a free copy for this blog tour in return for an honest review. Please do visit the other excellent bloggers on this tour, as shown below.

Crime, Fiction

The Whisper Man by Alex North – Book review

So this was a happy mistake. I spotted it on NetGalley and thought “ooh I love Alex North’s books!”. Well, I’ve no idea who I was thinking of because this is a debut, and it’s an extraordinarily accomplished one.

Tom and his son Jake have suffered the appalling loss of their wife and mother, Rebecca. Jake is showing great signs of distress, especially as he found his mother dead at home, so Tom decides they need a fresh start and at Jake’s prompting, chooses a curious and some might say scary house in Featherbank. But as they arrive, a boy is taken, bringing back memories in the community of the child abductions and murders carried out 20 years previously by The Whisper Man.

This is a multi layered book which is a proper edge of your seat thriller. Alex North pulls all the strands together at the end, and I was desperate to get there to see how he did it. Really nicely done and a strong plot and characterisation. In terms of the creepiness and oppression of living in a small village, there were resonances of The Killer You Know by S.R. Masters which I previously reviewed on a blog tour. The references back to historic crimes reminded me of The Flower Girls by Alex Clark-Platts and The Wicked Girls by Alex Marwood. I’d recommend any of these as a tie-in read.

I received a copy of The Whisper Man from NetGalley in return for an honest review.

Crime, Fiction

The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton – Agatha on Acid

This book is insane. Stuart Turton said in his author’s note that he wanted to write something inspired by Agatha Christie, but this is Agatha Christie on a mix of steroids and acid with a Groundhog Day chaser. It’s a melange of classic stately home murder and supernatural twists. If you make it to the end, I think it will definitely stick with you.

The narrator lives the same day over and over again, waking up each in day in the body of a different person in the cast of characters who are attending a house party in a stately home. The only way he can escape this living nightmare is to solve the murder of the daughter of the family that owns the house, Evelyn Hardcastle. 

If that’s not enough, as well as the book having multiple characters narrating the book, it spools back and forth between them at different times of the day. 

The blurb on the copy I have has praise from some top authors and I can completely see why. It’s clever, it’s original, it’s gripping and it’s got more twists than an Alpine pass. But man, it’s a hard read. I’d recommend having the cast of characters by your side as you read it, and maybe even making notes. It’s so complicated. Not one to read late at night when you’re tired, or after a large wine – you need to give it your full attention. If you’re prepared, I think you’ll appreciate the cleverness of the plot, but this is not a light read. I gave it four stars, and looking on Amazon there are lots of one star reviews and lots of five star reviews. I can completely see why. Rejoice in the plotting mastery, but I’ll need something a little easier for my next read and a long lie down.

This review is of a purchased copy.

Blog Tour, Crime, Thriller

The Killer You Know by S. R. Masters – Blog Tour Review

I’m delighted to be joining the blog tour for this new psychological thriller and debut novel by S. R. Masters. He’s woven a well crafted story centring around a group of five friends who, as teenagers in the late 90s, do all the things teens do – hang around their small village, drink illicit alcohol, hole up at the house of the kid whose parents are out the most and let their overactive imaginations create all sorts of stories about the adults around them. And like all teenagers they spend hours talking about their futures – for one a career in medicine, for another a longing to be an actor, and for Will, the one teen who really can’t think what to do – a joke that one day he might become a serial killer.

You need to kill at least three people to be a serial killer, right? So that’s what I’ll do.

The author flips the story between the late 90s and 2015, when one of the group contacts the others and suggests a reunion. By this time, Adeline, the main narrator for the 2015 segments of the book, has a terrible relationship with her parents and is reluctant to come back to her childhood home. But she’s proud of her popular podcast series on movies, and deciding that’s something she can talk about with the others, she agrees to come home for Christmas and get together for old time’s sake. Although the group are happy to be reunited, Will is a no show, and eventually their thoughts turn to what he said about his future when they were younger. Thus begins a search to see what had happened to Will, and if he could possibly have carried out what they thought were idle threats.

This book swaps between time periods and narrators, so does take a little bit of concentration, but it’s well worth the effort. It’s a cleverly woven narrative and I really liked that the protagonists had very different adult lives, which all played into the story in different ways. S. R. Masters also puts plenty of doubt into your mind as to how the story will pan out, and peels away the layers of the plot deliberately and carefully. My overriding sense from this book is of the oppressiveness of the tiny village in which the group grew up, where everyone knows everyone else’s business, prejudices and connections, and how this carries through into the teenagers’ futures. A strong long form debut from an author who has written a lot of short stories, and I’m looking forward to seeing what he comes out with next.

This review is of an advance copy, provided in exchange for an honest review. Please do visit the other blogs on tour, as shown below. The Killer You Know is out now in paperback and ebook.

Blog Tour, Crime

The Killer In Me by Olivia Kiernan – Blog Blast Review

As a crime fiction fan, there’s absolutely nothing better than discovering a new author who writes brilliant police procedurals. It’s like Christmas and birthday all rolled into one, with someone turning up with a giant portion of your favourite cake for good measure (carrot cake, please). For some reason, Olivia Kiernan’s first book (Too Close To Breathe, now out in paperback) had passed me by, so my first acquaintance with Dublin-based DCS Frankie Sheehan was her second outing.

As a reader, I’m really picky in my crime fiction – I want believable protagonists, a tight plot and something that hooks me from the off and keeps me guessing. The Killer In Me ticks all those boxes, with an attention grabbing start as DCS Sheehan faces two huge challenges: solving a horrific double murder and dealing with pressure from a family member to look into a potential miscarriage of justice 15 years previously. The setting will bring a familiar feeling to Tana French fans as the action all happens in and around Dublin, but it’s definitely faster paced than, say, French’s The Wych Elm. Kiernan keeps the pace and the tension high and I whizzed through it, compelled to see how the two plot strands unwound.

Too Close to Breathe, the first DCS Sheehan book, is now out in paperback

Let’s hope there’s a third book in the pipeline somewhere, because this has the makings of a really strong police procedural series. I went straight out and bought Too Close to Breathe and read it immediately afterwards, which hopefully tells you how much of a fan I am.

Many thanks to riverrun, Quercus Books and NetGalley for the advance copy provided in return for my honest review, and for the invitation to take part in the Blog Blast. The Killer In Me is published on 4th April in hardback. Please do check in with the others on this blog blast, listed below.

Crime, Fiction, Thriller

The Wych Elm by Tana French – Review

It took me a while to get into this – I felt the set up was quite protracted – but once it got going I was completely hooked. This is the story of Toby, a young man who suffers a serious assault at home. As a result of this, and his uncle’s terminal diagnosis, it’s decided that he should move in with his uncle at the old family home. There he can continue to recuperate whilst supporting his uncle.

When a skull is later found in a Wych Elm in the garden, the story slowly unravels until all sorts of long hidden secrets tumble out. Thoughout the book the police are an almost sinister presence as they try to solve the case in parallel with Toby trying to understand what has happened. This is so cleverly plotted (as you’d expect from Tana French). I wasn’t sure to start with, but loved it by the end. For that reason it’s a four not five star read for me, but very nicely done.

This review is of a purchased copy.

Crime, Thriller

Keep Her Close by M.J. Ford – Review

This is the second in the DS Jo Masters series, and this time out she’s tasked with investigating the disappearance of an Oxford student. The original investigation broadens out as other young women begin to disappear, and Jo Masters’ history means that she starts to distrust all around her.

This is a pacy police procedural that can be read as a stand-alone, although there are references to her previous outing in Hold My Hand, which I will definitely put on my To Be Read list. Fans of UK crime fiction will enjoy this I feel – a solid plot and nice pace pulls you through the story and Jo Masters is an interesting protagonist. Thoroughly enjoyable.

This review is of an advance copy provided by NetGalley and Avon Books.

Crime, Thriller

The Flower Girls by Alice Clark-Platts – Review

I read this in one sitting and was captivated. It opens with the disappearance of a five year-old girl from a remote Devon hotel during an an ice storm – a hotel at which one of the other guests is now extremely concerned about hiding her past. Hazel is the name she she is now known by, but as a child she had another name – a name which had become notorious as she and her older sister had been caught up in the killing of a toddler and collectively become known to the public as The Flower Girls.

As the story unfolds the author takes us through several twists and turns, with various protagonists taking us down blind alleys and off on tangents. As well as a tale of (potentially) two crimes, one current and one historic, it’s tale of family loyalty and disloyalty, of persistence and of walking the tightrope of moral justice and outright revenge. The story also explores the rehabilitation of those that commit the most serious of crimes at a tender age, and how society should deal with these children.

The opening gave me very strong Christie vibes, with the windswept clifftop hotel, cut off by snow and ice and only a limited cast of characters that could possibly be involved in the girl’s disappearance. But the book as a whole is much more like Barbara Vine’s works (Ruth Rendell’s pen name for her more psychological thrillers), so if you’re a fan of that genre I think you might love this. And if you do, you might also love the books by Alex Marwood which I think have a similar vibe (although I should warn you that one of them, The Wicked Girls, has a very similar theme). A cracking five stars from me – it transported me on a journey to an unexpected conclusion.

This review is of a purchased copy. The Flower Girls by Alice Clark-Platts