The Lie – C.L. Taylor

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imageI know your name’s not really Jane Hughes….

Jane Hughes has a loving partner, a job in an animal sanctuary, and a tiny cottage in rural Wales. She’s happier than she’s ever been, but her life is a lie. Jane Hughes does not really exist.

Five years earlier, Jane and her then best friends went on holiday, but what should have been the trip of a lifetime rapidly descended into a nightmare that claimed the lives of two of the women.

Jane has tried to put the past behind her but someone knows the truth about what happened. Someone who won’t stop until they’ve destroyed Jane and everything she loves.

Frightening, tragic, uncomfortable & addictive…

Opening with Jane in her quiet new life, settled and trying to put the past behind her, the narrative splits in two once we discover, along with Jane, that somebody knows her secret. The first remains with Jane, as she tries to uncover who sent her the message that has threatened her fragile new existence. The second set five years before detailing the frightening and tragic tale of their trip together, the adventure of a lifetime that became the holiday from hell.

One of the things I like to see with authors I have read before is progression, and after already enjoying Taylor’s previous novel The Accident (Published as Before I Wake in the US) it was a delight to me to uncover a distinct step up in storytelling and style with The Lie. It has a far more addictive story line, and although I found it quite uncomfortable reading at times, I raced through it in just a single sitting.

I say uncomfortable, because of the excellence with which the friendships of the girlfriends are portrayed. I found that the fractures, faults, and issues in their relationships were so well written that I couldn’t help but reflect on my own friendships as I read. Particularly those that, whether missed or not, I have lost over the years, and to me that reaction alone marks The Lie as an outstanding read and one that will linger with me for some time.

How I Lost You – Jenny Blackhurst

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imageThey told her she killed her son. She served her time. But what if they lied?

I have no memory of what happened but I was told I killed my son. And you believe what your loved ones, your doctor, and the police tell you, don’t you?

My name is Emma Cartwright. Three years ago it was Susan Webster, and I murdered my twelve week old son Dylan. I was sent to Oakdale Psychiatric institute for my crime and four weeks ago I was released early on parole with a new identity, address and a chance to rebuild my shattered life.

This morning I received and envelope addressed to Susan Webster. Inside it was a photograph of a toddler called Dylan. Now I am questioning everything I believe because if I have no memory of the event, how can I believe he’s truly dead?

If there was the smallest chance your son was alive, what would you do to get him back?

Last week feeling under the weather, more than a little sorry for myself, and wrapped up in bed having a duvet day, I picked up Jenny Blackhurst’s debut novel How I Lost You and finished it in one sitting.  It was ideal, a perfect lazing by the pool / rainy day read, it is intriguing, engrossing and will have you flipping the pages quickly.

There are two main threads in How I Lost You, the first is the story of Susan, what happened to her when her son was murdered, her suspicions and beliefs surrounding the mystery of what really happened, and her re-evaluation of her previous life and the relationships within it.  The second is set twenty years earlier, and tells the story of the lives and misdemeanours of a group of privileged boys as they grow up and go to university together.

It takes a little while to reconcile these two strands, trying to work out where the characters from one fit within the other, but once the pieces slot into place the story moves on apace.  Susan teams up with journalist Nick, as they attempt to discover the reality of what happened to baby Dylan, and what, if anything, it has to do with the past life of her ex-husband Mark.

My only niggle with the book is that for a convicted killer released on parole, Susan appears to be incredibly naive and far too trusting of others, but if you can suspend that little bit of disbelief for a while then How I Lost you is a thoroughly enjoyable read, with a culprit that few will see coming.

The Ties That Bind – Erin Kelly

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imageCould a soul once sold, truly be redeemed?

Luke is a true crime writer in search of a story, when he flees to Brighton after an explosive break-up, the perfect subject lands in his lap: reformed gangster Joss Grand. Now in his eighties, Grand once ruled the underworld with his sadistic sidekick Jacky Nye – Until Jacky washed up by the West Pier in 1968, strangled and thrown into the sea.

Though Grand’s alibi seems cast-iron, Luke is sure there’s more to the story than meets the eye, and he convinces the criminal turned philanthropist to be interviewed for a book about his life.

Luke is drawn deeper into the mystery of Jacky Nyes murder. Was Grand there that night? Is he really as reformed a character as he claims? And who was the girl in the red coat seen fleeing the murder scene?

Soon Luke realises that in stirring up secrets from the past, he may have placed himself in terrible danger.

Absolutely brilliant.

For me a new Erin Kelly book is a much-anticipated event where as soon as I get hold of my copy I find quiet and comfortable space and lock myself away from the world so I can read in pure, uninterrupted pleasure, knowing when I’m finished, I will be able to close the book with a satisfying thud.

Delightfully, The Ties That Bind, has done nothing to change that feeling either. As a reader, I love to see growth in a writer, and in her fourth book, for me, Kelly has clearly bloomed. It’s also a pleasure to say that the book hangover I suffered when I finished was purely because I enjoyed the story so much, rather than because the author had left strands of story thread dangling in the wind.

There are some great characters in there too, I loved both gangster gone good, Joss Grand, and ex-journalist now cuttings library keeper Sandy. My particular favourite however, Was Jem, Luke’s controlling ex-boyfriend, who was so well written he really gave me the creeps at times.

The plot was as tightly done as ever with plenty twists and turns I didn’t see coming and a couple I did. Enough to make me enjoy getting those parts right, while also managing to ensure I was completely wrong about where things were going at the same time.

It’s a cracker of a read that I’d happily recommend to anyone looking for something refreshing in their crime fiction thrillers.

The Ice Twins – S.K. Tremayne

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imageOne of Sarah’s daughters died. But can she be sure which one? A terrifying psychological thriller that will chill you to the bone.

A year after one of their identical twin daughters, Lydia, dies in an accident, Angus and Sarah Moorcraft move to the tiny Scottish island Angus inherited from his grandmother, hoping to put together the pieces of their shattered lives.

But when their surviving daughter, Kirstie, claims they have mistaken her identity – that she, in fact, is Lydia – their world comes crashing down once again.

As winter encroaches, Angus is forced to travel away from the island for work, Sarah is feeling isolated, and Kirstie (or is it Lydia?) is growing more disturbed. When a violent storm leaves Sarah and her daughter stranded, Sarah finds herself tortured by the past – what really happened on that fateful day one of her daughters died?

Not a book for an early night…

I picked The Ice Twins up to read one night, just as I was getting into bed, which wasn’t one of my best ideas because 3 hours after picking it up, my eyes, despite being somewhat more droopy, were still firmly glued to the screen of my Kindle. A quick glance at my reading statistics showed that I was already beyond halfway through the book, I was amazed, but not at all surprised. It is simply brilliant.

Following the death of one of their daughters, Angus and Sarah are a typically broken couple, creating more problems than they are solving by their lack of communication as they each grieve for a different child.  Their remaining daughter is grieving too, and every day in the mirror must look at the face of the sister she lost.  As the three of them stumble separately through the aftermath of the tragedy that haunts this family we discover that all was not as it seems.

Although they were identical twins, Kirstie and Lydia were remarkably different children, and both Angus and Sarah had their own favourite.  Is this why their remaining daughter claims to be the other? In turn, lies, omissions and the solitude of her new home have thrust Sarah into a world of confusion, could this affecting her daughter and be why Kirstie believes she is Lydia or is there a more sinister reason yet to be uncovered?

Haunting, spooky, melancholy and with tragedy at its heart, this is not a book you want to read if you’re planning an early night, because even if you manage to put it down, The Ice Twins is one book that just won’t let you go.

I Can See In The Dark – Karin Fossum

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imageRiktor doesn’t ask the policeman why he’s stormed into his house without knocking – he’s certain that someone has finally realised what happened that day.

As the policeman questions him however, Riktor realises that he’s being accused of something completely unexpected – something he has nothing to do with.  But can Riktor convince the policeman that he’s innocent of one wrongdoing without revealing that he’s guilty of another, far more terrible, crime.

It took me a little longer than usual to get into I Can See In The Dark, but once I reached that point where everything just began to slot neatly into place, the pure genius of Fossum’s writing came to the fore.

Riktor is a truly awful character whose behaviour will have your skin crawling as you read. he is genuinely evil and takes great pleasure in tormenting those in his care, expressing in bursts of cruelty the carefully controlled rage that bubbles beneath the surface.

What I really enjoyed about the book, was not only how ‘creeped out’ I felt at Riktor’s behaviour, and his lack of even unreasonable reasoning behind it which comes across clearly in his narrative, but also the irony of his situation, being suspected and prosecuted for a crime, although not the one he really committed, and yet this isn’t even the delicious twist in the tale that comes further in. 

If you fancy a something a bit different from your usual crime read, I Can See In The Dark is a fantastic book, from a Queen of crime.

 

 

The Nightmare Place – Steve Mosby

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Sometimes, there’s a thin line between love and hate. Or at least that’s one theory for DI Zoe Dolan, tracking the Creeper – a stalker who’s been breaking into women’s homes and attacking them. But the Creeper’s violence is escalating and there’s no pattern, no clue as to how he’s getting in, and no clue as to who’s next.

Until Jane Webster gets a call to the help line where she volunteers. It’s meant to be a confidential service and Jane is torn – it could be a hoaxer, but the soft voice at the end of the line has the ring of truth about it. He says he loves these women – but it’s a love that ends in blood.

When Jane tells the police, it should be the lead that Zoe needs – but it only pulls her further into a case that is already taking her dangerously close to the past she’s never fully escaped. For Jane, Zoe and all the other young women of the city, suddenly nowhere is safe. Particularly their own bedroom at the dead of night…

 Whatever you do, don’t read it alone at night.

Your own home,  the one place you’re guaranteed to be safe, aren’t you? In the case of The Nightmare Place this is one thing that is just not so. ‘The Creeper’ is finding a way into women’s houses, through locked doors and closed windows.  No one knows how he is getting in, they just know the pain, devastation, and increasing level of violence that is going on once he is inside.

DI Zoe Dolan is trying to find out who he is and how he is getting in and Jane just might hold the key, but for her talking to the police means breaking the fundamental rule of the help line where she works, trust is paramount and confidentiality is guaranteed.  Can she reconcile passing on what she knows with breaking the rules of the organisation?

Despite its difficult and violent content, it’s got some well portrayed, down to earth characters and a with its fabulously woven plot it is an easy book to read and become enthralled by.  The Nightmare Place is a brilliant, and brutal book.  It will scare you, play to your paranoia and have you checking your locks. Whatever you do, don’t read it alone at night.

The Missing and The Dead – Stuart MacBride

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imageOne mistake can cost you everything.

When you catch a twisted killer there should be a reward, right? What Acting Detective Inspector Logan McRae gets instead is a ‘development opportunity’ out in the depths of rural Aberdeenshire. Welcome to divisional policing – catching drug dealers, shop lifters, vandals and the odd escaped animal.

Then a little girls body washes up just outside the sleepy town of Banff, kicking off a massive manhunt. The Major Investigation Team is up from Aberdeen, wanting answers, and they don’t care who they trample over to get them.

Logan’s got enough on his plate keeping B division together, but DCI Steel wants him back on her team. As his old colleagues stomp around the countryside burning bridges, Logan gets dragged deeper and deeper into the investigation.

One thing’s clear: there are dangerous predators lurking in the wilds of Aberdeenshire, and not everyone’s going to get out alive.

His best yet….

In keeping with the changes to Scottish policing over the last few years, MacBride has given protagonist McRae a ‘development opportunity’ in the back of beyond, and it’s one of his most brilliant moves yet. It has opened up the way for a great new cast of characters, good and bad alike, to meet and discover,  like Klingon and Gerbil,  Deano, Nicholson and my person favourite, Constable ‘Tufty’ Quirrell.  (particularly as I’m old enough to remember the ‘Tufty’ club… ahem… onwards)

At the same time we haven’t lost the books best character (aside from protagonist McRae obvs), the brilliant DCI Roberta Steel. In The Missing And The Dead, she is as grizzly, cantankerous and as non politically correct as ever, while she does what she does best, helping McRae every which way she can, even if it never seems so at the time.

The backdrop of the normality of everyday policing that features throughout the books is also a real breath of fresh air when it comes to police procedurals, against the starkness of the crimes being investigated, it almost comes as ‘light relief’ and yet never takes away its seriousness, or the important part it plays in the plot.

Speaking of the plotting, as always it is sublime, as intricately woven as ever, with not a wasted anecdote amongst those told.  Everything fits together perfectly.  This is one series that does nothing but improve, nine McRae novels in and MacBride has gone from strength to strength with The Missing and The Dead being quite simply his best yet.