Review: Devil’s Kitchen, by Stephen Puleston

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How far would you go for the one you love?

It is Inspector Ian Drake’s first murder case and he’s keen to do a good job and impress his superiors. When the body of man and a woman are found at the bottom of a cliff face in the mountains of Snowdonia it seems a straight forward case. The woman has been brutally murdered and all the evidence points to her husband as the culprit.

But despite the clues Ian Drake wants to cover ever possibility. He builds a picture of the wife that suggests she was having an affair so Drake knows he has to investigate further. And when he discovers evidence about the husband he has to follow his instinct and dig deeper into their lives.

It is only after Drake’s superior officers have closed the case that he finally puts all the pieces together and discovers the final clues to identify the killer.

Devil’s Kitchen is a 70 page / 2 hour 21 minute novella prequel to Stephen Pulestone’s five Inspector Drake novels, set in fabulous north Wales. I listened to this via Audible, and it just happened to be the perfect length for my weekly drive to Wales. And the perfect setting too! Although this is a relatively short novella, the story is very complete, and never feels rushed, and there are enough twists, turns and dodgy suspects to keep fans of police procedurals very happy. Stephen’s writing is very crisp and clean, and his descriptions, brought to life for me by excellent narration of Richard Elfyn, paint a very vivid picture of the mountainous terrain of north Wales. I think releasing a prequel novella is an excellent idea to give potential readers a decent idea of a writer and their protagonist. And with Devil’s Kitchen, this pays off very well; I for one am keen to read more in the series.

And guess what? If you join Stephen Pulestone’s Readers’ Club, he’ll give you Devil’s Kitchen for free! Click here to join.

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Review: Fallout, by Karla Forbes

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The British government is being blackmailed by criminals who got their hands on a quantity of plutonium left over from the Cold War. There is only one man who knows their identity and can prevent a disaster, but he is on the run for a murder he didn’t commit and has no intention of being found.

As the authorities attempt to track him down, the clock is ticking, and they are running out of time. They pin their hopes on the fact that a bunch of amateurs won’t have nuclear technology and the worst they will manage is a dirty bomb. After all, everyone knows they aren’t really that dangerous.

People run away from the explosion, and the radiation drifts harmlessly into the atmosphere. But suppose you could change that? What if the terrorists had found a way to keep the radiation near to the ground, encourage people to hang around breathing in death, and when you invite them to their own slaughter, they come willingly? They would be dangerous then…wouldn’t they?

I listened to this novel on audio, and I have to admit, at first I wasn’t taken with the narration. And I couldn’t really put my finger on why. But I did say ‘at first’ because by the time I was half-way through, all was fine, and by the end, I found myself hoping that it is Craig Bowles narrating the rest of the series.

And whilst this is clearly marked as book 1 in the Nick Sullivan thrillers, I was wondering how an on-the-run banker could become a main series character. And I was pleased to find that question resolved itself nicely at the end of the book.

I really enjoyed this book. The story is character-driven and moves along quite nicely, and despite some early deaths, it never feels hurried. I liked the idea of the protagonist being a wanted man, trying to avoid the police whilst trying to track down the real criminals. And with their crimes being far worse than Nick could ever imagine, and Nick’s own life becoming more and more in jeopardy, the stakes are high.

I’m looking forward to what Nick Sullivan gets up to in book 2!

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Review: Mortom, by Erik Therme

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Andy Crowl barely knew his recently deceased cousin, Craig Moore, so he’s especially surprised to be named as the sole beneficiary in Craig’s will. Not that there’s much to inherit: just an empty bank account and a run-down house.

Once Andy arrives in the town of Mortom, however, he’s drawn into his puzzle-obsessed cousin’s true legacy: a twisted and ominous treasure hunt. Beckoned by macabre clues of dead rats and cemetery keys, Andy jumps into the game, hoping to discover untold wealth. But unsavoury secrets—and unanswered questions about Craig’s untimely demise—arise at every turn, leading Andy to wonder if he’s playing the game . . . or if the game is playing him.

This is the second Erik Therme book I’ve reviewed (following my review of Roam, in December). Similarly, I listened to this one via Audible, and similarly while listening I was again strongly reminded of Stephen King. King has such an amazing skill of creating believable characters whose journey you just want to follow, and I think Therme possesses that same skill.

He takes the reader, and his protagonist, Andy, on a macabre treasure-hunt which starts with a decomposing rat and faces us with tasks in places no sane person would undertake. But Andy is no ordinary person; he’s obsessed by puzzles, and the greatest one he needs to solve is why Craig has left his house, and this trail, to him. But with a deathly threat hanging over him, he has no choice other than to see things out – even when he doesn’t like where they’re heading.

I loved this story! The pace and story were wonderful, and the small town USA feel was perfect. The writing is such that even minor characters are memorable, and with secrets aplenty, you’re never too sure who is going to be important and who isn’t. And as a reader, Therme keeps you as baffled (and as interested) as he does Andy. Oh, and Christopher Lane’s narration is top notch too!

 

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Just Read… Run and Hide, by Alan McDermott

 

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Eva Driscoll is used to chasing down bad guys, but now the bad guys are chasing her. She knows they won’t stop until she’s dead.

After her brother is killed in a faked suicide, Driscoll teams up with ex-soldier Rees Colback, the one person who can help her find answers. Together they’re determined to uncover why members of his Special Forces squad are dying in mysterious circumstances.

But with every agency in the country in hot pursuit, their only choice is to flee.

The clock is ticking. They can’t run forever. It’s time to make a choice: kill or be killed…

* * *

When you’ve already got a successful series, it’s always a risk to start something new. Alan McDermott released Trojan last year, a spin-off from his great Tom Gray series, with MI5 agent, Andrew Harvey in the driving seat. This time around, Run and Hide introduces us to Eva Driscoll, a brand new American protagonist, who is not short of skills when it comes to dealing with bad guys. Or even good guys, being bad.

Run and Hide isn’t a spin-off, but it is set in the same world as Tom Gray, and hence some familiar faces make an appearance, drawing the characters’ worlds together. In this story, there are powerful forces at work, and it is soon clear that Eva Driscoll is facing more than just a rogue team.

I mentioned the risk of starting a new series. The best way of dealing with risk is to mitigate it, and Alan has used all the right ingredients to pull it off: great writer; a fantastic kick-ass protagonist in Eva Driscoll;  a decent plot: and all of this wrapped up in a fast-paced novel. Great stuff!

Run and Hide is published today by Thomas & Mercer. Go buy it!

 

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Theakston’s Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival – Harrogate!

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This was my first Theakston’s Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival (known simply as ‘Harrogate’). And this small fact seemed to come as a surprise to nearly everyone who I mentioned it to, probably because I’m a familiar face at so many bookish things. And my thoughts? Well, it was just one of the best book-related things I have ever done, so here’s a write-up of some of my highlights. And there were so many, I can’t include them all.

But I’ll start by thanking my partner-in-crime, Keith B Walters, who was great company.

Me and Keith – photo from Ali Karim

Thursday

The whole thing started when I stopped outside to take the obligatory arrival photo when I heard my name. I looked up to be greeted by the fab Mel Sherratt and Caroline Mitchell – and I hadn’t even stepped foot on to the grounds of the Swan Hotel.

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I had a tough choice of events straight away (and unlike CrimeFest, you don’t normally have to do too much choosing), but opted for Noir at the Bar, which was run by Vic Watson, with brilliant readings from plenty of authors, including friends Roz Watkins, Susi Holliday, Dave Sivers, Louise Mangos and (new friend), Nic Parker. And through it all, Claire Macleary sat quietly on stage, looking all sweetness and light. And her reading to close the show was (brilliantly) anything but, and the perfect ending for the event!

Vic and Roz

Vic and Roz

Susi

Susi

Dave

Dave

Louise

Louise

Next up for me was Fun Lovin’ Crime Writers, playing their crime-related set. And they were absolutely fantastic!

Fun Lovin' Crime Writers

Fun Lovin’ Crime Writers

Friday

Friday started with Harrogate Special Guest, Denise Mina, who was interviewed by the fantastic Stav Sheraz, who later scooped the Theakston Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year Award for The Intrusions (congratulations, Stav!).

Stav & Denise

Stav & Denise

This was followed by the panel, I Used to do This for a Living, with Alafair Burke, Fiona Cummins, Chris Morgan Jones, Joseph Finder and chaired by Charles Cumming.

I Used to do This for a Living Panel

I Used to do This for a Living Panel

Next up for me was the That’s Where My Heart Is panel, with AA Dhand, Leye Adenie, Luca Veste, Susie Steiner and chaired by Peter Robinson.

I took a break then, returning for the Special Guests, Linwood Barclay and Laura Lippman

It was then upstairs to room 166 (renamed The Incident Room) for Thirteen: Live! with Steve Cavanagh, and three ‘juries’.

The it was on to the big event – Special Guest, John Grisham, discussing careers with Lee Child.

John Grisham

John Grisham signing a copy of The Rooster Bar for me!

Richard Osman’s Room 101 of Crime finished the evening’s entertainment, where Martyn Waites, Laura Lippman and Mark Billingham shared the crime fiction issues that they wanted to put into Room 101. It was very funny!

Richard Osman

Richard Osman!

Saturday

First up for me was Two Crime Writers and a Microphone, playing their Pointless rip-off with Richard Osman and various guests. It was brilliant, and you can watch this again on Orion’s Facebook page, here: https://www.facebook.com/OrionCrime/videos/2181888975185999/

Two Crime Writers

The New Blood panel was up next for me, with Dervla McTiernan, CJ Tudor, Stuart Turton, Will Dean, chaired by Val McDermid.

The What Happened Next? panel caught up with previous New Blood panellists, Liam McIlvanney, Kate Rhodes, Eva Dolan and Abir Mukherjee, which was chaired by Lee Child.

Another break for me before watching Special Guests, Sue Black & Val McDermid talking about Sue’s amazing work.

Special Guest, Don Winslow was interviewed by NJ Cooper, and the evening was rounded off by the Late Night Quiz, in which our table seems to have come sixth. SIXTH! Although one of the highlights of the evening was watching Steve Cavanagh successfully negotiate all of the tables with a full tray of beer. Skillz, man!

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Steve Cavanagh – photo via Gerard Brennan

Sunday

The weekend finished off with a panel: Frozen Lands, with Yrsa Siguroardttir, Samuel Bjork, and Ann Cleves, which was chaired by Steph McGovern from BBC Breakfast.

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Frozen Lands Panel

Last session of the weekend was Special Guest, Sophie Hannah who was interviewed by Steve Mosby.

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Steve Mosby & Sophie Hannah

And that was my weekend. Will I go again? Without a doubt! I got to catch up with many friends, and make a few new ones along the way. I had a fantastic weekend.

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Just Read… Come and Find Me, by Sarah Hilary

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On the surface, Lara Chorley and Ruth Hull have nothing in common, other than their infatuation with Michael Vokey. Each is writing to a sadistic inmate, sharing her secrets, whispering her worst fears, craving his attention.

DI Marnie Rome understands obsession. She’s finding it hard to give up her own addiction to a dangerous man: her foster brother, Stephen Keele. She wasn’t able to save her parents from Stephen. She lives with that guilt every day.

As the hunt for Vokey gathers pace, Marnie fears one of the women may have found him – and is about to pay the ultimate price.

* * *

Sarah Hilary delivers another belter with this, the 5th in the DI Marnie Rome series. I listened to this on Audible last month, and here’s what I tweeted at the time.

Tweet S Hilary

Come and Find Me follows Marnie and Noah in their hunt for sadistic prisoner, Michael Vokey, who’s on the run following a jail-break during a brutally violent prison riot. Vokey is a manipulator and with the police wading through the bloody aftermath of the riot, they are clear that he needs to be apprehended before more people get hurt. But with two infatuated women on the outside, and two other potential targets, Marnie’s team are stretched. And this is personal for Marnie – her foster brother, Stephen, is one of those prisoners hospitalised.

As ever, Sarah Hilary has created a tightly-plotted novel with plenty going on, and with the clever use of different viewpoints, we are kept guessing right up until the end. Because this isn’t just your run-of-the-mill police procedural; great characters, plenty of misdirection, and the ever impending sense of danger make this a real page-turner – figuratively speaking, if you’re listening on audio like I did.

And as I mentioned in my Tweet, poor Noah!

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Just Read… Strangers on a Bridge, by Louise Mangos

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When Alice Reed goes on her regular morning jog in the peaceful Swiss Alps, she doesn’t expect to save a man from suicide. But she does. And it is her first mistake.

Adamant they have an instant connection, Manfred’s charming exterior grows darker and his obsession with Alice grows stronger.

In a country far from home, where the police don’t believe her, the locals don’t trust her and even her husband questions the truth about Manfred, Alice has nowhere to turn.

To what lengths will Alice go to protect herself and her family?

***

This is a great debut by Swiss-based author, Louise Mangos, who has clearly used her own experiences of living in Switzerland to create a story with a very authentic feel to it. The mountains and lakes imagery created provides a great backdrop for this tale of dark obsession.

The blurb on the cover, “She should never have saved him”, gives you a good idea of where this story goes. Right from the start, it is clear that saving Manfred is going to cause Alice a good deal of trouble, but actually, I found that the story didn’t quite take me where I expected. Which was good!

When the authorities take no notice of Alice’s complaints about Manfred’s increasingly worrying behaviour, she becomes more and more frustrated and takes matters into her own hands – which only makes things worse. Alice doesn’t always make the right decisions, but her decisions do stay true to her character. With her husband working away for long periods of time, Alice feels isolated and the Swiss locals aren’t going out of their way to make her feel part of the community.

Good pace, good tension and plenty of atmosphere make this an accomplished debut.

 

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