Just read… Normal, by Graeme Cameron

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“The truth is I hurt people. It’s what I do. It’s all I do. It’s all I’ve ever done.”

He lives in your community, in a nice house with a well-tended garden. He shops in your grocery store, bumping shoulders with you and apologizing with a smile. He drives beside you on the highway, politely waving you into the lane ahead of him.

What you don’t know is that he has an elaborate cage built into a secret basement under his garage. And the food that he’s carefully shopping for is to feed a young woman he’s holding there against her will one in a string of many, unaware of the fate that awaits her.

This is how it’s been for a long time. It’s normal and it works. Perfectly.

Then he meets the checkout girl from the 24-hour grocery. And now the plan, the hunts, the room, the others; he doesn’t need any of them anymore. He needs only her. But just as he decides to go straight, the police start to close in. He might be able to cover his tracks, except for one small problem. He still has someone trapped in his garage.

Discovering his humanity couldn’t have come at a worse time.

Okay, let’s start of by saying I loved this book! I listened on Audible, which included the extra dimension of Julian Elfer’s narration; he made our protagonist (whose name I’m pretty sure is never mentioned) sound perfectly normal, despite being a psychopath. The first person narrative works well, and gives the reader great (and often funny) insight into the mind of a serial killer. Someone who knows what he is, and knows that he cannot help or change that. 

But when he falls for a girl in the supermarket, he has reason to try to do so. And seeing him try, not always successfully, is a real joy. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not the sort to ordinarily sympathise with serial killers, but Normal is so cleverly written by Cameron, it’s difficult not to.

A real gem and highly recommended. Especially on audio, if you can, to get the full effect of Elfer’s narration.  

 

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Just Read… A Rising Man, by Abir Mukherjee

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Captain Sam Wyndham, former Scotland Yard detective, is a new arrival to Calcutta. Desperately seeking a fresh start after his experiences during the Great War, Wyndham has been recruited to head up a new post in the police force. But with barely a moment to acclimatise to his new life or to deal with the ghosts which still haunt him, Wyndham is caught up in a murder investigation that will take him into the dark underbelly of the British Raj.

A senior official has been murdered, and a note left in his mouth warns the British to quit India: or else. With rising political dissent and the stability of the Raj under threat, Wyndham and his two new colleagues – arrogant Inspector Digby and British-educated, but Indian-born Sergeant Banerjee, one of the few Indians to be recruited into the new CID – embark on an investigation that will take them from the luxurious parlours of wealthy British traders to the seedy opium dens of the city.

Abir Mukherjee beat 426 other people to win the Telegraph Harvill Secker crime writing competition.  The judges made a very wise choice, as A Rising Man is simply stunning! I listened to it on Audible, and Simon Bubb’s narration was fantastic. Mukherjee writes beautifully and paints a very vivid and thought-provoking picture of 1919 colonial India. The pairing of Captain Sam Wyndham and ‘Surrender-not’ Banerjee is perfect, and the murder-mystery facing them gives us a fantastic glimpse into life in a hot, colourful country, where the locals are maybe not so keen on British rule as the British think.

I highly recommend this crime thriller, and am very pleased that its sequel, A Necessary Evil, is sitting in my Audible library. I’m looking forward to Sam and Surrender-not’s next escapades!

 

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Just Read… The Escape by CL Taylor

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When a stranger asks Jo Blackmore for a lift she says yes, then swiftly wishes she hadn’t.

The stranger knows Jo’s name, she knows her husband Max and she’s got a glove belonging to Jo’s two-year-old daughter Elise.

What begins with a subtle threat swiftly turns into a nightmare as the police, social services and even Jo’s own husband turn against her.

No one believes that Elise is in danger. But Jo knows there’s only one way to keep her child safe – RUN.

I listened to this book through Audible, narrated by accomplished voice actress, Katie Scarfe. Jo Blackmore is the mother to young Elise and husband to investigative journalist, Max. She suffers from agoraphobia, which has a major impact on her life, and is the perfect reason for her doing some of those things that make you question protagonists’ decisions in other novels.

I’ve seen other reviews call this a fast-paced thriller. I didn’t find that. But it also wasn’t a slow burner. Jo is in trouble right from the off, and this domestic noir sees her trying to deal with external forces that seem determined to derail her, at the same time as she battles her own mental health issues.

As the title suggests, Jo uses escape as a way of keeping her daughter safe and combatting all of the forces that the author has cleverly stacked against her; however, this leads her to discover a heartbreaking mystery from her own childhood.

Off on your hols soon and looking for your own escape? I’d recommend taking this with you.

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Just Read… Born Bad, by Marnie Riches

Born Bad

The battle is on…

When gang leader Paddy O’Brien is stabbed in his brother’s famous nightclub, Manchester’s criminal underworld is shaken to the core. Tensions are running high, and as the body count begins to grow, the O’Brien family must face a tough decision – sell their side of the city to the infamous Boddlington gang or stick it out and risk losing their king.

But war comes easy to the bad boys, and they won’t go down without a fight. So begins a fierce battle for the South Side, with the leading Manchester gangsters taking the law into their own hands – but only the strongest will survive…

You may know Marnie Riches for her fantastic George McKenzie series. I’ve previously reviewed the series debut The Girl Who Wouldn’t Die and loved it. Marnie is back with a peek into Manchester’s criminal underbelly.

After being stabbed, Paddy O’Brien takes a long hard look at his life and decides to retire to a life in the sun, away from the violence he has become accustomed to. The only real choice available to him is to sell his criminal empire to his arch-rivals, the Boddlington gang. They’re up for it. A mere £10 million to gain control of the whole of Manchester, what’s not to love? But someone somewhere doesn’t agree, and they start pulling people’s strings. People to whom violence is second nature.

Whilst I hope that this is only a temporary departure from her George McKenzie books, I did enjoy this journey into the shadier side of Manchester. Marnie has created some great characters, and I particularly liked Leviticus and Conky – and Paddy and Sheila O’Brien’s toxic relationship made for interesting reading. There are a number of different subplots in this book, but like any good recipe, they are deftly woven together and all have an impact on the final dish.

If you don’t mind a bit of gangland death and mayhem, this is a great read!

p.s. I didn’t technically read Born Bad. I listened to it via Audible. Samantha Seager’s narration was top notch!

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Flash Fiction – “Opportunity”

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And here it was; my last day. Soon there’d be no more arranging apples into uniform perfection, nor picking cauliflower leaves from the machine polished floor.  No more putting up with Andy, who seems to think managing a few rows of fruit and veg in a supermarket is the pinnacle of achievement. I’m sure he knows where we’d love to shove those feijoas.

Sixth form finished in May. Exams in June. And this phase of my life feels like it’s ending today, Saturday the tenth of September. Uni starts on Monday. A long way away. From this place. From these people; family, school friends and work mates. And her.

And as if fate was listening to my thoughts, in she walks. In two years I’ve never worked out whether she had old parents, or they were her grandparents. In two years I’ve never even asked her name. But I know her. And she knows me. I live for these moments. My smile is returned and she says hi. This is it. Last chance. I’ve squandered two years of opportunities. There will be no more.

“Hi,” I say back. Her smile widens, but she turns and is gone. I’m frozen to the spot as I watch her follow the old couple around the corner. I want to go after her, but I can’t move. I’m lost. Until the woman pushes the green fruit under my nose.

“What’s this?”

“Uhh… a feijoa. From New Zealand”.

“What’s it good for?”

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Just Read… The Boy Who Saw, by Simon Toyne

The Boy WHo Saw

Only one boy can see the darkness.
Only one man can save him from it.
Finishing what was begun’

These are the words written in blood beside the body of an elderly tailor who has been tortured and murdered in the ancient town of Cordes.

He leaves behind a cryptic message for his granddaughter and her son, Leo one that puts them in immediate danger.

When the mother and child are forced to go on the run, accompanied by the enigmatic Solomon Creed, they find themselves hunted across France, on a journey that will take them into the heart of Europe’s violent past.

What begins as small-town murder will become a race to uncover a devastating secret dating from World War II. The few men who know the truth are being killed by a powerful organisation, and only one man stands in its way.

Only Solomon Creed can stop the murders.
Only he can save the boy.

The Boy Who Saw is Simon Toyne’s second of a proposed five Solomon Creed books. And who is Solomon Creed? Well nobody knows, not even Solomon himself. The first book, which I reviewed here, introduces Creed walking away from a burning plane wreck with no idea of who he is, but with the sure knowledge of why he was in Arizona: to save James Coranado. But Coranado was already dead.

In this second Creed book, Solomon is trying to track down more clues to his identity, following the only lead he has – a label in his tailored jacket telling him it was made for Solomon Creed, along with the French tailor’s details.

As with the first book, we get to follow two tales: In this novel, Creed’s efforts to keep the tailor’s grandson (and the boy from the title) safe, but also the tale told by Herman Lansky of his time in a German WWII concentration camp, Die Schneider Lager. Could Solomon be the ‘pale man’ who walked into that camp 70 years ago, despite him now not looking anywhere near old enough? Or does the psychiatrist, Magellan, perhaps hold the key to Creed’s true identity? Well, I’m not telling you.

This is another great thriller from Simon Toyne, ticking all the boxes. There is tension from the start, and it keeps just ratcheting up.  Magellan offered an interesting side to things that we didn’t have in the first book, but… well I can’t say anything else for fear of giving things away that you will want to find out yourselves. But what I can say is that Solomon Creed is a character who just keeps on giving, both to the reader, and the characters he encounters. And Simon Toyne knows how to keep his readers turning the pages. Brilliant!

Lots of books that are from a series can be read as standalones, but I recommend that you read Solomon Creed book 1 (known as The Searcher in the USA) before tackling this one.

The Boy Who Saw will be published by HarperCollins on 15th June 2017.

 

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Just Read… The Lies Within, by Jane Isaac

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Be under no illusions by her kind face and eloquent manner… This woman is guilty of murder.

Grace Daniels is distraught after her daughter’s body is found in a Leicestershire country lane. With her family falling apart and the investigation going nowhere, Grace’s only solace is the re-emergence of Faye, an old friend who seems to understand her loss.

DI Will Jackman delves into the case until a family tragedy and a figure from his past threaten to derail him.

When the police discover another victim, the spotlight falls on Grace. Can Jackman find the killer, before she is convicted of a crime she didn’t commit?

The Lies Within is Jane’s third Will Jackman book, and the second book I’ve read this year with a location I’m very familiar with. This time it’s Market Harborough

The book starts with a brief prologue, showing Grace Daniels, on trial for murder, her family watching on from the gallery. We’re then taken back 10 months to find Will Jackman, who has a temporary promotion to Chief Inspector. Jackman finds himself seconded from his usual Stratford-upon-Avon base and working for the region, visiting neighbouring forces to review outstanding cases with a view to looking for links and streamlining methods of working. He’s looking at two cases, similar in their M.O., yet 9 years apart, when a body is found in rural Leicestershire. With the duty senior investigating officer already busy, Jackman finds himself thrust into a case that bears all the hallmarks of the two cold cases already on his desk. But with that opening prologue, we know this isn’t going to be a straightforward murder mystery.

This is another great book from Jane, with believable characters and a storyline that feels very real. Jackman’s personal life is just as complicated, and threads laid down in Beneath The Ashes develop further, but in a way that adds depth to the story, and doesn’t get in the way of it. And when I wasn’t really expecting one, there was a nice little reveal at the end.

Recommended.

The Lies Within is published by Legend Press and is released on 2nd May 2017.

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