Just read… Behind Closed Doors, by Elizabeth Haynes

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‘Just read’ is factually incorrect, as I’m behind with my book reviews. Really behind! But, in keeping with the book review blog post titles I use, I’ll stick with it. Well, I use the same when I actually listen to the audiobook instead of reading the printed matter. Anyway…

Ten years ago, fifteen-year-old Scarlett Rainsford vanished while on a family holiday in Greece. Was she abducted, or did she run away? Lou Smith worked the case as a police constable and failing to find Scarlett has been one of the biggest regrets of her career. No one is more shocked than Lou to learn that Scarlett has unexpectedly been found during a Special Branch raid of a brothel in Briarstone.

Lou and her Major Crimes team are already stretched working two troubling cases: nineteen-year-old Ian Palmer was found badly beaten; soon after, bar owner Carl McVey was found half-buried in the woods, his Rolex and money gone. While Lou tries to establish the links between the two cases, DS Sam Hollands works with Special Branch to question Scarlett. What happened to her? Where has she been until now? And why is her family with the exception of her emotionally fragile younger sister, Juliette less than enthusiastic about her return?

When another brutal assault and homicide are linked to the McVey murder, Lou’s cases collide, and the clues all point in one terrifying direction. As the pressure and the danger mount, it becomes clear that the silent, secretive Scarlett holds the key to everything.

Behind Closed Doors is the second book in the Briarstone crime series, featuring DCI Louisa Smith, the first being Under a Silent Moon. It explores the underbelly of the sex-trafficking industry as we slowly find out what happened to Scarlett through following dual timelines of then and now. I actually really enjoyed the dual timeline aspect revealing Scarlett’s (awful) ordeal from when she disappeared.

The book is well-written and draws you in, despite the subject nature. I came away feeling that the story gave an accurate representation of what human trafficking might be like, with characters the reader can empathise with. And with all good books, there’s a bit of a twist which catches you unawares!

My only bugbear was that the book includes copies of police reports, which were very difficult to read on my Kindle due to their size (the Kindle’s magnification function didn’t help). That said, this was a relatively minor inconvenience (possibly only with my (old) Kindle), which wouldn’t stop me from recommending this as a great read!

 

 

 

 

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Just read… Solomon Creed by Simon Toyne

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Once again, despite having a pristine signed hardback in the bookcase, I didn’t actually read this. I listened to the audiobook, excellently narrated by Joseph Balderrama. It’s probably a good job, too, otherwise I would never have known how to pronounce Mulcahy’s name properly.

The book, titled The Searcher in the US, centres around Solomon Creed, an almost albino stranger who we first meet walking away from an un-survivable plane crash in the middle of the Arizona desert, close to the town of Redemption. Creed has no memory of anything that has happened prior to the moment we meet him, not who he is, nor how he has gotten there. But he does know one thing: he’s there to save James Coranado. But the town of Redemption have just buried Coranado.

I’m a big fan of crime fiction and thrillers, and this is the best thriller I have ‘read’ for a long time. Great characterisation, great setting, and a story with all the elements you want. In fact, there’re two stories in one here. With Coranado dead, Solomon Creed is trying to work out why he’s there, which isn’t being made easy when everyone from the local mayor to a Mexican drugs lord wants a piece of him. In addition, we get the story of Reverend Cassidy, the founder of Redemption, and author of a slim volume telling his story that Solomon finds in his jacket pocket. I’m not sure how much Balderrama’s narration has influenced my opinion on this, but the book feels that it has been written with a real American voice, and it is all the better for it.

If you’re a fan of Simon Toyne‘s Sanctus trilogy,  there’s a hint of supernatural here that you won’t be disappointed with. We don’t know Creed’s past, but despite all of the other characters in the (audio) book being either American or Mexican, Balderrama gives Creed an English accent (in fact he sounds a lot like James McAvoy’s Professor X). Is the accent a clue, or just the narrator’s choice? Who knows. What I do know is that you won’t find out in this book. Nor the next. But I’m going to be reading all the sequels as they’re published until I do!

Solomon Creed is published in paperback today (2nd June 2016). I recommend that you buy it!

 

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Just read… Tastes Like Fear by Sarah Hilary

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Tastes Like Fear is the third in the DI Marnie Rome series (following Someone Else’s Skin and No Other Darkness), and it’s a corker!

Marnie and her sidekick, DS Noah Jake, are investigating the case of a missing girl when a fatal car crash is caused by a mysterious young girl. Could it be the girl they are looking for? And why did she not stop at the scene of the accident?

But Marnie and Noah’s case is much more complex than they have imagined because there’s not just one runaway involved. And the man giving them shelter is no Samaritan. His name is Harm.

D.I. Marnie Rome has faced many dangerous criminals but she has never come up against a man like Harm. She thinks that she knows families, their secrets, and their fault lines. But as she begins investigating the girl’s disappearance nothing can prepare her for what she’s about to face.

Tastes Like Fear was published in hardback and on Kindle yesterday, and you can read the first chapter for free on WH Smith’s blog, here: http://blog.whsmith.co.uk/read-extract-tastes-like-fear-sarah-hilary/

** Thank you Headline for the free Advance Reader Copy!

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Simon Toyne at the Oundle Festival of Literature

I almost missed it because I didn’t realise it was on, but Simon Toyne (who I’ve been a big fan of since getting my hands on a pre-publication copy of his debut novel, Sanctus) was in Oundle this evening, being interviewed by his old RE teacher, Sandra Samwell.

But I didn’t miss it!

And it was great to meet Simon again afterwards. His latest novel, Solomon Creed was out in hardback late last year, and I believe the paperback is due out in June.

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Just read… The Silent Dead by Claire McGowan

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Northern Ireland forensic psychologist Paula Maguire is having a tough time in the third novel of the series – heavily pregnant with no certainty over who the father is – it could be either of two guys who are still very much part of Paula’s life. And if that isn’t enough, she’s having to deal with one of the most emotional cases of her career.  ‘The Mayday Five’, clearly guilty yet cleared of a devastating bomb attack that killed 16 innocent men, women and children have gone missing, and are turning up one-by-one, murdered using the same methods their victims suffered.

And if that isn’t enough, she’s having to deal with one of the most emotional cases of her career.  ‘The Mayday Five’ have gone missing. They’re clearly guilty, yet were cleared by the law of a devastating bomb attack that killed 16 innocent men, women and children, and now they are turning up one-by-one, murdered using the same methods their victims suffered.

The story unfolds through the eyes of Paula, interspersed with the views of survivors and the surviving family members of the bomb attack, who are now the chief suspects in the abductions and murders. The Mayday bombing back-story is cleverly told through book extracts of an account of the fictional bombing.

This is a gripping story covering grief and frustration as it explores the moral dilemma of people failed by the system who may just be taking justice into their own hands. All-in-all, this is a great read, very well written and I really enjoyed the premise of the story.

The Silent Dead is out now on Kindle, and Thursday 10th March in paperback.

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Just read… Beyond the Sea by Melissa Bailey

Beyond The Sea

Okay, technically I haven’t just read this book, I read it over a month ago, but have been somewhat tardy in posting this review. But it’s here now.

Popular writing advice says never start a book with a prologue. Melissa Bailey ignores that advice with Beyond the Sea, and that decision works fantastically well, as it sets up perfectly the mystery underlying the rest of the book.

Freya’s husband, Jack, and son, Sam, are lost at sea, and one year on, Freya returns to the remote Hebridean lighthouse keeper’s cottage she shared with them. Struggling to cope with her loss and the haunting dreams that invade her sleep, things turn a shade sinister when a stranger is washed ashore during a storm.

Let’s start off by saying this is not the normal sort of book I’d buy (and I didn’t buy this one, it was kindly sent to me by Melissa and her publishers). The cover marks it as woman’s fiction to me, and with my TBR pile so large, it’s not a genre I’d usually go for. Now with that out of the way, let’s get down to what I actually thought about it. Well, that’s easy: I loved it!

Beyond the Sea is beautifully written, with atmosphere oozing from every page. We see Freya finding her son’s diary and deciding to retrace his and Jack’s final voyages around the local Hebridean islands. I don’t want to give too much away about the story, so I am keeping this quite brief, but I did love the way the threads of this tale intermingle. We have Freya, desperate to know what happened to Jack and Sam; Daniel, a mysterious and sinister stranger who’s washed ashore and who is dealing with his own grief; and through some letters, we follow a story of Edward, a soldier from the 1600s, who’s left his wife far behind as he’s sent to Scotland on a seemingly doomed mission.

As I said, I don’t want to give the story away, but following Freya’s journey through grief and intrigue is magical. And I say magical knowing there’s a hint of mythology throughout the story.

I enjoyed this book hugely; it’s an incredibly well-written and satisfying story, and I can’t recommend it enough.

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Author Interview – Melissa Bailey

It’s been nearly four months since I’ve posted any author interviews here, which is far too long. So I am delighted to welcome Melissa Bailey to the blog.

Melissa Bailey

Melissa was born in Derbyshire in 1971 but grew up in Lancashire. She went to Lincoln College, Oxford, where she did a BA in English Language and Literature. She then moved to London to study law and practised as a media lawyer for a number of years.

Her first novel, The Medici Mirror, was published by Penguin Random House (Arrow) in 2013, with her second, Beyond the Sea, recently published in July.

Hi, Melissa, and welcome. You’re not the first lawyer to become an author, with John Grisham, Meg Gardiner and John Hart immediately springing to mind. What took you down the path of becoming a writer?

I’ve always loved books and reading and from being a small child I was always writing – poems, short stories, things like that. I did an English Literature degree at University but then went on to study law and become a lawyer. However, in the back of my mind there was always a small voice that kept saying ‘you should write that novel you want to write’. That voice kept getting louder and louder until I couldn’t ignore it anymore. At which point, I went part-time at work and put pen to paper in a serious way.

The Medici MIrrorYour first novel, The Medici Mirror, is part murder mystery, part ghost story, but pretty much all love story, with a real-life historical character at the heart – Catherine de Medici. What made you want to write that particular book?

The very first ideas for The Medici Mirror came from reading A Wild Sheep Chase by Haruki Murakami, one of my favourite authors. In that book, the protagonist is holed up alone in a spooky house miles from anywhere and comes across an old blackened mirror. The atmosphere at that point in the novel was incredibly claustrophobic, mysterious and magical. It made me want to create a book of my own with a similar otherworldly feel and gave me the idea of using a darkened mirror. When I then started researching the history of mirrors, the name I kept coming across was Catherine de Medici, who had a vast collection. Not only that, she was a member of the infamous Medici clan – plotters and poisoners – and had a reputation for involvement with magic and the occult. From there the plot really began to take off.

Was writing about a real person more difficult than a fictional one?

Yes and no. Catherine de Medici was a fascinating woman and that made her very easy to write about. She was many sided, contradictory – educated and enlightened, a consummate politician and yet simultaneously deeply superstitious, believing in the power of the stars, seeking solace from soothsayers and astrologers. She developed a fascination with magic in her youth, a fascination which turned ever darker as she grew older and her enemies multiplied – enemies that she didn’t hesitate to despatch. Yet she was also an emotional woman – she adored her husband, King Henri II of France, but throughout their entire married life he had an older, more beautiful mistress, Diane de Poitiers who he was very much in love. And Catherine had to tolerate it. So there was a rich seam of irresistible references that drew me in to Catherine as a character. She was strong, powerful, magical, ruthless, yet also subject to longing, jealousy, resentment and fear – in many respects the perfect combination for my character. However, as I needed the story to be at least in part historically accurate, this created its own difficulties. I thought at one point how great it would be if Catherine could actually kill off Diane – but that was such a deviation from history I thought readers wouldn’t stand for it! So to some extent I was constrained.

That is fascinating. And did you find it difficult to write across the different time periods, from the 1500s through Victorian London to the present day?

I love history and research and so I really enjoyed crafting the different storylines in different eras. I spent a lot of time at the British Library reading not only about Catherine de Medici but about life in nineteenth century London, Victorian graveyards and turn of the century shoe making processes. I kid you not! But as the book moves through three time periods, structurally it was a little complicated and it was often a challenge deciding in which narratives things should be revealed, when to shift between them and how the pieces should best fit. At times it felt like it was never going to coalesce. But finally it came together.

Beyond The Sea

Your second novel, Beyond the Sea, came out on 16 July. What can you tell us about it?

The book grew out of a single image that had taken root in my mind – a woman with white hair, standing on a tiny island, alone, a lighthouse in the near distance behind her. As the novel began to emerge, the woman became Freya, a year after the death of her husband and son, and her journey through grief as she returns to a remote Hebridean island where she and her family lived. The ocean dominates the landscape and Scottish myths of the sea pervade. There’s also a historical thread – the discovery of letters written by a Cromwellian sailor despatched to battle in the Hebrides in 1653, his own sense of isolation and alienation mirroring Freya’s.

The novel really is fantastic – I loved it (and a review will follow next post!). Back on to writing now, though, and a question about process. Are you a plotter, or do you write by the seat of your pants?

A little bit of both! I do lots and lots of research before I put pen to paper on a novel. When I’ve reached saturation point I stop and try to a great extent to forget everything I’ve learnt. Then I start to plot. I don’t plan a novel in a huge amount of detail but I work from a general outline that’s specific enough to keep me on track, in theory at least, but loose enough to allow the story to develop in its own way.

Are you working on anything at the moment?

A third novel. I can’t tell you much about it, but I can tell you that it’s about madness.

Madness? Intriguing. And what’s on your TBR pile?

I’ve just finished reading The A-Z of You and Me by James Hannah which was amazing. Beautifully written, quirky and irreverent, but also incredibly moving. Next up is Haruki Murakami’s Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage. I’m also really looking forward to diving into Claire Fuller’s Our Endless Numbered Days, Us by David Nicholls and You, Me and Other People by Fionnuala Kearney.

I look at Facebook quite a bit, but don’t post much, although I’m a big user of Twitter. Social media is seen as a must for the majority of authors nowadays – what’s your relationship with it?

Generally, I love it as a means of connecting to others – friends, writers, bloggers – although it can be very distracting when you’re trying to focus completely on your writing. During those periods I try to cut off all access to twitter and Facebook and limit myself to looking at it only after I’ve finished for the day. It’s a good theory, but it doesn’t always work!

Hardy Tree, Saint Pancras

Hardy Tree, Saint Pancras

I can relate to that! Finally do you have a weird or unusual fact about yourself that not many people will know (and that you’re willing to share!)?

I’m not sure whether this is so unusual, and it’s probably clear from my first novel, but I love graveyards. I find them fascinating and could wander around them for hours. When I was researching The Medici Mirror I spent a lot of time at Bunhill Fields in East London, where William Blake is buried, and in the Old St Pancras Churchyard, where Thomas Hardy once worked as a young man overseeing the excavation of graves. But Highgate cemetery is probably my favourite. It’s huge, wild and overgrown, and some of the architecture is amazing.

Thank you so much for taking the time to answer my questions, Melissa, and good luck with Beyond the Sea, a review of which will appear here in the next day or so. No spoilers, but this is what I posted on Twitter when I finished it.

You can find Melissa on Twitter and Facebook, and her books can be found in all good book shops. She also has quite a snazzy web page!

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