Stuart MacBride: Now We Are Dead

 Published by Harper Collins 2nd November 2018

811aaFrom the Sunday Times No.1 bestselling author of the Logan McRae series, comes a standalone spinoff featuring DS Roberta Steel. Revenge is a dangerous thing… Detective Chief Inspector Roberta Steel got caught fitting up Jack Wallace – that’s why they demoted her and quashed his sentence. Now he’s back on the streets and women are being attacked again. Wallace has to be responsible, but if Detective Sergeant Steel goes anywhere near him, his lawyers will get her thrown off the force for good. The Powers That Be won’t listen to her, not after what happened last time. According to them, she’s got more than enough ongoing cases to keep her busy. Perhaps she could try solving a few instead of harassing an innocent man? Steel knows Wallace is guilty. And the longer he gets away with it, the more women will suffer. The question is: how much is she willing to sacrifice to stop him?

This fabulous spin-off from the Logan McRae tales is out in paperback this month – there’s a cameo appearance from Logan in it, but this time it’s a Roberta Steel adventure, and Stuart has taken this opportunity to pay homage to the writer who inspired him to become a reader – A A Milne. As well as the amazing and brilliant cartoon maps and chapter headings (“in which…”), there is also the fantastic story line, which has Steel up against one of Scotland’s most notorious baddies, Jack Wallace, the man she tried to fit up by sticking a load of kiddie porn on his computer. That backfired and she’s been demoted to detective sergeant and warned to stay away from Wallace on pain of her job. But Roberta Steel is made of sterner stuff, and she’s out to get him if it costs her her job or even her life, because she knows he’s guilty of multiple rapes and murders… we didn’t have to wait too long for a new Logan McRae, who’s now working in Professional Standards in The Blood Road, and I daresay that will soon be out in paperback too. But in the meantime fill your boots with this stupendous, brilliant tour de force of sheer joy from Stuart. Those of you who didn’t buy the hardback, get hold of the paperback because it is absolutely amazing!

Stephen King: Elevation

 Published by Hodder & Stoughton 31st October 2018

811fCastle Rock is a small town, where word gets around quickly. That’s why Scott Carey wants to confide only in his friend Doctor Bob Ellis about his strange condition: he’s losing weight, without getting thinner, and the scales register the same when he is in his clothes or out of them, however heavy they are. Scott also has new neighbours, who have opened a ‘fine dining experience’ in town, although it’s an experience being shunned by the locals; Deidre McComb and her wife Missy Donaldson don’t exactly fit in with the community’s expectations. And now Scott seems trapped in a feud with the couple over their dogs dropping their business on his lawn. Missy may be friendly, but Deidre is cold as ice. As the town prepares for its annual Thanksgiving 12k run, Scott starts to understand the prejudices his neighbours face and he tries to help. Unlikely alliances form and the mystery of Scott’s affliction brings out the best in people who have indulged the worst in themselves and others. From master storyteller Stephen King, our ‘most precious renewable resource, like Shakespeare in the malleability of his work’ (Guardian), comes this timely, upbeat tale about finding common ground despite deep-rooted differences. Compelling and eerie, Elevation is as gloriously joyful (with a twinge of deep sadness) as ‘It’s a Wonderful Life.’

This is the third Stephen King book this year. We have never been so spoiled! Elevation is a novella, a read-in-one-sitting job that will raise your spirits and leave you feeling thoroughly uplifted. It’s a fairy tale, of course – nothing in Stephen King’s universe is ever just simply real, but it’s a brief snapshot of American small town culture and attitudes, it’s a triumph of tolerance over intolerance, and to make it better, there isn’t an explanation for what happened to Scott Carey. Stephen King has tackled the subject of weight loss before, the creepy horror story THINNER, but Elevation is different. There’s sadness, but there is redemption and resolution as well. Quirky, but then that’s what we love about the King!

Kate Medina: Two Little Girls

 Published by Harper Collins 29th November 2018

811abTwo little girls walked to their deaths and nobody noticed… A gripping new thriller featuring the brilliantly complex psychologist Dr Jessie Flynn, who struggles with a dark past. Two bodies on the beach. One killer out for revenge. Two years ago, a young girl was murdered while playing on the beach and left in a heart of shells, a doll by her side. Now another girl is found on the same stretch of sand, another heart, another doll, and psychologist Jessie Flynn is called in to assist the investigation. But she’s being led into a web of lies and deceit by a new patient, Laura – a deeply disturbed woman who wants Jessie as her friend. When links emerge between Laura and the two dead girls, Jessie’s worst nightmare becomes reality. For in the dark world of a twisted killer, she begins to realize just how treacherous friends can be…

I haven’t read Kate Medina’s previous two Dr Jessie Wallace tales, but having just read this one, I shall be watching out for them at boot sales and in the local charity shops – Kate’s writing style is easy on the eye and very effective, and this is a taut, tense thriller with every literary dynamic included. This is the sort of brilliant read I can easily settle down with – there are plenty of twists and turns, plenty of superb characters, and I thoroughly enjoyed every word! 

Gerald Seymour: Battle Sight Zero

Published by Hodder & Stoughton 10th January 2019

811jThe Kalashnikov AK47. A weapon with a unique image. A symbol of freedom fighters and terrorists across the globe. Undercover officer Andy Knight has infiltrated an extremist group intent on bringing the rifle to Britain – something MI5 have been struggling for years to prevent. He befriends Zeinab, the young Muslim student from Yorkshire who is at the centre of the plot. All Zeinab needs to do is travel to the impoverished high-rise estates of Marseilles and bring one rifle home on a test run. Then many more will follow – and with them would come killing on an horrendous scale. Zeinab is both passionate and attractive, and though Andy knows that the golden rule of undercover work is not to get emotionally attached to the target, sometimes rules are impossible to follow. Supremely suspenseful, BATTLE SIGHT ZERO follows Andy and Zeinab to the lethal badlands of the French port city, simultaneously tracking the extraordinary life journey of the blood-soaked weapon they are destined to be handed there.

I’m not a huge fan of thrillers set in the modern world of terrorism and brutality, but I have to say that if I’m going to read about that kind of thing, Gerald Seymour is the one writer I would trust to guide me through its complexities. Spooks without the dryness of Le Carré…

Gerald Seymour: A Damned Serious Business

Published by Hodder & Stoughton 1st November 2018

811lThere is a new cold war raging and its frontline warriors are Russian hackers – gang-members working freelance for the FSB, successor to the KGB. Massive thefts of personal information, electoral interference, catastrophic disruption of commercial and social services, banks, airlines, even whole countries disabled – this is happening now. Nicknamed ‘Boot’ because of his obsession with the Duke of Wellington and the battle of Waterloo, Edwin Coker is a case officer at the Vauxhall headquarters of MI6. When a young hacker falls into his hands and reveals details of a secret meeting, Boot conceives a daring plan to strike back – not with a computer virus of his own, but with a bomb that will seriously damage the Russian operation, spreading fear and distrust. Now Boot and his little team need a ‘deniable’ handler to deliver the explosives across the border from Estonia into Russia and bring the hacker back out. They turn to Merc, an ex-soldier fighting in Iraq, a gun-for-hire who knows how to get out of a tight spot. They hope. From the moment Merc sets out to cross the River Narva things do not go to plan and when the hacker’s sister becomes involved, his mission turns from tough to near impossible. The scene is set for a classic story of pursuit and evasion and an epic battle for survival.

Another modern thriller from Gerald Seymour, this time centering on information technology and the incredible power it wields and the damage it can inflict when it gets into the wrong hands.

Darryl Jones ed: Horror Stories – Classic Tales from Hoffmann to Hodgson

Published by OUP 25th October 2018

811sThe modern horror story grew and developed across the nineteenth century, embracing categories as diverse as ghost stories, the supernatural and psychological horror, medical and scientific horror, colonial horror, and tales of the uncanny and precognition. This anthology brings together twenty-nine of the greatest horror stories of the period, from 1816 to 1912, from the British, Irish, American, and European traditions. It ranges widely across the sub-genres to encompass authors whose terror-inducing powers remain unsurpassed. The book includes stories by some of the best writers of the century ― Hoffmann, Poe, Balzac, Dickens, Hawthorne, Melville, and Zola ― as well as established genre classics from M. R. James, Arthur Machen, Bram Stoker, Algernon Blackwood, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, and others. It includes rare and little-known pieces by writers such as William Maginn, Francis Marion Crawford, W. F. Harvey, and William Hope Hodgson, and shows the important role played by periodicals in popularizing the horror story. Wherever possible, stories are reprinted in their first published form, with background information about their authors and helpful, contextualizing annotation. Darryl Jones’s lively introduction discusses horror’s literary evolution and its articulation of cultural preoccupations and anxieties. These are stories guaranteed to freeze the blood, revolt the senses, and keep you awake at night: prepare to be terrified!

I chose to read Jacobs’s The Monkey’s Paw from this collection to  remind me of a time when I devoured Horror stories as though there was no other literature worth reading in the universe – I probably discovered science fiction shortly afterwards, but those memories remain, and are heady ones. I would have been fourteen or fifteen, probably. I had expected something published by OUP to be faultless, majestic, almost, and was disappointed to find, on the first page of The Monkey’s Paw (which doesn’t seem nearly as terrifying as when I first read it during the early 1960s), a sentence that didn’t make any sense whatsoever. Bad editing? Bad proof reading? Whatever it was, it spoiled what might have been a perfect reminder of the halcyon days of that magnificent series, the Pan Book of Horror Stories. And, reading further, I have to say that none of what I read in this new volume was nearly as scary as it had been when I was a young teenager… not the fault of the collection, of course -perhaps the best in this volume was the Charles Dickens – but then I would expect nothing less.

James Hayden: 3 Wise Men

Published independently 18th May 2018

811zThis contemporary thriller follows Jak Colins, a scientist who flies to Milan to share his priceless scientific discovery – based on a genuine 4,000 year old manuscript. He soon becomes the object of jealous rivals who take drastic measures to unlock his secret and disrupt a multi-billion dollar industry. Who are the 3 Wise Men, and how can they ensure that Jak’s formula remains in safe hands?

In 3 Wise Men James Hayden takes a formula that’s been tried and tested by Dan Brown, turns it on its head and brings in an edge of seat thriller based on fact and markedly better than any of Brown’s thin and insubstantial efforts. This is a classic thriller with fairly short chapters, which is always good, punchy, gritty realism, gloriously exotic locations and chapter endings that leave you hanging, another tried and tested formula that began with Edgar Rice Burroughs back at the turn of the last century. Thrillers don’t come much better than this – huge fun and very entertaining!

Anton Du Beke: One Enchanted Evening

Published by Zaffre 4th October 2018

811acPrepare to be swept off your feet by the romantic and irresistible debut novel from Anton Du Beke…

London, 1936.

Inside the spectacular Grand Ballroom of the exclusive Buckingham Hotel the rich and powerful, politicians, film stars, even royalty, rub shoulders with Raymond de Guise and his troupe of talented dancers from all around the world, who must enchant them, captivate them, and sweep away their cares. Accustomed to waltzing with the highest of society, Raymond knows a secret from his past could threaten all he holds dear.

Nancy Nettleton, new chambermaid at the Buckingham, finds hotel life a struggle after leaving her small hometown. She dreams of joining the dancers on the ballroom floor as she watches, unseen, from behind plush curtains and hidden doorways. She soon discovers everyone at the Buckingham – guests and staff alike – has something to hide . . .

The storm clouds of war are gathering, and beneath the glitz and glamour of the ballroom lurks an irresistible world of scandal and secrets.

Hold on to your hats! Strictly Come Dancing’s favourite male dancer has written a romantic novel – in all my 72 years I don’t think I have ever read a romantic novel centered on ballroom dancing! Anton’s suave and debonair style shines through in this entertaining, feel-good novel set in the year 1936, with war clouds gathering over Europe and the class system in Great Britain very much in evidence. It’s a little like one of the sub-plots of Downton Abbey only with dancing! My favourite character is Nancy – she reminded me of some of the working-class heroines of several P G Wodehouse novels I read when I was younger, and also of the female lead in Peter Jackson’s King Kong. All of the characters are brilliantly conceived and portrayed and this picture of London high and low society at a most troubled time in our history is a terrific background for the romance and the dancing that pervade this story. I’ll give this one an “8” – I thoroughly enjoyed it… but then Anton is my favourite as well, of course.

Bernard Cornwell: War of the Wolf

  Published by Harper Collins 4th October 2018

At the fortress of the eagles, three kings will fight… Uhtred of Bebbanburg has won back his ancestral home but, threatened from all sides by enemies both old and new, he doesn’t have long to enjoy the victory. In Mercia, rebellion is in the air as King Edward tries to seize control. In Wessex, rival parties scramble to settle on the identity of the next king. And across the country invading Norsemen continue their relentless incursion, ever hungry for land. Uhtred – a legendary warrior, admired and sought as an ally, feared as an adversary – finds himself once again torn between his two heritages: fighting on what he considers the wrong side, cursed by misfortune and tragedy and facing one of his most formidable enemies. Only the most astute cunning, the greatest loyalty and the most spectacular courage can save him. For decades, Uhtred has stood at the intersection between Pagan and Christian, between Saxon and Viking, between the old world he was born into and the new world being forged around him. But as the winds of change gather pace, the pressure on Uhtred as father, as politician and as warrior grows as never before.

This is the eleventh book in Bernard Cornwell’s Lost Kingdom series, and in my opinion, it is utterly faultless. The characters have had their life breathed into them by an author whose skills at historical story-telling are second to none. Reading a story like this is equally as good as watching a blockbuster film, only in the comfort of your own sitting room. This is a work of fiction based on fact by a giant of 21st century historical fiction. Pure, savage enjoyment. This is what books were intended for.

Robert Galbraith: Lethal White

 Published by Sphere 18th September 2018

‘I seen a kid killed . . . He strangled it, up by the horse.’ When Billy, a troubled young man, comes to private eye Cormoran Strike’s office to ask for his help investigating a crime he thinks he witnessed as a child, Strike is left deeply unsettled. While Billy is obviously mentally distressed, and cannot remember many concrete details, there is something sincere about him and his story. But before Strike can question him further, Billy bolts from his office in a panic. Trying to get to the bottom of Billy’s story, Strike and Robin Ellacott – once his assistant, now a partner in the agency – set off on a twisting trail that leads them through the backstreets of London, into a secretive inner sanctum within Parliament, and to a beautiful but sinister manor house deep in the countryside. And during this labyrinthine investigation, Strike’s own life is far from straightforward: his newfound fame as a private eye means he can no longer operate behind the scenes as he once did. Plus, his relationship with his former assistant is more fraught than it ever has been – Robin is now invaluable to Strike in the business, but their personal relationship is much, much more tricky than that . . . The most epic Robert Galbraith novel yet, LETHAL WHITE is both a gripping mystery and a page-turning next instalment in the ongoing story of Cormoran Strike and Robin Ellacott.

This is the fourth of the Cormoran Strike novels, and it is a blockbuster in every sense of the word. It’s certainly the longest in the series so far, the interplay between Strike and Robin is exquisitely painful, because every sense of you wants the to be together. The other main interplay, that between Robin and new husband Matthew Cunliffe is supreely enjoyable, and you want their relationship to get more and more strained as time goes on. In the midst of all this, there’s a ministerial intrigue going on, and it’s set during the run-up to the 2012 London Olympics. There are activists, and mysteries from long ago that seem to have suddenly caused the minister for culture to be blackmailed, and there are a series of superb characters to enjoy. This is a novel from an author at the top of their game, cramed with confidence and a string contender for crime novel of the year, if not the decade. For me, there’s just Stuart MacBride standing in the way of that accolade, but it is enormous, and it is enormously enjoyable page by page. My copy arrived a couple of days ago, I shelved my re-read Stuart’s Blood Road and I’ve read about 200 pages of the 650. I was hooked from page one, which carried on immediately after Career of Evil left off, at Robin and Matt’s wedding. Superlative writing from a writer who can seemingly do nothing wrong.

Ann Cleeves: Wild Fire

 Published by Pan Macmillan 6th September 2018

WILD FIRE is the eighth, and final book, in Ann Cleeves’ bestselling Shetland series – a major BBC One drama starring Douglas Henshall as Jimmy Perez.
Shetland: Welcoming. Wild. Remote. Drawn in by the reputation of the islands, an English family move to the area, eager to give their autistic son a better life. But when a young nanny’s body is found hanging in the barn of their home, rumours of her affair with the husband begin to spread like wild fire. With suspicion raining down on the family, DI Jimmy Perez is called in to investigate, knowing that it will mean the return to the islands of his on-off lover and boss Willow Reeves, who will run the case. Perez is facing the most disturbing investigation of his career. Is he ready for what is to come?

This is the last in Ann’s Shetland series, sadly. There is some consolation in the knowledge that the BBC TV series will continue, with the superlative Douglas Henshall playing the part of Jimmy Perez; it’s no problem for me that the timelines between the books and the TV series have become blurred – Jimmy’s adopted daughter by his murdered wife is just reaching her teens, whilst in the TV series she has left home and gone to uni. Also that TV Jimmy doesn’t resemble physically the Jimmy in the books. The fact is that this is one of the finest series of detective fiction written during this century. I’m not going to reveal what happens in the book, just to say that Ann is in scintillating top form and the book is hugely enjoyable and a fitting end to a gripping series.

Lynda La Plante: Murder Mile

 Published by Zaffre 23rd August 2018

PRIME SUSPECT meets ASHES TO ASHEs as we see Jane Tennison starting out on her police career . . .

The fourth in the SUNDAY TIMES bestselling Jane Tennison thrillers, MURDER MILE is set at the height of the ‘Winter of Discontent’. Can Jane Tennison uncover a serial killer? 

February, 1979, ‘The Winter of Discontent’. Economic chaos has led to widespread strikes across Britain.

Jane Tennison, now a Detective Sergeant, has been posted to Peckham CID, one of London’s toughest areas. As the rubbish on the streets begins to pile up, so does the murder count: two bodies in as many days.

There are no suspects and the manner of death is different in each case. The only link between the two victims is the location of the bodies, found within a short distance of each other near Rye Lane in Peckham. Three days later another murder occurs in the same area. Press headlines scream that a serial killer is loose on ‘Murder Mile’ and that police incompetence is hampering the investigation.

Jane is under immense pressure to catch the killer before they strike again.Working long hours with little sleep, what she uncovers leaves her doubting her own mind.

The fourth young Jane Tennison novel sees Jane growing in confidence but still fighting to make her way in a male-dominated world of police detectives. The plot is typical Lynda La Plante, that is to say that it is a complex and fascinating multiple murder enquiry that is ultimately solved by solid police work especially on the part of young Jane. Lynda’s grip on reality never lessens, and the character pool is realistic and believable, with police procedural matters always at their most satisfying and entertaining. The denoument is especially gripping.