Every Vow You Break by Peter Swanson

I’d say, by now the reader kind of knows what to expect from a Swanson novel… 

It’s a world populated by smart, affluent characters who work in the arts or education, who live in smart townhouses or beach cottages, who have skin the colour of skimmed milk and hearts as hard and shiny as coal. Add to this the action, usually malicious, revengeful and obsessive and the way each story skilfully weaves in both the threat of a killer and the suspense of the protagonist becoming one and it makes for a great read.

But that’s all changed now. This latest Swanson completely blindsided me. 

It starts off quite familiar, the protagonist, Abigail, young, beautiful and working in publishing, is being stalked by the man she’s had a one-night stand with on her bachelorette weekend. Scotty’s decided he’s desperately in love with her and wants her to call off her wedding to Bruce. 

She tries to handle this sensibly, and I was lulled into a false sense of security here by this set up, and the slow burn first chapters exploring her dating history in minuscule detail. Swanson put so much into her dating history,I thought this was the whole story, the stalker thing and I thought, okay… he’s going to become a threat and she’s going to fight back and it’s going to escalate and then he’s going to get it, but no…

About a third of the way through, it becomes obvious that Abigail (and the reader) have underestimated the threat Swanson has in mind for us. There’s scheming afoot but for a change it’s not coming from the protagonist’s side, so suddenly as a reader we realise the protagonist has no control over the danger. 

This was handled so well! Swanson leads us, skipping and whistling, down a dark alley which we’re sure Abigail can handle before he flips the top off the dumpster, basically sets fire to it and then throws a can of petrol in there for good measure. 

The whole story becomes so tense and so genuinely scary, veering dangerously close to horror, that for a moment I wasn’t sure I could carry on. If it was going where I thought it was going, I didn’t need to read that, but of course, it is a Peter Swanson and not some penny dreadful, so I carried on reading with one eye open and the other clamped tightly shut. And thank god I did because it paid off. 

I know this story freaked a lot of readers out. I read this book three weeks ago and sat down to write a review but couldn’t. I was still too shaky from it and I wasn’t sure why. Some people found the story unrealistic, and the size of the action is huge but the mechanics of it are not. I hope this isn’t realistic but if it popped up in the news next week that is was, I wouldn’t be surprised. 

It comes down to ever changing shape of casual misogyny in our society, the way it pervades everything and everyone. Anyone who’s ever tried to convince a man that another man is a creep will recognise their experiences in this story. The blatant disbelieve makes us think, ‘Are they all in on this?’ to the point that we are afraid to trust any man even the ones who we should, and Swanson plays on this angle and fear very well in this story. Abigail is always one decision away from being saved or being killed. It’s just so incredibly tense! 

The tension is made real by the character of Abigail because she’s real. She has the agency and will-power often reserved for male character in fiction, she’s not a lush, nor unreliable and she could be us or a friend of ours.  I love how he writes from a female perspective so convincingly and in this novel especially. This story, like The Kind Worth Killing, proves he’s one of the very few who do listen when women tell him about their creeps. He listens and he gets ideas for great stories! Can’t wait for whatever comes next! 

Hunted by Antony Dunford

The brilliant debut action adventure thriller by Antony Dunford, shortlisted for the 2019 UEA Crime Writing Prize and longlisted for the 2020 Grindstone Literary Novel prize

This novel opens with an extraordinary (but ordinary to her) evening in the life of Jane Haven, an ex-special forces soldier who has come to Kenya to help her brother Ken guard Northern White rhinos on a conservatory. The first few pages delve into the atmosphere within the fences as well as the wider Kenyan culture and Jane’s character. It does this so well that reading along, I really wasn’t thinking much about what might come next, I was just enjoying the story. It could have been a romance novel and I wouldn’t have cared! 

But then, slowly, you get the creeping feeling that there’s danger here, a drone being used to scan the perimeter, a still smoking fire where no one should be, and Jane’s growing vigilance. Then just as it seems as if this is all for show the story explodes wide open. 

Without giving too much away, there’s murder, mystery and injustice but also the peril of Jane being a suspect to a crime the reader knows she didn’t commit. 

To solve the crime, save herself and make sure the culprits are apprehended Jane takes off as both the detective and the defendant. Having the hero be a white woman in Kenya could be a call fraught with cringeworthy moments but the author pulls it off sensitively giving agency to both Jane and the people she pursues. 

On her mission, the author takes us through a twisting maze of possibilities and leads, but where this book stands out as different from other crimes novels is the way the author has so expertly woven together the conclusion to fit the eco-thriller genre. It could have been a simple murder mystery set in Kenya, but the ending is both pragmatic and insightful. 

Towards the end, I was getting the same kind of feels as I had at the end of the Constant Gardener. It’s a sad story about the unfairness of the world and the selfishness that propagates this. It’s also about how a sense of entitlement can have huge repercussions on the environment and the people who live in it, namely us.

Finishing the book, three things stuck out in my mind – firstly, this would make a great audio book, the writing is well paced and feels made to be read aloud. Secondly, the characters in the story are not just the humans, the animals are also portrayed to show their individual characteristics which will make any reader care about their fate just as much as the humans, if not more. Lastly, as I already mentioned the story is a perfect example of what an eco-thriller can be. Yes, it’s exciting to read but also persuasive and enlightening. I seriously know nothing about Kenya or poaching or conservatories, but I feel like I have a better insight now. 

Thanks to the author and Hobeck Books for an advance copy of this brilliant read! 

Available for Kindle and as a paperback

Cooking for Cannibals Rich Leder

Watch out, here comes a surreal tale of crime, murder and mayhem.

Johnny Fairfax is a two-time convict who’s not a bad as he seems. When his new boss at the nursing home tells him she doesn’t like criminals he assures her neither does he. She gives him a job in the kitchen anyway and Johnny gets down to the business of minding his own business. That is until behavioral gerontologist, Carrie, comes along.

Carrie’s mom is a resident at the nursing home and little does Johnny know, Carrie is more of a criminal right now than he is. She’s just stolen a top-secret, experimental drug – the one which has turned the aged rats in her lab into sprightly young ones.

An age reversing medicine in a nursing home? You can probably see where this is going but not what comes next.

Johnny is a great cook and the residents appreciate this, so when his parole officer gets difficult, Johnny’s new friends jump to his rescue, quite literally. Things get pretty dark, pretty quick. Normal this would mean a story about hiding a body now, but that won’t be necessary… the pensioners are hungry! And anything Johnny cooks, they’re happy to eat.

So now we’ve got the cops looking for a missing man and Big Pharma’s hit men looking for their missing drug. Will Carrie and Johnny make it out alive without either of them being arrested for a murder, cannibalism or theft? And with their delicate hearts intact?

Cooking for Cannibals is a Raymond Chandler-esque creep-thriller with a very funny and sardonic edge. Fast paced, jumpy and kinda gross, it’s hard to pigeon hole. You’ll just have to take a look for yourself.

Thanks to Emma at Damp Pebbles and Rich for a review copy!

The book is available to buy HERE

About Rich Leder:

Rich Leder has been a working writer for more than three decades. His credits include 19 produced movies—television films for CBS, Lifetime, and Hallmark and feature films for Lionsgate, Paramount Pictures, Tri-Star Pictures, Longridge Productions, and Left Bank Films—and six novels for Laugh Riot Press.

He’s been the lead singer in a Detroit rock band, a restaurateur, a Little League coach, an indie film director, a literacy tutor, a magazine editor, a screenwriting coach, a wedding guru, a PTA board member, a commercial real estate agent, and a visiting artist for the UNCW Film Studies Department, among other things, all of which, it turns out, was grist for the mill.

He resides on the North Carolina coast with his awesome wife, Lulu, and is sustained by the visits home of their three fabulous children.

Angel of Whitehall Lewis Hastings

Early on in this tight international thriller we’re reminded of the old British saying ‘Where there’s muck there’s brass,’ and this couldn’t be more true in this shocking story.

Jack Cade is a retired career Met officer, holed up in New Zealand after a case in London became very personal. Now he’s called back home to speak to a dying relative but he doesn’t go gladly. There’s bad blood, greed, imperialism and lies between them. Jack has tried and failed to get to the truth from him before but now it might be even more important that he does.

A new spate of people smuggling activity is evident but this time something’s different. These people have been tricked in more ways than one. There are no gang master waiting to suck them into the modern-day slavery, that would be a mercy. These victims found in the hangar all bear gruesome wounds because they’re being used as nothing more than mules.

As the body count climbs to a thousand so does Jack’s desperation and his understanding of the fraught and complicated imperial British past. He sees how the combination of desperation and greed can be exploited to create a condition of hopelessness. How some people’s good intentions can lead to misery playing into the hands of the sick antagonist who feeds of it and enjoys the smell of the blood. 

This novel is a jigsaw puzzle of a thriller full of action and chases but with genuine insight and perspective threaded through the narrative. It’s a multi-layered story which plays to its strengths and shows a versatile author with a lot to offer. 

Thank you Hobeck Books and Lewis for an advance copy.

Sleeping Dogs by Wendy Turbin

Penelope Wiseman, private investigator for the living is moonlighting as a detective for ghosts trapped on earth. It’s not by choice, a near death experience has left her with the ability to see ghosts, particularly those who died in foul play who are trapped here waiting for justice or retribution but this special ability is less of a superpower and more a double-edged sword.

Penny can’t escape the sometimes physically painful encounters with the suffering souls and she can’t hear them tell her who was responsible for their deaths either. This would be bad enough but Penny has problems of her own that she needs to take care of.

In this first book we meet Penny when she’s just taken over her deceased father’s PI business, and she’s still finding her feet. She’s not a natural or convincing PI like her father was and needs to learn how to build rapport with clients to build the business.  Because of this she’s struggling to keep the business afloat and keep herself fed. She’s even had to pawn his watch, much to the dismay of her younger sister. 

So when a relatively ‘easy’ looking case of an unfaithful husband lands on her desk, Penny is eager to jump in but all is not as straightforward as it seems. His excuse of being busy with amateur dramatics draws attention to a case of a suspicious dog death and who is the little ghost girl vying for Penny’s attention as soon as she leaves his house? Penny’s multiple client case will lead her down a very dark path were two worlds collide in terrifying ways.

This book is dark but also funny and very sardonic. Well written and with a good pace, it’s easy to pick up and hard to put down. I read it over a few nights and am looking forward to the next one.

Thanks to Hobeck Books and Wendy Turbin for a review copy.

The Other Side of the Door by Nicci French

I was intrigued by the premise of this book – why would a girlfriend who presumably did not kill her boyfriend but did find his body risk being accused of his murder by cleaning up after the unknown killer?

The first chapter was beautifully delivered and I was loving the disembodied 1st person POV, the careful, almost guilty behaviour she preforms as if another version of herself has committed the crime – but then the Before and After sections did throw me off a little. I was in too many places at once and never in one long enough to find my feet. Several pages in and I know more about the woman who wedding they’re playing than the protagonist or the victim.

However, as the book finds its pace and the distance between the timeframes closes, and the personalities and dynamics come out, everything becomes much more fluid. There’s a lot of tension and the old Prisoner’s Dilemma feeling of who will rat out who and questions of loyalties.

I think this is a re-release or at least a change of title. I’m assuming this because the book feels a tiny bit dated. In the first chapter the protagonist is removing evidence from the scene of the crime – a CD of Garth Brooks! But still, it’s a great read – know the first few jumpy chapters will past and enjoy the main body of the book and a cracking ending.

Thank you to Netgalley, Nicci French and William Morrow for the review copy.

P.S I’m really looking forward to Nicci French’s newest thriller House of Correction! Look at this lovely cover.

First Date by Sue Watson

Let me start of by saying, this book does exactly what you’d expect it to do from the title and the cover – it’s a psychological thriller played out in the dating world. As a concept it’s solid and I thought the author handled the premise really well. The building up is steady and thorough and by the last thirty percent I was just reading, reading, reading, looking for information, unable to stop, really. And that’s the funny thing about this book – so many books these days concentrate on the first ten percent that you get as a sample and then go downhill after that but I felt this was the opposite.

I actually had my doubts in the first couple of pages – I got hung up on a couple of silly points which instantly made me think Hannah was a fantasist or not quite all there. The first thing which threw me off was the mention of a ‘white picket fence’ I thought I was reading something set in the US and then they started talking about Devon, is that Devon, Pennsylvania? No, they’re definitely in the UK. So is Hannah an Americophile, a girl who dreams in Gilmore Girl accents? Then as they’re realizing how their aspirations are the same it felt very naïve, not just that she put so much stock in wanting the same dog, but because at 35 and first meeting the guy, she was still planning a three child family. I know you can, but having recently passed that milestone myself, I know how you feel, at 35, working all hours, still single wondering if you’ll even manage one kid!

I read on, honestly not sure, but the storytelling soon overcame the flaws of the protagonist. Yes she is ridiculously naive but some people are. In the end, I cared for her enough to want her to survive and at some point the plot thickened and flipped and turned into a better story than just one about a terrible first date with a weirdo which takes over your life. Also kudos to the author for not leaving any strands of the story flapping in the wind! I put the book down feeling satisfied and knowing I’d read an author who understood she’d made a promise to me, the reader, and she’d kept it! I will definitely look out for her next book and despite the niggles at the beginning would recommend this one too to anyone who enjoys dating world based psychological thrillers.

Thank you to Negalley and Bookouture for my advanced reading copy.

First Date by Sue Watson

Published by Bookouture 16 Oct 2020  

Blood Business (Ikmen Mystery 22) Barbara Nadel

I’m a completely new reader when it comes to Barbara Nadel or the Ikmen Mystery series so I opened this book with no preconceptions or expectationswhich is sometimes the best way to go.

The story, which opens in an Istanbul graveyard during an exhumation, is immediately atmospheric, dripping with family tension, the threat of a grisly discovery and the suggestion of a mystery to be solved. The style, writing and pace of the first chapter also told me straight away I was reading something well crafted from a writer who knows her craft. Nadel writes fluidly and confidently and it was only afterwards I realised this is book 22! So no wonder really.

The point of view changes quite quickly and then again – as a new reader I was wrong footed here and started to panic a bit about the list of Turkish names at the front of the book, worried I’d have to memorize them all – an their nicknames but after a few switches I realised Nadel writes every character distinctly so even without their names in my head, I recognise who’s on stage.

That said, I did need to exercise patience, once the mystery has been introduced, the missing body of a rich woman replaced with that of a organ theft victim, retired inspector Çetin Ikmen doesn’t rush to uncover the mystery. Like Morse, he’s a thinker and a tinkerer, who takes time to drink tea and meet friends as he winds his way through the city. And this is where the book’s charm lies. One question leads to another in a surprisingly realistic way. I sometimes find story lines incredulous – jammed together to meet the plot points – but this ‘twist’ and the the eventual dark resolution make sense.

In short, this is a well written, interesting and satisfying read but isn’t a novel for a reader with a short attention span. It’s not the kind of book you could easily read while being jostled about on the Tube, but would be better enjoyed on a Turkish beach holiday (next year perhaps) failing that on the couch or as a bedside table book.

Thanks to Babara Nadel and Headline for a complimentary copy of Blood Business.

UNDER VIOLENT SKIES Judi Daykin

SET UNDER THE BROODING SKIES OF NORTH NORFOLK. MEET SARA HIRST AS SHE SEARCHES FOR HER LOST FATHER AND FINDS THAT GREAT BEAUTY CAN CONCEAL GREAT VIOLENCE.

So where to begin? First of all, this is a good, well-crafted debut novel with a lot going on – and I mean a lot!
As you can see from the blurb above, the main protagonist is a detective with a family mystery to solve, but this storyline is well wrapped in at least three other protagonists’ (maybe sub-protagonists) experiences.
We start with a man up to something dangerous in a ditch, then jump to an older woman defending her property (and perhaps her life), before we get to Sara Hirst and her first day on a new job. But then a new character comes to life, a young woman in a dangerous and liminal position who finds herself forced to maltreat someone else.
By the time Sara shows up in chapter 3, I’m impatient to check in on the other characters again and make sure they’re okay and the next character is such a strong one I wondered for a second if Sara was the main character at all. All these strands will be woven together but I have to admit, if I didn’t know the writer, I would have wondered if this was going to happen.
This novel is very thematic and there’s a lot to unpick regarding equality, human rights, racism etc. At times the themes feel more important than the plot but you could say that makes it more realistic. I certainly think it shows how promising this writer is, that she’s not a one-trick pony and she has plenty more ideas and more material. A lot of debut books are very low on substance, but this is not one of them.
I’d definitely recommend getting a copy and settling into a comfy chair with this one.

Yorkshire born, Judi has lived, worked and made theatre in Norfolk for the last forty years. She completed her MA in Creative Writing (Crime Fiction) at the University of East Anglia (UEA), and her debut novel was shortlisted for the Little, Brown UEA writer’s prize in 2019.

Under Violent Skies is published by JOFFE Publishers and available in paperback and on Kindle.

4 Books That Made Lockdown Bearable

Apparently we were all reading more during lockdown…. Which is odd because everywhere I looked friends were telling me they couldn’t get into their books. And I have to admit, I had the same problem. My TBR pile got smaller but a lot of those books got tossed (sorry Netgalley). My patience and concentration was just rock bottom. However, I did discover 4 new books in this time. These books had me hooked and made me eager for bedtime! So no reviews (don’t want to spoil anything. This post is just a big thank you to them for making those weird months bearable. xxx

The Family Upstairs Lisa Jewel

AKA inherit a house and find out stuff you really didn’t know you didn’t want to know.

“It all happened so slowly, yet so extraordinarily quickly, the change to our parents, to our home, to our lives after they arrived. But that first night, when Birdie appeared on our front step with two large suitcases and a cat in a wicker box, we could never have guessed the impact she would have, the other people she would bring into our lives, that it would all end the way it did. We thought she had just come to stay for the weekend.”

Rules for Perfect Murders Peter Swanson

AKA Write a blog about crime books and then find out someone’s using it as a playlist.

“Books are time travel. True readers all know this. But books don’t just take you back to the time in which they were written; they can take you back to different versions of yourself.”

A Talent for Murder Andrew Wilson

AKA Agatha Christie but not Agatha Christie

“You, Mrs. Christie, are going to commit a murder. But, before then, you are going to disappear.”

My Sister the Serial Killer Oyinkan Braithwaite

AKA It’s your sister and she kills men but blood is thicker than water

She killed him on the first strike, a jab straight to the heart. But then she stabbed him twice more to be sure. He sank to the floor. She could hear her own breathing and nothing else.

That’s it. Thank you all for being really good reads.