No Country for Girls Emma Styles

On the face of things, No Country for Girls seems like a straight-forward Aussie thriller, there’s a ute, and a dust road, flip flops and beer, but once you get reading, NCfG develops a personality all of its own. 

It’s got a fresh style, doesn’t shy away from using vernacular language and doesn’t try to sanitise the Australian Outback or make it more palatable by using traditional or accepted literary styles. It takes a daring approach to telling a gritty story, laser focusing in on those late teenage years and presents these girls in a way that feels genuine. The story and the characters fit perfectly together and even though the main character makes some bad life choices I totally believed those would be the choices she would make.

But this thriller is definitely not a travel guide. I’ve never been to Australia, and literally the only concept I have of the country comes from TV and books and I don’t think it’s that accurate, but Style’s the pics in Australia had never really seen before, warts and all really. I often think Australia is just a warm version of Britain but after reading this book a definitely have a different feel for the place.

At first it can be difficult to read a story that doesn’t immediately try to seduce you with beautiful language or some sort of thrilling premise, and There is a little bit of chewing to be done here. on the first two or three pages I wasn’t really sure how I’d get along with the story especially mixed with the slang, but a minute later I felt like I had known the place and the characters my whole life I was totally invested in what was going to happen to them. 

From plant life scents, to the screen door hanging and scrape of flip-flops flopping, the burnt rubber, along with the mix of vernacular I quickly fell for the girls. I read on because I desperately wanted to know what happens next. The story and the style definitely ended up getting five stars from me. 

Thank you Emma Styles and Netgalley for the ARC!

#NoCountryForGirls pre-order here BOOKS BOOKS BOOKS

Blood Notes by Lin Le Versha 

There’s a new boy at the school for gifted musicians in Suffolk, Edmund, the small, quiet, home schooled cello prodigy. 

Everybody’s very excited to have him there, not least the boy himself who’s finally getting to taste a little of the real teenage life which has been denied him for so long. Harriet, his teacher is keen to take him under her wing too, to bring him on, while Edmund’s mother Imogen is a little less keen on this new relationship. But what about Justine, the pretty and talented teenage musician who Edmund will displace at the concert? What does she think about his arrival and what does Edmund think of her, in her emerald green concert dress, her face prickled with tears?

These are the questions asked by Steph Grant, an ex-copper, now school administrator who just happens to be starting at the college at the same time as Justine’s body is discovered slumped over the piano. 

Who did it? Who wanted her dead and why?

Steph’s old boss Hale is the investigating officer, but ropes Steph in to help. With her ability to ask the right questions, peek around the right doors and listen into the right conversations she’s best placed to investigate. But as the danger mounts, so do the bodies and Steph finds herself in a race against time to find out who is killing off Edmund’s rivals. 

She knows a lot but what doesn’t she know?

Thanks to Edmund’s budding interest in composing, not just music but also his autobiography, the reader is privy to the fascinating interiority of the teenage boy. Think, less Adrian Mole, more American Giglio! 

If Steph only knew!

Will she get her hands on the information in time?

You’ll have to read it to find out.

This is Lin Le Versha’s debut novel, but you’d be forgiven for thinking she’s an old hand at this. She’s devised a clever story, full of intrigue, with well-developed characters, some of whom you’ll love to hate and a very believable school environment, full of the petty competitiveness, the ineffective self-important types, plus a murderer! It’s cosy but not too cosy. 

But most importantly, Le Versha’s has found an ingenious and entertaining way to tell the story, the two points of view between Steph and Edmund, create a real puzzle for the reader to devour, like a cunning Venn Diagram, where the truth lies somewhere in the middle, and it will keep you guessing and gasping till the very end. 

ARC copy of ‘Blood Notes’ by Lin Le Versha received from Hobeck Books in return for my honest review. 

Follow Lin on Twitter!

Get your copy at Waterstones!

Fairest Creatures Karen Taylor

Fairest Creatures is a clever but terrifying thriller that pits the wits of a serial killer against the detective in a classic race against the clock fashion.

Set in Cornwall, this story picks up right where the action is, namely, as a victim in the hands of a perverse serial killer. We don’t know what’s going to happen, but in this almost civilized kidnapping, albeit it one in which the victim sits in a leather choker with a gag in her mouth, the threat of violence is everywhere.

And why not, when a hand has recently been found, severed in a glass box, between the roots of a tree, suggesting to DI Brandon Hammett that an old serial killer, the Sleeping Beauty Killer, is back on the scene.

It’s been 23 years since the Sleeping Beauty Killer’s first victim, but he was never caught and it seems that just when everyone has let their guard down and hoped he’d just disappeared, he’s returned.

But the case gets stranger and things aren’t as straightforward as they may seem. It’s not just the hand, but an ear too, and a conch shell. An old-timer in the force remembers the killings the first time around and these aren’t quite the same. The timing is off, the appearance of the hand is too soon. And what else is wrong? What’s really going on here?

Karen Taylor weaves a clever tale here, showing us the story from the perspective of the victims in the killer’s clutches and from the DI investigating, dropping small, well-timed hints as she goes without giving the game away too soon. It’s the story of a crime, and an investigation, but also one of friendships, relationships and power and control. Well-handled and well done. It’s well-plotted, well-timed and very suspenseful.

A big thank you to Karen Taylor and Peter Burnett at Leamington Books for the ARC!

Follow Karen on Twitter!

Get it at Waterstones!

My Lovely Wife.

Samantha Downing 

A crime thriller of crime thriller writers!

Soooo… I’ve just discovered Samantha Downing. (Where has she been hiding herself away all these years? I honestly don’t know why Twitter didn’t tell me about her) And my first Downing was My Beautiful Wife, which was just brilliant. 

It’s a story told from the husband’s perspective about being in a co-dependent serial killer relationship. Cute eh? He does the sourcing and his wife does the killing and most of the action and suspense comes from their obsession (or hobby) depending how you look at it and how this fits in with family life, (they have two teenage kids) and their careers. This idea in itself is a lot of fun to play with. As so many people have said, it’s got the Dexter vibe to it and Downing does a really good job of drip feeding the motivation into the present drama via backstory flashbacks which screams out for a movie version.

But of course, this is just the set up. Where most books conclude, this book begins and I think that’s what makes it so interesting. It’s not just Dexter meets Mr and Mrs Smith, it’s what do you do when your twisted fantasies and lifestyle start having a negative effect on your kids? When you start something, how are you going to end it? That’s the real gem of the book. But then there’s more.

This book is unique in many ways, the reason being, Downing has picked a very tricky story to tell that most commercial writers would give up trying to shape in favour of something more straight-forward.

How to make the first chapter interesting and hooky without giving anything away?


How to explain motivation while also moving the story forward.


In short, it was a great read and I’m proud to say I paid for it myself and you can get it at Waterstones.

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.