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.

Should I do an MA in creative writing?

So this is the first post from me in a long while. The reason is I’ve been doing a 2-year, ‘low-res’ Masters in Crime Fiction at the University of East Anglia and alongside other writing jobs have had zero time to post. Now that I’m about to submit my manuscript (Yay!), I finally have enough time to reflect on the experience and answer the big question, was it worth it?

It was a question I was asking myself three years ago because although the thought was appealing, it is a large chunk of cash and I know a lot of people who’ve been on a Creative Writing MA and are still stuck with rejection letters from agents and publishers. I googled the answer myself and got a mixed bag of reactions which can be boiled down into two camps: the idea that you’re only doing the MA because you don’t know what to do with your life and presumably you’re getting parental funding for it as ‘career development’, and the other side which runs on the mantra ‘you can’t teach creative writing’ so why bother? Basically, there weren’t any particularly positive responses that I could see, but despite this, I really wanted to do it. And I did.

So after completing the course, I have my answer prepared. Was it worth it? Yes.

Should you do a creative writing MA? Well now. That depends.

There are lots of things to consider, price, course, your expectations etc. (I’ll go into detail on these in the next post), but there’s also your current writing ability and your willingness to take direction and criticism from a tutor and your peers. But why would you do a creative writing MA if you weren’t looking for those things? You’d be surprised.

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I’m a busy woman. I’ve pumpkins to look at.

The reason you’re here…
In her book, Bird by Bird, Anne Lammot talks about running a creative writing class. The student comes, he hands in his manuscript and he expects the tutor to gasp in amazement. “It’s perfect, I’ll take it straight to my publisher!” (I’m paraphrasing). That obviously doesn’t happen, he gets critiqued and doesn’t like it. He never comes back. With that in mind, if you’re considering a creative writing MA you should ask yourself, ‘have I come as far as I can with developing my craft, style and voice on my own?’ If the answer is yes, do the MA but make sure you’re being truthful with yourself and here’s why.

The MA in Creative Writing I was on is the Crime Fiction one at UEA. It does cover some standard elements of creative writing such as plot, story, character, setting, pace etc. but it’s mainly a writing course for people who already know how to write and I assume the same is true of other Masters. From class one, you’re writing and critiquing each other’s work and to get the best out of this opportunity, you need to be as good as you can get otherwise it’s a waste of your time, money, effort…
As a comparison, imagine an editor offered to give feedback on your manuscript once, but only once. Would you send in the first draft? I wouldn’t because they’d just work over the mistakes I could have caught on my second draft. The same is true of a creative writing MA. You’re only going to do it once, make sure you’ve already brought yourself as far along as you possibly can.

Thanks for reading.
Next time, I’ll go in-depth into the MA in Crime Fiction at UEA.

Who is Elka Ray?

Elka Ray is the Canadian author of Divorce is Murder.

Born in the UK and raised in Canada, Elka has two previous novels, Saigon Dark and Hanoi Jane; a short-story collection, What You Don’t Know; and a series of children’s picture books about Vietnam, where she currently lives with her family.
Elka grew up in Victoria, B.C. Canada, the setting for her latest mystery. The she’s not writing, drawing, or reading, Elka is in the ocean.

Elka 2018 author pic

DIVORCE IS MURDER – Elka Ray

I’m really excited about the new Elka Ray out August 20th. A couple of years back I was lucky enough to get an advanced copy of her Saigon Dark which was a gripping, classic noir with a really modern, domestic theme. So fingers crossed this one is just as good.

I got the blurb today to share with you and once I get a AC of Divorce is Murder, I’ll let you know what I think.

So here’s what we know so far…..

DIVORCE IS MURDER

A Toby Wong Novel

 

Toby Wong visits her quiet hometown in British Columbia, where nothing ever happens–until her old high school rival is found murdered.

Shortly after returning to her sleepy hometown on Vancouver Island, Chinese-Canadian divorce lawyer Toby Wong runs into Josh Barton, who broke her heart as a teen at summer camp. Now a wealthy entrepreneur, Josh wants to divorce Tonya, the mean girl who made Toby’s life hell all those years ago. Not long after Toby takes Josh’s case, Tonya is found murdered. Josh is the prime suspect.

Together with her fortune-teller mom and her pregnant best friend, Toby sets out to clear Josh, whom she still has a guilty crush on. While he seems equally smitten, can Toby trust him? The handsome cop charged with finding Tonya’s killer doesn’t think so.

Since Tonya stayed in touch with everyone from that lousy summer camp, Toby keeps running into ex-campers she’d rather forget. Could one of Tonya’s catty friends be her killer?

Are Toby’s old insecurities making her paranoid? Only too late does she realize that she really is in danger.

 

DIVORCE IS MURDER

Seventh Street Books — August 20, 2019

 

The Scandal – Nicola Marsh

My life is like one of those cheap snow globes my twins collected when they were younger. Shiny and pretty on the outside, blurred beyond recognition when shaken.

Ever since her twin girls left home, Marisa has felt there’s something missing from her life. Her sprawling mansion is no longer filled with laughter and chaos, and she’s desperate to feel needed… and to be distracted from the secret she’s been hiding from her husband for all these years.

Coffee with her best friends might be the only thing holding Marisa together. But Claire and Elly have their own secrets. Like why Claire hasn’t been to work in weeks, or why Elly won’t tell anyone who’s buying her flowers.

When Jodi, a pregnant young girl, turns up at Marisa’s doorstep, Marisa is quick to come to her aid. She sees herself in Jodi and she knows how devoting yourself to looking after others can take up all your time in the most marvellous way.

But Jodi’s arrival quickly pushes everyone’s lies to the surface. The father of her unborn child is someone the women know very well, and Marisa starts to wonder if her obsession with helping Jodi might come at a devastating price…

 

Review

 

One night during a gossipy – very Witches of Eastwick-esque girlie get together at a house in the Hamptons, the doorbell goes and a pregnant girl faints on the doorstep. She’s the catalyst in the story ensuring a wide range of secrets and lies will need to bubble to the surface before anyone finds out – who the father is!

But this isn’t just a gossip book – it’s a proper thriller too as the characters come out of their shells and start to reveal their true natures and as things take a more sinister turn.

To be honest, this isn’t my usual read but it did keep me turning pages to the very end. And I  didn’t see the end coming. A proper small-town noir thriller.

Thank you Netgalley and Bookouture for the Advanced Copy

Something Fishy – Lois Schmitt

The Blurb

When attorney Samuel (Sam) Wong goes missing, wildlife magazine reporter Kristy Farrell believes the disappearance is tied to her latest story concerning twenty acres of prime beachfront that the Clam Shell Cove Aquarium hopes to purchase. Sam works for multi-millionaire land developer Lucien Moray who wants to buy the property for an upscale condominium. The waterfront community is divided on this issue like the Hatfields and McCoys, with environmentalists siding with the aquarium and local business owners lining up behind Moray. Meanwhile, a body is found in a nearby inlet. Kristy, aided by her veterinarian daughter, investigates and discovers deep secrets among the aquarium staff—secrets that points to one of them as the killer. Soon the aquarium is plagued with accidents, Kristy has a near death encounter with a nine foot bull shark, and a second murder occurs. But ferreting out the murderer and discovering the story behind Sam’s disappearance aren’t Kristy’s only challenges. When her widowed, septuagenarian mother announces her engagement, Kristy suspects her mom’s soon to be husband is not all he appears to be. As Kristy tries to find the truth before her mother ties the knot, she also races the clock to find the aquarium killer before this killer strikes again.

The Review

This aquarium themed murder mystery thriller is definitely different. Cosy in a way only a US murder-mystery can be. The story is written very economically, without much frill but I felt this kept it moving along at a good pace. But despise its frivolity, at its heart it’s a proper whodunit with the net (pardon the pun) tightening around the suspicious character that we’ve all grown to love to hate. A very good read. And an awesome cover by the way.

Thank you Netgalley and Encircle Publications for the Advance Copy.

Something Fishy

by Lois Schmitt

Encircle Publications LLC