Latest Reads: Age of Assassins R J Barker

Publication Date: Available now from Orbit

Source: Review Copy

TO CATCH AN ASSASSIN, USE AN ASSASSIN . . .

Girton Club-foot, apprentice to the land’s best assassin, still has much to learn about the art of taking lives. But their latest mission tasks him and his master with a far more difficult challenge: to save a life. Someone, or many someones, is trying to kill the heir to the throne, and it is up to Girton and his master to uncover the traitor and prevent the prince’s murder.

In a kingdom on the brink of civil war and a castle thick with lies Girton finds friends he never expected, responsibilities he never wanted, and a conspiracy that could destroy an entire land.

Age of Assassins is pure energy on the page – a banging brilliant fantasy novel in a year where there are a fair few banging fantasy novels coming out, this one stands out.

I couldn’t put this damn book down once I picked it up – Girton Club-Foot, apprentice assassin, does not allow for such a thing as he and his mentor hunt for an, erm assassin. In a cleverly developed and endlessly intriguing plot the pair of them sneak around in plain sight, trying to save the heir to the throne in a land that is on the edge of all sorts of disasters, meeting new friends and enemies along the way and basically dragging you, the reader, on an adventure of epic proportions.

I’m a lover of fantasy when it is so very brilliantly character driven, Girton is one of my favourite characters ever in this respect – he’s so beautifully grumpy, wonderfully witty and whilst I’ve seen others refer to him as disabled I never ever saw him that way because he didn’t. His boss and kindly (occasionally) mentor Merela is also hugely engaging and as a pair they were a delight to read about.

The world building is also beautifully done, understanding coming to you via plot developments and character dialogue for the most part rather than endlessly complicated description – another thing I love because you just absorb it along the way. The political landscape is clearly divisive, setting our main protagonists up for all sorts of ups and downs that you just live right along with them. The writing style is a bit rock and roll, Age of Assassins is a heady mix of mystery, thrills and pure classic fantasy, forget your Game of Thrones for a bit, pick up this instead.

There is so much to love in Age of Assassins, I’m not even going to spoil one second of it for you. Just go get it and throw yourself in there, its a rich, rollicking, rush of a read that will make your head spin. Bring on book 2. I stand ready.

Highly Recommended.

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Latest Reads: I Know A Secret Tess Gerritsen

Publication Date: 10th August from Random House (Transworld)

Source: Netgalley

The crime scene is unlike any that Detective Rizzoli and medical examiner Maura Isles have ever before encountered. The woman lies in apparently peaceful repose on her bed, and Maura finds no apparent cause of death, but there is no doubt the woman is indeed dead. The victim’s eyes have been removed and placed in the palm of her hand, a gesture that echoes the terrifying films she produces. Is a crazed movie fan reenacting scenes from those disturbing films?

When another victim is found, again with no apparent cause of death, again with a grotesquely staged crime scene, Jane and Maura realize the killer has widened his circle of targets. He’s chosen one particular woman for his next victim, and she knows he’s coming for her next. She’s the only one who can help Jane and Maura catch the killer.

But she knows a secret. And it’s a secret she’ll never tell.

I can’t believe there is any avid crime reader out there who has not yet dipped into the Rizzoli and Isles series from Tess Gerritsen but if that is you then you might want to take a look – I have yet to read one that disappointed me (and I’ve read them all sometimes more than once) right from way back when “The Surgeon” was published.

The two main characters have such a fascinating story arc throughout the series (maintained and intriguingly expanded once again here) and in “I Know a Secret” they have a strange and unpredictable case to deal with, a new possible nemesis for Jane Rizzoli that opens up the series beautifully and the usual brilliantly insightful medical detail layered into the cleverly plotted mystery element.

The author has a medical background that makes that side of things oh so authentic (and often horrifyingly thought provoking) and the storytelling is simply divine – I read this, as all the others, in one sitting – starting it yesterday morning and finishing yesterday evening, emerging breathless from an ending that just made me desperate for the next novel. Waiting. I HATE waiting.

Even the usually stoic and unshakable Maura Iles gets thrown a curveball or two in this instalment – I’ve always loved her for her tough outer shell hiding an inner emotional turmoil, her friendship with Jane is solidly reassuring and endlessly addictive – as a reader you can’t really ask for a better pair to head down into the darkness with.

Darkness is right too – these two see the worst of human frailty and come in contact with some dangerous, erratic people – The secret being hidden here is classically engaging and I was very taken with the other voice, Holly, she was captivating and kept me on my toes. Overall a genuinely excellent addition to the Rizzoli and Iles hall of fame and one that has just confirmed my love for them.

Top notch quality crime fiction always tells. Tess Gerritsen delivers every single time.

Highly Recommended.

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Latest Reads: My Little Eye Stephanie Marland

Publication Date: November 2nd from Trapeze

Source: Proof copy

KISS THE GIRLS
A young woman is found dead in her bedroom surrounded by rose petals – the latest victim of ‘The Lover’. Struggling under the weight of an internal investigation, DI Dominic Bell is no closer to discovering the identity of the killer and time is running out.

AND MAKE THEM DIE…
As the murders escalate, Clementine Starke joins an online true crime group determined to take justice in their own hands – to catch the killer before the police. Hiding a dark secret, she takes greater risks to find new evidence and infiltrate the group.

As Starke and Bell get closer to cracking the case neither of them realise they’re being watched. The killer is closer to them than they think, and he has his next victim – Clementine – firmly in his sights. 

So it is no secret at all that Stephanie Marland (better known currently as Crime Thriller Girl Steph Broadbribb) is a good friend of mine who I love dearly – and you might think that would mean I’d give her an easy ride but trust me you would be mistaken. If anything I’m a much tougher critic of the people I have come to know well, they have to go some for me to be impressed even slightly.

So when I say that “My Little Eye” is a bang on psychological thriller of the most addictive kind, throwing us some brilliantly divisive and fascinating characters with a twisted plot full of gorgeous unpredictability you can be reassured that I genuinely mean it. And then some. I raced through this read in my grasshopper on acid type manner, every time I thought I could put it down something else happened that made me do that proverbial “one more chapter” thing.

Clementine is just brilliant. She’s unusual, compelling, creates unpredictability all by herself you hardly need a mystery element so right away you are sucked into this, as she rockets around London (brilliantly described) trying to catch a murderer. The central theme – could a group of online crime enthusiasts solve a murder in real time – is a cleverly socially current one – we’ve all been on Twitter and Facebook doing our armchair detective thing on the headlines of the moment, in My Little Eye that takes on a whole new vibe.

Dom the detective (I couldn’t help that it’s how I’ve been thinking of him all the way through) is also an intelligently divisive character and one of the strengths of this read for me was in the way he and Clementine came together. We also have a mystery element that is beautifully imagined, has a truly thrilling serial killer vibe and doesn’t necessarily do what it says on the tin all the way through. That alongside the layered characterisation and the really very good writing (she says grudgingly once again I can’t complain even though it’s one of my favourite things to do) makes “My Little Eye” a pure joy to read. Get the caffeine, get the chocolate, find a corner to hide in and go into Clementine’s world. You won’t regret it.

Highly Recommended. Well done Steph – all the wine for you.

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Latest Reads: Perfect Prey Helen Fields

Publication Date: Available Now from Avon

Source: Netgalley

In the midst of a rock festival, a charity worker is sliced across the stomach. He dies minutes later. In a crowd of thousands, no one saw his attacker. The following week, the body of a primary school teacher is found in a dumpster in an Edinburgh alley, strangled with her own woollen scarf.

DI Ava Turner and DI Luc Callanach have no motive and no leads – until around the city, graffitied on buildings, words appear describing each victim.

It’s only when they realise the words are appearing before rather than after the murders, that they understand the killer is announcing his next victim…and the more innocent the better.

So we come to the second in Helen Fields rather fist pumping DI Callanach series – the first being Perfect Remains which you should certainly check out and its a right old page turner. Dark though, very dark. I don’t think there is any writer out there doing death scenes like Helen Fields is doing them and they are horrifically hard hitting (which I love it has to be said. Not sure what that says about me)

Anyone who has read the first book will know what to expect – and here you get more of it and better, the characters are top notch fascinating and further developed in a brilliantly immersive way  – at the same time there is a new case and what a case it is. Fast paced action, some new people I hope we meet again with a beautifully twisty plot that will keep you on your toes. Descriptively speaking this is absolute genius – you get so involved all the way through you go through a gamut of emotions from subtle smile to outrage to terror and back again. One character will CERTAINLY get your goat, you know you are loving a book when you end up shouting at the people in it like they can hear you and will modify their behaviour accordingly..

Overall Perfect Prey is a perfect second novel to follow up the intensity of the first, upping the ante, keeping you in the characters lives and certainly at the end of this I was hoping desperately that the next one would not take too long to come along.

If you like your crime dark and dastardly with a hint of horror and a strong degree of unpredictability then Perfect Prey is for you.

Recommended.

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Latest Reads: Watching You Arne Dahl

Publication Date: Available Now from Vintage

Source: Netgalley

Someone is watching.

At each abandoned crime scene there’s a hidden clue: a tiny metal cog, almost invisible to the naked eye. Someone is sending Detective Sam Berger a message, someone who knows that only he will understand the cryptic trail.

Someone knows.

When another teenaged girl disappears without trace, Sam must convince his superiors that they’re dealing with a serial killer. As the police continue the hunt to find the latest victim, Sam is forced to unearth long-buried personal demons. He has no choice if he is to understand the killer’s darkly personal message before time runs out.

Somebody is killing just for him.

I loved this one – it was just the kind of twisty story I love with a couple of smartly drawn main protagonists, plenty of mystery, completely gripping and really right up my street.

It is a “serial killer thriller” that also sets up what I hope will be a long running series as I am at this point very attached to Sam as a character – and just as attached to his erstwhile partner in crime who’s name I won’t give you right now so as not to spoil the plot – but individually they allow for a lot of fun reading and together even more so.

The underneath mystery of it is shadowy and dangerous, I loved how the various strands came together slowly over the course of it, especially within the setting which was clearly drawn and atmospheric. It fairly raced along, perfectly paced, until those final fairly horrifying moments. A big bang of an end which made me crazy (in a good way) means that I will actually be willing to kill for the next novel…

This doesn’t have that usual feel that you get from Nordic crime, it has a quite individual tone that sits well between Nordic Noir and British based crime thrillers – this served to make me feel all the more at home with it, not sure how much kudos for that sits with the translator ( Neil Smith) but I’d guess it’s at least a bit so he deserves a shout out.

Overall an excellent thriller that will have me reading the back catalogue and indeed looking forward to all future books. Gripping, clever and unexpected.

Recommended.

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Latest Reads: A Man Of Shadows Jeff Noon

Publication Date: 1st August from Angry Robot 

Source: Netgalley

Below the neon skies of Dayzone – where the lights never go out, and night has been banished – lowly private eye John Nyquist takes on a teenage runaway case. His quest takes him from Dayzone into the permanent dark of Nocturna.

As the vicious, seemingly invisible serial killer known only as Quicksilver haunts the streets, Nyquist starts to suspect that the runaway girl holds within her the key to the city’s fate. In the end, there’s only one place left to search: the shadow-choked zone known as Dusk. 

I really will never look at time passing in the same way again.

Sometimes a book comes along that just ticks every box in the “things I love about reading” stakes – A Man of Shadows is such a novel, so incredibly immersive, such brilliantly incisive descriptive prose and a set of fascinating, beautifully imagined characters  – that you just dive into it with abandon and leave the real world behind.

A Man of Shadows has a decisively built world, a world of literal light dark and shade, where time is of the essence and the residents live with a kind of permanent jetlag as they jump between one timepiece and another. Into this strangely authentic place we find John Nvquist, Private Eye, damaged individual, hunting for a missing teenager and becoming entangled in a dark and dangerous web.

He is quintessentially of the 1940’s, the wonderful noir feel the author brings to proceedings is quite simply incredible considering the scifi setting and the increasingly bizarre yet compelling narrative – the dialogue is of another age yet sparkles against the advanced backdrop, all the way through this strange beauty echoes in your mind, you do live it and breathe it.

A Man of Shadows is a heady mix of science fiction, old school detective noir, horror and thriller – I was almost literally holding my breath as the final moments unfolded and I have no doubt there are some surreal dusk fuelled dreams awaiting  me when I sleep tonight – I almost welcome them, so much did I enjoy this one that despite the dark nature of it I’d love to return. Oh look – this is John Nvquist 1 apparently – so I guess I should be careful what I wish for.

Surreal, dazzling, unusual and extraordinary – A Man Of Shadows will haunt you for a long time after turning that last page.

“You can walk away from events but not from your own darkness”

Highly Recommended.

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Latest Reads: The Hours Before Dawn. Celia Fremlin.

Publication Date: 6th July (reissue) from Faber and Faber

Source: Review Copy

Louise would give anything – anything – for a good night’s sleep. Forget the girls running errant in the garden and bothering the neighbours. Forget her husband who seems oblivious to it all. If the baby would just stop crying, everything would be fine.

Or would it? What if Louise’s growing fears about the family’s new lodger, who seems to share all of her husband’s interests, are real? What could she do, and would anyone even believe her? Maybe, if she could get just get some rest, she’d be able to think straight.

In a new edition of this lost classic, The Hours Before Dawn proves – scarily – as relevant to readers today as it was when Celia Fremlin first wrote it in the 1950s. 

I read this brilliant and vintage novel in one big gulp of a sitting this afternoon – positively beautiful writing, immensely creepy yet wittily hilarious in places, Celia Fremlin gives a masterclass in the genre of Domestic Noir years before Domestic Noir was a thing.

Winner of the 1960 Edgar award for best mystery novel (and you can see why) The Hours Before Dawn follows one tired young mother as she tries to differentiate between lack of sleep and actual danger – all the while the author describes the role of wife and mother of those times perfectly with humour and grace. Louise is all women who have ever had small children and a relatively useless husband to deal with – we can all relate to that surreal edge of the world feeling you get when you’ve been up half the night for endless nights. Is that a real shadow hanging over the family in the shape of a seemingly innocuous lodger or is Louise just so damned tired that everything seems horrifying? The path to the truth of the matter is an often laugh out loud funny but always very off kilter one and I loved every single word of this book.

It was so refreshing to read a story set in a time where there are no mobile phones that the protagonist can forget to charge/lose/have no signal in order to push the narrative, a time where mental illness was not automatically assumed to be at the heart of any character’s issues with reality, where indeed almost all of the oft used plot devices in modern domestic noir are unavailable. The Hours Before Dawn is all the more authentic for it and whilst I’m sure if I read other such books written in the same time they may take on the same blur of repetitiveness for the moment I’m relishing in the unusual and original storytelling technique. It is beautifully done for sure so I will now most definitely be reading this authors other works. In fact it will be a pleasure I shall look forward to with much anticipation.

I loved how Celia Fremlin builds the family relationships- Louise and her husband have a strong, solid marriage (another breath of fresh air) , he is useless not because of a lack of care and affection for his wife, but because of the time he lived in where more traditional roles were the norm. She is not a domestic goddess, I often snorted at some very realistic asides on the vagaries of having dinner ready whilst answering obscure and insistent questions from your youngsters and soothing a fractious baby, but all the while there is this underlying menace pervading the story. Louise knows something is wrong but doesn’t know what. The author creates this creepy vibe with darker prose invading the lighter moments, those corner of the eye type times that work so much better than obvious and insistent cues.

Before I sign off I’d like to give a shout out to that brilliant cover – which is gorgeous but takes on new meaning after one particular scene from the novel – look at it again after you have read the book.

The Hours Before Dawn was truly brilliant, both in style and substance and I really can’t recommend it highly enough.

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Latest Reads: The Breaking of Liam Glass Charles Harris.

Publication Date: Available Now from Marble City Publishing

Source: Review Copy

Jason Worthington, frustrated journalist, desperate to sell his soul, if only someone will buy… Andy Rockham, sleep-deprived detective constable whose one mistake could cost him his job, unless he finds someone to pin it on… Jamila Hasan, loyal politician who will lose her seat at the coming election unless she discovers a principle to stand for… …And Katrina Glass, single mother, whose only child went out to get cash and never came back… Their stories weld together on a mixed-up, mixed-race Central London estate when white teenager Liam Glass is stabbed and left in a coma. And Jason is handed a once-in-a-lifetime ticket to tabloid heaven… Not so much a Whodunnit as a blackly comic What-They-Did-After-It. 

A darkly comic satire on our current human existence, The Breaking of  Liam Glass is highly topical right now in the days of “fake news” and tabloid rhetoric. When teenager Liam Glass is stabbed, afterwards lying in a coma, Jason Worthington see’s it as his chance at a break out story, going to increasingly ridiculous and occasionally dangerous lengths to ensure his headline.

This is a character led group drama, beautifully and cleverly written, encompassing all the themes of the moment – a deprived estate where an eclectic and diverse range of people live the daily monotonous life realities, the dubious morality of the British tabloid press, the yin yang of the political landscape and at the heart of it one teenager lying in a hospital bed, forgotten except for being the catalyst for all these shenanigans. It is kind of sad in places but totally authentic with a wonderfully divisive anti hero in Jason Worthington who holds the whole thing together.

Considering it is not really a mystery it is still an intensely addictive page turner, Charles Harris manages the dark humour brilliantly, never losing sight of the story he is trying to tell and keeping a firm eye on the realities of the situation. In a “ripped from the headlines” take on the way we receive our news these days, imagining what might bring us those screaming Daily Mail type front pages but focusing in firmly on the characters involved, The Breaking of Liam Glass is utterly gripping, darkly realistic and endlessly entertaining.

This novel takes on a deeper and more emotionally resonant feel after the recent Grenfell Tower disaster and indeed our recent UK election – as the blurb says this is a “What they did after it” story and the stark realism that Charles Harris brings to the narrative is ultimately thought provoking and somewhat melancholy. A story of our time, showing the dark the light and the grey in between, both entertainment and education, this one will stay with me.

Absolutely highly recommended. Something different, highly topical and a damned good read.

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New Release Spotlight: An Act of Silence Colette McBeth

Publication Date: Available Now from Wildfire

Source: Review Copy

These are the facts I collect. 

My son Gabriel met a woman called Mariela in a bar. She went home with him. They next morning she was found in an allotment. 

Mariela is dead. 

Gabriel has been asked to report to Camden Police station in six hours for questioning

Linda Moscow loves her son; it’s her biological instinct to keep him safe. But if she’s not sure of his innocence, how can she stand by him? Should she go against everything she believes in to protect him?

She’s done it before, and the guilt nearly killed her.

Now, the past is catching up with them. As old secrets resurface, Linda is faced with another impossible choice. Only this time, it’s her life on the line…

Brilliantly compulsive, utterly heartbreaking, beautifully written. A psychological thriller of depth and beauty.

That was the soundbite review I put up on Goodreads after finishing this novel and the gap between then and now has only enforced that feeling –  I have not read a psychological thriller that has as many beautifully layered themes to it for a long time. An Act of Silence is a true page turner, incredibly compelling storytelling, sublime writing, delivering just the right amount of unpredictability with some truly intriguing characters.

It is a character drama that is extremely thought provoking, looking at the parental relationship, how far we would go to protect our children, all embedded into a good old fashioned mystery story. The author takes you on a twisted journey, emotionally hard hitting, always authentic and plotted to perfection both in style and substance. Linda as a character is oddly likable despite often doing some rather unlikable things it seems – but I have to say Gabriel was the one I engaged with, his character voice resonated – so I attached.

Its difficult to say too much without giving things away, but as things progress you’ll get deeper and deeper into this – Colette McBeth just entwines you into the world she’s created – it is clever, fascinating, explores some very dark events that will touch your soul – utterly alluring, the delicate touch this author has with language sucks you in then throws you out the other side with thoughts that will linger in your head long after reading.

Really excellent. Truly so. I cannot recommend it highly enough.

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New Release Spotlight: The Summer of Impossible Things Rowan Coleman

Publication Date: Available Now from Ebury

Source: Review Copy

If you could change the past, would you?

Thirty years ago, something terrible happened to Luna’s mother. Something she’s only prepared to reveal after her death. 

Now Luna and her sister have a chance to go back to their mother’s birthplace and settle her affairs. But in Brooklyn they find more questions than answers, until something impossible – magical – happens to Luna, and she meets her mother as a young woman back in the summer of 1977. 

At first Luna’s thinks she’s going crazy, but if she can truly travel back in time, she can change things. But in doing anything – everything – to save her mother’s life, will she have to sacrifice her own?

This book is made entirely of magic.

Beautifully written and stunning in its impact, this is a story about love in all its forms and the things we sacrifice for it.

Also: Time travel and Disco.  So what else do you honestly need?

Rowan Coleman writes with such a gorgeous lyrical style that you get caught up in the narrative and come out the other side a little starry eyed. And a little tearful. Luna is such an engaging protagonist, thrown into a strange and unlikely situation, during a very sad time in her life and ultimately making it her own –  travelling a path of odd and emotional decision making events.

The 70’s come to life, as we travel back and forth, the author paints the years with different colours, dark and light, shading each decade with it’s own sense of place – I loved it loved it, I couldn’t put it down and it was melancholy yet life affirming – when I got to the end I went back and read portions again just for the sheer joy of it. The ending was  genuinely thought provoking and so so exquisite, the fact that the characters are so very alive on the page during the reading just making it more so.

It’s hard to know what to say to be honest because as I started with, The Summer of Impossible Things is just made entirely of magic. Some of it dark magic, some of it light magic but pure pure magic. I think that’s really all you need to know.

Highly HIGHLY recommended. Even for the most cynical readers. In fact even more so for the cynical ones.

Go get it.

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