The Last Place You Look – Kristen Lepionka Blog Tour Review

Publication Date: 6th July from Faber

Source: Review Copy

Sarah Cook, a beautiful blonde teenager disappeared fifteen years ago, the same night her parents were brutally murdered in their suburban Ohio home. Her boyfriend Brad Stockton – black and from the wrong side of the tracks – was convicted of the murders and sits on death row, though he always maintained his innocence. With his execution only weeks away, his devoted sister, insisting she has spotted Sarah at a local gas station, hires PI Roxane Weary to look again at the case.

Reeling from the recent death of her cop father, Roxane finds herself drawn to the story of Sarah’s vanishing act, especially when she thinks she’s linked Sarah’s disappearance to one of her father’s unsolved murder cases involving another teen girl. Despite her self-destructive tendencies, Roxane starts to hope that maybe she can save Brad’s life and her own.

Top notch Crime fiction right here, really excellent debut, totally engaging main protagonist and a story that is twistier than a pretzel but still entirely authentic and utterly believable. Absolutely bang on writing style that just perfectly tells a beautifully plotted story.

I read “The Last Place You Look” in a single afternoon, mostly it has to be said BECAUSE of main protagonist Roxane Weary (what a great name and totally suited to the character portrayed) who just had a wonderful world weariness about her, a strong and intriguing character voice and whilst the mystery element of the story was also brilliant it is Roxane that keeps you turning those pages.

I was impressed by how Kristen Lepionka managed to take that well worn plot device – a character who hits the bottle too hard – and turn it around from something that makes you sigh in annoyance to a really genuinely authentic character trait, encompassing that part of Roxane into the wider narrative in an immersive and clever way. I think that needs mentioning considering my propensity for having a moan about cliche plot devices – in The Last Place You Look it actually works. Huge points for that one.

On the mystery side the case of Brad Stockton is relevant and fascinating – what I really found excellent here was the fact or not of his guilt was not at all clear – therefore things remained unpredictable right up to that very last moment. Some of the best parts of the book came where Roxane was facing off against those who are determined that Brad IS guilty either because they truly believe it or because they are hiding something  – the dialogue sparks, the interactions are solidly realistic and the author creates a real sense of tension and unease throughout the telling. The sense of place is also well realised  – the whole thing is totally immersive, a real noir feel with a modern twist.

Overall just brilliant. 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.

You can purchase The Hours Before Dawn Here 

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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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The Mayfly: In Defence of Horror. James Hazel.

Slightly later than advertised (Apologies I was stuck on the M6 again) today I’m pleased to welcome James Hazel to Liz Loves Books with a guest post about why we are obsessed with horror. The Mayfly is out NOW and links to my review and further details will follow (Tip: It’s brilliant you should read it!)

In defence of horror James Hazel.

There is a man who has created a physical concept designed to be experienced by another, an observer, and provoke within that other an emotive response. This man has created art.

There is another man who has created a physical concept designed to be experienced by another, a reader, and provoke within him particular feelings of fear, disgust and outrage. This man has created horror.

The observer of art discharges his emotional response subjectively; any stimulation he feels is his alone, unless he chooses to share it with others.

The reader of horror, however, experiences a dilemma. Might the entertainment he has derived from such negative feelings require an element of justification? In the absence of such a justification, is the reader as appalling and inhuman as the horror he has just witnessed?

The Mayfly opens with the interrogation of a German SS doctor, Kurt Schneider, in 1945 by a British military intelligence officer, Bertie Ruck, on the subject of experiments with poison carried out on inmates at the Buchenwald concentration camp during the Holocaust.

Trying to establish the doctor’s motivations, Ruck presses Schneider only to be told, cryptically, that the suffering of the victim opened up a conduit through which Schneider was able to connect with God. In other words, there was no scientific justification for Schneider’s experimentation; he did it because he enjoyed it, albeit that he expressed that enjoyment through a sense of spiritual enlightenment.

There is some grounding in truth here. There are no known scientific justifications for some of the experiments carried out by Joseph Mengele in Auschwitz, especially when it came to surgical operations carried out on twins.

For some, this might make difficult reading.

That is not to say, however, that there is something wrong with deriving an element of enjoyment from the more cringe-inducing, sinister moments in any media, whether film or novel. That is so, even in a case where one might lose empathy with the victim.

Take, for instance, the portrayal of retribution in the film Hostel. Here, three friends travelling across Europe are persuaded by a mysterious man on a train to visit a hostel in Slovakia. The protagonists are drugged and taken to a warehouse in the middle of nowhere where they are subjected to torture at the hands of individuals who have paid for the privilege.

One of the friends, Paxton, escapes. In the end, Paxton finds the man who tortured him in a public toilet and kills him.

The two primary acts of violence in the film – the torture of Paxton and his subsequent revenge – are vicious in the extreme but provoke entirely different responses, since there has been a role-reversal to the advantage of the hero: Paxton is able to exact revenge.

But we as the viewer aren’t cringing behind our eyes in the final scenes, despite the violence. We’re egging him on. That moment – the moment of letting go and empathising with the perpetrator of the crime – perhaps that is the true horror.

I am sympathetic to anyone who says that real life is cruel enough without having to read about such violence in fiction. I have already experienced some mild disapproval of the subject matter of The Mayfly, given its reliance on real life events. But it seems to me that this misses the point.

Real life is cruel, but we carry on regardless. We construct for ourselves an illusion that everything we do is predictable and our world feels secure. There is nothing wrong with that illusion; it is philosophically necessary, otherwise we would be constantly looking for monsters under the bed. The horror we are faced with in literature and film keeps this notion in proportion, and helps ensure that we do not forget the real-life suffering of those poor victims.

About the Book:

It’s happening again.

A mutilated body discovered in the woods.
A murderous plan conceived in the past.
A reckoning seventy years in the making . . .

Charlie Priest, ex-detective inspector turned London lawyer, is hired by influential entrepreneur Kenneth Ellinder to investigate the murder of his son. But Priest is no ordinary lawyer. Brilliant, yet flawed, this case will push him, and those closest to him, to the edge.

Priest traces the evidence back to the desperate last days of the Second World War. Buried in the ashes of the Holocaust is a secret so deadly its poison threatens to destroy the very heart of the establishment. 
With more victims going missing, Priest realises that not everyone should be trusted. As he races to uncover the truth, can he prevent history from repeating itself?

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Latest Reads: Unleashed Peter Laws

Publication Date: July 20th from Allison and Busby

Source: Review Copy

Fifteen years ago, 29 Barley Street in Menham, South London, became notorious as the scene of alleged poltergeist activity which led to the death of young Holly Wasson. The shadow cast by this episode is still felt in the town, and among the gang of friends who were caught up in the tragic events. That shadow looms larger than ever when one of the group dies in horrific and strange circumstances.
Matt Hunter, former minister and now professor of sociology, is called in to advise the police on the possible ritualistic elements of the death. And he is forced to ask himself, are forces beyond the grave at work or is a flesh-and-blood killer at large?

Anyone who remembers how (in the literary sense!) orgasmic I was about the first in this series, Purged, will know just how much I’ve been looking forward to getting my hands on Unleashed. Well yesterday I DID get my hands on it and I read it in one afternoon into evening – then couldn’t sleep because psychopathic labradors. And not so cute bunnies. When I DID finally nod off you wouldn’t have wanted to be in my rather surreal dreams. Because that’s how this type of storytelling gets you.

So Matt Hunter is back again then, this time caught up in a Ghostwatch type scenario with weird demonologist types, even stranger prayer spouting types and a few normal people hiding some dark secrets. Normal of course being both relative and subjective.

It is a heady blend of crime, horror and hints at the supernatural, with a firm eye towards driving you crazy (I’m extrapolating on this authors reasons for writing) and embedded inside of all that some dark authentic themes and some truly thought provoking questions about humanity. Both Purged and Unleashed achieve that difficult to get right genre mash up extraordinarily well, both speculative and realistic, they sit in a place not filled by any other writer that I know currently out there. Although I’m happy to be advised!  It could be called genre fiction, popular fiction or literary fiction and sit well enough in any of those boxes but I’m wary of boxes, things tend to jump out of them without warning. I’m probably not going to open any cupboards for a while either…

Honestly creepy too, even when I was reading in daylight I was half looking over my shoulder and by some twist of fate I ended up reading the finale (which is not only very edge of the seat but scary as all hell) after darkness had fallen. In more ways than one. The truly immersive prose and beautifully described claustrophobic setting just got right into my head, that is some clever writing for sure and not that usual in all honesty. I didn’t have the disconnect I usually maintain when reading fiction except when it comes to those odd few, so coming out of Matt Hunter’s world again was somewhat of a stretch and took me a while.

Influenced by this novel I’m never eating Lasagne again, but I will be re-watching a certain 80’s cult television show –  Unleashed is addictive, cleverly manipulative, beautifully unpredictable and never any less than utterly engaging. Be prepared to sleep with the lights on!

Highly Recommended.

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The Fourth Monkey – J D Barker. Blog Tour Review.

Publication Date: Available Now from HQ

Source: Review Copy

Brilliant. Complicated. Psychopath.

That’s the Four Monkey Killer or ‘4MK’. A murderer with a twisted vision and absolutely no mercy.

Detective Sam Porter has hunted him for five long years, the recipient of box after box of grisly trinkets carved from the bodies of 4MK’s victims.

But now Porter has learnt the killer’s twisted history and is racing to do the seemingly impossible – find 4MK’s latest victim before it’s too late…

I loved this. It is so beautifully twisted that I don’t even have a word for it. I banged through it, unable to look away, often freaking out slightly, J D Barker writes with such visceral reality that you just fall into it stuck between horrified and fascinated.

So it is a serial killer thriller, which is an actual thriller, whilst being clever and manipulative enough to keep you guessing and with some characters of great depth and perception. I loved Sam Porter and his back story drip fed to us during the course of the read is excellent and genuinely absorbing.

The psychology of the killer is also really really quite spellbinding – the diary entries formed a central core to the plot and made up some of my favourite parts of The Fourth Monkey – and BOOM what an ending too, as the two stories came together to create a perfect storm.

It is graphic and doesn’t pull punches so if you are of a nervous disposition be prepared – but for me the violent scenes just fed into the rest perfectly, not salacious just truthful (and to be honest extraordinarily alluring despite the odd urge to just clap my hands over my eyes) – the author creates quite the dilemma, I was both urging Sam on to catch him whilst also vaguely hoping that he might get away – which of these two things happens you’ll have to read to  find out.

Overall The Fourth Monkey is just brilliant – a page turning, crazily epic, beautifully unbalancing blast of a story. More. More of that sort of thing I say.

Highly Recommended.

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Cross Purpose Claire Macleary – Blog Tour Review.

Publication Date: Available Now from Contraband

Source: Review Copy

Two Women, One Quest, Grave Consequences

When Maggie Laird’s disgraced ex-cop husband suddenly dies, her humdrum suburban life is turned upside down. With the bills mounting, she takes on his struggling detective agency, enlisting the help of neighbour ‘Big Wilma’. And so an unlikely partnership is born. But the discovery of a crudely mutilated body soon raises the stakes… and Maggie and Wilma are drawn into an unknown world of Aberdeen’s sink estates, clandestine childminding and dodgy dealers.
Cross Purpose is surprising, gritty, sometimes darkly humorous – a tale combining police corruption, gangs and murder with a paean to friendship, loyalty and how ‘women of a certain age’ can beat the odds.

Cross Purpose is both wittily funny and quite dark, with a couple of characters I loved very much and a twisty tale of murky dealings in Aberdeen.

First of all the set up was brilliant – Maggie and Wilma are the ultimate odd couple who apart may be fairly usual but together are a total scream. Claire Macleary’s eye for involving dialogue really made this book for me, that plus the fact that all the characters are beautifully drawn and ever engaging.

The plotting is cleverly obtuse, the setting is completely authentic – and also this is an excellent concept taking as it does unlikely and less cliched main protagonists and throwing them into an unusual situation. There are some grim realities within the pages but always that sense of dark, ironic humour to offset the more horrific elements. It works really well and genuinely makes for a page turner.

One of the best things is that it seems likely we will meet Maggie and Wilma again and I for one can’t wait. The grounding for a long and (Mostly)  happy collaboration is to be found in Cross Purpose, lets hope they run and run. Although probably not literally.

Clever, involving and beautifully done. Highly Recommended.

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Latest Reads: Love Like Blood – Mark Billingham.

Publication Date: Available Now (UK) from Little Brown (US) from Grove Atlantic

Source: Netgalley (Grove)

DI Nicola Tanner needs Tom Thorne’s help. Her partner, Susan, has been brutally murdered and Tanner is convinced that it was a case of mistaken identity—that she was the real target. The murderer’s motive might have something to do with Tanner’s recent work on a string of cold-case honor killings she believes to be related. Tanner is now on compassionate leave but insists on pursuing the case off the books and knows Thorne is just the man to jump into the fire with her. He agrees but quickly finds that working in such controversial territory is dangerous in more ways than one. And when a young couple goes missing, they have a chance to investigate a case that is anything but cold.

Always a joy to spend some time with Tom Thorne, definitively for me one of the best fictional detectives on the scene currently, with Love Like Blood Mark Billingham tackles a sensitive and I think very important subject with a healthy dose of reality and genuine consideration. That plus giving us a banging great read as always.

Much less a whodunnit and much more a twisted tale to the full truth of the matter, Tom is pulled into a contrary situation by Nicola Tanner (see  Die Of Shame ) who having suffered a horrific personal lost is determined to bring those responsible to justice. Convinced it is tied into a theory she was investigating she hopes Thorne will show his usual disregard for procedure and follow the leads unconsidered in the main investigation. So there we begin..

What I love generally speaking is the way this author brings a strong emotional core to the centre of all the stories he writes – the ongoing interpersonal relationships (I’m the biggest fan of Phil you will find) are always layered beautifully into each individual plot, whilst the supporting cast are given just as much depth. The writing is always immersive and completely addictive – as a reader you genuinely live with these people for a while. No different with Love Like Blood which I read fast, often angrily, the best reads are the ones that grip you by the heartstrings, not letting go and send you through a gamut of emotions as you head towards the finale. And this finale had me clutching my hair.

Honor Killings are very real, difficult to talk about, difficult to pin down, Love Like Blood is obviously researched and there is a huge authenticity to it that sends you on that emotional journey. I’d like to point out that when I read the Authors Note after finishing the book I had actual tears in my eyes, it made me look back on what I had just read with slightly different eyes.

Overall a really excellent, entertaining yet hugely thought provoking read that I would actually like to throw at everybody.  Read it. Even if you are new to the series I see no reason you couldn’t start here.

There is no life…

Highly Recommended.

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