Blog Tour: The Bone Code by Kathy Reichs #BookReview

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Huge thrill to be on the blog tour today for the latest Temperance Brennan thriller by Kathy Reichs, The Bone Code. My thanks to Anne Cater of Random Things Tours for inviting me to take part and to the publisher for my copy of the book, which I have reviewed honestly and impartially.

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A storm has hit South Carolina, dredging up crimes of the past.

En route to Isle of Palms, a barrier island off the South Carolina coast, forensic anthropologist Temperance Brennan receives a call from the Charleston coroner. During the storm, a medical waste container has washed up on the beach. Inside are two decomposed bodies wrapped in plastic sheeting and bound with electrical wire. Chillingly, Tempe recognises many details as identical to those of an unsolved case she handled in Quebec fifteen years earlier. With a growing sense of foreboding, she flies to Montreal to gather evidence and convince her boss Pierre LaManche to reopen the cold case. She also seeks the advice—and comfort—of her longtime beau Andrew Ryan.

Meanwhile, a storm of a different type gathers force in South Carolina. The citizens of Charleston are struck by capnocytophaga, a bacterium that, at its worst, can eat human flesh. Thousands panic and test themselves for a rare genetic mutation that may have rendered them vulnerable.

Shockingly, Tempe eventually deduces not only that the victims in both grisly murder cases are related, but that the murders and the disease outbreak also have a common cause . . .

I think I have to hold my hands up from the off and state that I am a massive fan of Kathy Reichs. A copy of every Temperance Brennan novel sits on my bookshelves and I am always eagerly awaiting the next in the series. Whether that makes me predisposed to enjoy one of her books or have higher expectations of her writing that someone who hasn’t been invested in Temperance’s story since the beginning, I don’t know, but I’ve tried my hardest to be as dispassionate in this review as possible.

As with every Kathy Reichs novel, we are thrown straight into the action with Tempe in Carolina, facing the imminent arrival of Hurricane Inara, when she is sought out by a woman wanting help establishing if a death mask features the face of her long-missing great aunt. Soon after, the storm washes up a medical waste container on the Carolina shore containing two decomposed bodies. When Tempe is asked to examine them, the details of the case ring alarming bells with bodies discovered in Canada years before. On top of all this, a flesh-eating virus has broken out…

If this all sounds like a lot to contend with, remember that we also have to factor in the fact that Tempe’s time and career is divided between South Carolina and Montreal, and there is her ever-complicated relationship with Andrew Ryan to contend with to. This book has the potential to become extremely complicated, but the genius of Kathy Reichs writing is that she manages to convey a lot of detailed plots and information in a way that is vey easy to follow and pull together complex and diverse storylines to form a coherent and nail-biting plot without seemingly breaking a sweat. This is why die-hard fans such as myself keep returning to her books and these characters after two decades, and why I have never yet been disappointed.

I couldn’t wait to get started on The Bone Code and, as soon as I dove in, I was back in Tempe’s world like I had never left, greeting all the characters like old friends (How have you been, Birdcat? I’ve missed you and your foibles) and desperate to catch up on what they have all been doing. How is the shift in dynamics between Ryan and Tempe working out since the last book? How is his new career going? Where is Katy now? These are all things I want to know, as well as what is going on in the latest cases. I love the fact that Tempe’s personal life is so inextricably wound into the narrative of these stories, as well as her work, since both make her fundamentally who she is and why we love her so much.

As for the plot, I keep waiting for one of these books to fall short – Kathy must be running out of ideas by now surely? – but I am delighted to say this doesn’t happen in this book. Quite how she manages to join together such diverse topics into a seamless, related narrative always amazes me, and I was hooked from start to finish. I was a little dubious about reading about a flesh-eating virus whilst we are still dealing with the Covid pandemic but Kathy’s writing is so engrossing that I soon forgot all about what was happening in the real world and was completely immersed in this one. I was on the edge of my seat all the way through, the pacy narrative and excellent writing carrying me along, even the complex medical and legal jargon not causing a stumble, reading it in record time, and I was sad when it was over and I have to wait another whole year for the next one.

Kathy has knocked it out of the park again with The Bone Code. Fans of her books will de delighted with the latest instalment. If you have never read a Temperance Brennan book, be warned, this book will get you hooked.

The Bone Code is out now in hardback, ebook and audiobook formats, and will be published in paperback in October. You can buy a copy here.

Please do follow the rest of the tour for alternative reviews:

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About the Author

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Kathy Reichs’s first novel Déjà Dead was a number one bestseller and won the 1997 Ellis Award for Best First Novel. The Bone Code is Kathy’s twentieth entry in her series featuring forensic anthropologist Temper- ance Brennan. Kathy was also a producer of the hit Fox TV series, Bones, which is based on her work and her novels.

Dr. Reichs is one of very few forensic anthropologists certified by the American Board of Forensic Anthropology. She served on the Board of Directors and as Vice President of both the American Academy of Forensic Sciences and the American Board of Forensic Anthropology, and as a member of the National Police Services Advisory Council in Canada.

Connect with Kathy:

Website: https://kathyreichs.com/

Facebook: Kathy Reichs Books

Twitter: @KathyReichs

Instagram: @kathyreichs

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Book Review: The Wild Girls by Phoebe Morgan #BookReview

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Four friends. A luxury retreat. It’s going to be murder.

In a luxury lodge on Botswana’s sun-soaked plains, four friends reunite for a birthday celebration…

THE BIRTHDAY GIRL
Has it all, but chose love over her friends…

THE TEACHER
Feels the walls of her flat and classroom closing in…

THE MOTHER
Loves her baby, but desperately needs a break…

THE INTROVERT
Yearns for adventure after suffering for too long…

Arriving at the safari lodge, a feeling of unease settles over them. There’s no sign of the party that was promised. There’s no phone signal. They’re alone, in the wild.

THE HUNT IS ON.

My thanks to the publisher for providing me with a digital copy of this book via NetGalley for the purposes of review. I have reviewed the book honestly and impartially.

Blimey, what a rollercoaster of a book this is! I sat down and started it one morning and I kept sneaking back to read it throughout that day, resenting the chores that took me away from the story, and by that night I had finished it. This is one of those books that you want to completely immerse yourself in and stay gripped by until you get to the end, it is absolutely blooming fabulous.

I was really excited by the whole premise of the book – four friends holidaying in a luxury lodge in Botswana – as I love a book that takes me armchair travelling and I’ve always wanted to go on a safari holiday. Hmmm, not sure I do any more. Phoebe has managed to imbue the pages with this book with a creeping, suffocating sense of menace and jeopardy that would have anyone running screaming from the situation, if it was possible to escape.

The dynamics of female relationships always make for a fascinating read for me, and the author has constructed a friendship group here that is clearly dysfunctional, for reasons that she very cleverly hints at throughout to keep reader enthralled but doesn’t fully explain until the end, so you spend plenty of time trying to work out what is going on from the sneaky clues she drops in to the story at cunning intervals. All of the girls have secrets, and problems in their private lives which they aren’t sharing with one another, and the whole lot comes together in a beautiful explosion when they meet up. The book is very cleverly plotted and was one of the main things that kept me reading.

The book is told from the perspective of each of the characters, and it jumps around in time from present to past, as the events leading up to the Botswana trip are revealed, but you will barely notice the changes and it is very easy to follow. the author has constructed it in a way that flows easily, with each character having a distinctive voice, and I felt we got to know them all really well. They aren’t all particularly likeable, but that didn’t impact my enjoyment of the book at all.

There are some difficult issues touched upon in this book, which might be triggering for some people, but they all serve the plot and Phoebe has dealt with them delicately. I have to say, the ending gets a bit mad, but I was fully invested in the book by this point so I just went with it and, if I did find the ending a bit far-fetched, I still came away from the book feeling that I had had a really enjoyable and satisfying reading experience. I think you can tell when a writer has had a really good time writing a book, it usually translates to a great time for the reader, and this was certainly true of The Wild Girls. I had been greatly looking forward to reading it, and it completely fulfilled my expectations and then some. A really entertaining, gripping, immersive read.

The Wild Girls is out now in all formats and you can buy a copy here.

About the Author

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Phoebe Morgan is a bestselling author and editor. She studied English at Leeds University after growing up in the Suffolk countryside. She has previously worked as a journalist and now edits commercial fiction for a publishing house during the day, and writes her own books in the evenings. She lives in London.

Her books have sold over 150,000 copies and been translated into 10 languages including French, Italian, Norwegian, Polish and Croatian. Her new thriller The Wild Girls will be published by William Morrow in the US. Her books are also on sale in Canada and Australia. Phoebe has also contributed short stories to Afraid of the Light, a 2020 crime writing anthology with proceeds going to the Samaritans, Noir from the Bar, a crime collection with proceeds going to the NHS, and Afraid of the Christmas Lights, with all profits going to domestic abuse charities. Her four thrillers can be read in any order:

The Doll House (2017)
The Girl Next Door (2019)
The Babysitter (2020)
The Wild Girls (2021)

Connect with Phoebe:

Website: https://phoebemorganauthor.com/

Facebook: Phoebe Morgan Author

Twitter: @Phoebe_A_Morgan

Instagram: @phoebeannmorgan

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Blog Tour: The Lynmouth Stories by Lucy V Hay #BookReview

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Beautiful places hide dark secrets … 

Devon’s very own crime writer L.V Hay (The Other Twin, Do No Harm) brings forth three new short stories from her dark mind and poison pen:

– For kidnapped Meg and her young son Danny, In Plain Sight, the remote headland above Lynmouth is not a haven, but hell.

– A summer of fun for Catherine in Killing Me Softly becomes a winter of discontent … and death.

– In Hell And High Water, a last minute holiday for Naomi and baby Tommy  becomes a survival situation … But that’s before the village floods.

All taking place out of season when the majority of tourists have gone home, L.V Hay uses her local knowledge to bring forth dark and claustrophic noir she has come to be known for.

Did You Know …?

Known as England’s ‘Little Switzerland’, the Devon village of Lynmouth is famous for its Victorian cliff railway, fish n’ chips and of course, RD Blackmore’s Lorna Doone.

Located on the doorstep of the dramatic Valley of The Rocks and the South West Cliff Path, the twin villages of Lynton and Lynmouth have inspired many writers, including 19th Century romantic poet Percy Bysshe Shelley, who honeymooned there in 1812.

I am delighted to be taking my turn on the blog tour today for The Lynmouth Stories, a short story collection by Lucy V Hay. My thanks to Anne Cater of Random Things Tours for inviting me to take part in the tour and to the author for my copy of the book, which I have reviewed honestly and impartially.

This is a very brief book containing just three short stories but it packs a punch that greatly belies its length. Tightly woven with impressively realised characterisation in such a small word count, Lucy V Hay has produced here a masterclass in the art of the short story.

All three stories are set in the tiny, coastal village of Lynmouth, popular with tourists. However, we visit during the low season, when the village shuts down and empties out, giving it a deserted and melancholy air, which provides the perfect backdrop for this collection  of dark and brooding stories. Focusing on the kind of threats that lurk behind closed doors, they remind us that appearances can be deceptive and we never know what dangers are lurking unseen in the most ordinary of settings.

All three stories have female protagonists, who are all very different. Some strong and determined, some finding strength they never knew they had and some crumbling under pressure, the stories explore different reactions under stress and what women can do in protection of themselves and those they love. Probing the darkest aspects of the human psyche, the author manages to convey an awful lot about these women in a very compact word count so you can feel exactly what they are going through in that moment. I really enjoyed the fact that the focus here was entirely on the women and their experiences, with the men largely remaining nameless, shadowy figures whose feelings and motives exist only in relation to the women’s.

This book left me feeling very unsettled. The author has produced an oppressive atmosphere throughout the stories, asking the reader to put themselves in the far from comfortable shoes of the protagonists and walk a little way in them. The stories will shake you out of your complacency and ask you to think about what other women may be dealing with in places we don’t see, even in the cosy seaside towns that the rest of us visit on happy family holidays for reasons of pleasure. It’s easy to sail along, forgetting that our fellow women may be struggling and fighting against enemies we can’t envisage. Maybe we should be more alert for the signs that may be laying in plain sight. The stories are asking us to look and ask, to think about what we are actually seeing. 

A short, uncomfortable but enthralling read.

The Lynmouth Stories is out now as an ebook and you can buy a copy here.

Make sure to visit some of the other blogs taking part in the tour:

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About the Author

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Lucy V. Hay is a novelist, script editor and blogger who helps writers via her Bang2write consultancy. She is the associate producer of Brit Thrillers Deviation (2012) and Assassin(2015), both starring Danny Dyer. Lucy is also head reader for the London Screenwriters’ Festival and has written two non-fiction books, Writing & Selling Thriller Screenplays, plus its follow-up Drama Screenplays. Her critically acclaimed debut thriller The Other Twin was published in 2017.

Connect with Lucy:

Website: https://linktr.ee/lucyvhayauthor

Facebook: Lucy V Hay Author

Twitter: @LucyVHayAuthor

Instagram: Lucy V Hay Author

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Desert Island Books with… Brian Price

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This week, I have whisked yet another victim guest off to my deserted tropical island to enjoy peace, solitude and the chance to kick back and read five hand-picked books without interruption. This time, the lucky castaway is non-fiction author… Brian Price.

Book One – Sherlock Holmes Short Stories by Arthur Conan Doyle

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This anthology collects together Arthur Conan Doyle’s finest Sherlock Holmes stories.

The drug-addled, anti-social sleuth has become one of the most iconic characters in fiction and the tales collected here will entertain readers today just as much as when they were first published in the late 19th-century.

Featuring such classic cases as ‘A Scandal in Bohemia’ and ‘The Adventure of the Speckled Band’, this provides the perfect introduction to the world’s favourite detective.

I’ve have enjoyed Sherlock Holmes ever since I was a teenager and the collected short stories demonstrate the breadth of the author’s inventiveness – more so than some of the longer ones. Of course, some are a little fanciful but they are of their time and still repay re-reading.

Book Two – Dr Thorndyke Omnibus by R. Austin Freeman

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Dr. Thorndyke is one of the best creations of the Golden Age of British detective fiction. He is both medical doctor and barrister and the first great exponent of forensics in fiction, with an encyclopedic scientific knowledge.

R. Austin Freeman was innovative in his writing too – some of his stories are divided in two: the first part describes the crime AND who did it – the second, the means of detection.

In this new omnibus edition, over forty Thorndyke short stories are gathered, from The Singing Bone (a.k.a. The Adventures of Dr. Thorndyke), The Great Portrait Mystery, John Thorndyke’s Cases (a.k.a. Dr. Thorndyke’s Cases), The Magic Casket , The Puzzle Lock and Dr. Thorndyke’s Case Book (a.k.a. The Blue Scarab).

In some ways a rival to Holmes – their writings overlapped at the turn of the 20th century – Freeman’s character uses science much more than Holmes and the stories are all the richer for it. In some ways I prefer Thorndyke – he’s more sociable – and the puzzles are excellent.

Book Three – The Witches Trilogy by Terry Pratchett

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A collection of three of the author’s “Discworld” novels; Equal Rites, Wyrd Sisters and Witches Abroad, that feature the characters Granny Weatherwax, Nanny Ogg and Magrit Garlick.

Terry Pratchett can always cheer me up and the witches stories are hilarious. He was a wonderful writer who sneaked in a lot of thoughtful stuff beneath the humour and fantasy.  Greatly missed.

Book Four – Howdunnit by Martin Edwards (ed.)

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Ninety crime writers from the world’s oldest and most famous crime writing network give tips and insights into successful crime and thriller fiction.

Howdunit offers a fresh perspective on the craft of crime writing from leading exponents of the genre, past and present. The book offers invaluable advice to people interested in writing crime fiction, but it also provides a fascinating picture of the way that the best crime writers have honed their skills over the years. Its unique construction and content mean that it will appeal not only to would-be writers but also to a very wide readership of crime fans.

The principal contributors are current members of the legendary Detection Club, including Ian Rankin, Val McDermid, Peter James, Peter Robinson, Ann Cleeves, Andrew Taylor, Elly Griffiths, Sophie Hannah, Stella Duffy, Alexander McCall Smith, John Le Carré and many more.

Interwoven with their contributions are shorter pieces by past Detection Club members ranging from G.K. Chesterton, Dorothy L. Sayers, Agatha Christie and John Dickson Carr to Desmond Bagley and H.R.F. Keating.

The book is dedicated to Len Deighton, who is celebrating 50 years as a Detection Club member and has also penned an essay for the book.

The contributions are linked by short sections written by Martin Edwards, the current President of the Club and author of the award-winning The Golden Age of Murder.

Martin Edwards has pulled together an amazing collection of tips for crime writers, from authors old and new, together with valuable examples of how it should be done. An invaluable source of advice.

Book Five – The Puppet Show by M.W. Craven

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Welcome to the Puppet Show . . .

A serial killer is burning people alive in the Lake District’s prehistoric stone circles. He leaves no clues and the police are helpless.

When his name is found carved into the charred remains of the third victim, disgraced detective Washington Poe is brought back from suspension and into an investigation he wants no part of.

Reluctantly partnered with the brilliant, but socially awkward, civilian analyst, Tilly Bradshaw, the mismatched pair uncover a trail that only he is meant to see. The elusive killer has a plan and for some reason Poe is part of it.

As the body count rises, Poe discovers he has far more invested in the case than he could have possibly imagined. And in a shocking finale that will shatter everything he’s ever believed about himself, Poe will learn that there are things far worse than being burned alive …

Picking a contemporary novel to re-read is extremely difficult but I’ll go with the first in the riveting Poe and Tilly series. The characters are brilliant, the plot excellent and the writing great – and sometimes very funny.

My luxury item

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If a solar powered word processor is not available, I’ll settle for a big box of pens and paper – without too many distractions, I should be able to write something half decent!

About Brian Price

Brian Price

Brian Price is a chemist and biologist who provides advice on science to crime writers direct and via his website  and YouTube channel. He was an Open University tutor for 26 years and also worked for the Environment Agency. He is an avid reader of crime fiction, writes short stories and has a novel currently seeking a publisher.

Brain’s latest book, Crime writing: How to write the science, is a guide for authors on the scientific aspects of crime. It covers poisons, weapons, knocking people out, fires & explosions, body disposal and some aspects of DNA and forensics. It aims to help writers avoid common mistakes and is also of interest to avid crime readers. Million-selling crime writer Leigh Russell described it as ‘Detailed and thorough. Price clearly knows his subject matter which he presents in a lucid and well-organised text. This is an invaluable resource for any crime writer.’ You can buy a copy of the book here.

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How many times have you read a crime novel describing a poisoning, a stabbing, an explosion or a shooting and realised it’s wrong? Mistakes jar and can undermine a brilliant plot.

This guide will help you to avoid these mistakes, save you research time and ensure that your writing is scientifically credible. Crime writers increasingly look for accuracy in their work and this book, which assumes no previous scientific knowledge, will be a valuable asset for both novices and experienced writers and will also fascinate readers who love crime fiction.

This book explains: * The nature of poisons and how they work. * How to knock out a character and avoid killing them * The nature of explosives are and what happens in an explosion.. * How fires start and their effects on people and buildings. * Firearms, suppressors and how they work. Mechanisms for murder. * Tips on fighting back from an attack and escaping from captivity. * Problems of body disposal and crime scene clean-up. * The nature and use of DNA. * Forensic techniques & how evidence can be misinterpreted.

Connect with Brian:

Website: https://www.crimewriterscience.co.uk/

Facebook: Brian Price

Twitter: @crimewritersci

YouTube: Brian Price

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Blog Tour: Don’t Turn Around by Jessica Barry #Extract

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I am absolutely thrilled to be kicking off the Don’t Turn Around blog road trip for Jessica Barry’s new book, which will be published on 15 April. Over the next ten days, bloggers will be hosting extracts from the book, as well as other author features, leading up to publication of the book. I am delighted to be able to share Chapter 1 of the book with you today. Thanks to Graeme Williams for inviting me to be part of the tour and to the publisher for allowing me to share the extract with you today.

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Two strangers, Cait and Rebecca, are driving across America.

Cait’s job is to transport women to safety. Out of respect, she never asks any questions. Like most of the women, Rebecca is trying to escape something.

But what if Rebecca’s secrets put them both in danger? There’s a reason Cait chooses to keep on the road, helping strangers. She has a past of her own, and knows what it’s like to be followed.

And there is someone right behind them, watching their every move…

*********************

Now for the extract from Chapter 1 of Don’t Turn Around:

 

PROLOGUE

The smell hits her first: burnt rubber and gasoline. Then the pain

comes. The roar of blood in her ears, the gurgled strangle of her breath.

She squints out of the splintered windshield. For a split second, she

can’t remember where she is. When she does, fear rushes over her, a

black, suffocating wave.

And then she hears it: a long, shivering scrape of metal against

metal.

She sees a face at the window.

It’s him.

He’s outside, and he’s trying to get in.

 

LUBBOCK, TEXAS—

322 MILES TO ALBUQUERQUE

Cait kept the engine running.

She’d had the Jeep since college, bought it used the summer before her freshman year with the proceeds of hundreds of hours working retail at Richland Mall, and sometimes it acted up. Normally, she didn’t mind. She relished popping the hood and peering underneath, knowing more times than not that she would be able to fix the problem. Her father had her out in the garage from the time she was six. But at this particular moment, there was no way in hell she would risk the engine stalling.

Outside, there was a glitter of frost on the lawn. The house wasn’t what she was used to, though by now she knew that she should expect anything. Usually, the places were cramped and run- down, cinder block apartment buildings or chipped- stucco bungalows, in neighborhoods where she wouldn’t want to linger after dark.

There was one place about a month ago, on the outskirts of Abilene, that was tucked behind the railroad tracks on Route 20. She drove straight past it the first time, despite the number 22 painted clearly on the side of the mailbox. No way someone lived there, she figured— it wasn’t much more than a shack, and it looked abandoned, the windows boarded up, a rusted- out pickup truck squatting outside, tires long gone. She followed the road another quarter mile, watching for the house, but there was nothing but empty farmland. She double- checked the address: it was right, though she’d known that already. They didn’t make mistakes

about things like that back at the office. So she turned around and parked outside the shack, and sure enough, a girl who didn’t look a day over eighteen ran out from behind the house and climbed silently into the Jeep. Cait could still picture the girl’s nervous smile, the long shining braid that fell down her back, the halfmoons of dirt nestled beneath her fingernails.

But this place was different: a McMansion in a modern development, complete with a two- car garage and a light- up reindeer on the lawn. One of the tasteful ones made of wire and tiny white lights, not the inflatable kind her parents used to stick on top of their house back in Waco, two sagging reindeer pulling a bloated Santa across the roof. The house itself was built of red brick and topped with a series of peaked roofs, and there was a small paved path curving up to the imposing front door. Property was cheaper here than in Austin— most places were cheap compared to Austin— but this was definitely the house of someone who wasn’t shy with a few bucks.

It threw her off a little, this house.

Cait scanned the street for any sign of movement. The windows on the houses were squeezed shut, and the only light came from the pretty streetlamps that lined the sidewalk. A child’s red tricycle lay in a driveway, forgotten until tomorrow. She pictured a plump- cheeked toddler riding up and down the sidewalk, legs pumping, little fingers clutching the handlebars, wind rushing past as she sped up, shrieking with joy or terror, or maybe both.

The road had emptied out pretty quickly once she was out of Austin’s sprawl, and soon it was just her and a few fellow travellers driving along the long, flat, endless road. The view didn’t change much, just empty plains stretching out as far as she could see, briefly interrupted by the green of watered lawns and neatly plotted houses that signaled a town.

Eight hours later, and here she was, waiting. She shifted in her seat, scratched an itch, stifled a yawn. She’d need to get coffee once they were on the road. She didn’t want to stop until they were clear of the city.

She checked the clock on the dashboard: 12:10. Pickup had been at midnight, but she’d gotten there a few minutes early, just in case. She’d been waiting for a while now. It happened sometimes. People got nervous, had second thoughts. If they changed their minds, they were meant to give her a signal: flick the lights three times quick, and she’d know they weren’t coming. Two flicks meant there was trouble and she should call the police.

So far that night, there’d been nothing.

She wasn’t worried, at least not yet. She scanned the road again. All quiet in Pleasantville. Every car tucked up in its garage, every person tucked up in bed.

Out of the corner of her eye, she caught something. One hand gripped the wheel, the other the gearshift. This could be it. Her heart pounded in her chest.

She watched a possum slinking under a thick hedge and shuddered. She’d grown up with possums, but that didn’t mean she didn’t hate them. They were cute enough as babies, but when they were full- grown, they were mean little suckers. Still, a possum wasn’t going to give her any trouble.

Eyes back on the house. Still dark, still nothing. The clock read 12:15. She’d give it another five. They weren’t meant to linger. Lingering attracted attention. If one of the neighbors happened to get up to use the bathroom and see a beat- up old Jeep parked out front, they’d call the cops quicker than a lightning bug in July. And nobody wanted the cops involved in something like this. You never knew which way they’d swing.

One of the curtains in the house twitched, and a moment later, a light came on downstairs. This was it: now or never. She straightened up in her seat and wiped the mascara smudges from under her eyes.

Get ready. As soon as she gets in the car, you’ve got to go.

A few seconds later, a blond woman wearing a pressed white shirt and khakis emerged. She had a bag slung over her shoulder that looked expensive. Actually, her whole person looked expensive— slick and golden and whistle- clean. Cait watched the woman lock the door behind her, hesitate, check again that it was locked.

Sweat pricked at the small of Cait’s back. Comeoncomeoncomeon.

The woman stole glances at the neighboring houses and hurried down the path.

Cait reached over and swung the passenger door open from the inside. The woman’s face appeared.

“Hi, Rebecca?” Cait made sure to smile when she said the woman’s name. It was important to put them at ease as quickly as possible. The woman nodded and climbed in. Her smell filled the Jeep, cotton and vanilla and sandalwood. “I’m Caitlyn,” she said, though the woman would have known that already. “But you can call me Cait.” The woman nodded again and pulled her bag tight to her lap. “The seat belt comes from the back,” Cait said, and the woman frowned before reaching behind and snapping the belt into the clasp. She stared straight ahead, through the windshield, at the deserted suburban street.

Cait shifted into drive and pulled away from the curb. “Do you have a phone?”

The woman blinked.

“A cell phone,” Cait prompted. Sometimes they got nervous and froze. She had learned to coax them. “If you do, you need to turn it off.”

The woman’s eyes widened. “Why?”

“GPS.”

The woman’s frown deepened. “Is that really— ”

“Yeah, it is. Sorry, I know it seems a little extreme, but— ” She left the rest of the sentence hanging in the air. Both of them knew that these were extreme circumstances.

The woman fumbled around in her bag and pulled out her phone. Cait kept one eye on the road and watched until she’d switched it off.

“How long will the drive take?”

“About six hours. Maybe a little less. There’s bottled water in the back if you want it. Help yourself.”

Rebecca hugged her bag tighter to her chest. “I’m fine, thank you.”

In the rearview mirror, Cait saw a light snap on in a neighboring house and a face appear at the window.

Take it easy. Just drive normally; don’t read anything into it.

“Are you close with your neighbors?” She kept her voice casual.

Rebecca looked at her, surprised. “Not really.”

Cait’s eyes were locked on the rearview. The curtain fell back across the window, the light flicked off. She let out a sigh. “It looks like the kind of place where you’d all be friendly. Block parties, that kind of thing. Is there a neighborhood watch?”

Rebecca shook her head. “I don’t think so.”

“Good.” She’d run into trouble with neighborhood watches in the past. Give a guy a fake badge and a pinch of authority and things could go sideways fast. The rest of the houses stayed dark. No cars on the road, either. They were almost out of the development. It would be easier once they got on the major roads. “Do you mind if I put the radio on? It helps keep me awake.”

The woman shook her head. Cait reached over and clicked on the dial. The drone of a talk radio host filled the Jeep— the great scourge of Texas. She flicked through the stations until she landed on the local Magic station. The crooning voice of Billy Joel came through the speakers, singing about drinking alone. She left it on. She figured she couldn’t go wrong with Billy Joel.

The house was on the southeast side of Lubbock, so they had to pass straight through downtown to get to Highway 60. She turned onto Broadway and drove past a banner hanging in the window of a local law firm: WELCOME TO BEAUTIFUL DOWNTOWN! NO WIN, NO FEE! There were stoplights every other block, and all of them seemed to turn red as soon as they got close, plotting together to keep them within the city limits.

“C’mon, c’mon,” Cait muttered, hand tapping the wheel. She didn’t like how quiet it was. That was the hardest part about these night drives: the quiet. It was easier to blend in if there were other signs of life.

A man dressed in a Santa hat walked past holding a filthy cloth in one hand and a sign in the other: HUNGRY, PLEASE HELP. He knocked on the window as they waited for the light to change. Cait tried to wave him away, but he mimed the action of cleaning and started wiping the cloth across the windshield, leaving streaks of grease on the glass. She glanced over at Rebecca, who was cowering in the passenger seat, knuckles white on the straps of her bag.

Cait rolled down the window and shoved a couple of dollar bills at him. “Thanks for the sterling work.” He took them with a tip of an imaginary hat and shuffled off just as the light switched to green. “You okay?” she asked Rebecca.

Rebecca nodded, but her jaw was set tight and she was staring straight ahead, her eyes glassy and unseeing. She hadn’t so much as blinked since leaving the house. “Almost out of Lubbock now,” Cait said.

The wide double lanes were lined with the cash- and- carries and the megachurches and the little Mexican restaurants advertising Taco Tuesday, just like every other town in Texas. Occasionally, a neon- lit billboard would flood a sickly light down on them, conjuring up strange, flickering shadows. The Christmas lights were out— multicolored stars and pale blue snowflakes, an angel strung high above the avenue, her wings sparkling gold— and the signs in the shopwindows advertised half- price champagne and cheap diamond bracelets.

Cait hated Christmas. It was amateur hour for drinking, full of awkward office parties and old guys looking to cop a feel after one too many whiskeys. Her old manager had insisted on hanging a sprig of mistletoe at the edge of the bar, and every time she’d go to open the champagne fridge, there’d be some guy lurking, hoping to try his luck. There was a new manager now, a woman, so maybe it would be different, though given that the staff uniform involved mandatory crop tops and Stetsons, she wasn’t holding her breath. At least the tips would be decent.

She stretched, winced. Her back was killing her already. She’d been driving for hours, pushing through rush hour traffic out of Austin and on to 183. She’d lived in the city for eight years and every year it seemed to get worse, the roads thick with pickup trucks and beaters and shiny new sports cars, clogging up the city’s arteries, strangling its heart.

Friends talked about leaving the city. They said they couldn’t take the traffic anymore, or the ever rising rents for ever shittier apartments, or the Tesla charging stations that had sprung up like dandelions and were perpetually full. It was all talk, though. No one ever left. Where would they go? Someplace like this?

They passed Church’s Chicken and the Eleganté Hotel. The city was starting to lose its grip a little, pockets of land stretching wider between buildings and the buildings themselves growing longer and wider. Cait saw Rebecca’s shoulders inch away from her ears and the grip on her handbag start to loosen.

Finally, they saw the sign for the Lubbock city limit. “We’re out,” Cait said. “The hardest part is over now.” Rebecca cracked a smile.

They drove through Littlefield, past a John Deere dealership and a sign advertising vacancy at the Plains Motel. She’d done this stretch a couple times before— once with a sweet- faced college kid who spent the whole time cramming for her biology exam, and another with a woman from Odessa who wept for most of the journey.

That had been a tough one. But there had been worse.

Some of her clients— those who had jobs flexible enough to allow them a few days off, or partners who weren’t breathing down their necks— stayed within state lines, and she ferried them to Austin or Dallas or Fort Worth. Most went to New Mexico, where the rules weren’t so strict. It was a longer drive but quicker in the long run. Lubbock was in a dead zone: a five- hour drive no matter what direction she drove. It was the client’s choice. Tonight she was heading west.

She glanced in the rearview. There was a tractor trailer behind them. She stepped on the gas, and its headlights receded. No tail that she could detect. She allowed herself to relax a little. It was always most dangerous nearest the home. The more miles they had under their belts, the safer they would be. Until they got to where they were going, of course, but that was a headache she wouldn’t worry about until morning.

Cait had left in a hurry— late, as always— and hadn’t managed to get dinner. Hunger was mixed in with exhaustion, gritting her eyes and making her bones heavy. A cup of coffee and maybe a slice of pie would be enough to keep her going. “Do you mind if we stop once we’re over the border?”

Rebecca’s head snapped toward her. “Why?”

“I need a cup of coffee. I’ve been on the road since six o’clock.”

The corners of her pretty mouth turned down. “I guess. If you need to.”

“Thanks. It’ll be quick, I promise. I know you’re nervous, but we’re out of the danger zone now.”

“How do you know?”

“Ninety percent of all incidents occur within the first ten minutes of the journey. Most of the trouble I’ve seen has happened right outside the front door. Now that we’re out of Lubbock, it should be smooth sailing.”

Rebecca nodded but didn’t look convinced. She had the kind of profile that belonged on a Roman coin, all straight nose and firm jaw. Patrician. Cait smiled at her own description: it was good, she should write it down. Maybe she could use it.

In the meantime, she needed to work out that piece she’d been writing about labor conditions at the organic farm outside of Austin. The editor had been requesting the copy for weeks, but she hadn’t been able to land it. Not that he had much of a right to complain considering how much he was paying her, which was nothing. Still, she couldn’t risk pissing him off. It was rare that someone gave her a chance, especially these days.

A sign announced that they were leaving Littlefield. They were edging toward the desert now. Pretty soon there’d be nothing but scrub and sky. Her stomach rumbled. She couldn’t get to Clovis fast enough. It would be her last chance to get a decent cup of coffee that night.

She glanced over at the woman sitting next to her. “You comfortable? You want me to put the heat on or anything?”

Rebecca shook her head. “I’m fine, thanks.”

“Just let me know. It’s supposed to get down to the twenties tonight. They’re saying it might even snow.” She reached out and patted the dashboard. “Don’t worry, she’s good in the snow.”

Rebecca gave her a weak smile. “That’s good to know,” she said, before turning her face back toward the window.

So she wasn’t a talker. That was fine. There was plenty of time for that.

*******************

If this has whetted your appetite for the book, you can pre-order a copy here. 

Make sure you now head over to Susan Hampson’s blog, Books From Dusk Till Dawn for Chapter 2! The rest of the chapters and other content will be shared over the course of the week as detailed on the tour poster at the top of the post.

About the Author

Jessica Barry is a pseudonym for an American author who grew up in a small town in Massachusetts and was raised on a steady diet of library books and PBS.

She attended Boston University, where she majored in English and Art History, before moving to London in 2004 to pursue an MA from University College London.

She lives with her husband, Simon, and their two cats, Roger Livesey and BoJack Horseman.

Connect with Jessica:

Facebook: Jessica Barry

Twitter: @jessbarryauthor

Instagram: @jessicabarry9

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Blog Tour: A Beautiful Breed of Evil by Andy Maslen #BookReview

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I am delighted to be taking my turn on the blog tour today for A Beautiful Breed of Evil by Andy Maslen. my thanks to Emma Welton of damp pebbles blog tours for inviting me to take part and to the author for my digital copy of the book, which I have reviewed honestly and impartially.

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He’ll never speak of the evil they did…

A former Swedish ambassador lies dead in his swanky Mayfair flat. With his tongue torn out and placed on a Bible. Competing theories swirl. A religious maniac? A psychopath? The truth is far darker than either. DCI Stella Cole’s search for the killer takes her to Sweden. There, she discovers a horrific chapter in the country’s history that throws the case into turmoil. And then more people start dying.


Teaming up with Swedish cops Oskar Norgrim and Johanna Carlsson, Stella pieces together Ambassador Brömly’s shocking past. And discovers the killer’s motive.

Meanwhile, Stella’s personal life is about to take a significant turn as her boyfriend, Jamie, suggests a change in their relationship. But as Stella tries to process what it means, she makes a fateful decision.

Why won’t the dead stay buried?

On the other side of the Atlantic, a kid practising BMX stunts over water finds a skeleton on a lake bed. When the victim is revealed to be a British cop, the FBI ask for assistance. Stella’s arch-enemy from her own department gets the case. She flies to Chicago and soon discovers the murderer’s identity.

The scene is set for a showdown in Sweden as DI Roisin Griffin pursues her vendetta against Stella all the way to the north of Sweden during the annual festival of Midsommar.

Although this is the fifth book in the series by Andy Maslen featuring DCI Stella Cole, it is the first one that I have read and it is obvious from reading this book that Stella has had quite an eventful career already and there have been some explosive goings on in her past that I really need to go back and read about. However, the fact that I haven’t read the previous books did not detract from my enjoyment of this book at all, it just made me want to go back and catch up! The author fills you in on everything you need to know to keep up with the plot here but, events from previous books feed quite heavily into parts of the story here so, if you are going to dive into the series, it would probably make sense to start from the beginning with Hit and Runwhich I have just downloaded to my Kindle.

The book opens with a very dramatic murder scene, so you know from the beginning that this is not a series for the shy and retiring. A Swedish ex-diplomat has been murdered in a very brutal way, and it is clear from the beginning that this is a complicated case which involves investigation across international borders. I loved this aspect of the case, as we follow Stella on her trip to Sweden to track down the killer in the victim’s homeland. It leant a different slant to the standard crime novel to see how international police forces work together across borders to solve a case, and to see how policing differs across countries.

The motives behind the case gradually become clear and are very shocking, and they touch on a topic which is very relevant to modern discourse in some circles but horrifying to most of us. The case is based on real events that happened in Sweden, but which I had no idea about until I did some investigation after reading this book. I absolutely love it when books teach me something I didn’t know before, just in the course of reading a piece of fiction, and the author gets this story across extremely effectively in this novel, really making you think about the issue and how it is relevant today. Reading around the subject taught me lots of things about a practice I had no idea was so terrifyingly widespread and ideas that we need to make very sure never gain traction again.

At the same time as she is in Sweden investigating the murder, Stella’s colourful past threatens to catch up with her as an arch rival doggedly pursues a line of enquiry which she hopes will bring Stella down. This also involves travelling to another jurisdiction and co-operating with a police force in another country, so the book is filled with action and interest. There was a huge amount of tension and urgency and threat in this book which made it one of those novels that is absolutely impossible to put down. There is no real let up in the impetus, so the reader is compelled to keep turning the pages from beginning to end, until you are at the final page before you know it. The sign of a really great, gripping thriller.

Stella Cole is not your ordinary DCI in the Met police. She is, to paraphrase Liam Neeson, in possession of certain skills that make her a formidable opponent. She has a healthy regard for the law, but also for stretching it to its limits when called for, in the mould of all great maverick cops in literary history, and a joyous disregard for her own safety that means the reader never quite knows what she is going to do next. It keeps her superiors, her adversaries and the reader on their toes throughout, and makes her a delight as a protagonist. I definitely want to read more about her and what drives her, and am very glad that I have four previous novels in the series to go back and enjoy.

For me, this series is a great discovery and I am grateful that blogging has allowed me to come across this author and this series. I would highly recommend this book to lovers of detective thrillers who like a feisty protagonist and an author who isn’t afraid to push the envelope and deal with some hard issues. But I’d say start at the beginning, which is where I am will be going back to as soon as I can.

A Beautiful Breed of Evil is out now as an ebook and in paperback and you can buy a copy here.

Make sure you visit some of the other marvellous blogs taking part in the tour for this book:

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About the Author

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Andy Maslen was born in Nottingham, in the UK, home of legendary bowman Robin Hood. Andy once won a medal for archery, although he has never been locked up by the sheriff.

He has worked in a record shop, as a barman, as a door-to-door DIY products salesman and a cook in an Italian restaurant.

He lives in Wiltshire with his wife, two sons and a whippet named Merlin.

Connect with Andy:

Website: www.andymaslen.com

Facebook: Andy Maslen

Twitter: @Andy_Maslen

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Book Review: Under The Bridge: Book 1 -Liverpool Mystery Series by Jack Byrne #BookReview

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2004

The discovery of a body in the Liverpool docklands unearths long forgotten secrets. Reporter Anne McCarthy is keen to prove herself and dives into the case with abandon. There she finds Michael, an old Irish caretaker who knows far more than he’s letting on and may have
a connection to the body.

Vinny Connolly is starting a postgrad degree, researching Liverpool’s migrant history and a burgeoning Scouse identity. But Vinny has been neglecting his own family history and stranger Michael might know about
his father’s disappearance in the 70s.

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Escaping poverty in Ireland and fresh off the boat, Michael falls in with Wicklow boys Jack Power and Paddy Connolly, who smuggle contraband through the docks, putting them at odds with the unions. While organisers rally the dockworkers against the strikebreakers and rackets. A story of corruption, secret police, and sectarianism slowly unravels.
But will the truth out?

As the conflict heightens, Michael questions the life sprawling out ahead of him, while in the present, Anne races to solve the mystery, but is she prepared for what she’ll find?

I was asked if I would review this book by the publisher and was provided with a digital copy of the book for this purpose. My thanks to the publisher, I have reviewed the book honestly and impartially.

This book is a interesting mix of social history and murder mystery that provided a fascinating insight into cultural and social tensions in the Garston and Speke areas of Liverpool in the 1970s. It is really obvious from the writing that the author is passionate about presenting an authentic portrayal of the period and the area, and has done a lot of research into the time period; this shines through in the writing.

The book is a dual timeline story. The first timeline involves reporter, Anne, who is chasing down a story on the identity of a skeleton uncovered on a building site in the docks area of Liverpool in 2004. Her investigation takes her into the world of union activity around the docklands in the 1970s and criminal gangs that were active at the time. Her ferreting around in this history leaves her up against some people who would rather the past stay buried. At the same time, her friend, Vinny, who is working on a social history of Irish immigration into Liverpool post-war, fears the skeleton may uncover secrets that are too close to his own family history.

The second timeline takes us back to the 1970s and the life of Michael, an Irish immigrant who is drawn into the criminal world when he first arrives in Liverpool, until a dramatic event at the time leads him to reconsider the path he is on. When Anne meets Michael in the present, he becomes the key to unlocking the skeleton’s identity.

The dual timeline works really well, and I found the accurately researched and portrayed history of this time and this area of Liverpool really interesting. For anyone interested in social history, and who enjoys books with real historical fact woven into a fictional narrative, this book will be really appealing. It made me go off and do some further reading about one particular event that is referred to in the book, which is always a sure sign that a book has grabbed my attention. The mystery aspect of the book is also really well done and kept me turning the pages from beginning to end.

The one thing that let this book down a little was the characterisation, particularly of Anne and Vinny in the modern day. They just didn’t feel completely developed, to the point that I didn’t really become invested in what was happening to them or in their relationship. This was not true of the characters back in the 1970s, they were much more alive and vibrant on the page, and may these sections of the book more appealing. It really felt like the author was much more enthralled by the historical aspects of the story than the modern day, which gave the book a little bit of an uneven feel. Richer, more honest development of the younger characters was needed for this book to be a standout.

Overall, this was a really engaging mystery novel, with a strong sense of time and place that would make an excellent read for anyone who is interested in social history and likes this kind of fact-based fictional telling of it.

Under The Bridge is out now in ebook and paperback formats and you can buy a copy here.

About the Author

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Jack was born and raised in Speke Liverpool, (Paul McCartney lived in the street behind him for a while) although his parents first lived ‘Under The Bridge’ in Garston, and all his family goes back to Wicklow in Ireland.

The Liverpool Mystery Series will be four novels. Under The Bridge is the first. He is writing Fire Next Time now, and The Wicklow Boys will follow next year. You can find The One Road prequel a collection of short stories on Amazon.

Connect with Jack:

Website: https://jackbyrne.home.blog/

Facebook: Jack Byrne

Twitter: @Jackbyrnewriter

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Friday Night Drinks with… Jo Jakeman

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Time for another tipple with a guest from the publishing world and tonight I am sharing Friday Night Drinks with author… Jo Jakeman.

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Welcome to the blog, Jo, thank you for taking the time to chat to me. First things first, what are you drinking?

A large glass of red wine. 19 Crimes of course because, you know, crime writer!

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If we weren’t here in my virtual bar tonight, but were meeting in real life, where would you be taking me for a night out?

There’s a bar I’m quite fond of frequenting on a Friday evening that’s just on the sea front and within staggering distance. They do the most amazing sea food which I like to wash down with a Dark and Stormy cocktail. Bring a coat though, it can get a bit chilly when the sun sets.

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That looks absolutely delicious, you’ve made me hungry! If you could invite two famous people, one male and one female, alive or dead, along on our night out, who would we be drinking with?

Claudia Winkleman, Ryan Reynolds. They both seem incredibly funny and down to earth.

So, now we’re settled, tell me what you are up to at the moment. How and why did you start it and where do you want it to go?

Just finishing up the line edits for Who Killed Oscar Lomas? which is the book that will be coming out in January 2022. It’s about a woman, called Beth, who refuses to believe that her husband died by suicide, despite all evidence. I’m often moved by that strength families have – that insistence that they know better than the police in the face of all the evidence because they know their loved one wouldn’t have died by suicide, or know that their daughter wouldn’t have run away. Is it faith? Stubbornness? Or is there some sort of bond that we can’t explain?

Really interesting ideas to explore. What has been your proudest moment since you started writing and what has been your biggest challenge?

I’m proud of so much (not in a braggy way!) but getting a book deal was amazing. Selling in America, Canada, Germany, Italy, France, Poland, Greece… Every time I see my book in a shop it gives me a thrill. But I think the thing that makes me the proudest and makes all the knockbacks worthwhile, is when I hear from a reader that my book meant something to them, that it helped in some little way.

The biggest challenge has been dealing with the self-doubt. When the book doesn’t storm the charts or you see an amazon review saying that they didn’t like the book, you doubt yourself. And when I’m full of self-doubt I find it hard to be creative. Book 2, Safe House, was a slog because I was second guessing myself all the time.

What is the one big thing you’d like to achieve in your chosen arena? Be as ambitious as you like, its just us talking after all!

I want to be a Sunday Times best seller. Maybe it shouldn’t matter, but it does. It is validation, it’s all that hard work paying off. And it means I might be able to afford a holiday next year.

What are have planned that you are really excited about?

This is between us, yeah? I’m a little bit ahead of schedule now seeing as so much has been delayed because of COVID. So, I’m doing a bit of research for a novel set in the 1950s. I was left a few boxes of letters and diaries of a family friend called Moyra, and I’m writing a story based on them. It’s a lot harder than writing my modern day thrillers as there are actual facts and dates to contend with but I am loving it. I feel so lucky to have access to these resources.

I love to travel, and I’m currently drawing up a bucket list of things I’d like to do in the future. Where is your favourite place that you’ve been and what do you have at the top of your bucket list?

Right now, I’d settle for anywhere warm. I was born in Cyprus and I have a soft spot for a Greek island, so I’d love to do some island-hopping and cross some others off my list. Kefalonia and Ithaka have been my favourites so far.

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That look beautiful, Kefalonia is definitely high on my bucket list. Tell me one interesting/surprising/secret fact about yourself.

I’m addicted to cold water swimming. I was in the sea on Christmas day wearing an elf hat!!

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Brrr! Books are my big passion and central to my blog and I’m always looking for recommendations. What one book would you give me and recommend as a ‘must-read’?

Daisy Jones and the Six – Taylor Jenkins Reid.

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Everybody knows Daisy Jones and the Six.

From the moment Daisy walked barefoot on to the stage at the Whisky, she and the band were a sensation. Their sound defined an era. Their albums were on every turntable. They sold out arenas from coast to coast.

This is the story of their incredible rise: the desire, the rivalry – and the music.

Then, on 12 July 1979, Daisy Jones and the Six split up.

Nobody knew why. Until now…

So, we’ve been drinking all evening. What is your failsafe plan to avoid a hangover and your go-to cure if you do end up with one?

Drink a pint of water before bed, and makes sure there’s bacon in the house for tomorrow morning’s bacon-buttie.

Perfect. After our fabulous night out, what would be your ideal way to spend the rest of a perfect weekend?

I wake up to a gorgeous sunny day, so I walk the coastal path with my husband and kids round to a secluded cove where I have a quick dip in the sea then back home for a barbecue and a couple of beers.

Jo, thank you so much for joining me this evening, it has been a real pleasure.

Jo’s latest book, Safe House came out in paperback in January, and you can buy a copy here. It is only 99p on Kindle until the end of the month. Charlie has been recently released from prison after providing a false alibi for the man she loved. Now living in a remote Cornish village, with a new identity, she wants to put the past behind her but someone knows who she is. And they don’t believe in second chances.

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SHE LIED TO PROTECT A KILLER. NOW THERE’S NOWHERE LEFT TO HIDE. . .

The morning after a great storm, a woman arrives in a remote Cornish village.

But Charlie, as she now calls herself, steers clear of the locals and keeps a low profile – because she has a terrible secret.

Recently released from prison after providing a false alibi for the man she loved, Charlie wants to move on and start afresh. But someone, somewhere, is watching her, determined that she will never get that second chance.

Jo Jakeman was the winner of the prestigious Friday Night Live Award at York Festival of Writing where she was also shortlisted for Best Opening Chapter for the novel that would become her debut. This book was shortlisted for Best Revenge Novel at the Dead Good Reader Awards.

Born in Cyprus, Jo worked for many years in the City of London before moving to Derbyshire and changing careers.

Following completion of a Creative Writing course with Curtis Brown Creative, Jo has used her experience of family and work life to write stories which challenge readers to think past the respectability of domestic facades.

Her novels are published by Harvill Secker in the UK, Berkley in the US and Random House Canada.

Find out more about Jo and her books on her website, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

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Blog Tour: Hotel Cartagena by Simone Buchholz; Translated by Rachel Ward #BookReview

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Twenty floors above the shimmering lights of the Hamburg docks, Public Prosecutor Chastity Riley is celebrating a birthday with friends in a hotel bar when twelve heavily armed men pull out guns, and take everyone hostage. Among the hostages is Konrad Hoogsmart, the hotel owner, who is being targeted by a young man whose life – and family – have been destroyed by Hoogsmart’s actions.

With the police looking on from outside – their colleagues’ lives at stake – and Chastity on the inside, increasingly ill from an unexpected case of sepsis, the stage is set for a dramatic confrontation … and a devastating outcome for the team … all live streamed in a terrifying bid for revenge.

I’ve been waiting impatiently for my turn on the blog tour for Hotel Cartagena by Simone Buchholz, the fourth book featuring Chastity Riley, and the day is finally here, hurrah! I ADORE this series and I am so grateful to Anne Cater for giving me one of the coveted places on the tour to talk about how much I love it, and to Karen at Orenda Books for providing me with an advance digital copy for the purposes of review. I have reviewed the book honestly and impartially as always.

Nobody writes like Simone Buchholz. I don’t think there are many people who would dare. Every one of her books is different, every one feels like a slap to the face dealt to rouse you from your reading complacency and tell you to pay attention, every one is as fresh and unapologetically brazen – just like the character of Chastity Riley herself. Hotel Cartagena is no different, equally unmistakably Buchholz and unlike any of the previous books in the series.

We start immediately in the action, as Chastity finds herself at the centre of a hostage situation whilst celebrating Faller’s 65th birthday in a bar on the eighteenth floor of a harbourside hotel. The hostage takers are well-organised and determined, there is no easy way out, but it is hard for a bunch of law enforcement professionals to sit around and watch a crime being played out. I was immediately on the edge of my seat, wondering what they would do and fearful for them all, a situation mirrored by Chastity herself. The tensions between her colleagues that have been building over the previous books, largely due to Chastity’s complicated relationships with each of them, transfer themselves to their current situation, and we can see how these relationships are thrown into sharp relief by the stressful, knife-edge situation in which they find themselves.

One person missing from the room is Stepanovic, late to the party due  to a reluctance to put himself in a position of having to see Chastity in a social setting with two of her ex (or not so ex) lovers. The woman drives him crazy, he is trying to convince himself to forget her. However, as we see Stepanovic’s increasingly desperate concern for Riley manifesting in insubordination, aggression and crazy rescue plans, we can glean directly from his first person reaction to her plight his realisation just what she means to him, exactly as he reaches those conclusions himself.

Layered in amongst the present  unfolding of the hostage situation through Chastity’s eyes, we are also given information on the hostage takers and how this whole mess came about through a series of historical flashbacks. Far from taking away from the tension, understanding why what is happening is happening adds to the angst, because it becomes less and less clear who are the good and bad guys in this scenario. Throwing these shades of grey into the equation, exploring the nature of choice and necessity in the descent into a criminal life, and the motivations behind revenge and retribution stir the pot so that, when the inevitable reckoning comes in the now, the line between who to blame and who to pity becomes blurred.

During the course of events, Chastity is injured and becomes unwell and delirious, unsure what is real and what is illusionary, which adds a disjointed and disconnected quality to her observations of the scene. She finds herself in the unfamiliar position of bystander, weakened and helpless, able to do nothing but watch as her colleagues take drastic action. It shows us a different side to Chastity, and I was fully there, trapped in her body, horrified by what I was watching. This powerlessness added to my dismay and heartbreak at the outcome of the incident, a weight which is laying heavy on my chest even now as I write. To be able to write so affectingly, especially in the sharp, snappy, staccato way this author does, is some impressive skill.

This book won’t be like anything you have read before, even if you have read this author or this series. Her ability to continue to evolve, morph, surprise even her biggest fans is what keeps me coming back to her books with child-like excitement and enthusiasm each time. She is never boring, never repetitive, and very, very brave. Aided by a translator who understands her and is with her every step of the way and a publisher who is not afraid to take risks on the extraordinary, who knows where this author can go? Any reader who loves a dark, gritty, hard-boiled novel and prides themselves on stretching themselves in their reading should be taking this ride too.

Hotel Cartagena is out now in ebook and paperback, and on audiobook on 1 April and you can buy a copy here.

Please do check out some of the reviews by the other great bloggers taking part in the tour:

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About the Author

SimoneBuchholz

Simone Buchholz was born in Hanau in 1972. At university, she studied Philosophy and Literature, worked as a waitress and a columnist, and trained to be a journalist at the prestigious Henri-Nannen-School in Hamburg. In 2016, Simone Buchholz was awarded the Crime Cologne Award as well as runner-up in the German Crime Fiction Prize for Blue Night, which was number one on the KrimiZEIT Best of Crime List for months. She lives in Sankt Pauli, in the heart of Hamburg, with her husband and son.

Connect with Simone:

Website: https://simonebuchholz.com

Twitter: @ohneKlippo

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Book Review: The Last House on Needless Street by Catriona Ward #BookReview

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This is the story of a murderer. A stolen child. Revenge. This is the story of Ted, who lives with his daughter Lauren and his cat Olivia in an ordinary house at the end of an ordinary street.

All these things are true. And yet some of them are lies.

You think you know what’s inside the last house on Needless Street. You think you’ve read this story before. In the dark forest at the end of Needless Street, something lies buried. But it’s not what you think…

It is my great privilege to be reviewing an advance copy of this book provided to me for this purpose by Sahina Bibi at Viper Books. My thanks to Sahina for the opportunity, I have reviewed the book honestly and impartially.

I’ve been wrestling with writing this post for a few weeks now, because I knew this was going to be a very hard book to review for two reasons. Firstly, it is vital that the reader goes into this book completely in the dark as to plot to experience the full impact of the story, so I have to make sure the review doesn’t contain the slightest sniff of a spoiler, which is not an easy feat here. Secondly, the book is stunning in ways it is hard to convey with my inadequate words. However, a review has been promised so a review I shall deliver to the best of my abilities.

As you can gather from the blurb reproduced above, this is a thriller with a murder at its heart and involving a missing child. That’s about as much of the plot as I can tell you. The story is told through the voices of three narrators. Ted, an awkward, socially-inept man who lives alone on Needless Street. Dee, whose younger sister Lulu went missing years before, and for whom she has been searching ever since. And Ted’s cat, Olivia.

I know. A cat as a narrator. Any book using this device wouldn’t normally be my bag but, trust me, here it works. Truly. Do not let this put you off from picking up the book, it is vital to the plot and you will appreciate the genius of it once you have finished the book, I promise.

That’s it. That’s all I can tell you. You have to go into the book with no more knowledge than this. No more chat about characters, or how the plot is put together, or highs and lows or endings or anything. You need to find these things out for yourself by reading it, so that you can experience the mental impact of the book’s events as they unfold on the page, as the author intended. You need to not know to appreciate it. Instead, let’s talk about the writing.

This book is dark and twisted and disturbing and oppressive and upsetting, and so beautiful and poetic that it makes me want to weep with joy and envy. I was baffled and perplexed and confused and surprised and moved and thrown and distraught and horrified and sorry from one moment to the next. I had no idea what was coming, and could never have understood or appreciated it until right at the end, when I was blown away as everything suddenly fell into place. It was totally shocking and utterly, utterly wonderful. I immediately wanted to go back to the start and read it over again from the new perspective of someone who has finished it and sees it all. This is a book where you can NEVER have the same experience you had on your first reading ever again, so savour that first time. How the author has woven this book together, the depth of exploration of the subject matter, the empathy, the tenderness, the poetry of the writing, the gorgeous metaphors – it is nothing short of astonishing. I have never read anything like this book. I have never come away from a novel with the thoughts and feelings that this novel gave me. I was profoundly surprised by what it achieved and how it made me feel.

I know this review is a bit vague, I’d apologise but there is no other way to do it and leave the reading experience intact for you. Suffice it to say, you should read it. Did I love it? That’s not the right way to express how it made me feel and if you read it you’ll understand why I say this. You may think you know thrillers. You don’t. You may think you have seen it all so nothing can surprise you. You haven’t. This book is something else. Just read it and see, I’m sure you’ll agree.

The Last House on Needless Street will be published on 18 March in hardback, audiobook and ebook formats and on 30 September in paperback, and you can pre-order the book here.

About the Author

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CATRIONA WARD was born in Washington, DC and grew up in the United States, Kenya, Madagascar, Yemen, and Morocco. She read English at St Edmund Hall, Oxford and is a graduate of the Creative Writing MA at the University of East Anglia. Her next gothic thriller, The Last House on Needless Street, will be published March 2021 by Viper (Serpents Tail).

Ward’s second novel, Little Eve (Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2018) won the 2019 Shirley Jackson Award and the August Derleth Prize for Best Horror Novel at the 2019 British Fantasy Awards, making her the only woman to have won the prize twice, and was a Guardian best book of 2018. Her debut Rawblood (W&N, 2015) won Best Horror Novel at the 2016 British Fantasy Awards, was shortlisted for the Author’s Club Best First Novel Award and a WHSmith Fresh Talent title. Her short stories have appeared in numerous anthologies. She lives in London and Devon.

Connect with Catriona:

Facebook: Catriona Ward

Twitter: @Catrionaward

Instagram: @catward66

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