The Ringmaster by Vanda Symon #BookReview #BlogTour (@VandaSymon) @OrendaBooks @AnneCater #TheRingmaster #RandomThingsTours #NewZealandNoir

The Ringmaster Final Cover

Death is stalking the South Island of New Zealand…

Marginalised by previous antics, Sam Shephard, is on the bottom rung of detective training in Dunedin, and her boss makes sure she knows it. She gets involved in her first homicide investigation, when a university student is murdered in the Botanic Gardens, and Sam soon discovers this is not an isolated incident. There is a chilling prospect of a predator loose in Dunedin, and a very strong possibility that the deaths are linked to a visiting circus…
Determined to find out who’s running the show, and to prove herself, Sam throws herself into an investigation that can have only one ending…

Delighted to be taking part in the blog tour for the new book by Vanda Symon. The Ringmaster is the second book in the Sam Shepard detective series (you can read my review of the first book, Overkillhere.) and I was really excited to see what Sam was up to. My thanks to Anne Cater at Random Things Tours for my place on the tour and to Karen Sullivan at Orenda Books for my copy of the book which I have reviewed honestly and impartially.

Things have moved on for Sam Shephard since the events of Overkill. She has moved from the small town of Matuara to the bright lights of Dunedin and started her training as a detective. However, she is now at the bottom of the pecking order and not everyone is happy with her fast-tracking to CIB, particularly her boss, who seems to have it in for her and makes her life as difficult as possible.

The books kicks off to a flying start with the disturbing murder of a female student from the university at the same time as a protest at a circus which is visiting the town. As Sam gets involved in investigating the antics at the circus, she becomes convinced that it may have some connection to the murder and she is determined to work out how.

I absolutely loved the character of Sam in the first book and she has lost none of her drive or feistiness since moving to the city, despite her boss’s best efforts to keep her ‘in her place.’ She has a natural aptitude for police work and is determined to do her bit, whatever the personal cost, which makes her an admirable and entertaining protagonist for the story. We also get to see more complications in her personal life in this book through her relationship with her parents, and a potential new love interest, which serves to give the reader further human connection with Sam and draws us further into her story. I was hooked in from the start, firmly on Sam’s side and willing her to solve the case and prove her worth in her new role.

Even if I hadn’t read the first book, I would still have been tempted to pick this up, as I am a sucker for a book with a circus theme so the cover alone would have drawn me in and this book would work perfectly as standalone for anyone who hasn’t read the first one. The circus provides colour and excitement to the story, and some healthy moments of humour and pathos, which gives the book a really nice balance. Thus us one thing I find particularly attractive about Vanda’s writing, she manages to balance the light and shade beautifully to give the reader a real series of highs and lows throughout the story which makes for a very rewarding reading experience.

New Zealand plays a distinctive role in these books, and it was nice to discover a new side to the country with the author’s descriptions of the setting, scenery, flora and fauna of the area. I think the Kiwi flavour is a big part of what makes these books a standout for me, and such an enjoyable read. That, together with the easy flow of the writing, the great characterisation and a gripping plot, of course! I did feel that there was one tiny loose end that wasn’t quite tidied up satisfactorily to do with the motivation behind one of the sub-plot points (it’s hard to say more without including a spoiler) but it wasn’t a major let down for the book, more a niggle for my particularly anal brain. All in all, this was a very satisfying read and I look forward to reading the next one.

I have bought a paperback copy of this book, you should too.

The Ringmaster is out now and you can buy a copy here.

Make sure you visit the rest of the blogs taking part in the tour to get a range of views on the book:

The Ringmaster blog poster 2019 (1)

About the Author

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Vanda Symon is a crime writer, TV presenter and radio host from Dunedin, New Zealand, and the chair of the Otago Southland branch of the New Zealand Society of Authors. The Sam Shephard series has climbed to number one on the New Zealand bestseller list, and also been shortlisted for the Ngaio Marsh Award for best crime novel. She currently lives in Dunedin, with her husband and two sons.

Connect with Vanda:

Website: http://vandasymon.com/index.php

Facebook: Vanda Simon

Twitter: @vandasymon

Instagram: @vandasymon

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Call Me Star Girl by Louise Beech #BookReview #BlogTour (@LouiseWriter) @OrendaBooks @annecater #RandomThingsTours #CallMeStarGirl

Call Me Star Girl Cover

Stirring up secrets can be deadly … especially if they’re yours…

Pregnant Victoria Valbon was brutally murdered in an alley three weeks ago – and her killer hasn’t been caught.

Tonight is Stella McKeever’s final radio show. The theme is secrets. You tell her yours, and she’ll share some of hers.

Stella might tell you about Tom, a boyfriend who likes to play games, about the mother who abandoned her, now back after fourteen years. She might tell you about the perfume bottle with the star-shaped stopper, or about her father …

What Stella really wants to know is more about the mysterious man calling the station … who says he knows who killed Victoria, and has proof.

Tonight is the night for secrets, and Stella wants to know everything…

With echoes of the Play Misty for Me, Call Me Star Girl is a taut, emotive and all-consuming psychological thriller that plays on our deepest fears, providing a stark reminder that stirring up dark secrets from the past can be deadly…

I am so thrilled to be taking my turn today on the blog tour for Call Me Star Girl by Louise Beech. My thanks to Anne Cater of Random Things Tours for inviting me to take part and to Orenda Books for my digital copy of the book, which I have reviewed honestly and impartially.

I am struggling to gather adequate words to express my thoughts about this book, mainly because it has raised such a tumult of thoughts and emotions in me that it is almost impossible to sort them into a coherent thread. I haven’t read anything quite like it.

This has been billed as Louise Beech’s first psychological thriller, and it is, but that description doesn’t really do justice to the complexity of ideas and themes running through the novel. The psychological thriller genre has become saturated over the past few years and some of us have become a little jaded with it, given the uneven quality of writing that has appeared. However, this is a book that rises to the top of the heap, as the cream always does, going beyond the mere shock twist trope that has become the almost tired signature of the genre, to offer such a labyrinth of concepts and issues that I am still mentally mining them for my ultimate conclusions, which may take a while. I think it may even need a second, third or fourth reading to fully wring the nuances from it. However, the review is due today, so I’ll do the best I can with my initial thoughts!

The book follows Stella, a woman working as a presenter on a late night radio show, who has become consumed by the mystery of the recent murder of a local woman not far from where she works. Stella carries her own set of hang ups, resulting from her abandonment by her mother years before, a mother who has recently returned and stirred up a hornet’s nest of emotions that need to be addressed. In addition, she has an intense relationship to contend with, and a mystery caller who is suggesting he knows the killer – but why is he calling Stella?

The book is written from dual viewpoints, those of Stella and her mother, Elizabeth, and it jumps through different timelines, present and in to the past when Elizabeth left Stella as a child. This works really well, as the past gradually informs the present, and we are shown the motives of both parties in their current and former behaviour, all of which begins slowly to shed light on the current mystery.

The book is intricately plotted and had me making wild guesses as to who was responsible for what, which changed rapidly from chapter to chapter as more information was revealed, the layers of action and motive gradually peeling back like the slowly opening petals of a rose, to reveal the perfectly formed pistil at the centre which holds the essence of the flower. By the end, I had tied myself in knots trying to guess what was at the heart of the story, but I hadn’t got close to the truth of it, when it was finally revealed.

The basic mystery of the plot is not the essence of the story, though, it is simply the skeleton on which Louise hangs the complicated musculature of the book, which is the relationship between Stella, her mother, her anonymous father and her partner, Tom. The dynamics of these relationships, and how the actions of one impact the feelings and behaviour of the others, is the meat of the book, and it is a rich and fascinating topic that Louise exploits fully to make the reader think. There are so many questions raised – nature versus nurture; the nature of the parent/child bond; at what point does an obsessive love become unhealthy; does there come point at which the actions of a person you love become unforgivable, and so many more. I am sure, if I go back to the book again, I will find more and more questions to ponder. This is not a book to be read once and discarded as having given all it can, this is a book that demands thought and attention and detailed consideration of its issues. It is a book that may well leave you with more questions than answers.

Louise’s writing is tight and emotive. The world she creates in this book is the dark, lonely hour of the night when people are pondering the murkiest parts of their souls and coming to unhappy conclusions. The deserted radio station in the quiet hours is intensely claustrophobic, and provides the perfect backdrop for the bleak questions raised by the plot. I found the book deeply unsettling and strained, nerves jangling in anticipation of the alarming facts of the murder about to be revealed. I found it almost impossible to drag myself away from the page and break the tension. The book sucked me into its vortex and held me in a pincer grip, desperate to get to the truth. Not a word is wasted, the twanging tension almost unbearable in its relentlessness as Louise pulls the reader through the story without a moment’s respite. It is a startling accomplishment and left me breathless and disorientated at the end.

This book is something quite special, an achievement that would, in a live arena, be worthy of a standing ovation. My most rewarding read of the year so far.

Call Me Star Girl is out now in ebook and will be published in paperback on 18 April and you can get a copy here.

To follow the rest of the tour for the book, make sure you check out the blogs listed below:

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About the Author

Louise Beech Author Photo

Louise Beech is an exceptional literary talent, whose debut novel How To Be Brave was a Guardian Readers’ Choice for 2015. The follow-up, The Mountain in My Shoe was shortlisted for Not the Booker Prize. Both of her previous books Maria in the Moon and The Lion Tamer Who Lost were widely reviewed, critically acclaimed and number-one bestsellers on Kindle. The Lion Tamer Who Lost was shortlisted for the RNA Most Popular Romantic Novel Award in 2019. Her short fiction has won the Glass Woman Prize, the Eric Hoffer Award for Prose, and the Aesthetica Creative Works competition, as well as shortlisting for the Bridport Prize twice. Louise lives with her husband on the outskirts of Hull, and loves her job as a Front of House Usher at Hull Truck Theatre, where her first play was performed in 2012.

Connect with Louise:

Website: https://louisebeech.co.uk

Facebook: Louise Beech

Twitter: @LouiseWriter

Instagram: @louisebeech13

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The Bones She Buried by Lisa Regan #BookReview #BlogTour (@Lisalregan) @Bookouture #TheBonesSheBuried #NetGalley

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Josie works until her arms ache, until the paramedics arrive and pull her gently away from the woman’s cold, fragile body. Noah’s voice cracks beside her as he calls the time of death for his own, beloved mother.

Arriving with her partner Noah for dinner at his family’s immaculate countryside home, Detective Josie Quinn is devastated to find Noah’s mother, Colette, lying lifeless in the back garden, her mouth clogged with soil.

Searching the house for answers, Josie’s team don’t know what to make of the rosary beads buried in the dirt near the body, or the hidden file labelled “Drew Pratt”, the small town of Denton’s most famous missing person.

As she delves deeper into Pratt’s case, Josie quickly discovers he had a brother whose body mysteriously washed up on the banks of a river. There’s also a diary entry suggesting that Colette may have met him on the last day he was seen alive. Can Josie believe the unthinkable, that a kind old soul like Colette might have been involved in their murders? And, will Josie’s new relationship with Noah survive the accusation?

Josie’s only hope lies in tracking down Pratt’s daughter. But when she arrives at her home to find she’s been murdered just minutes before, Josie knows the real killer is one step ahead and won’t stop until Colette’s secret is buried forever. With many more innocent lives on the line, how deep is Josie prepared dig to reach the truth?

I am delighted today to be taking part in the blog tour for The Bones She Buried by Lisa Regan, which is the fifth book in the Josie Quinn Detective series. My thanks to Noelle Holten of Bookouture for inviting me to take part in the tour and for my copy of the book via NetGalley, which I have reviewed honestly and impartially.

This is the fifth book in the Josie Quinn series but only the second one I have read. However, it works completely as a standalone and, although I am sure if you have read all of the books in the series there may be minor enhancements you would pick up from knowing more of the back story of the characters, new readers should not be at all put off starting the series with this book, with the delights of reading the back list then waiting for them!

This time around the crime is very personal to Josie, and to her boyfriend Noah, as it involves the murder of his mother, Colette. I really enjoy the way that the novels are revealing more and more about the personal lives of the officers in the Denton Police Department, it makes the reader more invested in the series as it goes along… very clever! The story line also allows Lisa to portray strains on the main character, Josie, in both her professional and personal lives as she struggles he demands of solving a tough murder case along with dealing with Noah’s grief and she doesn’t always get it right. It gives the book a very interesting dynamic and an extra level of tension for the reader which I greatly enjoyed.

The murder itself is very complicated, involving a decades old case and trying to work out how Colette could be involved. Lisa is very good about only dropping tiny clues and throwing in plenty of red herrings, extra bodies and lots of action, so you will be gripped from beginning to end and I certainly did not see the resolution coming right up until it was revealed right at the end. From that perspective, the book is very satisfying for fans of the genre. I will say that the whole plot is completely improbable and requires the reader to suspend their disbelief to quite a degree. However, for me, this is part of the fun of these books and a signature of Lisa’s writing so I say, go along for the ride and enjoy it as the escapism that it is.

I really love Lisa’s writing style. It is extremely accessible and easy to read, gripping and with plenty of impetuous to keep the book rolling along. Josie is a fantastic character, I love her drive and forthright manner, she is an easy protagonist to identify with. Lisa always does a wonderful job of leaving you with the odd little question about the characters and what will happen next, making you want to pick up the next book to find out. This is a series that still has plenty of places to go and I am sure her many devotees can’t wait for book six. I know I can’t.

The Bones She Buried is out now and you can buy your copy here.

To read some other great reviews of the book, be sure to follow the tour:

The Bones She Buried - Blog Tour

About the Author

Lisa Regan - Author Photo

Lisa Regan is an Amazon bestselling crime novelist.  She has a Bachelor’s Degree in English and Master of Education Degree from Bloomsburg University.  She is a member of Sisters In Crime, Mystery Writers of America and International Thriller Writers. She lives in Philadelphia with her husband and daughter.

Connect with Lisa:

Website: http://www.lisaregan.com

Facebook: Lisa Regan

Twitter: @Lisalregan

Heartlands by Kerry Watts #BookReview #BlogTour (@Denmanisfab) @bookouture #Heartlands #NetGalley

Heartlands-Kindle

Call it mother’s intuition, but I knew she was dead the moment she was late home. As I listened to her phone ring and ring, that’s when I knew for sure. My little girl was gone. 

Twenty years ago, Sophie Nicoll never came home from school. Days later her body was found in a shallow grave on a remote farm a few miles from her hometown. Two boys from her school were found guilty. The press called the boys evil. Sophie’s family wanted them dead. The judge promised they’d never walk free.

Two decades later and schoolgirl Shannon Ross has vanished from a small town in the Scottish Highlands.

It’s Detective Jessie Blake’s first big case since she joined Perthshire Police. Having recently arrived from London, Jessie lives in fear of people finding out about her past and her reasons for moving north.

When Shannon’s body is found in the river on the outskirts of Inverlochty, Jessie discovers she’s not the only one with something to hide. As the small community begins to crack under pressure, people begin to point fingers. And soon, the big secrets hidden within the small town are revealed – with devastating consequences.

I’m delighted to be taking part in the blog tour today for Heartlands by Kerry Watts, a brand new crime thriller set in the Highlands of Scotland. My thanks to Noelle Holten at Bookouture for inviting me on to the tour and for my copy of the book, received via NetGalley, which I have reviewed honestly and impartially.

This is a debut novel but it doesn’t show. This is an extremely accomplished crime thriller which whizzed me through the pages and kept me gripped until the last page, and beyond (I know, cryptic!)

A young girl has gone missing in a small Highland town and everyone is on high alert, because there are echoes of another similar crime from years ago. but how could the two possibly be linked? Newly-recruited to the Highland force from London, DI Jessie Blake is eager to prove herself by solving the crime, but she has secrets of her own to protect.

I really loved the setting of this novel and thought the author brought it to life really well. The town is populated by well-built and interesting characters and the author creates realistic and fascinating dynamics between them. It all gelled perfectly for the plot and I was really impressed with the quality of the writing.

There are a lot of characters in this book, and the timeline jumps around quite a lot, so you need to pay attention to keep up but the reader soon gets in to the rhythm of the story. The author does an amazing job of dropping tiny clues and hints as to the perpetrator throughout the book, but lays so many false trails that, although I had my suspicions, I genuinely was not sure who had done what until the reveal. It was very cleverly done and I enjoyed trying to work it out. I particularly enjoyed the historical crime timeline, and I think Kerry portrayed the events, and the aftermath and consequences brilliantly.

If I had a small criticism, I would say that near the end there was an odd change of pace where the book suddenly sped up events, jumped forward quite quickly and seemed to have missed out a couple of steps. It felt to me that a chunk had just been edited out, not quite seamlessly, and it stuttered the narrative slightly for me which took me out of the book for a minute until my brain caught up. However, it was a minot flaw and something I am sure the author will correct with experience. It did not affect my overall enjoyment of the book and should not put off a potential reader at all.

All in all, I really enjoyed this book, I felt it was a very accomplished debut and a really interesting premise for a crime novel, well-executed. I would highly recommend this book to fans of the genre. There were questions over Jessie’s past left intriguingly open and I very much look forward to reading more in this series.

Heartlands is out now and you can buy a copy here.

To follow the rest of the tour, check out the dates on the poster below:

Heartlands - Blog Tour

About the Author

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Kerry Watts was born and grew up in a small town in the East of Scotland where she still lives today. She is always writing and carries a little notebook and pen with her wherever she goes because at her age ideas need to be captured before they disappear.

Kerry specialises in crime fiction because she enjoys pushing the boundaries of what it is to be human. The nature versus nurture debate fascinates her. She loves to put her characters in impossible situations just to see what happens. Her experience as a psychiatric nurse heavily influences her writing. She also wants to create characters that people can relate to who might be facing the same struggles as anyone else.

Authors who inspire her are anyone capable of creating a character who lives inside her head long after she has closed the book. Her favourite fictional character’s are Dexter Morgan, created by Jeff Lindsay as well as Hannibal Lechter created by Thomas Harris. She doesn’t have a favourite genre as a reader. Kerry will read anything. Written by anyone. If the blurb has a good feel about it she’s hooked.

When she’s not writing she loves to spend time following her other passions – dogs, particularly rescue mutts and horse racing. The sight of a thoroughbred race horse at full stretch has been known to move her to tears, not just lump in the throat stuff but full on blubbing. And for that she is unashamed. One day she’s going to buy a racehorse filly and call her Into Darkness.

She also had a small role in a film called The Rocket Post but decided acting wasn’t for her. She would rather create a character than play one.

Connect with Kerry:

Facebook: Kerry Watts Author

Twitter: @Denmanisfab

She’s Mine by Claire Lewis #BlogTour #Extract (@CSLewisWrites) @Aria_Fiction @HoZ_Books #NetGalley #ShesMine

She's Mine

She was never mine to lose…

When Scarlett falls asleep on a Caribbean beach she awakes to her worst nightmare – Katie is gone. With all fingers pointed to her Scarlett must risk everything to clear her name.

As Scarlett begins to unravel the complicated past of Katie’s mother she begins to think there’s more to Katie’s disappearance than meets the eye. But who would want to steal a child? And how did no-one see anything on the small island?

I’m very happy to be kicking off the blog tour today for She’s Mine by Claire Lewis. My thanks to Victoria Joss at Head of Zeus/Aria for my copy of the book and for allowing me to share the below extract from the book with you.

Extract

That’s the truth, but not the whole truth. What I don’t reveal to her is an incident that took place in Christina’s bedroom the week before we flew out to the British Leeward Isles. I don’t disclose it because the incident doesn’t put me in a good light either! On Tuesdays, Katie does a full day at kindergarten so I have a little time to myself. I’ve got into the habit of using Christina’s en-suite, luxurious, walk-in power shower and expensive beauty products following the weekly hot yoga class that I go to after dropping off Katie. So last Tuesday, I had just finished my shower and wrapped myself in Christina’s bathrobe when I heard her bedroom door opening and then the sound of her antique roll top desk being unlocked.

I thought she must have come back early from work for some reason. There was nothing else for it but to come clean (literally!) and apologise for taking the liberty of using her bathroom without asking first. So I took off her bathrobe, draped a towel around me and opened the door. But it wasn’t Christina. It was Damien with his back to me, checking the contents of the desk. Caught in the act. Hearing the catch he started and turned in alarm. He reddened but quickly composed himself and went on the offensive. 

‘What a vision of beauty!’ he sneered as I stood there, my wet hair dripping onto the carpet. ‘I didn’t realise you and Christina were so intimate.’

‘And I didn’t realise you made a habit of going through her private papers!’ I snapped back. I know very well that the desk, an old family heirloom shipped over from the UK, is a strictly no-go area that she keeps locked at all times. He just laughed and then cool as a cucumber, he slipped some documents into a green cardboard file under his arm, locked the desk, pocketed the key and marched out of the room.

‘Just mind your own business and keep out of our affairs. Or you’ll be going the same way as the previous nanny,’ was his parting shot.

I understood this was no idle threat. Christina’s so possessive and distrustful that I knew if she got wind of this brush with Damien, she would imagine the worst and I’d be out of a job. So I said nothing to Christina in New York and I say nothing to the police officer now as she converses with me in the hotel bedroom.

I decide to keep my suspicions about Damien to myself – for now.

*

For something that was supposed to have been a ‘friendly chat’ the questioning is intense. After asking about my relations with Christina and Damien she embarks on a list of questions clearly aimed at working out a timeline for my movements this afternoon. What time did I arrive at the beach with Katie? Did I speak to anyone? Did anyone approach me or Katie? Did I notice anyone watching her? What time did I fall asleep? What time did I wake up? When did I become aware Katie was missing? What did I do next? Did I see anyone on the beach when I was looking for her? How long did I spend searching the beach before raising the alarm? What time did I tell Christina her little girl was missing? 

My head is pounding and I feel like a criminal by the time the family liaison officer finally puts her notepad away.

‘These questions are nothing to worry about,’ she assures me. ‘We just need to establish the timeline for the disappearance of the little girl.’ She ends the conversation by encouraging me to contact her ‘any time, any place’ if I need support or if I ‘remember’ anything else that may be relevant to the investigation. I half expect her to clap me in handcuffs and announce that she’s putting me under arrest, when at last she says that I’m at liberty to go.

*

In a waking nightmare, we struggle on through the grief-stricken hours of the day making calls, badgering the search team for any new scrap of information and giving interviews to reporters in the belief that getting Katie’s story out there might somehow help in her rescue.

The worst moment comes just after midnight when the operation is called to a halt. I collapse onto a chair in a quivering heap. All the strength has gone from my legs. Christina appears distraught, begging members of the police and emergency services to go on searching. 

‘There’s nothing more we can do tonight. We’ll resume at dawn. You should get some sleep,’ says the commander sternly. Holding our despair at bay and unable to contemplate the thought of sleep, we pace the beaches and the rocky headland for the next two hours, tripping over stones in the darkness, our steps lit only by the moon and stars in the cloudless black sky and the light from our mobile phones. 

I am lightheaded with exhaustion by the time I accompany Christina to her room in the early hours of the morning. We sit out on the balcony mesmerised by the sound of waves rolling on to sand. We are too tired to speak. I make tea and give her three sleeping tablets from a packet I find in her wash bag. Once the tablets take effect, I steer her to bed, her expression vacant and confused, as she lets me pull the covers over her. It’s not until I shut Christina’s door and go down the corridor to the room I’m sharing with Katie that it strikes me again. Where the fuck is Damien? I haven’t seen him all day, not since he handed me the cocktail at the pool. 

When I open the door, there is Katie’s blue bunny, propped up on her newly-made bed. The tears stream down my face. The bedtime story I was reading to her last night is still open at the page we got to when her eyes finally closed. It’s a beautifully illustrated copy of Peter Pan that Christina discovered in a quaint little bookshop called the Book Cellar, one of her favourite haunts for second-hand books. I glance down at the page. ‘The Mermaids’ Lagoon’ – Katie’s favourite chapter. She loves the colour illustrations of the mermaids diving in the waves. The doors to the balcony are open. I shiver in the sea breeze and step out through billowing curtains. 

I stand there for a few moments still clutching Katie’s bucket. 

Lost. Drowned.

If this extract has whetted your appetite to read the book, which I am sure it has, She’s Mine is out today and you can buy a copy here.

To follow the rest of the tour for alternative reviews and exciting articles, check out the poster below:

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About the Author

Claire S. Lewis

Claire Simone Lewis studied philosophy, French literature and international relations at the universities of Oxford and Cambridge before starting her career in aviation law with a City law firm and later as an in-house lawyer at Virgin Atlantic Airways.  More recently, she turned to writing psychological suspense, taking courses at the Faber Academy. She’s Mine is her first novel. Born in Paris, she’s bilingual and lives in Surrey with her family.

Connect with Claire:

Facebook: CS Lewis Writes

Twitter: @CSLewisWrites

Desert Island Books: The Edge by Dick Francis @felix_francis #BookReview #racingcrime #thriller #crime #bookbloggers #bookblog #desertislandbooks #readinggoals

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Tor Kelsey, an undercover agent for the Jockey Club’s security service is involved in the attempt to rid racing of one of its most notorious villains, Julius Apollo Filmer. The court however, does not go along with their beliefs, but Tor knows that to let Julius even suspect the service are still on his tail would mean certain death for a number of witnesses.

Meanwhile, several racehorse owners have planned a luxurious train trip across Canada, with race meetings fixed for every major city. Julius Apollo Filmer and Tor are on the passenger list. The beautiful journey through the Rockies gets uglier by the minute and Tor finds himself pushed to dangerous limits to defeat Filmer’s wily scheming.

I can’t remember exactly when I read my very first Dick Francis novel, but I know it was some time early in my horse-mad, teenage years. I know that it was lent to me by my friend, Mary, and that the first one I read was one of his books featuring racing detective, Sid Halley. I also know I was hooked from that very first book and quickly raced through his back catalogue. I then waited eagerly each September for his latest book to come out and bought every new one in hardback. He wrote 44 thrillers before his death in 2010, the later ones with his son, Felix, as co-author. Since his death, Felix has continued to write racing thrillers under the Francis name, and I have continued to buy them.

I have huge nostalgic affection for these books, as Dick Francis was one of the first authors I discovered for myself, without the books being parentally approved, and he was an author that was just my own. No one else in my family was particularly a fan, I didn’t have to share the books with my sisters (who never took care of my books properly- remember the Freya North book you left in Australia, Catherine? Remember the book you dropped in the bath, Rebecca?), these were just mine.

Do you want to see my Dick Francis shelf? Of course you do, here it is:-

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Anyway, of all of these excellent books, The Edge is my standout favourite. I must have read it at least a dozen times over the years. In fact I could probably recite it off by heart by now, but I never get bored of it and it was a no brainer as one of my Desert Island Books.

The blurb of this book singularly fails to do the plot justice, so I will try and explain to you what exactly is so marvellous about it, even to people who are not remotely interested in horses or racing.

Although Dick Francis is dubbed the king of the racing thriller, his books are about so much more than horse racing. His plots have involved stories centring around reporters, photography, gold mines, movie-making, wine experts, air taxis, art fraud, diamond dealers, authors, medical experiments, hurricane-chasing and toy making, amongst many other subjects, all of them meticulously researched. To say that he writes racing thrillers does not do his imagination justice, and The Edge is one of the best examples of this diversity in his writing.

The book follows Jockey Club investigator, Tor Kelsey, a man who works undercover investigating racing crimes. When the Jockey Club believes the biggest villain in racing might be plotting a major sting, Tor is sent on the trip of a lifetime across Canada to try and discover and foil his plans.

So far, so ordinary. However, there are things about the book that make it a cut above the average thriller. Firstly, it has the topsy-turvy plot device of the reader knowing who the villain is from the off, but both the investigator, and the reader, not knowing what crime he is planning and having to find this out together. Secondly, the action is set mostly on a glamorous train travelling coast-to-coast across Canada with the elite of the racing world, plus their horses, aboard. There is also a murder mystery being acted out on board for the entertainment of the passengers, so there is fun in trying to work out which parts are the real mystery and which are part of the entertainment. There is also a love interest sub-plot for added spice. A huge cast of great characters, descriptions of a great train journey visiting some of the amazing sights of Canada, and a gripping mystery plot which delivers continual twists and turns and highs and lows – what’s not to love?

This book has a special place in my heart. It has also inspired one of my top Bucket List destinations which I will be blogging about later in the week (picture below might give you a clue!). Having read it again, I am also struck by how well the book has stood the test of time, despite it being 30 years old and not featuring cell phones, the internet or other modern equipment. There are not many crime books that I can read over and over and still enjoy, despite knowing whodunnit, but all of Dick Francis’s books fall into this category and this is the best of the crop IMHO. Definitely a keeper.

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The Edge might be difficult to get your mitts on new now, but try your local library or you should be able to track down a copy in some format here. Sorry, there is no way I am lending out my copy, no matter how much you beg!

About the Author

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Richard Stanley Francis (31 October 1920 – 14 February 2010) was a British crime writer, and former steeplechase jockey, whose novels centre on horse racing.

After wartime service in the RAF, Francis became a full-time jump-jockey, winning over 350 races and becoming champion jockey of the British National Hunt. He came to further prominence in 1956 as jockey to Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother riding her horse Devon Loch, which fell when close to winning the Grand National. Francis retired from the turf and became a journalist and novelist.

Dick Francis was widely acclaimed as one of the world’s finest thriller writers. His awards include the Crime Writers’ Association’s Cartier Diamond Dagger for his outstanding contribution to the crime genre, and an honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters from Tufts University of Boston. In 1996, Dick Francis was made a Mystery Writers of America Grand Master for a lifetime’s achievement and in 2000 he received a CBE in the Queen’s Birthday Honours list.

One Last Prayer for the Rays #BookReview #BlogTour (@MarkinWes) @RaRaResources #RachelsRandomResources #OneLastPrayerForTheRays

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Today is my turn on the blog tour for One Last Prayer for the Rays by Wes Markin. Thank you to Rachel Gilbey of Rachel’s Random Resources for my place on the tour and to the author for my copy of the book which I have reviewed honestly and impartially.

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DCI Michael Yorke faces his most harrowing case yet.

When 12-year-old Paul disappears from school, Yorke’s only clue is a pool of animal blood. Fearing the worst, he turns toward the most obvious suspect, recently released local murderer, Thomas Ray.

But as the snow in Salisbury worsens, Ray’s mutilated body is discovered, and Yorke is left with no choice but to journey into the sinister heart of a demented family that has plagued the community for generations. Can he save the boy? Or will the evil he discovers changes him forever?

I had no idea what to expect going in to this book as it is a debut from a new, and potentially exciting, crime novelist. The blurb doesn’t give a huge amount away about the book, so I went in to in with an open mind and was treated to a rollercoaster of a ride  of a book with a few niggling issues.

The plot of this book clever; the writer comes up with some ingenious twists and turns and devilish ways of torturing both his fictional victims and his readers as he tugs them through the book before revealing what is going on. The book opens with a shocking abduction at a school and the action doesn’t really let up all the way through as the police of Salisbury, led by DCI Michael Yorke, try to fathom who has kidnapped the boy, and why, which proves difficult given the very strange nature of the crime. I have to warn readers, there are some very graphic, gory and disturbing scenes in this novel, so the book will delight crime readers who like their murders explicit, but may turn the stomaches of some.

The crime centres around the notorious Ray family, who have a brutal and twisted history in the area, to the extent that seems to be a curse on the family. Is this why one of the last of the Rays has been abducted and is this in revenge for crimes committed in the past? This is a labyrinthine plot that readers will enjoy trying to decipher, alongside the police, and it romps along at a goodly pace.

There are some great characters in this book, particularly amongst the ‘baddies’ whose personalities and motivations are, by and large, are clear and fully fleshed out. I got the feeling that the author really enjoys and has great fun writing these characters. The exception to this seemed to be Lacey Ray who, although a character I enjoyed very much, seemed to be lacking a clear motivation for her actions other than – ‘she’s a psycho’ – which seems a little simplistic. Parts of what were happening to her, such as the Blue Room, were not fully explained and her story left hanging so I got the feeling that the author was possibly being deliberately vague so she could return for another instalment, but I would have liked a little more development of her psychopathy to make this instalment fully satisfying.

The main police protagonist, Yorke, seemed a down to earth and solid policeman with good relationship with his colleagues and he was dogged in his efforts to solve the crime. What he was lacking though was a fully fleshed out personal story and the lack of this made it hard to really invest in him as a character. Again, I really feel that the author enjoyed writing and devoted more time to developing the baddies and their stories. I believe the author has written a prequel featuring Yorke, and that this is the beginning of a series, so no doubt more will be revealed in future books but here he seems curiously devoid of any life or interests outside of his job.

There are a lot of other minor characters on the police side of the story. Way too many in fact, it was practically impossible to keep up with them all and, aside from Jake Pettman, none of them were developed at all. People were given names and job titles that were repeated that really didn’t warrant that level of identification based on their relevance to the story. People’s full job titles and roles were repeated and repeated in a way that dragged parts of the story to a crawl and didn’t add anything to the narrative. However, I think this eased towards the end of the book and comes down to the experience of the writer. Time, practice and a good additional edit could eliminate this issue in future volumes and doesn’t take away from the fact that here is a talented writer who has real potential to produce gripping and addictive crime fiction.

This is a strong debut with a gripping plot and a real flair of imagination, marred slightly by some rookie errors that can easily be addressed and I expect to see this author go from strength to strength. I would recommend you give this book a go for its inventive plot, and watch out for exciting future books from this writer.

One Last Prayer For The Rays is available by following this link.

To read some alternative reviews of the book, make sure you follow the tour as detailed below:

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About the Author

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Wes Markin is a hyperactive English teacher, who loves writing crime fiction with a twist of the macabre.

​Having released One Last Prayer for the Rays he is now working on the second instalment of DCI Michael Yorke’s wild ride, The Repenting Serpent. He is also the author of Defined, a prequel to his DCI Yorke novels, which takes the reader back to his blood-soaked university days.​​

​Born in 1978, Wes grew up in Manchester, UK. After graduating from Leeds University, he spent fifteen years as a teacher of English, and has taught in Thailand, Malaysia and China. Now as a teacher, writer, husband and father, he is currently living in Harrogate, UK.​

Connect with Wes:

Facebook: Wes Markin Author

Twitter: @MarkinWes