Tuesday, April 5, 2022

A flicker in the dark by Stacy Willingham

Chloe Davis is a medical psychologist working in Baton Rouge Louisiana.  She specialises in working with young people who have faced trauma and trouble in their past, an uncomfortable niche for some.  Unlike most psychologists Chloe has an added advantage when working with troubled youth, an edge that gives her extra insight into what they are going through.  Chloe knows what it is like to sit on the couch and play the game, knows what doctors keep in their filing cabinets - because twenty years ago Chloe was the one sitting on the couch.  Twenty years ago her world came crashing down when her father was arrested and imprisoned for the murder of teenage girls in their small town of Breaux Bridge.  It was a traumatic time, not just because of losing their father, but also because of what came after.

Escaping from Breaux Bridge was just the start of a new life for Chloe and she has worked hard to get to where she is.  It hasn't been an easy ride but she has a home of her own and a loving fiancée who accepts her as she is - even after she told him about her past and her father.  Things aren't perfect, her brother Cooper doesn't approve of her whirlwind romance and engagement, and a reporter has started sniffing around about her father and the case - but she's coping.  Then a teenage girl goes missing, and Chloe is drawn to the search, which turns out to be a mistake.  Then a second girl goes missing - a girl that has a connection to Chloe.  Thrust into the police spotlight Chloe is eager to help, but her past is more of a hinderance than a help - and the finger of suspicion can easily point both ways. 

A flicker in the dark is one of the better psychological thrillers I have read in the past few years - and there are parts of the story that make it really tricky to review well without giving spoilers!  Chloe is an interesting character with all the flaws that make us well rounded people - she is a psychologist who really should know better, self prescribing and drinking to deal with her past.  The people in her life are also complex and 'real' - and the interpersonal relationships are part of what makes this an interesting and very realistic read.  The story is straight forward on the surface, but the more you read, and the more you learn, the more you realise that you don't really know anything - about anyone.

This is a rewarding read and it will be interesting to see if Stacy Willingham is able to bring us more books of this caliber in the future - highly recommended.

If you like this book then try:

Reviewed by Brilla

Monday, January 17, 2022

The lost by Simon Beckett

Jonah Colley is a sergeant with the Metroplitan Police firearms unit, he has to deal with intense and unpredictable situations regularly as part of his job, but nothing he's done before could have prepared him for Slaughter Quay.  When he answers a call from an old friend while on a night out with the other members of his team he has no idea that he is about to walk into a nightmare.  He hasn't seen his former friend Gavin McKinney in ten years, not since Jonah's young son Theo went missing and his world fell apart.  Gavin and Jonah grew up thick as thieves, and when they both married their wives Marie and Chrissie, they became closer rather than drifting apart.  That all ended when Theo went missing and Jonah and Chrissie got divorced.  

Jonah has no idea why Gavin would contact him for help, but he can't ignore the call and ends up in a dodgy old warehouse - and discovers four bodies, including Gavin.  He tries to help, but ends up attacked himself, nearly dying in the process.  When Jonah wakes up in hospital with a potentially permanent injury that seems like the worse news he could have - until he realises that he is a suspect in the deaths.  Detective Inspector Fletcher and Detective Sergeant Bennet are investigating the case, and Fletcher in particular seems determined to pin the murders on Jonah.  It's a nightmare he can't wake up from, and once he realises there is a potential connection to his sons disappearance Jonah finds himself sucked down the rabbit hole of the case.  As Jonah tries to untangle the case building around him, one of the things that DI Fletcher latches on to is why Gavin would call Jonah for help after all these years, and why their friendship drifted apart in the first place.  It is a race against time - and Jonah has no idea who he is dealing with.  

I read a lot of crime and police procedural fiction, and The lost was one of the stand out books in the genre(s) from the past few years.  Simon Beckett has struck the right balance between building his character (Jonah) and the world he lives in, without distracting you with too much detail or adding too much weight to the story.  I personally like a story that keeps moving, which means I am quite partial to books where the story starts and then details are added by having glimpses into the past, or having the story introduce pieces of the past through interactions between characters.  Not everyone does this well, in some cases it feels like a contrived writing style - but Beckett does it very, very well.  Jonah is the focal point of the story (as he should be) but you do get a sense of the other characters, and you feel for them as well as events unfold.

This is a slightly different take on the police procedural, mainly because Jonah is a police officer but he is on the outside of the case.  The story as it unfolds was also a welcome change, something I have not come across before, or at least not often enough to recognise what was happening too early in the book.  This is the start of a series, and it will be interesting to see where Beckett takes the series from here based on how the book ends (don't worry, no spoilers).  The lost starts the Jonah Colley thriller series with a bang.

If you like this book then try:
  • When you are mine by Michael Robotham
  • Crimson Lake by Candice Fox
  • Sticks and stones by Katherine Firkin
  • The puppet show by M.W. Craven
  • Eeny meeny by M.J. Arlidge
  • 2 sisters detective agency by James Patterson and Candice Fox
  • When darkness calls by Mark Griffin
  • The coast to coast murders by James Patterson and J.D.Barker

Reviewed by Brilla

Sunday, January 16, 2022

Darling Rose Gold by Stephanie Wroble

All through her childhood Rose Gold Watts was seriously ill - at least, that is what her mother led her to believe.  Chronic nausea and vomiting, strange symptoms that couldn't be pinned down to any one illness, and an inability to keep her weight up stunted Rose Gold's growth and left her with a terrible smile and a certain amount of ridicule in her hometown of Deadwick.  The most shocking part of the case is that her mother, Patty, was charged with aggravated child abuse for deliberately starving and mistreating Rose Gold - which earned her a five year jail term.  When she is due to be released she has nowhere to turn but Rose Gold, and more than a few people are surprised when Rose Gold agrees to let Patty move in with her and her infant son Adam.  

The relationship between Rose Gold and Patty is strained from the start - Patty blames Rose Gold for what happened, especially after Rose Gold testified against her at the trial.  Patty is determined to pick up her life where she left off, return to being the mother Rose Gold obviously, desperately needs - but Rose Gold keeps her at a distance, and seems reluctant to leave Adam with her.  The town of Deadwick isn't exactly welcoming either, all her old friends and neighbours have turned against 'Poisonous Patty' after what she did to Rose Gold, and no one seems to be willing to listen to her side of the story.  Patty knows that Rose Gold is up to something and thinks that she knows exactly what Rose Gold is capable of doing, she raised her after all, but a lot can change in five years.

Darling Rose Gold was a surprising find in the new books list for my local public library.  The blurb for the book suggested it was a psychological thriller (which it is) which appealed to me as well written psychological thrillers are amazingly addictive to read - and this was a very well written psychological thriller indeed.  I have read about Munchausen syndrome by proxy before in the memoir Sickened: The memoir of a Munchausen by Proxy Childhood by Julie Gregory, and I have seen and read other things as well so had some idea of what to expect.  

The main characters of Patty and Rose Gold bring the realities of Munchausen syndrome by proxy to life - Rose Gold ignorant of what was happening to her throughout her childhood, and Patty determined to see herself as the victim of a system that fails to recognise everything she did for Rose Gold.  Told in a mix of current time with flashback chapters that slowly bring you up to date, this is a story that will drag you into the story and keep you there from start to finish.  It is challenging to really sell the story without dropping too many potential spoilers, but the relationship between Patty and Rose Gold is what drives this story forward - not just the relationship they have, but also the relationship Patty thinks they have.  This is a very well written book that is both engrossing and thoroughly believable.  Highly recommended.

If you like this book then try:

Reviewed by Brilla

Friday, January 7, 2022

Six crimson cranes by Elizabeth Lim

Princess Shiori'anma is the youngest child of Emperor Hanriyu and his only daughter - she is head strong, strong willed, and can use forbidden magic.  As the daughter of the emperor she has been betrothed to a total stranger, a pawn for the benefit of the kingdom.  On the day of her betrothal ceremony she runs and jumps into the Sacred Lake, where she meets a dragon and seals her fate.  She has embarrassed her father in front of the whole kingdom and must make amends, but she has also found a teacher of magic - the dragon Seryu.  As Shiori learns about magic from Seryu and learns to harness it, she also toils under the watchful eye of her stepmother to produce an apology to her betrothed Takkan Bushian and his family.  

It is a careful balancing act, Shiori is eager to learn about magic, but she also has to keep a watchful eye on her stepmother - who seems to be keeping an equally careful eye on Shiori.  When Shiori's curiosity gets the better of her and she spies on her stepmother she makes a startling discovery - and suffers a terrifying punishment.  Her stepmother uses magic to turn Shiori's brothers into cranes and hides Shiori under a magical disguise.  When she wakes far away from home she learns her stepmothers cruelty doesn't end there, because for each word she says one of her brothers will die.  The only chance to save herself and her brothers is a magical quest that will push her to the limits.

Six crimson cranes is a stunning retelling of the 'Six swans' traditional tale - and it is a vibrant and rich story that uses the traditional story as a base but brings so much more to the table.  The world of Princess Shiori and her family is richly imagined and totally engrossing, with little cultural details and hints that make it a complete world in it's own right.  I have read a previous duology by Elizabeth Lim, and she has once again proved that she is an exceptional writer with an easy style that lets you drop right into her world and feel right at home.  Not every reader will recognise the source material for Six crimson cranes, but that doesn't matter because Lim has taken the source and woven her own story that stands on its own merits.  Often retellings of traditional stories keep their story short, but at more than 400 pages Lim has created an epic story - with the potential for more stories set in the same world.

I love reading modern retellings of traditional stories as they can keep those traditional stories alive in a new form, and they can offer unique perspectives on those stories by adding cultural elements or other touches that give the story a unique flavour.  Elizabeth Lim, along with Julie C. Dao, are two authors who are taking traditional tales and adding to them with a distinctly Asian cultural feel that is both very satisfying and leaves you wanting more!  Hopefully Elizabeth Lim will have many more stories to share as they are a real treat.

If you like this book then try:

Reviewed by Brilla

Thursday, January 6, 2022

2 sisters detective agency by James Patterson and Candice Fox

Rhonda Bird is a public defender in Denver, Colorado.  She's worked hard to get where she is, and she stands out from the crowd - not just because of her physical size, but also because of the way she dresses.  She is used to rolling with the punches and dealing with challenging clients - ignoring the anger and frustration from some, dealing with the fear and anxiety of others, and staring down the threats.  When she receives a call out of the blue from her estranged fathers attorney she is not particularly interested in what he has to say - even after he informs her that her father is dead.  Rhonda has no interest in the man who walked out of her life twenty five years ago, and she has no interest in his estate - but heads off to Los Angeles when the lawyer insists and makes a startling discovery.  She has a teenaged half sister, who everyone calls Baby, and she is now her legal guardian.

Baby is everything Rhonda is not - model thin, gorgeous, and she had a relationship with their father.  To say they are not thrilled with the news is an understatement - Rhonda can't help but feel some resentment towards the sister who their father actually stuck around for, and Baby is used to doing her own thing and does not need Rhonda watching out for her.  It is a rocky start to the relationship, and when someone Baby knows arrives at the detective agency their father left them asking for help, things get a whole lot worse.  Ashton and his friends are in over their heads - they just don't know how deep - and Rhonda and Baby may be the only ones who can save them.  Assuming they aren't too busy avoiding the other inheritance daddy dearest left them with.

2 sisters detective agency is a fantastic read, but is one of those annoying books that is hard to review without introducing too many spoilers along the way.  We are introduced to Rhonda and Baby's world with a bang, and just like real life their world and relationship are complicated from the get go.  In many ways I connected with Rhonda quickly because I know what it's like to have a dad who didn't stick around, but who came back into my life later, and who was quite happy to play happy families with the children of partners.  I also liked Baby (after a while) - might be because of all the psychology that comes into it.  They are interesting characters, and you can see the depth to them both, layers that get peeled back as the story goes on.  There is also a certain humour that runs through the story, including some very funny moments - which balances out some of the not so pleasant parts.

There is a teaser that this is the start of a series, and there is a lot to like here - particularly as Patterson and Fox have very similar writing styles so the story is seamless.  Hopefully we get to see a lot more of Rhonda and Baby.

If you like this book then try:
  • Never never by James Patterson and Candice Fox
  • Crimson Lake by Candice Fox
  • Gathering dark by Candice Fox
  • 1st case by James Patterson and Chris Tebbetts
  • Look what you made me do by Elaine Murphy
  • Eeny meeny by M.J. Arlidge
  • The puppet show by M.W. Craven
  • The better sister by Alafair Burke
  • The liar's daughter by Claire Allan
  • Sticks and stones by Katherine Firkin

Reviewed by Brilla

Tuesday, January 4, 2022

The cult by Abby Davies

Hannah and Greg Woods are missing - they disappeared from their home in the early hours of the morning, leaving their parents in a panic.  Greg was planing to sneak out on his own to meet his special friends, but Hannah wouldn't let him leave the house on his own so now they are both in trouble.  Their disappearance gains instant attention, not only because of a nearby murder, but also because they are not the first children to disappear without a trace in the local area.  Detective Inspector Pearline Ottoline used to be with Missing Persons and was involved in the search for little Isabelle Hart, and her failure to find her follows her around like a cloud - even though she is now with the Major Crimes.  With two missing children the stress levels are rising, and she is putting herself under increasing pressure to solve the disappearance of the Woods children.

While DI Ottoline and her team are investigating the disappearance of the children their mother, Lily Woods, is frantically conducting her own search.  She is determined to find her children, and she is not content to stay and home with her distant husband - she is going to find them.  The horror of her missing babies is amplified by her forgetting to take her medication, and it feels like everyone is against her.  As the case ramps up it slowly becomes clear that there is a link between current events and events at a commune where Uncle Saviour promised to lead his followers to Eternal Life.  One of his most faithful followers is his niece Love, and as she grows up in the commune she develops a true and deep devotion to their goals - but what connection does the events of the past have with current events?

The cult is a somewhat predictable story if you look at the big picture and story arc - but it is one of the best examples of this type of story I have read in a long time.  The technique of switching between events in the past and events in the current time is well used by crime authors, and there definitely seems to be a tendency for British crime authors to use it - but in this case Davies has done an excellent job of using the technique as it was intended.  The tension in the story builds in the present, and the events of the past build in parallel, making you think you might know what is happening/happened but you're not 100% sure.  

Davies has created some memorable and very relateable characters.  No one is perfect, everyone has flaws, and you get to peel back the layers of the different people as you share their story.  As someone who reads a lot (really a lot) of crime I can find it challenging to see past the cliché to really enjoy books and a lot of what I read (again really lots) ends up discarded after a chapter or two because the author fails to engage you with the story, or because the characters/setting just feels like every other book I have read.  In contrast, I thoroughly enjoyed The cult and resented not being able to read the book in one setting - though on the positive side I can say that it is easy to keep track of the story if you have to pick it up and put it down a few times.  A fantastic find and a great way to kick off 2022.

If you like this book then try:

Reviewed by Brilla

Monday, January 3, 2022

Look what you made me do by Elaine Murphy

For the past ten years Carrie has been helping her older sister Becca move furniture.  Sounds innocent enough, but in Becca's case asking Carrie to help her move furniture is a euphemism for helping Becca dispose of a dead body.  It started with one body when they were teenagers, and the planting of evidence on the body that would lead back to Carrie if the body was ever discovered.  Suitably terrified of what could happen Carrie helped her sister, and helped her, and helped her until it just became the way they were.  If someone got in Becca's way she took them out and made Carrie help her - is it any surprise that Carrie is a bundle of resentful nerves towards her sister?

Becca is self-centered, does what she wants when she wants, and makes herself at home in Carrie's life as often as she likes.  Their parents know what Becca is like, but instead of dealing with it they moved away to a part of the country Becca can't stand - leaving Carrie to deal with her on her own.  When the latest piece of furniture they move happens to be someone that was up against Carrie for a promotion Carrie is worried it will be traced back to her in some way - something that is assured when multiple remains are found in the park where they buried the body.

Suddenly it seems as though the world is closing in - does Carrie really know her sister at all?  Although she denies being responsible for the other bodies, Carrie struggles to believe that there could be another serial killer in their little town - what are the chances?  Carrie knows what Becca is like though, and when things start happening that point the murder investigation in her direction, and items appear that look like someone is trying to frame Carrie for the murders, she finds it all too easy to believe that Becca is to blame.  Does Carrie know her sister as well as she thinks she does?

Look what you made me do was a surprise find that I had to read in one sitting because I didn't want to put it down.  The story starts with a bang, hooking you from the start, and dragging you through a psychological thriller.  There are so many parts of the story that are relateable - being the responsible sibling, helping your sibling clean up their messes (though not this literally), wondering if you are losing the plot when things aren't as they seem, and many many more.  The characters of Becca and Carrie are well defined and fully developed, the little bits and pieces of their shared memories and lives bringing them to life - and while there is an element of psychology and profiling the characters avoid the cliché minefield of crime novels.  

I read a lot of crime and thrillers and can get jaded with stories easily, especially if they 'fell' like other books or characters I have read - no fear of that with Look what you made me do.  While it would be challenging to come up with another fresh take on the serial killer genre, hopefully this is not the last book we see in this vein from Murphy as it was very, very good.

If you like this book then try:

Reviewed by Brilla

Tuesday, December 28, 2021

When darkness calls by Mark Griffin

Holly Wakefield has a routine life - splitting her time between teaching students at King's College about forensic psychology and treating patients at Wetherington Hospital.  Her knowledge about forensic psychology, especially in regards to serial killers, makes her a walking encyclopedia of twisted minds - and that knowledge will soon be put to the test.  When she receives a phone call from Detective Inspector Bishop, she is confused at first, until he reminds her that she volunteered to be on the crime scene call out list if they ever needed a forensic psychologist.  When she arrives at the crime scene she isn't sure what to expect, in five years she has never been called upon before - but the gruesome crime scene is a shock even to Holly.  

As she starts working on the case it is clear that her experience and knowledge of serial killers is an advantage, as she is quickly able to build a profile of the killer.  It's not perfect, she can't give them a name or a face, but she is able to provide enough information for the Police to begin their search.  When the murder is linked to another case, DI Bishop and Holly have to face the fact that they have their own serial killer.  Balancing her work as a teacher, profiler and forensic psychologist is not easy - especially with an important date looming on the horizon for one of her favourite patients at Wetherington.  

The longer Holly works on the case the more connections she see's, but not everyone agrees with her - and because forensic psychology is an art as much as a science it is not easy to convince everyone about her conclusions.  They don't know it, but DI Bishop and Holly are in a race against time to stop another murder - one that will bring Holly's past into the present.  Everyone has secrets, but the secrets Holly keeps are darker than most.

When darkness calls is the first book in the Holly Wakefiled thriller series.  It is a perfect balance between Police procedural and forensic psychology - told from the point of view of the psychologist rather than the Police.  It is a fresh take, bringing all the drama and forensic detail you expect from a crime thriller, but it brings a more human perspective and approach - especially as this is Holly's first case working with the Police.  The book is well written and has a good pace, and there are little breadcrumbs throughout that hint at what is to come - a chance to test your observational skills and see if you can reach the right conclusion before the end.

There is great character development, over the course of this first book in the series we get to meet Holly and Bishop - and we get to start peeling back the layers of who they are.  Holly is particularly interesting as a character because of her knowledge of serial killers and the macabre - and Bishop is interesting because of his background and limitations (no spoilers here).  I look forward to reading the next book in the series - though I may have to pace myself as book four in the series isn't due to be released until next year!

If you like this book then try:
  • When I was ten by Fiona Cummins
  • Sticks and stones by Katherine Firkin
  • The puppet show by M.W. Craven
  • The edge of normal by Carla Norton
  • Every last fear by Alex Finlay
  • Eeny meeny by M.J. Arlidge
  • The liar's daughter by Claire Allan
  • Good me bad me by Ali Land
  • The coast to coast murders by James Patterson and J.D.Barker

Reviewed by Brilla

Sunday, December 26, 2021

The witch haven by Sasha Peyton Smith

The year is 1911, and seventeen year old Frances Hallowell works as a seamstress in New York City.  It is not an easy life, she works long hours, but at least she has a place to sleep and food to eat.  Her days blend together under the repetitive work, but also under the black cloud of the double loss of her mother and brother.  Her brother was murdered a few months before, his body dumped in the river like garbage.  Their mother was already fragile, with Frances doing most of the household work, but when William died she lost her last grip on reality and is now in an asylum.  

Frances knows she is lucky to have the position she does, she could be working in one of the factories where people work long hours in dangerous conditions - but that luck runs out the night the owner Mr. Hues catches her in the shop alone and assaults her.  When a pair of scissors embed themselves in his neck Frances is saved, but she also becomes the prime suspect in his death - even though she never touched the scissors.  Whisked out from under the nose of the Police Frances finds herself at Haxahaven Academy - and her eyes are opened to a world she never knew existed.

Haxahaven Academy is a haven for witches - girls and women of all ages who have had their magic awaken.  There are clases at Haxahaven where they learn to harness their magic for simple household tasks and where they learn to control their emotions.  It quickly begins to feel dull to Frances, and when a boy appears first in her dreams and then in her life, it brings a sense of excitement.  Finn is like no boy she has ever met, he knows about magic and power, and he is willing to help her learn magic that is forbidden at Haxahaven.  The more time Frances spends with Finn the more she learns, and the less she seems to know - and the more danger she is in.  Power attracts power, and someone has plans for Frances and the power growing inside her.

The witch haven is the first book in a series and it was a whirlwind introduction to a world hidden right under our noses in historical New York.  We get a gentle introduction to this new world through the eyes of Frances, and then have to quikcly tighten our seatbelts for the fast-paced thrill ride it becomes.  I am all about mythology and 'logic' when it comes to magic, especially if it sits within the context of 'our' world (past, present or future) and Sasha Peyton Smith delivers.  Frances and her world are easy to relate to, and everything makes sense which means it was easy to loose yourself in the story.  

There are some historical facts that may be confronting - woman's suffrage and the forced removal of American Indian children from their families - but it adds to the authenticity of the story.  There are other historical facts that make it more authentic, including the horrific conditions of factory workers at the time, and the way the wealthy treated the poor and the working poor.  There are traces of romance in the story, the power of deep friendships, and coming of age while finding your own power - all the elements that bring a story to life and help you connect with the characters.  This was a fabulous find and The witch haven is definitely going to go on my go-to list of recommendations for 2022.

If you like this book then try:

Reviewed by Brilla

Monday, August 9, 2021

Swipe right for murder by Derek Milman

Aidan Jamison is staying at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel in New York City, waiting for his family to arrive so they can jet off together to see his aunt who has some seriously bad luck.  He has had time to catch up with some of his friends from boarding school, and should be happy just hanging out on his own - but he can't resist jumping on the DirtyPaws app to see if he can find a hook up nearby.  Despite his first hit being a miss, unsurprisingly Aidan finds someone in the hotel who meets his needs - a hot, older guy, named Benoit.  It is a little awkward, because Benoit seems to be expecting something from Aidan beyond a quick hook up, but it turns into an enjoyable encounter - until Aidan wakes up and discovers that Benoit is dead.

Finding a dead body should be the worst thing that happens, but it looks like some of his aunts bad luck may have rubbed off on Aidan because his day quickly goes from bad to worse.  He receives a mysterious phone call that threatens his family if he doesn't cooperate, that he has something they want - and for some reason they keep calling him Mr. Preston.  Determined not to put his family at risk Aidan goes on the run, trying to solve the puzzle while also staying alive.  His quiet trip to New York to meet up with his family is soon a distant memory, and Aidan has stumbled across something that he was never meant to see, and now might never escape.

I picked up Swipe right for murder for what must be one of the weirdest reasons - because I saw a review of the book that absolutely slammed it purely because Aidan is gay.  That was it, the person didn't even read the whole book because they read a few chapters and discovered that Aidan was gay, and that was the end of the book for them.  Knowing that just made me determined to read it and see what it was like - and I am very glad I did.  One of the hallmarks of a great character is that they grow and change as their story develops, that they are changed by the people and experiences they encounter, and are able to evolve.  Aidan's story is one of the better ones for showing this evolution of a person - he starts off rather shallow and self-centred, but the more time you spend with him the more you get to know him and why he is the way he is, and see what he starts developing into.  

This is not a simple story, there are different elements that make it difficult to categorise - crime, romance, thriller, coming of age, they are all here.

Thank you to the random hateful person who dismissed Swipe right for murder just because it was a 'gay' novel - you encouraged me to read what turned out to be a very good book.  

Friday, August 6, 2021

The house of killers by Samantha Lee Howe

Neva is walking death, a highly trained assassin who picks off her targets with calculated precision.  She doesn't let emotion get in the way, and her skills have not gone unnoticed.  Since childhood Neva has been trained and conditioned to follow her orders, to obey her handler and those above her without question and without emotion - and with her knack for disguising herself she could be right in front of you and you would never know.  She is a ghost, one that has hidden in plain sight for years with no one the wiser.  Michael Kensington is an MI5 operative working outside the mainstream in the Archive team.  His job is to help solve puzzles, to profile suspects - and not always on the cold cases that Archive supposedly works on.  One of those cold cases leads Michael to Neva, an assassin who doesn't seem to quite fit the mould.

When one of Neva's targets turns out to be another assassin who needs to be 'retired' it offers a glimpse into the future, and small cracks start appearing in Neva's carefully cultivated façade.  Following the rules and looking obedient will keep herself, but after so many years of being a tool she is starting to awaken to other possibilities.  When she breaks protocol and leaves her past behind, it is the beginning of the end for Neva.  Breaking away from the Network paints a target on her back, and she has no idea how deep the conspiracy goes.  When Michael stumbles across Neva and discovers who she is he discovers that she is more than just a cold blooded killer, she is also a victim of a conspiracy that has its fingers in lots of different pies.  Neva just wants to break away from the Network, but they can't afford to let her go.  When the team at Archive uncovers some startling connections between a cold case they are investigating and Neva, the walls start closing in for both Michael and Neva - who can they trust in a world where for some people, keeping secrets is like breathing.

I stumbled across The house of killers in a new books list for my local public library and the blurb seemed really intriguing - especially the line about it being Killing Eve meets Jason Bourne.  I tend to like my reads more at the thriller end of the crime genre, but every now and then a great blurb will tempt me to read books from the action genre and this was one of those times when I didn't regret it one bit.  Samantha Lee Howe has a spare writing style, she doesn't bury you with mindless details, and keeps the action moving along at a decent pace.  You get to see the world of Neva and Michael without drowning in minute details that don't really add anything - which means she is able to cover a lot of ground, and a lot of action in a 410 pages!  

Howe has created a believable world for her characters, one that should appeal to readers of the genre - as well as ring true to conspiracy theorists who would no doubt state emphatically that the Network is real!  The shifting perspectives between Neva and Michael are well handled and offer you a glimpse of both their lives and what they are going through, without resorting to using the 'voice of god' third person view that can get very annoying very quickly.  The chapters are fast moving, and it is easy to keep up with what is happening.  This was a great find, and hopefully I don't have to wait too long to get my hands on the sequels Kill or die and Kill a spy.

If you like this book then try:

Reviewed by Brilla

Sunday, July 25, 2021

When you are mine by Michael Robotham

Philomena "Phil" McCarthy has worked hard to become a police officer with the Metropolitan Police - no easy feat for the daughter of a notorious criminal.  Phil fought hard to become a police officer, pushing past all the rejections and working harder than anyone else in her class to make it - and she has also cut all ties with her father, and her father's side of the family.  Life isn't easy, but she has found happiness with her fiancée and his son, and she is looking forward to her wedding.  That peaceful normalcy is rocked when she attends a domestic violence complaint with her partner and has to defend herself in an unorthodox fashion.  Blindsided with the identity of her assailant, Phil finds herself on the outside once again, fighting for her place.  Phil soon discovers that she has a connection to the victim, Tempe Brown, and an unexpected friendship develops between them.

As the friendship grows, Phil finds herself in the unusual position of needing a favour from her father - the only person who can help her keep Tempe safe.  Contact with her father comes with a price though, her career with the Metropolitan Police is on shaky ground, and reconnecting with her family is not a good look.  Phil has been told she is obsessed, that she needs to stop investigating Tempe's case, that she is done - but she is determined to stop the harassment that Tempe is facing.  Something isn't quite right with Tempe though, she seems nervous and edgy, and she tells Phil's friends the wildest stories.  Phil tries to shrug it off, Tempe is helping plan her wedding after all, but things aren't adding up.  When her friends and fiancée raise questions about Tempe and her story she tries to brush it off, but she soon finds herself chasing Tempe's story down a rabbit hole that could destroy everything she has worked for.

When you are mine is a standalone novel that is a roller-coaster ride of emotions, conspiracies, betrayals and family that stands out from other books in the crime genre because of the weight of the characters and the situations they find themselves in.  Phil is an interesting character to build the story around, her links to the criminal world and the her work as a police officer making her a pariah in both worlds.  She is also impulsive, stubborn, and loyal - which makes her chasing the story to the end a foregone conclusion.  The people in her world are also complete people with their strengths, flaws, and weaknesses and they make her world completely believable and absorbing.  The theme of a young police officer standing up to a corrupt system is not a new one, but Robotham puts a very good spin on it and keeps you hooked on the story from start to finish. 

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Reviewed by Brilla

Friday, July 16, 2021

Choose me by Tess Gerritsen and Gary Braver

When Taryn Moore is found dead in the street outside her apartment after a fall from her balcony it is easy to conclude that she killed herself, a sad case of a young woman who took her own life.  Detective Frances "Frankie" Loomis is not convinced, and not just because her cellphone is nowhere to be found.  As she investigates the case with her partner, Frankie learns more about Taryn and her life, and the events that lead up to her death.  

Taryn left her home town in Maine to study at Commonwealth University in Boston, and she has impressed a few professors in the English Department with her brilliant mind and interesting analysis of English texts.  She is not as popular with some of her classmates, but she has a bright future in academia - as long as she can convince her mother to keep supporting her studies.  The class where she shines the most is Professor Jack Dorian's Star-Crossed Lovers seminar.  Taryn brings a spark to the class, intelligent and thoughtful debate, and Jack is more than a little taken with his star pupil - not in a romantic sense, but he is drawn to her.

As Frankie digs deeper into Taryn's life she discovers that Taryn was a complex young woman - and that there was a lot going on in her life.  Liam, the boyfriend that Taryn followed to Boston had started a new relationship while on a 'break' from his relationship with her, something that Taryn doesn't take well.  Her relationship with Professor Jack Dorian also proves to be more complicated than that of teacher and student - and some of her fellow students are not afraid to try and use that relationship to their own advantage.  As Frankie untangles the story of Taryn's death she makes some startling discoveries that prove you never really know people - not completely.

Choose me is one of those difficult books to review because talking it up requires spoiling some of the best elements of the book.  It is relatively safe to say that this is an outstanding work of psychological fiction, as no one is what they seem, and victims aren't always the victims they seem.  Taryn is a complex and very real person, not only in her death, but also in her life.  She has depth, history, emotion, and it is all too easy to see her actions played out in real life with real people.  Gerritsen and Braver have done an amazing job of creating people who fully come to life with their aspirations, histories, secrets, lies, and desires - no one is under or over done, and the conclusion is thoroughly satisfying.  A great find.

If you like this book then try:

Reviewed by Brilla