Review: #Nighthawking by @thevoiceofRuss

Sheffield’s beautiful Botanical Gardens is an oasis of peace in a world filled with sorrow, confusion and pain. And then, one morning, a body is found in the Gardens. A young woman, dead from a stab wound, buried in a quiet corner. Police quickly determine that the body’s been there for months. It would have gone undiscovered for years – but someone sneaked into the Gardens and dug it up.

Who is the victim? Who killed her and hid her body? Who dug her up? And who left a macabre marker on the body?

In his quest to find her murderer, DS Adam Tyler will find himself drawn into the secretive world of nighthawkers: treasure-hunters who operate under cover of darkness, seeking the lost and valuable . . . and willing to kill to keep what they find.

In 2020, I was introduced to DS Adam Tyler in ‘Firewatching‘ by the wonderful Russ Thomas, check out my review here. I was lucky enough to be treated to an early copy of the second in the series, ‘Nighthawking‘. Big thanks to Simon & Schuster, Jess Barratt and, of course, Russ Thomas for my advanced copy.

Some series struggle after a strong debut but, in my opinion, Russ Thomas’s writing has only improved. ‘Nighthawking‘ is intense, dark and suspenseful and an absolutely compulsive read. It’s perfectly plotted and the pace builds well as we hurtle towards the denouement.

One thing I really love about this series is that Russ Thomas blends the criminal investigation along with the personal lives of his coppers. Tyler is still enigmatic, deep, and even troubled but his softer side shines through in his encounters with Callum. Mina, Tyler’s enthusiastic DC, shows real growth in this sequel. Yes, I am still Mina’s biggest fan – she’s immense! Similarly, there are new characters in this novel that I truly cared about, Thomas has a real skill for making the reader care for the people in the story.

Nighthawking‘ also explores police powerplays and internal politics, adding yet another layer to this stunning narrative.

Thomas has carried over the fantastic characters from ‘Firewatching‘ and adds yet more compelling people, integrating them into a truly original idea and setting.

I’m already looking forward to Book #3!

Vic x

Review: ‘Blackstoke’ by Rob Parker

WEALTH. SECURITY. PROSPERITY. NONE OF IT MATTERS IN THE DARK.

In a quiet cul-de-sac on the newly-opened, much sought-after Blackstoke housing development, the first handful of families are moving in. These neighbours, thrown together for the first time, are looking forward to settling into their bright new lives—with varying degrees of enthusiasm. The estate couldn’t be nicer, but it’s a big change for everyone.

Then things start to happen. Bad things. As if something doesn’t want them there.

As the new residents try to make sense of events, the buried history of the area makes itself suddenly, deeply apparent—with a series of shocking, violent escalations.

Soon, no one is safe, as the original powers of Blackstoke return to reclaim their territory and birthright in a final night of dark revelations, gore and bloodshed.

My thanks to Rob Parker for my ARC of ‘Blackstoke‘ which is available in e-book, paperback and hardback now.

It is quite difficult for me to write a review of ‘Blackstoke‘ without giving too much away. It starts off sedately enough, introducing the reader to the residents of the cul-de-sac. In this respect, Rob Parker does an excellent job in building up strong mental images of his characters, their idiosyncrasies and backstories. The descriptions he uses about the setting and characters are strong and, at times, almost lyrical. But don’t be fooled by the niceness of this new estate and the folks moving into it.

Despite it’s gentle start, ‘Blackstoke’ is eminently readable and I found, even in those early chapters before the horror kicked in, I didn’t want to stop reading it. Parker has such a way with words – and clearly understands what drives people – I didn’t want to step away from this narrative. To be fair, even if he had written a novel where very little happened, I’d still be inclined to read it because the prose is so strong.

But – fear not – plenty happens in ‘Blackstoke‘ – more than you could ever imagine when picking this book up, in fact. I must warn you now, however, if you’re squeamish, this may not be the book for you. I liked its refusal to shy away from the really dark and vicious. This book does not leave things to the imagination, it’s graphic and horrifying but I still wanted to keep reading it.

The female characters in this book are particularly well-drawn and utterly kick-ass which I think was my favourite element of ‘Blackstoke’.

I had in my mind when beginning this book that it was going to be reminiscent of an episode of ‘The X Files’ (‘Arcadia‘; Season 6, episode 15 – also known as the “garbage monster”) and, although it has similarities, there is another episode of ‘The X Files’ that ‘Blackstoke‘ resembles far more. I can’t say more than that episode is in Season 4 – I wouldn’t want to inadvertently give spoilers!

Blackstoke‘ is a real departure from the thrillers you’ll be used to reading from Rob Parker but it’s a compelling trip into horror that is impossible to put down.

Vic x

Review: ‘Lie Beside Me’ by Gytha Lodge

You wake up.
You can’t remember what happened.
The man lying next to you is not your husband.
And he’s not breathing . . .

Louise wakes up. Her head aches, her mouth is dry, her memory is fuzzy. But she suspects she’s done something bad.

She rolls over towards her husband, Niall.

But it’s not Niall who’s lying beside her. In fact, she’s never seen this man before.

And he’s dead . . .

As Louise desperately struggles to piece her memories back together, Detective Jonah Sheens and his team mark her as their prime suspect.

But she’s not the only one with something to hide . . .

Did she do it?

And, if not, can they catch the real killer before they strike again?

My thanks to NetGalley, Gytha Lodge and Penguin for the ARC of this novel.

This, the third in the Jonah Sheens series, is proof that Gytha Lodge is becoming stronger with each novel she writes. The hook for ‘Lie Beside Me‘ is brilliant, the opening pulls the reader in and refuses to let you go.

Louise has an alter ego: Drunk Louise. Louise sometimes loses hours, sometimes she wakes up with a stinking hangover but never before has she woken up beside a dead man.

Gytha Lodge has created a complex plot which will compel you to continue reading long after you should have put the light out. She builds up a number of potential suspects, giving them all motive. Lodge is adept at leading you down one path only to switch directions. The unraveling of the investigation demonstrates the intricate plotting that must have been done.

The pace is fast and the prose is sharp. I really liked the way the investigation chapters are interspersed with a excerpts of a letter written by Louise to her husband – it demonstrates to the reader how discombobulated Louise is by the events that unfolded when her alter ego, Drunk Louise, was in control. I thought it was a clever device to demonstrate that Louise knew she was an unreliable narrator.

The themes in ‘Lie Beside Me‘ include coercive control and alcohol addiction which are not easy subjects to portray empathetically but Gytha Lodge manages just that.

As always with this series, I was heavily invested in the lives of the investigation team as well as the subjects of their investigation. I am particularly interested in Juliette’s backstory and how that will continue to unfold in forthcoming books.

Lie Beside Me‘ is an intense, multi-faceted novel that will have you questioning everything you know.

Vic x

Review: ‘Anthrax Island’ by D.L. Marshall

FACT: In 1942, in growing desperation at the progress of the war and fearing invasion by the Nazis, the UK government approved biological weapons tests on British soil. Their aim: to perfect an anthrax weapon destined for Germany. They succeeded.

FACT: Though the attack was never launched, the testing ground, Gruinard Island, was left lethally contaminated. It became known as Anthrax Island.

Now government scientists have returned to the island. They become stranded by an equipment failure and so John Tyler is flown in to fix the problem. He quickly discovers there’s more than research going on. When one of the scientists is found impossibly murdered inside a sealed room, Tyler realises he’s trapped with a killer…

Thanks to the team at Canelo for my ARC of ‘Anthrax Island‘. It’s available as an e-book now and will be released in paperback on 6th May. To get a signed copy, order through my lovely local independent bookshop Forum Books.

This, the debut novel from D.L. Marshall, is a tense, taut, pacy thriller which weaves fact and fiction together seamlessly.

I absolutely cannot rate ‘Anthrax Island‘ highly enough. D.L. Marshall has created a whip smart character in the form of John Tyler. I love the fact that Marshall trusts his readers to understand the subtext in the novel without always having to spell out what he’s insinuating. I really enjoyed the political barbs as well as Tyler’s one-liners.

It’s clear from the first chapter that Marshall has done a large amount of research into Gruinard Island and the testing that was carried out there. Marshall uses his knowledge to add extra tension to the fact that there’s a killer prowling the place: if the murderer doesn’t catch you, the anthrax might.

Given the fact that any time one of the small – but suspicious – cast of characters ventures outdoors, they must wear protective suits, Marshall uses this to create a cloying atmosphere in his prose. The way he describes being in the suit was so deftly done that I felt I was in the suit with Tyler. I could feel the claustrophobia the characters were experiencing.

The desolate setting is evoked perfectly through detailed descriptions that really bring the place to life. But don’t think that because he’s so good at setting that this is a gentle story – ‘Anthrax Island‘ is a high velocity read that will leave you breathless. The way in which each chapter ends on a cliffhanger means that it’s almost impossible not to read on.

With cinematic action sequences and adept plotting, ‘Anthrax Island‘ is a classic locked-room mystery crossed with the greatest of action thrillers. If Lee Child and Agatha Christie co-wrote a book, ‘Anthrax Island’ would be that novel.

Vic x

Review: ‘Black Widows’ by Cate Quinn

Blake Nelson moved onto a hidden stretch of land – a raw paradise in the wilds of Utah – where he lived with his three wives: Rachel, the chief wife, obedient and doting to a fault; Tina, the other wife, who is everything Rachel isn’t; And Emily, the youngest wife, who knows little else.
When their husband is found dead under the desert sun, the questions pile up.
But none of the widows know who would want to kill a good man like Blake. Or, at least, that’s what they’ll tell the police…

Set within Utah – Mormon-country – ‘Black Widows‘ delves into the Church of the Latter Day Saints – and an extreme form of Mormonism: polygamous marriage. The idea of reading a book set within this community is intriguing enough but what Cate Quinn has done with ‘Black Widows‘ is create a compelling read featuring characters I could engage with despite wildly different cultural differences. I was utterly invested in the women in this book.

Each chapter is told from the point of view of one of the wives – Rachel, Tina and Emily – and each voice is distinctive in character and tone. I found the three wives completely captivating. They were honest, engaging and utterly believable. Thanks to Quinn’s excellent writing, I could even hear their accents as I read. The character development as the story goes on is exquisite.

I genuinely could not put this book down. I spent several nights reading long after I should have gone to sleep – I just couldn’t stop. ‘Black Widows‘ is one of those books where I couldn’t wait to find out who was responsible but also didn’t want the story to end. I think one thing that really contributed to this were the short, snappy, perfectly crafted chapters that left me wanting more.

My thanks to Orion for supplying me with an ARC of this novel. I cannot recommend ‘Black Widows‘ highly enough.

Vic x

#BlogTour #IfIFall @nellbelleandme @arrowpublishing

We were told to meet at a rooftop bar.

Four friends, bound by one terrible secret.

No one knew why we were there.

Then we saw a woman, watched as she fell from the edge and plunged to her death.

The police think it’s suicide, but I know better.

Someone is sending a message.

Now they’re coming for us.

Thank you to Arrow Books and Merilyn Davies for inviting me onto the blog tour, it’s my pleasure to tell you all about If I Fall today.

Well, first off, the prologue had me hooked and then Chapter One drops the reader straight into the action and the inciting incident. Merilyn Davies has a lovely knack of setting the scene without losing pace. She drives the story forward purposefully while giving the reader plenty of information to recreate the scene in their mind.

Fans of Merilyn Davies will be familiar with DS Nell Jackson and Crime Analyst Carla Brown – If I Fall is their second outing (the first being in When I Lost You) but don’t worry if you haven’t read When I Lost You, Davies gives enough information for you to understand and empathise with these characters even if If I Fall is your first introduction to them.

By using Carla Brown’s point of view at the time of the woman’s apparent suicide, the reader feels as if they are not only at the scene of the crime with her but then also part of the subsequent investigation. I thought Carla’s insistence that this might not be suicide, and the battles she has to prove that, was a unique take on the police procedural.

The characters – and potential suspects – introduced are interesting and compelling, with the background story original and disturbing. Without giving too much away, I felt the subject tackled in this novel deserves to be widely recognised and confronted. This layered plot considers a range of themes including homelessness, revenge and sexuality. By combining all of these strands, Merilyn Davies has produced a believable novel with realistic characters.

Vic x

#BlogTour #BeforeSheDisappeared @LisaGardnerBks

Today it’s my turn on Lisa Gardner’s blog tour for her first standalone novel in ten years: ‘Before She Disappeared‘. I’d like to thank Penguin Random House for allowing me a sneak peek at this brilliant book and for having me on the blog tour.

Frankie Elkin is a middle-aged woman who spends her life doing what no one else will: searching for missing people the world has stopped looking for. When the police have given up and the public no longer remembers, that’s when Frankie starts looking. Carrying little more than a backpack and her own demons, Frankie travels around the US looking for people who have been forgotten.

Arriving in Mattapan, Boston, Frankie starts her search for Angelique Badeau, a Haitian teen who vanished after school almost a year earlier. Although Mattapan’s reputation precedes it, Frankie doesn’t let it stop her from asking around – but she’s met with resistance from the police department and Angelique’s family, who seem pretty wary of the white lady who’s sticking her nose in. Frankie soon learns, though, that she’s asking too many questions – questions someone doesn’t want answered.

I’ve got to admit, the first chapter didn’t grip me and I was worried that this might be a bit of a slog but once we arrived in Mattapan with Frankie, the story completely lifted and I enjoyed not only the mystery but also the descriptions of Mattapan and the people that live there. Gardner really creates a strong sense of the community that Frankie inserts herself into. It was a pleasure to learn about the rich Haitian culture that exists within Boston.

Frankie is a well-rounded character. She may be ballsy but she’s not infallible by any stretch of the imagination and this lent her an air of authenticity to me. Gardner portrays the insidious nature of alcoholism perfectly but manages not to hit the reader around the head with it. There were almost times in the story where I forgot that Frankie had a problem with booze, only for the demons to rear their heads again and I genuinely believe this is what it’s like for addicts. I really liked the idea that Frankie has swapped one addiction for another – she may not be obsessing over her next drink but she’s certainly consumed by the case she’s investigating.

Although there are references to police investigation techniques, I didn’t feel that I was reading a police procedural novel and that, for me, meant that ‘Before She Disappeared‘ wasn’t bogged down in the minutiae of police work. I did, however, feel that the details that were included were not only relevant but also interesting.

Thanks to the interesting cast of characters that Lisa Gardner has created, I found myself heavily invested in the outcome of this book. ‘Before She Disappeared‘ is a well-paced mystery that really packs an emotional punch.

This may have been the first Lisa Gardner book that I’ve read but it won’t be my last.

Vic x

#BlogTour #The Push by @audrain

I’m thrilled today to be reviewing Ashley Audrain’s debut novel ‘The Push‘ which was published yesterday.

Here’s a little snippet of ‘The Push‘ to whet your appetite:

The arrival of baby Violet was meant to be the happiest day of my life. But as soon as I held her in my arms I knew something wasn’t right.

I had always known that the women in my family aren’t meant to be mothers.

My husband Fox says I’m imagining it. He tells me I’m nothing like my own mother, and that Violet is the sweetest child.

But she’s different with me. Something feels very wrong.

Is it her? Or is it me? Is she the monster? Or am I?

As most readers of this blog will know, I became a mum for the first time in 2019. The Push takes place over a number of years so although I can’t recognise some of the feelings that Blythe, the narrator, feels as her child Violet gets older, I can attest that Ashley Audrain certainly captures the all-encompassing terror felt by some new mothers.

The Push‘, although being fiction, taps into the fears that many women experience when they become mothers: am I supposed to feel like this? Am I doing this right? Am I good enough? Is my child … ok? Normal?

This explosive novel explores subjects that still remain taboo: the pain and discomfort around breastfeeding, post-natal depression and how your relationship with your partner changes after the arrival of a baby. Yes, this novel takes those elements to the extreme but there certainly were scenes that had me nodding firmly in recognition.

Audrain has weaved natural fears around motherhood into this perfectly pitched novel, leaving the reader unsure whether they can believe what they’re being told.

Interspersed across three different timelines, this layered story is absorbing, emotional and terrifying, some might say like motherhood itself. Featuring complex, nuanced characters, ‘The Push‘ will leave ice running through your veins long after you have turned the final page.

There were scenes that left me feeling physically sick with fear, my emotions completely in Audrain’s thrall. I also wept repeatedly when reading this book thanks to the powerful nature of the prose combined with an utterly intoxicating plot.

I think ‘The Push‘ is the kind of book our society needs. It is definitely a great choice for a book club – it will generate conversation and no doubt some controversy but I genuinely think it will open the minds of those who read it. This novel isn’t just about the relationship a mother has with her child but also those around her – from her partner to strangers – and the expectations that are placed on her as a result.

Perfect for fans of ‘We Need to Talk About Kevin‘, ‘The Push‘ is beautifully written, perfectly plotted and deserving of the hype it’s been receiving.

Vic x

My review of 2020

There weren’t any 2019 reviews on this blog but I’m sure you’ll all forgive me as I became a mum in 2019 and just didn’t have the wherewithal to arrange and schedule 31 end of year reviews! This year isn’t much better but you’re getting 200% more than last year – one from Simon Bewick and here’s mine!

OK, so it’s fair to say that 2020 wasn’t the year any of us expected. I think we’ve all had enough of bad news this year so I’m going to try and keep this light-hearted.

Top moment for me professionally this year?
I’ve been really lucky in 2020 – not only did I interview Ann Cleeves to celebrate the launch of her latest Vera book – The Darkest Evening – but I got to host Virtual Noir at the Bar every week for twenty-two straight weeks.
When the UK went into lockdown in March, I asked if anyone would be interested in a virtual Noir at the Bar – the response was phenomenal. I had expected to run it for a few weeks – the same way I expected lockdown to last about a month – but it ran from 1st April to 26 August. We hosted over 220 writers at various stages of their careers: from unpublished all the way through to the biggest names in crime fiction. It’s been so special working with such wonderful writers, connecting readers from all over the world and making a group of friends that I will treasure for the rest of my life.

Photos courtesy of Suzy Aspley

Hearing from The Bookseller magazine that Virtual Noir at the Bar was shortlisted for Event of the Year at the FutureBook awards was pretty special. Simon and I worked very hard every week to ensure that viewers had a show to watch and it was amazing to be recognised alongside major industry players.

Launching Bay Tales has been an extremely exciting time for Simon and I. With a number of exclusive articles and short stories from some of our favourite writers, alongside discounts for Forum Books, Writing Magazine and Scrivener among others, we’re confident that Bay Tales can continue the good work that we started with VNatB.

I’ve also loved being part of Blood Brothers podcast. It’s a real pleasure to work with Rob Parker, Chris McDonald and Sean Coleman and be their Blood Sister. I laugh so much when I spend time with these guys.

With my Blood Brothers: Chris McDonald, Sean Coleman & Rob Parker.
Interviewing Ann Cleeves at Forum Books, Corbridge in a socially distanced way was a highlight this year.
Photo courtesy of Ian Wylie.

Top moment personally? Seeing my little boy grow and flourish.

Head over to baytales.com to read about my top 5 books this year. If you follow me on Twitter, you’ll probably have seen me mention at least three of them repeatedly!

I’m struggling to think of my top TV show as I feel like I haven’t watched a lot of TV this year! I was, like everyone else, really into ‘Tiger King’ earlier this year and recently watched ‘Don’t F with Cats’. Of course, I blitzed season 4 of ‘The Crown’ when that came out. Genuinely struggling to think of anything else! I have rewatched all of ‘30 Rock‘ which is one of my favourite shows of all time. If you haven’t seen it, I recommend that you rectify that immediately.

I really enjoyed ‘Parasite‘ but was disappointed – and confused – by ‘Tenet‘.

I think the songs that have really stood out for me this year are ones that Simon introduced me to at Virtual Noir at the Bar. After being told that the free music was grating on some folk, Simon went out and asked some of his favourite musicians if we could use their music to start the show. We’ve featured Martin Stephenson, The Hold Steady, Fun Lovin’ Criminals and Nils Lofgren. Billy Bragg started our Christmas show and was featured during our break and his song ‘Can’t Be There Today‘ is a real tearjerker. I must also mention Jason Isaacs who allowed us to use his music week in and week out – and I am now obsessed with his big band covers.

Not even going to mention downsides – I think we all know what has been sacrificed this year and difficulties people have faced. I think I got off lightly.

For 2021, I don’t have resolutions as such and I think my hopes are echoed the world over. Be kind to each other – and yourselves, it’s been a tough one.

Vic x

Review of 2020: Simon Bewick

OK, so 2020 was a thing. As most of you know, I’m mum to a firecracker of a boy so unfortunately we haven’t been doing a different review of 2020 every day in December as we have done in previous years but I couldn’t not invite my Virtual Noir at the Bar bar buddy Simon Bewick to chat about his year.

Without Simon, Virtual Noir at the Bar wouldn’t have become the must-watch event of the week for 22 weeks of 2020. His hard work, expertise and general brilliance ensured that we produced a professional show every week in addition to a charity anthology that raised funds for NHS Charities and a private showcase event. It has been a pleasure working with him this year and I’m really looking forward to doing more awesome projects with him in 2021. Bay Tales is up and running have you checked it out yet?

I’ll be here tomorrow to give you the lowdown on my 2020.

Vic x

Do you have a favourite memory professionally?
My favourite moment was probably the Virtual Noir at the Bar session when we were able to announce that our charity collection Noir from the Bar had gone live that day. The combination of our having got VNatB up and running to a level when so many amazing authors were prepared to trust us enough to share their short stories with us to publish was a great feeling after only two months since starting. 


And a favourite 2020 memory generally?
Not one in particular…just being able to get up in the morning and go for a walk along the beach after 30 years of being thoroughly landlocked…

Favourite book of 2020?
Dead Girl Blues by Lawrence Block. For all sorts of reasons. Any new book by LB will be an event for me, but a NEW novel after a few years was a treat. Finding it to be as original and shocking as it was, was a bonus. The fact it was self-published showed bravery and a ‘to hell with you if you don’t like it’ attitude I loved. 

Favourite film and/or tv series?
Crime-wise, late to the game but finally caught up with Gomorrah – raced through all four seasons and was delighted to see a film was released this year…roll on the next season…I really can’t see what’s going to happen next. General TV series I’d probably have to go with Ted Lasso. A dose of niceness for football and non-football fans alike. 

Song?
Overall, I’d probably say Bruce Springsteen’s new album has been the album I’ve listened to most this year,and from that If I was the Priest has been my most played song of the year…and considering the album didn’t come out until November, it shows how much it’s been on replay… 

Let’s skip over downsides, shall we?
Yes. Let’s. 

Are you making resolutions for 2021?
Nope. Stopped making resolutions a long time ago. 

What are your 2021 hopes? 
Same as everyone I’m guessing…would like to come up with something witty, but…just that…