Tag Archives: read

Review: ‘Such A Quiet Place’ by Megan Miranda

Welcome to Hollow's Edge - a picture-perfect neighbourhood where everyone has each other's backs. At least, that's how it used to be, until the night Brandon and Fiona Truett were found dead...

Two years ago, branded a grifter, thief and sociopath by her friends and neighbours, Ruby Fletcher was convicted of murdering the Truetts. Now, freed by mistrial, Ruby has returned to Hollow's Edge. But why would she come back? No one wants her there, least of all her old housemate, Harper Nash. 

As Ruby's return sends shockwaves through the community, terrified residents turn on each other, and it soon becomes clear that not everyone was honest about the night the Truetts died. When Harper begins to receive threatening, anonymous notes, she realizes she has to uncover the truth before someone else gets hurt... Someone like her.

'Such a Quiet Place' is a really great read. I found Miranda's description of Hollow's Edge and its surroundings very vivid, reminiscent of Stepford or Wisteria Lane. Although the idea of the perfect neighbourhood hiding some dark secrets may not be new but Megan Miranda has certainly found a new spin to put on it. The way the story - told from Harper's point of view - is interspersed with copies of the private neighbourhood message board is a cool technique to show readers other viewpoints.  

The characters felt utterly believable and I really enjoyed trying to guess whether Ruby really was to blame for the Truetts' deaths or if someone else was at fault. 

On the face of it, 'Such a Quiet Place' works well as a thriller but it's also, on a deeper level, a study into human nature and how people cope in adverse situations and what they're willing to do to keep their secrets safe.

Vic x

Review: ‘When They Find Her’ by @liamiddlet0n

Naomi had always wanted to be a mum. But three years ago, her husband left, taking their daughter with him.

Now, her daughter has come to stay, and Naomi knows it's her chance to re-build her family.

But the night ends in a terrible accident. And Naomi has no memory of what happened.

Panicking, desperate, Naomi finds herself telling a lie: 'My daughter is missing.'

From the outset, 'When They Find Her' had me gripped. 

This confidently-written debut grabbed me with its utterly unthinkable opening and kept me emotionally invested until the final page. 

Lia Middleton's writing is so visceral that, at first, I wasn't sure I could continue to read this book as it felt too uncomfortably close to home for me (as someone with a young child). However, I couldn't leave it alone - I HAD to know how it would end. I was completely swept up in Naomi's nightmare and her split second choice with catastrophic consequences. 

'When They Find Her' is perfectly-plotted and intelligently written on a subject which continues to remain taboo: mental health, more specifically the mental health of new mothers. This novel is dark and, at times, uncomfortable to read - this is not, however, a criticism but a testament to Middleton's skill as a writer. She captures the terror of being a new mum and puts it to chilling use. I absolutely identified with Naomi and her fears - and how those fears affected her family. 

An absolutely stellar debut.

Vic x

Review: ‘The Last Thing He Told Me’ by Laura Dave

Before Owen Michaels disappears, he manages to smuggle a note to his new wife, Hannah: protect her. Hannah knows exactly who Owen needs her to protect - his sixteen-year-old daughter, Bailey, who lost her mother tragically as a child. And who wants absolutely nothing to do with her new stepmother.

As her increasingly desperate calls to Owen go unanswered, his boss is arrested for fraud and the police start questioning her, Hannah realises that her husband isn't who he said he was. And that Bailey might hold the key to discovering Owen's true identity, and why he disappeared. Together they set out to discover the truth. But as they start putting together the pieces of Owen's past, they soon realise that their lives will never be the same again...

My thanks
to the publishers and NetGalley for my advanced copy in exchange for an honest review.

'The Last Thing He Told Me' is domestic suspense of the highest order, it's intense, quick-paced, thoughtful and moving. I was unable to put it down. I'm not surprised it was a Reese Witherspoon book club pick or that it's going to be produced for TV by the makers of 'Big Little Lies'.

Unlike many other thrillers out there, it manages to be thrilling and comforting - a real trick to pull off. It was actually rather refreshing to read characters that were, generally speaking, decent human beings. I felt like Laura Dave was going against the grain in that respect.

The characters are beautifully imagined, making them truly memorable. Dave manages to create a believable teenager in Bailey and, in Hannah, a woman dropped well and truly in the deep end.


This novel is a meditation on the ties that bind us; trust, love and honesty - and what happens when those values are called into question. Dave's beautiful prose is yet another reason to pick up this novel.

'The Last Thing He Told Me' is a layered thriller that gives you all the feels.

Vic x

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: ‘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

Review: ‘The Point of No Return’ by Neil Broadfoot

After more than a decade of being in prison for the brutal murder two Stirling University students, Colin Sanderson has been released after his conviction was found to be unsafe.

Returning home to a small village not far from Stirling, Sanderson refuses police protection, even in the face of a death threat. But the PR firm that has scooped him up to sell his story does know of a protection expert in Stirling. They want Connor Fraser.

Connor reluctantly takes the assignment, partly as a favour to DCI Malcolm Ford, who is none too keen to have Sanderson on the loose, particularly as he was involved in the original investigation that saw him imprisoned. 

When a body is found, mutilated in the same way as Sanderson’s victims were, all eyes fall on the released man. But how can he be the killer when Connor’s own security detail gives him an alibi?

As Connor races to uncover the truth, he is forced to confront not only Sanderson’s past but his own, and a secret that could change his life forever.

Having read ‘No Man’s Land‘ and ‘No Place to Die‘, I was really looking forward to reading the next instalment in the Connor Fraser series – and I wasn’t disappointed. ‘The Point of No Return‘ is a tight, pacey thriller that develops recurring characters within the context of another intriguing mystery.

Broadfoot has a knack of writing taut prose, with not one word wasted and that really helps me envisage the action unfolding. The action at times actually left me breathless. I genuinely can see Connor Fraser coming to a screen near you (hopefully soon).

The unflinching violence in this series is not for the faint-hearted but, with characters like Duncan Mackenzie and his henchman Paulie in the mix, it never feels gratuitous or unnecessary. In addition to the menace provided by Mackenzie and Paulie, Colin Sanderson genuinely gave me the creeps.

Setting the series in Stirling gives Broadfoot’s series a fresh feel to it, putting Scotland – and its political conflicts – at the heart of every story. It’s great to see recurring characters being given space to develop and gain depth. As much as I like Connor, I love Donna Blake and the divided loyalties she experiences on a daily basis.

The third in Neil Broadfoot’s Connor Fraser series is his strongest yet. Readers get not only a barnstorming mystery, they’re also treated to a glimpse into Connor’s own backstory which makes it much easier to understand his motivations and behaviour. However, you don’t have to have read the previous two novels in this series in order to enjoy ‘The Point of No Return‘ – but I recommend that you do anyway!

I can’t recommend ‘The Point of No Return‘ highly enough.

Vic x

Review: ‘If I Can’t Have You’ by Charlotte Levin

Samuel, the day we met I knew I’d finally found what I’ve been waiting for.
You.
Happiness, at last.
Then you left me.
And now I am alone.
Everyone I love leaves in the end.
But not this time.
I’m not giving up on us.
I’m not giving up on you.
When you love someone, you never let them go.
That’s why for me, this is just beginning.

Today is publication day for ‘If I Can’t Have You‘ by Charlotte Levin. My advice? Drop everything and read this book immediately.

Constance, a receptionist at a private medical centre in London, fancies Samuel – the new doctor – immediately. When he returns her affections, Constance is thrilled but when he cuts their affair short, Constance’s affections don’t wane, taking her deeper into obsession.

Although I was initially put off by the marketing materials that accompanied this proof, I was hooked from page one. I can’t recommend ‘If I Can’t Have You‘ highly enough. Although some may see comparing ‘If I Can’t Have You‘ to ‘Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine‘ as a positive, I actually think ‘If I Can’t Have You‘ was far superior.

I love the way in which Charlotte Levin balances real drama and dark misdeeds with a dry sense of humour, her writing fizzes on the page and I didn’t want my encounter with Constance to end.

Constance Little is the most compelling, realistic character I think I have ever read. I love that Charlotte Levin has managed to create so much nuance in Constance that reading ‘If I Can’t Have You‘ is literally like spending time listening to a friend. Sometimes you want to step in and say “Constance, you’re being used” or “You’ve totally misread this” or “Maybe you’re going too far” but that doesn’t mean you don’t care about her. In all honesty, to some extent or another, I really think most of us have been in a similar position to Constance at some time in our lives.

If I Can’t Have You‘ is my book of 2020, I genuinely don’t know how any other book will top it.

Vic x

#BlogTour #TheCurator #MWCraven

I’m delighted to bring you a sneak peek of the latest in the Washington Poe series, ‘The Curator‘, by M.W. Craven.

As many of you already know, I loved ‘The Puppet Show‘ and ‘Black Summer‘ so I’m really excited to get stuck into ‘The Curator’. I know that, after reading this extract, you will be too.

My thanks to Little Brown for including me in the blog tour for this brilliant author. If you missed M.W. Craven at Virtual Noir at the Bar, check out the archives.

Vic x

‘The player who understands the role of the pawn, who really under- stands it, can master the game of chess,’ the man said. ‘They might be the weakest piece on the board but pawns dictate where and when your opponent can attack. They restrict the mobility of the so-called bigger pieces and they determine where the battle squares will be.’

The woman stared at him in confusion. She’d just woken and was feeling groggy.

And sore.

She twisted her head and searched for the source of her pain. It didn’t take long.

‘What have you done?’ she mumbled.

‘Beautiful, isn’t it? It’s old-fashioned catgut so the sutures are a bit agricultural, but they’re supposed to be. It’s not used any more but I needed the “wick effect”. That’s when infection enters the wound through the suture. It will ensure the scar stays livid and crude. A permanent reminder of what has happened.’

He picked up a pair of heavy-duty rib shears.

‘Although not for you, of course.’
The woman thrashed and writhed but it was no use. She was bound
tight.
The man admired the exacting lines of the surgical instrument.

Turned it so the precision steel caught the light. Saw his face reflected in the larger blade. He looked serious. This wasn’t something he particu- larly enjoyed.

‘Please,’ the woman begged, fully awake now, ‘let me go. I promise you, I won’t say anything.’

The man walked round and held her left hand. He stroked it affectionately.

‘I’ve had to wait for the anaesthetic to wear off so this is going to hurt, I’m afraid. Believe me when I say I wish it didn’t have to.’

He placed her ring finger between the blades of the rib shears and squeezed the handles together. There was a crunch as the razor-sharp edges sliced through bone and tendon as if they weren’t there.

The woman screamed then passed out. The man stepped away from the spreading pool of blood.

‘Where was I?’ he said to himself. ‘Ah, yes, we were talking about pawns. Beginners think they’re worthless, there to be sacrificed – but that’s because they don’t know when to use them.’

He removed a coil of wire from his pocket. It had toggles at each end. He placed them between the index and middle finger of each hand. In a practised movement he wrapped the wire around the woman’s neck.

‘Because knowing when to sacrifice your pawns is how the game is won.’

He pulled the garrotte taut, grunting as the cruel wire bit into her skin, severing her trachea, crushing her jugular vein and carotid artery. She was dead in seconds.

He waited an hour then took the other finger he needed.

He carefully arranged it in a small plastic tub, keeping it separate from the others. He looked at his macabre collection with satisfaction.

It could begin now.

The other pawns were in position. They just didn’t know it yet . . .

Chapter 1

It was the night before Christmas and all wasn’t well.
It had started like it always did. Someone asking, ‘Are we doing Secret Santa this year?’ and someone else replying, ‘I hope not,’ both making a pact to avoid mentioning it to the office manager, both secretly planning to mention it as soon as possible. And before anyone could protest, the decision had been made and the office was doing it again. The fifteenth year in a row. Same rules as last year. Five-quid limit. Anonymous gifts. Nothing rude or offensive. Gifts that no one wanted. A total waste of everyone’s time.

At least that’s what Craig Hodgkiss thought. He hated Secret Santa.

He hated Christmas too. The yearly reminder that his life was shit. That, while the colleagues he outwardly sneered at were going home to spend Christmas with their families and loved ones, he’d be spending it on his own.

But he really hated Secret Santa.

Three years ago it had been the source of his greatest humili- ation. Setting himself the not unreasonable Christmas target of shagging Hazel, a fellow logistics specialist at John Bull Haulage, he’d wangled it so he was the one who’d bought her Secret Santa gift. He reckoned buying her a pair of lace panties would be the perfect way to let her know he was up for some extracurricular activities while her husband long-hauled across mainland Europe.

His plan worked.
Almost.
It had been the perfect way to let her know.

Unfortunately she was happily married, and instead of rushing into his bed she’d rushed to her husband, who was between jobs and was having a brew in the depot. The six-foot-five lorry driver had walked into the admin office and broken Craig’s nose. He’d told him that if he ever so much as looked at his wife again he’d find himself hogtied in the back of a Russia-bound shipping container. Craig had believed him. So much so that, in front of the whole office, he’d lost control of his bladder.

For two years everyone had called him ‘Swampy’. He couldn’t even complain to Human Resources as he was terrified of getting Hazel into trouble.

For two years he hadn’t made a dent in the girls in the office.

But eventually Hazel and her brute of a husband had moved on. He took a job driving for Eddie Stobart and she went with him. Craig told everyone that Hazel’s husband had left the com- pany because he’d caught up with him and given him a hiding, but no one had believed him.

Actually, one person seemed to.

By Craig’s own standards, Barbara Willoughby was a plain girl. Her hair looked like it had been styled in a nursing home, her teeth were blunt and too widely spaced, and she could have done with dropping a couple of pounds. On a scale of one-to-ten Craig reckoned she was a hard six, maybe a seven in the right lighting, and he only ever shagged eights and above.

But there was one thing he did like about her. She hadn’t been there when he’d pissed himself.

So he’d asked her out. And to his surprise he found they got on really well. She was fun to be with and she was popular. He liked how she made him feel and she was adventurous in bed. He also liked how she only wanted to do things at the weekends. During the week she would stay in and study for some stupid exams she was taking.

Which suited Craig just fine.

Because, after a few weeks of dating Barbara, he’d got his swagger back. And with it he began carving notches again.

To his amazement he discovered it was actually easier pulling the type of woman he went for when he told them he was in a long-term relationship. He reckoned it was the combination of his boyish good looks and the thought of doing over someone they didn’t know. Which gave Craig an idea: if those sort of women enjoyed the thrill of being with someone who cheated, they’d go crazy for someone who had affairs . . .

So Craig Hodgkiss, at the age of twenty-nine, decided he would ask Barbara to marry him. She’d jump at the chance. She was in her early thirties, had some biological clock thing going on (but was unaware he’d had a vasectomy two years earlier) and would almost certainly be left on the shelf if she said no. And then he’d reap the rewards. A faithful doormat keeping his bed warm and a succession of women who’d happily shag a man wearing a wedding band.

And because he wanted everyone in the office to know he was about to become illicit fruit, he’d decided to put past experiences behind him and propose during the office Secret Santa.

Arranging it hadn’t been straightforward. He’d got Barbara’s ring size by stealing her dead grandmother’s eternity ring, the one she only wore on special occasions. While Barbara turned her flat upside down looking for it, he’d been asking a jeweller to make the engagement ring the same size and to recycle the diamonds and gold. The whole thing had only cost him two hundred quid.

The next thing was to think of a cool way of proposing.

Something that would get the office girls talking about how romantic Craig was. A rep like that could only help. He decided on a mug. It was the perfect Secret Santa gift as it met the five- quid limit set by the office manager and, although half the gifts under the cheap fibre optic Christmas tree looked like they were mugs, half the gifts under the tree didn’t have ‘Will You Marry Me?’ printed on the side.

When Barbara read the message and then saw what was inside . . . well, he reckoned she’d burst into tears, shout yes and hug him for all she was worth.

The office floor was strewn with cheap wrapping paper. All reindeer and snowmen and brightly wrapped presents tied with ribbons.

Barbara was next. She picked up her parcel and looked at him strangely.

Did she know?

She couldn’t. No one did. Not even the girl he’d persuaded to swap with him so he was the one buying for Barbara.

Tiffany, Barbara’s best friend, began recording it on her mobile phone for some reason. That was OK, though. Better than OK actually. He’d be able to post it on Twitter and Facebook and keep a copy on his phone. Ready to show girls at the drop of a hat. Look at me. Look how nice I am. Look how sensitive I am. You can have some of this . . . but only for one night.

Craig caught Barbara’s eye. He winked. She didn’t return it. Didn’t even smile. Just held his gaze as she lifted the wrapped box from one of his old gift bags.

Something wasn’t right. The wrapping paper was thick and white with black pictures; he thought his had been cheap and brightly coloured.

Barbara ripped it off without looking at it. The mug was in a polystyrene box. He’d taped the two halves together to increase the suspense. Barbara ran a pair of scissors down the join before separating them.

She pulled out the mug and Craig’s confusion intensified. It wasn’t his. He hadn’t seen this one before. Something was printed on the side but it wasn’t proposing marriage. In inch- high black letters it said: #BSC6

Barbara didn’t know she’d opened the wrong parcel, though. Without looking inside the mug, she glared at him and upended the mug’s contents.

‘Cheating fucking bastard,’ she said.

Craig didn’t protest his innocence. He couldn’t. He was unable to tear his eyes away from the things that had fallen on the floor. They were no engagement ring.

He recoiled and gasped in revulsion.

A familiar and unwelcome warmth began spreading from his groin.

And then the screaming started.