The Apartment Upstairs by Lesley Kara

Scarlett’s aunt lived – and was brutally murdered – in the apartment upstairs. But Scarlett is determined that life should return to some kind of normal, even if that means living with just a ceiling between her and the scene of such a devastating crime. After all, this is her home. She’s safe here. Isn’t she?

Dee is busy balancing her job as a funeral director with organizing an event to mark the disappearance of her best friend, ten years ago. So she’s got enough on her plate without worrying about the threatening messages that are appearing on her company’s Facebook page.

When Scarlett approaches Dee about planning her aunt’s funeral, an unexpected link between them emerges. Together, the two women could uncover secrets that have long been buried. Even while someone wants to stop them digging. 

My Review

Looking at other reviews I can see that this book is going to be marmite – some loving it enough to give it 5 stars and some not at all.

For me it was more soap opera than high end drama. The characters were not particularly likeable – apart from Scarlett. Dee was OK but so judgmental where her friend Lindsay was concerned. I know Lindsay’s behaviour was terrible at times, but did Dee ever ask herself why. What underlying problems might her friend have had? Could she have helped instead of calling her names? No spoilers, so can’t say more.

Scarlett’s brother Ollie comes across as a bit untrustworthy, his best mate Mickey is just a yob (Scarlett what were you thinking), and all Dee’s friends seem to have secrets about something. We assume Aunt Rebecca was wonderful, but was she? All we know about her was that she was a teacher with a love of literature, and that she was suffering from early onset dementia (very young – I initially thought she was in her sixties at least, but she was only mid-fifties). This could have been explored in more depth and with great sensitivity – I would have found that a more interesting storyline.

I expected a really interesting twist, but by the end I was, as someone else said, underwhelmed and there was one massive event that was left unanswered – again something I was interested in but it ended ‘not with a bang but a whimper.’ And it wasn’t the only loose end.

Ultimately I found the ending a bit grubby and incestuous (metaphorically speaking) and it could have been so good. I just wanted something more dramatic and new.

To be fair, it was well written and the characters were adequately drawn – I just didn’t like most of them.

3.5 / 5 stars

Many thanks to The Pigeonhole, and my fellow Pigeons for making this such an enjoyable read.

About the Author

Lesley Kara’s debut The Rumour was a Sunday Times bestseller and has been published in 18 countries and optioned for TV. The Rumour was the highest selling crime fiction debut of 2019 in the UK and a Kindle No. 1 bestseller. Her second novel Who Did You Tell? was also a Sunday Times bestseller. Her third novel The Dare was published on 2021 and her fourth The Apartment Upstairs was published in June 2022.

Lesley worked for many years as a lecturer and manager in a large college of further education in London. She now lives in Suffolk and writes full-time.

Ten Green Hand Grenades by Cat on a Piano / Theatrephonic

Ten Green Hand Grenades
And if one green hand grenade should accidentally fall…

I’m left-handed. So my right arm isn’t nearly as strong as my left. I hurled the wretched thing as high and as far as I could but dear God. It hit the trench wall and then bounced back down. I totally froze. The young second lieutenant next to me saw what happened and threw himself on the grenade which went off a split second later. I couldn’t bear to look.

You need to talk about what happened says the nurse. Talk to the Padre.

I ran away. I’ve been haunted ever since. His body, I couldn’t bear to look. What it must have looked like.

Well over one million soldiers have already laid down their lives, the Padre tells him. But the soldier questions him – what kind of God allows this. So many young men have died forgotten since 1914, the Padre continues, but your Lieutenant Cecil Love chose to throw himself on your hand grenade, so all his comrades could live. Think of it that way and may help atone for your accident. The things you can do now. Give talks, write about what happened.

Very moving. A really good story.

Written by Nigel Foster
Directed by Emmeline Braefield

With
Tom Eastwood as  The Private
Anthony Young as The Sergeant, The Padre and Chorus
Matt Salmon as Cecil Love and Chorus
and
Shannon Presley as The Nurse and Chorus

The epilogue quote was from Ponca Chief, Chief White Eagle

Produced by Cat on a Piano Productions

Music:
The Army Goes Rolling Along by the US Army Band
The Rifle Regiment by the US Army Band
Flight Plan by Coyote Hearing
The Battle of 1066 by Patrick Patrokios
Large Smile Mood by Nico Staf

The Theatrephonic Theme tune was composed by Jackson Pentland
Performed by
Jackson Pentland
Mollie Fyfe Taylor
Emmeline Braefield

Cat on a Piano Productions produce and edit feature films, sketches and radio plays.

Their latest project is called @Theatrephonic, a podcast of standalone radio plays and short stories performed by professional actors. You can catch Theatrephonic on Spotify and other platforms.

For more information about the Theatrephonic Podcast, go to catonapiano.uk/theatrephonic, Tweet or Instagram @theatrephonic, or visit their Facebook page.

And if you really enjoyed this week’s episode, listen to Theatrephonic’s other plays and short stories and consider becoming a patron by clicking here…

Lying Beside You (Cyrus Haven #3) by Michael Robotham

The thrilling next instalment in the award-winning Cyrus Haven series sees Cyrus reckoning with his own dark and shocking past.

When a man is murdered and his daughter disappears, forensic psychologist Cyrus Haven must decide if Maya Kirk is running, hiding, or a hostage. Cyrus understands how killers think better than anyone; after all, he’s a survivor.

Evie is a troubled teenager with an incredible gift: she knows when someone is lying. She is working at a Nottingham bar when a second woman goes missing, a nurse with links to Maya Kirk. Both women have a secret they have tried to hide, but the past is never history.

Evie witnesses the second abduction, glimpsing the driver, but only two people believe her. One is Cyrus. The other is the killer.

My Review

I almost don’t know where to start with this review. Lying Beside You is the third in the Forensic Psychologist and Criminal Profiler Cyrus Haven series, so a little background information won’t go amiss.

When Cyrus was a child the most traumatic event possible occurred that would change his life forever. His father, mother and twin sisters were murdered. And as if that wasn’t bad enough, the killer was his paranoid schizophrenic, older brother Elias. Nine-year-old Cyrus wasn’t there at the time or he would have been another victim.

Twenty-one-year-old Evie Cormac lives with Cyrus. He takes care of her. He discovered her as a troubled teenager living in a children’s home and became her guardian, though she is now an adult, so no longer needs a guardian. Evie also suffered a traumatic childhood – there are references to her sister and her mother, but I would need to read the first books to find out more. I know that Evie Cormac is not her real name and her identity is protected. Her best friend is her dog Poppy. She also has a special gift – she knows when people are lying to her.

Elias is serving 20 years in Rampton Secure Psychiatric Hospital, but he is now due for release. He has proved himself ready to return to the community, which means he can manage his condition, including taking his meds. He has two distinct personalities going on – one which killed his family, and the other who was unaware at the time. Cyrus has agreed to monitored visits, first an afternoon, then a weekend, with a view to Elias coming to live with him.

You are a better man than I am, Cyrus Haven, because there is no way I would allow him to live with me, not just because I would fear for my own life, but what about Evie? What if he stops taking his meds? Would she be safe? Not something I would put to the test. You might be able to forgive him, Cyrus, but the public must still be protected.

In the meantime, 67-year-old Rohan Kirk has been savagely murdered and his daughter Maya is missing. Is she also dead or has she been abducted? Evie is working at a Nottingham bar when a second woman goes missing, a nurse with links to Maya Kirk. Both women were hiding a secret, but the past always catches up with you, especially in psychological thrillers.

Mitch Coates, accused and imprisoned for the assault of his neighbour, has also been released from prison, still claiming his innocence, but they all say that, don’t they. Cyrus has hired him as a handyman and Evie believes him when he says he didn’t do it.

It takes a skilled writer to link such complicated storylines so seamlessly, and Michael Robotham is a master of his art. Brilliantly written, sharply observed, perfectly researched and effortlessly witty, Lying Beside You is as good as it gets.

Many thanks to The Pigeonhole, and my fellow Pigeons for making this such an enjoyable read.

About the Author

Two-times Gold Dagger winner (2015 and 2020), twice Edgar best novel finalist (2016 and 2020) and winner of the Ian Fleming Steel Dagger (2021), Michael Robotham began his writing career as an investigative journalist working across Britain, Australia and America. Later he became a ghostwriter, collaborating on 15 ‘autobiographies’ for politician, pop stars, soldiers and adventurers. Twelve of these books became Sunday Times bestsellers.

Michael’s psychological thrillers have been translated into twenty-five languages and his Joe O’Loughlin series is currently in development for TV by World Productions. A six-part TV series based upon his standalone novel The Secrets She Keeps was aired on BBC1 in 2020.

Michael has twice won the prestigious Crime Writers Association Gold Dagger for Good Girl Bad Girl (2020) and Life or Death (2015). He has twice been shortlisted for the Edgar Award for best crime fiction novel in the US, and twice won the Ned Kelly Award for Australia’s Crime Novel of the Year. Having twice been shortlisted for the CWA Ian Fleming Steel Dagger, he won the thriller prize with When She Was Good (2021).

Michael lives in Sydney with his wife and a diminishing number of dependent daughters.

His website is: www.michaelrobotham.com

The Only Exception (Love in the Comptons #2) by Claire Huston

Lucinda Green knows something is missing from her life. But what? Her catering business is enjoying modest success and she loves her cosy house, even if she does have to share it with her irritating ex-fiancé.

Whatever’s making her unsettled and edgy, Lucinda’s certain that a lack of romance isn’t the problem. How could it be when she doesn’t believe in true love?

But Lucinda’s beliefs are shaken by a series of electric encounters with Alex Fraser, a newly notorious actor who gradually proves himself to be infuriatingly funny and smart, as well as handsome.

Not that any of that matters. Because Lucinda doesn’t believe in all that ‘The One’ nonsense. That’s the rule.

But doesn’t every rule have an exception?

My Review

I don’t read a lot of romantic fiction, but after three crime novels, one VERY dark Scandi Noir, an escape from a sinister cult and a book about coercive control I needed some light relief. And that’s exactly what I got with this light-hearted, uplifting novel from Claire Huston.

Probably my favourite of hers so far, I adored the two main characters – grumpy but witty Lucinda and handsome actor Alex. They meet in a lift when an elderly (probably near my age) woman has a heart attack. Alex freezes (we find out why later on) and Lucinda takes over, performing all the right moves to keep her alive until the paramedics arrive. This includes barking orders at Alex, who obligingly obeys her.

There’s all the usual will-they-won’t-they, a lot of ‘pride’ (Lucinda hates accepting help from a mere man) and a bit of ‘prejudice’ – ie good-looking actor equals airhead – and at first they misunderstand each other. It doesn’t matter though for Lucinda, because she doesn’t believe in love at first sight, or ‘the one’ or any of that rubbish.

‘It all starts with attraction,’ she tells Alex. ‘Hormones, pheromones, whatever. Your body makes dopamine, adrenaline and serotonin….they give you a natural addictive high…but you get used to it and the effect wears off in time.’ So her mother told her. It’s the rule.

But Alex is smart, funny and sexy and Lucinda just can’t resist. So is there an exception to the rule? We are going to find out.

On an aside, Lucinda asks Alex what he is working on next. ‘I may be in Stratford for a few weeks,’ he tells her. ‘There’s an outdoor production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. One of the actors has just pulled out and the director thought of me.’

Lucinda is not a Shakespeare fan. ‘Yeah. Sounds great,’ she says with all the enthusiasm of someone talking about invasive dentistry. Her introduction at school was a trial, the teacher making it seem like gobbledygook, flouncing about, misery and then everyone dies. My own introduction was an outdoor production of the same play in the grounds of the Alveston Manor Hotel. I was about eight or nine. I thought the actors were film stars. I got their autographs on my programme. I still have it. They were actually students at Oxford University. But it shows how bad experiences can spoil something for life, while good ones stay with you forever.

Many thanks to the author for an ARC. I really enjoyed it.

About the Author

Claire Huston lives in Warwickshire, UK. She writes uplifting modern love stories about characters who are meant for each other but sometimes need help figuring that out.

A keen amateur baker, she enjoys making cakes, biscuits and brownies almost as much as eating them. You can find recipes for all the cakes mentioned in her first novel, Art and Soul, on her website along with over 150 other recipes. This is also where she talks about and reviews books.

Her second novel was Elle’s A to Z of Love, published in July 2021.

As well as her website, you can find her on Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest and Instagram: linktr.ee/clairehuston_author.

The Silk Pavilion by Sarah Walton

Lucy’s on assignment. The wild reclusive writer awaits her arrival in his Mallorcan home. She wants the story of his life. He wants her to become part of it.

Villa Rosa hides a dark secret.  Beneath Deià’s sunny olive groves are the bodies of a generation.  Spain’s unearthed shadow entwines with Lucy’s as her own skeletons start to rattle out of her closet.  Will she uncover the truth before it’s too late, or replay the pattern of her childhood abuse?

#TheSilkPavilion @sarahlwalton @BarbicanPress1 #RandomThingsTours @annecater @RandomTTours #blogtour

‘Set in the small Spanish town of DeÌa and its beautiful Villa Rosa, Sarah Walton’s The Silk Pavilion weaves a compelling story around a young British woman and her controlling, narcissistic lover, Miguel Mateo Nadal. Using fact, fiction and the historical remnants of the Spanish Civil War, she succeeds in bringing us, with honesty and empathy, this vividly told story that reveals how the trauma inflicted in one’s childhood can distort the psyche, leading the individual into choosing, unconsciously, further abuse as an adult. Her novel reads like a thriller but is also very much a novel of one woman’s journey of self-discovery and survival. Contemporary, relevant and highly readable. A brave and important book.’ Grace Nichols, winner of the Queen’s Gold Medal for Poetry.

‘A strange, almost dream-like reading experience – a journalist lands in Mallorca but comes to fear that she is a prisoner of her own mind. Febrile and frequently disturbing, with a hint of Bluebeard to it, it put me in mind of Paul Bowles’s The Sheltering Sky – that sense of someone who is lost but compelled to pursue the path as it materialises before them. It had me gripped right to the end.’ Mick Jackson, award-winning novelist and screenwriter

My Review

The Silk Pavilion starts with freelance writer Lucy arriving in Deia on the island of Mallorca to interview reclusive novelist Miguel Mateo Nadal. He is twenty-five years older than her (she’s thirty-five) and not remotely attractive. He also seems much older than his years. Yet for some reason, she is instantly attracted to him and seduced by his home – Villa Rosa – and his insatiable sexual appetite. Lucy is married, but has not had intimate relations with her husband for seven years. We never know why.

There’s a lot of psychology, sexual abuse, gaslighting and narcissistic behaviour in this book. Be warned there is a lot of sex, much of it distasteful – Miguel makes Lucy do things she doesn’t want to do, but makes her believe she wanted it. He lies all the time particularly about his ex-wife and ex-girlfriend Alessandra.

Lucy has vivid dreams about the famous psychologist Carl Jung and make the unconscious conscious becomes her mantra. There are references to Jung’s The Red Rider, one of the manifestations of his ‘shadow’. I’m not going to try to explain any of this as it’s too complicated in a short review. When she goes into therapy, this is explained in detail.

There are also constant references to the sugar whores, who offered sex to soldiers in exchange for sugar during the Spanish Civil War. Their husbands had been captured and pushed off a cliff. It was war but the rape and murder were not excusable. They never are.

So what did I think? As someone who was never subjected to the kind of abuse Lucy suffered as a child, I find it hard to relate to her behaviour. I have never understood (and I’m sure I am not alone in this) why anyone would escape one abuser and then run straight into a relationship with another one. However ‘this vividly told story reveals how the trauma inflicted in one’s childhood can distort the psyche, leading the individual into choosing, unconsciously, further abuse as an adult.‘ Lucy’s husband was just too nice and ‘safe’ and she seeks something masochistic to give her that excitement. But the longer she stays in her toxic relationship with Miguel, the more she disappears and loses her sense of self.

This book is beautifully written with evocative prose and poetic language. I read it very quickly – I couldn’t put it down, but it still made me angry. I wanted to scream at her ‘GET OUT. GO AND NEVER COME BACK’. And Miguel is vile, truly a monster and mean with it.

Many thanks to @annecater for inviting me to be part of #RandomThingsTours

About the Author

The pandemic restricted Sarah Walton to the Sussex Downs, but she is restless for encounters around the world. A digital pioneer in California in the .com era, she remains a leading figure in digital innovation and corporate storytelling. She has a PhD in Creative Writing and lectures on Hull University’s Online MA Creative Writing. Sarah also teaches her Soul Writing method, that combines meditation, free-writing and creative writing skills.

The Mirror Man by Lars Kepler

IF YOU SEE HIS REFLECTION IT’S ALREADY TOO LATE . . .

Seventeen-year-old Jenny is abducted in broad daylight and taken to a dilapidated, isolated house where she is chained and caged along with several other girls. Their captor is unpredictable, and as wily as he is cruel: he foils every one of their desperate attempts to escape . . . and once caught they rarely survive their punishment.

#TheMirrorMan #larskepler Instagram @larskepler @ZaffreBooks #RandomThingsTours @annecater @RandomTTours #blogtour

Five years later, Jenny is found dead in a public park, and the police are scrambling to find a lead among the scant evidence. But Detective Joona Linna realizes that this murder has an eerie connection to a death that was declared a suicide years before. And now when Mia, a seventeen-year-old orphan, goes missing, it becomes clear to Joona that they are dealing with a serial killer-and the murderous rampage has just begun.

As the police close in on the killer, Mia and her fellow captives are plunged into ever greater danger, and Joona finds himself in a seemingly impossible race against time to save their young lives.

My Review

This moves at such a breakneck speed I almost forgot to breathe. At times too nasty to read – I skipped much of the dog fight – almost too far-fetched to be believable, but I still carried on, only stopping to work and sleep.

I said this in another review, but I am going to repeat is at it relevant to The Mirror Man. ‘There’s something about Scandi noir that makes it different from our own crime novels and police procedurals. It’s stripped back, realistic, never shies away from anything. It’s quite ‘hard’ though I’m not sure how to explain what I mean by that. The hero or heroine is usually tired, in or out of a messy relationship, drinks too much, has been around the block a few times.’

Our hero in this case is Joona Linna, a detective with The Swedish National Crime Unit, who appears damaged beyond repair, to the point where his daughter is distancing herself from him and he sometimes resorts to visiting an opium den. However, it’s not Joona who is the drinker – that is reserved for Pamela, whose husband Martin almost died when he fell through the ice on a fishing trip and Pamela’s daughter from a previous relationship is missing, presumed drowned.

Martin is in shock after the accident, and has totally retreated into himself, suffering from complex PTSD. So when he sees a murder in the local park while walking his dog Loke in the middle of a rainy night, he freezes and remembers nothing, other than that he was there.

The murder he has seen is that of Jenny Lind, abducted five years earlier while walking home from school. The autopsy reveals that she was freeze-branded on the back of her head, which triggers a memory in Joona about a ‘suicide’ many years before.

In the present day, Pamela wants to foster a troubled teenager called Mia as she feels she is ready to offer a stable home. Unfortunately social services turn her down because of Martin’s unstable behaviour and his arrest for the murder. And now Mia has also been abducted and the police are struggling to find any clues.

The plot becomes more and more complicated, the abductions and treatment of the victims kept in cages more and more sinister, a raid on a house just weird and the trip by Joona and two undercover police officers to a horrendous secret ‘night club’ called Eagle’s Nest the worst of all. Illegal boxing, dog and cock fighting, prostitution, drugs – it has it all.

This is not a book for the squeamish or faint-hearted – I’ve said that before – but I really mean it in this case. It’s dark, really dark, and there is no humour or police banter to lighten it. Having said that it’s brilliantly written, terrifying and compulsive.

Many thanks to @annecater for inviting me to be part of #RandomThingsTours and to NetGalley for an ARC

About the Author

Lars Kepler is the pseudonym of critically acclaimed husband and wife team Alexandra Coelho Ahndoril (b. 1966) and Alexander Ahndoril (b. 1967), authors of the No. 1 internationally bestselling Joona Linna series.

With seven instalments to date, the series has sold 15 million copies in 40 languages. The Ahndorils were both established writers before they adopted the pen name Lars Kepler, and have each published several acclaimed novels.

About Bonnier Books UK

Bonnier Books UK is a major UK publisher with sales of £80m. Home to 12 adult and children’s imprints, we publish across a wide variety of genres for different ages. From crime to reading group fiction; memoir to self-help; activity to reference – we believe every book matters.

Our talented authors include Wilbur Smith, Lynda La Plante, Heather Morris, Rosie Goodwin, T.M. Logan, Stacey Halls, Prof. Steve Peters, Ollie Ollerton, Konnie Huq, Garth Nix, Jonny Duddle and Rochelle Humes – to name but a few. We’re also proud to publish for major brands including Disney, Marvel and Bear Grylls.

Bonnier Books UK is owned by Bonnier Books, a family-owned company headquartered in Sweden. Bonnier Books is a top-15 world publisher.

The Murder Book – A Tom Thorne Novel by Mark Billingham

Tom Thorne finally has it all.

In Nicola Tanner and Phil Hendricks, Thorne has good friends by his side. His love life is newly reformed by a promising relationship and he is happy in the job he has devoted his life to.

As he sets off hunting the woman responsible for a series of grisly murders, Thorne has no way of knowing that he will be plunged into a nightmare from which he may never wake. A nightmare that has a name. Thorne’s past threatens to catch up with him and a ruinous secret is about to be revealed. If he wants to save himself and his friends, he will have to do the unthinkable.

Tom Thorne finally has a lot to lose.

@MarkBillingham #TomThorne #TheMurderBook

My Review

I have read one of Mark Billingham’s Tom Thorne novels before – Cry Baby – but this one was even better. Mark is an experienced, clever writer who combines excitement, gory murder, dark humour, comradeship, serial killers and hilarious police banter and wraps them all up seamlessly with no loose ends. No mean feat.

Reading this with my fellow Pigeons was a great way to enjoy the book, as we could discuss our theories, try and work out who might be untrustworthy, and even hand out a death sentence when we thought it was justified. Metaphorically speaking of course.

Detective Inspector Tom Thorne is a complex character, with a great deal of history, which can sometimes cloud his judgment. He is prone to losing his temper at times. Sidekick DI Nicola Tanner is also complex, something she did a while ago coming back to haunt her.

My favourite though is still Phil Hendricks, a wonderfully drawn character, with a wicked and often inappropriate sense of humour. More tattoos than Ray Bradbury’s The Illustrated Man, plus piercings in places we probably prefer not to know about, Phil is the pathologist who examines the murder victims.

Thorne has a new girlfriend – forensic psychiatrist Dr Melita Perera – Hendricks tells him she’s out of his league, but I disagree, I didn’t warm to her. She has clients with certain predilections (one of them gets aroused by giving and receiving enemas) and/or a history of violence, but she resents Thorne’s warnings to be careful. It’s her job.

I can’t say much more because of spoilers, but Thorne will meet his nemesis, which will drag up the past for him and his colleagues and put a number of people’s lives in danger.

A thrilling read by a master of his genre, I look forward to more of the same very soon.

Many thanks to The Pigeonhole, and my fellow Pigeons for making this such an enjoyable read.

About the Author

Mark Billingham was born and brought up in Birmingham. Having worked for some years as an actor and more recently as a TV writer and stand-up comedian his first crime novel was published in 2001. Mark lives in North London with his wife and two children.

Angel Town by Fiona Cane

What if you were born into a doomsday cult and knew nothing of the outside world? What if everything you’d been told was a lie?

The clock is ticking …

Wayward teenager, Lola, is stunned when, out of the blue, she is summoned by her leader. Oblivious to the resentment her promotion has whipped up and determined to shine, she enters Michael’s inner sanctum.

#AngelTown @FionaCaneWrites #RandomThingsTours @annecater @RandomTTours

Single mother and activist, Donna’s search for her son takes her from Brighton to Edenville, a once-peaceful commune in the Colorado desert. Trouble is brewing. The guards on the gate are armed. No one can leave; no visitors allowed. 

But who is Michael? And what exactly is his agenda? As the line between what’s true and what is not grows increasingly blurred, time is fast running out …

My Review

There’s nothing I like better than a story about a religious cult and they don’t come much better than Angel Town. I read this in two sittings, it was that exciting, I just had to keep reading.

Activist Donna lives in Brighton, having brought up her three children on her own after her husband Rupert just upped and disappeared when the youngest, Jos, was only six months old. She never heard from him again. Sixteen years later, Jos has left home and moved into a squat, his behaviour having become more and more irrational. Then one day he vanishes and all she has to go on is that he left with someone called Naomi, and that he found a picture of his father.

Over in California, fifteen-year-old Lola lives with her mother, Esther, in Edenville, a once-peaceful commune in the Colorado desert. The Guardians of God live in relative harmony, believing that the world will end on Thursday, 12th May 1983, Ascension Day. That’s only a few months away, but their leader, Michael, has told them that his followers will all ascend with him to heaven and be reunited there with God. And they believe him. After all, he can fly and has wings and can hear the voice of God.

I used to work for someone who told me that at the second coming, all those who had found Jesus would be saved and everyone else would be ‘zapped’. Edenville believes in something similar, just narrowed down to a few hundred people ie its residents.

Lately, however, things have changed. The guards on the gates are dressed like ninjas and carry guns. And Michael’s behaviour has become more erratic. Then he summons Lola to live with him and everything changes. Why has he chosen her – no-one knows but it certainly causes unrest amongst the citizens of Edenville. Only Esther knows the truth and now she is in mortal danger.

I love this book. I have always been fascinated by religious cults. You don’t hear as much about them nowadays as you did in the eighties and nineties. I remember hearing about people who ran off to join the Moonies (most came back eventually), but the most famous was the Waco siege in 1993. The Branch Davidians as the sect was known, lived a simple life, preparing for the imminent return of Jesus. But when David Koresh, who declared himself the final prophet of the Branch, took over, things took a sinister turn and he began taking ‘spiritual wives,’ several of whom were reportedly as young as 11. This led to allegations of child abuse, but more famously, a stand-off with the FBI lasting 51 days resulted in a massive fire and almost 80 men, women and children, including Koresh himself, were killed.

Of course, Angel Town is set ten years before Waco, but the parallels are still there. Jim Jones and Jonestown are mentioned in the book – another religious cult which resulted in the mass murder-suicide in 1978, of 909 people.

I find it so fascinating, partly because I never understand the concept of brainwashing to this extent, not that I deny its existence, I just don’t get it. I suppose these people pray on the vulnerable, but that is probably too simplistic. Though for Lola and the other children, they have never known any other life.

Many thanks to @annecater for inviting me to be part of #RandomThingsTours

About the Author

Born and educated in Sussex, Fiona Cane graduated from Exeter University with a degree in philosophy. She worked in London in film, TV and entertainment PR, before moving back to Sussex with her husband and young family. When she wasn’t coaching tennis or looking after her two children, she’d be scratching away at her latest novel.

She says: “I’m unusual in that I write across several genres mystery, cosy mystery, psychological thriller, literary thriller and coming of age – but the one thing my books have in common is that they will keep you turning the page. I have written five other books: the mystery, A Song Unsung (2021); the literary thriller, The Other Side of the Mountain; the cosy mystery, A Push Too Far, the psychological thriller, When the Dove Cried; and the mystery Killing Fame.”

The author explains her inspiration for Angel Town:

“I was a teenager in the eighties and wanted to travel the world, but my mother wouldn’t allow it. She was convinced I would fall in love and join a cult. ‘It’s what girls did in those days,’ she is fond of telling me. She had a point, cults such as The People’s Temple, The Branch Davidians, The Children of God, and The Bagwan Shree Rajneesh, were grabbing global headlines at the time. But having read Philosophy at university, where my religious beliefs were actively drummed out of me, I was convinced I could never be taken in by the nonsense spouted by a superficially charming person and give up everything – family, wealth, possessions – to blindly follow. However, during my research I discovered that, under the right conditions, there are plenty of sane, intelligent people who do. No one, it seems, is immune.”

Wake by Shelley Burr

EVERYBODY THINKS THEY KNOW MINA McCREERY.
EVERYONE HAS A THEORY ON WHAT HAPPENED TO HER SISTER.
NOW IT’S TIME TO FIND OUT THE TRUTH…

Mina McCreery’s sister Evelyn disappeared nineteen years ago. Her life has been defined by the intense public interest in the case. Now an anxious and reclusive adult, she lives alone on her family’s destocked sheep farm.

When Lane, a private investigator, approaches her with an offer to reinvestigate the case, she rejects him. The attention has had nothing but negative consequences for her and her family, and never brought them closer to an answer.

Lane wins her trust when his unconventional methods show promise, but he has his own motivations for wanting to solve the case, and his obsession with the answer will ultimately risk both their lives.

Superbly written, taut and compassionate, Wake looks at what can happen when people’s private tragedies become public property, and the ripples of trauma that follow violent crimes. Wake won the CWA Debut Dagger in 2019.

My Review

Nineteen years ago Mina’s twin sister Evelyn disappeared from their home. Did she have a terrible accident or was she abducted and killed. Her body was never found, making the former unlikely, but the area around the property is huge so finding her is almost impossible. Even using cadaver dogs like Echo.

Mina’s mother wrote a book about the disappearance and Evie became public property. Everyone had an opinion, particularly the members of the MyMurder forum. Did Mina kill her sister because she was the pretty one and she was jealous? Did the parents do it (think Madeleine McCann and the hate-filled tweets about the McCanns)?

Alanna’s sister also went missing, but her case was never so high profile. No link to Evie could ever be found. It was thought at the time that her father took her and they were living miles away under false names.

In the meantime Lane Holland, a private investigator, believes he can solve the mystery. Because he’s done it before and anyway there’s a huge reward and he’s broke. His mum died and his father is in prison, so he has to look after younger sister Lynnie and put her through university. But his father could be eligible for parole soon and Lane is terrified for Lynnie.

A complicated plot and one where you can never be sure who is telling the truth. Because Mina lies, so does Alanna and even Lane is hiding something.

Mina is not very nice to be honest. She’s not quite a recluse – she works and has a friend which turns out to be Alanna, but she’s not very nice either. I suppose you can’t blame them after what happened, but Mina is also selfish and puts others at risk.

I loved reading this book with my fellow book club readers. We had theories (of course) but the developments are so much bigger than who took Evie. A brilliant book.

Many thanks to The Pigeonhole, and my fellow Pigeons for making this such an enjoyable read.

About the Author

Shelley Burr is a writer and public servant from Canberra, Australia. Wake is her first novel.

Cielo by Jane Markland 

Who do you trust when you can’t trust yourself?

Following his release from prison, Nathan arrives at Cielo determined to change his life for the better.

After prison, and beating addiction, he has a vision, and he’s discovered a talent, a gift with plants. Max Harrison wants him to create a special garden, The White Terrace, full of scent and white petals, Max wants to die there, his addiction to vodka and grief consuming everything.

#Cielo @markland_jane @SpellBoundBooks @Zooloo’s Book Tours @zooloo2008 #ZooloosBookTours #blogtour

Slowly Nathan begins to fall under his spell, Max is full of insight, kindness. His affinity to music and playing Rachmaninov on the piano reduce Nathan to tears of joy. Only underneath the surface, and the seductive surroundings of Cielo, Nathan discovers the other gardeners disappeared. Never to be heard of again.

As he begins to uncover disturbing clues, Nathan must ask himself, just who is Max Harrison? Can he trust him? Can he love him?

My Review

The first half of the book gives no clue as to the horror of the second half. It starts out as a story about someone who has been redeemed after a life of drugs and crime. Nathan robbed houses to fund his drug habit and sold drugs on the street. He ended up living on the streets and going to prison numerous times. The book is written from his point of view.

Eventually, Nathan got help and therapy through the prison and his probation officer, and learnt about gardening, which became his life and passion. Then a dream job came his way. His employer is the once famous and extremely wealthy DJ Max Harrison, who is now an alcoholic recluse, living in the massive house he won in a card game. He wants his garden turned into a thing of beauty, particularly the rose garden, which he wants to be all white, so he can die there as if it were ‘heaven’s gate’.

I’m not quite sure how I feel about Nathan or Max or the rest of Max’s family. Everyone feels a bit sorry for themselves, though one can understand why. There’s a lot of negativity going on which Nathan needs to rise above if he’s going to turn his life – and Max’s – around.

I have to be honest, I much preferred the second half. The first half feels like the warm up, setting the scene for what’s about to come. Then suddenly it turned into a murder who dunnit, a thriller. The pace quickened and the excitement grew. 3.5/5 stars.

PS The whole DJ thing went right over my head, I’ve never understood the genre, but the idea of listening to someone playing the piano beautifully, ‘That was Rachmaninoff,’ says Max to Nathan, ‘his second concerto, the easy one,’ would be a dream.

Many thanks to @zooloo2008 for inviting me to be part of this blog tour.

Some Words from the Author

“I started writing Cielo in August 2014, it goes like this, I used to live on the North Norfolk coast, and one day cycled past this old mansion, it’s still lived in, it had pony paddocks and turrets and was all old flint (the stone of Norfolk) but with lots of newer additions. The sort of house you saw in earlier Midsomer Murders episodes in fact.

“I thought what could I do with that house, who would live there? So, Cielo was born. I knew I wanted to do a story about someone with addictions (it’s where I worked in the past and the whole homeless issue is so misunderstood). What if? What if an ex addict goes there for a new start to work in the gardens. Who would own a house like that, half decaying, yet round the next corner – pure luxury.

“Nathan was a dream to write, he’s half me, half every hopeless, yet hopeful person I’ve ever met. I knew I had to give him a focus; and gardening seemed perfect. I made him choose gardening as something fresh and new and full of new growth. The roses thing is real, I have Alberic Barbier in my small terrace garden deep in the city of Norwich.

“Max is someone I used to know, how he talks, how he is, the two together took a bit of time, I didn’t want Max to overwhelm Nathan, and first person made that easier for me, rather than both narrating, which they did in the very first draft. Someone I was very close to once was that DJ, but it was making that piano come alive which made the book flow for me. I am not musical, but somehow that while piano and the white garden made everything flow from there.

“The first draft grew through taking part in my first writing course with Dr Stephen Carver, at the Unthank School of Writing. From there Stephen (a reader with TLC) did two manuscript assessments with me and I sent it out on submission, and didn’t get anywhere. I then met Hayley Webster while trying to re-draft Cielo during NaNoWriMo, we met in a café between Cromer and Norwich during a write-in, and she’s been my mentor and saviour ever since.

“Hayley read what was by now my fourth draft and loved it, but suggested subtle changes. I turned that book around in about a month and sent it back and she said it was wonderful, had made her cry and she loved all the food and the flowers and somewhere I knew it was almost right. I sent it out again and ten agents later, nothing.

“It sat on my computer until a few weeks ago, when Hayley suggested I sent it to SpellBound Books. So that’s what I did.

“Since Cielo I’ve written another novel, The Hunt for Delphi, which is currently having yet another edit! I am now outlining my third novel.

“When I am not writing, I am a busy medical secretary at the local hospital working with consultants who look after patients with liver conditions. I have two grown up children, and two grandchildren. My loves in life (since the age of 11 when I read Jane Eyre all the way through), are reading, making up stories about other people, nature, gardening and the joy and pain following my local football team (current state extreme pain).”

Follow her at:
Facebook : https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1256024161
Instagram : https://www.instagram.com/janemarkland/
Twitter: https://twitter.com/markland_jane

Buy Links
Amazon UK – https://www.amazon.co.uk/Cielo-beautifully-evocative-thriller-nothing-ebook/dp/B09Z31HTW7
Amazon US – https://www.amazon.com/Cielo-beautifully-evocative-thriller-nothing-ebook/dp/B09Z31HTW7

Perfect: Stories of the Impossible by Sally Emerson

In these stories of the impossible, master of the domestic thriller Sally Emerson introduces the eerie and supernatural into her keen-eyed portraits of everyday life …

A clerk working in a public register office begins to receive death certificates dated in the future, but can she alter fate and save their victims? A woman unable to have children discovers a way of cloning her husband, but is their cloned son destined to repeat the mistakes of his father? A suburban mother is prescribed health supplements with rather amorous side-effects; can she resist its sway and keep her hands off her neighbours?

#Perfect #StoriesOfTheImpossible @sallyemerson8 @GracePublicity 

Emerson’s tales of quotidian life invaded by forces beyond our control are both beguiling and uncanny, and ultimately uplifting as she celebrates reality and unreality in its many forms.

Fantastical, humorous and unfailingly honest in its depiction of humanity, Perfect will stay with the reader long after they leave the magic of its pages.

My Review

What great fun these stories are in a dark sort of way.

We start with Perfect and Portia and husband Jack want a child. After numerous unsuccessful attempts including IVF, she announces she has found another way.

‘IVF hasn’t worked,’ she says… ‘my proposal is this….you know that certain animals have been cloned…’

Jack is understandably unimpressed, ‘That’s out of the question…it is a monstrous idea.’

But Portia is not so easily deterred. What happens when Jack himself is cloned? Will the child turn out to be ‘perfect’?

Next we have a story called Lust. Emma feels under the weather so she takes the advice of an assistant at the local health food shop. An array of vitamin and herbal supplements especially for her. But which should she take and in what order? She was sure the assistant had told her but she couldn’t remember. Google came up with nothing. Oh well, go for it. Just take one of each. But the combination has some very unusual side effects and when the plumber rings the doorbell, and he turns out to be rather attractive, well…..

In Death Certificates, Susan looks after her cantankerous, dying father, but also works full time in London sending out copies of death, marriage and birth certificates. Then one ordinary day, two certificates appear in her tray. The death of a politician in an explosion and also that of a child. But the strange thing about them is that they are dated in the future. She puts them on her boss’s desk but he says he never saw them. What should she do? If she alerts the ‘victims’ they will think she is mad. If she doesn’t, how can she live with herself if it turns out to be true.

I loved this story. Just up my street.

But story four – Fairy Tales – was initially my favourite. Charlie is delighted to move out of his parents’ house into a flat at a price he can afford. He is at college studying to be an architect, when he sees the advert for a room with private bathroom and shared kitchen in a lovely house in Clapham. The ten page form he had to fill in, with questions about his likes and dislikes, including his favourite foods, was a bit unusual, but he may as well take a look.

When he arrives at his new lodgings, Mrs Watson tells him there is to be another lodger, an art student called Elinor. They would be sharing the kitchen, which always seemed to be stocked with the food he had said he liked. There is also regular ‘visitor’ – a fox in the garden, which Charlie watches with interest.

But all is not as it seems and things just get weirder and weirder.

Storms Like This is much shorter. Probably my least favourite, Phillip and Lydia are a totally mismatched couple who don’t seem to love each other very much. Lydia did love Phillip, or anyway feel compassion for him, in part because there was something so fearful about his brown eyes and his short, stocky body.’ Sounds more like my now sadly gone elderly Jack Russell. Lydia plays the violin and wants to join an orchestra, but Phillip finds her playing really annoying.

Everything about Phillip is annoying. I can’t understand why she married him. However, they are on their third anniversary cruise when a massive storm hits in more than just the weather.

Lucky With The Weather is the story of Mary, her two gorgeous grandchildren, Luke and Emily, and her rather odd husband of over 40 years, Matthew. What does he get up to in his locked office and with his even stranger ‘friends’? What are the weather maps for?

Another of my favourites, I could see myself in Mary – I have four gorgeous granddaughters – but my husband doesn’t have any weird secrets (at least I hope he doesn’t – though if they are secret….)

Mary wants to organise a treasure hunt for the whole family the following week, but the weather forecast is horrendous. However, that doesn’t deter Matthew from telling them to go ahead. What is he up to? Truly original and entertaining.

It took me a while to understand The Couple. I had no idea what was going on initially. Martin Carter, whose ancestor John Carter, The Master of St Edmunds, was burned to death as a heretic in the thirteenth century, is trying to find out more about him and his wonderful paintings.

In Los Angeles, while visiting a museum, Martin encounters two mysterious people, a beautiful woman with long white hair and a slightly overweight man in a linen jacket, who is a juggler (not sure why). No-one else sees them, apart from a girl called Alice who was knocked over by them on the steps outside. Who are they? Are they real? Were they actually there?

‘Oh, I’m always around,’ says the white-haired woman, ‘I’m on every street, on every corner, in every room, you only have to call me. But if you do, there will be trouble, that’s the problem.’

Martin has nightmares about the woman, while Alice has weird dreams about the man.

‘Terrifying, but electrifying. Did they frighten you?’ she asks.

Wow this final story was in a totally different league to the rest. Terrifying and electrifying, just like Alice’s description of The Couple. Good and Evil working together. Think Good Omens but without the humour – just brilliant.

Many thanks to Grace Pilkington Publicity for inviting me to be part of the blog tour.

About the Author

Sally Emerson is the award-winning author of six novels, including the bestselling Fire
Child, Heat and Separation, and a trio of anthologies of poetry and prose. Perfect is her first collection of short stories. She lives in London. Her website is www.sallyemerson.com

Sweets From Strangers by Cat on a Piano Productions / Theatrephonic

Sweets from Strangers
In search of adventure

Orphans were far more likely to have adventures. And although I did love my parents, they were a hindrance. I wanted to be free from piano practice and Sunday School. So I must appear to be alone in the world, like Jane Eyre. I chose Marianne Fairfax as my new name as it was far less mundane than Linda.

But a trip to the beach turns out to be a stark warning. Never take sweets from strangers – they may be disguised as almond tarts and heart shaped crockery, but the danger remains the same.

Another great short story from Barbara Jennings. I really enjoyed it.

Written by Barbara Jennings

Performed by Emmeline Braefield 

Produced by Cat on a Piano Productions 

Music: Seaside Piazza by Aaron Kenny

The Theatrephonic Theme tune was composed by Jackson Pentland
Performed by
Jackson Pentland
Mollie Fyfe Taylor
Emmeline Braefield

Cat on a Piano Productions produce and edit feature films, sketches and radio plays.

Their latest project is called @Theatrephonic, a podcast of standalone radio plays and short stories performed by professional actors. You can catch Theatrephonic on Spotify and other platforms.

For more information about the Theatrephonic Podcast, go to catonapiano.uk/theatrephonic, Tweet or Instagram @theatrephonic, or visit their Facebook page.

And if you really enjoyed this week’s episode, listen to Theatrephonic’s other plays and short stories and consider becoming a patron by clicking here…