Pine by Francine Toon

They are driving home from the search party when they see her.

The trees are coarse and tall in the winter light, standing like men. Lauren and her father Niall live alone in the Highlands, in a small village surrounded by pine forest. When a woman stumbles out onto the road one Halloween night, Niall drives her back to their house in his pickup. In the morning, she’s gone.

In a community where daughters rebel, men quietly rage, and drinking is a means of forgetting, mysteries like these are not out of the ordinary. The trapper found hanging with the dead animals for two weeks. Locked doors and stone circles. The disappearance of Lauren’s mother a decade ago.

Lauren looks for answers in her tarot cards, hoping she might one day be able to read her father’s turbulent mind. Neighbours know more than they let on, but when local teenager Ann-Marie goes missing it’s no longer clear who she can trust.

In spare, haunting prose, Francine Toon creates an unshakeable atmosphere of desolation and dread. In a place that feels like the end of the world, she unites the gloom of the modern gothic with the pulse of a thriller. It is the perfect novel for our haunted times.

#Pine @FrancineElena

My Review

Pine is the story of Niall and his daughter Lauren, aged 10, and her mother Christine who disappeared shortly after Lauren was born. Niall never talks about what happened, lives in chaos and drinks constantly to blank out the memories.

But this book is far more than just a mystery or the story of a missing person. It’s really about life in a remote Highlands village where strange things happen, superstition is rife and people believe in all kinds of supernatural goings on.

Christine came to the village from Edinburgh and was not easily accepted by some of the villagers. She was even regarded as being a witch. What with the rumours, Niall’s behaviour and leaving Lauren often unwashed and wearing second-hand clothes, she is a target for the school bullies such as horrible Maisie. Only Billy is Lauren’s true friend.

Some of the villagers try to look out for her, but Niall is too proud to accept help. Actually I really disliked him – I don’t care how upset he still is after the disappearance of his true love – he hardly seems to care for his daughter, often leaving her ‘home alone’ with no heating or decent food.

It’s beautifully written, poetic, dark and atmospheric and when Ann-Marie goes missing it reaches a whole new level of darkness. I still cannot decide whether to leave four or five stars on Amazon/Goodreads because at times very little happens to move the story forward, style leads over substance and the ending, as others have pointed out, feels a bit rushed. But all in all I really enjoyed it and there’s no denying it is a stunning book.

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

About the Author

Francine Toon grew up in Sutherland and Fife, Scotland. Her poetry, written as Francine Elena, has appeared in The Sunday Times, The Best British Poetry 2013 and 2015 anthologies (Salt) and Poetry London, among other places. Pine was longlisted for the Deborah Rogers Foundation Writers Award. She lives in London and works in publishing.

In the Clearing by J P Pomare

Amy has only ever known what life is like in the Clearing. She knows what’s expected of her. She knows what to do to please her elders, and how to make sure life in the community remains happy and calm.

That is, until a new young girl joins the group. She isn’t fitting in; she doesn’t want to stay. What happens next will turn life as Amy knows it on its head.

Freya has gone to great lengths to feel like a ‘normal person’. In fact, if you saw her go about her day with her young son, you’d think she was an everyday mum. That is, until a young girl goes missing and someone from her past, someone she hasn’t seen for a very long time, arrives in town.

As Amy and Freya’s story intertwines the secrets of the past bubble up to the surface. This rural Aussie town’s dark underbelly is about to be exposed and lives will be destroyed.

@JPPomare @HodderBooks #InTheClearing

My Review

What a great story! It’s creepy and terrifying – there were times when I was actually scared to read on.

There are two main protagonists – teenager Amy who lives in The Clearing, and Freya, mother of Aspen and Billy. Amy has never known anything else outside the world of the cult in which she lives. Beatings, hunger, torture – these are all part of her everyday life. The cult is run by Adrienne – Protect the Queen – and Adam, who gets up to some really weird stuff. They are the ‘mother’ and ‘father’ to ten children, of which Amy is the eldest, until they take another child they call Asha. Adrienne needs 12 children for her ‘family’ to be complete. They must all be fair haired and blue-eyed – in fact there are hints that their hair is dyed white if it’s too dark.

Freya lives in the middle of nowhere, with her young son Billy and a big scary dog called Rocky, who is trained to attack strangers who threaten their safety. We know that something bad happened to Freya’s first son Aspen, which meant that she ‘lost’ him, but it takes a while till we find out exactly what. Freya’s ex is called Wayne (the boys’ father) and he seems to have a part in all this. But what is Freya really afraid of?

Freya and Amy’s lives are connected but we don’t know how or why until quite a way into the book. You will be shocked and surprised. I can’t really say much more without spoilers, but be assured this book will keep you up at night, sometimes in a good way and sometimes because you will be too scared to go to sleep. I loved this book. Totally different. They say you can never escape from a cult and you’ll never escape from the effect this book will have on you. In a good way that is!

Many thanks to #NetGalley for an ARC in exchange for an honest review.

About the Author

J. P. Pomare was raised on a horse farm in rural New Zealand where he lived until he was eighteen before deciding to travel. After years abroad, including a twelve months living in North America, he settled in Melbourne, Australia and has lived there since.

His debut novel Call Me Evie was released to critical acclaim and won the 2019 Ngaio Marsh Award for best first novel. In The Clearing is his second novel.

J.P. is also the host of the podcast On Writing.

The Creak on the Stairs by Eva Bjorg AEgisdottir Translated by Victoria Cribb

The first in the electrifying new Forbidden Iceland series, The Creak on the Stairs is an exquisitely written, claustrophobic and chillingly atmospheric debut thriller by one of Iceland’s most exciting new talents.

#TheCreakontheStairs @evaaegisdottir @OrendaBooks @victoriacribb #RandomThingsTours @annecater @RandomTTours #IcelandNoir #NordicNoir

When the body of a woman is discovered at a lighthouse in the Icelandic town of Akranes, it soon becomes clear that she’s no stranger to the area. Chief Investigating Officer Elma, who has returned to Akranes following a failed relationship, and her colleagues Sævar and Hörður, commence an uneasy investigation, which uncovers a shocking secret in the dead woman’s past that continues to reverberate in the present day…

But as Elma and her team make a series of discoveries, they bring to light a host of long-hidden crimes that shake the entire community. Sifting through the rubble of the townspeople’s shattered memories, they have to dodge increasingly serious threats, and find justice … before it ’s too late.

The Creak on the Stairs is translated by Victoria Cribb.

My Review

What can I say. This is just brilliant. I read it over three days while visiting my son – mostly while travelling to and from (no I wasn’t driving) and at bedtime. Everything about it is exciting, chilling, scary, I could go on with a list of adjectives. It’s the perfect police procedural but there is also so much more.

I did guess the killer after one tiny hint about two thirds of the way through but I also kept changing my mind about the other people involved right up till the end. I’m still not sure. Elma is a great protagonist with an excellent team in Sævar and Hörður and I look forward to hearing more from them in follow up books in the series.

But back to the story. Elma has returned to her childhood home in Akranes after her relationship of nine years has ended. She was a police officer in Reykjavík but it’s only at the very end that we discover what actually happened and why she needed to return. She joins the police force in sleepy, parochial Akranes just at the time the body of a woman is found near the lighthouse and it doesn’t take long to discover who the victim was. It seems that everyone knew her – Elisabet – when she was a child, living with her alcoholic mother in dreadful conditions, with also sorts of shady people visiting the house. Elma also suspects that Elisabet may have been abused.

This is a book about secrets and lies, and not just those of the dead woman, but also of others whose childhood memories are best kept buried. When Elisabet’s body is found, everyone else’s own terrible truths begin to come out. So who is lying or hiding something and why? This is a complicated tale of jealousy, power and abuse. Some people in the town are too important to investigate and while her boss Hörður is trying not to rock the boat, Elma ploughs on regardless, determined to get to the truth, even if it means interviewing the most powerful man in Akranes and his family.

The Creak on the Stairs also gives us an insight into Iceland’s character, its history and the cold, often bleak weather, which create the backdrop for this thrilling story. I loved it.

I have only one tiny reservation – because all the names are Icelandic, it took me a while to sort out who was who as the names were hard to remember. Once I did though, it was all good.

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

About the Author

Born in Akranes in 1988, Eva moved to Trondheim, Norway to study my MSc in Globalisation when she was 25. After moving back home having completed her MSc, she knew it was time to start working on her novel. Eva has wanted to write books since she was 15 years old, having won a short story contest in Iceland.

Eva worked as a stewardess to make ends meet while she wrote her first novel. The book went on to win the Blackbird Award and became an Icelandic bestseller. Eva now lives with her husband and three children in Reykjavík, staying at home with her youngest until she begins Kindergarten.

Orenda Books is a small independent publishing company specialising in literary fiction with a heavy emphasis on crime/thrillers, and approximately half the list in translation. They’ve been twice shortlisted for the Nick Robinson Best Newcomer Award at the IPG awards, and publisher and owner Karen Sullivan was a Bookseller Rising Star in 2016. In 2018, they were awarded a prestigious Creative Europe grant for their translated books programme. Three authors, including Agnes Ravatn, Matt Wesolowski and Amanda Jennings have been WHSmith Fresh Talent picks, and Ravatn’s The Bird Tribunal was shortlisted for the Dublin Literary Award, won an English PEN Translation Award, and adapted for BBC Radio Four ’s Book at Bedtime. Six titles have been short- or long-listed for the CWA Daggers. Launched in 2014 with a mission to bring more international literature to the UK market, Orenda Books publishes a host of debuts, many of which have gone on to sell millions worldwide, and looks for fresh, exciting new voices that push the genre in new directions. Bestselling authors include Ragnar Jonasson, Antti Tuomainen, Gunnar Staalesen, Michael J. Malone, Kjell Ola Dahl, Louise Beech, Johana Gustawsson, Lilja Sigurðardóttir and Sarah Stovell.


#BookSpotlight Bell Hammers: The True Folk Tale of Little Egypt by Lancelot Schaubert

Lancelot Schaubert’s highly anticipated debut novel Bell Hammers: The True Folk Tale of Little Egypt is published on 12th October 2020. It looks hilarious. Link to buy at the bottom of the post.

#BookSpotlight #BellHammers Click here to visit Lancelot’s website

Remmy grows up with Beth in Bellhammer, Illinois, as oil and coal companies rob the land of everything that made it paradise. Under his Grandad, he learns how to properly prank his neighbours, friends, and foes. Beth tries to fix Remmy by taking him to church. Under his Daddy, Remmy starts the Bell Hammer Construction Company, which depends on contracts from Texarco Oil. And Beth argues with him about how to build a better business. Together Remmy and Beth start to build a great neighbourhood of “merry men” carpenters: a paradise of s’mores, porch furniture, newborn babies, and summer trips to Branson where their boys pop the tops off of the neighbourhood’s two hundred soda bottles. Their witty banter builds a kind of castle among a growing nostalgia.

Then one of Jim Johnstone’s faulty Texarco oil derricks falls down on their house and poisons their neighbourhood’s well. Poisoned wells escalate to torched dog houses (no dogs harmed as far as I know). Torched dog houses escalate to stolen carpentry tools and cancelled contracts. Cancelled contracts escalate to eminent domain. Sick of the attacks from Texarco Oil on his neighbourhood, Remmy assembles his merry men:


“We need the world’s greatest prank. One grand glorious jest that’ll bloody the nose of that tyrant. Besides, pranks and jokes don’t got no consequences, right?” 

Sounds like fun? To whet your appetite, I’ve included Chapter One of Bell Hammers:

WILSON REMUS 1941

Buckass naked in hot, hand-boiled bathtub suds, playing with his tin New York dairy truck and some Spur Cola bottles, he heard old Rooney’s brakes set to squelching.

“Aww shit.” He was six years old. “Aw shitty shit shit.”

They didn’t have no school buses back then, you see, just one room schoolhouses dotting the countryside like peppercorns tossed sparingly over a pot of boiled taters. And if you weren’t gonna walk five miles to school one way, you’d better get your ass in line for old Rooney’s flatbed truck when it pulled up to your street corner when them brakes squelched out loud.

Remmy jumped up quick as a cat scared by a cucumber and ran out without drying himself. “Rooney! Rooney!” Momma Midge cried after but it was of no use.

It started to go and all of his classmates and Elizabeth too stared at him with suds all down his naked body as he sprinted across that hot dirt road and it picked up on his feet till the soles went black and he caught the truck just barely and plopped buckass naked on the back with the rest of them.

The other kids stared. One snorted.

Rooney slammed on the brakes with a fresh squelch and craned his head out the window. “The hell, Remmy?”

“The hell, Old Man Rooney?”

“Don’t you the hell me, boy, you’re buckass nekked!”

The kids giggled then. Specially Elizabeth.

Remmy blushed a bit. He was naked, but not quite old enough to be ashamed. Not quite. “So?”

“So you can’t go to school nekked, Remmy!”

“You can’t go to school without me, Old Rooney!”

“Well… well you’re nekked though.”

“Well so what? Skin and mind ain’t the same.”

“Don’t get smart with me now. Don’t you start.”

“Honest, Old Man Rooney, I’d rather go to school naked than to stay home covered but dumb.”

Rooney shook his head. “Go put on your britches. I’ll wait.” Remmy scooted off the back of that pickup and got about five feet before he heard the kids pointing and laughing. He looked down — some of the limestone dust in the back of that flatbed had stuck to his butt, and now he had a white ass to offset them black soles. Full white moon on a field of black. Like a whitetail buck’s ass.

But they got him to class, they did. Him and the others. He sat down and tried his best to wink at Beth. He winked and he winked and fidgeted in his chair, the limestone working his buttcheeks like sandpaper.

Beth never did wink back no matter how much work Remmy’d put into winking her way. He’d give anything just to be able to fall asleep in the safety of her older, softer arms and wish the world and its scaffolding and fist fights away. Oh and its hate too, yup. But she didn’t seem fond of that idea, the winking and the kissing and the holding, or even the noticing him, really, busy as she was with her maths.

Maybe she’d seen enough of him for the day, all things in mind. Remmy’d been in the second grade at the time and learning from Miss Witt in the one-room school. Miss Witt said, “Well it looks like we got six students and four oil people today.”

The children of parents not employed at Texarco laughed and pointed at the rest. The children of oil parents blushed. That included Beth.

“Missing one oil person,” Miss Witt said. “Where’s Jim Johnstone?”

“Probably painting himself black with tar,” Remmy said.

“You quit,” Beth said to Remmy.

Beth being one of them oil people put him in one of them tight spot dillemma problems, it did. Remmy went to school there along with a few other kids, learning his grammars, how to make his thoughts into clean words, but mostly just winking at Beth Donder and hoping she’d wink back.

Fat.

Chance.

She was five years older than him, which made her twelve or something. That combined with his oil people comments made it damned near impossible he’d get a wink out of her. He remembered that even in his latest years because the news came in on a Sunday morning in the middle of the Sunday school and the winking and her age.

Jim Johnstone came running in hot and sweating like a creek- dipped mink in his winter wear, that look on his face like he had bad news nobody else knew about and he’d only tell you once you begged him good and long to reveal his secrets. Except it must have been extra bad cause he said, “Ms. Witt! Ms. Witt! Turn on the radio!”

She turned it on.

“—C. Hello NBC. This is KTU in Honolulu, Hawaii. I am speaking from the roof of the Advertiser Publishing Company Building. We have witnessed this morning the distant view a brief full battle of Pearl Harbor and the severe bombing of Pearl Harbor by enemy planes, undoubtedly Japanese. The city of Honolulu has also been attacked and considerable damage done. This battle has been going on for nearly three hours. One of the bombs dropped within fifty feet of our KTU tower. It is no joke. It is a real war. The public of Honolulu has been advised to keep in their homes and away from the Army and Navy. There has been serious fighting going on in the air and the sea. The heavy shooting seems to be—” Static cut off the broadcast. Then the voice went silent.

The kids did too.

Remmy didn’t like how quiet it was so he got up and went into the corner of the schoolhouse and dropped his britches — which showed his limestone-white ass — and started peeing in the mop bucket.

Ms. Witt shouted, “Good Lord, Remmy, what on earth! Why are you doing that?”

“Cause I got good aim,” he said. “Why else?”

The kids laughed.

Remmy turned his aim a bit while they was laughing and sprayed a little on Jim Johnstone’s notebook just cause that boy liked being the bearer of bad news. Ms. Witt sent him home early and, though happy that he made the kids laugh instead of thinking about the new war, in later years Remmy would say to me, “I couldn’t believe I did that. I guess I always enjoyed the power of a good prank.” 

They had rationing after that. You couldn’t buy sugar or coffee or gasoline or anything without a stamp, which you got from the ration board. It mattered how far you had to drive to work which messed up his Daddy John’s milk jug gathering, since Daddy John had finally saved up enough to ditch the wagon and get a la bumba of a car.. Forced Daddy John to take more time building homes and sheds and things for men in the oil fields. Daddy John wasn’t that close in to begin with, but Remmy hated the government for taking away his dad even further and hated Texarco for keeping him. It took away too his chance of one day having Beth to rock him to sleep safe away from shouting and wars like a good mother, curbing travel like that.

See, you had to ride with somebody else wherever you went so you didn’t drive so many cars. If you wore out your tires, you had to get a permit for another one — one at a time instead of a set. Couldn’t get meat, so Remmy’d shoot squirrels and rabbits with his slingshot and cook them, and that’s no lie.

Remmy stole stories from the one room school house — for one, cause they were expensive, books, and for another, cause boys made fun of other boys for reading and so he needed to read in private, and for a third, cause if he didn’t like the book — say it tried to sound smarter than it really was deep down — and if rations got real bad, he could always use the front pages to wipe his ass.

They’d had themselves a farm — a peaceful place out away from the oil fields and out away from the milk driving, where at least one Saturday a month Remmy’d been able to play out in the yard with Daddy John. He missed the smell of that farm — the sweet corn and shitty smell of good fertile soil. But because of the travel curb- ing, they moved in from the farm. Moved in to the big city: Odin, Illinois. Traffic was awful when you had a twenty-four street town. They sold most of it, his parents and the farm, but they brought a couple pigs along. Them pigs was an anchor for a while, keeping Remmy joined to that heavenly garden on earth. Other people had pig pens in the back. John David — Remmy’s Daddy — raised them so they could have some pork.

When the pig got turned into pork, the anchor was cut loose and he was free floating in Odin. Midge — Remmy’s Momma — kept chickens so they could have those, but they weren’t half the people pigs were. The chicken coops went in the side yard, and those chick- ens never really settled down either after the move. Remmy got it: foxes everywhere.

Shoes was hard to get all of a sudden. Hell, when he was on the farm he’d loved going barefoot, and as soon as he needed shoes to walk around town on account of moving into town on account of the war, he couldn’t get good shoes also on account of the war, which wasn’t fair no matter how he looked at it. Had to sole them and put heels on them over and over again, wishing he had Moses’ shoes that never wore out. Couldn’t buy hardly anything. So everybody dug in and did what they could do.

They had paper drives. Remmy took his paper around to people’s houses and tied it in bundles and stuck it up on the wagon and sold it, hoping the money would help Daddy John not work so hard and then maybe have some time to the family. Never really worked, though. What’d they sell the paper for? Well for cardboard, for ship- ping crates for the war. Some of them crates had munitions, stuff for the war. Oh, yeah, they had a pants factory. Pants for the army. Cause you can’t go to war with your horse running loose out of its barn, the other seven-year-olds boys all said. Specially the streakers.

Remmy had to admit that he knew something about that.

Yeah it was the big plant that’d done the bottled cola there, Spur Cola from Bellhammer, Illinois? Remmy watched that plant close one day in the war for the pants and watched them take all of those bottles — just a bunch of them — and he followed them out and saw people dump them into a specific mine shaft. Yeah, that cola plant’d shut down and turned into a place for making pants that kept the horses of the respective army men in their respective barns. That and saltpeter.

Well when they abandoned that coal mine around the same time, everybody dumped their trash down in there, down in the mine. So it seemed right when the time came to do so to lower all those full and sealed Spur Cola bottles down that shaft. Remmy watched them do it just to make room for the pants, and he was just a little boy, so he wasn’t strong enough to go down in there and get them bottles, but he reminded himself of the place: the old railroad, the groundwork of the truck stop, the shoe factory, and the bottle factory near the mine. He did. Because he asked The Good Lord, “Good Lord, will you help me remember this place?”

And The Good Lord said back, “Remmy, I will. Remember me, Remmy.”

And Remmy said, “Good Lord, I will.”

So Remmy memorized it and The Good Lord both. Some days he’d come back and mark the spot with his toe or a flag made of a stick and a rag or write his name in the dirt there with his piss just to make sure he still knew all them bottles were hid down in there. And one day he’d come back and dig up all those bottles, cause there wasn’t another Spur Cola in the world but in Bellhammer, Illinois, and therefore one day those Spur Cola bottles would be prime rare antiques, and so he’d dig up all of them and sell them one at a time on the big city auction block. A regular old Sotheby’s, yes sir.

And then he’d have enough money to buy his Daddy John a vacation for just the two of them in some castle somewhere in Ireland or Germany or Camelot — somewhere where they have those old castles and throw jokes like jesters at all the dumb tyrants around the world. He wanted to build the biggest castle out of the world’s greatest joke. Best part about throwing jokes and pranking tyrants is that there ain’t no consequences for a good joke, and yet they change people’s minds. Kind of like the joke he’d told about the castle he’d built the year before out of the Lincoln Logs in the back of the horse wagon, back when he’d gotten lost and Daddy John had shouted. That was before they’d moved in from the safety of the farm — their Little Egypt castle. Before everything went to hell and they’d treated each other like Bloody Williamson.

About the Author

Lancelot Schaubert has sold his written work to markets like Tor, The New Haven Review (Yale’s Institute Library), McSweeney’s, The Poet’s Market, Writer’s Digest (magazine and books), Poker Pro, Encounter, The Misty Review, Carnival, Brink, and many other similar markets.He believes that art should not merely entertain or sell product. He believes art should cause us to change our minds, soften our hearts, and motivate our activism to be true and good. And therefore artists manual and fine alike should not seek first to be richer, smarter, sexier, cooler, more relevant, more tech savvy, or more powerful. They must seek to be better and to make things that will make others better: this — virtue — is the soul of true renown and is his one and only goal with all of his work.

He remains a committed husband to the grooviest girl on earth and is a public advocate for more free range trees. You know, Ents.

Where to buy https://www.bookdepository.com/Bell-Hammers-Lancelot-Schaubert/9781949547023?ref=grid-view&qid=1578444582048&sr=1-1

The Thriller Collection by Alan Gorevan

An unmissable collection for fans of fast-paced reads. Three action-packed books in a single volume.

#TheThrillerCollection #TheForbiddenRoom #TheHostage #HitandRun @AlanGorevan @damppebbles #damppebblesblogtours Facebook @damppebblesblogtours 

The Forbidden Room:

You and your partner are looking forward to a romantic break in the rugged landscape of West Cork, on the south west coast of Ireland. Cliff walks, seafood dinners and spectacular views of the Atlantic Ocean. But a storm is brewing. Your car breaks down in the middle of nowhere. There’s no phone signal. So you start walking. You search for help. And you find it. At an isolated house, a family gives you shelter… but something is wrong. The husband has a head wound. The son is too terrified to speak. And the wife forbids you from going near her other son’s bedroom.

The Hostage:

Lindsey O’Reilly is at home, cleaning up after dinner, when she sees armed police swarming over her garden wall. There’s a noise downstairs. A knock on the door. She opens up, but it’s not the police. It’s the man they’re chasing. A stone-cold killer. Now he’s inside...

Hit and Run:

Jake Whelan ought to be happy. He has a devoted girlfriend and a job at a prestigious law firm, where he expects to make partner. Yet he’s crippled by terrifying panic attacks and a suspicion that his life isn’t as it should be. When Jake is passed over for promotion, he thinks his day can’t get any worse. He’s wrong. A terrible accident is about to change his life forever.

My Review

This is just so good. I only meant to start the first story and ended up reading the first two back to back until well gone midnight. If I hadn’t had to get up early I’d have read the third one straight after.

The first one – The Forbidden Room – is one of those horror stories where an unsuspecting couple break down in the middle of nowhere during a storm (of course) and take refuge with the crazies and you kind of know what’s going to happen. For me this was full of dark humour or maybe I just have a strange imagination.

The second story – The Hostage – is much darker. There is no humour here. Poor Lindsey has let the killer (masquerading as a cop) into her home where she lives with her month old baby Jazz. Then his mate turns up and he’s a true psychopath. Plus the ‘boyfriend’ or rather a terrible one night stand arrives and it all becomes very dangerous for Lindsey and Jazz. But if you like a story where the baddies get their just desserts then you’ll love this.

Finally Hit and Run is almost surreal in the madness that runs away with itself into the realms of the madcap macabre. Once again I can see the dark humour creeping in. Jake’s life is like an episode from The Worst Week of My Life. Could it get any worse? First there’s Liz – the girlfriend he wants to dump but can’t. Then there’s Charlotte who is up for his promotion. Then there’s the hit and run accident, a therapist in hospital and a fire. But oh yes it can get worse and it does.

I loved all three stories – probably a toss up between the first and the last as to which is my favourite. One event in the middle one was too upsetting to put it at the top. The author might guess what I mean. I look forward to reading more of his work.

Many thanks to @damppebbles for inviting me to part of #damppebblesblogtours

About The Author

Alan Gorevan is an award-winning thriller writer and intellectual property attorney. He lives in Dublin.

Social Media:

Twitter: https://twitter.com/alangorevan

Facebook: fb.me/alan.gorevan.books

Website: https://www.alangorevan.com/

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/alangorevan/

YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCPnLW_If4DDhT3L9BL9VOBA

Purchase Links:

Amazon UK: https://amzn.to/3f8vijO

Amazon US: https://amzn.to/2Aw5EpU

#BlogTour #BookSpotlight: One Fatal Night by Helene Fermont

One woman’s quest for revenge unearths a fatal secret from her past. Astrid Jensen holds one man responsible for her mother’s suicide, and she’ll do whatever’s necessary to get close to Daniel Holst and destroy his life – even if it means sleeping with him to gain his trust. Astrid knows he’s not who he pretends to be. But before she can reveal his dark secret, people from her mother’s past start turning up dead, and it looks like she and Daniel are next. In order to survive, she might have to put her trust in the man she has hated for so long.

As part of the blog tour I am delighted to be sharing a #BookSpotlight with you today.

#OneFatalNight #BlogTour #BookSpotlight @helenefermont @damppebbles #damppebblesblogtours Facebook @damppebblesblogtours 

Daniel Holst has worked hard to climb into Norway’s most elite and glamorous circles, and he’s not about to let any woman bring him down. But when a psychopathic killer starts murdering people from his shadowy past, he discovers that the only person who might be able to save him is the woman who wants to destroy him.

As Astrid digs deeper into her past, she uncovers secrets long buried and realizes everything she once believed is based on lies. What began as a quest to avenge her mother’s death becomes a desperate struggle for survival and leads to the truth about what happened one fatal night ten years ago—and the surprising mastermind behind the most recent murders.

Many thanks to @damppebbles for inviting me to take part in this blog tour.

Just to tempt you here is an extract from One Fatal Night:

Chapter One 

DANIEL HOLST COULDN’T take his eyes off the curvy blonde in the corner of the dimly lit foyer on the ground floor of the hotel. He’d decided to attend the celebration of the annual Enterprise Award for Best Business Achievement despite what had taken place earlier that day. Taking a sip of the lukewarm white wine, Daniel decided to throw caution to the wind and walked up to the blonde. His face was so close to hers she took a step back. “Are you who I think you are?” she asked in a sultry voice. Moving closer to her, he said, “That depends. I can be whoever you want me to be, honey.” He pulled out a card from his inner jacket pocket and watched her face fall when she read the name. “You’re Daniel… Daniel Holst? But I’ve n-never met you before! I’ve worked upstairs in accounts for nearly two months… How come I’ve not met you until now?” 

“I don’t normally attend these functions. But tonight’s special, so I decided to make an appearance.” Daniel cleared his throat and took a closer look at her. “What’s your name? I’m not personally involved with members of staff. That’s Joel’s job.” He liked the fact she knew nothing more about him, except that he was her employer. “Joel Wranger? He’s your deputy manager, right?” the girl asked in a shy voice. “That’s right. Joel’s my right arm. We’ve known each other for years.” Daniel omitted telling her Joel was the only person who knew everything there was to know about him. If for some reason, Joel decided to spill the beans, Daniel’s life would be open to scrutiny. He’d put his past behind him and had no intention of going back. Neither did his old friend. Setting her glass on the windowsill behind them, the girl sighed. “I shouldn’t speak out of turn; it’s probably the wine talking. I’ve had too much to drink. But I don’t like him. There’s something about him that gives me the creeps. He keeps asking me out and I keep turning him down. But he still undresses me with his eyes. I feel nauseous when he comes near me.” Brushing his arm against her long hair, Daniel sensed she was brighter than all the other girls working for him. “Is that right? Perhaps I ought to have a word with him?” Watching her eyes fill with dread, mouth trembling, he added, “You needn’t worry that I’ll reveal your name. I’ll just bring to his attention that several members of the staff mentioned he’s too… what’s the word? Too personal for comfort.” Daniel reached for her hand and looked into her eyes, his lean body and her curvaceous figure fit together nicely, but she pulled back a bit. “You’d do that for me?” she asked, staring into his eyes. Like so many other women in his past, he could tell she was attracted to his blue eyes, handsome rugged face, and short white hair. “In a heartbeat,” he said. “I’m pleased you’re not intimidated by my presence. What’s your name, honey?” He deepened his voice and held her gaze. The girl hesitated briefly and then replied, “A-Astrid Jensen. I’ve left Bergen to come and live and work in Oslo. Getting a job here is a dream come true for me.” The words tumbled out quickly and then she put a hand over her mouth as if she wanted to stuff them back in. Eyeing her up and down, Daniel smiled and gently touched her face, replying, “I sense there’s a connection between us. Let’s meet up for a drink. How about we continue this conversation later tonight?” The girl turned to pick up her glass from the windowsill. “Perhaps. Why don’t I give you an answer later? I’ve never seen you before and rumor has it you prefer your own company. Surely, someone in your position would prefer to spend the night with friends and colleagues?” Shaking his head Daniel registered her words and slowly took a step closer to her, his hand gently touching a strand of hair falling into her eyes.

 “Nah, that’s not my style. With my commitments and business taking up all of my time I don’t wish to spend longer than I have to with other people. You and I, we’re two of a kind. Tell you what, think it over and let me know later. I’ll be at the bar waiting for your answer. And, honey, don’t look so worried. I’m a big teddy bear deep down.” He took a step back and wondered what to say next to make her warm to him. “You shouldn’t believe everything you’ve heard about me.” He turned around and walked away, a satisfied grin on his lips. Astrid Jensen was just a pussycat. He’d had his fair share of girls like her, courtesy of Joel. It wasn’t Joel she ought to fear but the man who was her boss. Earlier that day a dead body had been dragged out of the Akeselva River, which ran through the city. Joel had seen to everything, assuring Daniel no one would find out about his involvement with the dead man. If someone found out the truth, his life wouldn’t be worth living, and if Joel so much as breathed a word about it, Daniel would make sure he lived to regret it. Walking up to the bar, grinning at the crowd, he smiled at them, shook hands and proceeded to order Champagne. 

“Tonight’s cause for celebration. I can feel it in my bones. Here’s to Holst Enterprises, the deal is done. All we have to do is wait for the announcement.” Emptying his glass, Daniel looked around him at the cheering crowd. He’d come a long way from the humble beginnings of his childhood. Putting his worries to the back of his mind, Daniel uncorked another bottle of Champagne and said, “Here’s to everyone who worked their asses off to get where we are now!” He heard a voice whisper behind him, “The answer’s yes. I’d love to get to know you better. Why don’t we go back to my place later?” “Great!” He said. “There’s something between us… Don’t take this the wrong way… I know you like your job. I could tell by the way you sounded when you told me you work for me. How about we get to know each other better? I promise you won’t regret it, honey.” His lips brushed hers gently, one hand holding the curve of her spine through the flimsy fabric of her short, tight dress, the other the glass of Champagne. “Sure. I’ll see you later. We’ll continue this conversation then.” 

Walking away from him towards the dance floor brightly lit by spotlights, Astrid smiled. Daniel Holst, you don’t know me, but I know you. When you think you’re safe, I’ll reveal the real reason I’ve left my old life behind. You’ll never get away with what you did. Never. Turning to look at the other people on the dance floor, she saw his eyes were following her every move. She raised her glass and blew him a kiss. So far everything was going according to plan.

About the Author

Hélene is an Anglo-Swedish fiction author currently residing in her home town of Malmo, Sweden, after relocating back from London after 20 years.

Her thrilling character-driven psychological fiction novels are known for their explosive, pacy narrative and storylines.

Hélene is the proud author of four novels – One Fatal Night, Because of You, We Never Said Goodbye and His Guilty Secret.

Social Media:

Twitter: https://twitter.com/helenefermont

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/helenefermontauthor/

Website: https://www.helenefermont.com/

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/helenefermont/

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/15484308.Helene_Fermont

Purchase Links:

Amazon UK: https://amzn.to/2F4wV4Y

Amazon US: https://amzn.to/2GEkAVN

NOOK: https://bit.ly/2ZdQajz

Kobo: https://bit.ly/2F9kNzR

Shades of Deception (Archie Price Victorian & Edwardian Mystery Series) by Jacqueline Jacques

Walthamstow, 1902: Archie and his police sergeant pal Frank Tyrell investigate the disappearance of teenager Lilian and the discovery of a corpse in the River Lea – Eleanor ‘Nell’ Redfern. Did her father’s ambitious plans to marry her to a rail magnate cause her to run away to her watery doom?

#shadesofdeception @jacqjacq70 @honno #RandomThingsTours @annecater @RandomTTours

And what about Lilian Steggles, a star swimmer with her eye on the 1908 Olympics – what prompted her to disappear from home and where is she now?

Archie uses his artistic skills to identify Nell and thence to track down her story and that of the other victims of a dastardly scheme to exploit young girls for the benefit of lascivious older men.

My Review

This was a jolly romp. Sad at times but always told with a sense of humour.

Archie Price is a police artist, drawing life-like images of missing persons to help his pal Detective Inspector Frank Tyrell gain information and also to jog the public’s memory. Have they seen so-and-so? Does this sketch ring a bell?

But Archie is also a renowned painter with pictures hanging in the National Gallery. And if that’s not all, he is painting a giant mural at the Walthamstow Palace, depicting famous stars of the music hall, including Marie Lloyd (the only one I have heard of), Little Tich, Hettie King and others, including a ghastly ventriloquist named Mickey Markov and his hideous puppet Algernon – aren’t they always? Hideous I mean.

One of the things I like best about this book is the in-depth characterisations. Archie I have already mentioned. Then there is photographer Polly who Archie loves dearly, feisty stepdaughter Clara (I always love a Clara as it’s my youngest granddaughter’s name), poor Lilian Steggles, Nell’s only true love apprentice gardener Gil Blackett and many more. They are beautifully drawn and we feel as though we know them. They could be living next door or popping round for a cup of tea.

I love Archie and Polly and of course Clara. And I love Archie’s mum who lives in Wales near Llantwit Major. It’s a place I know well as we used to visit every year when my son studied and then taught at the nearby Atlantic College. The places are beautifully drawn like the characters and I love it when I know the location and can visualise the sea and the cliffs where St Donat’s Castle stands. But I digress.

Many of the women characters are supporters of the suffragette movement, something else I really love, and Archie has sympathy for the movement.

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

About the Author

Jacqueline Jacques was born on Anglesey and brought up in Walthamstow, where many of her stories are set. She is a retired primary school teacher, now living in Buckhurst Hill, Essex. She has published three books with Piatkus – Someone to Watch Over Me, Wrong Way Up The Slide and A Lazy Eye. This is her fifth book for Honno, which combine her love of writing with her other interests: art and social history.

Betrayal by Lilja Sigurðardóttir

Burned out and traumatised by her horrifying experiences around the world, aid worker Úrsula has returned to Iceland. Unable to settle, she accepts a high-profile government role in which she hopes to make a difference again.

#betrayal @lilja1972 @OrendaBooks #RandomThingsTours @annecater @RandomTTours #IcelandNoir


But on her first day in the post, Úrsula promises to help a mother seeking justice for her daughter, who had been raped by a policeman, and life in high office soon becomes much more harrowing than Úrsula could ever have imagined. A homeless man is stalking her – but is he hounding her, or warning her of some danger? And the death of her father in police custody so many years ago rears its head once again.

As Úrsula is drawn into dirty politics, facing increasingly deadly threats, the lives of her stalker, her bodyguard and even a witch-like cleaning lady intertwine. Small betrayals become large ones, and the stakes are raised ever higher…

The award-winning internationally bestselling author Lilja Sigurðardóttir returns with Betrayal, a relevant, powerful, fast-paced thriller about the worlds of politics, police corruption and misogyny that feels just a little bit too real…

Betrayal is translated by Quentin Bates

My Review

Who would have thought that this kind of thing would go on in Iceland? To us here in the UK it’s a country full of ice and snow where we go to see the Northern Lights and pay a fortune for a glass of wine. But it seems that politics there are as corrupt as anywhere else in the world.

Betrayal is a great story, full of lies and intrigue and dirty politics, with the Media prepared to go to any lengths to uncover gossip that will bring down the Ministry, including newly appointed Úrsula.

I’m torn about the character of Úrsula. I understand the things she has done as an aid worker, her desire to help the vulnerable and her ambition to change things in Iceland. But she has two children and a husband at home. I could never have left mine and put them at risk. But that’s just me (maybe I’m not the feminist I think I am). And sometimes her naivety in the job got on my nerves a bit.

However, I really like Stella. I’m not sure why, but I think it’s to do with the spells and the superstitions which have always fascinated me. It gives this novel a touch of magical realism, which is probably my favourite genre, separating it from other crime novels. Stella’s grandmother appearing, the runes and the invisibility spell – I was never sure what was real and what was her imagination.

And I like Gunnar. He’s a real hero, ready to put himself in danger to protect Úrsula and her family. Like The Bodyguard without the sex (spoiler alert). I imagine him looking like Dolph Lundgren (about 25 years ago).

Each of the characters has his or her own thread which seem to cross paths at times, but how are they all connected and will they finally come together? What could possible connect Stella, who is simply a cleaner at the ministry, scheming journalist Thorbjorn, newsreader Greta, a homeless man and a policeman accused of rape in another town. Betrayal is intricately woven and sometimes you have to really concentrate to know what’s going on, but I enjoyed every minute.

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

About the Author

Icelandic crime-writer Lilja Sigurdardóttir was born in the town of Akranes in 1972 and raised in Mexico, Sweden, Spain and Iceland. An award-winning playwright, Lilja has written four crime novels, including Snare, Trap and Cage, making up the Reykjavik Noir trilogy, which have hit bestseller lists worldwide. The film rights have been bought by Palomar Pictures in California. She lives in Reykjavík with her partner.

The Stolen Sisters by Louise Jensen

Three little girls missing. One family torn apart…

Leah’s perfect marriage isn’t what it seems but the biggest lie of all is that she’s learned to live with what happened all those years ago. Marie drinks a bit too much to help her forget. And Carly has never forgiven herself for not keeping them safe.

Twenty years ago these three sisters were taken. What came after they disappeared was far worse. It should have brought them together, but how can a family ever recover? Especially when not everyone is telling the truth

#TheStolenSisters @Fab_fiction @HarperCollinsUK

My Review

Three sisters – twins Leah and Marie – and Carly, the ‘odd one out’. Same mother, different fathers. But always together, looking out for one another until that terrible day. The day they were taken. The day they were kidnapped.

Twenty years later and they can’t forget, forgive or let go. But then who would under the circumstances? Marie is an actress who drinks too much. Drinks to forget? If so, it doesn’t work. It never does. Leah has an OCD about germs. She wears gloves, uses her own mug when she visits others or goes to a cafe, has been sectioned once and her husband George can’t cope with a relapse. But they have a 4 year old son called Archie and she must help herself before she loses them both. Leah is also terrified of seeing one of her captors – she sees him everywhere. Terrified he will take Archie. She is on the edge.

Then there’s Carly. She was thirteen when they were stolen – the twins were only eight. Carly had to protect them. She sacrificed herself to keep them safe. I loved Carly the best. Brave and fiercely loyal. I have to admit that I occasionally struggled with Leah’s OCD. I know I shouldn’t but I kept thinking of little Archie (my mother suffered with chronic anxiety, agoraphobia and a fear of killing herself). It left me with fears I didn’t understand. I was desperate for Leah to get help before Archie became afraid of everything around him.

This book is so well thought out. Every stave (this is how we read with The Pigeonhole – a stave a day for 10 days) ended with a cliffhanger. About half way through I even tried to buy it on Amazon but it wasn’t yet published. I’d have finished it in one go. I can’t pretend there weren’t occasionally things I would have wanted to turn out differently, but that’s just me. A fabulous, scary, suspenseful read. Brilliant! Oh and I cried but I’m not telling you when.

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

About the Author

Louise Jensen has sold over a million English language copies of her International No. 1 psychological thrillers The Sister, The Gift, The Surrogate, The Date and The Family. Her novels have also been translated into twenty-five languages, as well as featuring on the USA Today and Wall Street Journal Bestseller’s List. Louise’s sixth thriller, The Stolen Sisters, was published in Autumn 2020 by Harper Collins.

The Sister was nominated for the Goodreads Debut Author of 2016 Award. The Date was nominated for The Guardian’s ‘Not The Booker’ Prize 2018. The Surrogate has been nominated for the best Polish thriller of 2018. The Gift has been optioned for a TV film. The Family was a Fern Britton Bookclub pick.

Louise also has a penchant for exploring the intricacies of relationships through writing heart-breaking, high-concept love stories under the pen name Amelia Henley. Her romantic debut, The Life We Almost Had is out now.

Louise lives with her husband, children, madcap dog and a rather naughty cat in Northamptonshire. She loves to hear from readers and writers.

The Assistant by Cathryn Grant

Two women. One office. A fight to the death.
 
Laura has sacrificed a lot for her high-powered career – her marriage, the chance to have kids. Now, finally, she’s in line for a big jump up the corporate ladder – all the way to the boardroom. But there’s a fly in the ointment in the shape of beautiful Vanessa, a lowly assistant who seems to have it in for Laura.

#TheAssistant @CathrynGrant #InkubatorBooks @damppebbles #damppebblesblogtours Facebook @damppebblesblogtours 

Vanessa is PA to Hank, the most powerful executive in the company, a man whose support Laura desperately needs if she is to secure the job of her dreams. Repelled by Laura’s naked ambition, fiercely possessive of her boss, Vanessa deliberately sabotages Laura’s every attempt to make a good impression on Hank.
 
Laura threatens and cajoles but Vanessa just won’t play fair. Soon their mutual dislike escalates to an all-out war. But career-obsessed Laura has always been willing to do whatever it takes to get ahead. And if Vanessa stands in her way… she’s going to pay the ultimate price

My Review

What a highly entertaining and fast paced read. I read this over one weekend. Just sat in the garden on the second day with my lunch of Shakshouka and Miso soup (yes I am that pretentious) and kept reading. It’s not a long book and it doesn’t stop for breath – a bit like Laura when she’s running on the High School track.

Neither Vanessa nor Laura are actually very nice. But what starts off as rather silly office rivalry starts to turn darker and more sinister. Laura wants the promotion that is on offer. She’s made for it. An MBA and a high flying CV – who else would be good enough apart from her?

Vanessa, on the other hand, looks for her kicks elsewhere. Her hobby is shoplifting and she thinks she’s very good at it. Unlike Laura, Vanessa is only the admin assistant to boss Hank, but she protects him like a doctor’s receptionist. And that includes keeping Laura at arm’s length. In this case the arm of a very tall basketball player and then some. Vanessa is not ambitious about her career, but she likes to be noticed, a bit too much at times with her tight slacks, high heels and lashings of lip gloss (frantically hiding my lip gloss in my bag as I write – it’s obviously the sign of a loose-moralled temptress). Laura can’t understand why Vanessa dresses so provocatively for work, It can only be to attract men – particularly Hank.

Laura’s gradual descent into all out madness is slightly unbelievable and somewhat Shakespearean, but as I’ve said many times, this is fiction. Otherwise it would be BORING. However, how far it goes was a shock to me and hopefully to other readers. I wasn’t expecting it. A very enjoyable read with a dark twist.

Many thanks to @damppebbles for inviting me to part of #damppebblesblogtours

About the Author

Cathryn is the author of the Alexandra Mallory series, featuring a sociopath you can’t help but love. She is also the author of ten psychological thrillers, including The Good Neighbor and The Guest, published by Inkubator Books.

Cathryn Grant’s fiction has appeared in Alfred Hitchcock and Ellery Queen Mystery Magazines, The Shroud Quarterly Journal, and been anthologised in The Best of Every Day Fiction and You, Me & A Bit of We. Her short story, ‘I Was Young Once‘, received an honourable mention in the 2007 Zoetrope All-story Short Fiction contest.

Her psychological suspense fiction reveals the motives and desires that lead to suburban crime. She’s obsessed with the ‘why’ behind human behaviour. In real crime, too many times, the why is left unanswered. Cathryn’s fiction tells the stories of ordinary people driven to commit crimes, especially homicide. Cathryn also writes ghost stories – The Haunted Ship Trilogy and the Madison Keith series of novellas.

When she’s not writing, she’s usually reading fiction, walking on the beach, or playing golf, trying desperately to avoid hitting her ball in the sand or the water. She lives on the Central California Coast with her husband and two cats.

You can contact Cathryn at her website cathryngrant.com

Mirrorland by Carole Johnstone

Cat lives in Los Angeles, about as far away as she can get from her estranged twin sister El and No. 36 Westeryk Road, the imposing Gothic house in Edinburgh where they grew up. As girls, they invented Mirrorland, a dark, imaginary place under the pantry stairs full of pirates, witches, and clowns. These days Cat rarely thinks about their childhood home, or the fact that El now lives there with her husband Ross.

But when El mysteriously disappears after going out on her sailboat, Cat is forced to return to the grand old house, which has scarcely changed in twenty years. No. 36 Westeryk Road is still full of shadowy, hidden corners, and at every turn Cat finds herself stumbling on long-held secrets and terrifying ghosts from the past. Because someone—El?—has left Cat clues all over the house: a treasure hunt that leads right back to Mirrorland, where she knows the truth lies crouched and waiting…

A twisty, dark, and brilliantly crafted thriller about love and betrayal, redemption and revenge, Mirrorland is a propulsive, page-turning debut about the power of imagination and the price of freedom.

My Review

Every once in a while you know you have read something special, something original, something so overwhelmingly beautiful and sad that you feel like your heart is breaking. Mirrorland is that something. Dark and unsettling, the more you read, the more you cannot imagine what the next chapter holds. It’s like holding your breath underwater, afraid to surface, yet more afraid to remain.

I’m not going to say it’s for fans of… or for those who like…. because this book is like no other. It twists and surprises and then twists again, till you no longer know who is telling the truth or even who is who.

Catriona and Ellice lived out their childhood in a world of their own invention. A world called Mirrorland. Populated with pirates, clowns, adventurers, Belle, Mouse and The Witch, the only other child allowed into their world was Ross. That is, until the girls are found wandering, bloody and wretched at the dock, waiting for a pirate ship to take them away.

Many years later El has gone missing from her sailboat The Redemption and Cat still remembers nothing of that fateful night when they were both 12 years old. Having spent the rest of their childhood in care, El eventually marries Ross and Cat has gone to live in California. She hasn’t been home or spoken to El since the day she left. But now Cat is forced to come back. She is certain that El is still alive, because as mirror twins, she would know if El was dead. Except no-one believes her.

Once Cat is back in the old house where she and El lived with Mum and Grandpa (El and Ross bought it back), she is forced to face her worst fears and discover the truth. But is the truth really the truth and who is leaving cards on the doorstep and emailing her clues? Convinced it is El, Cat is drawn into a nightmare world where only returning to Mirrorland can save her.

To say this book is fantastic would not do it justice. It’s just brilliant and amazing and every other adjective I can think of.

Many thanks to #NetGalley for an ARC in exchange for an honest review.

About the Author

Carole Johnstone’s award-winning short fiction has appeared in annual ‘Best of’ anthologies in the US and UK. Her debut novel, Mirrorland, will be published in spring 2021 by Borough Press/HarperCollins in the UK and Commonwealth and by Scribner/Simon & Schuster in North America. She lives in Argyll and Bute, Scotland.

An Irrational Fear of Dogs by Veronika Jordan

Extracts from An Irrational Fear of Dogs by Veronika Jordan @cookiebiscuit #shortstories

Double Bill (Extract)

Goodbye Sarah. I bet you thought we would be friends forever. How wrong you were. The two of us were going to stand here and watch as Bill’s coffin was lowered into the ground. We pictured ourselves distraught, crying on each other’s shoulders, coming together in our shared grief, holding hands and laughing through crocodile tears, taking turns throwing earth on the coffin, our airline tickets to Rio de Janeiro safely tucked away in our Gucci handbags. But now it’s just me standing here, watching as your coffin is lowered into the ground. Goodbye Sarah. You thought we would be friends forever. How wrong you were.

            It all began two or so years ago when I started going to the Top Rank in Watford. I was a widow. My husband of fourteen years had died after being run over by an ambulance. It was coming towards him, sirens blaring and lights flashing but he was too preoccupied reading the Times Literary Supplement to notice it. When they took him to hospital they found the paper open at the review of a new book called ‘How to Survive in a Dangerous World’. They eventually found his will on the back of a brown envelope stuffed behind the radiator. He had left everything to his ageing mother in Worthing.  I could never forgive him for that. He had left me penniless. For a year I was too distressed to go out, till I saw an advert in the Watford Observer. It was for a Salsa dancing class; you know the kind of thing, lots of single ladies of a certain age and rather less men, all looking for company. I decided to go on Thursdays. It was beginners’ night and that was where I met Bill. He told me he was quite an experienced dancer and went twice a week. It showed. He was good. He spun me round the floor, his hips swaying in time to ‘La Receta’ by Johnny Polanco. I soon picked it up. Two lessons and I was hooked on Salsa and Bill was hooked on me.

An Irrational Fear of Dogs (Extract)

The August sun was shining high above her, warming everything beneath it and casting its shadow all around the bushes where she was hiding. She watched the long summer-bleached grass waving gently in the breeze and shuddered. She could hear the children laughing and screaming as they played around her. She felt safe here, for now. But did they?

Her heart beat faster, her hands were hot and clammy, her breath shorter and shorter. It was as if someone or something was sitting on her chest while a noose was being pulled tighter and tighter round her neck and she could no longer breathe. She flung her arms around wildly, tossing her head from side to side, afraid to go back to sleep but more afraid to wake up. So the fear had begun a few years earlier when Phoebe was only four or five years old, this fear, this irrational fear.

‘Wrap me up Mummy, wrap me up, tighter, tighter.’ She liked to feel cocooned by something tightly and safely wrapped around her. It could be her soft pink blanket or the soap-sudsy bathwater or just sitting inside the car with the doors and windows shut tight.

            ‘Mummy, where are you?’ Phoebe shivered as the wind whipped through the bathroom window, making the time-stiffened plastic shower curtain crackle, leaving her feeling open and vulnerable.

            ‘I’m here darling,’ and her mother wrapped her up in a big fluffy white towel and she felt safe again, like a chick in the nest.

I was 27 when my mother went into a mental hospital for a few months. She had been on barbiturates for over 25 years and the doctor wanted to take her off them. I used to visit her once or twice a week. In the same dreary day room a middle-aged lady with half-closed eyes and tousled grey hair sat on a high-backed armchair and rocked backwards and forwards like a mother grieving for her long dead baby. She rarely spoke to anyone, not even when someone spoke to her. The nurse told me that she was being treated for an irrational fear of dogs. As a child in the 1950s she had been sent to live in an orphanage run by the nuns of Nazareth House. When she was naughty they locked her in the cellar and all she could hear was the barking of the dogs above her through the grating that led to the street. I didn’t think her fear was at all irrational.

The Sweet Smell of Lilies (Extract)

Lilies remind me of funerals. Not a very original observation, I hear you thinking. Why not roses or gardenias or boring old Sweet Williams or those plants that everyone loves the smell of except me, stocks, I think they are called. No there is something about lilies, especially white ones, that is associated with death.

            The 8.22 from Cheltenham is rumbling past Didcot Power Station. ‘Choo choo,’ it goes.  I look for the Fat Controller but he isn’t there. Only a thin man with a gaunt face and a copy of the Guardian and a woman with cheap luggage and cheap shoes. She has poisoned her entire family and fled her home in the country to run away with the thin man with the gaunt face. But her cheap luggage and the Guardian are too mismatched so I give up there and then.

            At Paddington there is a crowd thronging around some event of which I have no knowledge. A minor celebrity has stepped down from the train perhaps and collapsed on the floor, having been shot twice in the leg and chest by a crazed fan with a Colt.45. I am sure I can smell sulphur. The police come quickly. Everyone will be arrested. I must flee the crime scene quickly in case they think it was me. The evidence is in my handbag. My fingerprints are all over the gun.

            ‘Help! Help! It wasn’t me,’ I cry, ‘I am innocent. I was on a train passing Didcot Power Station at the time officer. You can ask the Fat Controller or the thin man…..’

            Suddenly a man with a small moustache stands up in the middle of the throng and brushes himself down. He is embarrassed, I can see that.

            ‘I am so sorry,’ he says, ‘I tripped.’

            The crowd moves on, uncaring now. I move with them. I have an appointment with death. I am going to my uncle’s funeral in Willesden. He died in suspicious circumstances. He was poisoned. He was alone at the time you see…

The Indulgence (Extract)

‘How long have you been dead?’ asked the angel, not even looking up once at the pretty young woman sitting across the desk in front of him.

            ‘About 30 years,’ she replied. ‘I am not sure. Time moves slowly when you have nothing to do.’

            ‘Do you miss your children? Your family?’

            ‘I don’t know,’ she said, ‘I can’t remember. Did I have any? Children that is, I must have had a family of some sort. Is this a job interview?’

            ‘Some might call it that. Personally I would call it an “indulgence”.’ The angel dipped his pen in a bottle of Quink and continued scratching shapes on the page.

            ‘Have I been good? Is that why you are “indulging” me?’

            ‘It’s not about good or bad,’ he replied, ‘it’s just your time.’

            ‘30 years? Is that my time?’ She fidgeted nervously.

            ‘Yes,’ said the angel, never even glancing at this small, slight woman who was twitching and rubbing her hands together. Anyone with a modicum of compassion would have appreciated how she felt. But not him…

            ‘Am I still pretty?’ She asked.

            ‘I wouldn’t know,’ he replied. ‘That’s not my department. You need to ask someone from the Department of Girlfriends, Models and Attention Seekers, or DoGMAS for short.’

            ‘Why? Do they keep all our pictures in the attic? Do they age and we don’t, like Dorian Gray?’

            ‘Gray? Dorian? Oh yes, accidental death by poisoning? No, no, he was the one in the boat, when the engine caught….’

            ‘Forget it,’ she said, ‘It’s a book, by Oscar Wilde.’

Stage of fools (Extract)

‘It is a simple tale. What begins in love and jubilation ends in hate and misery. Fate turns all fortunes on her wheel and smothered fires grow hotter in every time and place…What will a righteous passion leave undared?’ King Lear by William Shakespeare

It was a fascination with Greek tragedy, brought on no doubt by a boy’s experiences of the Classics at public school that led Peter Meadows to follow his childhood ambition and stage a West End production of Medea. Now approaching that milestone age which shall only be spoken in whispers when one is quasi-famous, he believed it to be now or never. Justine preferred never, but then always more pragmatic and less self-indulgent than her husband, she was the one who paid (or frequently didn’t pay when they had no money) the ever increasing bills that fanned themselves out on the floor of the porch like the spreading flare of a peacock’s tail feathers, vying for attention.

            ‘They’ll take care of themselves,’ Peter would say if she tutted and then throw them over his shoulder to land in a pile on the floor.

            ‘Non cherie, they will not,’ she replied and picked them up, stuffing them into the sagging pockets of her long brown cardigan, before adding them to the teetering pile that was now becoming a fire hazard in the conservatory.

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