Kill a Stranger by Simon Kernick

They took your fiancée.
They framed you for murder.

You’re given one chance to save her. To clear your name.
You must kill someone for them.

They give you the time and place.
The weapon. The target.

You have less than 24 hours.
You only know that no-one can be trusted…and nothing is what it seems.

My Review

Very clever plotting with lots of twists and turns. Who can you trust? Well probably no-one. I found parts of this hilarious (I hope I was supposed to). These are the parts where Matt is concerned. Matt is a handsome actor, whose only TV role of any merit was as a police officer in Night Beat. He met Kate in Sri Lanka and stayed there to be with her. When confronted with her kidnapping and attempts to save her, he really hasn’t a clue and turns into Frank Spencer from Some Mothers do ‘ave ’em.

Kate is the most suspicious. Has she really been kidnapped or did she stage it herself. And if she did then why. Sir Hugh Roper is her father, but for years he had nothing to do with her. Her mother was the cleaner with whom he had a little dalliance. Ex-wife Diana is a gold-carat bitch who hates Hugh’s illegitimate offspring. Her own daughter Alana died and son Tom is the black sheep who has been disinherited. Any of them could be guilty.

DCI Cameron Doyle doesn’t trust any of them. He thinks they are all lying. He could be right.

When Matt discovers Kate has been kidnapped he will kill to get her back. Literally. He will have to murder someone in exchange for her safe release. Then it’s a race against time to save her. Don’t bother I say! She’s not what or who you think. It’s a great, fast-paced read that will keep you up at night trying to guess the truth.

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

About the Author

Simon Kernick (born 1966 in Slough, Berkshire) is a British thriller/crime writer now living in Oxfordshire with his wife and two daughters. He attended Gillotts School, a comprehensive in Henley-on-Thames, Oxfordshire. Whilst he was a student his jobs included fruitpicker and Christmas-tree uprooter. He graduated from Brighton Polytechnic in 1991 with a degree in humanities.

Kernick had a passion for crime fiction writing from a young age and produced many short stories during his time at polytechnic. After graduating Kernick joined MMT Computing in London in early 1992, where a relative was the Chairman and Managing Director. Kernick was a key member of the sales team and was very highly regarded. However, he left the company after four years in the hope of trying to secure a publishing deal. Despite interest from a number of publishers Kernick was unable to secure a deal, so he joined the sales force of the specialist IT and Business Consultancy Metaskil plc in Aldermaston, Berkshire in 1998 where he remained until he secured his first book deal The Business of Dying in September 2001. His novel Relentless was recommended on Richard & Judy’s Summer book club 2007. It was the 8th best-selling paperback, and the best-selling thriller in the UK in the same year.

Dead Already by Tim Adler

What if someone you accidentally killed came back to haunt you?

When the perfect crime results in the kidnap and murder of Megan, his only child, East End villain Mickey Speight is grief stricken. But now, nearly thirty years later, Megan sends a message to her father, gone-to-ground in present-day Margate.

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As the messages from his dead daughter keep coming, Mickey teams up with a young American female therapist to discover whether this really is a voice from beyond the grave, or if somebody has loomed out of Mickey’s past wanting revenge. Someone is fingering Mickey’s collar and Mickey doesn’t like it.

Mickey realises that he must haunt the old East End boozers, betting shops and strip clubs of his youth if he’s to find out what really happened to his daughter.

My Review

I love books that are set in places I’ve been to – I was in Margate in the summer as well as a couple of years ago. I think it’s a great place, with a great atmosphere and the Turner Contemporary is amazing. Not the kind of place you would find Mickey Speight though. He’s more the strip joint type. An old East End lag.

I love the way Mickey’s parts of the book (we also hear from Taybor and others) is written in his ‘voice’ even when he is not speaking as such. It’s a great story-telling technique, one I often try to imitate. Now I am no judge of East End villains never having met one, but the way Mickey ‘tells’ the story seems very authentic.

I did struggle a bit with the bad language (and I’m not just talking about the ‘f’ word) I have to admit – it’s the second book in two weeks where I’ve had to put my feelings aside – but I guess it was normal to them. Or maybe I’m just a prude when it comes to swearing.

Mickey and his wife Linda run the St George’s pub in Margate. It’s basically a lap dancing club. It’s Mickey’s pride and joy. There is no funny business or drugs or hard porn – he doesn’t approve – and he takes care of his ‘dancers’. Again I’m out of my depth. We don’t see that kind of thing in Cheltenham – except during Cheltenham Races when we get mobile lap dancing venues. I jest not.

But Mickey has an enemy, Mr Khan, a property developer, who will go to any lengths to get Mickey to sell up so he can build houses on the land. Again, you need to understand that some of the ‘racist’ language used here (I’m not going to say what as I know Amazon won’t approve my review) is how the old villains spoke to each other. Again, the author is being authentic. It’s a bit like showing everyone smoking in a 1970s cop show on TV. People are offended and complain, but they did it.

Detective Chief Inspector June Taybor, a week off retirement, is the police officer who led the original investigation into the disappearance of Mickey’s daughter Megan, and here she is again, facing her nemesis.

Mickey is not a very likeable character, but there is just enough sympathy there to make you want to keep him alive. Only just. It goes without saying that the story is very good, but for me it was the final third that really gripped me. This is where it all started to change. The twist was such a shock – even if you guessed one bit of it, the truth was much cleverer. Poor Mickey – he never knew what hit him (metaphorically speaking). The whole outcome was just brilliant and a bit sad to be honest.

And the lesson to be learnt. It may be the East End way but never take the law into your own hands. It just doesn’t pay.

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

About the Author

Tim Adler is a journalist and former commissioning editor on the Daily Telegraph, who has also written for the Financial Times and The Times.

His debut self-published thriller Slow Bleed went to number one in the US Amazon Kindle psychological thriller chart. Its follow-up Surrogate stayed in the top 40 psychological thrillers for more than a year. Bestselling crime author Peter James said of Tim’s third novel Hold Still, “Adler’s engaging style and sharp pace kept me glued”.

The Sunday Times called Tim’s most recent nonfiction book The House of Redgrave “compulsively readable” while The Mail On Sunday called it “dazzling”. Tim’s previous book Hollywood and the Mob was Book of the Week in The Mail On Sunday and Critic’s Choice in the Daily Mail.

Tim is a former London Editor of Deadline Hollywood, the US entertainment news website.

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Crime and Justice by Martin Bodenham

What if we could no longer trust DNA profiling, the silver bullet of our criminal justice system? For years, we’ve relied on it to solve decades-old crimes, convict the guilty, and liberate the innocent from death row. But what happens to that trust when a crime lab scientist is leaned on to manipulate the evidence or, worse still, lose it altogether?

Ruthless Seattle mayor, Patti Rainsford, announces her candidacy for state governor. She’ll do anything to succeed. When her son is arrested for the rape and assault of a seventeen-year-old girl, Rainsford’s political career is in jeopardy.

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Detective Linda Farrell is assigned to investigate. After twelve years working in SPD’s sexual assault unit, her career is drifting, not helped by the single-minded detective’s contempt for police protocol and the pressure of her failing marriage. The high-profile rape case is a rare chance to shine and maybe even get her life back on track. Nothing will stop her seeking justice for the young victim.

With a mountain of personal debt and his wife’s business on a knife-edge, Clark Stanton is facing financial meltdown. Then a stranger offers him a lifeline in return for a favour. As the manager of Seattle’s crime lab, all Clark has to do is make the rape kit evidence against the mayor’s son go away.

My Review

A police drama with a difference. Not my usual feast of murder and bodies piling up. This one is about politics and the lengths some people will go to in order to move up the political ladder. In this case it involves corruption, a rape case that won’t go away and an attempt to manipulate evidence by switching the DNA.

Detective Linda Farrell just won’t let go. She knows something is wrong but she can’t prove it. Because DNA never lies, but people do.

Linda’s marriage is falling apart, her son is misbehaving at school, her career is going nowhere and her boss is fed up with her changing her mind about this very high profile case.

Clark is just an ordinary guy married to Anna. They have two lovely kids who he adores. He’s the manager at the crime lab where they will be examining the samples taken from Chace Rainsford and from the victim in order to get a match. Patti Rainsford wants to be the next senator but her son Chace can’t keep his pants on. All she needs is for his DNA to disappear and no-one will know what he did. But how to make Clark play ball – easy when you have a minder like Jeff Peltz. And blackmail is a simple thing isn’t it. Because Peltz knows they always roll over when you push hard enough and threaten their family.

There were so many times when I wanted to scream at Clark. Don’t do it! Go to the police! It’s not worth it. And Linda is still chomping at the bit, determined to get a conviction

Then just when you think it’s all sorted the actual ending – not the ending but the ending ending will have you gasping. It did me. Brilliant twist. I can’t stop thinking about it.

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

About the Author

Martin Bodenham is the author of the crime thrillers The Geneva Connection, Once a Killer, and Shakedown. Crime And Justice is his latest novel.

After a thirty-year career in private equity and corporate finance in London, Martin moved to the west coast of Canada, where he writes full-time. He held corporate finance partner positions at both KPMG and Ernst & Young as well as senior roles at several private equity firms before founding his own private equity company in 2001. Much of the tension in his thrillers is based on the greed and fear he witnessed first-hand while working in international finance.

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Gravity Is the Thing by Jaclyn Moriarty

The adult debut from bestselling, award-winning young adult author Jaclyn Moriarty—a frequently hilarious, brilliantly observed novel—that follows a single mother’s heartfelt search for greater truths about the universe, her family and herself.

Twenty years ago, Abigail Sorenson’s brother Robert went missing one day before her sixteenth birthday, never to be seen again. That same year, she began receiving scattered chapters in the mail of a self-help manual, the Guidebook, whose anonymous author promised to make her life soar to heights beyond her wildest dreams.

The Guidebook’s missives have remained a constant in Abi’s life—a befuddling yet oddly comforting voice through her family’s grief over her brother’s disappearance, a move across continents, the devastating dissolution of her marriage, and the new beginning as a single mother and café owner in Sydney.

Now, two decades after receiving those first pages, Abi is invited to an all-expenses paid weekend retreat to learn “the truth” about the Guidebook. It’s an opportunity too intriguing to refuse. If Everything is Connected, then surely the twin mysteries of the Guidebook and a missing brother must be linked?

What follows is completely the opposite of what Abi expected––but it will lead her on a journey of discovery that will change her life––and enchant readers. Gravity Is the Thing is a smart, unusual, wickedly funny novel about the search for happiness that will break your heart into a million pieces and put it back together, bigger and better than before.

My Review

It took me a while to get into this book. There’s a lot of self-discovery and looking inwards and truth-seeking that I hate to admit that I found a bit tedious. It’s all rather flowery and overlong at times. I sometimes wished it would just get on with the story. Maybe if I had more time to savour the beauty of the words I would have enjoyed the first half more.

Abigail is a lovely character, though at times you wish she would stop blaming herself for everything that has gone wrong in her life. Such as the disappearance of her brother Robert after his MS diagnosis and the devastating breakup of her marriage (he was a selfish idiot). Then she gets an invitation to a retreat to learn the truth about the Guidebook she received as a teenager.

Intrigued but sceptical, she goes along and meets a variety of wonderful (and not so wonderful) people. Together they will embark on a journey that will change all their lives.

About two-thirds of the way through I really began to love and enjoy the story. There’s still a little too much musing and not enough action for me, but it was starting to grip me now and I couldn’t wait for the next stave (reading with online book club the Pigeonhole you get one ‘stave’ a day for ten days). I had to find out what happened to Robert. We all did.

I nearly forget about Oscar. He’s Abi’s four year old son. The star of the show. He’s adorable and hilarious. Some of the things he says reminded my of my four-year old granddaughter Holly and did make me laugh. Everywhere he and Abi go he has to take ‘everyone’ with them – everyone being not teddies or Action Man (that dates me) type toys, but bits of plastic with no human attributes and then play goodies and baddies with them. Now at this point I have to admit that when I was a child I had to take some of my teddies to the cinema or café and I would line them up on the spare seats in pairs. There’s something you don’t admit to every day!

And then there’s Wilbur. We all love Wilbur but you’ll have to read the book to understand why.

PS I nearly forgot to say I cried towards the end. Well probably for most of the last part. But in a good way.

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

About the Author

Jaclyn Moriarty is an Australian writer of young adult literature.

She studied English at the University of Sydney, and law at Yale University and Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge, where she was awarded a PhD.

She is the younger sister of Liane Moriarty. She was previously married to Canadian writer Colin McAdam, and has a son, Charlie. She currently lives in Sydney.

Fallout (The Nick Sullivan Thrillers Book 1) by Karla Forbes

Blackmail. Complacency. A nuclear threat turned real.

A group of unknown terrorists are blackmailing the British government with a quantity of plutonium left over from the Cold War.

Only one man knows their identity and can prevent a disaster, but he is on the run for a murder he didn’t commit and has no intention of being found.

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Whilst the authorities attempt to track him down, they pin their hopes on the thought that a bunch of amateurs wouldn’t have knowledge of how to deal with nuclear technology, and the worst they could manage might be a dirty bomb. After all, everyone knows it’s not really that dangerous: people run away from the explosion, and the radiation drifts harmlessly into the atmosphere.

But what if the terrorists had found a way to keep the radiation near to the ground, and to encourage people to hang around, breathing in death? What if when you invite them to their own slaughter, they come willingly? It would be dangerous then, wouldn’t it? The clock is ticking…

My Review

I’m exhausted after that! I must stop using the term ‘roller-coaster of a ride’ but I can’t think of anything else appropriate. The tension and excitement never let up.

Poor Nick! One minute he’s a rich financial whizz kid with a posh house, a beautiful wife and an Aston Martin – the next he’s witnessed the brutal murder of his friend by three unknown men, but no-one believes him and he is on the run. He has motive you see, and opportunity. But to say much more would be a spoiler.

Ed is his childhood friend and the only person he can turn to for help. But Ed is a Police Officer and to help a murderer on the run (even if he is innocent) would put his job in jeopardy. But someone else wants to help – Ed’s sister Annelies, who has always had a crush on Nick – but she wouldn’t would she?

The three men Nick witnessed have a quantity of plutonium left over from the Cold War. They are going to use it to blackmail the government into handing over 60 million quid’s worth of diamonds in exchange for not releasing a number of plutonium ‘dirty bombs’ into the atmosphere. And Nick is going to follow them. They have a car and a white van. Why do they need two vehicles? What exactly is in the back of the van and why is it kept padlocked? The mysteries – and the bodies – are piling up and the plot gets more and more complicated. Once I got to around two-thirds of the way through, I just couldn’t stop reading. It was too exciting.

In her Twitter profile it says that Karla writes about: ‘murder, terrorism, blackmail, revenge, war, death and plutonium’. I think that sums it up nicely don’t you think.

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

About the Author

Karla Forbes first began writing books when she was twelve years old. Heavily influenced by Ian Fleming, she wrote about guns, fast cars and spies. Naturally, she knew nothing of her chosen subject and was forced to use her imagination to make it up as she went along. These books, half a dozen in total, ended up being thrown out with the rubbish. Several years later, she dabbled in a futuristic sitcom and a full length horror story. Although both of these efforts were also consigned to literary oblivion, at least no one could have accused her of being in a genre rut.

She began writing properly more than twelve years ago and her first book, The Preacher was published on Amazon in July 2011. Thirteen books in total are available to download from the Amazon kindle book store. She writes about ordinary people who find themselves in extraordinary situations and she aims for unusual but scarily believable plots with a surprising twist.

She moved from Sussex to Scotland in 2020 and is enjoying the stunning scenery and friendly people but feeling less enthusiastic about the weather.

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The Heat by Sean O’Leary

Jake is a loner who works nights in a Darwin motel and lives at the YMCA. He’s in love with Angel, a Thai prostitute who works out of the low-rent Shark Motel.

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A vicious murder turns Jake’s life into a nightmare. He must fight for his life on the heat-soaked streets of Darwin and Bangkok in the wet season, to get revenge, and to get his life back.

My Review

This is a short, snappy, fast-paced read. Not my usual genre. Very strange to have a first person narrative written by a main character (Jake) who is schizophrenic, a casual drug user, wastes his money on stupid bets which you know he’s going to lose (I could have slapped him at these times) and is highly aggressive and keeps getting into fights, but still has a sense of moral duty when it comes to helping others. And no-one else, including horrid police officer Cooper, can understand why Jake loves prostitute Angel and will do anything to help her and avenge her murder.

I cannot pretend that I didn’t find some of this book quite shocking. Without being sexist and making sweeping generalisations, I felt that this is a book written by a man for men. It’s not just the trivialisation of the rife prostitution in Bangkok (just something that goes on) or the police corruption in Darwin, but the use of bad language throughout, the sex, the constant drug use by almost everyone Jake knows, and the violence that lurks everywhere. I found some of the graphic descriptions rather distasteful but the story is so good I did not let it distract me. I’m a big girl now. I can handle it.

It’s definitely not a slow burn. It’s like being hit over the head with a stone in a sock – not that I’ve ever experienced that, thank goodness. It smacks you in the face like Jake’s punches from Tommy and then gives you a good kicking for good measure. It will not be for everyone so be warned if you are easily offended and stay clear. However, if you love a ride as fast as Bangkok’s motorcycle taxis, then read this. It’s clever, exciting and…well you’ll have to read it to find out. Excellent stuff.

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

About the Author

Sean O’Leary has published two short story collections My Town and Walking.  His novella Drifting was the winner of the ‘Great Novella Search 2016’ and published in September 2017. He has published over thirty individual short stories and is a regular contributor of short fiction to Quadrant, FourW, Sudo, Close to the Bone (UK) and other literary and crime magazines. His crime novella The Heat, set in Darwin and Bangkok, was published in August 2019. Drifting and The Heat are both available on Amazon. His interviews with crime writers appear online in Crime Time magazine.

He has worked in a variety of jobs including motel receptionist, rubbish removalist/tree lopper, farm hand, short-order cook and night manager in various hotels in Sydney’s notorious Kings Cross. He has lived in: Melbourne; Naracoorte; Sydney; Adelaide; Perth; Fremantle; Norseman; Geraldton; Carnarvon; Broome; Yulara; Alice Springs; Kakadu; Darwin and on Elcho Island-Galiwinku. He now lives in the northern suburbs of Melbourne, thinks that test cricket is the greatest game of all and supports Melbourne Football Club (a life sentence). He writes every day, likes travelling and tries to walk everywhere.

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The Keeper by Jessica Moor

When Katie Straw’s body is pulled from the waters of the local suicide spot, the police are ready to write it off as a standard-issue female suicide. But the residents of the domestic violence shelter where Katie worked disagree. These women have spent weeks or even years waiting for the men they’re running from to catch up with them. They know immediately: This was murder.

Still, Detective Dan Whitworth and his team expect an open-and-shut case–until they discover evidence that suggests Katie wasn’t who she appeared. Weaving together the investigation with Katie’s final months as it barrels toward the truth, The Keeper is a riveting mystery and a searing examination of violence against women and the structures that allow it to continue, marking the debut of an incredible new voice in crime fiction.

My Review

This was not an easy read. The kind of story that makes you think. Do you have your own prejudices when it comes to abuse? Are you constantly questioning why these women can’t leave their husbands or partners? Val says at one point that women often leave their partners five times before they finally leave for good. And is it always the woman or do men get abused as well?

Katie is a young woman, with a mother suffering from terminal cancer.

Jamie meets Katie one night and he slowly starts to control her when she is at her most vulnerable. He seems so nice. People call him a ‘keeper’. But Jamie is a different kind of keeper. That was then.

This is now. DS Whitworth is old school policing. Tired, jaded and prejudiced. But he’s still a good copper. So when the body of a young suicide victim – Katie Straw – turns up in the river, the women at the shelter where she worked know different. But can they convince Whitworth and young sidekick DC Brookes, that it was murder. Because they know something, but are too scared to tell.

During the journey to discover what really happened, we also learn the stories of the other women at the shelter – drug addict Jenny, Lynne and her daughter Peony, Angie who has suffered abuse at the hands of her husband for forty-nine years, Nazia – beaten by her own brother and Sonia with her two boys. Then there is Val who runs the shelter. Not a very likeable character, but she doesn’t need to be. She does what has to be done and if you don’t like her, well that’s tough – as tough as she is herself.

Some other readers thought all these extra characters were unnecessary. But this is not a simple police procedural. It is more than a novel about catching a killer. It is about domestic abuse. Val helps the women hide from their abusive partners. DS Whitworth has seen it all. He is not convinced that Katie killed herself. It’s just a feeling, but he needs evidence. Or witnesses, and they don’t have either. Even when they find out that Straw wasn’t Katie’s real name they don’t seem to be able to find out the truth – it can’t be that difficult nowadays. Or why she was running away and who from.

On a number of occasions, we are asked to question whether it is women like Val who are prejudiced against men. Statistics show that men can also be victims of domestic abuse, but they are even less likely to seek help. Admitting you are being battered by a woman half your size is embarrassing isn’t it? When a man speaks up at a meeting he is treated as a trouble maker. There is no budget for male victims to seek protection, he says. Whitworth passes it on. They mumble about statistics and lack of resources. I wondered again whether Lynne was actually the abuser. She doesn’t really like her daughter and the little girl seems to prefer her ‘abusive’ father Frank. I’m not sure whether we are supposed to read it this way.

I feel this book could have done more to show that not all men are either prejudiced or abusers and not all abusers are men.

Many thanks to The Pigeonhole and my fellow Pigeons for making this such a thought-provoking read.

About the Author

Jessica Moor studied English at Cambridge before completing a Creative Writing MA at Manchester University. Prior to this she spent a year working in the violence against women and girls sector and this experience inspired her first novel, Keeper.

Rough Country by by T.J. Brearton

A young girl murdered. A town with a dark secret.

A young girl, Kasey, is murdered in the woods of northern New York, a strange symbol carved into her stomach. Investigator Reed Raleigh, Major Crimes, is tasked with finding the killer.

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Reed has his own troubles. He’s in therapy, divorced, estranged from his son. But he desperately needs to solve this case – his own stepdaughter vanished when she was a teenager and Reed knows all about the agony of having no closure. No way is he letting Kasey’s mother go through that.

But as Reed begins to dig, the case grows ever more complex. Why is Kasey’s boyfriend acting so strangely? And why is her mother lying to the police?

As evidence of Kasey’s bizarre secret life starts to emerge, Reed realises this case isn’t just about a dead girl. There’s something much bigger at play in this small rural town, a decades old secret that needs to be protected. At any cost. 

My Review

This book was nothing like I expected. It started out as the usual police procedural – a teenage girl turns up dead with a strange symbol carved into her stomach. She’s been strangled. Not much else to go on. A jaded cop with a troubled background, divorced, in therapy, hardly ever sees his teenage son. His step-daughter vanished when she was a child – her body never recovered.

But then everything changed. And boy did it change. Suddenly we have two dramatic suicides, a town full of secrets, similar cases going back 50 years and Reed in the middle trying work out the connections. Almost everyone is a suspect. Or is that because they are all guilty? Is it about underage sex? Or drugs? Or pseudo-religious control? This is small town America at its worst and worse than its worst. And if you feel you need to suspend disbelief, then take a look at old newspaper clippings. This kind of thing really did happen and still does. It even happens in the UK. Scientology has around ten locations here.

But we are not just talking about David Koresh or Jim Jones or L Ron Hubbard – the big players who still make the national and international news to this day. Children of God – which became Family International in 2004 – not only permitted sex with children but actually encouraged it, believing it was ‘a divine right’. It still exists today but without the underage sex. Others include the Sullivanians and Heaven’s Gate. Most of these cults originated in the 1950s though I have no idea why that is.

I can’t say too much more or I will give away the plot and that would spoil things. Suffice to say that once Reed and his colleagues start to dig, what they discover is beyond anything they could have imagined.

This book is so well written and exciting that I read the whole thing in three sittings. I love this kind of thing. I am fascinated by cults and how people get drawn in. Rough Country explores these themes as well as being a traditional who-dunnit. Brilliant stuff.

Many thanks to @damppebbles for inviting me to be part of #damppebblesblogtours and to NetGalley for an ARC in exchange for an honest review.

About the Author

T.J. Brearton’s books have reached half a million readers around the world and have topped the Amazon charts in the US, UK, Canada and Australia. A graduate of the New York Film Academy in Manhattan, Brearton first worked in film before focusing on novels. His books are visually descriptive with sharp dialogue and underdog heroes. When not writing, Brearton does whatever his wife and three children tell him to do. They live happily in the Adirondack Mountains of upstate New York. Yes, there are bears in the Adirondacks. But it’s really quite beautiful when you’re not running for your life.

T.J. is the author of Into Darkness, Road to Mercy and other crime thrillers. Rough Country will be his third novel published with Inkubator Books.

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Swimming in the Dark by Tomasz Jedrowski

Set in early 1980s Poland against the violent decline of communism, a tender and passionate story of first love between two young men who eventually find themselves on opposite sides of the political divide.

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When university student Ludwik meets Janusz at a summer agricultural camp, he is fascinated yet wary of this handsome, carefree stranger. But a chance meeting by the river soon becomes an intense, exhilarating, and all-consuming affair. After their camp duties are fulfilled, the pair spend a dreamlike few weeks camping in the countryside, bonding over an illicit copy of James Baldwin’s Giovanni’s Room. Inhabiting a beautiful natural world removed from society and its constraints, Ludwik and Janusz fall deeply in love. But in their repressive communist and Catholic society, the passion they share is utterly unthinkable.

Once they return to Warsaw, the charismatic Janusz quickly rises in the political ranks of the party and is rewarded with a highly-coveted position in the ministry. Ludwik is drawn toward impulsive acts of protest, unable to ignore rising food prices and the stark economic disparity around them. Their secret love and personal and political differences slowly begin to tear them apart as both men struggle to survive in a regime on the brink of collapse.

Shifting from the intoxication of first love to the quiet melancholy of growing up and growing apart, Swimming in the Dark is a potent blend of romance, post-war politics, intrigue, and history. Lyrical and sensual, immersive and intense, Tomasz Jedrowski has crafted an indelible and thought-provoking literary debut that explores freedom and love in all its incarnations.

My Review

It’s six o’clock in the morning. I awoke at five and had to finish this book. So many thoughts in my head. I was compelled to get up and write this review. For me this was more than just a story. It was my heritage.

Let me explain. My father was Polish. He left in 1939 at the age of sixteen having joined the army (lying about his age as many did) to fight for freedom. He was taken prisoner to Russia and after two years escaped and came to England where he joined the RAF Polish Squadron. He was unable to return for political reasons I won’t go into.

Whenever Ludwik in the book talks about Granny I think of my Granny Anna. She died in 1965. I never met her. My father said she never cut her hair. It was so long she could sit on it. Oh how I loved her! I wanted to be called Anna, be like Anna.

In 1978 it was safe for my father to return so I went with him and his second wife and her eldest daughter. One of his sisters had died a few hours before we arrived. We had to go to the funeral. She was laid out in an open coffin. She was tiny – her little feet sticking out of her black dress, a gold cross wrapped round her hands. I had never seen an open coffin in England. It’s not done.

We stayed with another sister. It was very rural and seemed ‘backwards’ to us. There were horse drawn carts along the road and chickens running free. We rarely spoke about politics or the Party. I realise now it was too dangerous.

We visited my aunt in a convent in Krakow where she had been a nun since she was fifteen. We slept on thin mattresses on an iron bed. She had nothing – just a bible and my Christmas cards in her bedside table drawer. I loved her too. These people were my Polish family.

Another time we went to Warsaw. It was wonderful! Like London! Little did I know what was lurking in dark corners, like Ludwik and his leaflets waiting to break free.

Reading this book brought it all back to me. Of course I cannot identify with Ludwik’s sexuality and his love for Janusz or his pain, but the sadness of the politics resonates with me. The book is so beautifully written – a love story tinged with the desperation of so many people’s plight. I remember having to queue for petrol and then being told we needed to buy vouchers first. Then we waited four hours for the petrol truck to arrive. My father’s extended family fed us everywhere we went, fed us well, even though they had so little.

The night before we left, we visited my father’s old school friend he hadn’t seen since before the war. They drank brandy till they laughed and cried. My father was sobbing. My step-sister said it was the brandy but I knew it was more. Family and friends – all lost, some never regained.

This morning I am Polish. I am there in 1978 but this time with a greater understanding. This book has given that to me. This is a story about love in all its forms, about passion and how politics can drive two people apart. Ludwik yearns for freedom, unable to ‘play the system’. Janusz is good at playing it. He uses it to rise in the ranks. Does he really believe in it? Did anyone? I doubt it, but it was better than being poor, while prices sky-rocketed and people queued for food they couldn’t afford. In the countryside they grew their own, made pickles, kept them in the cellar. Kept chickens. Picked mushrooms in the woods.

But for Janusz, pretending was not enough. He needed to be himself. My cousin’s husband ‘played the system’. For ten years. They had a lovely flat, a TV, a huge stereo. It was all a sham. But he was trusted. One day they just upped and left. Went to America and never looked back.

I want to thank the Pigeonhole, without whom I would never have discovered this wonderful novel and to my fellow Pigeons for making this such an enjoyable read. But most of all I want to thank the author for bringing back my heritage and my true self. I will be forever in his debt. Thank you Tomasz. And thank you also to my father Kazimierz Urbanowski 1923 – 2000.

About the Author

Tomasz Jedrowski is a graduate of Cambridge University and Université de Paris. He was born in Germany to Polish parents, and has lived in several countries, including Poland, and currently lives in Paris, France, where he works in high-fashion. He speaks five languages and writes in English. This is his first novel.

The Stairwell by Dean Bryant

Frightful visions. An unknown manipulator. A force from beyond reason.

Brandon Chapman arrives home to a horrific scene. His wife, Stephanie, is exhibiting behaviour that he can only describe as that of someone possessed – yet he doesn’t even believe in the supernatural. He soon realises that it was nothing other than a frightful, haunting vision.

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After discovering a dark secret about Stephanie, Brandon meets a strange figure with knowledge about his own life that no one could possibly know. As his visions become more frequent and terrifying, he begins to question his sanity.

Brandon must either side with this figure or his wife before his daughter comes to harm.

Alice Hamilton, a shy and quiet university student, meets handsome Niel Curtis whilst on a night out with friends. They very quickly fall for one another, but their happiness is short-lived when Niel ends up in a coma after a traffic accident.

Alice fears he may never wake up again and, unaware of the consequences, strikes a deal with a strange voice. When Niel awakes, his behaviour changes drastically, and Alice – like Brandon – becomes subject to nightmarish, violent visions.

Are Brandon and Alice caught in a never-ending nightmare?

My Review

I’m not a true horror fan and I’ve never read Stephen King (though I’ve seen a few of the films based on the novels), but I have read James Herbert, plus the classics like Dracula and Frankenstein. So when I say I’m not a ‘horror’ fan I really mean slasher-type horror. I do like a bit of supernatural haunting however and add to that a smattering of Faustus selling his soul to the devil and I’m straight in there.

The Stairwell is a homage (in my humble opinion) to the good old horror stories such as The Omen and The Exorcist with a bit of Drag Me To Hell thrown in for good measure. Nothing like a bit of demonic possession!

But on to the story! Brandon was brought up in care, having been adopted as a baby. After a series of failed foster homes, he finally finds happiness with Stephanie, they marry and have a beautiful daughter Lily. All is going reasonably well until Brandon starts having visions – or rather nightmares – that involve his wife killing Lily. Brandon will do anything – and I mean ANYTHING – to make them stop.

In the meantime Alice is a quiet, shy, university student who meets a gorgeous guy named Niel and they fall instantly in love. Then Niel has a terrible accident, leaving him in a coma and Alice promises to do anything – and I mean ANYTHING – to turn the clock back.

Both Alice and Brandon are plagued by terrible visions – visions of gruesome murders, eyes with black veins and no pupils, tentacles reaching out and black gunge expelling like vomit from screaming mouths. And voices in their head that tell them what awful things they must or must not do in order to survive and protect their loved ones. But how much of it is real and how much is a figment of their own imagination? We know Brandon likes a drop of gin or ten but why poor Alice? Who is going to believe her if she tells them about that terrible night and the promise she made?

I noticed that one review on Goodreads (thanks Charlie Tyler) said this book is so ‘super-scary’ it’s ‘not for the timid and certainly not to be read before bedtime’. I disagree. What better time to read than under the covers with the full moon shining through the curtains, making shadows on the walls, while wolves howl in the dark forest….. OK. I exaggerate. Read it at bedtime at your peril, but not if you live alone and there’s a thunderstorm etc. You get the picture.

I have to admit that I’m not easily terrified by supernatural goings on, but I am repulsed by anything too gross and gruesome (but you still have to read on don’t you). This book has both these things in spadefuls and I enjoyed every minute!

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

About the Author

Dean has always loved writing, ever since his primary school teacher wrote “another cracker from the pen of Dean Bryant” on his English homework. He loves writing horror and dark thrillers as they allow him to be as imaginative as possible. He won a nation-wide poetry competition when he was 11 and went on to never write another poem.

He’s a huge fan of the classic horror authors Stephen King and Dean Koontz, with Midnight being his favourite book of all time. He studied Psychology at university which made him the friend everyone goes to for advice.

Dean lives in London with his partner of ten years, who also doubles as a beta-reader and critic. He is a type 1 diabetic, which hasn’t stopped him eating cake, he just has to do a lot of mental math first.

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Art and Soul by Claire Huston

There’s no problem Becky Watson can’t fix. Except her own love life…

Struggling single mother Becky Watson longs to revive her career as a life-fixer, working miracles to solve her clients’ problems, no matter how big or small. Since the birth of her two-year-old son she has been stuck preventing wedding fiascos for the richest and rudest residents of the Comptons, a charming, leafy area of southern England known for its artistic heritage.

So when semi-reclusive local artist Charlie Handren reluctantly hires Becky to fix his six-year creative slump, she’s delighted to set him up with a come-back exhibition and Rachel Stone, the woman of his dreams.

Though they get off to a rocky start, Becky and Charlie soon become close. But as the beautiful Rachel becomes Charlie’s muse, Becky is forced to wonder: will giving Charlie everything he wants mean giving up her own happily ever after?

A heart-warming, uplifting romance served with a generous slice of cake.

#ArtandSoul @ClaraVal

My Review

I am not generally a reader of romance but every now and again when I have had a surfeit of serial killers, twisty suspense and police procedurals, I need a break from all that heart-wrenching and gore.

Art and Soul really hits the spot. It’s not at all fluffy and silly – in fact it has an element of real literature – I feel the author has a ‘literary’ novel just waiting to get out. Lots of references to artists, Shakespeare and Marlowe lift it above the usual sugary tales of will they won’t they. It’s also so beautiful written, I feel the author’s talent will be wasted on pure romance books. I don’t mean to insult the genre, but I think there is so much more to come from her.

As the main protagonist, Becky is a feisty, bossy woman approaching 40 who knows she is good at her job as a ‘fixer’ but has no confidence in her own attractiveness. She has been ‘once bitten, twice shy’ in a relationship with a married man (she had no idea he was married) that left her with Dylan – an adorable toddler who charms his way into her friends’ affection.

Then there is Charlie – an almost 50-year-old artist who has fallen into a creative slump after his wife Mel leaves and his reviews are terrible. But it’s the periphery characters who really made this book for me. We have best friend Ronnie, who own Sweets the cake shop, and is direct to the point of rudeness, but never nasty. Always truthful, wise and trying to help. Handsome ladies’ man Virgil – I almost loved him best – he is so funny. Dashing Lloyd – but is he really a secret villain and philanderer? Charlie’s teenage daughter Phoebe and the beautiful but ghastly Rachel and her mother Barbara Stone – both involved in the snooty world of art in the leafy suburb The Comptons.

I can’t fault this story. It’s fab and uplifting and just what we need to cheer us up during second lockdown. Well done Claire – you deserve every success and I look forward to your next book.

PS and as someone who recently took up abstract or ‘non-figurative painting’ I am looking for my muse to visit me in my dreams. Get down Pancake (my 16-year-old Jack Russell) – I don’t mean you!

About the Author

Claire Huston lives in Warwickshire with her husband and two children. Art and Soul is her first novel.

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 Art and Soul on her website along with over 100 other recipes. This is also where she talks about and reviews books.

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The Phoenix Project (DI Jack MacIntosh #1) by Michelle Kidd

How long can the past remain buried?

A simple message in a local newspaper. A set of highly sensitive documents left in the back of a London black cab. Both events collide to cause Isabel Faraday’s life to be turned upside down.

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Growing up believing her parents died in a car crash when she was five, Isabel learns the shocking truth; a truth that places her own life in danger by simply being a Faraday. Detective Inspector Jack MacIntosh of the Metropolitan Police races against time to save her, and at the same time unravels long forgotten secrets involving MI5, MI6, the KGB and NASA. Secrets that have lain dormant for twenty years. Secrets worth killing for. With kidnap, murder and suicides stretching across four continents, just what is the Phoenix Project?

The Phoenix Project is the first Detective Inspector Jack MacIntosh novel.

My Review

This was certainly a rollercoaster of a ride. It took a while for me to understand what was going on. At first I thought it was going to be too complicated with all the different characters, but eventually I managed to work out who they were. Until they changed. All those different identities. Phew! I’m exhausted.

The pace never let up. In fact the further into the book the faster it got, racing from London to Paris and back again, then back to Paris, to America and even to Europe. The bodies piling up. The mystery more intriguing by the hour.

I’m not going to attempt to outline the plot. It would be far too complicated and I’d probably get it wrong but suffice to say Isabel Faraday is caught up in a web of lies and deceit that began when she was five years old with the death of her parents. What they were involved in was top secret involving an off shoot of NASA known as PRISM and an experiment in space called The Phoenix Project. And when it all went disastrously wrong the truth had to be covered up. Even if it meant innocent people had to die. Including Isabel herself.

But Detective Inspector Jack MacIntosh of the Metropolitan Police is not going to let that happen. Like a terrier with a bone he will never let go until the truth is out and Isabel is safe. What a great TV series this would make! Another one for my favourite actor David Tennant (though I can’t remember how old Jack is supposed to be) or that guy from Silent Witness. Look out for book number two in the series. I wonder where it will take us.

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

About the Author

Michelle Kidd is a self-published author known for the Detective Inspector Jack MacIntosh series of novels.

Michelle qualified as a lawyer in the early 1990s and spent the best part of ten years practising civil and criminal litigation.

But the dream to write books was never far from her mind and in 2008 she began writing the manuscript that would become the first DI Jack MacIntosh novel – The Phoenix Project. The book took eighteen months to write, but spent the next eight years gathering dust underneath the bed.

In 2018 Michelle self-published The Phoenix Project and has not looked back since. There are currently three DI Jack MacIntosh novels, with a fourth in progress.

Michelle works full time for the NHS and lives in Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk. She enjoys reading, wine and cats – not necessarily in that order.


The Phoenix Project (DI Jack MacIntosh book 1)

Seven Days (DI Jack MacIntosh book 2)

The Fifteen (DI Jack MacIntosh book 3)

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