The Split by Sharon J. Bolton

No matter how far you run, some secrets will always catch up with you…

The remote Antarctic island of South Georgia is about to send off its last boat of the summer – which signifies safety to resident glaciologist Felicity Lloyd.

Felicity lives in fear – fear that her ex-husband Freddie will find her, even out here. She took a job on this isolated island to hide from him, but now that he’s out of prison, having served a term for murder, she knows he won’t give up until he finds her.

But a doctor delving into the background of Felicity and Freddie’s relationship, back in Cambridge, learns that Felicity has been on the edge for a long time. Heading to South Georgia himself to try and get to her first is the only way he can think of to help her.

The Split

This was a roller-coaster of a ride from South Georgia (where even is that?) to Cambridge and back again. At times the pace of the story leaves you breathless and winded and you have to remind yourself to breathe. By the end I needed three Yoga sessions to bring my heart rate down.

South Georgia is in the Antarctic, an inhospitable, icy place where the only settlers were the whalers of long-ago, plus a smattering of scientists, seals and penguins. And Bamber. Who is Bamber? No-one knows. In fact South Georgia is so remote and far from civilisation that Felicity is happy to go there for a two-year assignment in order to escape her past and her ex-husband. And that’s where the story truly begins. When the boat comes in….(apologies to James Bolam and co).

We are then taken back to Cambridge where Felicity is receiving counselling before she can be declared fit to embark on her journey.  Joe is her counsellor but he can’t help being attracted to this quiet, intelligent woman. Joe is back at work after being off for a while having been stabbed in the stomach by Ezzy – a street girl who became obsessed with him. Pink-haired Delilah is his mum who just happens to be a detective, investigating the murder of a homeless girl Bella and the disappearance of Ezzy. And she doesn’t trust Felicity one bit. She warns Joe not to get too close again.

At this point it all got so involved and complicated that I gave up playing amateur sleuth and just wallowed in the plot. It was almost like a separate story developing as some of my fellow Pigeons pointed out.

Of course Felicity does get to go to South Georgia – but we know that already. Joe and Delilah are hot on her trail, the one to help her, the other to arrest her. And Freddie is also on the boat but we don’t yet know why.

This was such a great book. So different to anything I’ve read recently or probably ever. The subject matter and the setting are what sets it apart together with the race at the end, while theories are blown apart and fall to pieces and the truth is finally revealed.

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

 

 

The Baby Sitter by Phoebe Morgan

On the hottest day of the year, Caroline Harvey is found dead in Suffolk. Her body is left draped over a cot – but the baby she was looking after is missing.  

Hundreds of miles away, Siobhan Dillon is on a luxurious family holiday in France when her husband, Callum, is arrested by French police on suspicion of murder.
 
As Siobhan’s perfect family is torn apart by the media in the nation’s frantic search for the missing baby, she desperately tries to piece together how Callum knew Caroline.

What happened that night? Was Caroline as innocent as she seemed – or was she hiding a secret of her own?

The Baby Sitter

I’ve been a huge fan of Phoebe Morgan since The Doll House, so unsurprisingly I loved this one as well, her third novel. It’s a simple tale of murder, infidelity and a missing baby. You would think. Well let me tell you it’s not simple and the intrigue builds more and more till my fellow Pigeons (I read this with The Pigeonhole online book club) and I were screaming at the screen: ‘Where’s the baby?’ ‘Oh no! Not the baby!’ ‘Where’s the suitcase?’ and words to that effect.

Callum is a handsome, clever, successful TV Executive who loves women almost as much as he loves himself. His poor wife Siobhan – I quite liked her, others didn’t – knows about his affairs but is totally gob-smacked when he is arrested for murdering his lover Caroline and abducting the baby she was looking after. Poor Caroline is (or was in this case), a lonely, introverted children’s book illustrator with few friends or family. All she wants is love and a baby of her own. Sorry Caro I think you made a poor choice in Callum.

Siobhan has a sister Maria, never married, thinks her life of freedom and independence is so much better than Siobhan’s life of drudgery and motherhood. But Maria is thick as thieves with their daughter Emma (more one-upmanship), who is very po-faced and mixed up, but then she’s a teenager so no surprises there. The family are enjoying a break at Maria’s beautiful second home in France when the gendarmes come knocking.

The story is told from various points of view including Siobhan, Caroline and DS Alex Wildy who is on the case. With such a small cast of characters, I like the way the police side is given as it is less claustrophobic and gives another dimension to the story.

The Baby Sitter is so cleverly plotted and paced that you’ll be changing your mind continuously about who did it right until the very end. Just as it should be.

Many thanks to The Pigeonhole, my fellow Pigeons and to Phoebe for her constant engagement and for making this such an enjoyable read. Can’t wait for Book 4.

 

 

 

A Trade in Tears by Samantha Shiye

Morag, “Mo”, has it all. A happy-go-lucky, free-spirited student and martial arts enthusiast, she’s on top of the world until she finds Cindy beaten and bloodied in the graveyard – ultimately shining a light into unknown shadows of her own childhood.

Cindy, eighteen with her whole future in front of her, has lost it all. One victim of many in a brutal string of sex crimes that has swept their corner of South East England, the experience leaves her shaken, before revealing secrets she’d kept even from herself. Despite the support of her rich and successful older friend, Faye, who has troubles of her own, Cindy sinks deeper into despair.

As Detective Chief Inspector Colin Massey, Mo’s father, heads the special task force investigating the sex crimes, another girl goes missing. Her boyfriend, Johnny, begins to hear her voice in his head. Driven to the edge of his sanity, he teeters between reality and the beyond. As their four journeys collide in an explosion of violence, love and betrayal, the principle questions are, who can they trust? And, is the face of the person looking back at them masking the identity of a killer?

A Trade in Tears

I really want to give it 4 stars or at least 3.5 but I have a couple of major reservations. Firstly though, let me say that this was an excellent story, well thought out and well crafted. A lot of research must have gone into it, from the emotions of the characters (you couldn’t just imagine this) to the sex trafficking and the hideous crimes that are committed against the women and young girls. Also the police work must have been thoroughly researched to be so realistic.

So why not 4 stars? Two reasons. Quite a way into the book there were some grisly scenes that I thought took the story into different territory and were unnecessary. Maybe that’s just me but they didn’t enhance the story. I can’t say more because of spoilers but if (hopefully when) you read it you’ll know which part I mean. The second reason is strange for me because I am a huge fan of magical realism and the supernatural but I think the cross-genre here from a straight-forward and exciting crime thriller/police procedural to Johnny hearing the voice of his murdered girlfriend telling him what to do didn’t entirely work. Again it wasn’t necessary.

However, it’s a cracking story so don’t let me put you off. I just personally think it’s a cracking story without those two elements but you can judge for yourselves.

Thank you Samantha for giving me the opportunity to review your book. Really enjoyed it.

Afraid of the Light by various authors

Some people are scared of the dark. But it’s the light that exposes the secrets.

A young boy with nightmares faces up to his demons. A deathbed confession turns the world on its axis. A five-year-old watches his parents bury a body in the garden. A soldier returns from the war to find the horror isn’t yet over.

Afraid Of The Light brings the imagination of fourteen bestselling crime writers together in a collection that will keep you up all night. From a deadly campfire game to a holiday gone wrong, to an AI assistant with a motive and a love affair that can only end in murder, this is a gripping, twisty set of stories to send a shiver down your spine.

Afraid of the light

I don’t normally read many short stories (odd really because I write them) but as this was offered on Pigeonhole and I recognised a few of the authors, I took the opportunity to dive in. Oh they were brilliant! I am not going to attempt to review them all – there are too many but I will mention a couple I particularly enjoyed. Having a penchant for dark humour – both reading it and writing it -my favourite had to be Sausage Fingers by Victoria Selman. Now I know some people found it distasteful – no pun intended – but I found it hilarious. The line: ‘I found her finger. Frozen in a veggie sausage box,’ was my favourite. Like being veggie made a difference. And her mum’s response: ‘Tesco delivers the wrong things to us all the time.’ ….fingers in with the sausages? Ha ha!

I also loved The Burial by James Delargy. Any story that begins: ‘We planted my Nan today. In the back garden….I hope the plastic Dad wrapped her in keeps her warm this winter.’ Told from the point of view of the young daughter of one of the most ludicrously dysfunctional families I have ever read about, it’s also very funny in a macabre sort of way.

Having said that I can’t think of one I didn’t enjoy though some were more serious and very dark.Well done and thanks to The Pigeonhole for giving me the opportunity to read along with my fellow Pigeons and sometimes even with the authors.

Shh by Jocelyn Dexter

What’s the best way to frighten a Deaf person? Turn off the light.

It sounds like the beginning of a joke, but it isn’t funny at all. Annie Black, who is profoundly deaf, finds herself at the heart of a set of brutal murders.  Teaming up with the lead Detective, the pair attempt to understand the psychology driving the killer. Having a voice, and being able to read not only lips, but body language, Annie realises that the killer is targeting people she knows. And Annie has lots of friends.  Friends now at risk. Desperate to save those around her Annie and the police find themselves in a race against time to save people in the deaf community.

And as the murders escalate, the killer’s obsession grows. Will the police untangle the killer’s motivation before it’s too late for Annie?

Shh

This started with such promise and while I did really enjoy it I had reservations. Firstly I don’t believe Annie would have been allowed to accompany the detective Crabb to crime scenes, let alone discuss them in front of her flat-mate Scarlet, or have her own white-board at home. Secondly I am not sure how Crabb worked out the killer’s ‘Game’ with so little evidence – there were clues but they weren’t obvious – but failed to follow up basic leads or even ask people about certain things which I can’t mention due to spoilers.

Personally I didn’t work out the big twist so I never guessed who was the killer. In fact the twist and lots of other things along the way gave me an uncomfortable feeling about the deaf or Deaf community. I suppose some of them have their prejudices like in any other community, but I still didn’t like that part of it.

Then there is the graphic violence and gore, I don’t think it was necessary. The story really didn’t need it. Being a serial killer is scary enough without adding to it. And towards the end it started to descend into the realms of fantasy and over the top madness, which again verges on just silly.

Anyway, it was still an exciting and riveting read, but not quite 5 stars. Many thanks to the Pigeonhole, my fellow Pigeons and Jocelyn for making this such an enjoyable read. I’ll look out for the next book by this author. Maybe a Crabb/Annie partnership (professional that is).

Summer in the City by Emma Jackson

Stephen is on a very personal mission to find his father as per the wishes in their mother’s will. But he has no idea where to start, not that he’s going to tell anyone that… When Noelle, native New Yorker, daughter of a detective and desperate for a distraction from the novel she’s been struggling to write, offers to help, it feels like the perfect solution.

Except the last time she spoke to Stephen he thought they’d be seeing the New Year in together and instead she stood him up and sold him out! Stephen’s big enough and been around the block enough times to understand that all is fair in love and war, isn’t he? But when Stephen accepts her offer and they begin their search across the city, it soon becomes clear that the weather isn’t the only thing that’s heating up.

Summer in the City

I never expected to enjoy this book as much as I did. It’s a long time since I’ve read a pure summer holiday romance (though I am secretly a big fan of Cecelia Ahern and Katie Fforde – I have a signed copy of one of her books from a literary lunch and book launch I attended). Most people who know me might think I’m too snooty and hi-brow for chick lit but I love all sorts. After all I can listen to Classic FM and still enjoy a bit of George Ezra, Westlife and One Direction (OK I jest about One Direction).

I read Summer in the City in two sittings flat. Each time I tried to stop reading something would happen and I thought I’ll just read the next bit and the next bit….and then it was almost 1 o’clock in the morning. I particularly love the banter and humour between Stephen and Noelle. Yes the romance is all a bit corny and predictable and I’m sure it’s been done many times before but this is not a book for anyone wanting to read something profound to tell them about the meaning of life or reflect on their own internal musings. Look elsewhere if that’s what you need.

It’s delightful, funny (with a touch of The Rosie Project) and cleverly plotted throughout. I love the plot with Stephen’s father and the unexpected outcome. As well as things we didn’t know about Stephen himself.

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

The Secrets of Strangers by Charity Norman

A regular weekday morning veers drastically off-course for five strangers whose paths cross in a London café  their lives never to be the same again when an apparently crazed gunman holds them hostage. But there is more to the situation than first meets the eye and as the captives grapple with their own inner demons, the line between right and wrong starts to blur. Will the secrets they keep stop them from escaping with their lives?

Secrets

This is such a hard book to review. It made me cry – buckets at times. It made me mad – how could ‘that’ have been allowed to happen? It made me sad many times for the wonderful, beautiful, real characters that Charity Norman has created. I loved every minute of this book. I’ve lived with the people in it for 10 days via Pigeonhole staves and it will be a long time before I can get it out of my head. Though long term I hope it says with me – just not quite so emotionally as now. I can’t really say much more without spoilers. I am writing this nine hours after reading the final stave at 1 o’clock in the morning and a couple of hours after the virtual publication launch which I was proud and honoured to be part of. I hope this fabulous book flies up the best sellers chart. Good luck Charity, stay safe and God bless.

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

The Glass House by Eve Chase

Outside a remote manor house in an idyllic wood, a baby girl is found. The Harrington family takes her in and disbelief quickly turns to joy. They’re grieving a terrible tragedy of their own and the beautiful baby fills them with hope, lighting up the house’s dark, dusty corners. Desperate not to lose her to the authorities, they keep her secret, suspended in a blissful summer world where normal rules of behaviour – and the law – don’t seem to apply. But within days a body will lie dead in the grounds. And their dreams of a perfect family will shatter like glass.

Years later, the truth will need to be put back together again, piece by piece . . .

From the author of Black Rabbit Hall.

The Glass House
I couldn’t wait to read The Glass House as Black Rabbit Hall was one of my favourite books of 2016 (I think it was published a year earlier).

The Glass House is very different though both use a crumbling house as the setting. It begins in 1971 where Rita, known as ‘Big Rita’ because of her height, is nanny to the Harringtons, looking after children Hera and little brother Teddy. Their family set up is a strange one, father Walter being away most of the time on business while wife Jeannie is suffering from severe depression after losing her baby.  She had been sent away to ‘get better’ at The Lawns – I think it would have been referred to as a ‘sanatorium’ in those days. Their home in London has suffered a fire so off they go to live in a ramshackle house called Foxcote in The Forest of Dean. I know the area reasonably well as I live quite close.

However, it’s a little way into the story before ‘Baby Forest’ as she is named by the family is discovered. In fact this book is a really slow burn and while I initially found it hard to get into, it grew and grew on me and by half way through I couldn’t put it down. The joys of being furloughed meant I didn’t have to and I finished it in three days, despite reading two other books at the same time. It’s beautifully written – the story being told from the point of view of Rita in 1971, Hera then and now and Sylvie now. I can’t say that I didn’t work out who was who because I did quite easily but this isn’t that kind of book. It’s not a twisty thriller or a whodunit – though there is a body in the woods. It’s a gentle story delicately interwoven with an equal measure of sadness and happy endings.

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

The Catch by T.M. Logan

Ed is delighted to meet his twenty-three year old daughter’s fiancé for the first time. Abbie is head-over-heels in love with her new man. Smart, successful and handsome, Ryan appears to be the perfect future son-in-law. There’s just one problem. There’s something off about Ryan. Something hidden in the shadows behind his eyes. And it seems that only Ed can see it.

Terrified that his daughter is being drawn in by a psychopath, Ed sets out to uncover her fiancé’s dark past – while keeping his own concealed. But no-one believes him. And the more he digs, the more he alienates her and the rest of the family who are convinced that Ryan is ‘the one’. Ed knows different. For reasons of his own, he knows a monster when he sees one…

The Catch

I love a good psychopath. The crazier the better. You only have to look at the popularity of Killing Eve to see I am not alone. There’s dark humour in The Catch too at times (or maybe it’s not intentional and it just says a lot about me). Perhaps because it’s my favourite genre to write I can almost smell it.

This book was fantastic. I’ve read Lies and 29 Seconds by the same author but The Catch is way more exciting. This is real edge of the seat stuff. My only two issues were that I would have liked a kind of ‘nature or nurture’ explanation as to why someone becomes a total nut job. And also I so wanted one of the characters (I can’t say any more) to have outwitted the killer. But you can’t have it all.

Ed is paranoid when it comes to his daughter. He’d do anything to protect her. And I mean anything. Everyone else adores Ryan but Ed sees something else. Something hidden in those deep brown eyes that are so dark they are almost black. Hey – I have eyes like that but I hope I don’t look like a psychopath. But it’s not just that. He smiles with his mouth but his eyes don’t follow. They just stare back at Ed. Unmoving, fixed, unemotional. Sounds kind of scary but no-one else seems to notice except Ed. That’s when he starts Googling Ryan, looking at his social media profiles, breaking into his house, attaching a GPS tracker to his car. Hiring a private detective. The usual stuff when your daughter has a new boyfriend. In fact everyone thinks Ed’s gone a bit nuts. But just because you are paranoid doesn’t mean they are not after you.

So who really is the one with the problem here? Overprotective Daddy or too-perfect Ryan? This book will keep you guessing, skipping back and forth until near the end. Absolutely brilliant. Many thanks to The Pigeonhole and my fellow Pigeons and to the author for making this such an enjoyable read. If I had had the whole book in one go I would have stayed up all night to finish it – and not just because I’ve been furloughed and don’t have to go to work tomorrow.

 

One White Lie by Leah Konen

Imagine you’ve finally escaped the worst relationship of your life, running away with only a suitcase and a black eye. Imagine your new next-door neighbours are the friends you so desperately needed – fun, kind, empathetic, very much in love. Imagine they’re in trouble. That someone is telling lies about them, threatening their livelihoods – and even their lives. Imagine your ex is coming for you.

If your new best friends needed you to tell one small lie, and all of these problems would disappear, you’d do it, wouldn’t you?

It’s only one small lie, until someone turns up dead…

What a cracker of a read. To say I just couldn’t put it down would be an understatement. Especially when a cute white dog called Dusty is involved. Every time the dog was threatened I just had to keep reading. And what a massive twist at the end – following all the other twists throughout this fab book.

So why only 4 stars (see Goodreads and NetGalley) I hear you ask? There were some parts I found a little unbelievable. Some suspension of disbelief. Does no-one ever go to the police when they are being threatened? How do you trust your neighbours with your life when you’ve only known them a few weeks? Especially when they are a bit odd. And also the attitude to Ryan’s abuse was somehow not strong enough. I feel he should have been punished more and surely his sister Ellie knew more than she was letting on.

Never assume the narrator is reliable however plausible they might appear. And everyone else seems to be lying. Or are they telling the truth? There were so many things I failed to spot. So many twists I didn’t guess. A great book.

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

Little Secrets by Jennifer Hillier

Four hundred and eighty seconds. That’s how long it took for someone to steal Marin Machado’s four-year-old son.

Marin had the perfect life. Married to her college sweetheart, she owns a chain of upscale hair salons, and Derek runs his own company. They’re admired in their community and are a loving family. Up until the day Sebastian is taken.

A year later, Marin is a shadow of herself. The FBI search has gone cold. The publicity has faded. She and her husband rarely speak. The only thing keeping her going is the unlikely chance that one day Sebastian reappears. She hires a P.I. to pick up where the police left off, but instead of finding him, she discovers that Derek is having an affair with a younger woman.

McKenzie Li is an artist and grad student—Instagram famous—and up to her eyeballs in debt. She knows Derek is married. She also knows he’s rich, and dating him comes with perks: help with bills, trips away, expensive gifts. He isn’t her first rich boyfriend, but she finds herself hoping he’ll be the last. She’s falling for him—and that was never part of the plan.

Discovery of the affair sparks Marin back to life. She’s lost her son; she’s not about to lose her husband, too. Kenzie is an enemy with a face, which means this is a problem Marin can fix. But as she sets a plan in motion, another revelation surfaces. Derek’s lover might know what happened to their son. And so might Derek.

Little Secrets
I struggled to connect with Marin unfortunately. Maybe if she hadn’t been a ‘celebrity hairdresser’ by trade I would have found her less annoyingly shallow. Boy that sounds judgemental! But I sometimes wondered if her lifestyle with her rich husband was just a bit too comfy and she wasn’t going to give it up.

However I loved this book. Some of it was rather far fetched and I do hate anything based on coincidences, but it was fast paced, tense, exciting, full of twists (that awful word where everything nowadays if full of twists you didn’t see coming). Well in this case I didn’t. Except it was hard to believe the outcome and who were the villains etc. I can’t say I liked Derek very much either. He was obviously very clever to have made such a fortune but he was still a twat. And McKenzie – sometimes I felt sorry for her while at other times I thought what a conniving little bitch.

I read this in two days flat apart from the final bit which I finished this morning as too tired last night to appreciate the ending. It could have all be said and done in probably two thirds of the length of the book but Marin’s meeting with other parents of missing children was more than just padding. For me it made the book – and Marin – more real.

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

The Tea Planter’s Wife by Dinah Jefferies

Nineteen-year-old Gwendolyn Hooper is newly married to a rich and charming widower, eager to join him on his tea plantation, determined to be the perfect wife and mother. But life in Ceylon is not what Gwen expected.

The plantation workers are resentful, the neighbours treacherous, and there are clues to the past – a dusty trunk of dresses, an overgrown gravestone in the grounds – that her husband refuses to discuss.

Just as Gwen finds her feet, disaster strikes. She faces a terrible choice, hiding the truth from almost everyone, but a secret this big can’t stay buried forever….

Tea Planters Wife

I can’t pretend I enjoyed this book – in fact I was relieved when it ended. I have, however, given it 4 stars rather than 3 because if this is your cup of tea (no pun intended) then you’ll no doubt adore it. For me it had nothing new to say. It’s just another sad story but with a cast of characters that drove me mental. It would probably make a good TV series with beautiful costumes and panoramic shots of the surrounding countryside. I’m afraid I found it flat and I didn’t feel any of the emotion until the very last part, which I can’t give away because of spoilers.

So many secrets that if someone had had the guts to reveal at some stage all the tragedy could have been avoided. But I guess that’s easy to say now as we live in a different age. It was an age where women had only just found their feet (and vote) but there was still so much they couldn’t do or say. Gwen’s opinions about the racism and treatment of the Sinhalese/Tamils were really just a puff in the wind. She never actually did anything, usually just made things worse in a frail attempt to ‘help’. I read this with Pigeonhole and most of my fellow readers enjoyed being transported to Ceylon (as it was in those days) and found it an emotional read. But for me it was too predictable.

I’m sure Dinah Jeffries is a fabulous author but I need something grittier to keep me interested. Many thanks to The Pigeonhole and my fellow Pigeons for keeping me reading.