Blog Tour – Deadly Game – Matt Johnson

Product Details

BLURB: Reeling from the attempts on his life and that of his family, Police Inspector Robert Finlay returns to work to discover that any hope of a peaceful existence has been dashed. Assigned to investigate the Eastern European sex-slave industry just as a key witness is murdered, Finlay, along with his new partner Nina Brasov, finds himself facing a ruthless criminal gang, determined to keep control of the traffic of people into the UK. On the home front, Finlay’s efforts to protect his wife and child may have been in vain, as an MI5 protection officer uncovers a covert secret service operation that threatens them all… Picking up where the bestselling Wicked Game left off, Deadly Game sees Matt Johnson’s damaged hero fighting on two fronts. Aided by new allies, he must not only protect his family but save a colleague from an unseen enemy … and a shocking fate.

I remember starting Matt Johnson’s first thriller, Wicked Game, and worrying it was going to be a “man’s book” – okay, I know that’s a totally un-PC thing to say, but I had a fear it would be all about different kinds of guns, and army stuff, and I would be a bit, well, bored. I actually mention it in my review (here.)

Not to worry. I was in good hands (I should have known – Karen Sullivan at Orenda Books wouldn’t sign a duff book, with limited appeal. It’s simple – you know you’re in good hands when you open an Orenda title.)

So I was wondering, almost exactly one year one, would Matt Johnson be able to create the same magic again? No. He’s written something even better. I read for about 20 minutes then settled down, for the long haul, like you do when you open a book that’s just what you need at that moment in time – and, for me, it was a solid, meaty thriller, with an intriguing storyline that had enough legs and complexity to carry it through 354 pages. And action! Hell, there’s tons of action, with the modest Robert Finlay using his army skills to save the day on several occasions.

Due to a bit of  typically-MI5 finagling, he finds himself on a rest-and-recuperation trip to Egypt, armed with a book pressed on him by his liaison officer, Toni Fellowes, which just happens to have been published by a company owned by the same family which owns the hotel he’s staying in. It’s a book the Security Services are rather interested in, as it reveals details of “black ops” – off-the-book, deniable missions. Someone’s broken the Official Secrets Act (I’ve actually signed it, when I worked for the Scottish Government. It felt very dramatic when they told me what it was. I could tell you what my job was, but then I’d have to kill you…😁*)

This family, the Cristeas, are of interest for other reasons too – their names have been mentioned in connection with people trafficking, and the Services want as much information on them as they can get. So the ambitious Toni Fellowes is delighted when Robert helps one of the Cristea family when she gets into difficulties diving. He makes a friend for life, and is invited to her wedding in Romania. He’s still blissfully unaware MI5 have been behind his initial meeting with the family – an unethical move that causes a disagreement in Toni’s office. But when have the Security Services worried about ethics..?

When Robert returns, after some debate about where to put a man whose been through some serious scary stuff, he moves into his new job – investigating people trafficking, with the Amazonian beauty Nina Brasov by his side.

Don’t worry – none of this is spoiler stuff. It all happens at the very start of the book, and it doesn’t let up. As well as investigating people trafficking, there’s the question of the identity of the writer MI5 and 6 are interested in. There’s also a call for help from the widow of one of his men killed in the first book, to help dispose of a gun, and some Arabic-looking paperwork. Why did he think this pile of old papers had value? And there’s still dissatisfaction in some heads, especially Toni Fellowes’, as to the official reasons given for the deaths in the first book…

Do you have to have read the first book? No – because what happened is helpfully laid out in an official report near the start of the book. I found it a useful reminder too.

There’s loads going on here, as you can tell, but it all clicks together beautifully – Johnson showed potential as a writer in book one, but I didn’t expect to see such a huge leap in terms of complexity. I was quite blown away. As ever, you get the impression Johnson has been there, done it, and got the T-shirt – or scars! – to prove it. Again, there’s no technical overload. The subject matter is topical still, sadly – despite the book being set in 2001. I think people trafficking is the most heinous crime – worse than some murders. Johnson makes a great hero – easygoing and funny. And wife Jenny’s there again, with solid support – a typical Army wife. Can you tell yet I enjoyed it??!

Plus…you can see book three is going to be bloody fantastic! So will we see each other here, end of March, 2018? I hope so!

*I worked in the central enquiry unit, really just a call centre for the entire Scottish Government and civil service. And I hope I’m not breaking the Official Secrets Act if I tell you that you got randoms phoning, asking to speak to the First Minister. Daily. Sigh…

Don’t miss it!

I received a copy of this book from Karen Sullivan and Anne Cater at Orenda Books in exchange for an honest review.

What I’m Reading And Watching – Suellen Dainty

So, post no. 201! And crimeworm is being incredibly nosy today – not that that’s unique! I think all of us like to know what people are reading, from our favourite author, to our fellow bloggers, and even those random people you see on the bus or Underground. So today, as part of the Blog Tour for the fantastic psychological thriller, The Housekeeper, the author Suellen Dainty is telling me what she’s been reading, and what she’s got coming up…some more great titles you may want to put on your TBRs – or maybe they’re already there!

First, though, let’s hear about The Housekeeper – which is – WARNING! – highly addictive! Review to follow.

Product Details

BLURB: “I am the housekeeper, the hired help with a messy past who cleans up other people’s messy lives, the one who protects their messy little secrets.”

When Anne Morgan’s successful boyfriend—who also happens to be her boss—leaves her for another woman, Anne finds herself in desperate need of a new job and a quiet place to recover. Meanwhile, her celebrity idol, Emma Helmsley (England’s answer to Martha Stewart), is in need of a housekeeper, an opportunity which seems too good to be true.

Through her books, website, and blog, Emma Helmsley advises her devoted followers on how to live a balanced life in a hectic world. Her husband, Rob, is a high profile academic, and her children, Jake and Lily, are well-adjusted teenagers. On the surface, they are the perfect family. But Anne soon finds herself intimately ensconced in the Helmsley’s dirty laundry, both literally and figuratively. Underneath the dust, grime, and whimsical clutter, everyone has a secret to hide and Anne’s own disturbing past threatens to unhinge everything.

For fans of Notes on a Scandal and The Woman Upstairs, The Housekeeper is a nuanced and psychological drama about the dark recesses of the human mind and the dangerous consequences of long-buried secrets.

Q : What great books (or films/TV) have you read recently?

A: I loved Elaine by Ottessa Moshfegh – beautifully written, immersive atmosphere and a mesmerising, if very unreliable, narrator. I also re-read Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad, because I liked it so much when I was younger. It hasn’t dated at all. Like millions of others, I was fascinated by Hanya Yanagihara’s very hefty novel, A Little Life. Friends cancelled engagements so that they could keep reading this. Half way through, I was setting my alarm clock so I could read for an hour before the day began.
I binge-watched Peter Morgan’s The Queen, on Netflix. The series had a huge budget of 100 million pounds, and it shows – the costumes and locations are breath-taking. Great script and wonderful performances from Claire Foy as Queen Elizabeth and Matt Smith as the Duke of Edinburgh.
Q: What are you reading (or watching) at the moment?

A: I’m reading The Past by Tessa Hadley. She’s a firm favourite. I love the way she takes her time with a scene or a section of dialogue and yet always has something fascinating to say. She’s such a brilliant writer.
I like detective novels as well – they are perfect to read in bed at the end of a long day. I’ve finished The Dry, a debut crime novel by an Australian writer, Jane Harper. It’s set in the outback, and it’s a complete page-turner with countless twists and a very likeable hero.
Last week, I saw the film, Manchester by the Sea, with Casey Affleck and Michelle Williams. It was an incredibly moving study of grief and loss. I also liked Lion, with Dev Patel, but for the opposite reasons. It was so uplifting. Imagine finding your mother again after losing her at the age of five? Saroo Brierley’s story of his search for his family in India, after being adopted by a wonderful Australian couple, is amazing.

Q: What are you planning to read or watch next?

A: I missed out on Elena Ferrante’s quartet of novels when everyone else was reading them, so they are next on my list, as I’ve got a bit more spare time now. I also want to read Hot Milk by Deborah Levy and The North Water by Ian McGuire. Emma Clines’ The Girls is on my list as well.
I’d like to see The Man in the High Castle, the Amazon series adapted from the Phillip K Dick novel of 1962. I’ve never actually read the novel, so I’ll read that before I start watching.

Some great books there – I have to get to The Girls; I suspect I’m going to be the last person to read it – ditto the Elena Ferrante novels! My friend is off to Naples soon for two months to polish up her Italian – I’m so jealous. And The Dry was fabulous. I hope you like hearing about what authors are enjoying – I always love to hear your thoughts!

What I’m Reading And Watching – Sherri Smith

This is crimeworm‘s 200th post! Woo-hoo!

Today we’re getting a chance to look over the shoulder of Sherri Smith, author of Follow Me Down, which I’ve just finished…and utterly adored! Here’s the lowdown on the book, then Sherri’s piece on what she’s been reading and watching – when she’s not writing fantastic suspense-filled novels, obviously! My review will follow shortly.

Product Details

 Mia has built a life for herself far from the small town where she grew up. But she is forced to return home when her brother goes missing. Once the golden boy of the community, Lucas has disappeared the same day as the body of his student is pulled from the river. Unable to reconcile the media’s portrayal of Lucas as a murderer with her own memories of him, Mia is desperate to find another suspect. But if Lucas is innocent, why did he run?

You know how when you drink wine, you’re supposed to start light and go dark? Well I do the opposite with my reading. I go from dark to light. I just sleep better that way. I read three to four books all at once and they’re sort of scattered about the house because I have small children and like to exploit any opportunity to read by having a book within reach.

Last night, I cracked the spine of The Monogram Murders by Sophie Hannah (a Hercule Poirot mystery seems a safe bet to drift off to sleep to.) I am also reading Little Deaths by Emma Flint (books with dead children are morning reads). The writing is gorgeous and the mystery is really compelling. I also just started The River at Night by Erica Ferencik, and I’m already hooked (it’s a solid afternoon read!)

When it comes to sports, like any decent Winnipegger, it’s hockey and the Jets all the way (even if it’s a bumpy, disappointing ride.) Plus, beer always tastes better when hockey is involved!

As for what I’m watching, I’m really loving Zombie on Netflix right now. It has all of my favorite things in each episode, a murder mystery, a zombie and very witty banter. I don’t know what I’m going to do when I run out of episodes.

A laundry list of other shows I will binge-watch are Black Mirror (when will there be more!?!) Orphan Black, The Killing, Broadchurch, Jessica Jones and Orange is The New Black. I can hardly wait for the new season of House of Cards for obvious reasons, because it’s so good! I also have a few true crime documentaries queued up, which always help get my mind working.

So these are some things I’m reading and watching right now. Thanks for asking! I am always open to new suggestions, so please message me if you have any because I hate missing out.

So, what do you think of Sherri’s picks? The River At Night is on my must-buy list, and I’ve started Little Deaths. And I like a few books on the go at once… Love to hear what you think!

What I’m Reading, What I’ve Read… – James Oswald

Product Details

BLURB: When a body is found in a tree in The Meadows, Edinburgh’s scenic parkland, the forensics suggest the corpse has fallen from a great height.

Detective Inspector Tony McLean wonders whether it was an accident, or a murder designed to send a chilling message?

The dead man had led quite a life: a disgraced ex-cop turned criminal kingpin who reinvented himself as a celebrated philanthropist.

As McLean traces the victim’s journey, it takes him back to Edinburgh’s past, and through its underworld – crossing paths with some of its most dangerous and most vulnerable people.

And waiting at the end of it all, is the truth behind a crime that cuts to the very heart of the city…

With Inspector McLean no. 7 (Seven! Already! Seems incredible!) hitting the shelves late last month, James Oswald agreed to give us the lowdown on what he reads – when he’s not writing an Inspector McLean book, one of his fantasy novels, or running his 350-acre farm in Fife. He’s got to be the hardest working – and one of the most pleasant – men in Scottish crime fiction. That’s not to say they aren’t all pleasant…okay, stop digging…Over to James…

One of the problems of running a farm and writing two or more novels a year, as I have done for the past four years now, is that it leaves very little time for anything else. I can’t remember the last time I watched much on the television, and movies are something of a distant memory these days (although I did make an effort to go and see Star Wars: Rogue One at the cinema).

For a while I even found it hard to read books at all. So wrapped up in my own writing, I’d either feel guilty that I wasn’t working on the next thing, or start to edit whatever I was reading and thus kill all enjoyment of it. This situation was made even more fraught by the sheer number that get sent to me by editors hopeful of a blurb.

You cannot write in a vacuum though, and so I have made a concerted effort to refill the well by reading more. I’m also trying to be a bit more organised and make notes of what I’ve read. That way when I’m asked to name my five favourite novels of 2017, I’ll at least have a list to choose from. Last year I had to go around the bookshelves trying to remember what I’d read and when.

I’ve just finished reading How To Kill Friends And Implicate People, by Jay Stringer. It’s a wonderfully, comically dark tale of professional hitmen, bicycle courier private detectives and Glasgow gang lords and the second book in his Sam Ireland series. Stringer’s writing is always a joy to read, and this book was no exception. Highly recommended.

I am currently reading Elodie Harper’s The Binding Song, a darkly claustrophobic novel set mainly in a high security prison in Norfolk, where several inmates have committed suicide. The word is that a mysterious, ghostly apparition is haunting the prisoners and driving them to kill themselves, but is it really a ghost or some mass hysteria? It’s early days yet, but the characterisation is spot on, the storytelling very compelling for a debut novel. This is one of those books sent to me to read, most of which I give up on after the first few pages. That I’m three quarters finished and look forward to my meagre allocated reading time each day is the highest praise I can give. It’s not out until June 29th, but I suggest you all mark the day in your diaries.

Well, I for one definitely fancy The Binding Song. And James isn’t the only one I’ve heard mention Jay Stringer…so there’s more great recommendations for you! I’m currently reading Written In Bones and will review it as soon as I’m done.

Blog Tour – A Presence Of Absence – Sarah Surgey & Emma Vestrheim

BLURB: The Odense Series is a new Nordic Noir/Brit Crime series that blends humanist stories and family drama with gritty crime in the central Danish city Odense.

British detective Simon Weller escapes the fallout from the recent suicide of his Danish wife, Vibeke and heads out to her home city of Odense. But once there he is paired up with a local detective, Jonas, who is also about to hit rock bottom in his home life and they must overcome their differences and personal problems to try and catch one of the worst serial killers Odense has seen in many years.

The case takes them back into past decades as history starts catching up with some of the local inhabitants.

When Simon realises that his wife’s suicide may not be all it seems and her name appears in the case, his integrity within the case is compromised, how far will he go to find out the truth of Vibeke’s past and hide it from his already troubled police partner?

Back home in London Simon’s family are struggling with their own web of lies and deceit and the family is falling apart.

With one family hiding a dark secret, the whole case is just about to reach breaking point.

This is the first in The Odense Series, a collaboration between two authors, one British, one Danish – and it makes for a refreshingly original read. Our protagonist, Simon Weller, is ill with grief over the suicide of his beloved wife, Vibeke, and drinking himself into oblivion daily. He abruptly moves to her hometown in Denmark where they own a holiday cottage, and in desperation applies to the police department there. Despite his blunt statement that he doesn’t know the language, he’s accepted due to his experience as a detective in London, and is paired with Jonas, who’s regarded as not much good for anything bar writing parking tickets. He ruined his career in a foolish incident years previously in which he broke the law to obtain evidence. In doing so he destroyed an important drug case the department had spent months working on. Also, it doesn’t help his self-esteem that he’s emasculated by his career obsessed, control-freak wife, Brigitte – who’s a fabulously horrid creation! 

Despite Simon and Jonas making an unlikely pair, as the only available detectives they’re sent to investigate the murder of Elsbet Sorensen. She was the daughter of wealthy members of the town’s society. Discovered by the town busybody, she’s suspended from a lamppost, with hay stuffed in her mouth. Elsbet had worked as a teacher at a highly prestigious local boarding school.

The duo’s caseload increases when there’s another body found with the same “hay in the mouth” signature – an ex-teacher at the same school. But the school’s acting head is making life difficult for the detectives, terrified of any bad press.

Back in the UK, Sanne, Simon’s daughter, is angry at her father’s behaviour and preoccupied by his sudden departure. Her brother, Thomas, who works with Sanne’s husband Michael, is becoming suspicious of his brother-in-law’s increasingly erratic behaviour. When looking in his office for evidence of an affair – the first thing that springs to mind – he finds a slip of paper with his late mother’s name written on it, along with the word “bitch.” They weren’t particularly close, but nor were they on bad terms. And why did his phone bill show Michael had been telephoning Vibeke relentlessly for months, sometimes during the night?

Simon then has to risk Jonas’s wrath when he admits to doing something incredibly stupid that could possibly hold up the resolution of the murder case. But before they can act on this, another body is discovered…

The book moves rapidly between Sanne, Michael and Thomas in London, and the murder investigation in Denmark. It’s a satisfying read, and shows great promise for future books. There’s a great cast of original characters who people Odense, and Simon and Jonas are definitely a pair I’d like to read more about. Simon’s family’s problems in London add depth and a human touch in juxtaposition to the murders.

I’ve read the synopsis of the second in the series, The Enlightened, and it sounds absolutely great, continuing some of the storylines brought up in A Presence Of Absence. I’m just a bit gutted we’ll have to wait until December for it!

Highly recommended.

Blog Tour – Stronger Than Skin – Stephen May

Product Details

BLURB: Mark Chadwick is cycling home from work, eager to get back to his pregnant wife Katy and two children, when he sees the police calling at his house. He knows exactly why they are there and he knows that the world he has carefully constructed over twenty very deliberately uneventful years is about to fall apart. He could lose everything. A story of a toxic love gone wrong, with a setting that moves easily between present day London and 1990s Cambridge, Stronger Than Skin is compulsively readable, combining a gripping narrative with a keen eye for the absurdities of the way we live now.

Mark Chadwick is an English teacher married to a lawyer and is a kind of Everyman – except for the secret he’s been keeping since he was an undergraduate. As he pedals away he knows that, despite being no spy operative, he’s going to have to track down someone and persuade them to either drop or change their story, or he will lose his family and his freedom.

As we move between present-day England and ’90s Cambridge, we learn about Mark, his ex-lover, and the decision he made – which was possibly influenced by a family tragedy.

Stephen May is an exceptional writer – ’90s Cambridge rings very true (I actually thought he’d been there; apparently not), as does the way the somewhat naive and guileless 19-year-old Mark allows himself to be seduced by a woman, Anne Sheldon, who’s twice his age and married to a professor at a college – not Mark’s – at the University. She’s a character I found pretty despicable – despite not working herself, she sends her 9-year-old daughter to boarding school, and is clearly bored by the child, while she and her husband each take a series of lovers in a kind of sick emotional war. She uses people like toys, discarding them when bored. But of course to the young Mark, who was brought up in a working class pub, she is glamour and decadence and – let’s be honest – lots of sex.

May’s highly observant and very witty about the way we live now, reminding me of John Lanchester, Amanda Craig or Alan Hollinghurst. I marked so many quotable passages – these are just a few:

At nineteen all proper adult ages are more or less the same. Thirty-seven, forty-five, sixty-two, a hundred and three. It hardly matters. They’re all strange, faraway places you can’t believe you’ll ever visit.


When [she] killed herself she took the whole family with her. Mission accomplished because isn’t that what every suicide wants if they’re honest? To wipe out everyone close to them.


Even if you never had any Ladybird books as a kid…you can feel a pang for the kind of childhood they represent. Dad back from the office and putting his feet up with a pipe. Mum placing a home-baked Victoria sponge on the table. Cheery postmen, smiling policemen on bicycles. Men fixing things with spanners and wrenches. Look and Learn arriving on a Saturday. Peter doesn’t surf the internet for porn. Jane doesn’t get arseholed on WKD.


Mr Hopkins is the teaching assistant who also runs the football team, a man whose distinguishing feature is that he is always smiling. Not a typical attribute of the successful football manager I guess.


Stebbing Bardfield has a sign reading ‘500 years of creativity’ as you drive in.

‘I bet that is such a lie,’ says Lulu. ‘I bet it’s 480 years of growing turnips and 20 years of artisan bread and designing websites.’

As he embarks on his road trip to find Anne, accompanied by Lulu, an ex-pupil’s girlfriend, we move back and forward in time and hear the full story of what happened to cause the police to be looking for him now, adding a greatly enjoyable layer of crime fiction to the novel.

I absolutely loved this novel – it’s so utterly readable you find yourself reading far later than you intended, desperate to hear exactly what happened, why the police are taking an interest now, and, of course, to learn the ultimate fate of Mark Chadwick.

I must admit that I wasn’t aware of this author until now, but I’ll definitely be seeking out his back catalogue (TAG and Life! Death! Prizes!, which was shortlisted for the 2012 Costa Novel Award and The Guardian Not The Booker Prize.) Sandstone Press are surpassing themselves at the moment with their selection of novels – they were responsible for Wait For Me, Jack (reviewed here), which I also loved, and publish Jorn Lier Horst’s William Wisting novels – The Caveman deservedly won last year’s Petrona Prize.  

Stephen May is a huge talent, and I hope he’ll get the recognition he deserves with this novel. It’s currently only £1 on Kindle, which is a huge bargain, and I’d urge anyone who likes the sound of this, or is a fan of the aforementioned writers to snap it up, as it won’t be this price for long.

Very highly recommended.

My copy of this novel was provided by Sandstone Press in exchange for an honest review.

Blog Tour – Dead Embers – Matt Brolly

Product Details

BLURB: An explosive fire. A double murder. And that’s just the start.

When DCI Lambert is called out to an apparent house fire, he knows it can’t be routine. Instead he finds the remains of a burnt house, a traumatised child and two corpses – one of whom is a senior police officer.

Lambert’s got other problems. Anti-corruption are onto his boss. His relationships is on the rocks. He can’t get over his ex-wife and he keeps blacking out.

But when a detective has been murdered the stakes are too high to get distracted. All is not as it seems. As the investigation continues Lambert realises he is getting drawn into something altogether bigger and more terrifying than he could ever have imagined…

Trust no one.

I’ve got to confess to not having read any of Matt Brolly’s books – not a deliberate omission, it’s just that there are so many series out there it’s impossible to keep up with them all. There’s also the issue with the quality of them being so variable – some are a bit samey and, well, dull.

Matt Brolly’s third book featuring DCI Michael Lambert certainly isn’t that. What starts as an intriguing but not exceptionally unusual case – apart from the fact that one of the victims of the arson attack was thought to be a police officer – quickly morps into an incredibly gripping police procedural, with a great cast, not all of whom play entirely by the rules. Yes, I’m talking about you, DCI Lambert and Superintendent Glenn Tillman. In the fine tradition of Rebus, they’re prepared to do what it takes to get results – even if that involves kidnapping high-ranking cops, and indulging in a bit of light torture.

I’m not going into great detail about what this book is, ultimately, all about, and the reason for the arson attack – that would take all the joy out reading this for you, and there’s a ton of that. Twists and turns I didn’t see coming pepper the pages – Brolly sure knows how to plot a riveting yarn. There are references to previous books but they don’t so much act as spoilers, more gentle encouragement to catch up with the earlier titles. Lambert’s personal life is also as messy as we expect a police officer’s to be, and his team are all fairly well fleshed-out and, for the most part, likeable.

Some of this book isn’t for the fainthearted, although Brolly’s writing never descends into horror – it’s more what those with a vivid imagination could make of some of the details, particularly at the end.

The plot reaches from a petty arsonist all the way to rot at the very highest echelons of power, making this a topical read that could be ripped straight from the headlines we’ve been seeing over the last few years. It seems some people will stop at absolutely nothing to keep their darkest secrets hidden.

I started this review by saying I hadn’t read any of Matt Brolly’s books before. I can assure you that omission will be getting corrected at the earliest possible moment. And if you too have missed out on this author in the flood of crime fiction that hits the market every year, my advice would be to catch up now. If cream always rises to the top, then look for Matt Brolly at the top of the fiction charts very soon. I’m so glad I’ve had the pleasure of discovering him relatively early in his career. I hope you do the same – that’s if you haven’t beaten me to it!

This book is currently available for £1.99 on Kindle, and the first two books in the series are now just 99p.

Don’t miss it!

My thanks to Canelo Books and NetGalley who provided me with an ARC of this novel in exchange for an honest review.

Games People Play – Owen Mullen

Product Details

BLURB: Thirteen-month-old Lily Hamilton is abducted from Ayr beach in Scotland while her parents are just yards away.

Three days later the distraught father turns up at private investigator Charlie Cameron’s office. Mark Hamilton believes he knows who has stolen his daughter. And why.

Against his better judgment Charlie gets involved in the case and when more bodies are discovered the awful truth dawns: there is a serial killer whose work has gone undetected for decades.

Is baby Lily the latest victim of a madman?

For Charlie it’s too late, he can’t let go.

His demons won’t let him.

I love it when a great new Scottish writer appears on the scene! Charlie Cameron, is quite unusually, a private investigator, but he has one speciality – he finds missing people. No sleazy divorce cases or dull white collar investigations – although one day he might have to branch out, as poor Charlie doesn’t seem to get paid very often! However, that doesn’t really matter a huge amount, as he’s “a man of means,” thanks to his grandmother’s will.

The big case in this book – although by no means the only one – is Lily Hamilton, a baby whose snatched from her pram while her father has to rush into the sea and rescue her mother, who’s got into difficulties – so all eyes are on them, and someone takes their chance to lift Lily and…disappear.

Not wanting to confide in police, so his already hospitalised wife doesn’t find out, Mark Hamilton goes to see Charlie and asks him to track down his ex-lover, Donna Morton, who he believes has nursed a grievance since he told her he wasn’t leaving his wife for her, and is responsible for stealing baby Lily as revenge. But a search for Donna is futile – her flat’s empty, and her only connection, her sister, hasn’t spoken to her for over a year. It seems like a dead end, but Hamilton’s insistent she’ll have the child.

Another case, brought to him by the girl’s parents, involves a missing college student, Alison Downey, who’s gone missing. At the same time one of her lecturers, Frank Lennon, has disappeared – both last seen at a class night out, which Frank had attended. The smart mouths reckon they were having an affair and have run off together, but speaking to more reasonable people who were colleagues of Frank Lennon and friends of Alison Downey, he begins to doubt this version of events. But if they didn’t go somewhere together, where the hell are they?

They’re great cases, which become increasingly complex, and what’s equally as enjoyable is meeting the group of people Charlie surrounds himself with. There’s Pat Logue, who’s a functioning alcoholic, with his eye on the main chance, and who’s got the patter to get the info where Charlie’s posher voice fails. He’s a bit of a “ballroom dancer” (chancer), and has a habit of talking in football analogies (“If you don’t want to know the score, look away now”; “Anythin’ on, Charlie? The fans are askin'”; “If selected, Charlie. Don’t fancy it, but if selected,” etc.) He’s got a long-suffering wife, Gail, and two sons, and his marriage seems forever on the verge of collapse. He’s a bit of light entertainment in a book with some dark themes. Then there’s DS Gordon Geddes, who’s equally Charlie’s mate, but Pat’s nemesis, mainly as he’s never nailed anything on him. He’s bitter about his ex-wife taking him to the cleaners, but is a useful source of information, both about police investigations Charlie’s on the fringes of, like the Hamilton case, and the sort of information only the police are privy to. Jackie Mallon is manageress of NYB (New York Blue), the bar above which Charlie has a permanent rent-free office thanks to a favour he did for her boss, Alex, and much to her chagrin, as she covets the office space. Jackie’s “aw sugar or aw shite,” as they say in Glasgow – if she’s got a man she’s happy, helpful, and on a healthy diet; when she hasn’t, she’s permanently: a) in a bad mood; and b) eating cheesecake. Lots of it. Fortunately, there are plenty of men around NYB.

These are the people who make up Charlie’s “family” – he’s somewhat estranged from his father, who’s Chairman of the Tory Party and thinks Charlie’s wasting, “the best education money could buy.” (Private school in Edinburgh (natch) then Strathclyde Uni) They’ve decamped to England as Tories are obviously surplus to requirements up here – the old joke about there being more pandas in Scotland than Tory MPs springs to mind here! But there are other, older family secrets which are explained in the book and will help readers make sense of this splintered family situation.

To say any more about Charlie’s cases – both of which end up taking unexpected and nicely plotted turns – would lead us into spoiler territory. Suffice to say, it’s worth familiarising yourself with Charlie Cameron – and those around him – as I suspect this series is going to be massive. I’ve already read no.2, Old Friends And New Enemies, and it is even better. Expect a review of it very soon indeed – as Pat would say, I’m making the reviews a game of two halves.

Very highly recommended.

My thanks to Owen Mullen and Bloodhound Books for allowing me early access to this novel.

Blog Tour – Summary Justice – John Fairfax

Product Details

BLURB: The last time Tess de Vere saw William Benson she was a law student on work experience. He was a twenty-one year old, led from the dock of the Old Bailey to begin a life sentence for murder. He’d said he was innocent. She’d believed him.

Sixteen years later Tess overhears a couple of hacks mocking a newcomer to the London Bar, a no-hoper with a murder conviction, running his own show from an old fishmonger’s in Spitalfields. That night she walks back into Benson’s life. The price of his rehabilitation – and access to the Bar – is an admission of guilt to the killing of Paul Harbeton, whose family have vowed revenge. He’s an outcast. The government wants to shut him down and no solicitor will instruct him. But he’s subsidised by a mystery benefactor and a desperate woman has turned to him for help: Sarah Collingstone, mother of a child with special needs, accused of slaying her wealthy lover. It’s a hopeless case and the murder trial, Benson’s first, starts in four days. The evidence is overwhelming but like Benson long ago, she swears she’s innocent. Tess joins the defence team, determined to help Benson survive. But as Benson follows the twists and turns in the courtroom, Tess embarks upon a secret investigation of her own, determined to uncover the truth behind the death of Paul Harbeton on a lonely night in Soho.

True to life, fast-paced and absolutely compelling, Summary Justice introduces a new series of courtroom dramas featuring two maverick lawyers driven to fight injustice at any cost.

I absolutely love reading about the law – I used to collect the green Penguin Notable Trials series, which gave you every detail of some of the most notorious trials in British history, as well as others that had been lost in time – all fascinating.

This is a legal thriller, but in this book, all the thrills are in the courtroom, or to do with evidence they’ve uncovered outside. And the lead character is not your average lawyer…

Will Benson is a barrister, and a very unusual one – he has a murder conviction of his own. He spent eleven years inside for a murder he swore he didn’t commit. After a discussion with his counsel pre-verdict, an anonymous benefactor paid for the former philosophy student to study law whilst inside, and bought him a barge to live on when he got out. After a great many appeals to various committees with archaic names, his argument that the legal profession should not be closed to those who’ve made a mistake, admitted their guilt (one of the conditions of getting parole; privately, he maintains his innocence), and who want to move on with their life and contribute to society.

He hangs round courts, getting little scraps of cases thrown to him here and there by sympathetic colleagues and his former counsel, until the requisite three years are up and he can set up on his own. Archie, a former fishmonger who he met inside (fiddling taxes) persuades his father to let him work out of their old fishmonger’s shop, on the condition Archie is employed as a clerk. Understandably, there’s a great media hullabaloo, with two petitions – one on behalf of the family of the man he killed, run by – of course – The Sun, and the other called, “Everyone Deserves A Second Chance.” And then he gets the big one – a murder case. With four days until trial, a thirtysomething mother of a disabled son called Sarah Ravenscroft sacks her counsel and asks Will to represent her.

Tess de Vere, a law student who was part of Will’s original trial team on work experience, and who initially encouraged him to go for it when it came to studying law and gaining entry for the bar, is not long back in London after working in Strasbourg, and at lunch one day overhears fellow diners gossiping about an ex-murderer practising out of a fishmonger’s shop, and knows Will’s got to where he wants to be. When she reads about the murder case, she arrives at his barge, where he lives with his cat called Papillon, and asks if she can join the defence team. He’s delighted to see her, and accepts her offer of help gratefully. Her being a lawyer at one of the top firms in the City (who aren’t too chuffed about her hitching their name to such a controversial character) adds some clout to their case – but could also endanger her future there.

As for the case, I’ll just give you the very basics as you must read this book to find out the rest. The Crown’s case is that Sarah Collingstone was having an affair with the deceased, Andrew Bealing, who ran, amongst other interests, a haulage company. She was employed by him to oversee the management of three shops, although she was underqualified for the job. She has a severely disabled 18-year-old son to care for, and her father had given up a promising acting career to help out, bringing in what income he could from a part-time teaching job in a drama school and reading audiobooks. Her son’s father was killed in a car accident prior to his son’s birth, and after Daniel stopped breathing at 10 days old (he was also born prematurely, possibly as a result of the car accident, of which Sarah was the only survivor) and was found to have brain damage, the Greene family had no interest in him, even moving away. Bealing was a very rich man, and the Crown contends Sarah saw him as her ticket out of poverty. But when he tried to end the affair, she lashed out and struck him in the throat with the neck of a broken beer bottle, on which her DNA was found, and he bled to death inside his own warehouse, whilst his killer watched him die – after kicking the phone out of his hands after he dialled 999, but before he could press call…

This is what Will, Tess, Archie, and the Tuesday Night Club, a gang of ex-cons who meet weekly for support, all with many different skills and connections, are up against, and the courtroom scenes are incredibly gripping – as are Will, et al’s investigations into other possible scenarios.

Tess also decides to find out – without Will’s knowledge – who really killed Paul Harbeton that night Will’s life as he knew it also came to an end, with the hope of being appeal his conviction. But what will she discover as she opens this Pandora’s Box?

I think this is the first book I’ve been halfway through and looked, gutted, at how little I’ve left!

This is the first in a series of Benson and de Vere novels, and it’s already been optioned for “multi-part prestige TV serials” by the company who produced The Constant Gardener and A Most Wanted Man films. That’s totally understandable – this is fantastic, incredibly tense and gripping, with plenty of realism, and likeable, complex lead characters, with a particularly sympathetic lead. Read it now, before there’s a string of them to catch up and it’s on TV!

Don’t miss it, m’Lud!

My thanks to Little, Brown for an advance copy of this book in return for this unbiased review.



Did I Like It? It Depends… – Owen Mullen

Games People Play by [Mullen, Owen] Old Friends And New Enemies: a gripping crime thriller by [Mullen, Owen]

Above – The first two Charlie Cameron books, available now.

Recently a woman sent me a Facebook DM, saying she’d started reading one of my books and had given up because she couldn’t get into it. Later, she’d returned to it and was at a loss to understand why it hadn’t impressed her the first time. She now likes it so much she’s bought the follow-up, and copies of both books to give to friends. That got me wondering if anybody else has had this experience because I certainly have.

Understanding the influence my own mood has in the reading/watching equation is a surprise that forces me to re-evaluate my views. How much good stuff have I missed because I’m in the wrong place? Nowadays, because I’m almost always working on a book, I don’t read as much as I once did. Slumped in front of the television is an easy option and one I frequently take. Though the same applies. I watch something, can’t get into it and give up. Months – maybe years later – I try again, only to discover I like it. The Sopranos is an example: I watched the first episode and didn’t get it. Fortunately, I soldiered on otherwise I would’ve dismissed one of the all-time great TV series. Breaking Bad was borderline until the penny dropped. Right now, I’m struggling with Taboo and Apple Tree Yard. Enjoyed the start of both but, somewhere along the way, I’ve begun to lose interest.

I haven’t had quite the same experience with reading, because if it doesn’t grab me I tend to give up. Maybe because reading requires a bigger commitment from me.

When I do get the opportunity to read, I often return to an author – sometimes a particular book – I’ve already read. Maybe because, sub-consciously, I know I’ll enjoy them. Currently have The Last Temptation by Val McDermid on my bedside table.

Two new authors caught my attention. Peter Best impressed me right away – believe he’s about to re-launch – and Donna Maria Mccarthy’s, The Hangman’s Hitch, took me well out of my reading comfort zone. Really liked both.

Ultimately – as I now appreciate – my enjoyment will depend on where I am in my head, which at the moment is full of plotlines for Charlie 4 and some very bad people. A scary place. Don’t mind visiting but wouldn’t want to live there. So better not to ask what I think about anything for a while. Whatever the question is, chalk me up as don’t know.

I’ll get back to you when I’ve taken another look!