Blog Tour – Burned And Broken – Mark Hardie

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BLURB: A vulnerable young woman, fresh out of the care system, is trying to discover the truth behind the sudden death of her best friend.

The charred body of a policeman – currently the subject of an internal investigation – is found in the burnt-out-shell of his car on the Southend seafront.

To DS Frank Pearson and DC Catherine Russell of the Essex Police Major Investigation Team, the two events seem unconnected. But as they dig deeper into their colleague’s murder, dark secrets begin to emerge.

Can Pearson and Russell solve both cases, before more lives are destroyed?

A brand new author, with a brand new series, set in Essex, in Southend-on-Sea. The book opens dramatically with the murder of a cop, DI Sean Carragher, burnt in his car, and we soon discover he could be somewhat dodgy, and so have built up a multitude of enemies.

Our main characters are DS Frank Pearson and DC Cat Russell. Pearson’s one of these “live for the job” types, with a marriage in its death throes, whereas Cat’s from a shady gangster-type family, who’ve disowned her since she joined the police. As this is the first book, we didn’t get to know them that well, especially Cat, but Frank seemed an intriguing character. Their relationship struck me as more mentor-mentee. They weren’t exclusively partnered together – she usually worked with the late DI Carragher, although as this book is labelled on Amazon: “A Pearson and Russell Novel,” presumably that changes.

Our other main characters are Donna and Malc, with Donna just out of the care system, but both still kids. She was good friends with Alicia Goode, who died, and, from what I can ascertain, whose death prompted an investigation into the Abigail Burnett Children’s Home, and the possibility of sex grooming taking place there. Donna’s angry Alicia’s death was ultimately branded accidental, and drags the somewhat gormless Malc along with her as she seeks to punish the man she believes responsible.

Hardie doesn’t balk at controversial – and highly pertinent – storylines, like the grooming for sex of children in care, the mental health issues of young vulnerable people, coppers (possibly) on the take, etc. There’s a smörgåsbord of sleaze, and sleazy people, throughout, and I found it all horribly realistic. And when it comes to nightclubs, it so often comes with the territory. One particular club, which has had two fires, both vaguely suspicious but nothing the fire investigation department, police, or insurance company could prove, is owned by Pearson’s (probably) soon-to-be-ex-brother-in-law, and I loved Pearson’s description of Terry Milton:

“He had the sartorial elegance of a used car salesman, Pearson thought. Or a professional darts player.”

The club ends up part of this investigation when a man called Sickert Downey, who ran the children’s home from whence the children under suspicion of abuse came, and was given “early retirement” at the conclusion of the investigation, hanged himself (…or did he?) from the scaffolding outside PSYgnosis, Milton’s club. Was his choice of places to die simply a matter of convenience, i.e. the scaffolding – or was he trying to say something?

So – gritty; realistic; highly readable – this book has all the hallmarks of being the first in what could be a great series. Even the peripheral characters have their quirks – like Lawrence, who rarely leaves his desk, fed up with the job and marking time to retirement. Or DCI Roberts, with his penchant for Extra Strong Mints, and his habit of fidgeting with things on his desk when they’re discussing a case. I look forward to getting to know them all better.

There are plenty of surprises to be found at the conclusion too – not just in who was responsible for the death of DI Sean Carragher, and why, but from other parts of the storyline too. Mark Hardie has the perfect mind for creating great police procedurals. I very much look forward to reading more of his work.

NOTE: This book is currently £1.99 on Kindle, so do snap it up before it goes up. The paperback isn’t available until May.

My thanks to Sphere Books for my copy of this book in return for my honest review.

Blog Tour – Sister, Sister – Sue Fortin

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BLURB: Alice: Beautiful, kind, manipulative, liar.

Clare: Intelligent, loyal, paranoid, jealous.

Clare thinks Alice is a manipulative liar who is trying to steal her life.
Alice thinks Clare is jealous of her long-lost return and place in their family.

One of them is telling the truth. The other is a maniac.
Two sisters. One truth.

I do adore a good domestic noir psychological thriller, although I must admit many of them are the equivalent of a book MacDonald’s – quick, satisfying at the time, but often somewhat forgettable. I’m not disrespecting any authors here – it’s quite a feat to have your readers staying up until all hours muttering, “…one more chapter,” knowing they’ll be zombies in the morning!

So, the set-up is this – 20 years previously Clare and Alice’s father took Alice, his younger daughter, to the United States, ostensibly for a holiday – but never returned. Private investigators hired by the girls’ mother with the help of Leonard, a longtime family friend and lawyer (who’s also Clare’s boss – she’s now a lawyer too) didn’t find them. They gave up all hope of seeing Alice again until, 20 years on, a letter arrives from her. Then Alice arranges to come and visit. It’s going to be happy families, at last! Except, of course, it’s not. Because then it’d be some kind of chick-lit novel I’d be avoiding like the Plague! No, I definitely prefer my characters on the nasty side…

Clare doesn’t take to Alice from the word go. Maybe, as her family keep telling her, it’s simple jealousy over Alice borrowing some clothes without asking. Or maybe it’s the easy way she touches Clare’s husband Luke’s arm, or comes down to breakfast wearing only a skimpy T-shirt. But when Clare finds Alice in Luke’s studio in the middle of the night (he’s an artist; she’s always been the main breadwinner) posing for a portrait “as a surprise for Mum” she’s apoplectic with rage.

Then things start happening – hyper-organised Clare loses a hugely important file, getting her in trouble at work. Is all this stress affecting her? Did she in fact leave it where it where it was found? I don’t want to put in any spoilers, but let’s just say everyone is starting to look at Clare with new eyes – mistrustful ones.

Thank goodness she has her colleague, Tom, to vent to. After a romance at university, they’ve settled into an easy friendship and good working relationship – in fact, Clare suggested him for his position with Leonard. He seems to be the only one on her side; at home she’s the baddie, with even her daughters fearful of her when she arrives home lest she sparks another row.

Clare ultimately decides she needs to know the full truth about Alice, not just her version – after all, she’s just appeared, after 20 years absence. What has she been doing in the meantime? Did their father really die just a few months ago? If it wasn’t for her unmistakable blue eyes, seen on treasured childhood photographs, she could be anyone. And when Clare has the truth, if any of it differs from Alice’s version, she’ll know her sister to be the liar she suspects her to be. So it’s Operation Alice…

This book gets wonderfully more and more dramatic as it progresses, and your nails will get shorter with the stress! The family dynamic – both pre- and post-Alice’s arrival – comes across as pretty realistic, but what I most enjoyed was the spats between the two sisters, which got progressively worse as time went on and their “relationship” deteriorated more and more. It turns out they both can give as good as they get!

I don’t know how I managed to miss The Girl Who Lied last year, but I’m pretty sure from reading the blurb that I’d love it. And at only £1.99 currently on Kindle, Sister, Sister is definitely worth snapping up before the price increases! Plus Sue Fortin is certainly an author worth watching in this genre.

My thanks to HarperCollins and NetGalley for allowing me to read this book in exchange for my honest review.

Blog Tour – Lying In Wait – Liz Nugent

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BLURB: Lydia Fitzsimons lives in the perfect house with her adoring husband and beloved son. There is just one thing Lydia yearns for to make her perfect life complete, though the last thing she expects is that pursuing it will lead to murder. However, needs must – because nothing can stop this mother from getting what she wants …

One of the possibilities when people have been raving about a particular title for months is that you could end up disappointed. After all, could this book really be as good as they all say? And of course there’s that sublimely quotable opening line I’ve read so often I know it off by heart (and you probably do too, or the gist of it):  “My husband never meant to kill Annie Doyle, but the lying tramp deserved it.” Once I got used to the despicably selfish and unreliable Lydia, I realised yes, they were right. This book was every bit as good as everyone said it was, and settled down for a delightful trip into Liz Nugent’s twisted mind.

Straight away that opening comment tells us plenty about Lydia, one of the three narrators who are going to lead us through this story of a missing girl: a bereft sister, Karen; Lydia’s well-meaning, but smothered, son; and the devious Lydia, who will do anything she can to control those around her in order to retain her position as matriarch of Avalon, a large detached villa with substantial grounds.

Karen, Annie’s sister, is determined not to give up the search for Annie, and Laurence, who has a good heart and is torn between protecting his parents (although his father dies shortly after the “incident”, due to a heart attack brought on by the stress of what happened and of being questioned by the garda), and helping the stunning Karen find out what happened to her sister. He knows his father is somehow linked to Annie’s disappearance, although he doesn’t believe his decent, henpecked father could be a murderer – perhaps his position as a judge has led to him having to help get her out of the country, as a witness who’s in danger? And the case is so serious the local garda can’t be informed?

Lydia has to be one of my absolutely favourite creations in fiction for a very long time. Not that that means I like her, you understand – it’s simply that Liz Nugent has created a complete monster, disguised as a harmless judge’s wife, a pillar of the community, who adores her only son, Laurence, and lets him do whatever he wants – for example, letting him eat anything he wants, until he’s very overweight. (This, of course, means he has less likelihood of meeting a girl, marrying her, and leaving her – and Avalon.) Laurence has a mind of his own, and he also knows considerably more about what happened on that particular night referred to at the beginning of the book than Lydia suspects.

However, when she realises Karen’s continuing in her search for Annie, she persuades Laurence to throw her off the scent. But as she realises how close they’ve become, and what they’re plans are, us readers realise exactly how devious and self-serving this woman can be. To what lengths will she go to keep Avalon – and Laurence? What exactly will she sacrifice?

This is a fantastically plotted psychological thriller, with an ending I’d never have conceived of. Liz Nugent‘s debut, Unravelling Oliver, was a superb debut, but this is a far more accomplished book when it comes to character development and plotting – the whole idea is wonderful! I can’t wait to see what this author does next – she’s an incredible talent. Now I’d best wind up, as I’m running out of superlatives…

Don’t miss this one!

My thanks to Penguin Random House for my copy of this book in exchange for my honest opinion.


Blog Tour – The Dry – Jane Harper

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I just can’t understand how someone like him could do something like that…

Amid the worst drought to ravage Australia in a century, it hasn’t rained in small country town Kiewarra for two years. Tensions in the community become unbearable when three members of the Hadler family are brutally murdered. Everyone thinks Luke Hadler, who committed suicide after slaughtering his wife and six-year-old son, is guilty.

Policeman Aaron Falk returns to the town of his youth for the funeral of his childhood best friend, and is unwillingly drawn into the investigation. As questions mount and suspicion spreads through the town, Falk is forced to confront the community that rejected him twenty years earlier. Because Falk and Luke Hadler shared a secret, one which Luke’s death threatens to unearth. And as Falk probes deeper into the killings, secrets from his past and why he left home bubble to the surface as he questions the truth of his friend’s crime.

Sometimes, participating in a Blog Tour can be a double-edged sword. Sure, you get to read the latest books, usually a real book, and you get additional hits on your blog from participating in a high-profile tour. But the fact is, sometimes you feel the pressure is on to say you really enjoyed the book, even if it was just kind of average, as you know the publicist, and very possibly the author, may be reading your thoughts. I’m a bit of a sop – I hate the thought of hurting author’s feelings, after all the time and work they’ve put into their “baby.” After all, I know how devastated I’d be if it were me!

No such worries here. Despite this being the author’s debut novel, years of working as a journalist at national newspapers in the UK and her new home, Australia, have honed her skill with words. However, we all know that’s not enough – a great story is crucial, and The Dry is a bloody fantastic story. Not in a million years would you peg this as a debut.

The story begins when Aaron Falk receives a message from his teenage best friend’s father, demanding his presence at the funeral of his son, Luke Handler, daughter-in-law Karen, and grandson Billy. The police from the nearest large town, Clyde, came to Kiewarra, the rundown bushtown where they lived, and their conclusion was that it was a case of family annihilation: Luke shot his family – sparing only his 13-month-old daughter Charlotte – then drove to a clearing, and turned the gun on himself.

Aaron wouldn’t normally have appeared at the funeral – he and his father were run out of town 20 years previously, after the death of one of Aaron’s friends, Ellie, by drowning. All it took for suspicion to fall on them was a very small thing, that could have meant something, or nothing. Since then, Aaron and his father had existed, little more as country folk out of place in the city of Melbourne, with Aaron joining the police, specialising in financial crimes. The last thing he wants to do is return to a town with so many memories.

While there, Luke’s parents, Gerry and Barb, ask him to run his eyes over the farm’s books to see if it was impending financial disaster that caused Luke to do what he did. Most of the farms in the area are in a bad way financially, due to a drought that’s the longest in living memory. He agrees, as he feels obligated to the family that were so good to him when he was younger. He also meets the new(ish) local policeman, Raco, who admits he has doubts about the way the investigation was run, and they end up teaming up to see if they can discover anything the Clyde police missed.

And like any small town anywhere, Kiewarra has it’s secrets, some relevant to the investigation, many not. Hanging over their investigation is the spectre of Ellie’s death – 20 years on and grudges are still borne, and not just by her alcoholic father and cousin.

There are plenty of suspects, with lots of potential motives, and Aaron and Raco make a likeable and efficient investigative duo. To be honest, I’d have galloped through this book in a day or two, but eked it out for longer as it was SO enjoyable. Great characters, amd the classic trope of the small community, cut off from elsewhere, and, we know, containing our villain. Also the added “bonus” mystery of what happened 20 years previously, the events of which we are drip-fed in short extracts.

If we get even, say, ten books of this quality this year, I’ll be a very happy crimeworm. Don’t miss The Dry – you’ll only be kicking yourself when the rest of the fiction-loving world are raving about it (and it’s not just for crime fans; the quality of the writing lifts it above any genre pigeonholing.) Buy it, or borrow it, but whatever you do, ensure you read it!

Purchase it on Amazon UK or support your local bookshop or library.

Very highly recommended.

Many thanks to Little Brown Book Group, who sent me a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.