Blog Tour – The Dolocher – Caroline Barry

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BLURB: Victorian London had Jack the Ripper.
Georgian Dublin had the Dolocher…
The Dolocher is stalking the alleyways of Dublin. Half man, half pig,
this terrifying creature has unleashed panic on the streets. Can it really be the evil spirit of a murderer who has cheated the hangman’s noose by taking his own life in his prison cell, depriving the mob of their rightful revenge? Or is there some other strange supernatural explanation?
This terror has come at the perfect time for down-at-heel writer Solomon Fish. With his new broadsheet reporting ever more gruesome stories of the mysterious Dolocher, sales are growing daily and fuelling the city’s fear. But when the Dolocher starts killing and Solomon himself is set upon, he realises that there’s more to the story than he could ever have imagined.
With the help of his fearless landlady, ship’s surgeon-turned-apothecary Merriment O’Grady, Solomon goes after the Dolocher. Torn between reason and superstition, they must hold their nerve as everyone around them loses theirs. But are they hunting the Dolocher or is the Dolocher hunting them?

Do you ever read books where you feel totally immersed in the place, the time, the people, the whole story? It often used to happen to me as a child – I’m thinking of the Narnia series – but it’s rarely it’s happened to me recently – in fact, I can’t remember the last time, until I read The Dolocher. For starters, it’s got an incredible sense of place – 1756 Dublin – wonderfully described, from the Black Dog Prison, to Merriment O’Grady’s apothecary shop, to Hell and it’s statue of Lucifer where new arrival Solomon Fish sells his broadsheets, keeping the fine people of Dublin up to date with the horrendous happenings in their town (bear with me; we’ll get to them!) There’s also the various drinking dens, where Solomon picks up gossip, and loses all his money, gambling in card games – in fact, it is this vice that is behind his return after 10 years exile in London, as he was being sought there for gambling debts.

The four main characters are wonderfully drawn – we have the aforementioned Solomon Fish, who needs someone who can draw to illustrate the broadsheets. He meets a young lad called Corker, who’s 14, and handy with the pen. His mother is an alcoholic, and he does his best to support all his younger siblings. He’s also wonderful for hearing what’s going on in the town, as he’s always hanging around the Chambers, the market, and lurking about the prison, listening in. By this method, he brings Solomon plenty of useful tips to use in his stories. And of course Sol hears plenty when he’s out, drinking and gambling.

The other main adult character is Merriment O’Grady, who has a song written about her, as when her true love was press-ganged she dressed up as a man and went to sea too, in hope of finding him. She was never reunited with him, but learnt a trade as a ship’s surgeon, which she put to good use on return to dry land by opening up an apothecary shop, with the encouragement of her captain – and sometime lover, when they were at sea – Beresford, who’s an influential man in the city. The citizens were initially wary of her, due to the fact she still insists on wearing a shirt, breeches, boots (and a hidden revolver!), but when word gets round her herbal remedies work, and that she sells something called Misses Philips’ Engine, for the protection of gentlemen, and that she can also help gentlemen with their various personal ailments, her business improves dramatically. And finally we have a young girl of 8 called Janey Mack, who Merriment found scavenging for anything of value outside her back door one freezing morning, and came to an agreement with her “guardian”, one-legged Hoppy John, that she would henceforth employ her as her apprentice. Janey’s a real firecracker, whose never short of something to say, and can’t believe she has a warm bed and a meal every night.

So who is this character, The Dolocher, who’s terrorizing the city, and is half-man, half-pig, raping and murdering those found out after dark? Some say his presence is due to a murderer named Olocher, who managed to dodge the hangman’s noose by slitting his own throat the night before his execution, and who is now a demon – a man in pig form. The entire city is desperate for news of The Dolocher’s doings, and one skill Solomon does possess is knowing how to turn a phrase that’ll get people rushing to buy broadsheets from himself and Corker. Unfortunately, once he’s paid Corker, Sol has a tendency to head straight to the nearest ale-house and blow his (not inconsiderable) earnings at cards, instead of saving money when business is good. The Dolocher is a gift of a story, and he won’t do as well as that most of the time.

Also feeling the pinch is Merry O’Grady, now she has an extra mouth to feed. As she has a spare room, she advertises for a lodger, and soon Solomon Fish is part of the household, with Corker popping by early every morning with any news and to collect Sol for work. The two of them become grand friends with Janey, with Corker showing off and telling her tall tales, and Sol teaching her to write.

All would be well if Sol didn’t have an encounter with The Dolocher one night. Shortly afterwards, Merry encounters him in her back yard. She believes The Dolocher thinks Sol can identify him, and worries for the safety of her household, after a lifetime of having no-one to worry about bar herself. The Dolocher must be found, and put on trial – although much of the city still believe he’s some kind of supernatural entity.

The book’s a fair size, at exactly 500 pages, but I raced through it, relishing Barry’s description of Old Dublin, and all the peripheral characters, like Gloria, who sells pies opposite Sol;  Margaret “Peg” Leeson, the fashionable madam; the evil keeper of the Black Dog Prison, who’s suspected of being The Dolocher by some; the gangster Billy Knox and his men; and the various barmaids in the taverns Sol frequents. It’s a wonderful, colourful tale that I think all will adore. It’s almost like a fairy tale – but this is definitely one for grown-ups!

With thanks to all at Black and White Publishing for a review copy in exchange for this unbiased review.


Blog Tour – Wicked Game – Matt Johnson

BLURB: 2001. Age is catching up with Robert Finlay, a police officer on the Royalty Protection team based in London. He’s looking forward to returning to uniform policing and a less stressful life with his new family. But fate has other plans. Finlay’s deeply traumatic, carefully concealed past is about to return to haunt him. A policeman is killed by a bomb blast, and a second is gunned down in his own driveway. Both of the murdered men were former Army colleagues from Finlay’s own SAS regiment, and in a series of explosive events, it becomes clear that he is not the ordinary man that his colleagues, friends and new family think he is. And so begins a game of cat and mouse a wicked game in which Finlay is the target, forced to test his long-buried skills in a fight against a determined and unidentified enemy.
Wicked Game is a taut, action packed, emotive thriller about a man who might be your neighbor, a man who is forced to confront his past in order to face a threat that may wipe out his future, a man who is willing to do anything to protect the people he loves. But is it too late?

I probably won’t surprise many of you by saying this isn’t a book I’d have bought for myself – but then that’s part of the beauty of blogging. You end up reading outside your comfort zone – at least, I have, although crime remains my first love. This is what I’d describe as an action thriller, and I’d assume it would appeal to fans of Andy McNab and Chris Ryan. To my surprise, it was actually very good, and I hugely enjoyed it – I think I read it over three sittings, so it’s definitely one that keeps you reading. I think what put me off these kind of books in the past is that I assumed (blatant sexism warning!) they would be terribly masculine with lots of details about guns and other “man stuff” that I wouldn’t get. But Matt Johnson’s writing in that respect is very accessible – he writes things in a straightforward fashion, and is an especially good descriptive writer when it comes to the technical things I thought would be dull or incomprehensible. On the contrary; he makes them interesting.

He’s just started a new job as a uniformed inspector in Stoke Newington station, which is apparently pretty wild, as areas go. This job means when Robert’s on duty, he’s in charge of the entire station. Part of the reason for his change from Royal Protection, glamorous and prestigious though it is, is the fact that you have to be able to work whenever required. After some initial resistance, both from him and his bosses, his wife Jenny – who’s definitely not to be underestimated! – gets her way, and he’s got a job with shift work, which will allow him, Jenny and two-year-old Becky to live a more conventional family life.

However, someone is killing ex-SAS men, some of whom are now policemen, and most of whom Robert knows. Robert hasn’t even told his wife he was SAS – as far as she was concerned he was a regular soldier, as is usual with ex-SAS. The files of the men are even doctored so it looks as though they were serving in a conventional army unit, as there are many people looking for revenge on ex-SAS members – they’re the ones who often end up killing terrorists, etc. when they’re sent in to rescue hostages, or storm an armed IRA safe house, in the days before the peace process. They deal with the criminals who are familiar with firearms, and have no compunction about using them, so they have to be the very highest calibre of soldier. When Robert hears the names of some of the men killed he suspects it may be revenge for the Iranian Embassy siege – but how have they got hold of their details?

The beginning of the book appears to simply be a series of vignettes, illustrating some of the events in Robert’s career. They stand on their own as well-written and intriguing examples of army life. But later it’s cleverly revealed some of these may be the events that have led us to where we are now – where people are trying to kill Robert and some of his fellow colleagues. Why some and not others though? And what were the top secret files which reveals their names and current occupations doing in a Special Branch office in Ireland which was, according to their ex-boss, now MI5, burgled, and the files stolen?

While trying to get on with his new job, which Finlay describes faithfully and entertainingly – all the work of being a uniformed Inspector, not just the crime solving we see in my beloved police procedurals! – he meets with his old sergeant, Kevin Jones, one man he knows he can trust, as he’s getting mixed messages and instructions from his old boss, Monaghan, now MI5, and Grahamslaw, who’s high up in anti-terrorism. Both are in contact with him, but individually, and they have different ideas about how the terrorists should be dealt with – is this a consequence of dealing with different government departments, or the two men having different agendas – and if so, what agendas? Who should they trust? Afraid they’re being used by those at the top, possibly seen as disposable, and at the least not being given the full picture, they decide they’ll take on the killers themselves – regardless of the fact they’re “past it” in army terms, and out of the loop when it comes to new technology. They’ll just have to rely on the skills they were taught coming back to them, particularly as Robert Finlay doesn’t just have himself to think about any more…

This book oozes authenticity – I think that’s why I enjoyed it so much, and I’ll certainly be reading the follow-up promised at the end. It was a look into a world which was completely alien to me, and one which a lot of us take for granted – that men like Robert Finlay, and his younger equivalents, will be there for this country in times of trouble. And when barely a week goes by without us hearing about terrorist attacks somewhere in the world, on behalf of some cause or other, it reminded me of the thanks and respect these men like Matt Johnson – some of whom pay a heavy toll; some of whom pay the ultimate price – are due from us.

Very highly recommended.

With thanks to Karen Sullivan at Orenda Books for the review copy in exchange for my honest opinion.


Blog Tour (Part 1) – Spy Games – Adam Brookes

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BLURB: Fearing for his life, journalist Philip Mangan has gone into hiding from the Chinese agents who have identified him as a British spy. His reputation and life are in tatters. But when he is caught in a terrorist attack in East Africa and a shadowy Chinese figure approaches him in the dead of night with information on the origins of the atrocity, Mangan is suddenly back in the eye of the storm.

Meanwhile, thousands of miles away on a humid Hong Kong night, a key MI6 source is murdered minutes after meeting spy Trish Patterson. From Washington, D.C. to the hallowed halls of Oxford University and dusty African streets, a sinister power is stirring that will use Mangan and Patterson as its pawns – if they survive.
Deeply steeped in tension and paranoia, Spy Games is Adam Brookes’ follow-up to his award-nominated debut Night Heron and a remarkable, groundbreaking spy thriller.

First of all, apologies for the lateness of my review – I can’t seem to shake this virus I’ve had, and have been feeling drained and sleeping SO much (which makes a change for me!) Anyway, Spy Games is the follow-up, as some of you will already know, to Night Heron, which first introduced us to Philip Mangan, a journalist who, in Night Heron, becomes an agent for the British Secret Services. I wish I’d had the the time to read the first book – it’s not essential, but it’s made clear in this book that his time as an agent did not end well. Staying well away from China, he’s in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, plying his trade as a journalist. He’s in a tentative relationship with Maya, a Danish midwife, but feels, as many agents or ex-agents feel, that he has to hide a large part of his life – something Maya notices. There’s a lot of Chinese investment coming into Ethiopia as it’s economy is improving, and Philip sees a couple of Chinese faces around the places he frequents. Then he’s sent an e-mail of four photographs of him, taken at various times – he’s obviously been recognised, and someone, presumably Chinese, wants to make contact. Then Philip, Maya and their friends are caught up in a bomb blast on a sports bar in Addis Ababa, and his nice life out of site in Eastern Africa doesn’t look so quiet – or safe.

After some consideration – does he really want to get involved in something which ended so badly before? Apparently he does; it seems he misses the excitement, the adrenalin, the frisson of danger – perhaps it’s addictive, because he gets in touch with SIS, and is assigned Trish Patterson, a tall black ex-Army officer whose more than able to handle herself physically, as his handler. Her boss, Valentina Hopko, “Val”, dresses like a magazine editor and is highly intelligent at spycraft, able to see nuances and angles others miss. When Mangan – given the codename Bramble – passes on the first of the intelligence he receives from Rocky, who is in fact a Chinese general – codename Hypnotist – she wonders whether this is part of a feud between two families, one of whose grandfathers informed on the other many years ago. Both families have gone on to flourish, both politically and financially, but the desire for revenge could still be there, is Val’s reasoning. 

Satisfied that Rocky has access to credible material, Mangan is brought back from Ethiopia and given a crash course in spycraft – how to word and send messages on the DarkWeb, what to do in situations where people are questioning your presence or credentials (“The best defence is to stay calm and have a good cover story,”advises Trish – a reason why journalists are such good spooks, as they travel to all sorts of inhospitable regions in search of stories.)

There’s also two scions of the feuding families studying at Oxford (God knows how one of them, Fan, even gained entry, as his English is pretty ropey – seems money really can buy anything these days.) They each have minders – one of Fan’s, Nicole, is like something from a Bond film – I rather liked her. These (rather inefficient) minders are meant to ensure Fan and Madeline do not even meet, never mind become friends – the two are aware of the vendetta but would like to see a line drawn under it – very Romeo & Juliet.

Rocky has Philip running all over Thailand, supplying him with more top-notch intelligence, but his demands are not just for money. He wants information held by the UK which, if passed on, would break international law. He – and his cohorts – plan to clean up corruption within the Chinese Politburo and their families, but to the outside world this would look like a coup, and cause havoc in the worldwide banking system. He wants the UK to issue a statement saying it is simply a matter of cleaning out the corrupt who are robbing China of it’s rightful gains. However, Val and her bosses have another idea…

Meanwhile, by now Mangan has been dragged to Myanmar and it looks like he will end up in China if Rocky’s demands are not met – and that doesn’t appear to be happening. Due to the events in the first book, Philip Mangan is a wanted man in China, and, if caught there, will probably be executed. But what does one agent matter in the great scheme of things?

This is very much a spy novel for the 21st century – they have excellent technology – no more “dead drops”, and Russia is no longer the Big Bad Wolf. The Cold War is long over – but there will always be countries looking for information on what another one is up to. China is a great unknown to many of us, with it’s recent emergence as a world power while other countries struggled through the banking crisis, and this adds excitement to the novel. There are so many moments of tension, described perfectly by Brookes, and so many possible opportunities for Mangan to be “made.” I know this phrase is utterly overused when it comes to describing books, but on this occasion “pageturner” is the only one that really fits the bill. The characters we get to know well are mostly very likeable, and Brookes has an amusing turn of phrase centred around what Philip is thinking. Mostly though, I think it portrays the loneliness – and of course danger, for those on the front lines – of life in the Security Services. I hugely enjoyed it.

Very highly recommended.



Blog Tour – Girl Waits With Gun – Amy Stewart


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From the New York Times best-selling author of The Drunken Botanist comes an enthralling novel based on the forgotten, true story of one of the US’s first female deputy sheriffs. Constance Kopp doesn’t quite fit the mould. She towers over most men, has no interest in marriage or domestic affairs, and has been isolated from the world since a family secret sent her and her sisters from the city to the country fifteen years before. When a powerful, ruthless factory owner runs down their buggy, a dispute over damages turns into a war of bricks, bullets, and threats as he unleashes his gang on their farm. The sheriff enlists her help, and it turns out that Constance has a knack for outwitting (and disarming) the criminal element, which might just take her back out into the world and onto a new path in life. Through Amy Stewart’s exuberant storytelling, Constance Kopp catapults from a forgotten historical anecdote to an unforgettable historical-fiction heroine – an outsized woman not only ahead of her time, but sometimes even ahead of ours.

This absolutely has to be one of the most amusing, entertaining historical crime novel I’ve ever read. It’s peopled by a fantastically eccentric cast, who are all wonderfully individual – and it’s based on a true story, although obviously the details are filled in by the superb imagination of Amy Stewart. This is her sixth book, but, unbelievably, her first novel, and at least one of her non-fiction works, The Drunken Botanist, was a New York Times bestseller. I suspect there’ll be plenty of people reinvestigating her earlier works when they read this. I noticed it gaining quite a buzz amongst my favourite US bloggers sometime last year, and I thought then, that looks and sounds quirky and fun, so I’m delighted it’s getting released in the UK.

Anyway, tell us about the fantastic eccentric cast, I hear you holler. They are three sisters, the Kopps – Constance, who’s around 36, Norma, whose age isn’t disclosed, but she can’t be much younger than Constance, and the baby of the family Fleurette, 17, who turns heads wherever she goes, as she’s stunning. Their mother was born in Vienna, but the family left in 1848 because of the endless wars with Austria and Italy, and ended up in Brooklyn. Intriguing family reasons make them move – completely insanely, in my opinion, given that they know nothing about farming – to a farm near a town called Paterson, New Jersey, which is dominated industrially by the silk industry – horrendous work, for most, what with the dangers from chemicals, poor pay, not to mention the fact they also have to rent and buy groceries from their employers. The silk men are, for obvious reasons, very powerful men in Paterson.

For the purposes of this story, Mother Kopp died a year previously – their father having taken to the bottle and been shown the door many years previously – and their only surviving kin is an older brother, Frankie, who lives in Paterson with his wife and two kids.

One day, the girls are heading into town in their buggy, pulled by their horse Dolley, when a drunk man with a group of similarly fu’ companions run right into them, damaging the buggy and overturning it, witnessed by the entire Main Street. Some of the gentleman in the crowd help them right the buggy, and Constance tells the driver, Henry Kaufman, she will bill him, which she does, twice, and after another week without response, Constance heads to his factory to demand payment. On this occasion, she makes something of a fool of him in front of his workforce by holding against the wall by his collar  – she’s 6′ and strong from farm work; he’s a small chubby man who smokes and drinks too much, and takes too little exercise.

From then on, it’s war. The men come up, drunk, driving round the yard. They have bricks through the window, threatening to kidnap Fleurette and take her to Chicago and into “white slavery.” Reluctantly they decide to bring a local Sheriff into it, Sheriff Heath, when men are seen prowling their property, and fire at the girls. Eventually Sheriff Heath decides he must arm Constance and Norma and teach them how to shoot. Fleurette is forbidden from going anywhere beyond the farmyard, and they end up with sheriffs watching them 24/7.  These men believe the Kopps’ to be affluent, but they are living off their fast dwindling mother’s inheritance, and selling off chunks of land. Francis tells them that one of them – presumably Constance, as the most practical – must get a job. Norma has something of an obsession with her pigeons, who she times to fly home after releasing them. She also does a great deal of the heavy farm work (she’s what my Dad would call “hardy,” with deserved respect.) Fleurette is a talented dressmaker, but that’s a lower class occupation – plus, when a girl looks like Fleurette, trouble finds her. She was home-schooled, so has no experience with the real world, and has been somewhat mollycoddled.

The story of the sisters, armed and living in a state of siege, under 24-hour guard, makes for a fantastic news story, and the newspapers love the story of the armed Kopp sisters, but Henry is proving a hard man to actually arrest for anything – his gang seem happy to do much of his dirty work for him. Will Sheriff Heath be able to charge him with something substantial, and get him off the streets?

There’s another story wound in with the main narrative, again featuring Henry and a girl, Lucy, he treated badly. Sheriff Heath tells Constance to stay away from Lucy, and that helping her would only exacerbate Henry, but Constance is determined to see justice done, in both their case, and Lucy’s.

The Kopp sisters are wonderful creations – except they aren’t completely created, as they did exist. Obviously Amy Stewart’s skill as a researcher and writer brought them to life, each one individual and likeable – the determined, relentlessly justice-seeking Constance; the tough, hard-working Norma who simply wants a quiet life working on the farm; and lovely, sweet Fleurette, who switches between child and woman because of her sheltered upbringing, sewing beautifully creative, fashionable outfits she can only wear on trips to smalltown Paterson. The interaction between the sisters is the highlight of the book, and can be very funny. And of course there’s Sheriff Heath, who’s determined over the course of the year to see justice done properly, rather than watch a rich man pay his way out of trouble, as happens so often, particularly in the US, even to this day.

I loved my few hours spent with the Kopp sisters – and I suspect any of you who venture into their world will too. I’d love to know how their lives turned out! And I hope this book does as well as it deserves to. It has a very distinct voice, a fascinating story of the “truth is stranger than fiction” type, and a unique charm that may well see it on some prize shortlists. I do hope so!

Thanks to Scribe UK books for my review copy, in return for an unbiased review.

Blog Tour – Thin Ice – Quentin Bates


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BLURB: Snowed in with a couple of psychopaths for the winter…
When two small-time crooks rob Reykjavik’s premier drugs dealer, hoping for a quick escape to the sun, their plans start to unravel after their getaway driver fails to show. Tensions mount between the pair and the two women they have grabbed as hostages when they find themselves holed upcountry in an isolated hotel that has been mothballed for the season.
Back in the capital, Gunnhildur, Eiríkur and Helgi find themselves at a dead end investigating what appear to be the unrelated disappearance of a mother, her daughter and their car during a day’s shopping, and the death of a thief in a house fire.
Gunna and her team are faced with a set of riddles but as more people are quizzed it begins to emerge that all these unrelated incidents are in fact linked. And at the same time, two increasingly desperate lowlifes have no choice but to make some big decisions on how to get rid of their accidental hostages…

This book starts at full throttle, and doesn’t really let up at all. Best known in the UK for being Ragnar Jónasson of the Dark Iceland series (Snowblind and Nightblind), Quentin Bates on this showing, deserves to be recognised as a top-notch crime writer in his own right.

This definitely isn’t Ragnar Mark 2 – to me, it owes more to American crime writing. The situation is this: a small time crook, Össi, decides to rob one of Reykjavik’s main drug dealers, and set up life somewhere hot with the proceeds. He enlists Magni, a normally honest man who has lost his job on a fishing boat, spent his redundancy, and is getting desperate. A third guy, Árni, is to be the getaway driver, ready and waiting outside “Alli the Cornershop’s” at a given time. They split the proceeds – with Össi, who’s the ringleader, undoubtedly taking the biggest share – and split up, making them less likely to be spotted, and heading wherever they want – preferably somewhere warm. Easy money – especially as Alli the Cornershop is in no position to run to the police and complain about his ill-gotten gains being stolen. The perfect crime – you’d think.

Unfortunately, Árni isn’t there when he should be, and, definitely not wanting to hang around outside the gangster’s they’ve just robbed, they run into town. Outside a shopping outlet they accost two women, Erna, a middle-aged socialite-type lady who lunches, and Tinna Lind, her 24-year-old daughter who’s not averse to some wild times. Rather than just hijacking the car – that would be too simple – they take the two women along too, and so begins a week hiding out in a remote hotel, closed for the season, knowing they have both the police and undoubtedly Alli the Cornershop and his thugs searching everywhere they think they could possibly be. There are appeals on the radio, and the women’s faces shown on TV. And things escalate when an alarm inspector appears after Erna sets off the fire alarm making toast!

Luckily, Magni is fairly capable, and manages to do most of the practical things that need done. Their eventual goal is to leave the country for the sunshine…but that’ll take new passports, which means dealing with one of the Reykjavik gangs again – although Alli the Cornershop (I love that name!) is obviously not an option!

The dialogue in the book is quick and snappy, and the characters all well fleshed-out – there are no cut-out gangsters here. Magni I felt somewhat sorry for, dragged into what was supposed to be a simple robbery of a nasty character’s dirty cash in order to solve his temporary cash flow problems – he’s been a grafter all his life – and ending up in something a lot more serious, due to Össi’s inability to keep his head in times of stress. The fact that he keeps clicking on and off the safety catch in his gun can’t be very reassuring to anyone either. Össi is the real lowlife, who, the polar opposite of Magni, has never done a day’s legitimate work in his life. Erna appears to be in a state of shock throughout her whole experience of being kidnapped, while underneath Tinna Lind’s pretty little head is a brain that’s busy working to see if she can turn this to her advantage in any way.

Some of the family politics and situations made me feel like I was thrown in at the deep end, but that’s only to be expected when you’re reading no.5 as your first book in the series. Gunna, the main investigator, is a warm, family woman – albeit with a somewhat complex family! – as well as being a highly competent police officer, along with her colleagues Eiríkur and Helgi, and they’re overseen by a man called Ívar Laxdal, whose either their supervisor, or a prosecutor.

This book reminded me a great deal of one of these American films, where inept thieves end up in a big farcical mess, with no idea how to get out of it. There’s a touch of the road movie about it, too. In these respects, the book is quite cinematic and Coen brothers-like. The plotting is impressive, and if the other books in the series – this one is no.5 – are as fast-moving and engaging as this one, Quentin Bates is on to a winner with his own writing. Now, excuse me while I go and check the prices of books 1 to 4…

HIGHLY recommended! (as in “get it asap!”)

Blog Tour – The Last Thing I Remember – Deborah Bee

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BLURB: Sarah is in a coma.
Her memory is gone – she doesn’t know how she got there. And she doesn’t know how she might get out.
But then she discovers that her injury wasn’t an accident. And that the assailant hasn’t been caught.
Unable to speak, see or move, Sarah must use every clue that she overhears to piece together her own past.
And work out who it is that keeps coming into her room.
A novel that grips from the very beginning and that will live long in the memory, The Last Thing I Remember is Deborah Bee‘s startling debut thriller.

Another release from Bonnier Publishing’s excellent Twenty7 imprint for debut authors – and this one’s every bit as good as it’s predecessors – well, the ones I’ve read, anyway.

The chapters move between two characters’ perspectives. Firstly, Sarah (a 28-year-old who works in publishing) who’s been the victim of an attack or mugging while out with her husband Adam, who didn’t survive the brutal beating. Sarah’s someone who, at the beginning of the book, has got “locked-in syndrome” – she can see, hear, and feel everything around her, but can’t communicate. No-one knows if she is able to see and hear things, or whether she is brain-dead. Her memory is, initially, non-existent – she doesn’t even know her own name. We get to hear everything Sarah hears – what the nurses, police, her parents and sister say, plus a mysterious late night visitor who says to a nurse he’s Sarah’s brother. When her family reveal she doesn’t have a brother, he says the nurse must have misunderstood – he’s her brother-in-law, Ash, the late Adam’s brother. He only visits late at night, when no-one else is around and the nurses don’t see him entering her room, and is threatening to Sarah, frightening her, knowing she has no way of telling anyone.

The second perspective is that of Kelly, a 14-year-old who lives next door to Sarah with her mother and young brother. Sarah and Kelly had become close friends, after Kelly confides in Sarah about the horrendous bullying that goes on unchecked in her school. Sarah advises her not to stand out, so the bleached hair and short skirts go, so that Kelly can blend into the background. Sarah knows what it’s like to stand out and be picked on for it – she’s stunningly attractive, although that’s something the hospital staff and police don’t see, as she’s heavily bandaged and her face is swollen and multi-coloured with bruising from the attack. Before the attack, Sarah and Kelly had also attended self-esteem classes at the local community centre together – ostensibly for Kelly’s benefit, with Sarah there as company, but Sarah could do with them too – she’s in an abusive relationship with Adam. Kelly knows this, as she’s overheard Adam shouting vile abuse through the walls of the terraced house. The hospital come to realise it when they see some old hospital records of Sarah’s.

The police come to the conclusion that this was a targeted attack, as opposed to a random mugging, because of the sheer amount of violence used. Sarah’s clearly not a suspect, as she’s a victim too, and there’s no way Kelly could overpower a big man like Adam – plus, even if she dislikes Adam, why would she attack her best friend? Adam’s had financial troubles before – which Sarah has always paid off – but perhaps he’s got himself in too deep this time with particularly dangerous people? There’s also the fact that they were attacked near the Rec, where the school bullies – one girl, Kathryn Cowell and five or six boys who are at her beck and call. Could they be responsible? A wrong word or two is all it takes to set gangs like that off, and in these numbers they could easily have overpowered the couple. Not long previously, they’d set fire to a boy’s legs as he wouldn’t give one of the gang his dinner money – but only because he’d already handed it over to another gang member. He (eventually) returns to school in a wheelchair, and one of the school blocks was pretty much destroyed. The police know who was responsible, but are struggling to find proof.

For me, the most impressive thing about Deborah Bee’s writing is the way she captures Kelly’s voice – she sounds exactly like every teenager of that age I know. She’s ballsy and smart, taking in everything around her. People end up forgetting she’s there, or write her off as “just a kid,” when she’s probably as smart as they are. Sarah’s obviously less easy to get to know, given her circumstances, but some memories from her childhood perhaps explain how she ended up in such a dreadful relationship – and not for the first time. Even the peripheral characters – the nurses, Sarah’s father, her mother, her sister, Kelly’s mother, the consultant – are well-developed, with some likeable, others less so.

If this is what Deborah Bee can do with her debut novel, with a twist I thought was incredibly clever, I can’t wait to read more of her work. For someone who’s not the world’s fastest reader, I absolutely flew through this book. An intelligent new talent – and a name to remember.