Blog Tour – Six Stories – Matt Wesolowski

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BLURB: 1997. Scarclaw Fell. The body of teenager Tom Jeffries is found at an outward bound centre. Verdict? Misadventure. But not everyone is convinced. And the truth of what happened in the beautiful but eerie fell is locked in the memories of the tight-knit group of friends who embarked on that fateful trip, and the flimsy testimony of those living nearby. 2017. Enter elusive investigative journalist Scott King, whose podcast examinations of complicated cases have rivalled the success of Serial, with his concealed identity making him a cult internet figure. In a series of six interviews, King attempts to work out how the dynamics of a group of idle teenagers conspired with the sinister legends surrounding the fell to result in Jeffries’ mysterious death. And who’s to blame … As every interview unveils a new revelation, you’ll be forced to work out for yourself how Tom Jeffries died, and who is telling the truth. A chilling, unpredictable and startling thriller, Six Stories is also a classic murder mystery with a modern twist, and a devastating ending. 

So, we come, at last, to our turn on the Six Stories blog tour – and unless you’ve been hiding in an old mineshaft on Scarclaw Fell, you’ll have heard the premise – Six Stories is, we learn, an incredibly successful podcast series (like Series and This American Life – I listened to a couple of episodes of Series, but it was old hat by then and I’d read too much about it to make it as gripping as it was for those who listened to it weekly, but I remember thinking it was rather sweet that something as basic and old-fashioned as this – comparable, more than anything, to a radio series – got everyone buzzing in the 21st century.) Anyway, Scott King investigates cases that are unresolved, or have a whiff of something, well, questionable about their resolution – and this one, where a boy’s body – that of Tom Jeffries – was found in 1997, a year after he went missing on Scarclaw Fell, fits that bill. The verdict, officially, was death by misadventure, so no crime was deemed to have been committed. He was staying with a loose, unofficial collective called the Rangers, who took a group of kids – including their own – to stay in a dorm-type building for weekends and do outdoor stuff, like hiking, and…stuff…Although the group of older children – 15-year-olds, by now – only seem interested in drinking and smoking dope in copious amounts. Derek Bickers’ (the man “in charge”, ostensibly!) explanation was along the lines of, “They’re going to do it anyway, so I’d rather they did it while they were safe…”! Except they weren’t! Because one ended up dead! And maybe they would do it anyway, but you don’t facilitate it! I’m not picking holes in the plot here, because it is true that some people think like him…and some parents do too!

At first, I questioned why any group of teenagers would want to spend weekends in the country, like proper, rough boggy hill-land. I grew up in a place like that, and, while it’s great when you’re ten and messing about on a Shetland pony – actually, it’s totally idyllic – by the time you’re a teenager, it’s pretty fucking crap. But it emerges that, during the week, each one of them feels a kind of outcast at school, or at home, so these weekends give them a chance to get together with other kids, even if they don’t talk to each other during the week.

So, each week, a different member of the Rangers, plus a local man who the kids had met on the fell, gives their take on what happened that weekend, and what could have happened to Tom Jeffries. We also hear from the landowner, Harry Saint Clements-Ramsay, who found the body with two friends, and who is now the owner of the land, and who returns between each episode. Loved this set-up – the whole book knits together really quickly, and because it’s written how we talk, it reads really quickly. I found the dialogue incredibly good, and each character had a fabulously unique way of talking. I kept wondering if the author had dictated it, then written it – the whole idea, after the popularity of podcasts, is really now. I feel you can’t, in reviewing this book, talk much about the plot, as, after giving the basic set-up, you want people to discover it for themselves!

It’s proper creepy – I got this horrible chill at one point, and had to put the book down, and it reminded me that the last time I felt that horrible creepiness was as a teenager, reading Gerald’s Game, by Stephen King, which never seems to be rated by anyone except me…it’s got the same unknown scary Thing (😁) from the outdoors coming for you. There’s various horribly vague sightings on the hill, and somehow that vagueness makes it worse!

The ending is just so clever. I spoke of the plot knitting together quickly, and this is where we see the finished article – I feel people have been tweeting #WTFthatending about the wrong book, doubtless because the other (also great) book is backed by a huge powerhouse of a publishers! Well, I say we should be tweeting, #WTFthisendingtoo, as it’s so fucking clever – I mean that in two ways: a) the concept of a book written like a podcast; and b) the ending. One of these books you so wish you’d thought of first…and, really, such original ideas don’t come along to make me think that very often, so I can’t give it higher praise than that….I’ve been thinking, yep, if Hitchcock were around nowadays, he’d love this idea too…

(Note: I haven’t read anything else since finishing off this book, but I feel like I’ve written this review the way I’d talk, which I don’t think I normally do….this Six Stories thing is catching!)

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.

Blog Tour – Deadly Game – Matt Johnson

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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!

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

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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

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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.

Blog Tour – Summary Justice – John Fairfax

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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.



Blog Tour – Say Nothing -Brad Parks

Product Details

 On a normal Wednesday afternoon, Judge Scott Sampson is preparing to pick up his six-year-old twins for their weekly swim. His wife Alison texts him with a change of plan: she has to take them to the doctor instead. So Scott heads home early. But when Alison arrives back later, she is alone – no Sam, no Emma – and denies any knowledge of the text . . .
The phone then rings: an anonymous voice tells them that the Judge must do exactly what he is told in an upcoming drug case and, most importantly, they must ‘say nothing’.

So begins this powerful, tense breakout thriller about a close-knit young family plunged into unimaginable horror. As a twisting game of cat and mouse ensues, they know that one false move could lose them their children for ever.
Hugely suspenseful – with its fascinating insight into the US judicial system and its politics of influence and nepotism – Say Nothing is, above all, the poignant story of the terror these parents face, and their stop-at-nothing compulsion to get their children back.

Regular visitors to this blog will recall me saying that I’m not the fastest reader around. And for a few months last year, I was struggling to concentrate on reading for long at all – 15 minutes or so, and my mind would wander. Luckily, I’ve had a really good run of books recently, and my concentration has improved. But this book had me reading at full pelt for as long as I could! It has 438 pages, and I think I read it in three sittings – only stopping when I absolutely had to, because I simply couldn’t put it down. I’m not, generally speaking, a massive fan of thrillers, mainly because so many of them involve average people developing superhuman skills, and all the action can end up a bit, well, wearisome and far-fetched. Not so in this one. It’s totally and utterly feasible, and all the more thrilling for it. Brad Parks has been fairly successful in the States, but this book marks his UK debut (and hopefully his earlier novels will end up being released here too, as I’m already a big fan – this guy can write!)

As the blurb explains, Judge Sampson’s 6-year-old twins are kidnapped, and by pretty tech-savvy people, as he receives a text to all appearances from his wife Alison. It tells him he’s not to pick up the kids and go swimming, as arranged, because she’d scheduled a doctor’s appointment for them and forgotten to tell him. All seems normal, then, until he gets home and they ask each other – “Where are the kids?” Clearly the kidnappers are watching the house because then the phone rings, the name of a drug case up for sentencing the next day is mentioned, and the couple are told to…”Say nothing.”

So it seems they’ve got one night of hell to get through – just about manageable, although the judge can’t possibly figure out how this just-above-street-level dealer can do this – financially, technologically, etc. But it soon becomes apparent Skavron’s case was just a test – and the real case must lie somewhere amongst the four hundred-odd up-and-coming on his docket.

So it’s still a nightmare in the Sampson household – and they obviously starts to wonder who’s behind it. Investigations at the school show the kids were picked up in the car Alison and their nanny use – or one identical, right down to the stickers. Alison is actually marked down as picking up the kids, albeit an Alison wearing a baseball cap and sunglasses. This all makes the whole case even more terrifying, as it’s clear these people are smart, organised, know their routine, and have plenty of resources. Calling the authorities is not an option, as we already know they’re watching the property.

All this happens in the first 40-odd pages if the book, so no spoilers there, and it demonstrates the breakneck speed at which it goes. Judge Sampson starts to suspect everyone around him – his co-workers, and even, at one point, Alison herself, as he catches her out in a couple of details about where she’s been, and when. It reminded me a little of The Firm, and other early works by John Grisham, in the sheer sense of urgency pulsing through the pages. Harlan Coben sprang to mind too, although in my opinion this is a tighter, more unputdownable thriller than anything I’ve read by Coben, or Grisham, recently anyway. There’s also the emotional devastation which the family are going through, and, on top of all this, Judge Sampson has to go to work every day and go through the motions of acting normally. Those close to him in his workforce know something is up, but not what, as he’s sticking to the instruction to “say nothing,” as he truly has no idea who’s involved – certainly someone close to them has been feeding them information regarding their routine, so it isn’t safe to confide in anyone.

The conclusion is fantastic – absolutely heart-in-your-mouth stuff. I love a great courtroom drama (I haven’t read one for ages, but have a couple coming up soon, so look out for them if you’re a fan too.) This is a fantastic courtroom drama, combined with all the tension  of a thriller, without any unbelievable antics – the Sampsons are just an average well-to-do family. If you’re in a reading slump, this book will definitely get you out of it. It deserves to be absolutely colossal, and if it gets the attention it deserves, expect to see it everywhere, and, if people can wait that long to read it, on lots of beaches this year (if they haven’t devoured it on the plane over!)

Don’t miss it!

My thanks to Faber & Faber for an early copy of this book in exchange for an unbiased review.