Blog Tour – November 2022 – Dragonfly Summer – J.H. Moncrieff

Some books take a good fifty or more pages to grab you (indeed, some never grab you at all!) But this book grabbed you from the very off, didn’t it?

It absolutely did! The premise is that Jo, a journalist who has worked in war zones, but is now in the much duller and safer world of PR, receives a cutting appearing to be from a newspaper about the disappearance of her schoolfriend, Sam, who disappeared 27 years previously. On the back was written two words in red, “Find Me.”

Jo had fled her small town of Clear Springs, Minnesota, with the intention of going to New York and becoming a famous writer. She had been a successful journalist, but that much boasted-of novel never appeared. So she decides to take a sabbatical from work and return to the one place she said she’d never return to, and perhaps solve the mystery once and for all…

Tell us a little about Jo’s life in Clear Springs at high school…

There’s a very small, tight-knit group – Jo, Sam, and another friend, Amanda. Sam, the most obvious beauty of the three, was dating Doug, the “most wanted” of their year when it came to high school boys – your typical American jock. Jo also was very close friends – platonically – with Jack, her next door neighbour, whose family gave her refuge from her father’s bad temper which made her own home a living hell.

I must admit, the small cast of characters made it easy to keep tabs on who’s who. Events after Sam’s disappearance – no spoilers! – make Jo a great unreliable narrator, having to be reliant on what she’s told by those who remain in the town.

And someone very important to the story isn’t there…

Yes – Jo discovers her other best friend, Amanda, was killed in a car crash not long before she arrived in town. Jo’s surprised to learn that Amanda had ended up marrying Doug, and was heavily pregnant when the accident happened. However, those close to her believe it was no accident, but that she was murdered.

The creepy thing is, she had received the same cutting Jo had, and was investigating Sam’s disappearance too at the time of her death. So when Jo receives threatening messages, and someone tries to run her off the road too, she starts to wonder if there’s a killer in the town determined to make her his third victim…

Also, it appears Sam’s apparently perfect family was all a facade, hidden by the power the family exerted over the town with their affluence – something which had gone over Jo’s head as a schoolgirl, but which she soon learns about on her return.

There is a small supernatural influence to the book, which you will either enjoy, or feel is being used to fill in explanations the author couldn’t in any other way. Crime purists may find it slightly irkling but it’s a tiny criticism in a book you will otherwise gobble down.

I have a real passion for American small-town stories, with family secrets and odd characters (Megan Miranda is my favourite, and this definitely comes pretty close!) Moncrieff has a definite skill of dropping enough hints that the mystery remains tantalisingly out of reach of being solved for much of the book, as well as misdirecting the reader like an old pro. Intriguing characters, and the fact that this is an incredibly fast and enjoyable read, ensure I’ll be looking out for other works by Moncrieff!

A thoroughly enjoyable small town mystery, which I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend to fans of such stories!

With thanks to Anne Cater at Random Things Tours for inviting me to participate in this blog tour, and to Flame Tree Press for the eARC. These have not affected my review in any way, and this reflects my true opinion.

Author J.H. Moncrieff

Check out what my fabulous fellow bloggers made of Dragonfly Summer!

BLURB: Dragonfly Summer is a gripping thriller that asks: What happens when the past comes back to haunt you? Jo Carter never thought she’d return to Clear Springs, Minnesota. But when the former journalist receives a cryptic note about the disappearance of her friend Sam twenty years before, she’s compelled to find out what really happened. During her investigation, she learns another high school friend has died in a mysterious accident. Nothing is as it seems, and Jo must probe Clear Springs’ darkest corners and her own painful and unreliable memories to discover the truth – and save herself from the killer who could still be on the hunt. Deliciously twisty and suspenseful from the first minute to the last, Dragonfly Summer proves that no small town’s secrets can stay buried for good.


Blog Tour – November 2022 – Don’t Talk – Ian Ridley

This is billed as a Jan Mason thriller – can you tell us who Jan Mason is?

Jan is a journalist, who at the start of the book is contemplating taking voluntary redundancy. Although she’s still the star journalist at her paper, it’s a while since she’s had a really big story and she’s considering going freelance.

The other main character is Jan’s contact, friend and, in the past, on/off lover, counter terrorism officer Frank Phillips. The action really starts when Frank is at an AA meeting – he’s been clean for a number of years, but still attends them regularly. This particular meeting is held by candlelight, and a man bursts in near the end. He’s unwilling to give his name but claims he may have killed someone in an alcoholic blackout. Thinking he may be a fantasist, or an attention seeker, or indeed someone in an alcoholic blackout, he gives little credence to the man’s claim.

However, the next day he hears about a murder close by the night before, and his police antenna starts twitching. But what’s said in the AA is sacrosant…isn’t it? Even murders…?

And Jan is on the case too…?

Of course she is! She’s heard about the murder, and is on the case, using all her police contacts and building a relationship with any possible witnesses. It’s soon the case that Jan seems to have more information than the police, which displeases the Investigating Officer, Hanley, greatly!

But who’s the victim?

The victim is a well-off young woman called Camilla Carew, and her father is the leader of a far right party – but one of these semi-respectable ones where they wear suits, not football tops and tattoos. He’s rich, and well-connected, so there’s pressure on the police to get this solved. (One can guess who he’s modelled on immediately!)

Apparently her father’s had one bugbear, according to Camilla’s very helpful neighbour and good friend, Nancy, a retired actress and widow. That was Camilla’s choice of male company. He reckoned all her boyfriends (as well as her ex-husband) were fortune hunters, preying on the generous Camilla. There was the recent ex, unsuccessful antiques dealer Bexington, who had an alcohol problem. Her ex-husband, Dewlish, had been a scrounger too, and despite moving to New York, was back in England, skint. And most recently – and shockingly, for her father – she was involved with a Labour Party aide called Wilson, and was planning on donating money to Labour in the hope of getting a safe seat to stand in at the next election. All end up as suspects.

But then there’s a second murder…?

Yes – a young gay man called Sean Malahide. There’s a link – Camilla’s Hermes scarf, the one that was possibly used to strangle her, is found in his flat, and was possibly used to kill him. There’s no reason for the two victims to know each other – but Sean had recently joined the AA group that the man had appeared at. Is he getting rid of Sean as he thought he might have recognised him?

But the police have their sites set on Bexington, who’d been harassing Camilla, and had gone to AA in the past. Do they have the right man, or are they barking up the wrong tree?

An attack on another AA member – which they fight off – shows this is a dangerous man who must be got off the streets at all costs. But there are so many with motives, it’s hard to know which horse to back…

So how did you enjoy Don’t Talk?

A great deal actually – I particularly liked where the title came from, a 10,000 Maniacs song from the In My Tribe album – one of the albums I listened to a great deal through the ’90s, and still adore!

I kept changing my opinion as to who the killer was, and so in that respect Ian Ridley really kept me on my toes, as all the best crime books do. There were a couple of small errors – ages changed, and rugby only gets a capital R if it’s the school you’re referring too – but nothing that detracted from the tension and pace of the novel.

Most of all, Jan, especially, and Frank too, as well as Deena Andrews, a young police officer in Hanley’s team – and not forgetting Nancy, who the police underestimated greatly, unlike Jan – were all hugely charismatic and likeable characters. I would have liked to have thought the Met were slightly more open minded about policemen being in the AA, so that Frank’s fears about people finding out about his membership would have been irrational. But they haven’t exactly covered themselves in glory recently…

I’d definitely like to read more about Jan and Frank in the future – Hartley is a hugely promising writer!

A solid police procedural/journalism investigation that could develop into a really good series!

With thanks to Anne Cater at Random Things Tours, and V Books for the ARC. This has not affected my opinion of this book, and this is an honest review.

Writer Ian Ridley

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BLURB: When catching a killer means betraying a code…

When investigative reporter Jan Mason discovers that a young woman found strangled to death in her Chelsea flat is the daughter of a prominent politician, she knows she has a big story on her hands.

What she doesn’t know yet is that a mystery man has just told a stunned Alcoholics Anonymous meeting nearby that he might have killed his partner in a drunken blackout. And that Jan’s old flame, Jim Phillips, the Metropolitan Police’s deputy head of counter terrorism and a recovering alcoholic himself, was in that meeting – bound by its confidentiality. Soon, a member of the AA meeting will also be found dead, strangled with the same scarf.

Resourceful, well-connected, and always one step ahead of the police, Jan is willing to put herself in harm’s way if it means catching a killer. And landing a front page exclusive. 

Blog Tour – November 2022 – The Pain Tourist – Paul Cleave

Paul Cleave – now that’s a familiar name to crimeworm followers, isn’t it? (Assuming some exist…!)

It is – many of you might remember me raving about a book called The Quiet People previously, so naturally I did a little dance (well, I can’t physically dance any more, but in my head I did one, if you get me!) when word came in there was a blog tour for another Paul Cleave book. Now, this is one of those books that’s difficult to review, as you want to give your readers some info on the concept of the book, but not hit dreaded spoiler territory…

So what is the concept?

This is an audaciously daring high-concept thriller so I’m going to take a deep breath and do my best… A house invasion in a family home in a quiet New Zealand suburb sees the parents being shot. The eleven-year-old son James hears the commotion downstairs and rushes through to warn his older sister Hazel with the hope they can both escape through her window, but her refusal to heed his warning sees him letting her escape, while he is taken downstairs and also shot by the robbers.

But unlike his parents, James survives, and, miraculously, after nine years in a coma, awakens. During that time he had what the doctors and his sister initially thought were extremely vivid dreams about the life he and his family would have gone on to live if that night had ended differently. But when the dates things that happened in what James calls “Coma World” (he writes a huge amount about Coma World for Hazel and his doctor, Dr McCoy, to read) correlate with things that happened in the real world – for example, the exact dates of his grandmother’s death and funeral – they are totally gobsmacked.

As the perpetrators of the home invasion are still on the loose, when James wakes up Detective Kent wants to know if he remembers anything more about that fateful night nine years previously. But they’ve also got wind James is awake and is a loose end they need to tie up…

But they’re not the only killers on the loose, are they?

No – there’s a killer called Joe Middleton, and another killer who seems inspired, shall I say, by his crimes, who the media christen “Faux Joe.” He also seems to have insider knowledge of the original Joe’s crime scenes. The question is, how is James possibly aware of the existence of other killers? And can he access any information from Coma World to help the police – particularly Detective Kent, and Tate, who had left the force but always maintained an interest in James’s welfare and that particular case?

Phew! Quite a lot to pack into one novel!

Indeed – but only Paul Cleave could manage it, make it plausible, and incredibly readable. Several times I woke up at 5 am with the light still on as I’d been suffering from the “one more chapter” disease – which doesn’t hit me an awful lot nowadays, as my multitude of medication (love a bit of alliteration!) usually means it’s lights out at a fairly sensible hour. I’m aware I keep saying this about books, but it’s one of my favourites of recent times. And don’t just take it from me – even Lee Child says Cleave is an “automatic must-read” for him. And as he reads a book a day, as well as one of his own selling every nine seconds, you better believe he knows a good read!

My mind is particularly blown by Paul Cleave’s imagination and originality. That, coupled with his ability to write a real page-turner, peopled with a multitude of fascinating characters, has me in utter awe (yeah, okay, and extreme envy!) at his writing talent. Please don’t miss this book – you will really be missing out!

Hurrah! Another real triumph for Orenda Books!

With thanks to Anne Cater at Random Things Tours for inviting me to participate in this blog tour, and Karen Sullivan at Orenda Books for the ARC. This has not affected my opinion, and this is an honest review.

Author Paul Cleave

Please check out my wonderful fellow bloggers’ thoughts on The Pain Tourist!

BLURB: How do you catch a killer…

When the only evidence is a dream?

James Garrett was critically injured when he was shot following his parents’ execution, and no one expected him to waken from a deep, traumatic coma. When he does, nine years later, Detective Inspector Rebecca Kent is tasked with closing the case that her now retired colleague, Theodore Tate, failed to solve all those years ago.

But between that, and hunting for Copy Joe – a murderer on a spree, who’s imitating Christchurch’s most notorious serial killer – she’s going to need Tate’s help. Especially when they learn that James has lived out another life in his nine-year coma, and there are things he couldn’t possibly know, including the fact that Copy Joe isn’t the only serial killer in town…

Blog Tour – November 2022 – Havana Fever – Leonardo Padura

First of all, I must apologise to everyone for my recent absence – I was forced to miss a few blog tours due to a private problem where other things were forced to take precedence. I have, however, still managed to read most of the books, and hope to post reviews of them over the next few weeks.

To celebrate my return, we have a touch of exotica now – we’re off to Cuba, where a cold case from 1960 has intrigued retired police investigator, now book dealer, Mario Conte…

Do you ever read a book that totally captivates you, and whisks you off to a different time and place? I’m sure you all know what I mean, but I have to say – I cannot recall a book which has grabbed me so absolutely as Havana Fever. It’s an absolutely magical book – in fact, as I type this I’m listening to Cuban music from the 1950s, both to get me in the mood, and because I’m so seduced by the time and place about which I’ve been reading. Reviews in the press release from The Independent compare Padura’s writing to that of James Lee Burke’s, one of my favourite writer who brings rural Louisiana and New Orleans vividly to life in a similar fashion to Padura’s Cuba – the island both of noughties Havana, when the book is set and was originally released, and of the city before Batista was overthrown by the Communist regime of Castro and Guevera (the man of a million student t-shirts and posters!) This saw the end of the mafia’s huge lucrative casinos, with Cuba being closed off to American tourists and imports, and reliant on Russia. Desperate Cubans flocked to the US (particularly Florida) – including the affluent businessman whose untouched library Conte stumbles upon while cold calling in the hope of making a few dollars.

So what is the Cuba of the Noughties like?

People are starving, and on ration books, but a black market exists for those with dollars. So the brother and sister whose house Conte calls at that day are finally selling the last thing of value – the house’s library. Their mother had forbade them from doing so as she’d always promised the family who’d left the house in her care she’d look after their things, but forty years have passed, and they must eat. They let Conte enter a fascinating library packed with absolute gems, which is a great story itself as part of the book, but the Count, as he is known, is particularly obsessed with a newspaper cutting he finds of a bolero singer called Violeta del Rio, whose name rings a vague bell from his childhood…

He starts to research her, but it appears she disappeared without trace around 1960. Is she married, living with a family somewhere on Cuba? Or is there, as the Count suspects, a darker story attached to her disappearance…?

It seems he’s still an investigator at heart…

Yes! Absolutely! And so begins a journey to find the few still alive who can take him – and us – back to the world of smoky bars, casinos, and all-night clubs. In those years Havana was a city filled with music, American celebrities, with mafia gangsters running the gambling dens and controlling this night-time underworld. The descriptions bring the city alive as we begin to piece together that world, its characters, and what happened. In parallel, we’re exploring the depleted city just after the millenium. The writing is incredibly descriptive, to the extent you can smell the cigars, hear the jazzy sounds, taste the rum, and see the well-dressed people from the past laugh, not knowing soon it’ll be the end for them of this city of gambling, drinking, prostitutes, sex, and partying to the unique soundtrack of the boleros.

So it’s fair to say you enjoyed this book?

That is an understatement! It will most definitely be one of the best books I’ve read this year – it’s a masterpiece of noirish writing. I remember reading a great book many years ago called The Mambo Kings Play Songs Of Love – it became a film, with a young-ish Antonio Banderas, if I’m recalling correctly, and this book brings similar music alive like it did.

I was also reminded of writers like Jake Arnott, who injects a night-time underworld with life similarly, albeit in different countries. And I can see why James Lee Burke was name-checked in reviews.

I read somewhere that this incredible book was out of print for ten years until Bitter Lemon Press, who supply us with so much absolutely excellent translated fiction, brought it back into print. I’ll also be looking to invest in the quartet of books written about Conte’s days as a policeman, and those that follow this one!

An absolute masterpiece!

With thanks to Anne Cater at Random Things Tours for inviting me to participate in this blog tour, and to Bitter Lemon Press for the ARC. This has not influenced my opinion, and this is an honest review.

Author Leonardo Padura

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BLURB: Mario Conde has retired from the police force and makes a living trading in antique books. Havana is now flooded with dollars, populated by pimps, prostitutes, drug dealers and other hunters of the night. In the library of a rich Cuban who fled after the fall of Batista, Conde discovers an article about Violeta del Rio, a beautiful bolero singer of the 1950s who disappeared mysteriously. A murder soon follows. This story, set in today’s darker Cuba, also evokes the Havana of Batista, the city of a hundred night clubs where the paths of Marlon Brando and Meyer Lansky crossed.

Havana Fever is many things: a suspenseful crime novel, a cruel family saga and an ode to the literature and music of Padura’s beloved, ravaged island.