Blog Tour – My Sister’s Bones – Nuala Ellwood

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BLURB: Kate Rafter is a high-flying war reporter. She’s the strong one. The one who escaped their father. Her younger sister Sally didn’t. Instead, she drinks.

But when their mother dies, Kate is forced to return home. And on her first night she is woken by a terrifying scream.

At first Kate tells herself it’s just a nightmare. But then she hears it again. And this time she knows she’s not imagining it.

What secret is lurking in the old family home?
And is she strong enough to uncover it…and make it out alive?

I’ve had one of these flu-type things all week that make you just ache and want to sleep all the time, hence the few days behind this review is. I really did think I’d be awake and compos mentis more than enough hours to read and review My Sister’s Bones by Nuala Ellwood, which on paper looked like a straight domestic noir/psychological thriller job, the kind that takes a few hours – 2-3 if you’re a fast reader, which I’m not. But NO! this book proved to be so much more…

It’s about a disfunctional family, although it didn’t become one until the baby of the family, Timmy, drowned on a day at the beach. The father of the family blamed the mother (who was further up the beach with Sally, the middle child) and took to getting drunk, and beating her and the mouthy Kate, the older sister who was paddling with the boy that day, and he found solace in a bottle until it killed him. While their mother, Gill, and Kate were blaming themselves for Timmy’s early demise – which was really just a tragic accident – younger sister Sally was out running a bit wild, and fell pregnant at 14, just as Kate was leaving for university. At that point, a schism opened up between the sisters which never really mended.

Sally took after her father to a certain extent, and enjoyed a glass of wine, but despite that, she found a good, supportive partner in the boy-next-door, Paul, who married Sally and took on Hannah as his daughter. They seemed a happy family when Kate saw them on her occasional trips back, although Kate was aware of Sally’s growing drinking problem. But when Hannah became a teenager, she rebelled. Sally saw it as nothing to worry about, through the bottom of her (increasingly large) wine glass – after all, hadn’t she done the same? Then Hannah ran away. But she dropped in on her Aunt Kate in London, then sent a postcard to her mother and Paul, saying she was going to work abroad. So what could Sally do? On her own all day, sacked from her job in a bank, she could drink, just like her Dad. But she wouldn’t hurt anyone, like him; she was just filling up the loneliness with wine.

Meanwhile, Kate worked as a war reporter, most recently in Aleppo, Syria. It’s as though, unable to save her brother, she did her best to tell the world about others in need. However, she got too close to a family they were staying with in Aleppo, and when the young boy died, Kate couldn’t cope. Around this time she was called back to the UK to deal with her mother Gill’s affairs after she’d died, and Kate had to see her solicitor and sign papers. It was Paul who helped her out throughout her time in Herne Bay – Kate had no illusions about the state of her sister, who by now spent all her time in the conservatory, not washing or dressing much – just drinking. Kate barely saw her.

That’s part 1 of the book, which I actually found quite slow and long-winded. Later in the book is when it gets more dramatic. While she’s home she keeps seeing a young boy of 3 or 4 in her garden, and accuses her Iranian neighbour Fida – Paul’s tenant (when his parents died he’d kept the house while him and Sally moved to a nicer part of town) – of mistreating her son, and keeping him locked in the shed. After several such altercations and disturbances of the peace, the police are called, and a psychiatrist, Dr. Shaw, to ascertain whether Kate is a danger to herself or anyone else. These conversations with the psychiatrist are peppered throughout the book from the very start, revealing a lot about Kate and her past, both recent and distant. Dr. Shaw assumes these physical and vocal delusions are symptoms of Kate having PTSD, and the visions are of Nidal, the young Syrian boy who was killed.

I really can’t add any more regarding the storyline as there be spoilers ahead! But here are when things start to speed up considerably. There’s a death, which is the catalyst for lots of secrets unwinding. It’s definitely one of the best-plotted and substantial psychological thrillers I’ve read – in fact, I think lumping this book in with much of the genre would be doing it a grave disservice. If, like me, you find it a tad slow-going at the beginning, I urge you to stick with it, as there are plenty of shocks, surprises and scares in store – Ellwood’s simply setting the scene for the real action to begin…!

So if you consider psychological thrillers/domestic noir one of your favourite genres, then this is definitely one of such books not to be missed. That would be a crime in itself!

Blog Tour – Chaos – Patricia Cornwell

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BLURB: No. 1 New York Times bestselling author Patricia Cornwell delivers the twenty-fourth engrossing thriller in her high-stakes series starring medical examiner Dr. Kay Scarpetta.

On a hot late summer evening in Cambridge, Massachusetts, Dr. Kay Scarpetta and her investigative partner Pete Marino respond to a call about a dead bicyclist near the Kennedy School of Government. It appears that a young woman has been attacked with almost super human force.

Even before Scarpetta’s headquarters, the Cambridge Forensic Center, has been officially notified about the case, Marino and Scarpetta’s FBI agent husband Benton Wesley receive suspicious calls, allegedly from someone at Interpol. But it makes no sense. Why would the elite international police agency know about the case or be interested? With breathtaking speed it becomes apparently that an onslaught of interference and harassment might be the work of an anonymous cyberbully named Tailend Charlie, who has been sending cryptic communications to Scarpetta for over a week.

Stunningly, even her brilliant tech savvy niece Lucy can’t trace whoever it is or how this person could have access to intimate information few outside the family would have.

When a second death hundreds of miles south, shocking Scarpetta to her core, it becomes apparent she and those close her are confronted with something far bigger and more dangerous than they’d ever imagined. Then analysis of a mysterious residue recovered from a wound is identified as a material that doesn’t exist on earth.

In this latest in the bestselling series featuring medical examiner Dr. Kay Scarpetta, Cornwell shows us once again why she is the world’s number one bestselling crime writer, mistress of the shocking turns, delicious thrills, and state-of-the-art forensic details that all fans of suspense have come to love.

Apologies for this piece being late – I woke up on Saturday morning with the most agonising sore throat and headache, which continued into today. Mr C must have had the most peaceful weekend ever (which would have suited him, with it being an F1 weekend and there being a Rangers v. Celtic semi-final – the living room was worryingly quiet, until a cheer near the end indicated he’d be in a good mood the rest of the day!)

So, the word Chaos about sums up my attempt to finish the book early yesterday and get a review up. But I come bearing good news – for all you Cornwell fans of old, like me, this appears to be much more like her first few books. This one happens pretty much in real time. It’s shockingly hot for Cambridge, Massachusetts, and people are collapsing (and dying) of heat stroke. But that’s not what’s caused the case Scarpetta’s called out to in the middle of her monthly “date night” dinner with Benton. Intriguingly, at the same time Benton Wesley’s phone rings and he’s called out on bureau business.

Marino arrives to pick her up, and when they get to the scene Scarpetta’s pretty sure she recognises the victim – a cyclist in her early 20s she’d encountered and spoken to twice that day. All the signs speak to the victim being struck by lightning – except there wasn’t any in the area. To add to the problem, their scene has been disturbed, although in fairness it was by attempted do-gooders – twins, who appear to suffer from alcohol fetal syndrome and the poor development of intelligence associated with it. They’d dragged the victim off the cycle track, out of the way of others, and taken a few souvenirs from the scene, including her iPhone, which they used to call emergency services.

Anyway, the part I like best about the Scarpetta books was next; something we’ve not had for a wee while – she and Marino, just working together, bouncing ideas off each other while they secure the victim and any evidence in the immediate area of the body. They just have so much more to say to each other than Kay and Boring Benton, who’s romantic, and loving; remembers anniversaries and buys jewellery and posh perfume you can only get in Italy, blah, blah – but who never appears to laugh or do anything spontaneous. We all know Marino has a crush on Kay, but, for all his faults – like being an unreconstructed male chauvinist! – he’s FUN and funny, as well as great with Desi, Lucy and Janet’s adopted son. However, according to Benton, he’s moved on – to someone a little bit to close to home for Kay’s liking…Another thing this book has in it’s favour is that there’s not too much of Lucy The Genius and all her extortionate “toys” in it, who drives me potty, although Janet and Desi seemed to have shaved off some of her really sharp edges – she’s not as much of a thrill-seeker now she has a family waiting on her to come home.

Tantalizingly, there are two other victims of these bizarre deaths by electrocution, and one of them most definitely appears to be a target to get at Scarpetta – and there’s only one person we all know who’s twisted enough to attack her in such a vicious way, with no concern for others – they’re just collateral damage. Also, for the past week, Scarpetta’s been getting e-mails from know someone who calls himself Tailend Charlie, but, unlike her usual dose of cranks, he appears to know details of Scarpetta’s childhood, like nicknames from school. Are these two twisted individuals linked, or even one person…?

The denouement comes very suddenly, and is played beautifully. However, there’s a final twist that absolutely made my jaw drop. Chaos indeed…

Very highly recommended.

With thanks to the publisher HarperCollins for my copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.

Blog Tour – Summoning The Dead – Tony Black

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BLURB: “We have a dead child, and a crime scene that has been remarkably well kept for us.”

A young child lies mummified in a barrel. His hands, cable-tied, appear to be locked in prayer. As forensic officers remove the boy they are in for an even bigger shock – he is not alone.

With his near-fatal stabbing almost a memory, DI Bob Valentine is settling back into life on the force but he knows nothing will ever be the same. Haunted by unearthly visions that appear like waking dreams, he soon understands he is being inducted into one of Scotland’s darkest secrets.

When the boy in the barrel is identified as a missing child from the 1980s, it re-opens a cold case that was previously thought unsolvable. When further remains are unearthed, the facts point to a paedophile ring and a political conspiracy that leads all the way to the most hallowed corridors of power.

Summoning the Dead is a fast-moving mystery that eerily mirrors current events, perfect for fans of Stuart MacBride, Angela Marsons and Ian Rankin’s Inspector Rebus novels.

Tony Black has been shortlisted for the 2016 Crime Writers Association Dagger in the Library Award, which covers the entire body of an author’s work.

Summoning The Dead is book three in the DI Bob Valentine series, following Artefacts Of The Dead and A Taste Of Ashes. Valentine is based in Ayr, and in this book has not long returned to work after being stabbed in the heart. His wife wants him to either transfer to a desk job in the police, or leave altogether, but Bob knows that’s not an option – his wife’s shopping addiction (and the fact that she’s a stay-at-home mum/housewife) has left them in debt, plus their eldest daughter will (hopefully) be going to university in a few years time, so they need every penny they can get. Also, Bob knows – but doesn’t mention to his wife – that he wouldn’t be happy dealing with anything but murder and serious crime. And this crime is as serious as they come…

While digging up farmland near Cumnock to create a new road, a JCB unearths a metal drum which appears to contains the body of a child. When the forensic officers prepare to move the drum to the mortuary, it appears they have not one but two dead children – boys, around 10 or 11.  Clearly there was no expectation of the drum being found for a long time, if ever.

At one point nearby there was a boys’ home called Columba House. It was shut down in 1989 after a child abuse scandal – when one of the younger policemen who hadn’t heard anything about the place asked, “Scandal, sir?”, he was met with, ” It was a boys’ home, of course there was a scandal.” Sad but true. Some of the staff were imprisoned; however, many still in the police force, and others retired, who remember it saw the investigation as a whitewash, with the staff sacrificed to ensure the protection of men of standing in the community. Strangely, the local MP, Andrew Lucas, shot himself around the time of the case, to be replaced by a Gerard Fallon.

A search through missing persons files in the basement reveals the identity of the two boys – I was surprised it took one of the officers so long to come up with the files. With a specific date of 1984, in a place the size of Cumnock, I wouldn’t have thought two missing boys would be forgotten by anyone – certainly not police officers. Still, I suppose they’re required to be thorough.

It’s clear from their clothing and the belongings concealed in the barrel that one of the boys was from a fairly well-to-do background – Rory Stevenson. The other was from the home – Donal Welsh.

I haven’t given you any spoilers, but this is a timely story, although probably not one for those upset at the death of children in stories, although there are no violent scenes. What I found particularly poignant, and what lingered with me a long time after I’d finished the book, was that Donal Welsh had no-one to remember him or mourn for him, bar the officers who’d dealt with the case. No child should be forgotten !ike that. This helped me understand Valentine’s obsession with his job – to speak for the victims who can’t speak for themselves.

Highly recommended.

Many thanks to Black & White Publishing for my copy of the book, in return for an honest review.

Now I’m really nosy about what people are reading – I’m the one who’s trying to see the cover of the book you’re reading on the train, just in case it’s something sensational…Anyway, Tony was kind enough to spill the beans on what he enjoys reading, as well as letting us know what’s on his bedside cabinet at the moment. Over to you, Mr.Black:

If there’s such a thing as a typical reader, I doubt it’s me. I get the impression that publishers would like to mould readers like they mould writers — get them hooked on one type of book, or genre, early and keep them there. I’m not necessarily mocking that, there’s good reasons on both sides for sticking with what you know.

If your thing’s crime or romance of sci-fi and you like to stay with that, great, but I never could. My reading, a bit like some of my writing, is all over the place.
I’m not a big contemporary fiction reader, but when I do find an author I get along with I tend to become a life-long enthusiast. I’ll pick up everything by Ken Bruen. Before I got into crime fiction I actually read Bruen’s Jack Taylor novels almost as straight fiction, filtering out the crime. I was far more interested in Jack’s self-destruction and in the chorus characters like the chain-smoking priest Father Malachy.
The crossword puzzle element of crime fiction doesn’t do much for me. McIlvanney used to describe this kind of book’s purpose as “filling a few hours on a train’’. Again, fine, if that’s what you’re after but I’m much more interested in exploring a character’s hinterland, psychology and motivations. Writers like Allan Guthrie, and McIlvanney himself, do this so well in the crime genre.
I just read Cormac McCarthy’s The Road for the first time, it’s been out for a good few years but I suppose that’s about as up-to-date as my fiction reading really gets.  I found it gripping, I like dystopian stories anyway, but what really hooked me was the relationship between the father and son. A very moving and thought-provoking book.
I’m a bit of a sucker for stylised writing. I’ve been dipping into George Mackay Brown’s short stories lately and he’s a great stylist. He uses a lot of simile and metaphor, which is not very fashionable today, but I just love his style. At the other end of the scale is Irvine Welsh; GMB would have spewed at Welsh’s language but I just laugh my ass off.
My reading leads me to writer biographies a lot and I tend to find the writers I like most on the page — Carson McCullers, Hemingway, The Beats — turn out to be the kind of people I’d least like to go for a pint with, interestingly enough. This rule is reversed for Mr Bruen, though, he is, of course, a great bloke to go for a pint or two with.
:: Tony Black’s TBR list currently includes: Ironweed by William Kennedy; The Short Day Dying by Peter Hobbs; Dangerous Corner by Maurice Vlaminck; and, Bill Hicks: Agent of Evolution by Kevin Booth with Michael Bertin.

Blog Tour – Death At The Seaside – Frances Brody

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BLURB: Nothing ever happens in August, and tenacious sleuth Kate Shackleton deserves a break. Heading off for a long-overdue holiday to Whitby, she visits her school friend Alma who works as a fortune teller there.

Kate had been looking forward to a relaxing seaside sojourn, but upon arrival discovers that Alma’s daughter Felicity has disappeared, leaving her mother a note and the pawn ticket for their only asset: a watch-guard. What makes this more intriguing is the jeweller who advanced Felicity the thirty shillings is Jack Phillips, Alma’s current gentleman friend.

Kate can’t help but become involved, and goes to the jeweller’s shop to get some answers. When she makes a horrifying discovery in the back room, it soon becomes clear that her services are needed. Met by a wall of silence by town officials, keen to maintain Whitby’s idyllic façade, it’s up to Kate – ably assisted by Jim Sykes and Mrs Sugden – to discover the truth behind Felicity’s disappearance.

And they say nothing happens in August . . .

Frances Brody‘s Kate Shackleton mysteries are rather like Jacqueline Winspear’s Maisie Dobbs series, or Catriona McPherson’s Dandy Gilver books – written in the present day, but depicting a female sleuth in the “Golden Age” era; the 1920s and 30s. I haven’t actually come across Frances Brody ‘s novels before, but, as regular followers of crimeworm will know, I’m a huge admirer of Catriona McPherson, be it her standalone psychological thrillers or the Dandy Gilver series, so I was pretty sure I’d enjoy this one.

From what I could gather, Kate, who was widowed in the Great War, usually runs an investigation agency in Yorkshire with the help of Jim Sykes, an ex-policeman, and Mrs. Sugden, her housekeeper. Kate’s grown up around the police force, her father being a Superintendent in the West Riding police force. However, this book sees them all holidaying conveniently near each other on the Yorkshire coast, with Kate planning to spend time with old school friend Alma and her daughter Felicity. But not long after her arrival in town she’s moseying around the shops when, on finding the jewellers mysteriously unattended, she goes into the back room to find the proprietor, Mr. Philips, dead, apparently due to a small wound at the back of his skull. As a stranger in town, and first on the scene, Kate falls under suspicion and Sergeant Garvin even detains her in a cell for a night!

Feeling that he’s ill-equipped to investigate a murder, Kate gathers Mr. Sykes (and his wife) and Mrs. Sugden and they do their best to investigate – not easy in a town like Whitby, where smuggling has a long history – which may not all be in the past – and people are close-mouthed, particularly with strangers. Alma, Kate’s friend, also falls under suspicion, as she had taken tea several times with Mr. Philips, and there was some debate that he may have raised her expectations, only for her to see them dashed. Indeed, it seems the dashing and charming Mr. Philips was quite a popular man with the ladies, which, if true, could mean a large pool of suspects of disappointed women and angry or jealous husbands!

Up from Scotland Yard to aid Sergeant Garvin’s inexperience with murder, and his unimaginative investigation, is Chief Inspector Marcus Charles, who has a history with Kate – in fact, he’d previously proposed to her, only to be turned down. However, he hasn’t always got things right either…So it looks to be left to Kate and her unlikely team to solve the crime.

Felicity’s still missing, however, but the fact that her boyfriend Brendan and Mr. Philips’s boat have also disappeared gives some indication of how they left. But is Brendan experienced enough to keep them safe on the North Sea?

There’s lots of great local colour in this book, including Bagdale Hall, the supposedly haunted Tudor mansion Alma and Felicity share with the eccentric Mr. Cricklethorpe, who’s known locally for playing the pantomime Dame. But, then again, perhaps it’s not ghosts who are going bump in the night in this house…Also, the famous ruined Whitby Abbey, and it’s beautiful jet, made fashionable when Queen Victoria chose it for her mourning jewellery, make cameo (if you’ll pardon the unintentional pun!) appearances.

Family secrets and lies and long-lost fathers play a big part in this hugely enjoyable cosy mystery, which I’d recommend to anyone looking for a lighter read – but with an intriguing mystery which won’t disappoint. Of course, the wonderful characters of Kate, Mr. Sykes, and Mrs. Sugden are the real stars, and for that reason I’ll be on the lookout for more Kate Shackleton mysteries.

Greatly recommended.

My thanks to Piatkus Books for my copy of the novel in exchange for an honest review.