Blog Tour – August 2022 – By Her Own Design – Piper Huguley

Yes, I know what you’re thinking – this isn’t crimeworm’s usual fare…but I was so intrigued when I read about this book, I knew I couldn’t refuse the opportunity to read and review it…

It’s the story of Ann Lowe, a young black fashion designer who learnt to sew from her mother and grandmother (her grandmother had been a slave; that’s how close Ann was to that ignominious chapter in history.) But she was a fast learner, and grew up to surpass her mother and grandmother, in vision, talent and achievement.

So was it the inspiring nature of Ann’s story that appealed most of all?

Not initially – it was the fact that I adore clothes, and the history of clothes design. I’ve only been able to splash out on a few designer handbags in my life – fashion designers don’t tend to design for, shall I say, curvier women like me. (And since becoming disabled, it’s even harder keeping control of my, er, curviness. Or fat, to be blunt.) However, it doesn’t stop me enjoying seeing what others wear, and complimenting them on it.

However, once I was engrossed in Ann’s story she did come across as an exceptionally inspiring woman. She was obsessed with the idea of opening her own shop, and because of her incredible skill – she didn’t use patterns, as she said she could picture what she was designing in her head – white women flocked to her to get their clothes made in the latest fashions and colours.

But her life wasn’t without tragedy and sadness, was it?

It certainly wasn’t – she lost her grandmother and mother within a short space of each other, and made the mistake of marrying a slick-talking tailor who really only wanted her skill with a needle. She was so young and small when she gave birth to her son it left her unable to bear more children (this all happens fairly early in the book, so I don’t really think I’m veering heavily into spoiler territory by revealing this.)

So I’m guessing she managed to extricate herself from this marriage…

She did, although I’m revealing no more of the plot! Suffice to say Ann took her mother and grandmother’s advice, which was, “to find white folks who are good to you.” Ann manages this, and then some, although their quid pro quo was to have one of the finest dressmakers of the time create showstopping wedding gowns, trousseaux, ballgowns, and everyday dresses for them – and the friends they let in to their best kept secret!

She’s quite an inspiration, then?

She absolutely is, and I feel it’s somewhat sad that her name’s been airbrushed from fashion history – particularly as she was responsible for the design and creation of one of the most famous and beautiful wedding dresses of the 20th Century – the one worn by the stunning 24-year-old Jacqueline Bouvier when she married the up-and-coming young Senator, John Fitzgerald Kennedy, Jr. The rest of that particular union is, as they say, history…

Jacqueline Bouvier’s wedding dress, as designed and created by Ann Lowe

An accident in her showroom meant Ann had to start from scratch ten days before the wedding, didn’t it?

It did – and with the help of ladies from her church, she managed to recreate the wedding dress as well as those of the bridesmaids (again, this isn’t a spoiler, as this accident – if it was one, as opposed to sabotage – is revealed at the very beginning of the book.) However, it meant Ann took a bit of a hit financially on the creations, rather than turning the large profit she deserved.

Overall, though, you enjoyed this book?

Wow, yes, I so did! Ann is someone you can’t help rooting for, from her childhood, to her teenage years, to adulthood. I find it sad that her name is not better known, but hopefully, with the publication of this book, more and more people will discover her work, and her name will eventually be up there with the best known fashion designers of the middle years of the 20th Century, like Coco Chanel and Yves Saint Laurent.

As this isn’t my usual type of read, I’m finding it difficult to find books to compare it to, but one book I particularly enjoyed which I think it’s comparable with is The Help by Kathryn Stockett – it’s set in a similar time, and is just as educational and eye-opening.

Very highly recommended!

With thanks to Anne Cater at Random Things Tours for the blog tour invitation, and HarperCollins for the ARC. This has in no way affected my review which reflects my honest opinion.

Author Piper Huguley

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BLURB: The incredible untold story of how Ann Lowe, a Black woman and granddaughter of slaves, rose above personal struggles and racial prejudice to design and create one of America’s most famous wedding dresses of all time for Jackie Kennedy.

1953, New York City

Less than a week before the society wedding of the year where Jacqueline Bouvier will marry John F. Kennedy, a pipe bursts at Ann Lowe’s dress shop and ruins eleven dresses, including the expensive wedding dress, a dress that will be judged by thousands. A Black designer who has fought every step of the way, Ann knows this is only one struggle after a lifetime of them. She and her seamstresses will find the way to re-create the dresses. It may take all day and all night for the next week to accomplish the task, but they will do it.

1918, Tampa

Raised in Jim Crow Alabama, Ann learned the art of sewing from her mother and her grandmother, a former slave, who are the most talented seamstresses in the state. After Ann elopes at twelve with an older man who soon proves himself to be an abusive alcoholic, her dreams of becoming a celebrated designer seem to be put on hold. But then a wealthy Tampa socialite sees Ann’s talent and offers her an amazing opportunity—the chance to sew and design clothing for Florida’s society elite. Taking her young son in the middle of the night, Ann escapes her husband and embarks on the adventure of a lifetime.

Based on the true story of one of the most famous designers of the twenties through the sixties who has since been unjustly forgotten, By Her Own Design is an unforgettable novel of determination despite countless obstacles and a triumph celebrated by the world.

Blog Tour – July 2022 – More Than You’ll Ever Know – Katie Gutierrez

This is a debut novel by a new Mexican-American author – how did crimeworm get on with her writing?

Well – wow! This was such a difficult book to put down, so the heatwave gave me a perfect excuse to read all night to finish it off – I could probably have slept, now I have a fan, but hell! Why sleep when you have a book like this you can pick up?

Now, the last book I read with a Mexican setting would have been one of Don Winslow’s Cartel trilogyi, which I absolutely adore, but I must say, it’s refreshing to read about another side of Mexico. Although crime does feature in this book, it’s a very different kind of crime…

Tell us more about the characters…

The book is narrated by two characters: first of all, there’s Cassie Bowman, who’s scunnered churning out true crime stories for a blog of trashy stories, mostly featuring dead women. But needs must, and Cassie and her partner Duke are living on a shoestring in expensive Austin, Texas. One news story catches her eye: that of Lore Rivera, who bigamously married a second husband in Mexico City, despite having a first husband and twins in Laredo, Texas. Murder ensues when Lore’s two worlds collide: Andres, her Mexico City husband, goes to Laredo, where Fabian, husband no.1, shoots and kills him in his motel room. But can Cassie possibly persuade Lore, who has never spoken to any reporters, to talk to her? Cassie is desperate to find a different kind of story – one exactly like this – to lift her out of her day-to-day shock-and-horror blogging job, and into the classier kind of crime writing – that of long form journalism, like ‘In Cold Blood’ once was.

The other narrator is, of course, Lore, and we learn what really happened back then…and of course there are a few surprises in store.

So you enjoyed this book?

I did, very much. It’s not a straight crime story – it’s definitely more literary than that. But both women are compelling characters, and both have secrets. It’s fairly lengthy, but definitely doesn’t drag, as Gutierrez is a very talented, lyrical writer, who spins a fascinating tale with great raw material. The people, and the places, really come alive. It’s a fantastic debut, spun out a superb idea, and will probably be one of my favourite books of the year – and this has been an exceptional year so far!

A wonderful read that’s oh-so-hard to put down!

With thanks to Penguin Michael Joseph Books for the blog tour invitation and the ARC. This has not affected my review, and this is my honest opinion.

BLURB: It was a story that Cassie Bowman couldn’t resist.
Lore Rivera loved two men…
Until one of them shot the other…

Lore Rivera was married to two men at once, until on a baking hot day in 1986, one of them found out and shot the other. A secret double life, a tragic murder. That’s the story the world knows.

It’s not the story that fascinates Cassie Bowman.

Carrying the weight of her own family tragedy, true-crime writer Cassie wants to know more about the mysterious woman at the heart of it all, Lore. How did one woman fall in love with two different men? How did she balance the love and the lies?

To her surprise, Cassie finds that Lore is willing to talk. To finally tell her heartbreaking story – about how a dance became an affair; how a marriage became a murder.

As the two women grow closer, Cassie finds she can’t help but confess her own darkest secrets. But when she slowly starts to realise that there might be more to the night of the murder than anyone has realised, can either woman face up to the thing they’ve been hiding from: the truth?

Blog Tour – July 2022 – A Killing Rain – Faye Snowden

Another day, another new author and blog tour! – what’s the story here?

First of all, we’re in one of my favourite settings – Louisiana, in the Deep South – and one of these small Southern towns: this one’s called Byrd’s Landing. Our main character, Raven Burns, has returned here, as it’s the one place that truly feels like home. She had worked as a cop before retiring, and is now wanting a quiet life, working in a coffee shop.

And she – and the town – have quite a creepy past, am I right?

Yep – the town’s known as a bit of a breeding ground for serial killers…amongst them Raven’s father, who was also a cop. And there’s a new serial killer around, focusing on young boys – so when Raven’s nephew Noe and his friend Clyde go missing, she finds her skills as an investigator being requested. And how can she say no, when it’s the nephew with whom she’s only recently been reunited?

This is one of those fabulous Southern towns populated with all sorts of quirky characters, which adds to the atmosphere. I do sort of wish I’d read the first in the series, to have more background on Raven and her past, as well as Byrd’s Landing, but as soon as I have time, I’ll remedy that!

You found it more of an atmospheric build-up of a crime novel, rather than an action packed one, didn’t you?

I did, but to be honest, that’s the way I like books to be – it gives you more of an opportunity to get to know the characters – and there are some great characters, make no mistake! We meet her ex-partner Billy-Ray; her brother – and Noe’s father – Cameron; a friend from school, Edmee; and locals like crime scene cleaner Willie Lee. They all add colour and flesh out the story. And as I said before, I love these rural Southern settings, with gumbo on the menu in local eateries, and bait shops – it reminds me of the genius that is James Lee Burke, amongst others!

This is a hugely promising series, with a delightfully snippy central character, who definitely doesn’t suffer fools gladly, and really just wants a peaceful life – if only it wasn’t for these damned serial killers! But she is dragged back into criminal investigation reluctantly, simply because she fears for her nephew’s – and his friend’s – safety. And all the while, time is tick, tick, ticking away – and we crime readers all know that’s definitely not a good sign…

A hugely promising second book in what looks like building into a great series!

I would like to thank Anne Cater at Random Things TTours for inviting me on this blog tour, and Flame Tree Press for providing me, through Anne, with an eARC of this novel. This has not affected my opinion of this book, and this is an honest review.

Author Faye Snowden

Check out the previous dates on this Blog Tour!

BLURB: After former homicide Raven Burns returns to Byrd’s Landing, Louisiana to begin a new life, she soon finds herself trapped by the old one when her nephew is kidnapped by a ruthless serial killer, and her foster brother becomes the main suspect. To make matters worse, she is being pursued by two men— one who wants to redeem her soul for the murder Raven felt she had no choice but to commit, and another who wants to lock her away forever. 

Blog Tour – September 2021 – Black Reed Bay – Rod Reynolds

Fabulous! A new Rod Reynolds book from Orenda! But he’s moved on from the Charlie Yates series to a new one?

He has indeed! This one is set in the present day, again in the States, under the jurisdiction of Hampstead County PD. Our main character is Detective Casey Wray, known as Case (as in “Big Case”), and she’s partnered with Detective Dave Cullen. They’re one of these “got your back” American partnerships, which is essential when your life is at risk should your partner screw up, or get caught unawares. Casey’s one of these detectives for whom their whole life is the job, whereas Cullen is married with two daughters.

So what’s the case?

A young woman calls in the middle of the night from an affluent area of beach houses, far from home, hysterical and insistent that someone was going to kill her. Tina Grace is then cut off from her call, and to all intents and purposes disappears.

She’d been visiting an apparent “casual” boyfriend, Jon Parker, and it was his house he was fleeing from. But there’s nothing to suggest he’s dangerous, or was intimidating her, as seen from a neighbour’s webcam. So who was Tina terrified of and attempting to flee from?

Police are brought in to search for Tina in the area surrounding the exclusive beachfront development…and that’s when the first body is found…

So does this match up in terms of quality to the Charlie Yates series?

It certainly does! There’s some great characters in the department, and good relationships and banter between them all that remind me a bit of a Joseph Wambaugh novel – and anyone who’s read him will know that’s the very highest praise indeed! There’s also departmental politics higher up – what Michael Connelly would call “high jingo” – which has Casey at a dilemma as to who to trust in the department.

What’s Casey like as a character?

Well, as I said, the job is everything to her – she shows great empathy to Tina Grace’s mother over her missing daughter, and as well as being close partners, she’s also friendly with Cullen’s wife Luisa and his two daughters. If anything, she pushes herself too hard and doubts herself too much. She’s certainly got the potential to be the lead in the series this is apparently going to be. Personally, that’s something I’d really look forward to.

I can’t say anything more about the storyline as that’d take us into spoiler territory, and I want you to enjoy the story unfolding as much as I did!

So Rod Reynolds is here to stay?

Most definitely! He’s a natural writer, hugely enjoyable to read, with a knack for coming up with great storylines. I don’t want to go over the top with praise, but he reminds me of Michael Connelly in the way he builds a storyline – and that’s high praise indeed, coming from me, as I think I’ve mentioned more than once that he’s one of my favourite authors. His skill at setting his books in the States, despite being English, is really impressive. All I can say is – don’t miss this book, and if you’ve not read his backlist, well, you’re in for a treat there too – you’ll also get a chance to see his versatility!

Not to be missed!

With thanks to Anne Cater for inviting me to participate in the blog tour, and Karen Sullivan at Orenda Books for the early proof copy. This in no way influenced my opinions expressed in this review.

Author Rod Reynolds
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BLURB: When a young woman makes a distressing middle-of-the-night call to 911, apparently running for her life in a quiet, exclusive beachside neighbourhood, miles from her home, everything suggests a domestic incident.

Except no one has seen her since, and something doesn’t sit right with the officers at Hampstead County PD. With multiple suspects and witnesses throwing up startling inconsistencies, and interference from the top threatening the integrity of the investigation, lead detective Casey Wray is thrust into an increasingly puzzling case that looks like it’s going to have only one ending…

And then the first body appears…

Blog Tour – April 2021 – Not My Mother – Miranda Smith

For a while, I was hesitant about reading psychological thrillers unless they were by authors I trusted to deliver a cracker. So many of them are predictable, or disappointing, or – especially – too similar to others. However, I’m delighted I took the chance with the thoroughly enjoyable US-set Not My Mother. Bookouture seem to be building up a really good list of books, and this definitely qualifies as one.

It begins dramatically, with a young mum, Marion, hosting her daughter’s first birthday party when the police arrive and arrest her mother Eileen. It turns out that she is suspected of being a woman called Sarah Paxton, who has been wanted by police for 30-odd years for – jawdropper! – murdering Marion’s father and kidnapping Marion in what became known as the “Baby Caroline” case, as that had been the abducted baby’s name. Her mother, Amelia, had apparently never ceased searching for her missing daughter, but to no avail.

After being attacked while on remand on prison, Eileen is unconscious in hospital and unable to answer any of the questions the woman she had lovingly brought up on her own as her daughter has for her. While waiting for her to awaken, and looking back on her life, Marion sees signs that perhaps indicate that her upbringing was unusual – she was never allowed to leave the small seaside town where she was brought up until her college years; they never went on holiday; any mention of who her father was got her no answers. Could the mother she adored really be what the media that had descended on the small seaside resort where they’d lived (or hidden?) said she was – a murderer? And a child abductor?

As well as the inevitable media, Marion/Caroline’s real mother, Amelia, arrives in town. She’s had a completely different life to Eileen, who’s got by running a seaside restaurant with her best friend, Des – a business Marion joined after graduating from college. She comes from money and it shows – she’s chic, well-groomed, and wants to get to know her missing daughter – and the granddaughter she didn’t know existed, but is careful not to put any pressure on her. Marion can’t help thinking how different her life would’ve been had she been brought up by the affluent Amelia and her husband.

This book keeps you guessing, and your loyalties switch from chapter to chapter. I guessed some of the storyline – a hazard of reading so much! – but on other twists I was totally wide of the mark. I raced through the second half of the book faster than any book I’ve read this year, as Miranda Smith wound the tension tighter and tighter. The ending had me racing through the pages to get to the conclusion of this thoroughly enjoyable slice of psychological thriller-cum-domestic noir. If you’re looking for a bit of escapism – and I think a lot of us are at the moment! – I would definitely recommend giving this one a bash. I’ll also be looking for any other books by Miranda Smith.


BLURB: They arrest my mother in the middle of my baby daughter’s first birthday party.
They say she’s not really my mother.
They say she stole me, thirty years ago…

I’d heard of the Baby Caroline case, of course. When a baby is snatched from her mother’s arms, the whole country knows about it. But I never dreamed it had anything to do with me.

Today, my daughter turned one. I hosted a party for my friends and my mother, my only family. We were in the middle of unwrapping gifts and blowing out candles when the knock came at the door, and they took my mother away.

The police say she is the only suspect for the kidnapping. When I visit her, desperate for answers, she won’t give them to me. She looks me in the eye and says nothing.

I don’t even know her real name. The truth is, my whole life is a lie.

I have to find out what happened thirty years ago, but I’m scared. What if there are other secrets, worse secrets? What if my own child is in danger? What else don’t I know? 

With thanks to Netgalley and all at Bookouture for allowing me access to this book and inviting me on the Blog Tour.

Blog Tour – August 2020 – The Night Swim – Megan Goldin

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BLURB: After the first season of her true crime podcast became an overnight sensation and set an innocent man free, Rachel Krall is now a household name―and the last hope for thousands of people seeking justice. But she’s used to being recognized for her voice, not her face. Which makes it all the more unsettling when she finds a note on her car windshield, addressed to her, begging for help.

The small town of Neapolis is being torn apart by a devastating rape trial. The town’s golden boy, a swimmer destined for Olympic greatness, has been accused of raping a high school student, the beloved granddaughter of the police chief. Under pressure to make Season Three a success, Rachel throws herself into interviewing and investigating―but the mysterious letters keep showing up in unexpected places. Someone is following her, and she won’t stop until Rachel finds out what happened to her sister twenty-five years ago. Officially, Jenny Stills tragically drowned, but the letters insists she was murdered―and when Rachel starts asking questions, nobody seems to want to answer. The past and present start to collide as Rachel uncovers startling connections between the two cases that will change the course of the trial and the lives of everyone involved.

Electrifying and propulsive, The Night Swim asks: What is the price of a reputation? Can a small town ever right the wrongs of its past? And what really happened to Jenny?

First things first – I loved The Night Swim. I thought it was topical (as so many books are in these post-#MeToo times), and I enjoyed the dual time story, moving between the current court case Rachel is reporting on for her podcast, and the comparable story she gets dragged into of Jenny, from 25 years previously, and her sister Hannah, still searching for answers to what happened all these years later. Both stories grabbed me – it wasn’t a case of one being much stronger than the other, as is sometimes the case in dual timeline stories.

I have a real weakness for books set in small town America, where everyone of consequence knows everyone else, meaning no-one is truly neutral. The ghosts of the past always haunt the present in such novels, and in this book (like some others set in places like this) it’s a case of the reader trying to figure out who the person from the past is now.

Interspersed in Rachel’s investigations are her podcast episodes, relating the results of her investigations into the court case, and letters from Hannah, tantalizingly left for Rachel, describing what happened that summer all these years ago. She was only a child back then, and some things were beyond her understanding. The fact that her family were poor, and that their mother was dying of cancer, make Jenny – who’s trying to shield her younger sister from what’s going on – even more alone and vulnerable as she attempts to hide what’s happening to her from the rest of her family. She’s alone, with no one to turn to, and so perfect prey for the rich, entitled boys of the town. Her family’s status also makes what happened to her much easier to sweep under the carpet, and for any perpetrators to walk away under the protection of their richer, more powerful families.

Meanwhile, in the present day, it’s a straightforward he said/she said court case that Rachel is reporting on for her podcast. The defendant has a huge amount to lose – not just his liberty. He’s a talented swimmer and could be in line for a place in the next Olympics team, as well as a place at a prestigious college. Again, he’s from a rich and highly influential family who can afford the very best legal representation. Will the prosecution be able to prove their case beyond reasonable doubt if these two people are – as is nearly always the case in rape trials – the only ones who saw and heard what happened? There are some great courtroom scenes in this book which will keep you turning the pages rapidly (I do enjoy some good courtroom drama too!) It’s a book with lots happening – boredom will definitely not be an option! As for one of the reveals at the end – what really happened to Jenny? Who, if anyone, was responsible for what was deemed to be an accidental night-time drowning? – well, it was a satisfying and unexpected twist (and not the only one…) And will the town’s great athletic hope escape justice by buying his way out of the accusations against him…?

Megan Goldin is a hugely talented writer – I gulped this story down, grabbing every spare minute I had to keep reading and discover what happened, both now and 25 years ago. I’ve already bought her very well-reviewed debut novel, The Escape Room, so much did I enjoy this follow-up. I’m looking forward to getting stuck into that one soon, and will be looking out for her future works. Meantime, if you read this polished, very of-the-moment novel, I do hope you enjoy it as much as I did. Highly recommended.

Many thanks to those at St Martin’s Press for inviting me to participate in this blog tour. All views expressed are unbiased.

Review March 2018 – Sunburn – Laura Lippman

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It’s 1995. Polly Costello walks away from her husband and daughter, and appears in the small town of Belleville, Delaware. She secures a part-time job as a waitress in a bar, but it isn’t long before Gregg, her abandoned husband, finds her with the aid of a PI. He comes into the bar and confronts Polly (whom he knew as Pauline), expecting her to capitulate and return home. But she coolly tells him in front of everyone that she won’t be coming home. Angrily, he storms off.

But he isn’t the only man looking for Polly. Another PI arrives in town, this one having been instructed to keep an eye on her and see if she shows any sign of having a lot of money. Adam fortunately secures a job as chef in the same bar as Polly. But when it comes to money, Polly lives frugally, in a bare apartment with ancient appliances and cheap stuff from auctions – and that’s how she seems to like it. Soon Adam is sleeping with her…and falling in love. He begins to worry about the intentions of the man who employed him, and resigns from his PI job, deciding to protect her from any danger. But Polly has a past filled with secrets and different names – and many of these secrets she’d prefer to keep hidden.

This book was, according to Laura Lippman, inspired by the work of James M. Cain – Double Indemnity; Mildred Pierce; The Postman Always Rings Twice. We are constantly unsure of Polly’s motivations – is she a good girl who got caught up in some bad situations? Or is she a scheming seductress, capable of murder?

This novel kept me guessing like no book I’ve read, mainly because Polly is such a cipher. She is ruthless when it comes to getting what she wants, and hell mend anyone who gets in her way, as Cath, the other waitress in the bar, who had been seeing Adam previously and was jealous of Polly, finds out. And she’s as sharp as tack as well as being cold as ice when need be – a typical Cain femme fatale. I found myself constantly flip-flopping over my opinion of Polly – is she a wicked woman, or a desperate one? And does she really love Adam – or is she just using him; keeping him sweet? And why would anyone think she had money when she lives so frugally – where did that idea come from?

There’s amusement as Polly and Adam dance around each other, having to be careful they don’t mention something to the other that they shouldn’t actually know; what they’ve found out through digging into their respective past. Because naturally, knowing a powerful, smart and rich man who thinks she has money is looking for her, Polly makes Adam as a PI. But if there’s anything Polly’s good at, it’s manipulating men. With her striking red hair and pale skin that burns, she knows how to turn heads and get men to do what she wants. Really, though, it’s all she has, and she has no choice but to use it to ensure her plan comes to fruition. Adam, convinced the money lead is a timewaster, and worried about her safety, resigns his PI job to throw his lot in with her. But is this a wise move, given Polly’s history?

This is without question one of the best – and most finely balanced – books I’ve read for a long time. All of the characters are so believable, little details that are often come into play later in the My – typical Lippman, a writer I’ve been reading for years (I used to have to buy her books from the US, as I could never find them in the UK!) and one who is only getting better and better. Much as I love the Tess Monaghan books, Laura’s standalones are really outstanding – last year’s Wilde Lake and And When She Was Good are two I’d particularly recommend. I didn’t think she could top Wilde Lake, but Sunburn may just edge it. What a wonderful writer she is – when I see she has a new book coming out I get a frisson of excitement that I don’t get with many writers (Don Winslow; James Lee Burke; Dennis Lehane; George Pelecanos; Michael Connelly; Adrian McKinty to start with, since you (didn’t) ask.) If you like Lippman, you’ll adore Sunburn. Similarly if you enjoy Cain’s work, or the films of his novels, or any such old “femme fatale” noirish movies, then Sunburn is for you.

Unmissable!

With thanks to Sophie Portas and all at Faber & Faber for the review copy. This is an unbiased review.

BLURB: What kind of woman walks out on her family? Gregg knows. The kind of woman he picked up in a bar three years ago precisely because she had that kind of wildcat energy.

And now she’s vanished – at least from the life that he and his kid will live. We’ll follow her, to a new town, a new job, and a new friend, who thinks he has her figured.

So who is this woman who calls herself Polly? How many times has she disappeared before? And who are the shadowy figures so interested in her whereabouts?

Laura Lippman’s brilliant new novel – Anne Tyler’s Ladder of Years as if written by James M. Cain – will ensnare you in the life of one of crime fiction’s most unforgettable heroines.

Blog Tour – The Good Daughter – Karin Slaughter

Apologies all – this should’ve been up yesterday, but the eye mask I wear to bed to black out light put an eyelash or something in my left eye, rendering it unusable – it just ran tears all day, which made reading impossible. I know, sounds like a ridiculous excuse, doesn’t it? However, it’s worth waiting for, as I have a Q & A with one of the Queens Of Crime, Karin Slaughter. I’d actually started reading her from her very first book, Blindsighted, but was so annoyed when she killed off one of my favourite characters I took a hiatus from reading her books. However, I’ve eased back in with her standalones and can definitely see me catching up with the series at some point.

Anyway, it’s not me you want to hear from, it’s Karin, so here we go…

Slaughter is your real name, a lucky twist of fate or something that may have shaped you as a writer?
I suppose it’s a good thing I didn’t decide to write romances! It’s my real name, and I paid a heavy price for it as a kid. I was relentlessly teased in elementary school, and then I moved up to junior high and fortunately there were more important things to worry about. When I first got published, I never understood why people kept asking me if Slaughter was really my last name. I didn’t understand the connection they were making because it had just always been my name. Then, I was in the Piccadilly tube station going up one of those treacherous escalators and I saw this massive sign that said “SLAUGHTER” and I thought, “wow, that’s ominous,” and then I got closer and saw the tiny “Karin” above it and thought, “oohhhhh…”

What was your inspiration for The Good Daughter?
I really enjoyed writing about the sister relationship in Pretty Girls, my last standalone, and I wanted to do something more in that vein. I’m the youngest of three girls, and my parents loved me the most because I was the smartest and prettiest, but an author’s job is to get in the heads of every character they write about.

The point of writing a lot of books is to do something different each time, so when I thought of Charlie and Sam, it was almost in opposition to Claire and Lydia. I wanted Charlie to be a character I haven’t written about before. She’s highly competent, well-liked, and she makes mistakes, sometimes really stupid mistakes, but instead of trying to weasel around them, she owns them. Actually, she almost wears them as a badge of honor. That’s an interesting way to control the bad things that happen, but I don’t think it’s necessarily the best way. Sam, on the other hand, lives every single moment of her life in stark relief to the “what could have been.” She works very hard to define herself as having moved on, but everything she does is in opposition to that goal. Both sisters try to control things in their own way, and both fail in their own way, which is always fascinating to me. You know people by how they respond to adversity.

What does your writing day look like? Where do you write best?

When I’m ready to work on a story, I drive two hours outside of Atlanta to the Blue Ridge mountains, where I have a cabin that my father built for me. I wish I could say that I have a very balanced day when I’m working, but all I do is get up in the morning, start writing, then stop writing when I can’t see or think anymore. Sometimes, that can be 12 or 16 hours (with naps in between) and sometimes that can be four hours (with more naps) but I’ve always been better in isolation. I don’t understand how people can work in coffee shops or, worse, be in the middle of a chapter and just stop. I suppose part of it is my obsessive/compulsiveness. I’m completely incapable of not finishing something I start.

Well, I hope you all enjoyed that – look out for my review, which I’ll put up as soon as I’ve finished it, but from what I’ve read so far it’s non-stop action. Just fantastic!

Darktown – Thomas Mullen

Now, I originally reviewed this book last October. But it’s now out in paperback, and last I looked it was £1.99 on Kindle, which is a bargain price for one of my favourite books of the year (I’ve had my Top Ten from last year made up for ages, but it was handwritten in one of my many notepads, which got mislaid when we were painting and has just reared it’s head now. Feels a bit dumb putting it up now but I think I will put it up this week just to have it on record!) Anyway, this book made it onto the list with ease, and I’d recommend it to any crime fiction fans!

Product Details

BLURB: Atlanta, 1948. In this city, all crime is black and white.
On one side of the tracks are the rich, white neighbourhoods; on the other, Darktown, the African-American area guarded by the city’s first black police force of only eight men. These cops are kept near-powerless by the authorities: they can’t arrest white suspects; they can’t drive a squad car; they must operate out of a dingy basement.

When a poor black woman is killed in Darktown having been last seen in a car with a rich white man, no one seems to care except for Boggs and Smith, two black cops from vastly different backgrounds. Pressured from all sides, they will risk their jobs, the trust of their community and even their own lives to investigate her death.

Their efforts bring them up against a brutal old-school cop, Dunlow, who has long run Darktown as his own turf – but Dunlow’s idealistic young partner, Rakestraw, is a young progressive who may be willing to make allies across colour lines . . .

Soon to be a major TV series from Jamie Foxx and Sony Pictures Television.

Now, finally, somewhat later than anticipated due to laptop issues, to Darktown. This is one of those novels you’ll find you really want to savour, rather than rush through and not enjoy to it’s full extent – because there’s a great deal to enjoy. It also made me look at Mullen‘s earlier novels and buy one, as it was a reasonable £2.49 on Kindle.

Set in 1948, it’s about the first black police officers – all eight of them – taken on by Atlanta Police Department. The idea is they police the areas where the black community live, colloquially (and somewhat derogatorily) known as Darktown. They don’t have the power to arrest white people, nor do they have squad cars, having to wait (and wait…) on white officers in a van to transport arrestees.  

Many of the white police aren’t as pleased with this lift off their workload as you’d think they would be – they see it as a besmirching of the prestigious Atlanta P.D. uniforms, and many white Atlantans are alarmed at the thought of armed black men on the street, police officers notwithstanding. More pragmatically, it keeps them out of areas where they take bribes (and probably, er, favours) from establishments such as Mama Dove’s. Also lucrative business is turning a blind eye – and perhaps more – to the bootlegging which goes on in abandoned factories in Darktown. Plus they have a host of snitches in the area. One officer in particular – Officer Dunlow – sees Darktown as his territory: he decides what goes on there, and who gets a free pass – assuming they pay him off appropriately, of course. His partner is a rookie, the more enlightened Officer Denny Rakestraw, whose just about had his fill with Dunlow beating up blacks for sport, as well as spouting utter rubbish about why blacks are inferior. (Example: ‘Their skulls are thicker, which is why they’re so hard-headed, and also explains their smaller brains.’ It would make you laugh if the guy didn’t actually believe it.)

The issue is, of course, that the black police officers genuinely want to see the community cleaned up, as they and their families and friends have to live there. This puts them on a collision course with Dunlow, beginning when he allows a white driver to go free. Officer Lucius Boggs and Officer Tommy Smith, our main characters, wanted him to be made to show his licence and registration, as he’d damaged a lamppost. Also, at that point there was a young black woman also in the car, wearing a distinctive yellow sundress, and bruised at the mouth. The two black officers see the car again, and see the driver strike her in the face, at which point she runs from the car. She was later found murdered, and dumped in a pile of garbage. The white officers have little or no interest in identifying her, never mind solving her murder, so Boggs and Smith decide, against the rules, to sniff around – only to find someone surprising is also looking into her murder. There are also bits and pieces of useful information, coming from unexpected quarters.

Mullen uses the language of the time, which is obviously essential for authenticity, but still shocking, especially when you think it was only 70 years ago. Men who served their country with pride may have expected a little more respect upon their return home, but nothing had changed. A young Reverend King makes an appearance alongside Boggs’s father, who is also a minister. When Boggs sees Smith’s home, he realises he has led a privileged and rather sheltered background due to his father’s status, receiving little verbal abuse – until now.

Mullen‘s writing is plain, yet beautiful, and you can build up an explicit mental picture of every character with ease. Many of them have fascinating, brutal, devastating back stories, which are woven into the tale with ease, and help you understand why each man is the way he is. An alarming trip to the country demonstrates that Darktown might not be the worst place for a black man to live and work. There is a great deal of talk of families heading north, to Chicago, where they hear they’re not treated with such derision.

It’s little wonder that this is being developed into a Sony TV series starring Jamie Foxx. I’m sure they’ll find plenty more stories to tell about this period, when there were still people alive who had worked as slaves. As well as the historical detail, there’s also a damn fine murder mystery woven into these pages, and, combined, they make Darktown an epic novel, not just for crime fans, and one of the best books I’ve read this year – and we’ve had a bumper crop. Thomas Mullen is most definitely a name to watch, if he’s not already on your radar.

Verdict: Not to be missed.

With thanks to Little Brown and NetGalley for my ARC in exchange for an honest review.

What I’m Reading And Watching – Sherri Smith

This is crimeworm‘s 200th post! Woo-hoo!

Today we’re getting a chance to look over the shoulder of Sherri Smith, author of Follow Me Down, which I’ve just finished…and utterly adored! Here’s the lowdown on the book, then Sherri’s piece on what she’s been reading and watching – when she’s not writing fantastic suspense-filled novels, obviously! My review will follow shortly.

Product Details

 Mia has built a life for herself far from the small town where she grew up. But she is forced to return home when her brother goes missing. Once the golden boy of the community, Lucas has disappeared the same day as the body of his student is pulled from the river. Unable to reconcile the media’s portrayal of Lucas as a murderer with her own memories of him, Mia is desperate to find another suspect. But if Lucas is innocent, why did he run?

You know how when you drink wine, you’re supposed to start light and go dark? Well I do the opposite with my reading. I go from dark to light. I just sleep better that way. I read three to four books all at once and they’re sort of scattered about the house because I have small children and like to exploit any opportunity to read by having a book within reach.

Last night, I cracked the spine of The Monogram Murders by Sophie Hannah (a Hercule Poirot mystery seems a safe bet to drift off to sleep to.) I am also reading Little Deaths by Emma Flint (books with dead children are morning reads). The writing is gorgeous and the mystery is really compelling. I also just started The River at Night by Erica Ferencik, and I’m already hooked (it’s a solid afternoon read!)

When it comes to sports, like any decent Winnipegger, it’s hockey and the Jets all the way (even if it’s a bumpy, disappointing ride.) Plus, beer always tastes better when hockey is involved!

As for what I’m watching, I’m really loving Zombie on Netflix right now. It has all of my favorite things in each episode, a murder mystery, a zombie and very witty banter. I don’t know what I’m going to do when I run out of episodes.

A laundry list of other shows I will binge-watch are Black Mirror (when will there be more!?!) Orphan Black, The Killing, Broadchurch, Jessica Jones and Orange is The New Black. I can hardly wait for the new season of House of Cards for obvious reasons, because it’s so good! I also have a few true crime documentaries queued up, which always help get my mind working.

So these are some things I’m reading and watching right now. Thanks for asking! I am always open to new suggestions, so please message me if you have any because I hate missing out.

So, what do you think of Sherri’s picks? The River At Night is on my must-buy list, and I’ve started Little Deaths. And I like a few books on the go at once… Love to hear what you think!