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The New Mrs Clifton – Elizabeth Buchan

Title – The New Mrs Clifton

Author – Elizabeth Buchan

Published – June 2017 (paperback)

Genre – Historical fiction

As we get closer to the end of the year I thought I would try to tackle some of the books I’ve started but struggled to finish. At the beginning of the week, according to Goodreads, I was ‘currently reading’ 10 books and I’m now down to 8 – woohoo!

This book I started in October of last year but put it down when I was about 100 pages in and it just wasn’t holding my attention. I  picked it up where I’d left off and remembered enough to press on without needing to go back.

The setting is London in post-war 1945 and the main characters are a trio of women – which reminded me a little of Wake by Anna Hope. Gus, who works for the British Government, returns from Berlin after the end of the war and surprises the two sisters with whom he lives by bringing with him his new German bride, Krista. The early part of the book (and where it lost me) was setting the scene of the initial reactions of the three women living under the same roof as well as providing some backstory. The point at which I picked it back up saw Gus and Krista sent back to Berlin in order to work together on an interrogation. This introduced a different dynamic that helped lift the characters for me, I would have enjoyed more of this aspect.

As the relationships develop over the first few months in Clapham, dull and dreary in the post-war period, the author also provided glimpses of the harrowing situations that Krista suffered with fragments of her backstory, beginning to explain her relationship with Gus. There are lots of other threads in the story including how the two sisters find their own ways of dealing with the losses that they both suffered in the war. It is also beautifully written and very evocative of the period.

As it happens, when I finished I looked back and re-read the first chapter which felt a bit like a prologue. It was set in 1974 and set the reader up to look for a specific situation arising. Having read the bulk of the book without this in mind I’m pleased that I had forgotten it, I would have enjoyed the whole of the book a lot less if I had been looking for the inevitable conclusion.

In the end this was an enjoyable read despite the dark setting and it took some twists and turns that I wasn’t anticipating.

Thank you to the publisher for the review copy.

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The Roanoke Girls – Amy Engel

Title – The Roanoke Girls

Author – Amy Engel

Published – Mar 2017

Genre – Thriller

I have quite a lot to say about this book but I’ll try and keep it brief! Firstly a word of warning on spoilers. I’ve mentioned coincidences before and this is an example of one in my reading where I’ve read two books in quick succession which if compared to just one book most people would have a clear idea of the main plot. So stay away from reviews on Amazon and Goodreads.

The book is described as a thriller but I’m not sure that’s the best description. It has a mystery and there are a number of aspects of suspense but these take a back seat to the characters and more of a dark ‘coming of age’ story.

Roanoke is the house of Lane’s dreams and of her mother’s nightmares (and disappointingly it’s not the Roanoke in Virginia that I’ve been to). When Lane’s mother commits suicide Lane is sent to Roanoke to live with her grandparents, people that she didn’t know existed. Roanoke is the family home on the outskirts of a small town in Kansas – and completely different to Lane’s New York City existence. She’s welcomed to the house by Allegra, Lane’s cousin, one of the ‘Roanoke Girls’ – the young women from their grandfather’s sisters down who have lived in the house. They all have tragic stories “Roanoke girls never last long around here” says Allegra.

The story moves between ‘Then’ and ‘Now’. In ‘Now’ eleven years have passed since Lane left Roanoke and she’s pulled back by the disappearance of Allegra. In ‘Then’ we find out more about Lane’s time after her arrival at Roanoke as well as the fate of some the other girls. Both in ‘then’ and ‘now’ the central themes are Lane’s relationships, with boys and with Allegra, as well as her take on her family and the way she gains some understanding of the mother she tolerated. Lane is central to the investigation to try and find Allegra but the secret at the heart of the family eclipses this; it all plays out slowly in a claustrophobic small town setting.

In trying to avoid spoilers I’m not sure I’m giving a very good account of the book! I did enjoy this despite its dark themes. I liked Lane and I found her to be a credible, flawed character. If there was something that I struggled with it was probably the character of her grandfather, it was difficult to understand his personality and his charm, he didn’t quite jump off the page for me.

A dark and emotional read about families, secrets and small town America.

Thank you to the publisher for the Netgalley.

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The Other Woman – Laura Wilson

Title – The Other Woman

Author – Laura Wilson

Published – Oct 2017

Genre – Psychological thriller

The question is how to review the book without giving too much away. So the title tells you that there is another woman involved, the two-page first chapter takes place six months after the main story opens and tells the reader that at some point in the book someone will die. And there we have it because much more and I will spoil the book.

The main character is Sophie and she is the epitome of the smug, wealthy woman often found in these thrillers, she has it all but doesn’t seem to realise it. Being suspicious of her husband Sophie gets herself into a situation that offers both tension and farce. Event spirals out of control and the more she tries to make things better the worse they become. The more farcical aspects deliver some black humour, although there was nothing to laugh about and often I felt like shouting at Sophie! Needless to say that the more the events resemble a farce the less realistic they seem but when engrossed by the book – who cares! It had me absolutely gripped, the pace is unrelenting. I was so invested in the character that when I wasn’t reading I found I was feeling guilty and it took a while to realise that it was being driven by what I’d been reading.

And all the time you’re still wondering ‘so whose death is referred to in the first chapter’! The plot throws all sorts of things at you but I didn’t suspect the ending until very late on when it became inevitable and it was only on the last page that you were sure of what had happened.

I’ve had a quick look on Amazon and this really seems to be a ‘marmite’ book that’s dividing readers. I would say give it a try.

Many thanks to the publisher for the review copy.

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Ragdoll – Daniel Cole

Title – Ragdoll

Author – Daniel Cole

Published – Feb 2017

Genre – Crime fiction

Another short review – this time a debut from Daniel Cole which was published at the beginning of the year.

I have to confess that it was a while before I started reading this book because the ‘blurb’ put me off. The premise is described as “A body is discovered with the dismembered parts of six victims stitched together, nicknamed by the press as the ‘Ragdoll’.” It reminded me of the The Whisperer by Donato Carrisi or perhaps something worse but I’m glad that it eventually made its way to the top of the TBR.

Along similar lines as Pendulum this is a (loose) police procedural which has the ‘race against time’ aspects of a thriller. The pace moves the story forward but it’s probably not for people who like their crime fiction or police investigations to be realistic. If you can suspend disbelief it is definitely worth a read.

The book will probably be most memorable to me for the lead character of Detective William Oliver Layton-Fawkes ‘Wolf” Fawkes – a true maverick policeman in the best traditions of crime fiction. Also drawn into the investigation is Wolf’s ex-wife, a journalist and this provides the reader with some thought-provoking moments about what getting a story may be worth.

The gruesome and graphic nature of the ‘body’ at the centre of the investigation might make it appear as if the author was using this to make up for a deficit in the plot or writing but this isn’t the case and fortunately the author was also smart enough to mix in humour to lighten the mood occasionally.

Thank you to the publisher for the review copy.

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Kill Me Twice – Simon Booker

Title – Kill Me Twice

Author – Simon Booker

Published – Aug 2017

Genre – Crime fiction

I have about 20 books to review and 42 days until the start of next year, as I’d like to ‘clear the decks’ before the New Year (and of course I’m still reading) shorter reviews are going to be the way forward.

Kill Me Twice is the sequel to Without Trace, the book that introduced us to investigative journalist Morgan Vine. Trying to build a normal life for herself and her daughter, Lissa, Morgan is searching for the next miscarriage of justice to tackle. She is drawn to the case of a young woman serving a sentence for the murder of her boyfriend; ‘Arsonist Anjelica’ is being held at HMP Dungeness, on Morgan’s doorstep, and the shared experience of being a single mother attracts Morgan to the case. But there is one overriding  reason that makes Morgan really believe in Anjelica (no spoilers but the cover may give you a clue…). In trying to help Anjelica (not always successfully) Morgan also uncovers some unethical practices at the prison that she can’t ignore.

The story delivers on the expectation Booker created in the first book. Morgan remains a feisty and headstrong character that won’t let go once she gets her teeth into a story. Yet again her relationship with Lissa (and Lissa’s own behaviour) also influences the course of the story. I’m not a fan of series where the protagonist is always in peril but while that is the case here and Morgan finds herself the target of attacks, it isn’t contrived but fits with the story. This is also a book which draws on the harsh and remote location of the Dungeness coastline – something which is creating its own niche corner of the crime fiction market.

Thank you to the publisher for the Netgalley.

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Pendulum – Adam Hamdy

Title – Pendulum

Author – Adam Hamdy

Published – Nov 2016

Genre – Thriller

This had been sitting on my shelves since before we moved last year (one of the lucky ones to get unpacked), I was looking for an alternative to historical fiction and this was certainly the polar opposite!

The premise is unusual – always a good start. John Wallace, a photographer, is taken by surprise in his flat and attacked by a man who attempts to hang him. I don’t think I’m giving too much away by saying that he is unsuccessful. Wallace manages to make his escape after a dramatic fight but finds that his attacker is set on completing what he started and Wallace is short on places to turn for help. It transpires that there are others who appear to have committed suicide in the same way (hence ‘Pendulum’) but if Wallace wants to prove that he isn’t losing his mind he needs to dodge the killer and take up the hunt in America.

The thriller part of the plot centres around the ‘can they stop the killer before Wallace or others die’ and there is more of a crime fiction element around determining the identity of the masked man and the motivation behind his attacks. This is a ‘no holds barred’ thriller and I lost track of the body count; not a book to read if you prefer to avoid gore/violence. Hamdy really puts Wallace through the ringer and it’s amazing the guy manages to keep going with the physical and emotional toll exerted on him. The action is easy to visualise (no doubt the author bringing to bear skills from his screenwriting experience) with some great set pieces and nifty writing that gets Wallace out of danger and while the pace keeps up throughout, the action is balanced by tension.

There are, however, two specific issues I had with the book. The first one was my disappointment when I was halfway through and adding it to Goodreads and finding that this is the first in a trilogy – I was looking forward to a resolution that I knew would be delayed. This would have made a great standalone so it will be interesting to see how the story develops over three books. The other problem I had was that when the motivation for the attacks and the reason behind the targeting of the victims became clear I was less enamoured with Wallace than I had been. Nevertheless, this is a gripping trans-atlantic thriller and an accomplished debut.

Thank you to the publisher for the review copy.

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The Coffin Path – Katherine Clements

Title – The Coffin Path

Author – Katherine Clements

Published – 8 Feb 2018

Genre – Historical fiction

I might be posting this review WAY in advance of its publication date but this was such a perfectly timed read in the run up to Halloween. The Coffin Path is a gothic ghost story set in the seventeenth century at an isolated farm and manor house on the wild Yorkshire moors.

The book starts out from the perspective of Mercy Booth, a woman who challenges the expectations of the time about how a woman should behave. She sees herself as the mistress of Scarcross Hall (what a name!) and expects to inherit it when her father passes away. Scarcross is run down and the source of local rumour and superstition; the arrival of a mysterious stranger coincides with events that bring these to the fore. The man is Ellis Ferriby and as the narration switches between him and Mercy we see a different perspective on the period and gradually discover the secret that haunts him.

The controlled pace allows us to get to know and understand the characters as they face the sinister and mysterious events. Verging between the menace of a more corporeal threat versus an ethereal one, the tension is gradually ramped up through the book. As the incidents increase they take their toll on the inhabitants and the farm’s workers and gradually Mercy comes under more and more pressure and becomes more and more isolated.

The location could perhaps be credited as the third main character – the wilds of the moors, the remote location and the unforgiving weather all play their part. This isn’t a book that’s heavy on historical scene-setting – the period is obviously important for a number of reasons but it provides the backdrop to the story, rather than being the driver for it.

There was a point where I suspected that this might become something of a formulaic romance but while the relationship between the two main protagonists could take that direction the author kept the tone of the writing true to their personalities and anything that does (or doesn’t) happen avoids any predictable clichés. Both characters have their flaws but are immensely likeable and both are presented with situations which put them to the test.

The climax is thrilling and there was a sudden ‘aha’ moment which I hope I haven’t misinterpreted… A chilling and eerie story this is bound to make many lists as a ‘must read’ book for next Halloween.

Many thanks to the publisher for the review copy.

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