Debut

The Feed – Nick Clark Windo

Title – The Feed

Author – Nick Clark Windo

Published – Jan 2018

Genre – Fiction

This is another debut that I picked up at the Headline ‘New Voices 2018’ event I attended in January. I have to say that the description of the book didn’t do it justice – it packs a whole lot in and it’s difficult to know where to start with a review. The book is a dystopian, post-apocalyptic, speculative, thriller with a range of themes from technology to identity.

We’re introduced to a future where technology has been extrapolated to a believable conclusion. The Feed is social media to the max – it’s in your head and it goes beyond sharing news and information but it’s also thoughts and memories. For most people it’s impossible to be without it – it’s the way everyone communicates and it’s a hundred times more addictive than social media is now.

And then a cataclysmic event ends The Feed. Six years or so on and Kate and her husband Tom are about to celebrate the birthday of Bea, their daughter. The world has changed and we’re now in territory familiar to readers of Station Eleven or viewers of The Walking Dead. Without The Feed civilisation has collapsed – no-one knew how to do anything without it, all the knowledge was stored digitally, they don’t know how to cook a meal or grow crops.  Some people were so addicted to The Feed that its loss lead to their death – corpses littering the towns and cities and the infrastructure of society has failed.

So that’s the setting and a story of survival could have been enough – but there are two more key aspects to the book. The first is that you have to have someone watch you sleep as you could be ‘Taken’ and if this does happen you need your watcher to act. But what does being Taken mean, what is it that happens to people…? And the other driver for the story is the loss of Bea – she goes missing and Tom and Kate have to embark on a search for her, leaving the safe haven they’ve established. As the story unfolds and Tom and Kate search for Bea the gaps are filled in and the reader learns more about what caused The Feed to collapse.

But there is even more to the book than this and I don’t want to give too much away. The main crux of the story seems to be a warning of the dangers to relying too much on technology, the importance of family and the lengths people will go to to survive.

There is a lot going on which means this isn’t necessarily an easy read. It’s definitely thought provoking and disturbing and it kept me guessing. As I said it’s not a genre I often read so my perception of the book will no doubt be different to those who read more sci-fi / dystopian fiction than I do. Although quite dark, without some of the lighter moments of Station Eleven, I’m not sure that it really delivered on horror or tension, I think there was room to push both a little further than they went. I didn’t find Kate or Tom to be particularly likeable, they have flaws which outweigh the more positive aspects of their characters but I don’t think that necessarily detracted from the book. It’s not a story I’ll forget in a hurry!

If you need any encouragement to put your phone down and step away from social media then The Feed should do the job! Many thanks to the publisher for the review copy.

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Perfect Remains – Helen Field

8111buIJ6TLTitle – Perfect Remains

Author – Helen Field

Published – Jan 2017

Genre – Crime fiction

This is a series that I’ve seen a lot of buzz about on Twitter and has glowing reviews on Goodreads and Amazon, so I took advantage when there was an offer to download the book for free when a new book in the series was published. And now I discover it’s one of those books that the rest of the world seems to like and I have a dissenting voice, in fact I’m torn between giving it two or three stars, but I’m feeling generous.

The main character is D I Luc Callanach – half French and half Scottish he has recently transferred to Edinburgh after working for Interpol in France. He has the looks of an underwear model and a dark and mysterious past. His first case with his new team is the disappearance and subsequent murder of a young professional woman.

When I said that Callanach is the main character that’s only partly true – the perpetrator of the crimes gets his own fair share of the limelight. This is a book where you know from the outset who committed the crimes, how he is carrying them out and the deceptions he is using to trick the police. An unlikeable character I couldn’t wait for him to get his comeuppance. Obviously a disturbed individual but so disturbed that I was never sure that the motive behind his crimes even made sense to him.

There is a lesser strand to the main plot about babies being found in a park which is investigated by one of Callanach’s colleagues and I wondered if this was a means to an end for a later point in the plot; it didn’t seem properly developed but seemed more to serve a purpose.

The setting is Edinburgh but the writing didn’t get the feel or the atmosphere that told me anything about the place – it could easily have been set in the suburbs of any other large city. The dual point of view aspect was one of things that didn’t endear the book to me, while I like police procedurals I much prefer that the mystery unfolds for me as it does for the investigators, I don’t particularly like to be in on the secrets. There is a considerable amount of violence in the book. I’ve read worse, or perhaps more graphic, but it was all against women and there were certainly aspects that seemed gratuitous. There was an inevitable romance which didn’t particularly add anything to the story. To me it felt like a book someone would write who has read a lot of crime fiction and thinks ‘I could do that’. I think it needed a bit more refinement, a bit more editing, a more critical eye.

But how can I argue with all those hugely positive reviews?

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The Wicked Cometh – Laura Carlin

Title – The Wicked Cometh

Author – Laura Carlin

Published – Feb 2018

Genre – Historical fiction

It’s 1831 and men, women and children have been disappearing from the streets of London. Hester is a young woman who lost her somewhat privileged life when she was orphaned and was taken in by her father’s ex-gardener and his wife, which has led to her living in ever more wretched conditions. She is pinning her hopes on being able to meet her long lost cousin in London but a chance incident and injury sees her become something of a ‘project’ for the Brock family – Calder Brock, his sister Rebekah and their uncle. Hester is sent to their country house where they plan to educate her (as she has managed to keep to herself the fact that she is actually relatively well educated), she makes friends with some of the housemaids and is mentored by Rebekah.

This is a book or two halves. There is the ‘salvation’ of Hester and her burgeoning relationship with Rebekah. Then there are the ‘investigations’ as they play amateur detective in trying to find what’s become of the missing people, uncovering some unpleasant secrets in both their families along the way.

I have to say this book that wasn’t really for me. The stories and the multiple threads became quite convoluted and the author packed a lot in. I wasn’t a huge fan of Hester, for some reason I didn’t find that her character rang quite true – although nothing I can really put my finger on. The author does paint an interesting and atmospheric picture of London, demonstrating some of the contrasts between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have-nots’ and there is a period leaning to the writing. But the very end of the book felt like it had pushed the credibility of the story too far.

Many thanks to the publisher for the netgalley. You can see another point of view on Kate’s blog.

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Turn A Blind Eye – Vicky Newham

Title – Turn A Blind Eye

Author – Vicky Newham

Published – 5 April 2018

Genre – Crime fiction

This is one of the books that got a mention in my look forward to 2018 and I’m thrilled that I got a copy so early in the year.

The book is set in East London and embraces the diverse multi-cultural aspects of the communities there. When the body of a head teacher is discovered in her office by a colleague at Mile End High School Detective Inspector, and former pupil, Maya Rahman is keen to lead the investigation, even though this means cutting short her leave to do so. Found at the scene is a single piece of card, written upon which is an ancient Buddhist precept, suggesting, if nothing else, that the murder was premeditated.

Like any good police procedural the book follows the pattern of increasing body count, increasing pressure on the team and a number of possible suspects. The setting of the school provides quite an enclosed environment which narrows down those potentially involved to a rather limited pool. With her own history at the school Maya takes on a determination to solve the murder and to protect the reputation of the school – two things which don’t always require the same action!

The pace varies through the book to give some fast-paced and intense scenes, balanced by the necessarily slower parts of the investigation and more introspective scenes for the main characters. Of the characters it’s Maya that we come to know best with a number of scenes taking place in the past, filling in important aspects of her backstory. Maya’s scenes are told in the first person, making them seem more immediate and bringing the reader closer to the character. She is a Muslim (although seemingly not a particularly devout one) of Bangladeshi origin, at the beginning of the book she suffered a loss but she’s anything but the traditional dysfunctional detective.

There are two other points of view used in the book – Steve, the teacher who finds the body at the beginning of the book, and Dan, a new DS unexpectedly thrust on Maya as a new colleague, who is an Aussie and has left his young family behind to work in the UK. There’s quite a lot of police detail and although I’m a fan of police procedurals I am tempted to think that this might be a case where the reader doesn’t need to know too much about different systems and acronyms.

Drawing on her own experiences teaching in the area the author paints a vivid picture of live in an inner-city school and some of the issues that they face – whether that be from dealing with the multi-cultural aspects of the students and their families or the wider pressure on performance and reputation. The book touches on a number of social issues, both specific (such as forced marriage) and the more general issue of what happens when different cultures collide in the same environment and how it can feel to be an outsider.

Vicky has set herself a huge challenge in writing in such personal detail from the perspective of a character from another culture. Authors are obviously doing this all the time, after all their job is to make things up, but there are going to be some people who will be able to read this with a much more informed eye that I can. I think the shame is that there aren’t many authors bringing a range of cultural experience to the genre. It will be interesting to see how the series develops in the future and which characters make it into the second book.

Many thanks to the publisher for the review copy. You can follow Vicky on twitter and her detectives have their own twitter account too. You can see another review of Turn a Blind Eye on Liz’s blog.

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Crime fiction I’m looking forward to reading in 2018

This is a personal look at the books I’m looking forward to reading next year. There are a few debuts, a few series that I really should catch up on and the climax to one specific series that I just can’t wait for!

First on the list must be Turn a Blind Eye by Vicky Newham which is due to be published on 5 April 2018. I first met Vicky not long after I started blogging and we have been friends since. When I first met people as a blogger I seemed unusual in being someone who was only interested in reading books with no desire to become a writer myself. Over the intervening years I’ve seen many of these bloggers become published authors (people like Sarah Ward, James Law, Steph Broadribb) and it’s been a long wait for Vicky! The good news is that she will be published by HQ books (part of Harper Collins) so she should get lots of publicity and support. They’ve already done a great job on the cover! 

The book does sound intriguing too “When the head teacher of Mile End High School is found brutally murdered, DI Maya Rahman is called in to the East End community – an area buzzing with energy, yet divided by its own multiculturalism. Maya must battle ghosts from her past and navigate East London’s cultural tensions to find the perpetrator before they kill again.”. As a fan of police procedurals this is right up my street and Vicky is bringing in an extra dimension with a Bangladeshi female detective and a Tower Hamlets setting.

Not only did HQ by the rights to two books but TV rights sold to Playground Entertainment so fingers crossed that this develops into something we get to see on screen too.

Next on the list is another debut – this is Strangers on a Bridge by Louise Mangos and is due to be published in August 2018 by HQ Digital, again part of Harper Collins. Louise is another debut author that I’ve met at a number of crime fiction events. Despite having an agent she made her ‘pitch’ to HQ via a tweet when they were asking for authors to do just that and following the tweet they made contact with Louise and she subsequently signed to them. Who says social media is all bad?

A psychological thriller the blurb is ‘While running near her home in Switzerland, English-born Alice stops a man jumping from a notorious suicide bridge. He mistakes Alice’s euphoric relief as budding affection, and he begins to stalk her.’ While the premise sounds intriguing I definitely don’t read enough books set in Switzerland so I’m looking forward to a bit of armchair-tourism too.

I didn’t post a roundup of my reading highlights  for 2017 – there were a couple of reasons for this. First my blog was pretty neglected in the first half of the year with a house move coinciding with a period at work that was both busy and stressful. I’ve done about the same amount of reading as I normally would but it’s been too time-consuming to get all the reviews posted on my blog. But I also felt that there weren’t any absolutely ‘five-star’ standout books in what I’d read. I did ask around on Facebook for some suggestions of what I might have missed and I’ve also had a look at many of the other ‘best of 2017’ lists. Taking all of this into account and scouring the lists on Crime Time I made sure to ask for Bluebird, Bluebird by Attica Locke for Christmas and I’m pleased to say that Santa did his stuff. The only hold up may be the fact that as a hardback I shan’t want to take it to work on the train as I like to keep my books in pristine condition!

I’ve always tried to read books in the correct series order and if I have started a series from the beginning I don’t want to skip a book and miss something important. There are a couple of series that I’ve got behind on and I really need to catch up. I feel a particular affinity to these as I read and reviewed the debuts on my blog. Firstly there’s Sarah Hilary’s Marnie Rome series. I’ve read the first three books in the series but missed out on the fourth and can see some reviewers have already received copies of the fifth book, so I need to get myself the two missing titles and squeeze them in to my reading next year.

1. Someone Else’s Skin (2014)
2. No Other Darkness (2015)
3. Tastes Like Fear (2016)
4. Quieter Than Killing (2017)
5. Come and Find Me (2018)

Another series that I have followed from the beginning is David Mark and his Aector McAvoy series. I miss reading about Aector and I must catch up. More for the shopping list…

1. The Dark Winter (2012)
2. Original Skin (2013)
3. Sorrow Bound (2014)
4. Taking Pity (2015)
4.5. A Bad Death (2015)
5. Dead Pretty (2016)
5.5. Fire of Lies (2016)
6. Cruel Mercy (2017)
7. Scorched Earth (2018)

There is a third set of books to add to this and I did make an exception and read some of this series out of order. It’s the Nic Costa series by David Hewson. When David stopped writing this series set in Italy I didn’t feel any pressure to fill in any gaps but with a new book due out in 2018 I shall have to get my skates on to catch up. I have posted reviews on my blog for The Fallen Angel which was the last Nic Costa novel and Carnival for the Dead which was a spin off from the series. You can read more about David’s announcement on his blog.

There is also a series coming to an end which although I shall be sad to see it finish I am REALLY looking forward to reading the final instalment. This is the Frieda Klein series from Nicci French. I wasn’t sure how a move from standalones to a series of eight books would work but I shouldn’t have worried. The series has been excellent – one you really should read from the start to get the most out of the books. But July will see the final book published and I shall be rushing to read it because I would hate to see a spoiler!

 1. Blue Monday (2011)
2. Tuesday’sGone (2012)
3. Waiting for Wednesday (2013)
4. Thursday’s Children (2014)
5. Friday on My Mind (2015)
6. Saturday Requiem (2016)
aka Dark Saturday
7. Sunday Morning Coming Down (2017)
aka Sunday Silence
8. Day of the Dead (2018)

So what have ai missed? What books are your must haves or must reads for the next year?

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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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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