Playing With Death – Simon Scarrow and Lee Francis

Title – Playing With Death

Author – Simon Scarrow and Lee Francis

Published – July 2017

Genre – Thriller

I was in the mood for an American thriller or police procedural and I was lucky to find this in my TBR but surprised to find it was a Simon Scarrow book I was choosing.

The main character is FBI Agent Rose Blake, after an undercover mission to catch a notorious serial killer fails she is assigned to investigate a suspicious arson attack and death. The investigation quickly picks up a link to a new technology product, high tech companies and a virtual world.

An FBI ‘technothriller’ by Simon Scarrow was a surprise, I really enjoy Scarrow’s Roman Macro and Cato series and his Wellington and Napoleon series, so this felt like a real departure. The book is credited to both Scarrow and Lee Francis and I couldn’t say how the input was divided and what each of the authors brought, the writing style was quite different to Scarrow’s books but the environment here was technological rather than historical. It’s also in the present tense which made it feel more ‘immediate’ but as this is an unusual choice it also feels slightly jarring to read.

I was really in two minds about this book. It was engaging and had lots of pace but some of the technology aspects made it feel like an ill thought out version of a Michael Crichton thriller. I liked Rose but I think that if you didn’t know the gender of the author most people would guess the character was written by a man which is a shame. The book is thought-provoking in terms of the development of technology and social media but the specific issue at the core (and I’m being cryptic here to avoid spoilers) meant it missed the mark for me.

Many thanks to the publisher for the review copy.


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.


Deep Down Dead – Steph Broadribb

51dphgk8vslTitle – Deep Down Dead

Author – Steph Broadribb

Published – Jan 2017

Genre – Thriller

Before I start my review it’s only fair to say that I have known Steph (aka ‘Crime Thriller Girl‘) for a  few years and may have had a social drink or two with her at crime fiction events. I hope that readers of my blog can trust, however, that I wouldn’t give a positive review to a book because of this. In fact that does lead to some interesting thoughts about the world of bloggers, authors and crime fiction conventions / events – but for another day!

Florida bounty-hunter and single mother Lori Anderson seizes the opportunity to take on a job to help her make ends meet after her young daughter’s medical treatment. But with a higher than normal bounty comes a higher than normal risk and Lori finds that the job has a personal aspect to it that will bring back memories that she would prefer to stay buried.

The story is fast paced, with lots of action and plenty of emotional twists and turns. Some of the action sequences have a very visual quality to them and it would be easy to see them transferred to (small or large) screen. It touches on some dark themes and has a smattering of sex, violence and secrets. There are aspects that manage to lighten the mood a little and Lori is a feisty leading lady. I don’t want to give too much away but there’s also a ‘will they, won’t they’ aspect to the story.

I have to confess that if there was one aspect I didn’t like it was Lori’s daughter. I can see how important she was to the plot and to Lori’s motivation but there was something about the too good to be true, pigtails and eye-rolling, that made me hope something dreadful would happen early on in the book!

I mentioned when I reviewed The Distance by Helen Giltrow that while there are plenty of women writing crime fiction it feels unusual to read a thriller written by a woman. It’s therefore great to read another credible, pacy thriller from a female author. Another unusual aspect of Dead Down Dead, and one that is shared with the series by Rod Reynolds and Mason Cross, is the use of an American setting by someone who is British.

This is an accomplished debut and in Lori, Steph has created a character with a very clear and convincing voice. It’s obvious that she’s also familiar with the locations she uses and I know that she took research further than most authors by training as a bounty hunter in California.

I was pleased that the ending didn’t pan out as I thought it might and  it didn’t go for an ‘easy’ option. This is the first in a series and I’m curious to know where the next instalment will take Lori.

Many thanks to the author for the review copy.


Dead Line – Chris Ewan

716-ctbctqlTitle – Dead Line

Author – Chris Ewan

Published – 2013

Genre – Thriller

I enjoyed Safe House and it’s ridiculous that I let Dead Line languish on my TBR for so long, but I’m glad that I finally got round to reading it.

Dead Line is another gripping thriller with perhaps more of a mysterious feel to it compared to its predecessor. The main character is Daniel Trent, one half of a hostage negotiating duo, who live and works in France. He appears to be planning some sort of heist of his own when circumstances overtake him and his plans change.  The opening of the book is quite cryptic and Ewan drip feeds the reader information to flesh out the background to Trent’s story and the motivation for his attempt to turn from gamekeeper to poacher.

Cleverly written and fast-paced this was just the sort of thriller I enjoy and reminded me of Christmas mornings and not being able to resist racing through a new Dick Francis novel. There were some twists and revelations that I saw coming and others that I didn’t – a balance that means that this made a rewarding thriller that held my interest.

If I have a gripe it was the ending and I understand that I’m not the first person to have a grumble about it. But you’ll have to read the book yourself to see if you think my complaint is justified!

Everything a good thriller should be, I can highly recommend this. Thanks to the publisher for the review copy of this book.


The Ice Lands – Steinar Bragi

Title – The Ice Lands

Author – Steinar Bragi (translated by Lorenza Garcia)

Published – Oct 2016 (in English)

Genre – Crime fiction / Thriller / Horror

This came as an unsolicited review copy but I was intrigued by the cover and with an interest in all things Icelandic it pushed its way to the top of my TBR pile.

The story is about four friends and a dog who are on a camping trip in the volcanic wilds of Iceland. There are tensions between the four and they see the trip as away of mending their relationships but things have already become fraught early on in the journey when they crash in the middle of nowhere. They take refuge in an isolated farmhouse occupied by a mysterious elderly couple.

The efforts to resume their journey are thwarted – they fail to leave in their jeep, or in the car they borrow from the couple and even resorting to leaving on foot they end up returning to the dark and menacing house. At the times where they have put some distance between themselves and the house they make further mysterious discoveries in the wilderness – an abandoned car, an abandoned village on a cut-off ‘island’.

The inside of the house, farm and the couple are no less puzzling. They struggle to figure out the relationship between the uncommunicative man and woman, there are animals’ bodies on the doorstep and a hidden room that just adds to the mysteries.

As the story unfolds the backstory of the characters comes out which casts light on them both as individuals and on the relationships between the four of them. In some ways these feel like caricatures – this isn’t a criticism but it feels as if the author was using the four people to highlight some of the issues around the financial crash (the book was published in Iceland in 2011). Their lives and perspectives are quite exaggerated but their reactions to the events after they become stranded seem surprisingly relaxed.

I still don’t know what to make of this book. It was part crime, part thriller, part horror and part, well, just plain weird. I was really taken in by it. I didn’t particularly like the characters, but I wanted to know what happened to them (or what had happened to them). I didn’t have any issues with the writing or translation. There was probably too much of the characters’ backstory for me but the story was atmospheric, tense, dark – it really gripped me. But I just couldn’t figure out what was going on… Since finishing the book and while writing my review I’ve had a look to see what other people make of the book. There is a full synopsis on Wikipedia which tells me that it ‘enjoyed very positive reviews’ although it seems to be struggling to do so in the English translation. Perhaps it just isn’t reaching the right audience.

Thank you to the publisher for the review copy.


Mr. Miller – Charles Den Tex

41dD-rNkplLTitle – Mr. Miller

Author – Charles Den Tex (translated by Nancy Forest-Flier)

Published – 2005 (2015 in translation)

Genre – Thriller

When I posted the details of the long lists for the CWA Daggers I mentioned that it seemed odd not to have heard of all the books. Perhaps this means that a critically acclaimed book, whatever the genre, may not be commercially successful, or perhaps hasn’t had the same marketing push as others in the genre can afford. As a consequence of this post, however, I was offered a review copy of Mr Miller by Charles Den Tex which is on the long list for the John Creasey (New Blood) dagger.

The author is Dutch and the story is set in Amsterdam. Michael Bellicher is a consultant working for a company we can probably all recognise – a huge corporate monolith with thousands of workers of whom much is demanded. One Monday morning he accompanies his parents to meet his brother at Schipol Airport but something happens which shakes him so much that he goes on a drinking binge and misses crucial work appointments. On his return to the office he is so afraid that he will be sacked and won’t be able to get back into the building that he hides away overnight – but he is not the only person in the building. He witnesses something he shouldn’t have seen and this males him flee the office and as he tries to make sense of what happened he finds that he is now being hunted as the perpetrator of the crime.

What happens next is a real rollercoaster ride of a thriller. The premise is that ‘technology’ is at the root of Michael’s problems and the mysterious Mr. Miller, who has a network that not only knows everything about Michael but everything about everyone else too. The more he understands the way he is being hunted the more he must abandon the technology on which he normally relies – even his credit cards. Not only is he trying to clear his name (as the body count rises) but there is also a huge conspiracy which he needs to find a way to stop.

Dealing with issues around immigration and world stability this felt very timely. There are also some much more personal issues which Michael has to deal with, some of which I’ve not really come across in this genre before. (Intriguing, eh?)

The writing style is quite unusual and I’m sure in no small part due to the translator. Whilst the language feels deliberately styled to match the content of the plot it never feels stilted, nothing jars. It would be interesting to know what Dutch readers felt about the style.

What was surprising to me is that the book was originally published in 2005. The themes are so prescient I didn’t realise until I was writing my review that it was written more than ten years ago. For a book that features technology to such a high level it also stands the test of time – remarkable when you consider how quickly ‘tech’ can seem dated. Perhaps it all seemed more fanciful when it was published!

I have to confess that this probably isn’t a book I would have chosen to read if I had’t been offered the review copy. The story really delivers on the thriller aspects although I found some of the technology aspects a little distracting.

And how do I rate the CWA Dagger chances? Personally I preferred Rod Reynolds ‘The Dark Inside‘ but I have only read two of the longlist.



Crime fiction debuts to look out for in March 2016

In my series of monthly post this looks forward to crime fiction debuts being published in March 2016.

3 March 2016

41UrW7G50YLWhat She Never Told Me by Kate McQuaile (from Quercus)

Louise Redmond left Ireland for London before she was twenty. Now, more than two decades later, her heart already breaking from a failing marriage, she is summoned home. Her mother is on her deathbed, and it is Louise’s last chance to learn the whereabouts of a father she never knew.

Stubborn to the end, Marjorie refuses to fill in the pieces of her daughter’s fragmented past. Then Louise unexpectedly finds a lead. A man called David Prescott . . . but is he really the father she’s been trying to find? And who is the mysterious little girl who appears so often in her dreams? As each new piece of the puzzle leads to another question, Louise begins to suspect that the memories she most treasures could be a delicate web of lies.
Kate McQuaile is a graduate of the Faber novel-writing course. She lives in London and works as a journalist, but is originally from Drogheda in Ireland.
You can find a review on For Winter Nights.

10 March 2016
51vobdbodVLThe Teacher by Katerina Diamond (from Avon)
The body of the head teacher of an exclusive Devon school is found hanging from the rafters in the assembly hall. Hours earlier he’d received a package, and only he could understand the silent message it conveyed. It meant the end. As Exeter suffers a rising count of gruesome deaths, troubled DS Imogen Grey and DS Adrian Miles must solve the case and make their city safe again. But as they’re drawn into a network of corruption, lies and exploitation, every step brings them closer to grim secrets hidden at the heart of their community. And once they learn what’s motivating this killer, will they truly want to stop him? Described by the publisher as “a shocking and compelling new crime thriller – NOT for the faint-hearted!”


Katerina Diamond was born in Weston in the seventies. She moved to Thessaloniki in Greece and attended Greek school where she learnt Greek in just 6 months. After her parents’ divorce, they relocated to Devon. After school, and working in her uncle’s fish and chip shop, she went (briefly) to university at Derby, where she met her husband and had two children. Katerina now lives in the East Kent Coast with her husband and children.


51tWxpZPcoLThe Other Mrs Walker by Mary Paulson-Ellis (from Pan Macmillan)
An old lady dies alone in a cold Edinburgh flat surrounded by the few objects she accrued over a lifetime: a faded emerald dress, a brazil nut engraved with the ten commandments – and six orange pips sucked dry. A few days later Margaret Penny is asked to discover the identity of the dead woman.  The objects left behind will unravel Mrs Walker’s real story: a story rooted in the London grime and moving from the 1930s to the present day, a story of children abandoned and lost, of beguiling sisters and misplaced mothers, of deception and thievery, family secrets and the very deepest of betrayals. For in uncovering the astonishing tale of an old woman who died alone, Margaret will finally discover her own story too…


Mary Paulson-Ellis is based in Edinburgh. Although this is her debut novel she has had many short stories pushed and also runs run creative writing workshops for adults and children.


41++mkcHLELMaestra: The Most Shocking Thriller You’ll Read This Year by L S Hilton (from Zaffre Publishing (an imprint of Bonnier Publishing Fiction)
By day, Judith Rashleigh is a put-upon assistant at a London auction house. By night she’s a hostess in one of the capital’s unsavoury bars. Desperate to make something of herself, Judith knows she has to play the game. She’s learned to dress, speak and act in the interests of men. She’s trying to be a good girl. But after uncovering a dark secret at the heart of the art world, Judith is fired and her dreams of a better life are torn apart. So she turns to a long-neglected friend. A friend that kept her chin up and back straight through every past slight. A friend that a good girl like her shouldn’t have.

The film rights to Maestra were picked up Columbia Pictures within days of a manuscript landing in the US. Billed as a cross between The Talented Mr Ripley and Fatal Attraction, Maestra is described as ‘glorious, murderous fun’. The book even has its own website –

L.S. Hilton grew up in England and has lived in Key West, New York City, Paris, and Milan. After graduating from Oxford, she studied art history in Paris and Florence. She has worked as a journalist, art critic, and broadcaster, and is presently based in London.

15 March 2016

51shsQZM0hLWicked Game by Matt Johnson (from Orenda Books)
 2001. Age is catching up with Robert Finlay, a police officer on the Royalty Protection team based in London. He’s looking forward to returning to uniform policing and a less stressful life with his new family. But fate has other plans. Finlay’s deeply traumatic, carefully concealed past is about to return to haunt him. A policeman is killed by a bomb blast, and a second is gunned down in his own driveway. Both of the murdered men were former Army colleagues from Finlay’s own SAS regiment, and in a series of explosive events, it becomes clear that he is not the ordinary man that his colleagues, friends and new family think he is. And so begins a game of cat and mouse – a wicked game – in which Finlay is the target, forced to test his long-buried skills in a fight against a determined and unidentified enemy.

Wicked Game is a taut, action-packed, emotive thriller about a man who might be your neighbour, a man who is forced to confront his past in order to face a threat that may wipe out his future, a man who is willing to do anything to protect the people he loves. But is it too late?

 Originally a self-published work, in 2015, the rights to Wicked Game were acquired by London based publishers Orenda Books. Wicked Game has been edited, re-worked before being published in ebook format in December and in paperback this March. Matt Johnson is a retired soldier and Police Inspector, he witnessed horrific scenes in the aftermath of the London terrorist attacks during a career spanning nearly 25 years. Matt will be appearing on one of the ‘Fresh Blood’ panels at Crimefest in May.

17 March 2016

519GLug9RdLDeath in Profile by Guy Fraser-Sampson (from Urbane Publications) 
The genteel façade of London’s Hampstead is shattered by a series of terrifying murders, and the ensuing police hunt is threatened by internal politics, and a burgeoning love triangle within the investigative team. Pressurised by senior officers desperate for a result a new initiative is clearly needed, but what?


Intellectual analysis and police procedure vie with the gut instinct of ‘copper’s nose’, and help appears to offer itself from a very unlikely source – a famous fictional detective. A psychological profile of the murderer allows the police to narrow down their search, but will Scotland Yard lose patience with the team before they can crack the case?


Guy Fraser-Sampson is an established writer best known for his series of ‘Mapp and Lucia’ novels which have been featured on BBC Radio 4 and optioned by BBC television. This is his debut work of detective fiction, and the first title in the Hampstead Murders series. You can find Guy on twitter – @GuyFSAuthor.

24 March 2016

61Jr5vpd-CLThe Primrose Path – Rebecca Griffiths (from Sphere)
As a teenager, Sarah D’Villez famously escaped a man who abducted and held her hostage for eleven days. The case became notorious, with Sarah’s face splashed across the front of every newspaper in the country. Now, seventeen years later, that man is about to be released from prison. Fearful of the media storm that is sure to follow, Sarah decides to flee to rural Wales under a new identity, telling nobody where she’s gone. Settling into the small community she is now part of, Sarah soon realises that someone is watching her. Someone who seems to know everything about her . . .


Rebecca Griffiths grew up in rural mid-Wales and went on to gain a first class honours degree in English literature. After a successful business career in London, Dublin and Scotland she returned to mid-Wales where she now lives with her husband, a prolific artist, and their dog and pet sheep the size of sofas.


81Anbi7JaBLGone Astray by Michelle Davies (from Pan Macmillan)
A chilling page-turner told from the perspective of the unsung hero of the police: the Family Liaison Officer who is thrust into the heart of the crisis. When a child goes missing, DC Maggie Neville is assigned to support and investigate the family before the domestic dynamics reach breaking point.


Michelle Davies has been writing for magazines for twenty years, including on the production desk at Elle, and as Features Editor of Heat. Her last staff position before going freelance was Editor-at-Large at Grazia magazine and she currently writes for a number of women’s magazines and newspaper supplements. Michelle has previously reviewed crime fiction for the Sunday Express‘s Books section.


Michelle lives in London with her partner and daughter and juggles writing crime fiction with her freelance journalism and motherhood. Gone Astray is her first novel, and the sequel is Wrong Place. You can chat to Michelle on Twitter – @M_Davieswrites


41gGiKjw4LLThe Poison Artist by Jonathan Moore
Dr. Caleb Maddox is a crack San Francisco toxicologist leading a ground-breaking study of the human pain threshold based on minute analysis of chemical markers. He has also just broken up with his artist girlfriend after she discovered a shocking family secret in his past. Seeking solace, Caleb finds a dark, old-fashioned saloon called House of Shields, and is mesmerised when a beautiful woman materialises out of the shadows, dressed like a 1940s movie star. The enigmatic Emmeline shares a pouring of absinthe with him, brushes his arm and vanishes.


As he pursues her through the brooding, night-time city, desperate to see her again, he simultaneously becomes entangled in a serial murder investigation that has the police stymied – men gone missing, fished out of the bay, with no clue as to how they met their end – until Caleb’s analysis of the chemical markers in their bodies reveals that each one was tortured to death. Also present are some of the key components of absinthe. As Caleb finally looks forward to a night spent alone with Emmeline, part of his mind wonders if behind the seductive vision is something utterly terrifying…


This is a gripping thriller about obsession and damage which follows a man unmoored by an unspeakable past. Blending timeless noir narratives with fascinating, accurate CSI detail, it’s told with masterful pacing and a growing sense of menace that is truly chilling.


Jonathan Moore is an attorney with the Honolulu firm of Kobayashi, Sugita & Goda. Before completing law school in New Orleans, he was an English teacher, the owner of Taiwan’s first Mexican restaurant, and an investigator for a criminal defense attorney in Washington D.C. Having written two horror / thrillers (Close Reach and Redheads, which was short-listed for the Bram Stoker Award) this is his debut in crime fiction.


51ap77tbGlLSisters and Lies by Bernice Barrington (from Penguin)

One hot August night, Rachel Darcy gets the call everyone fears. It’s the police. Her younger sister Evie’s had a car crash, she’s in a coma. Can Rachel fly to London right away? With Evie injured and comatose, Rachel is left to pick up the pieces of her sister’s life. But it’s hard fitting them together, especially when she really doesn’t like what she sees. Why was Evie driving when she doesn’t even own a licence? Who is the man living in her flat and claiming Evie is his girlfriend? How come she has never heard of him?

The more mysteries Rachel uncovers the more she starts asking herself how well she ever really knew her sister. And then she begins to wonder if the crash was really the accident everybody says it is. Back in hospital, Evie, trapped inside an unresponsive body, is desperately trying to wake up. Because she’s got an urgent message for Rachel – a warning which could just save both their lives . . .


Bernice Barrington grew up on a farm in north Longford. Her passion has always been for stories and she created her first publication, The White Elephant magazine, at eleven. She studied English and German at Trinity College, completed an MA in writing and then became a journalist. She continued to write fiction in her spare time. Sisters and Lies is her first novel. She lives in Dalkey, Co Dublin with her husband.


91duu3F4jTLSiren by Annemarie Neary (from Hutchinson)
Róisín Burns has spent the past twenty years becoming someone else; her life in New York is built on lies.  A figure from her Belfast childhood flashes up on the news: Brian Lonergan has also reinvented himself. He is now a rising politician in a sharp suit. But scandal is brewing in Ireland and Róisín knows the truth. Armed with the evidence that could ruin Lonergan, she travels back across the Atlantic to the remote Lamb Island to hunt him down. But Lonergan is one step ahead; when Róisín arrives on the island, someone else is waiting for her…


Siren was recently featured in the Independent’s iPaper as one of their Top 10 Book Club Reads for 2016.


Annemarie Neary was born in Northern Ireland and educated in Dublin, at Trinity College, where she studied literature, and King’s Inns, where she qualified as a barrister. She has been a waitress, cherry-picker, civil servant dealing with cross-border smuggling and peat bogs (not necessarily at the same time), legal researcher, au pair, chambermaid and hoer of German parks. Most of her career has been spent working as a lawyer in London. She has lived on Clapham Common for more than 20 years with her husband and three sons. Annemarie has a Masters in Venetian Renaissance art from the Courtauld Insitute, and Venice is something of an obsession. This is her crime fiction debut but she had a historical novel, A Parachute in the Lime Tree, published in 2011.

30 Mar 2016

When East, a low-level lookout for a Los Angeles drug organisation, loses his watch house in a police raid, his boss recruits him for a very different job: a road trip – straight down the middle of white, rural America – to assassinate a judge in Wisconsin. Having no choice, East and a crew of untested boys – including his trigger-happy younger brother, Ty – leave the only home they’ve ever known in a nondescript blue van, with a roll of cash, a map and a gun they shouldn’t have. Along the way, the country surprises East. The blood on his hands isn’t the blood he expects. And he reaches places where only he can decide which way to go – or which person to become.

Bill Beverly was born and grew up in Kalamazoo, Michigan. He studied literature and writing at Oberlin College, including time in London studying theatre and the Industrial Revolution. He then studied fiction and pursued a Ph.D. in American literature at the University of Florida. His research on criminal fugitives and the stories surrounding them became the book On the Lam: Narratives of Flight in J. Edgar Hoover’s America. He now teaches American literature and writing at Trinity University in Washington D.C. and lives with his wife, the poet and writer Deborah Ager, and their daughter Olive, in Hyattsville, Maryland.

For previous ‘debuts’ posts see January and February.

A Death In Sweden – Kevin Wignall

51SxwmxkiQLTitle – A Death In Sweden

Author – Kevin Wignall

Published – 1 Jan 2016

Genre –  Thriller

I’ve seen Kevin Wignall as a participant and  / or moderator at number of crime fiction events but to my shame had not read anything by him, so I was pleased to get the opportunity put this right.

The book opens, as you might imagine, in Sweden and with a death – that of a mysterious man who selflessly dies trying to save a fellow passenger in a bus crash. In Madrid, ex-CIA agent Dan Hendricks is occupied locating and extracting targets for whichever power pays the most. As he scopes out a man and his life for a suitable opportunity to ambush him, it becomes clear that while this has all the elements of a traditional spy thriller, Wignall has given Hendricks a more introspective nature than might be expected. Despite his relatively young age Hendricks is feeling a little reflective and his mood isn’t helped by the possibility that the deaths of a number of former CIA colleagues point to a ‘clean-up’ operation by their former employer.

Once the current job is completed and it becomes clear that he and his colleagues are now the hunted the pace picks up. A meeting with a former boss who’s moving to a new organisation tips Hendricks off that there’s a connection worth investigating between the mysterious death in Sweden and the man heading up the operation to target Hendricks and colleagues.

There’s lots of good old-fashioned cloak and dagger aspects to this story, a mix of traditional spy and trained assassin with a background of political intrigue and machinations. A good mix of pace balanced by more tense scenes.

I was surprised that the dialogue wasn’t more humourous – although perhaps not a first choice in a thriller it’s something you can’t fail to notice about Wignall himself. Nevertheless, the main character is likeable and despite the nature of his work he has his own moral code and a line that he won’t cross but he’s no wuss. It’s a fine line to tread in a thriller at the risk of seeming to either tone down the action or preach to the reader, but I thought it came across very credibly here.

I bought this as a ‘Kindle first’.


Life or Death – Michael Robotham

41VFuCadhWLTitle – Life or Death

Author – Michael Robotham

Published – 2015 (paperback)

Genre –  Thriller

Why is it easy to ramble on about books that you’re not so taken with but when it comes to one you love it’s really hard to articulate the reasons? Or perhaps it’s just me… So this has probably tipped you off that I really enjoyed Life or Death and that I probably won’t be able to get across what it was that made it such a great read.

The premise of the book is a simple but intriguing one, although at first glance it would be tempting to think it’s one that, after a bit of explanation, would be come a run of the mill thriller. The day before he is due to be released after a decade in prison Audie Palmer escapes.

The book opens with Audie making his escape and keeps up the pace as it switches between a number of points of view. He has always been something of an enigma to his fellow inmates, although he has drawn considerable attention as his sentence was related to a heist on an armoured truck carrying $7 million which are still missing. Investigations at the prison focus on Moss, the guy who’s been in the next cell to Audie and the closest thing he has to a friend. But Audie has kept his plans to himself and no-one can shed any light on the reasons for his escape or what he might intend doing on the outside. The points of view include Moss – who becomes more involved in the hunt for Audie than he could have anticipated, and Special Agent Desiree Furness, a diminutive FBI agent, but the story is very much Audie’s. In crime fiction I prefer a single point of view but thrillers work much better when you can follow the hunt as well as the hunted!

As Audie is tracked down by a number of different people his backstory comes out and Robotham is skilful in keeping the reasons for the jailbreak and the story behind the heist under wraps until a pretty long way into the book – which makes it even more of a page turner! The writing has a very visual quality and brings the action vividly alive. There’s also an attention to detail which made me think of the series by David Mark that I so enjoy.

Audie is a great central character, in some ways not a typical criminal or the usual hero for a thriller. He’s been unlucky but has maintained his dignity. The other characters are equally well drawn, especially the FBI Agent (I would have liked to have seen more of her) but Audie is the heart of the story in more ways than one. Although I figured out some aspects of the plot sooner rather than later, there were plenty of aspects that surprised me and plenty of thrills, but it’s a thriller with lots of heart.

You can see another point of view on Fair Dinkum Crime. Many thanks to the publisher for the review copy of the book.


Huntress Moon – Alexandra Sokoloff

91g9XdWmvoL._SL1500_Title – Huntress Moon

Author – Alexandra Sokoloff

Published – 2012

Genre –  Thriller

When I reviewed The Distance by Helen Giltrow I commented on how unusual it is to find a thriller written by a woman so it may seem odd to be reviewing another so soon. But where The Distance was along more traditional spy thriller lines, Huntress Moon feels more like a cross between a police (well FBI) procedural and a thriller.

FBI Special Agent Matthew Roarke witnesses the sudden death of one of his undercover agents. The death appears to be an accident but Roarke noticed a woman at the scene, someone that he felt he had a connection to, and he becomes a little obsessed with her presence there. Searching for an explanation for the agent’s death he focuses on the mysterious woman and quickly finds that she, or someone matching her description, has figured in the deaths of at least two other men in two other states. The information he has access to is sparse, so he hits the road to talk to the other investigators first hand.

As Roarke is pursuing his investigation we’re introduced to the woman herself. We know that she is fleeing the scene of the death but her motivation is kept hidden from the reader until well into the book; the author uses the present tense for the ‘huntress’ character which works well to conceal her thinking and plans.

Rather than detailed police work the investigation depends on hunches and gut feelings and even hints at supernatural explanations, but everything is explained rationally although not necessarily explicitly. When I went back to check the book to write my review there were a few occasions which made me go ‘of course’ as everything fell into place – so pay attention! Although the action takes place over just a few days there’s a backstory which dates back many years and it’s here that the reader is rewarded with the explanations for the behaviour of both the main characters. I also learnt a lot about the prevalence (or lack of) of female serial killers.

Sokoloff has created two very engaging characters and it’s hard to choose who you want to emerge triumphant from the chase.  As well as clever plotting and great characterisation I also enjoyed the descriptions, especially of the landscape. While it didn’t intrude on the pace of the book it was enough to give me a vivid picture of places I’ve never visited.

Huntress Moon is the first in a series of books featuring Agent Roarke which explains the loose ends left at the end, so it won’t be long before I start the sequel Blood Moon. You can see some other points of view on Vicky’s blog and Lizzy’s. Many thanks to the author for the review copy of the book.