THE PLAYERS

THE PLAYERS
DARREN O’SULLIVAN

Rating: 3 out of 5.

BLURB
A stranger has you cornered.
They call themselves The Host.
You are forced to play their game.
In it one person can live and the other must die.
You are the next player. 
You have a choice to make.This is a game where nobody wins…

REVIEW
The Players has the bones of a good story and succeeds in raising questions in the reader’s mind about just how far one would go to protect one’s family.
DI Karen Holt is an interesting character, in a stable relationship and a welcome change from the tormented alcoholic / guilt ridden main character that pops up all too often in contemporary thrillers.


The author does however, succumb to a few predominant cliches – the officer who is the only competent person who can solve the crime in spite of being forbidden to do so, putting one’s loved ones in danger, loyal and admiring sidekick who hangs on Holt’s every word.
The novel built slowly with an over emphasis on Holt’s therapy, which was endlessly discussed but bore no relevance to the story.
Disappointingly, I found The Host completely unbelievable when his identity was revealed and there was more than one occasion where he could have been apprehended much earlier in the story.
A good premise which unfortunately stutters to an unconvincing end.
I voluntarily read and reviewed an advanced copy of this book. All thoughts and opinions are my own.

THE HOLDOUT

THE HOLDOUT
GRAHAM MOORE

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Maya Seale is on jury duty, charged with deciding whether Bobby Nock, a young black teacher, had killed one of his students. She is the only juror who thinks he is innocent or that, at least, there isn’t enough evidence to bring in a guilty verdict. Over a period of time, sequestered in a hotel, she wins all the other jurors over to her way of thinking, includingRick who she has been having an affair with. So far so “Twelve Angry Men”.
Roll on 10 years and the jury reconvenes in the same hotel, brought together by a television company who have been persuaded by Rick that he has new evidence that proves Bobby Nock’s guilt. After a fierce argument between Maya and Rick she storms out of the hotel only to return and find Rick dead. She is duly arrested for his murder and is released in bail.

Graham Moore is an excellent writer and has spun an extremely complicated plot here which simultaneously follows Maya’s investigations to prove her innocence and explores the happenings of the original trial. The sensible side of my brain recognises that the plot is pretty absurd but the side willing to suspend belief really enjoyed the intricacies of the story. I don’t think any reader will guess the ending because Moore seems to have plucked it out of thin air.
All in all, it’s a pretty good, rollicking read although, now I know the author’s propensity towards the introduction of new evidence so near the end of a book, I’m not entirely sure I’d read another one of his books.
I voluntarily read and reviewed an advanced copy of this book. All thoughts and opinions are my own.

BLACK WIDOWS

BLACK WIDOWS
CATE QUINN
PUBLICATION DATE 04 FEB

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Blake Nelson is a Latter Day Saint with three wives – Rachel, Emily and Tina. Plural marriages are no longer acceptable in the Mormon religion and Blake buys an isolated piece of land, where they all live, at best barely tolerated by their fellow Mormons and at worst, ostracised by some.
When Blake is found dead, suspicion automatically falls on the three wives and the central plot in the novel is focused on which one of them did it. The chapters are short, some very short, and told in three voices, those of the wives. I had no trouble keeping hold of whose chapter I was in as the wives had very distinctive voices and characteristics.
The story moves along quite smoothly in spite of being fairly complicated as the back stories of the wives are revealed as well as the ongoing investigation into Blake’s murder. The background information on Latter Day Saints is meticulous and woven in so neatly that I never felt like I was being preached at.

The major distraction for me was Rachel’s background story. It was riveting and deserved a story of its own, but in this instance it pulled me away from the main story and didn’t really have any impact on the main plot except to explain Rachel’s attitude to her husband’s death. It lengthened the middle section of the book unnecessarily and slowed things down a bit.
There are quite a few ancillary characters, all of which are portrayed realistically, except for the police officers who, I felt, were less rounded than anyone else and only there to move the story along.
The ending disappointed me because it felt forced and too neatly wrapped up. However, it was one of the most enjoyable books I have read in recent months, not least because of the originality of the plot. I would recommend just suspending belief and just go with the flow on this one.
I voluntarily read and reviewed an advanced copy of this book. All thoughts and opinions are my own.

SIXTEEN HORSES

SIXTEEN HORSES
GREG BUCHANAN

Rating: 2 out of 5.

This is a very unsettling book which doesn’t seem to know what it is. Written in an over-literary style in a very disjointed way with short sections hopping about quite randomly, it yet professes to be a mystery / thriller. I struggled to maintain interest in the face of the unrelenting gloom and the visceral content. My overwhelming feeling, which keep intruding on my reading, is that the author is trying too hard to be too many things.
There is an absolute howler in the first chapter which nearly stopped me from reading any

more. The detective is in a muddy field before sunrise, yet flies are buzzing everywhere. Flies need polarised light to guide them visually. I would hope that this is corrected before publication. In conclusion, I would add that the book is very well written and will most likely appeal to those who like their thrillers at the high end of grim and gory, but they will need to be prepared to wade through quite a bit of pretention first.
I voluntarily read and reviewed an advanced copy of this book. All thoughts and opinions are my own.


THE COFFIN MAKER’S GARDEN

THE COFFIN MAKER’S GARDEN
STUART McBRIDE

Rating: 2 out of 5.

I was very attracted to this book for a number of reasons – the synopsis, the reputation of the author and the great cover. The story starts off at a great lick and I was completely drawn in to it. A wild and stormy coastline, slowly disappearing into the ocean and revealing a house of horrors where many murders had taken place.
Ash Henderson, ex police officer and now a ‘consultant’ of some kind, and Dr Alice McDonald, a forensic psychologist, are sent to the scene to assist the police and become embroiled in the hunt to find the serial killer.
Simultaneously, they are involved, to some degree, in an ongoing investigation into another serial killer who is strangling young boys.
Ash Henderson is arrogant, rude, violent and treats everyone as less intelligent than himself. The only person he appears to have some tenderness for is McDonald, a functioning alcoholic who can’t work unless she’s had a large helping of alcohol.
It requires quite a large suspension of belief to accept this pair as capable of solving not one, but two, major crimes

simultaneously without much help from the police. MacBride very rarely introduces a likeable character and, when he does, they are always secondary to Henderson who rides roughshod over everyone in his path. A female police officer appears for a large section of the book but doesn’t do much more than drive Henderson about and get leered at, by quite a few characters, because she has attractive boobs. She disappeared after a while and was never referred to again.
MacBride has an unusual style of presenting telephone conversations partly in italics and of portraying emotion in capitals, usually interspersed with a good sprinkling of swear word, which is unsettling to the eye.
The last section of the book is frankly too far fetched for words.
I know MacBride has a legion of fans and I would have liked to join them but, although the plot was good, particularly at the beginning, the execution of it let it down.

I voluntarily read and reviewed an advanced copy of this book. All thoughts and opinions are my own
.

BOBBY MARCH WILL LIVE FOREVER

BOBBY MARSH WILL LIVE FOREVER
ALAN PARKS

Rating: 4 out of 5.

This is the third book to feature Detective Harry McCoy. Having read the previous two – Bloody January and February’s Son – my expectations were high. Set in a very gritty Glasgow, it is a complicated and fast moving tale of seemingly unrelated cases – a series of armed robberies, a missing child and the drug overdose death of Bobby March, a waning rock star.
McCoy is excluded from the missing child investigation, an act of spite by his temporary boss who carries a grudge, is allocated the drugs overdose and has the robberies foisted on him by his usual partner, who has been seconded to the missing child case.
Sounds complicated? It is, especially when McCoy is also asked to find the teenage niece of his actual boss, as a favour to be kept under wraps.
The first part of the book is unexciting, as McCoy wanders the city, seemingly aimlessly, catching up with characters who were introduced in the previous books, dealing with side issues and also slowly garnering information.  Most of these strands eventually mesh as he

pieces together the nearly impenetrable plot. At this stage, I felt that some of the ‘asides’ could well have been abandoned and the relevant portions more fleshed out, particularly where characters from the previous books were concerned. When quite a while and quite a few books have flowed through the reader’s mind between visits from McCoy, it’s a little difficult to remember just who everyone is.
Its a good yarn, written very much in a weird combination of tartan noir and an Agatha Christie-like scattering of clues throughout, but not enough for the reader to make any informed guesses. The final twist comes out of nowhere, neatly handed to McCoy by another character, but nevertheless very entertainingly written. I was left a little disappointed as there is no neat ending and there are quite a few loose ends left waving in the breeze.
Read it, enjoy it and suspend belief for a few hours.
I voluntarily read and reviewed an advanced copy of this book. All thoughts and opinions are my own.

SAFE AND SOUND

Jennifer Arden, a housing officer,  discovers the body of a woman in a flat she manages and sets out to solve the mystery of what happened to her. I wasn’t quite sure why she did this because she already had plenty of problems in her own life to contend with – a single mother with mental health issues, panic attacks and worries about her seemingly autistic son. Her decision to involve herself in this mystery puts her in danger and exacerbates her already existing problems. My initial question was why she would do this and this niggle did affect my acceptance of the plot.
Philippa East writes beautifully, which I did appreciate but the main character is not very likeable and the story was agonisingly slow in places, verging on the preachy.
Sadly, I didn’t finish the story, becoming more dispirited and frustrated with Jennifer as the story went on.
Thank you to NetGalley and to the publisher for providing me with a free ARC copy in exchange for an honest review.

SAFE AND SOUND
PHILIPPA EAST

Rating: 2 out of 5.

TALL BONES

TALL BONES
ANNA BAILEY

Rating: 4 out of 5.

A missing teenager, an unhappy home life and a selection of suspects within a small town. We’ve been here before but Tall Bones rises above the average thriller.
The author tells a good story and is adept at inter-weaving characters and events. There are not many (if any) likeable characters in the book and this gave me pause for thought a few times but it did not detract from my enjoyment of the book as it was always clear that, to a large extent and with very few exceptions, their futures were destined to follow that of their parents in the depressed area they lived in.
A bit of a grim read; I wouldn’t say I enjoyed it but it did leave a lasting impression.
I would like to thank Netgalley, Random House UK, Transworld Publishers and Doubleday for an advanced digital copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

SHE HAS A BROKEN THING WHERE HER HEART SHOULD BE

She Has a Broken Thing Where Her Heart Should Be
J D Barker

Rating: 5 out of 5.

After the loss of his parents, young Jack Thatch first met Stella as a child—this cryptic little girl of eight with dark hair and darker eyes, sitting alone on a bench in the cemetery clutching her favorite book. Gone moments later, the brief encounter would spark an obsession. She’d creep into his thoughts, his every waking moment, until he finally finds her again exactly one year later, sitting upon the same bench, only to disappear again soon after.
The body of a man found in an alley, every inch of his flesh horribly burned, yet his clothing completely untouched. For Detective Faustino Brier, this wasn’t the first, and he knew it wouldn’t be the last. It was no different from the others. He’d find another just like it one year from today. August 9, to be exact.
Isolated and locked away from the world in a shadowy lab, a little boy known only as Subject “D” waits, grows, learns. He’s permitted to speak to no one. He has never known the touch of another. Harboring a power so horrific, those in control will never allow him beyond their walls.
All of them linked in ways unimaginable.
I was drawn to this novel for a couple of reasons. One, because I had read and loved the

Fourth Monkey series and, secondly, because I immediately picked up a King/Koontz vibe from the synopsis. These two things practically ensured this would become one of my favourite books.
Upon beginning the book, I pretty soon realised that it was very loosely worked around a classic novel. I won’t say which one because it’s a great moment when the penny drops. Needless to say, what Barker had done lifts it into another realm and dimension.It’s a slow build, but not boring – everything comes back later with massive relevance.
I was surprised more than once at how events crept up on me and I thought, “Of course, I should have seen that coming.” But you won’t.
A small criticism relates to the villains of the piece. The structure and reasoning behind the set-up is impeccable but the portrayal of the ‘foot soldiers’ strained my credulity a little. It didn’t detract from the story but did cause a slight stutter.I read this on a free download from Kindle Unlimited but have now ordered a hard copy, because I will read it again one day – after I have read the classic that inspired it. I’m sure I will see it with new eyes and enjoy it even more.

WHERE’S THE STORY, MORNING GLORY?

When did authors become so verbose?
In the last few months, I have read four very good novels, three of them by authors I eagerly look forward to reading, the fourth set in Ireland, my homeland and with a plot I knew would pique my interest.
I was disappointed in all four and for the same reason.
Huge chunks of the books were taken up with ‘atmospheric’ descriptions of the scenery and rambling pieces of history (several pages long) which bore no relevance whatsoever to the story. My favourite contemporary author, James Lee Burke, used up nearly a quarter of A Private Cathedral in this way and I hadn’t a clue how the story ended. All the philosophising and picture painting of purple skies and moss covered oaks had robbed me of my senses and I couldn’t face going back to try to understand it.
To make matters worse, I read John Connolly’s The Dirty South immediately afterwards only to find that he has morphed into Burke. I have followed Charlie Parker’s progress (or lack of it) ever since Every Dead Thing and have grown to love him, Louis and Angel. This book literally was a shocker – Parker was nearly incidental to the main storyline, there were multiple pages of angst, navel gazing and more of the raptures on the pulchritude of the Deep South. Between Burke and Connolly, I feel like I’ve actually been there, even if I still don’t know what a po’boy sandwich is.
I thought I was on safe ground with Chris Petit’s The Psalm Killer, because it ticked all the boxes – murder mystery, serial killer, Catholic cop in the Royal Ulster Constabulary and a background of The Troubles. Wrong. If ever there was a case of over-research, this is it. Petit mixed may real-life people into the story, spent interminable time laying out their history which, again, bore no relevance at all to the fictional story. How could it? Large chunks of the book read like an un-asked for history lesson and, biggest crime of all in my eyes, he allowed his political persuasion to shine through.
The biggest disappointment of all was Jo Nesbo’s latest offering, The Kingdom. As a long time fan of the Harry Hole series, I have always appreciated the terse, edge-of-the-seat prose that Nesbo delivers. I was quite prepared to accept that this stand-alone novel is a very different kettle of fish – a slow burner with many psychological elements to be teased out along the way. And it is. To get to the story, however, it is necessary to wade through unreal passages of dialogue, such as the one between a mountain man and a female architect when they discussed the values of beauty. It went on for a very long time, encompassing the beauty in cars and the gallows (depending on if the wretch at the end of the rope deserved it). The architect then has a conversation with a group of mountain men on how different their village would have been if Hitler had been Norwegian. Or rather, she talks and they splutter into their beer. For a long time. It made my teeth ache.
I like background information, character building and world building. They all combine to create amazing stories, but when multiple pages of irrelevance are dumped right in the middle of the action instead of being woven seamlessly into the narrative, it can only have the effect of pulling the reader back into their own world rather than keeping them enraptured with the one they’re reading about.

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