THE HOUSE OF KILLERS

THE HOUSE OF KILLERS
SAMANTHA LEE HOWE

Rating: 2 out of 5.
I was very attracted to this book by the synopsis. Neva, a female assassin presented to the reader as a cross between Villanelle and Orphan X, sounded fascinating.
Ultimately, however, I found the book lacking in substance and containing elementary errors. 
Neva is described as an emotionless killer, having been conditioned in some way as a child. This was never fully explained; there were just vague references to brainwashing and injections. She's very young, early twenties, and begins to shake off her conditioning, for a reason I never fully understood. She then takes on the might of the organisation that created her.
She has mysterious 'sources', very rarely named or described, who she calls on every time the plot needs moving on. I found it hard to accept how she had acquired all these sources in a relatively short period of time and while under the influence of her masters.
I felt that the author had done some sketchy research but had not enlarged on it. Neva finds a car, 'hot wires it' and drives off; in the morning she looks under the car in case there's 'something' there. Another character 'does something' on a computer to move the plot along. Suddenly she has a 'storage unit' when she needs to acquire something to move the story along. She goes to an opera where they 'sing songs'.
The ending is, frankly, incredible. The author move characters around willy nilly to fit her denouement.
I was impatient to get to the end of this book so I could put it behind me. I gather it is part of a series. I can only hope that the author gives serious consideration to rounding out her characters, making them more realistic and gives a more solid, believable background.
I voluntarily read and reviewed an advanced copy of this book. All thoughts and opinions are my own.

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.

MIRRORLAND

MIRRORLAND
CAROLE JOHNSTONE

Rating: 5 out of 5.
This is the story of twin sisters, so close that they can read each other’s thoughts and even have an affect on how the other behaves. Ellice is the elder, the poison eater, taught by her mother to always protect Catriona, her younger sister.  They share a house with grandfather, every room an encapsulation of a fairy story, a legend, a circus … A truly magical childhood. But is it?
As an adult, Catriona flees their home city of Edinburgh, running from dark secrets and bitter betrayals. She returns to her childhood home after many years when she gets news that Ellice is lost at sea, presumed dead. She refuses to believe this because of their close bond and revisits the horrors of her past in an effort to discover just what has happened to her sister.
In the beginning, because of the intricate descriptions of the house and the atmosphere created by the author, I thought I was in a Gothic novel 
with supernatural overtones. This was enhanced by the appearance of mysterious letters, emails and clues. Slowly, however, the horrific history of the twins’ family is teased out, the story moving from present to past and back until that ‘gasp of breath’ moment hits like a sledge hammer.
On a personal level, I would have preferred the book to end before the final reveal but it’s not my story.  This is one of the most intelligently written and plotted novels I’ve read in a long time. There is an extraordinary cast of wonderful characters (just don’t go thinking you know or understand any of them) and so many literary cul-de-sacs that I was enthralled by every page.  Highly recommended and the sort of book that bears a reread to pick up even more of the highly nuanced plotting.
I voluntarily read and reviewed an advanced copy of this book. All thoughts and opinions are my own.

THE SOUL KILLER

THE SOUL KILLER
ROSS GREENWOOD

Rating: 4 out of 5.

I had read The Snow Killer, the first of this trilogy, quite some time ago and couldn’t quite remember all the details. It was referred to a fair bit so I’ll go back and read it again!
I like Greenwood’s style of writing. It flows smoothly and coherently and, although the book was written from two differing viewpoints and also in first person as well as third person, I felt rooted in the plot at all times.
It was a book of two halves for me; the first part was slow as the author teased out the personality and raison d’être of the killer and DI Barton and his team seemed to do a lot of conjecturing; the second half fairly galloped along and I have to admit I found some of it a little hard to swallow.
However, he does a great job on characterisation and I really warmed to John Barton and his team. I was a bit disappointed that the identity of the killer was revealed so early on. As the middle book of a trilogy based round DI Barton, it was obvious he would bring the case to a successful conclusion, so I felt the revelation robbed the book of the tension that usually builds in the last third.All in all, a quick and easy read and I have just downloaded The Ice Killer. Poor old John Barton. I note he is still in his hospital bed when I checked the Look Inside. I can’t wait to see what is in store for him next.

NICE DAY FOR AN ICE CREAM

Kevin, the Fallen Angel, 2017

Heaven, Saturday morning 

Angel number 4501 is summoned to His Presence, or HP, as he likes to be called.
“I have an important job for you, 4501. There’s a music festival tomorrow in Everyman’s Park.”
HP’s magnificent voice rolls out, setting clouds, cherubim and seraphim a-tremble. A few feathers shiver and fall off 4501’s wings.
“I was very upset at the amount of sin that went on at the last one – drugs, blasphemy and …” HP lowers his voice and the Heavens still. “… you know, s-e-x that went on.”
4501’s heart leapt in anticipation.
The celestial voice rumbles on. “It will be your mission to point out the error of their ways to these young people, put their feet on a new and better path.”
OK. So it’s Mission Impossible, but I’m going to a music festival.
“Of course, HP. An honour to be chosen. In what guise shall I descend?”
A rock star? A Hell’s Angel? Oh please, not a groupie.
“You will temporarily take over the body of an ice cream salesman called Kevin.”
HP taps his foot and watches as 4501 plummets to earth, his heavenly raiment already changing to jeans and a Nirvana tee-shirt.

Hell, Saturday morning

His Satanic Highness kneels on the backs of two recently arrived politicians, his backside bare and pulsating with inner evil. A ring of hellfire encircles them, holding back a legion of imps and fiends with singed hair and blistered skin.
“Kiss my arse!” roars HSH. “A day back on earth for whoever braves the flames and kisses my royal arse.”
None are brave enough to risk self imolation until Black Bart steps forward. Seven feet tall, once a grave robber and now an upper level demon, he’s been a thorn in HSH’s side ever since he fell into an open grave and drowned in the seepage.
One almighty leap and he’s through the hellfire, skin smouldering and bubbling, smoke seeping from all his orifices.
Bending at the knee, he kisses the putrefying buttocks before him. 
Beelzebub, as he likes to be called when dealing with the Damned, rears up and points upwards, searing a hole through the charcoal-blackened vaults. 
“Go, Lulu, enjoy your day.”
Black Bart only has time to say, “Lulu? What the f–” before he vanishes in a swirl of silk and Chanel No 5.

Saturday afternoon

His Presence watches the materialisation of the ravishing young woman, her modesty barely covered in wisps of green silk.
“You’ve outdone yourself this week, Lucifer.” He prefers the old names to all this high-falutin’ Royal Highness stuff.
The Devil laughs. “Kevin the ice cream seller won’t stand a chance. Shall I make the first move?”
The two deities settle down to their weekly game of Celestial Chess. 
Lulu basks under the hot sun and a thought pops into her mind.
I’d kill for an ice cream.

 

 

I’

UNINTENDED CONSEQUENCES

UNINTENDED CONSEQUENCES
D I HILL
PUBLISHED BY DAVID HILLS

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Unintended Consequences is a dark, twisty, innovative thriller. It’s Ben Smith’s story, told in the first person and directly addressed to the reader. He’s not a hero. He’s not even an anti-hero. His conscience gave up on him a long time ago and briefly surfaces, only to disappear again under the weight of his immoral choices.
D.I.Hills has created a memorable character in Smith, a man who has waited seven long years before beginning his attempt at revenge and retribution. The reason for this is teased out slowly over the opening chapters and, although Hill’s conversational tone may not be to everyone’s taste, I was pulled in straight away and never felt his style to be intrusive or detrimental to the plot.
He has a rich cast of secondary characters, fully fleshed out but seen only through Smith’s somewhat distorted viewpoint which only serves to heighten the interest in them – for as long as Hill allows them to live. Because the strapline pointing out that this is a dark thriller doesn’t lie. There is a high body count, some of them in flashback. I laughed out loud, felt deep compassion and was rendered queasy at Hill/Smith’s recounting of how the characters were dispatched.
I was continually reassessing Smith’s character as I read. As soon as I thought I knew him, another layer was revealed which cast him in a completely different light.

He is one of the most complicated characters I have read in contemporary thrillers.
Interesting and engaging as the plot and characters were, I was repeatedly pulled out of the story by long discursions on a variety of subjects. These were very well written and a massive amount of research must have gone into the creation of them but they smacked of pop psychology or pseudo philosophy. Sometimes they worked but at other times just went on a little too long and verged on the preachy. Another reader may appreciate this device.
There is a very good twist near the end that I didn’t see coming and caused quite a sharp intake of breath. The ending itself disappointed me because I thought it was out of character for the Smith that had been revealed to me during the course of the novel. 
As a storyteller, Hill pulls the reader into Smith’s story with a mixture of cynicism and black humour. He is a master of the twisty turn and of revealing barbarous details in the most matter of fact way, thereby enhancing the underlying horror. 
I admit to skipping some of the long seemingly unrelated pages, but I will remember Ben Smith’s story for a long time and will investigate more of D.I.Hill’s work
Thank you to REEDSY DISCOVERY for an ARC in return for an honest review.

WHEN I WAS TEN

WHEN I WAS TEN
FIONA CUMMINS
PAN McMILLAN
PUB DATE: APRIL 2021

Rating: 2 out of 5.

It took me a little while to settle into When I Was Ten and, for a few chapters, I didn’t realise there were three girls involved because there wasn’t a clear separation between the varying points of view. The basic premise was that one of two sisters had killed their cruel parents with some sort of tenuous involvement from their friend. The author spent a fair amount of time chronicling the cruelty of the parents to justify their demise. It was all a bit over the top with a young girl locked in a shed with multiple spiders crawling over her and children made to eat scraps while their parents dined on the finest of foods. More Dickensian than 2020. The sister who actually did the killing was never fully fleshed out or her motives examined.
The title of the story refers to one of the sisters whose story was told in the third person while the friend’s account is in the first person. Added to this is an interwoven account from a third anonymous person told in italics, which does not make sense until quite a way through the book.
The book is well written grammatically and there are descriptive passages which held my interest.

It was difficult, however, to maintain belief in the plot. I never quite got past the fact that a young girl was able to/had the strength to stab an adult man multiple times with a pair of scissors without waking his wife who was sleeping next to him. Not only that but she then went on to stab the woman many times, as well.
As others have noted, a side story involving a caricature of a senior politician bore no relevance to the main story. If the author had meant to use it as an illustration of how child killers are perceived by those in power, she wasted her opportunity by concentrating on his pomposity and philandering, instead.
The middle section of the book flows along at a steady pace as threads are drawn together and pieces begin to fall into place.
Sadly, the ending is drawn in too sketchily with everything explained in a way that just wouldn’t have happened in real life,
The final twist was unnecessary. the plot was complicated enough already.
I voluntarily read and reviewed an advanced copy of this book. All thoughts and opinions are my own.

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.

HEAVEN, MY HOME

Heaven, My Home
Attica Locke
Serpent’s Tail

Rating: 3 out of 5.

I approached this book with enthusiasm, having read and enjoyed Black Water Rising and Bluebird, Bluebird. I didn’t get off to a very good start as there were constant references to Bluebird, Bluebird which I just couldn’t remember. When one reads upwards of 100 books a year, it’s hard to recollect the finer details of one from two years ago. However, I soldiered on, taking the events at face value, hoping everything would become clearer.
Darren Matthews is sent to Jefferson on a mission I never fully bought into. The son of a member of the Aryan Brotherhood of Texas is missing and his job is not to investigate the the disappearance but to glean any information he can about the Brotherhood. The main thread of this is to visit the boy’s father in jail. I got a bit uneasy at this point because it was a very obvious bit of plotting to get Matthews into Jefferson. He could just have gone directly to the jail. I also questioned why a black Texas ranger would be sent into a hotbed of white supremacists.

Matthews proceeded to wander through the rest of the book being told he wasn’t welcome, that the investigation was nothing to do with him (true) and being regularly insulted in the coarsest of terms. This didn’t stop him from solving the mystery when no one else could.
Locke’s descriptive writing reminds me very much of James Lee Burke (that’s an enormous compliment) and she has obviously done massive research for this book. I got the feeling she was writing something with the breadth of Gone With the Wind but was obliged to shoehorn it into a much shorter book. The results was pages and pages of historical fact, some of which was relevant to the story, some wasn’t. It was just too much information for me to take in and hold in my head, so I skipped them in the end and sought out the bits that dealt with the ongoing plot.
There were quite a few floating strands at the end of the book, but I won’t be buying the next one. I don’t like giving up on a character, but I knew no more about Darren Matthews at the end than I did at the beginning.

A PLACE OF EXECUTION

Place of Execution
Val McDermid
Harper Collins 2009

Rating: 4 out of 5.

I’m a long time fan of Val McDermid and was pretty sure I’d read all her books, so I was surprised (and delighted) to come across A Place of Execution from 2009. It’s an impressive size at 486 pages.
The story begins when a thirteen year old girl goes missing from the tiny village of Scarsdale in Derbyshire. Wet-behind-the-ears Detective Inspector George Bennett is in charge of his first big investigation and determined to do a good, conscientious job of bringing the girl home. He and his sidekick, Sergeant Tommy Clough, are not met with any enthusiasm by the residents of Scardale, who – between them – share only three surnames. I struggled a bit in this section trying to pin down the complicated relationships between these similarly named people.
Set in 1963, the story is well rooted in its time with lots of references to music, sport etc as gentle reminders of how different the world was then. I could have done without the constant references to the victims of the Moors Murderers.
Although it was possible to draw

a tenuous link between them and the missing girl, I found these passages intrusive and not relevant to the story.
The first half of the book dragged a little for me as the worthy and stolid police officers worked their way through a series of clues which culminated in the arrest and conviction of a suspect. There was a lot of repetitive smoking, drinking and chewing the fat along the way.
In 1998, George Bennet collaborates with a journalist to write a book about the event and, just as they are about to go to press, a shocking revelation is uncovered. From this point onwards, the book is riveting and I doubt if many people will guess the ending. I had a small “what if” moment about a third the way through the book but dismissed it because the plot very cleverly took me in a different direction.
I nearly gave up in the first third of the book because of the slow pace and the difficulty in keeping pace with the multiple characters, but am really glad I didn’t because I would have missed the real OMG! moment. If I read it again, though, I’ll probably skip the early chapters.

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