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Book Review: Cursed by Thomas Enger #Cursed #BlogTour

Cursed is the fourth book in Thomas Enger’s Henning Juul series but my first introduction to both the author and his investigative journalist protagonist and it works well as a stand-alone.

What secret would you kill to protect?

When Hedda Hellberg fails to return from a retreat in Italy, where she has been grieving for her recently dead father, her husband discovers that his wife’s life is tangled in mystery. Hedda never left Oslo, the retreat has no record of her and, what’s more, she appears to be connected to the death of an old man, gunned down on the first day of the hunting season in the depths of the Swedish forests.

Henning Juul becomes involved in the case when his ex-­wife joins in the search for the missing woman, and the estranged pair find themselves enmeshed both in the murky secrets of one of Norway’s wealthiest families, and in the painful truths surrounding the death of their own son.

With the loss of his son to deal with, as well as threats to his own life and to that of his ex-­wife, Juul is prepared to risk everything to uncover a sinister maze of secrets that ultimately leads to the dark heart of European history.

I have to confess that I initially chose to read this because, while the bulk of the action takes place in Norway, there was a Swedish connection. And I had a shiver of excitement reading the first page of the prologue to Cursed, which opens with a scene in Sweden and mentions the death of a character called Gunilla because when I was in Sweden I wrote a short story about a woman whose name is Gunilla and is sadly dead by the end. It felt as if my story was in some small way handing over the baton, or talking to Thomas Enger’s much better and far more polished novel. I got a kick out of that idea anyway but enough self-indulgence and back to what I made of Cursed.

I thoroughly enjoyed how the novel is told in dual narrative, Henning Juul taking one strand, and his ex-wife, Nora, also a journalist, the other. I liked seeing how they approached their work, bumped up against each other as they navigated life apart and after the death of their son, and tried to work out at which point the stories they were investigating might find some overlap. Henning and Nora are very different characters but interesting and strong enough in their own right to carry their part of the story when the other is off the page and it gives Cursed a very contemporary feel, having these two former partners still caring for each other and with a connection but also dealing with this next stage of their lives. Read more

Book Review: Ragdoll by Daniel Cole #RagdollBook #BlogTour

Daniel Cole’s debut novel, Ragdoll, intrigued me because it had not one but multiple victims, and I thought I’d enjoy seeing what the connections between them all were, that is, beyond the stitching that loosely connects the initial six. Here’s what the blurb says:

A body is discovered with the dismembered parts of six victims stitched together, nicknamed by the press as the ‘Ragdoll’. Assigned to the shocking case are Detective William ‘Wolf’ Fawkes, recently reinstated to the London Met, and his former partner Detective Emily Baxter.

The ‘Ragdoll Killer’ taunts the police by releasing a list of names to the media, and the dates on which he intends to murder them. With six people to save, can Fawkes and Baxter catch a killer when the world is watching their every move?

The prologue of Ragdoll opens with the end of what appears to be a wholly unconnected case to the one you’re expecting to read, that of the Ragdoll victims and their killer, so this was a disconcerting start. However, as quickly becomes apparent, the two cases are inextricably linked, thanks in great part to Detective Wolf’s involvement in both.

Wolf’s character is interesting: he’s about as flawed and damaged as a person can get, while still holding down a job, and stretches the ‘detective with issues’ idea to new limits. He’s recently reinstated and working with a team of detectives you’ll be familiar with from other detective novels or television series: the usual suspects are all here, but given his nickname, it’ll probably come as little surprise that William Fawkes is most comfortable when operating as a lone wolf. I couldn’t quite see how he had ever appealed to his TV journalist ex-wife or why his former partner on the force feels drawn to him. He’s volatile and obsessive when working a case which leaves very little over for anything, or anyone else. Of all the characters, though, it’s Wolf and Edmunds, the recent transfer across from Fraud, who held my interest the most. Perhaps because they are both terrier-like when on a case. I did like the Scot, Finlay, too but found Vanita fairly insubstantial and Baxter almost too much of a stereotype in any number of ways. Read more

#Sealskin Blog Tour – Interview with Author Su Bristow

I’m thrilled to welcome Su Bristow to the Nut Press today. Su was the first winner of the Exeter Novel Prize and the resulting novel, Sealskin, is out now from Orenda Books.

Su, I was lucky enough to be at that first prize-giving ceremony for the Exeter Novel Prize. Can you give me an idea of what happened after you won the award and how you went from prize-winning writer to published author, and the time it’s taken to make that transition?
Immediately afterwards? I went away in a daze, had dinner with some good friends, and spent two days working through the flood of facebook and twitter responses. It was amazing! And after that, I set to work to finish the book. The competition only required a synopsis and the first 10,000 words, and I’d done about 50,000 at that stage. By the time I’d got to the end, submitted it to Broo Doherty (the agent who judges the competition) and worked on her suggestions, another year had gone by. Then there were about six months of rejections, until Sealskin was accepted by Karen Sullivan of Orenda Books. She was busy establishing her business, and the first publication date she could manage was early 2017. So here we are, three years on!

What advice would you give to other writers considering entering writing competitions?
Tell yourself you might win, and be prepared! Ideally, you’d have the finished manuscript ready for submission. Beta-test it with readers who ‘get’ what your writing is about, and have good critical abilities. And listen to what they say! Build a good social media platform on facebook and twitter; that shows prospective agents or publishers that you’re willing to put in the necessary work to publicise your book.

Had you completed the manuscript for Sealskin when you entered it for the Exeter Novel Prize, or did you do so after you’d submitted your entry?
See above. I knew where it was going, but it took about three more months to complete.

From the extract I’ve read, your novel Sealskin centres around a myth which I find fascinating, that of the selkie, a creature who lives as a seal in the water and sheds its skin on dry land to take a human form. What interests you about the myth and what did you want to explore by writing about it in your novel?
Where to start? Stories that blur the boundaries between human and animal are told all over the world. We place ourselves outside nature, and yet we want to be part of it. The selkie stories come from the coast of Scotland and the islands around it, and I’m half Scottish so they have a special appeal for me. And this particular story… It’s beautiful and haunting, but there is ugliness at its heart. The legend says only ‘He took her home to be his wife’. She had no choice, and yet she lived with him and bore his children. So if that really happened, how could it possibly work? That’s where Sealskin began. Read more

Book Review: The Girl Before by JP Delaney #TheGirlBefore #TheBloggerBefore Blog Tour

I’m taking part in #TheBloggerBefore blog tour today to celebrate the publication of psychological thriller The Girl Before which came out on Thursday. #TheBloggerBefore me was Raven whose review you can read on her gorgeous blog everywhereandnowhere.

Enter the world of One Folgate Street and discover perfection . . . but can you pay the price?

Jane stumbles on the rental opportunity of a lifetime: the chance to live in a beautiful ultra-minimalist house designed by an enigmatic architect, on condition she abides by a long list of exacting rules. After moving in, she discovers that a previous tenant, Emma, met a mysterious death there – and starts to wonder if her own story will be a re-run of the girl before. As twist after twist catches the reader off guard, Emma’s past and Jane’s present become inexorably entwined in this tense, page-turning portrayal of psychological obsession.

The Girl Before opens on a situation (one past, the other happening in the present) most of us will have experienced: a letting agent is showing a woman (and in the past version, a woman and her partner) around flats within their budget in London. It’s a disheartening, and often demoralising, experience. And then, as letting agents often do, they save the best property to last: one within budget which is architect-designed and uses state-of-the-art technology to adapt and respond to the homeowner(s). Would they like to see it?

Naturally both women jump at the opportunity and while one sees it for the security it can offer her and the other admires its clean lines and beauty, both view it as a chance to wipe the slate clean and start anew. It feels as if it’s a house of second chances. But even if the rent is within their budgets, they first have to pass the rigorous vetting procedure and interview with the owner/architect before making One Folgate Street their home. And once installed in this admittedly beautiful but austere minimalism, they’ll have an extensive set of rules to adhere to, together with regular check ups to complete which affect the availability of some of the amenities. I’m pretty certain that even if I had passed the initial vetting process by some miracle, I would have fallen foul of only being allowed to have one stack of books kept in perfect alignment at all times! The opening question is one to ponder though: Read more

Book Review: Burned and Broken by Mark Hardie #BURNEDANDBROKEN Blog Tour

Mark Hardie’s debut crime novel Burned and Broken marks the promising start to a new contemporary crime series covering issues with a good dose of realism in its seaside setting of Southend.

The charred body of an enigmatic policeman – currently the subject of an internal investigation – is found in the burnt-out shell of his car on the Southend sea front.

Meanwhile, a vulnerable young woman, fresh out of the care system, is trying to discover the truth behind the sudden death of her best friend.

As DS Frank Pearson and DC Catherine Russell from the Essex Police Major Investigation Team are brought in to solve the mystery of their colleague’s death, dark, dangerous secrets begin to surface. Can they solve both cases, before it’s too late?

There’s an immediacy to Mark Hardie’s writing which quickly pulled me in and before I knew it, I was immersed. His world isn’t the Southend I know from day trips out of London with ice cream and amusements on the front: the treats in Burned and Broken are far less innocuous and the amusements are hidden away behind painted facades, while the seafront feels an altogether bleaker and more lonely place to be for the residents of the town. That’s because Burned and Broken focuses on the world in which the police live and work: it’s a world where alongside the routine work and investigation, regulations, checks and procedures, personal worries and concerns, there is neglect and abuse, broken relationships and homes, and damaged people, complaints and attacks, corruption and dysfunction, drugs and death, mental health issues and neglect, and violence easily triggered. There’s an intricate balance of sorts and when the cracks begin to show as the cases are investigated, I wondered if ultimately it would topple, and what would be the fallout. Read more

Book Review: Rupture by Ragnar Jónasson #Rupture Blog Tour

Iceland is on my must-see list of places to visit and as every reader knows, when you can’t afford to physically go somewhere, the next best way to travel is by book. Which is why I jumped at the chance to read my first Dark Iceland novel. Rupture is actually the fourth book in Ragnar Jónasson’s Dark Iceland series but you’ll be able to read this as a stand-alone quite happily. However, you probably won’t be able to leave it there if you realise, as I do, that you’ve found a new nordic noir series in Ragnar Jónasson’s books.

1955. Two young couples move to the uninhabited, isolated fjord of Hedinsfjörður. Their stay ends abruptly when one of the women meets her death in mysterious circumstances. The case is never solved. Fifty years later an old photograph comes to light, and it becomes clear that the couples may not have been alone on the fjord after all…

In nearby Siglufjörður, young policeman Ari Thór tries to piece together what really happened that fateful night, in a town where no one wants to know, where secrets are a way of life. He’s assisted by Ísrún, a news reporter in Reykjavik, who is investigating an increasingly chilling case of her own. Things take a sinister turn when a child goes missing in broad daylight. With a stalker on the loose, and the town of Siglufjörður in quarantine, the past might just come back to haunt them.

I love books like Rupture which have a myriad of story strands in them; as well as trying to solve the individual crimes, I get to try and figure out where any connections are before the author weaves them all together. In Rupture, I had my work cut out, not least because there’s one cold case, a virus outbreak, and a number of seemingly unrelated crimes in the capital city. I admit that I also had to flip back to check who some of the characters were, and their relationship to each other a couple of times because of how quickly they were introduced one after the other. And then about halfway in, something clicked and I flew through the rest of the book, eager to see how it all worked out.

Though initially the cast list felt large for the size of novel Rupture is, it does also mean that there’s a good mix of different characters from all walks of life, giving a sense of what Icelandic society is like. You get a feel for the rhythm of the characters’ lives and can imagine them continuing on with those after you close the pages on them. And I’ve always liked the idea of characters doing that, whether or not anyone’s there to read them. I enjoyed how differently policeman Ari Thór in the north-east and reporter Ísrún in Reykjavik work, and yet manage to work at solving a case together. They’re both interesting characters and it was good to get an idea of not only their working lives but their home and family situations too. It made them easier to engage with and root for in their investigations. Read more

Book Review: Deep Down Dead by Steph Broadribb #DeepDownDead Blog Tour

You’re going to want to clear some reading time before you open the covers of Steph Broadribb’s Deep Down Dead because once you crack it – and the whole can of worms inside – open, you are not going to want to put it down until you know that bounty hunter Lori Anderson has her man. And a hot bath, a cold drink, and a whole lot of downtime – although I’m not convinced Lori knows what that is. But even if she doesn’t, you’ll no doubt need all of those once you finish reading Deep Down Dead.

Lori Anderson is as tough as they come, managing to keep her career as a fearless Florida bounty hunter separate from her role as single mother to nine-year-old Dakota, who suffers from leukaemia. But when the hospital bills start to rack up, she has no choice but to take her daughter along on a job that will make her a fast buck. And that’s when things start to go wrong.

The fugitive she’s assigned to haul back to court is none other than JT, Lori’s former mentor – the man who taught her everything she knows … the man who also knows the secrets of her murky past. Not only is JT fighting a child exploitation racket operating out of one of Florida’s biggest theme parks, Winter Wonderland, a place where ‘bad things never happen’, but he’s also mixed up with the powerful Miami Mob. With two fearsome foes on their tails, just three days to get JT back to Florida, and her daughter to protect, Lori has her work cut out for her. When they’re ambushed at a gas station, the stakes go from high to stratospheric, and things become personal.

I really like how Steph Broadribb weaves in the backstory of Lori’s past while setting up the story that unravels in Deep Down Dead. I got a real sense of where Lori had come from, what she’d left behind in that past life and what she’s still carrying with her. You see how JT came into her life, how much he changed it and her, and get a real sense that there is unfinished business between them.

Left without a sitter, this single mum is forced into taking her daughter on the job with her. Lori’s frequent use of the terms Momma, sweetie and sweetheart irritated me while reading but you can forgive these in light of the situation and mounting pressures. Taking your kid to work rarely works out that well for either parent or child but here it is, unsurprisingly, an unmitigated disaster, ramping up the time-sensitive sense of danger that accompanies the child exploitation case in which Lori quickly finds herself embroiled. Read more

Book Review: The Dry by Jane Harper #TheDry Blog Tour

A small farming town in south-eastern Australia suffering from one of its worst recorded droughts, its townspeople desperate to survive and still feeding off speculation and suspicion; what looks like a double murder-suicide stirring up memories of another tragic event some twenty years previously; and a returning police detective, former best friend to the dead man, all combine to make up Jane Harper’s riveting debut novel, The Dry, out later this week.

I just can’t understand how someone like him could do something like that.

Amid the worst drought to ravage Australia in a century, it hasn’t rained in small country town Kiewarra for two years. Tensions in the community become unbearable when three members of the Hadler family are brutally murdered. Everyone thinks Luke Hadler, who committed suicide after slaughtering his wife and six-year-old son, is guilty.

Policeman Aaron Falk returns to the town of his youth for the funeral of his childhood best friend, and is unwillingly drawn into the investigation. As questions mount and suspicion spreads through the town, Falk is forced to confront the community that rejected him twenty years earlier. Because Falk and Luke Hadler shared a secret, one which Luke’s death threatens to unearth. And as Falk probes deeper into the killings, secrets from his past and why he left home bubble to the surface as he questions the truth of his friend’s crime.

Sometimes when you read a novel’s prologue, it makes little sense until you reach the end of the book; elsewhere, it feels superfluous or a cheat, a way to pitch you into the story before retreating to more prosaic backstory in the first few chapters. None of these is the case with the memorable prologue for The Dry: it quickly sets the scene and situation in a few hard-hitting and effective lines, and behaves more like a heads-up to the reader. Pay attention, it says, you’re going to need to keep up because I’m not going to repeat myself or waste words or time and you’ll need your wits about you for this one. In the space of a page, you feel the heat of the drought, the farmers’ desperation, the sense that here is a town and its people brought to the brink, evidenced by the grim aftermath of an apparent double murder-suicide.   Read more

Joanne M Harris #Runemarks Blog Tour

Joanne Harris is one author whose books I always buy when they come out, so today I’m thrilled to be taking part in the blog tour for the new edition of Runemarks, her fantastical tale of magic, adventure and Norse mythology. It’s been re-edited, and comes with a new introduction and a gorgeous cover by Andreas Preis, who also designed The Gospel of Loki.

It’s been five hundred years since the end of the world and society has rebuilt itself anew. The old Norse gods are no longer revered. Their tales have been banned. Magic is outlawed, and a new religion – the Order – has taken its place.

In a remote valley in the north, fourteen-year-old Maddy Smith is shunned for the ruinmark on her hand – a sign associated with the Bad Old Days. But what the villagers don’t know is that Maddy has skills. According to One-Eye, the secretive Outlander who is Maddy’s only real friend, her ruinmark – or runemark, as he calls it – is a sign of Chaos blood, magical powers and gods know what else…

Now, as the Order moves further north, threatening all the Worlds with conquest and Cleansing, Maddy must finally learn the truth to some unanswered questions about herself, her parentage, and her powers.

Want to read some? Great! Because from 21 November to 3 December, book bloggers are posting extracts from Runemarks (details of all participating blogs below). Yesterday was the turn of bookmagpie.uk and today it’s mine. Are you sitting comfortably? Then let’s begin…

No one knew much about Red Horse Hill. Some said it had been shaped during the Elder Age, when the heathens still made sacrifices to the old gods. Others said it was the burial mound of some great Outlander chieftain, seeded throughout with deadly traps, though Maddy favoured the theory that the place was a giant treasure mound, piled to the eaves with goblin gold. Read more

Book review: Death at the Seaside by Frances Brody

Today I’m taking part in the blog tour for Death at the Seaside, Frances Brody’s eighth novel about 1920s sleuth Kate Shackleton. Death at the Seaside may be Kate’s eighth outing but it was my first introduction to her and Frances Brody’s novels, and I have to confess that what primarily attracted me to the book was its setting of Whitby. For that reason alone, I was keen to read it. Here’s what it’s about:

Nothing ever happens in August, and tenacious sleuth Kate Shackleton feels like she deserves a break. Heading off for a long-overdue holiday to Whitby, she visits her school friend Alma who works as a fortune teller there.

Kate had been looking forward to a relaxing seaside sojourn, but upon arrival discovers that Alma’s daughter Felicity has disappeared, leaving her mother a note and the pawn ticket for their only asset: a watch-guard. What makes this more intriguing is the jeweller who advanced Felicity the thirty shillings is Jack Phillips, Alma’s current gentleman friend.

Kate can’t help but become involved, and goes to the jeweller’s shop to get some answers. When she makes a horrifying discovery in the back room, it soon becomes clear that her services are needed. Met by a wall of silence by town officials, keen to maintain Whitby’s idyllic façade, it’s up to Kate – ably assisted by Jim Sykes and Mrs Sugden – to discover the truth behind Felicity’s disappearance.

And they say nothing happens in August . . .

Initially I may have been drawn to reading Death at the Seaside by Kate’s choice of Whitby as her holiday location but Kate Shackleton very quickly won me over in her own right. She is, indeed, as the book blurb says, a tenacious woman, and I had a lot of fun following her around my favourite Yorkshire seaside town, albeit the one of almost a hundred years ago. I particularly enjoyed Kate’s observations and asides, and felt that she was the kind of woman you would want as a friend or on your side, at the very least. In situations where I would have let my temper get the better of me, she handles everything with a wry smile and polite firmness, and dashes off annoying situations as if they were flecks of dust. She’s sparky and full of life, and strides out to meet it full on. She’s not a woman prepared to settle, unlike her friend, Alma. Kate knows her own mind and, at a time when Europe has been badly shaken by war and her own young husband was one of those who didn’t make it home, she seems remarkably full of hope for the future. Read more

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