Archives for thriller

Book review: No Time for Goodbye

This thriller by Linwood Barclay had me sitting up late at night, reading just one more chapter, and one more. When Cynthia Bigge is fourteen, her parents and older brother disappear from the house, never to be seen again. No bodies are found, no signs of foul play. It is as if they just walked away. But if they weren’t murdered, why did they leave? Did they hate her so, to abandon her? Twenty five years later, Cynthia takes part in a television programme to publicize cold cases. She could never have imagined what would happen next. First, there is a mysterious letter. Then a phone call, an e-mail. Suggesting something is going to happen, hinting her family is still alive. Cynthia questions her own sanity, her husband [and the main part of the story is told from his point of view] questions it too, and their daughter Grace is seemingly untroubled except she looks through her telescope every night before bedtime to check there is no asteroid heading for earth to destroy their world. This is a classic thriller. Who to believe? Is Cynthia’s family dead or alive? Who is contacting her now, the murderer? Is Cynthia so stressed
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Categories: Book Love.

My Porridge & Cream read: Graeme Cumming

Today I’m delighted to welcome thriller writer Graeme Cumming. His ‘Porridge & Cream’ read is Eagle in the Sky by Wilbur Smith. “My Porridge & Cream book is Eagle in the Sky by Wilbur Smith. I can’t remember exactly when I first read it, but suspect around 1977. I’d started reading him after seeing Shout at the Devil at the cinema. A week later, I spotted the book in my local library (remember those?), picked it up and became hooked on Smith for years after. Eagle in the Sky was just another I picked up to read, but it’s the one that stayed with me. “I don’t read it often, probably once every five or six years, the last time about three years ago. I remember being surprised at how dated some of the dialogue came across, but it was written in the early ‘70s! Even so, I still enjoyed it. There are no particular circumstances that prompt me to read it, but, unusually for me, once in a while I like to go back to it: I know I’m going to love it, and I’ve usually forgotten enough to be surprised. I have bought this book as a present
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Categories: Porridge & Cream.

Book review: Nightfall

The first page was really intriguing and locked me into the character of Jack Nightingale, a police negotiator turned private detective. He is a troubled man, troubled by what he has seen through the course of his job though nowadays he earns his living from following unfaithful spouses. Nightfall by Stephen Leather is the first of the Jack Nightingale series, described as a ‘supernatural thriller’. This is a different kind of detective story, which begins when Jack is told he has inherited a mansion from a man who claimed to be Jack’s natural father. That’s not all, his ‘father’ leaves a warning: at Jack’s birth his soul was sold to the devil and a devil will come to claim it on his thirty-third birthday. That’s only three weeks away. So Jack is in a race against time to find out the truth. Was he really adopted? Who is Ainsley Gosling? What is going on? Is he suffering from stress? Hearing things? Imagining things? Is he going to lose his soul? Or is it one big con? When people around him start to die, Jack begins to lose his sense of perspective. ‘You are going to hell, Jack Nightingale’ are the
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Categories: Book Love.

Book review: Then She Was Gone

Then She Was Gone by Lisa Jewell is a delight, the page-turning story of a disappeared teenager whose experience was something I did not expect. An excellent un-thriller; that’s a phrase I use after giving it some thought. This is not a psychological thriller in that it is frightening. It didn’t make my pulse race with a sense of danger, but it did make me very curious. Ellie Mack is fifteen the day she fails to come home from the library, she is due to take her GCSE examinations the following week. She is a clever student, a golden girl. But she disappears, never to be seen again. Life goes on. Except it doesn’t for her family, each being trapped in some way by Ellie’s absence. Until ten years later when Ellie’s mum Lauren, now divorced, meets a nice bloke in a café. Her ex, Paul, has a new partner and so do Ellie’s siblings. Laurel is the one who is really stuck, visiting her elderly mother bed-ridden after a stroke. Then she meets Floyd and his daughters Poppy and SJ, and she blossoms. I would like to say from the beginning I had unsettling feelings of the ‘that’s not
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Categories: Book Love.

Book review: The Escape

The Escape by CL Taylor fairly gallops along without time to take a deep breath. It is a tale of escape, pursuit, lies, vulnerability, long-hidden secrets and selfishness. At times I didn’t know which character to believe and I didn’t particularly like any of them. I wanted to sit them down at the kitchen table with a mug of tea and a plate of biscuits, and bang their heads together. There appear to be so many lies it is difficult to sift out the truth, which became a little frustrating after a while. In the end, there are many types of escape. Jo and Max have a toddler daughter Elise. Max, an investigative journalist, has just completed a long-running story which resulted in a conviction, and he is jubilant. Jo, who became agoraphobic after the loss of their first child Henry, lives from day to day, her small world surrounding Elise. Jo feels Max is less sympathetic to her condition than he used to be. Max tries to be patient but is finding it increasingly difficult. Into this fragile world steps Paula, a stranger, who threatens Jo and Elise. The first crack appears as Max doubts Jo’s judgement of the
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Categories: Book Love.

Book review: The Travelers

What a non-stop ride this is. I resented everything which made me put this book down. The Travelers by Chris Pavone is a spy thriller about an ordinary guy doing an ordinary job who finds himself in an extraordinary position. It reminded me a little of Robert Redford in the film Three Days of the Condor. Travel writer Will works for New York-based Travelers, a luxury travel magazine. Married to Chloe, who works as a freelance for the same magazine, they live in a rundown money-pit in Brooklyn. Things change in a short space of time. On a press trip in France, Will flirts outrageously with an Australian journalist and goes home, relieved he didn’t succumb to temptation. But on his next press trip to the wine area of Argentina, Elle is there again and this time they do have sex. Except Elle isn’t what she says she is, her name isn’t Elle and she isn’t Australian. She gives Will a choice. Cooperate, supply information about his contacts and people he writes about, or else he will be exposed to his boss Malcolm and to Chloe. And so he cooperates. The action is rapid. Some sections – identified only by
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Categories: Book Love.

Book review: I Found You

Alice Lake sees a man sitting alone on a beach in the rain and invites him into her home. He has lost his memory. When Lily’s new husband doesn’t come home from work, she goes to the police for help and discovers he has a false name. A family from Croydon take a traditional English holiday by the sea. These are the three storylines in I Found You by Lisa Jewell. The common denominator is location: a northern seaside town called Ridinghouse Bay. Two inter-connected themes run throughout I Found You. Memory – the fugue of the man on the beach, and the dementia suffered by Alice’s parents – and identity, disguised, mistaken, forgotten. Jewell is so good at writing believable characters, good at exploring human nature in a simple, accessible way. And though there is evil in this story, there is also good, kindness, humanity, heart. The menace is subtle, building slowly from the beginning even when the connections are unclear. It’s just a feeling. Gray watches his younger sister being chatted up by Mark, an older teenager, and feels uneasy: ‘There was something just off about him. Something shadowy and cruel. There were too many angles in his
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Categories: Book Love.

My Porridge & Cream read: Lev D Lewis

Today I’m delighted to welcome debut crime novelist Lev D Lewis. His ‘Porridge & Cream’ read is Rogue Male by Geoffrey Household. “Confession, at the risk of being branded an imposter and ritually kicked off your blog: I don’t really have a Porridge & Cream read; the last thing I feel like doing when I’m ‘tired, ill, or out-of-sorts’ is staring at words. If anything, I find those states more creative than consuming; I just want to bury myself under the duvet and let my mind take over. I do have a long list of books I want to re-read, headed by Donna Tartt’s The Secret History (I’ve studied Classical Civilization since I first read it, and it would be interesting to reread with that extra bit of knowledge) but my TBR pile tends to win out. There’s only one book I’ve read more than once for pure pleasure, Rogue Male by Geoffrey Household, so I present that as my Porridge & Cream book. It about an unnamed British huntsman who aims his rifle at an unnamed foreign dictator, just for laughs (apparently). He’s chased back to England, retreats into an underground lair and is trapped there by his pursuer.
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Categories: Book Love and Porridge & Cream.

Book review: Deerleap

One day Grace Chalk sees her boyfriend standing at the other side of the street. Except Alex is dead. And so starts Deerleap by Sarah Walsh, a combination of love story [Grace and Alex], detective story [is Alex really alive, if so where is he?] and the nature of blame [marriage breakdown] and grief. Walsh has written an assured story, handling the emotional complexities with a gentle touch making the twists and turns even more surprising when they arrive. When the story opens, seven years have passed since the car accident in which Grace’s father and her stepmother Polly were killed, her sister Rita seriously injured, and her boyfriend Alex disappeared. Alex’s body was never found. Rita has never talked about what happened, she is emotionally vulnerable, spiky and prone to hitting her sister. Grace’s mother still resents being deserted by her husband and Grace worries that her anger will turn into depression and suicide. At the centre of the story stands Deerleap, the remote country house where Alex grew up and where Grace visits her father as he sets up his new home with Polly. It all sounds idyllic, except seven years later, Deerleap stands empty awaiting the legal
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Categories: Book Love.

Book review: Visions

Crammed with Eighties references from Margaret Thatcher, Echo & the Bunnymen and Jane Fonda aerobics to Laura Ashley décor, Visions quickly immerses you in the world of Eleanor Chapman. Visions is part two of Eleanor’s story which started in the 1970s in Beginnings and will ultimately end far into the future. ‘Same Face Different Place’ by Helen J Christmas is an ambitious thriller series focussing on a single gangland incident which has reverberations across the decades. It is a study of how to react to threats and violence, the nature of victimhood, and the power of fighting back. There are times in Visions when it covers old ground from book one, but nevertheless the story slowly reeled me in. After the events of Beginnings, Eleanor and her son Elijah live in a caravan in a Kent village, safe from the London criminals who threatened them. Their neighbours, James Barton-Wells and his children Avalon and William become close friends. However Westbourne House, the ancestral home of the Barton-Wells family, is crumbling. When the house is declared a ruin and the repairs too expensive for James to pay, a sinister property developer offers to help. All too soon, his nasty son and
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Categories: Book Love.

Book review: Butterfly on the Storm

This crime thriller is the first of a trilogy billed, as many thrillers are, as the new Millennium Trilogy. Butterfly on the Storm by Walter Lucius does feature horrific examples of abuse, it does feature a campaigning journalist, but for me it fell short of Stieg Larsson’s trilogy. Without that expectation, I would probably have enjoyed this thriller while at the same time being irritated that so much was crammed in. The action starts from page one and doesn’t stop to breathe. A young girl is the subject of a hit-and-run accident in the Amsterdam woods. In hospital, it becomes clear the girl is a young boy, dressed as a girl dancer and sexually abused by Afghan men now living in Holland. I found the portrayal of immigrant life in Holland fascinating and almost wish the author had examined this in more depth but the story spreads out to South Africa and Russia and its tentacles become confusing. Accompanying the child to hospital is Dr Danielle Bernson who, following medical experience in Africa, is traumatized when she sees the child suffer. At the hospital, they meet journalist Farah Hafez, originally from Afghanistan, Farah’s identity was changed when she arrived as
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Categories: Book Love.

Book review: The Ice

The Ice by Laline Paull is a climate change thriller which takes place partly in the Arctic and partly in a courtroom in Canterbury. Sean and Tom met as students when Tom attended a meeting of the exclusive Lost Explorers’ Society and Sean was a waiter. They became friends because of their shared fascination for the Arctic. Both go on to forge careers revolving around the Arctic; Tom becomes an environmental campaigner, Sean a businessman. Their friendship, agreements and arguments are key to this novel. When, in chapter one, Tom’s body is revealed by an iceberg calving from a glacier it is the catalyst for all that follows. Tom was known to be dead, having died in an accident in an ice cave on Svalbard three years earlier, an accident which Sean survived. An inquest is called, Sean’s business partners fly in to give evidence and to support Sean who is seeing visions of Tom around every corner. It becomes clear that Sean, now divorced and living with one of his investors, Martine, is not hands-on with his business in Svalbard. Midgard Lodge is an exclusive retreat where businessmen and politicians can meet to do deals. Sean’s upfront motivation is
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Categories: Book Love.

My Porridge & Cream read: Linda Huber

Today I’m delighted to welcome thriller novelist Linda Huber. Her ‘Porridge & Cream’ read is A Cry in the Night by Mary Higgins Clark. “I have a few ‘Porridge & Cream’ books, but I think the creamiest has to be A Cry in the Night by Mary Higgins Clark. It came out in the early 80s, so I must have bought it then – I devoured all the Mary Higgins Clark books as soon as they were published. At that time, I was young physiotherapist, living in Switzerland, far away from ‘home’ in Glasgow. The main character in this book really struck a chord in my heart – Jenny, a devoted mum to her girls, trying to do her best for them under impossible circumstances. I suppose I re-read this book when I feel the need for a little mother-love in my life! My own mum is gone now and I’m mum myself to two boys – and still in Switzerland, which is now ‘home’. The thing about having two home countries is, you have neither 100%. I have dual nationality, I speak two languages, my life is here in the middle of Europe – but Scotland still has a
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Categories: Book Love and Porridge & Cream.

Book review: Innocent Blood

If you are a PD James fan, I should say up front that Innocent Blood is very different from the Adam Dalgliesh detective series. It is a psychological thriller, a slow-building mystery which starts with little steps then, as the odd details start to make sense, the tension builds. It is the story of a young woman who knows she is adopted, who exercises her right to know the names of her birth parents, and finds something she never in a million years expected. Philippa Palfrey is 18, about to go up to Cambridge, until she decides to find out the truth of her adoption. Her birth father is dead, her mother though is still alive. Philippa’s adoptive father warns caution, tells her to do her research and think carefully before contacting her mother but Philippa, driven by the need to know who she is and where she came from, goes ahead anyway. With the arrogance and naivety of youth, she embarks on a complicated path full of moral dilemma, tragedy and loss. It is a novel of family blood and relationships, violence, redemption, revenge and acceptance. Is there a threat, real or imagined, and where/who does that threat come
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Categories: Book Love.

Book review: Sometimes I Lie

At the beginning of Sometimes I Lie by Alice Feeney, Amber is in a coma. What happened to her and why she is there, is told in three strands – a series of flashbacks of the previous few days, her childhood, and her trapped-in view of life from her hospital bed. ‘I’ve been returned to my factory settings as a human being, rather than a human doing.’ I’m not sure how to describe this book. It starts off as a study of young women, sisters and friends, and turns into a pacey psychological thriller. At times I forgot the title of the novel, a timely reminder that Amber may be an unreliable narrator. What starts off as a puzzle turns into a sprint, as a mystery visitor to Amber’s hospital bed may be trying to drug her. Her husband is being questioned by the police, it is days before her parents visit, and her sister and husband are arguing at her bedside. Amber is a radio presenter with a touch of OCD, her repetitive checking of things increases as she is stressed. There are problems at work, her husband keeps disappearing, and an old boyfriend turns up out of the
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Categories: Book Love.

Book review: Afterlight

The setting for Afterlight by Alex Scarrow is the UK, ten years after the oil ran out. It is a sequel to Last Light but can be read as a standalone novel. Like the first, it is a moreish thriller with the touch of frightening reality. After the oil crash there were riots, looting, murder and rape. Beacon communities were established, safe zones which eventually became unsafe. Now, only two remain. This is the story of what happens to them as survival and recovery phases into rebuilding and re-establishment of democratic government. Scarrow recalls some of the main characters from the first novel – Jenny Sutherland and her two children – and introduces new people. There are flashbacks to the oil crisis which shows events from different viewpoints. Ultimately, this is a story of Them and Us which does at times seem stereotyped. Jenny now runs a community of 400+ living on an abandoned oil and gas rig in the North Sea off the Norfolk coast. There are rumblings of discontent with the strict rules, then a mysterious Belgian stranger arrives and a young girl goes missing. This story is interwoven with that of Adam Brooks, a former RAF officer,
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Categories: Book Love.

My Porridge & Cream read: Helen J Christmas

Today I’m delighted to welcome thriller novelist Helen J Christmas. Her ‘Porridge & Cream’ read is Camellia by Leslie Pearse. “I started this book in 1998 during a very wet Glastonbury Festival; I remember curling up in my sleeping bag, feeling utterly miserable as the rain splashed around the campsite. Yet from the very first page I was quickly absorbed in the story. Set in my home county of Sussex, the saga begins with a young girl who is orphaned at 15, when her mother is discovered drowned. Camellia is an unhappy, neglected child, yet her security is ripped away when she stumbles across a secret hoard of letters among her mother’s belongings. After realising her entire childhood has been based on lies, she takes off to London to start a new life. Beautifully written with powerful story lines, Camellia is as much a ‘coming of age’ story as a romantic drama. At the start of the book, she is an overweight teenager but blossoms into a glamorous young woman. Caught up in the sizzling 60s of London, her life turns into a roller coaster. She is abandoned by a controlling drug dealer boyfriend, but discovers a loyal friend who becomes
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Categories: Book Love and Porridge & Cream.

Book review: Little Deaths

This is another of those novels which is an uncomfortable read. What kept me reading? The characters. I wanted to know what really happened. But of course this is fiction and characters don’t always tell the truth, only their version of the truth. Little Deaths by Emma Flint is an accomplished debut, as I read I could tell she had got under the skin of her characters. There is an intriguing set-up, we first hear Ruth’s voice. She is in prison. We don’t know why, but she compares her life now with her life before. When she was a single mum with two small children. As I read, I felt a shiver down my back: where are her children now? Starting the story with Ruth in prison surely gives away the ending, doesn’t it? Not really. This is a nuanced tale of trial by jury in 1960s America [though until the Sixties were mentioned, it seemed to be set in a curiously non-time specific period] where prejudices about women could wrongly influence outcomes, where social pre-conceptions coloured witness statements, and hearsay evidence seemed admissible if the accused was disliked. It is a tale of presumed guilt, and it should make
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Categories: Book Love.

Book review: Good Me Bad Me

Good Me Bad Me by Ali Land is a difficult book to review without giving anything away. It is compulsive, difficult reading, and though I raced through it I can’t honestly say I enjoyed it. Teenager Annie is living with a foster family whilst waiting to give evidence at her mother’s trial. Her mother is accused of being a serial killer of children, Annie turned her in to the police. As she waits for the trial, Annie [now called Milly] is coached by her foster father on how to handle being in court and giving evidence under cross-examination. For Milly, there is no escaping her horrible childhood. As Mike tells her, the only way out is through. But Milly isn’t telling Mike everything. Milly’s identity is secret, her name false, her reason for being fostered is fabricated. In this world of officially-approved lies, Milly must face her memories of what happened: what is real, and not-real. What did her mother really do? What did Milly do? At times of stress – and there are many as she fits into a foster family with an unwelcoming teenage daughter – Milly hears the voice of her mother in her head, encouraging her
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Categories: Book Love.

Book review: Beginnings

A teenager abandoned and at the mercy of a 1970s London gang, Eleanor Chapman is the ‘same face’ in the romantic thriller series ‘Same Face Different Place’ by Helen J Christmas. London’s East End is the starting point for the first novel, Beginnings. Eleanor’s father must disappear from England after killing in a man in a gang war. Sixteen-year-old Eleanor is taken under the wing of her father’s boss, gang leader Sammie Maxwell. And from that point, her life spirals out of control. Forced to work in a brothel, she escapes and joins up with another teenager-on-the-run, Dutch musician Jake. Together they attract the attention of organised crime gangs and the police. Unsure who is really chasing them, they run from hiding place to hiding place and lose the ability to judge who is trustworthy. Sharing their fears, spending every minute together, Jake and Eleanor live on borrowed time. They fall in love. At times the story takes surprising twists, sometimes the outcomes are a little more predictable. I found it a little difficult to keep track of how time was passing, they seem to fall in love very quickly, and it will be interesting to see if Eleanor’s father
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Categories: Book Love.