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Revelation by Jo Fenton

This dark and pacey crime drama hits a nerve. It’s 1989. Becky, who is a law student, is confronted with the death of another student. Rick is killed in his room in the hall of residents.His body is found by Dan, his very close friend. Becky embarks on an investigation, keen to get to the bottom of this tragic death especially because she cares about Dan who is deeply traumatised by Rick’s death. Strange forces seemed to play part in this death and a later disappearance, including a suspect Kabbalistic group.

This book appealed to me personally on many levels. I too studied law in the late eighties and lived in a hall of residents, surrounded by people who became close friends. Those were very different times. Fenton reflects those times really well: the overall ambience of the eighties, the trends, the music, the raging AIDS and early prejudice against gays, the lecherous professors. I was transported back in time.

The characters are vivid and the background behind the killer’s motives complex. The denouement comes as a surprise. It is a very satisfying crime mystery.

Death of a Witch by M.C. Beaton

Being a great fan of Agatha Raisin, I decided to give Hamish Macbeth a go. I am happy to say that I was not disappointed.

Although Death of a Witch was my first read in the series, I was instantly immersed in the world of the remote village of Lochdubh in the heart of Scottish Highlands. The title character, PC Hamish Macbeth is kind of a godfather figure who protects and looks after the villagers. His love for the place and its inhabitants is palpable. It is stronger than his ambition or his young heart’s romantic pursuits. M C Beaton paints the location vividly and with such refinement that its authenticity is assured. Throw in the mix a dog and a wild cat, Hamish’s two beloved pets, and your heart is captured for good.

In this story, Hamish pursues the killer of an alleged witch, and further three local women. The witch died a nasty death, but she wasn’t a likable character, and not only because she was peddling love potions which had very unpleasant side effects on the menfolk. The other victims were decent or semi-decent women who, on the surface, had nothing to do with the witch. Hamish, assisted by his erstwhile love interest, the journalist Elspeth, and by his new love interest, the pathologist Lesley, tries to get to the bottom of this convoluted multi-victim case.

I enjoyed this witty, charming and fast moving cosy mystery and will be reading more of Hamish Macbeth.

 

Invisible Girls by Lisa Jewell

Invisible Girl is one of those rare specimens of fiction where you simply cannot skip to the final chapter to find out what happened. You will itch to do that, but going to the end won’t give you many answers. The complexity of this book is hidden in every sentence and every chapter as you press on, page after nail-biting page. You cannot it blink or you will miss another nuance or vital clue which will only make sense later. This book is booby-trapped with twists, secrets, suspicions, misdirection and complication.
Last night, before midnight, I started on 68%, thinking I wouldn’t be able to finish it in one sitting. How wrong was I! I read into the early hours of the morning.
The story is told from the point of view of three main characters, diametrically different from each other, but closely interconnected. Owen is a socially inept, 33-year old virgin who loses his teaching job because of allegations of sexual nature made by his students. Cate Four is a wife of a respected psychotherapist, a mother to two teenage children, a woman given to suspicion and guilt about being suspicious. A troubled teenager with a past that affects her mental health, Syffire Maddox is the psychotherapist’s erstwhile patient who develops unhealthy obsession with the man and starts following him around. At first sight the only thing they have in common is their postal code in Hampstead, London. Soon, it becomes clear that much more binds them together as several themes are being dissected by the author: the deception of appearances, the veneer of respectability, the suffocating effect past trauma has on a person’s life, the restraints of morality the society places on people and what happens when some of us give themselves a respite from sticking to them. and much, much more.
Invisible Girl is a psychological thriller at its best.

The Bellhop Only Stalks Once by Cat Hickey

The Bellhop Only Stalks Once by [Cat Hickey]

The Bellhop Only Stalks Once is a cracking crime mystery set in an exotic location, featuring a cast of colourful and diverse characters and presenting the reader with a puzzling case to solve.

Chloe is an American lass on a solo holiday in Costa Rica. Things start going terribly wrong with firstly just one overzealous bellboy from Chloe’s hotel going missing, soon followed by another two. Chloe is the only person to have witnessed his bizarre disappearance. One minute he was there waving to her, the next he sauntered into the jungle. He had made a nuisance of himself prior to his vanishing act, and consequently suspicion falls on Chloe. You feel for her. She is in a foreign country and quite out of her comfort zone. But she is one feisty gal, determined and smart, and she has some allies, such as Juan as well as the charming Mateo, until he too is gone, that is.

Apart from the relatable and likeable characters, the setting also plays its part in the story. The deep and dangerous Costa Rican jungle, the heat and the beautiful but precarious crossings create a thrilling ambience. Amulets and accessories featuring mysterious local deities add more mystery. Little hairs stand up on the back of your neck as you dive into that world with Chloe.

Although there is humour and adventure, there is also an element of grim, brutal reality and pure unrepentant evil. You certainly wouldn’t want to send your child on a holiday where they could end up just like those missing bellboys.

A thrilling and clever book. Highly recommended.

Hunter’s Blood by Val Penny

Hunter's Blood (The Edinburgh Crime Mysteries #4) by [Val Penny]

Penny slams on the accelerator from the start. You are introduced to ordinary people going about their ordinary lives: Tim, Aisla and their friends travelling to a farm for the weekend, Linda dropping Bob at work on her way to her next parcel delivery, Charlie fussing about grumpily at the police station, Frankie engrossed in domesticity.

In and out of that everyday bustle, a van comes off the road. It is driven by Linda. She only tries to avoid a rabbit. A parcel breaks open and white powder spills out. Passing motorists call 999, and yet nobody seems to come to Linda and Bob’s rescue.

People go on with their lives. Tim & Co arrive on the farm and have a mighty good time. Then again, a girl runs away. She is scared. She too calls 999, and vanishes.

Hunter is the title character, the detective inspector who has to piece everything together. He is wonderfully fleshed out as a character. Empathetic, patient and caring about his aunt Sandra. I instantly warmed up to him.

Penny has written a fast-paced, gripping mystery, full of twist and meanders. I devoured it within 2 days.

Devilishly thrilling Dark London (2) short stories collection from Darkstroke

Dark London: Volume Two by [Mark Patton, Angela Wren, Chris Dommett, Alice Castle, Richard Savin, Alan Taylor, Marie Gault, Tom Halford, Denise Bloom, Harper Channing]

Dark London (Volume 2) is a collection of short stories, each unique and distinct, each different and yet all of them have the same common denominator: London. The stories tell a tale of a city that never sleeps, knows how to hide its darkest secrets in the layers of its past, and is made of the tough stuff of its inimitable people.

There are a lot of shades within Dark London, many different eras and a lot of variety ranging from the contemporary and lighthearted cozy crime in Dulwich to the blood curdling horrors. You will find yourself traipsing London on a night bus in the company of highly-principled illegal aliens and you will end up in the middle of the inexplicable, sinister and freakish Gothic show which may not be from this world but it has London written into it.

Suspend belief, bring your own comfort blanket and have a go. You will find yourself devilishly thrilled.

One for the Baby by Tony Parsons

One for my baby
One for my Baby is Tony Parson’s second book. I was sufficiently impressed that I will go looking for his first.
As someone who often struggles to get into a new book I am impressed when I find one that quickly captures my interest. One for my Baby was one of that rare breed of books.
Beautifully written, it intertwines the tales of many lives and covers a multitude of trials and tribulations experienced by its characters. I think that few people could read this book and not find something that touches their own life experiences. Very moving.
Reviewer, S. Wylie

The Constant Rabbit by Jasper Fforde

You open this book and you find yourself in a world that is bizarrely familiar yet utterly outlandish. It feels like the second coming of Animal Farm. Animals (particularly rabbits) are on a collision course with humans, and if you have a shred of humanity in you, you are on the side of the rabbit.

Fforde’s portrayal of our twenty-first century society is spot on. You recognise the characters, the events and the trends: UKARP, a right-wing party led by a PM going by the name of Nigel Smethwick, a TwoLegsGood movement of middle-class reactionaries, the entrenched perceptions of an “unbridled” rabbit infestation/invasion on the green shores of Britain. We are talking rabbits, the little furry animals native to these isles. They were here before us. They fully anthropomorphised in 1965 and continued to multiply in their usual rampant way. The more they started resembling humans the less acceptable and more inconvenient they became. They had to be separated from humans and ghettoised in a new MegaWarren in the depths of Wales.

This story is hilarious. The world Fforde has created (and based on our very reality) is astounding in its every detail, and it is funny because it is so relatable. There is pure observational comedy there that will leave you with a laugh-out-loud bellyache. But this story also hits a nerve. It is a satire about the decline of our society, the loss of what once was a clear moral compass but has now become a murky moral muddle, about the unrestrained rampage of bigotry and intolerance.  And about good people caught in the middle of it, scared, suppressed, but hopefully still trying to do what’s right.

I loved this book.

Burke in the Land of Silver by Tom Williams

Burke in the Land of Silver (James Burke, spy Book 1) by [Tom Williams]

We meet James Burke as he fights the rebellion of black slaves in Saint Domingue. At the time he serves a French master, King Louis XIV. Boukman, a legendary rebel leader, accurately foretells his own death and Burke’s fortunes, telling him that he will have hand in building a new nation. And so the adventures of Lieutenant Burke begin.

Fast-forward through the French Revolution to the Napoleonic wars, James Burke is now in His Majesty’s service, dispatched to Buenos Aires on a spy mission against the French. A gentleman, he finds it uncomfortable to take on the role of a leather merchant and having to learn the ropes from the obnoxious O’Gorman. Burke’s discomfort is soothed by the presence of O’Gorman’s beautiful and intelligent wife, Ana.

Once in Argentina, Burke takes us on a roller-coaster journey through the Andes and many life-threatening exploits. Once you’re there, you will have no option but to press on and turn those pages fast.

Williams’s spy adventure series is a cracking, fast-paced read, rich with historical, military and geographical detail. I can’t wait for book two in the series.

Ribbons in Her Hair by Colette McCormick

With her mousy brown hair and chubby cheeks, Susan is the rant of the litter. Her two older sisters are tall and pretty blondes. Their lives seem to dutifully follow the well-trodden tracks of respectability. And respectability is key to the girls’ mother, Jean. She is about maintaining appearances to the extent that she is unable to show love or tenderness to her children. Intimacy is a cross to bear, in her view. Jean doesn’t do touchy-feely. She does however mean well in her own special way and doesn’t wish for Susan to make the same mistakes she made (or what she perceives as mistakes). She has the path of good education mapped out for Susan whom she doesn’t suspect of being able to attract “trouble”. And yet, trouble is exactly what befalls Susan when she finds herself pregnant by an undesirable young man, and absolutely determined to have her baby.

Ribbons in Her Hair is a powerful read. It raises lots of crucial issues, such as mother-daughter relationships, respect and morality, motherhood, or the oppressive effect of our societal rules of conduct. McCormick tackles these issues with great sensitivity and authenticity. Her prose is simple and convincing. The themes hit a nerve. She is able to write with equal ease from the point of view of both Susan and Jean.

This is a thought-provoking and inspiring story that lends itself to debate about so many issues that it would make a fantastic book-club read. Highly recommended.