The Cult by Abby Davies

Religious cults have been the subject matter of many works of fiction, the idea of secretive communes pursuing rapture and eternal life fascinating writers and inspiring endless speculations and fears, curiosity, suspicions, even envy and loathing.
In “The Cult” Abby Davies takes an interesting perspective of looking at the interaction between the world at large and the small but fierce world of a spiritual sect seeking immortality through the blood of the pure and innocent who need to be “resourced” from the outside.
Two young children are induced out of their home in the middle of the night and, after having witnessed a violent attack, disappear in the woods. The reader senses that there is more to their disappearance than the two mobster wanting to silence them. As the search for the children gets under way, a story of another child, called Love, is told. We follow Love’s story from the time she is about ten through to adulthood. Love isn’t an ordinary child – she is the product of a cult led by the charismatic, and controlling, Uncle Saviour. Love worships him and her unconditional belief in him shapes her into someone even more deluded and coercive than him.
There are three distinctive narratives within this story: that of Love, Lilly (the children’s mother) and DI Pearline Ottoline (the detective in charge of the investigation). The three narratives come together in the final denouement. I found Love’s tale the most compelling but not the easiest to digest. Unlike in other cult fiction, such as “After the Fire”, there does not seem to be any room for redemption; the years of brainwash leaving Love bereft of sense of reality and empathy. A thought provoking read.

An Accidental Tragedy, the life of Mary, Queen of Scots by Roderick Graham

In this hefty volume, Roderick Graham paints a vivid and engaging portrait of Mary Queen of Scots. He takes the reader through her life and her times, demonstrating great sensitivity and objectivity. The geopolitical and societal realities of her days are thoroughly analysed, with the all main historical players deftly brought into the fold of her story.
Mary herself comes across as a real human being, a lone woman in a man’s world, a monarch amongst rivals and contenders, fallible, naive and gullible, sometimes dangerous (to others, but mainly to herself), a romantic and adventurer at heart, a woman manipulated, betrayed, fighting back, winning a few battles and squirmishes, but losing a war, and ultimately her head.
It is a fascinating read, showing vividly Mary’s fatalistic path towards her final demise in a way that makes the reader understand, become sympathetic towards her and furious about her detractors and duplicitous, side-swapping allies and advisers.
What I particularly appreciated about this book (as opposed to others I read about her) was the lack of spurious judgment dictated by the perspective of the victor (Elizabeth I and England) and the sensibilities of the twentieth century. This story is firmly set in the sixteenth century before posterity had a chance to analyse it, twist and warp it to meet the objectives of our modern context which did not exist in Mary’s day. Roderick Graham gave Mary a chance to tell her story as it was.
A wonderful book that reads like action-packed fiction, but at them same time is based on detailed and in-depth research.

Piranesi by Susanna Clarke

This wasn’t my first read by Susanna Clarke so I knew to expect something magical and otherworldly, but “Piranesi” surpassed my expectations. It isn’t about magic, but it certainly is otherworldly, and more. There is something profound, almost biblical about this book.

The House, which is immeasurable and whose kindness is infinite, is the only world Piranesi knows. And it is that knowledge, or its limitation, that are pivotal here. For Piranesi a house of many chambers and vestibules, rising from the waves, filled with statues depicting real-life and mythical scenes, but otherwise devoid of our modern-day props, constitutes his whole universe. He recognises it as his creator, guide and protector – the House is God-like. The House defines Piranesi’s identity. He worships it, but he also explores and studies it. In a way, he reinvents it: its topography, its dead, its beauty and kindness. The whole premise of one man detached from reality but insistently scientific in his understandings, alone but not lonely, innocent through his ignorance of the existence of others is fascinating. His awakening and transition to the truth seems almost cruel although, despite his naivete, he deals with it admirably.  

“Piranesi” isn’t about action or relationships, at least not in the conventional sense, but it is utterly compelling and it will draw you in and make you forget about everything else.

The Night She Disappeared by Lisa Jewell

The Night She Disappeared: The new thriller from the #1 bestselling author of The Family Upstairs by [Lisa Jewell]

The book has a classic opener: teenage parents, Tallulah and Zach, vanish on the night he takes her out to propose to her. Tallulah’s mother, Kim, is left behind to take care of their child Noah. What follows are three narratives – one which take us up to the moment of the couple’s disappearance, told from Tallulah’s perspective; another one that relays the impromptu investigation of the disappearance by the new headmaster’s partner, Sophie; and finally the third thread that interlocks the other two, told from the point of view of Tallulah’s mother.


The plotting is tight, precise and gripping. Jewell leaves herself no room for error: everything flows, links and weaves together. Every new chapter introduces a new nugget of information – another revelation, another hook, and another diversion. Ultimately, all threads lead relentlessly to the conclusion that is inescapable and yet unpredictable. The drip of information and the transformations of the main characters’ emotions and attitudes give the reader a sense of discovery as if I, the patient and diligent reader, have reached the conclusion all under my own steam. I could not find any gaps or any loose ends in Jewell’s plotting. All my questions were answered in the end.


Jewell constructs deep and complex characters. They are believable if unorthodox. Tallulah, a quiet and unassuming mother and social care student, undergoes a rebellious identity crisis any typical teenager would be susceptible to without, for one second, losing her love for and devotion to her baby. Her mother Kim is pitted against Zach’s mother Meg in a few master strokes of Jewell’s pen. Scarlett, the seductive, entitled femme fatale is burdened with her own vulnerabilities. The level-headed Liam shocks towards the end. And so on – the gallery of characters is rich, multi-dimensional and memorable.


The language takes the back seat to the story. It is clean, precise, unobtrusive – a bit Hemingway-esque. All and all, another cracking read from Lisa Jewell.

The First Day of Spring by Nancy Tucker

The First Day of Spring by [Nancy Tucker]

Eight-year-old Chrissie is a child-killer. She is pleased with her effort – it gives that fizzy, sherbet-like feeling in the depths of her stomach. She can hardly contain herself from telling others that it was her, but, being a neglected and unloved little girl and the poorest from an already very poor housing estate, she has a strong sense of self-preservation, so she keeps her secret to herself. Not to mention that she doesn’t really understand death – her da had been declared “dead” by her ma on a few occasions but always managed to come back. But Steven, the toddler Chrissie throttled, seems unable to rise from the dead and his death endures to Chrissie’s bemusement. Twenty years later, Chrissie has a new identity as Julie and a daughter of her own. She believes that she is undeserving of motherhood, and fears that her child will be taken away from her. Julie picks up where Chrissie has left off and embarks on a journey of re-discovery and cautious redemption. The narrative oscillates between Chrissie’s and Julie’s stories which complement each other perfectly.

This is a harrowing read, but one I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend to anyone, whatever your reading preferences. It has a lasting resonance, a heart and a soul, and most of all – conscience. Chrissie’s voice is captured brilliantly. The little girl’s loneliness, despair, her everyday struggle for survival and love are heart-wrenching. Her anger is palpable. Each of her life’s raw disappointments hit me hard as an adult and member of the society that has made this child into what she is. Despite the bleak and gory subject there is a message of hope in this book: people aren’t born evil and they certainly don’t have to remain so. All it takes is for someone to care.

Other characters are also wonderfully observed and drawn: Chrissie’s inept mother, Chrissie’s best friend, the sister of the boy Chrissie’s has killed, Chrissie’s absentee-father… The commentary on our society is damning, but not the commentary on our humanity.

Heresy by S J Parris

Heresy: The breathtaking first book in the the No. 1 Sunday Times bestselling historical crime thriller series (Giordano Bruno, Book 1) by [S. J. Parris]

On the run from the Holy Inquisition, Giordano Bruno arrived in England and travelled to Oxford, seeking professorship with Oxford University. SJ Parris used these historical facts to spin a fast-past and intricate crime thriller set in 1583 – during the turbulent reign of Elizabeth I when assassination plots, religious persecutions and political intrigue ruled the day.

Bruno is recruited by Walsingham to act as his spy and to uncover any catholic conspiracies against the queen. It is suspected that such conspiracies are operated by those of the prestigious Oxford academia who secretly adhere to the old faith and refuse to recognise Elizabeth’s legitimacy. Bruno has his own personal reasons to visit Oxford University library – he is searching for a prohibited occultist manuscript he believes may have found its way to England.

As soon as Bruno sets foot at the College a body of one of the Fellows is found mauled viciously by a diabolical dog, the death disturbingly resonant of the martyrdom of St Sebastian. At the insistence of the College Rector, the death is dismissed as an unfortunate accident. But soon another death follows and its similarity to yet another martyred saint cannot be ignored. Bruno is requested to investigate. He ventures into the secret world of sectarian Oxford and over the next few, action-packed days, risking his own life – and heart – follows the clues to make stunning discoveries and not only find the killer but also learn hard-hitting truths about devotion, love and passion, obsession and the all-destroying power of religious convictions.

The historical setting of the tumultuous Elizabethan era in general and the scholarly Oxford in particular provides a rich and intriguing background for a gripping thriller with a multi-layered and complex plot, vivid characters and a historically accurate theme. Bruno is an interesting protagonist: a man possessed of an open mind in the world rife with bigotry and dogmatism, a humanist and scientist, a survivor and a pragmatic idealist. I will be reading more of this series.

The Chalet by Catherine Cooper

The Chalet: the most exciting new debut crime thriller of 2020 - with a twist you won’t see coming by [Catherine Cooper]

In January 1998 two skiers separate from their guides and go missing during a blizzard in the French Alps. Only one of them is found. Twenty-two years later, at the same ski resort, Hugo and Ria entertain a potential investor in Hugo’s struggling business and his young wife. They are staying at a luxurious chalet, waited on by a chalet girl, Millie. The scene for a perilous slalom through this thrilling mystery is set. It will ultimately lead to the finish line where the events of the past merge with the present and culminate in chilling disclosures.

Cooper’s narrative is gripping and her characterisation flawless. The story is told in the first person from the point of view of individual characters. The reader gains first-hand insights into their memories and feelings, which may be fragmented at times and biased, but that’s what makes them credible. Although there are many characters taking over the narration in turns, Cooper doesn’t lose her overall control over the plot which powers forward unhindered by too much baggage. New POVs are introduced into the story gradually and are layered in such a way that each person remains constant but the story acquires different new dimensions.

The Chalet is a tightly plotted and expertly delivered psychological thriller with a punchy conclusion.

Still Me by Jojo Moyes

Still Me is a third book in a trilogy. I hadn’t read the first two, but that didn’t matter. The story is so skilfully developed that I just dived into it and in no time felt like a little fish frolicking in a friendly pond. All the characters were fully fleshed out and multi-layered. They weren’t just cardboard cut-outs, but talking, feeling, walking people complete with their shadows, their past, their secrets and their quirks. Their stories flew and crossed with one another, and all of them were delivered to a satisfactory resolution. New beginnings, heart breaks, up and downs, injustices and small acts of kindness were assembled together to create a rich background to what, in essence, was a classic love story.
Heart-warming, life-affirming, sweet, uplifting and adorable are the kind of superlatives I wouldn’t hesitate to use to sum up Still Me, and that’s some compliment because I am not a romantic. I enjoyed it just like I sometimes enjoy a box of chocolates, which always takes me by surprise as chocolate isn’t my thing.

The Chestnut Man by Soren Sveistrup

This is a classic Scandinavian crime noir. It has all the essential ingredients: a series of gruesome murders, a strong female detective, a damaged and complex male detective, and dark, brooding atmosphere. There are painful secrets and the storyline manoeuvres across and through the body of evidence, closer and closer to the perpetrator. The perpetrator is psychopathic and seemingly inhuman, but at the same time highly intelligent. He knows how to play the police and on some level he interacts with the detectives, pokes and probes them, and manipulates their investigation. This draws the reader into the events on a more personal, intimate level.

Perhaps because the Nordic crime fiction is so crowded these days, I found myself craving something more, something different, something to make this book stand out from the rest and render it unique.

As much as it was a compelling piece of fiction, that something special eluded the author. Assuming that this is the first instalment in a series, I am expecting Sveistrup to develop that personal trademark as he builds this brand. I would most certainly read the next book.

French Exit by Patrick de Witt

French Exit is so deliciously decadent that you will want to drink it, shaken not stirred. It is classy, it is wicked and it is irreverent.

The assemble of characters dazzles. The three main heroes (though they don’t qualify for that term in any way, shape of form) are Frances, Malcolm and Small Frank. Frances is an extravagant rich widow hellbent of self-destruction, financially and otherwise. Her son Malcolm is a man frozen in inaction, content to drift through life without any clear direction or destination, sort of attached to his mother like a barnacle to the underbelly of a sinking ship. And Small Frank is the late husband-father who has found home in a body of a domestic cat.

In transit to self-destruction Francis, accompanied by her two dependants, makes a stop in Paris.

At first sight you may think this book shallow, degenerate and immoral, but very soon you come to realise that there is a depth of despair and surrender under the surface of flamboyance and extravagance. Patrick de Witt is very elegant in hinting at it. He doesn’t tell you about it. He doesn’t let his characters tell you about it. Still, you know that depth sits there – the root of all trouble.

The story is character driven, and each character is a scream – unique, distinct and irredeemable. But you wish them well, you root for them, you hope for them.

It is a riot of a book!