Thursday, 23 February 2017

Book Review: WATCHING YOU by Arne Dahl

Title: Watching You
Author: Arne Dahl
Random House UK, Vintage 
February 2017
Expected publication: 6 July 2017

Synopsis (Goodreads):

Someone is watching.

At each abandoned crime scene there's a hidden clue: a tiny metal cog, almost invisible to the naked eye. Someone is sending Detective Sam Berger a message, someone who knows that only he will understand the cryptic trail.

Someone knows.

When another teenaged girl disappears without trace, Sam must convince his superiors that they’re dealing with a serial killer. As the police continue the hunt to find the latest victim, Sam is forced to unearth long-buried personal demons. He has no choice if he is to understand the killer's darkly personal message before time runs out.

Somebody is killing just for him.

My thoughts:

"The aspen leaves are trembling."

And so will you .....

Wow! What a wild emotional rollercoaster ride this book turned out to be! Whilst some of the opening scenes were somewhat dark and confronting, I was settling in to read what I thought would be a fairly typical Scandinavian murder / mystery. And for a while, the story seemed to flow along a well-trodden path, as detectives Berger and Deer follow a lead to a derelict farmhouse where they hope to find a missing 15-year-old girl who they fear has fallen into the hands of a depraved predator. But they are too late. The house is empty and booby-trapped, with only a blood-splattered wall as evidence that the girl may have been held – and tortured – there. Worse still, Berger is convinced that the case is linked to the disappearances of two other teenage girls, who may have been taken by the same perpetrator. Can he make a connection between the cases and find them before it is too late?

“Time wasn’t on his side.”

Tic-toc, the clock is ticking! Clocks and time feature largely in this extremely clever and breath-taking thriller, written by a master of the genre. It was about there that the novel took a completely unexpected turn, even though there had been tiny clues like a trail of breadcrumbs leading up to this point, which I had totally overlooked, too comfortable in my assumptions. Until the rug was pulled out from under my feet so completely that it felt like falling headlong into an abyss. WHAT THE...?!?!?! Suddenly the whole world I had created in my mind came tumbling down. Who could I trust? What was real and what was merely a figment of my own complacency? Could I take anything for granted in this novel?

I loved how a large percentage of the action played out in tense and lively dialogue, which served to draw me deeply into the story almost immediately and created a movie-like imagery which haunted me even when I was not actively reading. This is a fast-paced novel, with non-stop action and some confronting scenes that will follow you into your nightmares. I read that Dahl was once quoted as saying that he didn’t want to dwell on evil but wanted to understand its roots in the past. Which is exactly the route Berger takes when trying to track down this perpetrator, and may be one of the things that sets this novel apart from your average murder / mystery. Whilst it certainly gets the adrenaline pumping, it also contains some deep and terribly sad scenes that challenge your own ideals and beliefs like only an author with a solid understanding of the human psyche can pull off.

 There was nothing to fault in this masterful novel, one of the best I have read in a long time. How is it possible that I have not come across this author before now? A must-read for any lover of the murder / mystery genre, and readers who enjoy Scandinavian fiction at its finest. Try to let go of all expectations and preconceptions – this is a writer who has made it his mission to avoid formulaic writing and prefers endings that leave the reader thinking after closing the book. Which it certainly did! And since the last paragraph – despite the final shot aimed straight at the reader’s heart – opens the door for a re-appearance of our detective duo in future novels, I will definitely be watching this space!

Watching You has previously been released in other languages, but unfortunately we will have to wait until July to find it on our shelves. Put it on your wishlist today!


He stepped into the valley of the shadow of death. He stopped on the hall mat with his whole body dripping. He could feel water trickling down his face, neck, ears, scurrying downward. It was like his whole body was weeping.

Intuition is nothing but a concentration of experience.

“I’d sanitised my memories.” “That’s how we survive,” Blom said.

All light was an illusion, a reassuring veneer of lies that allows us to live, gives us the strength to become adults.

Carpe motherfucking diem.

Thank you to Netgalley and the publisher for providing me with a free electronic copy of this novel in exchange for an honest review. 

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If you are multi-lingual, you can access this title now (click on covers for details):

Sieben Minus Eins Utmarker (Sam Berger och Molly Blom, #1) Skyggezone (Berger & Blom #1) Sedm mínus jedna (Sam Berger a Molly Blomová, #1)

Tuesday, 21 February 2017

Book Review: THE SWAP by Nancy Boyarski

The Swap

Title: The Swap
Author: Nancy Boyarski
Light Messages Publishing
February 2017

Synopsis (Goodreads):

When Nicole Graves arranges a summer-long swap of her Los Angeles condo for a London couple’s house, she thinks it’s the perfect arrangement. She’s always dreamed of seeing the real London; she’s also hopeful the time away with her husband Brad will be good for their troubled marriage.

But things don’t turn out the way Nicole expects: The Londoners fail to arrive in L.A. and appear to be missing. Then people begin following Nicole and making threats, demanding information she doesn’t have. Soon, Nicole realizes she’s in serious trouble––but she can’t get Brad or the police to believe her.

When the confrontations turn deadly, Nicole must either solve the case or become the next victim. 

My thoughts:

It all sounded good in theory: when Nicole’s husband Brad is offered a short working stint in England with an IT company over summer, Nicole thinks that it would be the perfect opportunity to break routine and rekindle their marriage. The plan is to swap homes with Frederick and Muriel Lowry, a couple Brad has had contact with through his work. However, soon after their arrival in London, Nicole is having serious doubts as to whether this was a good idea. Brad is more distant and distracted than usual, and she is experiencing  some strange incidents in the Lowry’s home, which scare her. When she is threatened by thugs looking for the Lowrys, who supposedly owe money to someone who will not stop at anything to get even, she discovers that the couple have never actually  arrived in the US as arranged. Worst of all, Brad is refusing to take her seriously, putting her fears down to jetlag and paranoia. Soon things escalate and Nicole is finding herself on the run – from the thugs, the police and her husband.

The premise of the story – a house-swap gone terribly wrong – was intriguing and I found myself quickly drawn into the book as our unsuspecting couple arrives in London only to find that the house is not what they were expecting. However, the rest of the book was a bit of a mixed bag for me. It was interesting to find out that the author, Nancy Boyarsky, has a background as editor and writer of textbooks and political articles, because it is obvious that she can write well. However, I think that this explains some of the problems I had with the story – at times it read a bit too factual and dry, with stilted dialogue, telling instead of showing and inconsistencies with character development. This may just be due to The Swap being a debut novel in quite a different genre than the author is used to.

Personally, I also felt that Boyarski was trying to pack too many twists and turns into the story (Nicole is like a little spinning top – she never stays in one place for longer than 5 minutes), which at times made it choppy and frustrating to follow. Then, running out of time, there were whole “summary” paragraphs condensing numerous events into a few explanatory sentences, rather than letting them play out. Despite plenty of action and a fairly tense cat-and-mouse game, I felt a bit put off by some clichés used in character development, and found it difficult to connect with Nicole, who I felt lacked emotional depth (as did her relationships). Seeing that this is the first of a series, I am hoping that Nicole’s character will evolve over time and develop a bit more personality. As long as Nicole can pull off the plucky female investigator role, I think the series has a lot of potential. As for now, I remain sitting on the fence ...

Quotes I liked:

With Brad, activities as routine as finding their luggage and getting through customs were competitive sports.

Thank you to Netgalley and the publisher for providing me with a free electronic copy of this novel in exchange for an honest review. 

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If you find the premise of a house swap gone wrong intriguing, you may also enjoy:
Her Every Fear Her Every Fear, by Peter Swanson
One of my favourite reads for 2016!

Sunday, 19 February 2017

Book Review: THE KILLER ON THE WALL by Emma Kavanagh

The Killer On The Wall by Emma Kavanagh

Author: Emma Kavanagh
Random House UK, Cornerstone
February 2017
Expected publication: 20 April 2017

Synopsis (Goodreads):

The first body comes as a shock

The second brings horror

The third signals the beginning of a nightmare

When fifteen-year-old Isla Bell finds three bodies propped against Hadrian’s Wall, her whole world falls apart. In such a close-knit community, everyone knows the victims, and the man who did it.

Twenty years on and Isla has dedicated her life to forensic psychology; studying the brains of serial killers, and even coming face to face with the convicted murderer who turned her world upside down. She is safe after all, with him behind bars.

Then another body appears against the Wall.

And another.

As the nightmare returns and the body count rises, everyone in town is a suspect.

Who is the Killer on the Wall?

My thoughts:

“It began with the bodies.”

Twenty years ago, a serial killer brutally murdered 6 people in the small English town of Briganton, splitting a community and injecting terror into the everyday lives of the town’s inhabitants for six long weeks. When the perpetrator, Heath McGowan, was finally apprehended by the Detective Sergeant Eric Bell and convicted of the killings, everyone heaved a huge sigh of relief, but the damage had already been done. Some residents chose to move away, scarred by the black cross that forever marked Briganton as the hunting grounds of “the killer on the wall”, for the way he positioned his victims against the historic remnants of Hadrian’s Wall. Others dug in their heels and chose to stay, refusing to let the killer win. Isla Bell, who was the girl who discovered the first lot of bodies on her morning run, went one step further: in her career as forensic psychologist she now dedicates herself to scanning the brains of psychopaths to discover if there are common abnormalities which set a person on the path to becoming a murder machine. As part of her project, she has encountered the worst sadistical killers mankind has ever produced. Including Heath, who still holds a special dark place in her heart, and who is the 13th convicted killer to undergo this process.

“Lucky number 13.” Isla agreed.

Only that it turns out to be anything else but lucky for the community of Briganton. One day after Heath’s MRI scan, another body is discovered seated against Hadrian’s Wall. The murder has the same MO as the original killings. Is it a copycat, or a domestic argument gone wrong? When the body count mounts once again, the residents’ worst fears are confirmed – the killer is back. But how is this possible, when Heath is still in prison? Is there another killer amongst them?

I have read and enjoyed every one of Emma Kavanagh’s books, and this one is no exception. Taut and twisty, this thriller will take you on a dark journey into the minds of psychopaths, and those who fight them. With her background as a police and military psychologist, Kavanagh’s characterisations are spot on, which makes for an interesting reading journey as you discover that in this book, you cannot really trust anyone or anything. A constant undercurrent of threat and menace is maintained by the prospect of a killer living amongst a small, peaceful community, preying on random victims until no one is safe in their homes any longer. What makes a ruthless killer tick? And would we recognise one if we saw him/her? It could be your friend, your neighbour, your partner, your child. A truly scary premise, skilfully explored by a writer who clearly knows what makes people tick – and what keeps readers reading!

I particularly enjoyed the character of Iraqi born Detective Constable Mina Arian, who I felt was more approachable than the somewhat aloof Isla, and whose persistence in exploring every detail of the case finally brings some answers. Whilst some readers may find the end shocking, and some may have had their suspicions, I appreciated how neatly all the threads came together, which again is a credit to the author’s skill in weaving an utterly compelling mystery and one that may make you lock your doors and keep you inside at night. Highly recommended.

Thank you to Netgalley and the publisher for providing me with a free electronic copy of this novel in exchange for an honest review. 


“Generally, people are stupid. We look for whatever we expect to see.”

“But then, wasn’t that the thing with serial killers? Weren’t they all, when you looked at them, perfectly normal? Right up until the monster in them was unleashed?”

“What was it about parents that, even when you were thirty five and married and even though you lived your life right up against the most dangerous men the world had to offer, one word and you could be catapulted backward in time until you were small, vulnerable again.”

Other Books I enjoyed by the the same author:

Click on cover for details:
Falling Hidden The Missing Hours

Tuesday, 14 February 2017

Book Review: OUR ENDLESS NUMBERED DAYS by Claire Fuller

Our Endless Numbered Days

Author: Claire Fuller
Read: February 2017

Synopsis (Goodreads):

Peggy Hillcoat is eight years old when her survivalist father, James, takes her from their home in London to a remote hut in the woods and tells her that the rest of the world has been destroyed. Deep in the wilderness, Peggy and James make a life for themselves. They repair the hut, bathe in water from the river, hunt and gather food in the summers and almost starve in the harsh winters. They mark their days only by the sun and the seasons.

When Peggy finds a pair of boots in the forest and begins a search for their owner, she unwittingly begins to unravel the series of events that brought her to the woods and, in doing so, discovers the strength she needs to go back to the home and mother she thought she’d lost.

After Peggy's return to civilization, her mother learns the truth of her escape, of what happened to James on the last night out in the woods, and of the secret that Peggy has carried with her ever since.

My thoughts:

What a beautifully written book – I think so far this has been my most memorable read for 2017, and one that will stay with me for a long time to come.

In the summer of 1976, eight-year-old Peggy Hillcoat is growing up in a spacious house in London as the much-loved daughter of a famous concert pianist and a survivalist father. All is well in her world until her mother Ute goes away on a concert tour to Germany, leaving her in the care of her father James, who seems to slowly unravel the longer Ute is away for. Soon James is teaching Peggy survival skills instead of sending her to school , and the pair are living in a tent in the garden, living off squirrels and other foraged foods. After a heated argument with one of his survivalist friends, James packs a few belongings into a rucksack and takes Peggy away for a “holiday” to a remote mountain cabin in the European Alps away from civilisation. After sitting through a violent thunderstorm one night, James tells Peggy that the rest of the world has perished, and that they are the only two human survivors left. Thus, life in the wilderness alone with her father becomes Peggy’s reality for the next nine years, until a twist of fate finally delivers her back into civilisation.

I absolutely loved Peggy, and she became so real to me that it felt like I lost an old friend when the book finished. Her voice is innocent, fresh and original, drawing me in from the first page, taking me by the hand and luring me into her world. Through Peggy, Fuller managed to create such vivid scenery in my mind that I could see “die Hütte” quite clearly in front of my eyes, hear the rustling of the wind in the trees and the soft gurgle of the river in the distance. I didn’t just read this book, but I feel like I LIVED it, transported like Aladdin on a magic carpet to faraway lands. Days after finishing it, I still miss being part of Peggy’s journey. Simply magical, beautiful, tragic & heartbreaking all at the same time.

This book is not for people who want action or suspense, but its power lies in the small everyday observations and feelings that make up Peggy’s reality, and Fuller has a way with words that creates true-to-life characters and an atmospheric setting until it seems like a living, breathing being itself. Her descriptions of nature were stunning, as they were raw and brutal at times. Fuller’s account of James’ slow spiralling deeper and deeper into mental illness was well drawn and realistic, creating an undercurrent of danger and impending doom throughout the novel. At times I felt like biting my nails as the story unfolded, fearing for Peggy. Whilst I had a premonition of the ending to come, I was still saddened and shocked by the full extent of Peggy’s ordeal.

I chose the audio version of this book, and a huge credit goes to Eilidh L. Beaton, for her wonderful narration of the story. With her amazing ability to give each character their own unique voice, including authentic foreign accents, she brought the characters to life for me and made my daily commute a pleasure I looked forward to.

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If, like me, you loved the descriptive setting of this novel, you may also enjoy:
The Snow Child The Snow Child, by Eowyn Ivey

Or by the same author:
Swimming Lessons Swimming Lessons, by Claire Fuller

Saturday, 11 February 2017

Book Review: RATTLE by Fiona Cummins

Rattle by Fiona Cummins

Title: Rattle
Author: Fiona Cummins
Pan Macmillan Australia
February 2017

Synopsis (Goodreads):

A psychopath more frightening than Hannibal Lecter.

He has planned well. He leads two lives. In one he's just like anyone else. But in the other he is the caretaker of his family's macabre museum.

Now the time has come to add to his collection. He is ready to feed his obsession, and he is on the hunt.

Jakey Frith and Clara Foyle have something in common. They have what he needs.

What begins is a terrifying cat-and-mouse game between the sinister collector, Jakey's father and Etta Fitzroy, a troubled detective investigating a spate of abductions.

Set in London's Blackheath, Rattle by Fiona Cummins explores the seam of darkness that runs through us all; the struggle between light and shadow, redemption and revenge.

It is a glimpse into the mind of a sinister psychopath. And it's also a story about not giving up hope when it seems that all hope is already lost.

My thoughts:

Three missing children and a creepy man who calls himself the bone collector form the centre of this chilling debut novel by Fiona Cummins. I will not go too deeply into the storyline for fear of giving away spoilers, only to say that the author has done a great job in bringing a child's worst nightmares to life in her creation of a disturbed serial killer, who works tirelessly to continue the family tradition of collecting human skeletons for the ossuary he inherited from his father. Rattle, rattle, there are bones in the cellar! The more unusual the better – this is the reason he selects victims with rare bone disorders or deformities that would make a fascinating addition to his collection. Young Jakey, who suffers from the rare disease fibrodysplasia ossificans progressiva, is a perfect target. As his muscles, tendons and ligaments slowly turn into bone, his skeleton becomes a more and more attractive collector’s piece for our man. The only problem is that Jakey is still alive, but that has never been an obstacle for the bone collector.

With a thread of menace and darkness running throughout the novel, the storyline played out in front of my eyes in sepia colours with wisps of mist wafting through black streets and wrapping itself around houses and trees, some of its characters stepping straight out of a “Carnivale” type nightmare bordering on the bizarre. The virtual leap into the bone collector’s lair was reminiscent of my worst childhood visions of the bogey man hiding under my bed at night, waiting to chop off any body part that dared to protrude from the safety of my blanket. Creepy! But whilst the details skirted the fine line of "too much information", Cummins managed to pull back before overstepping the mark that would deposit this book into the "horror" instead of "murder / mystery" genre. In fact, I thought her characterisation of the mentally ill bone collector was very well executed, which lent substance to the story rather than just shock factor.

Etta Fitzroy as lead detective is an enigmatic and sympathetic protagonist, who made up for all the other -generally rather unlikeable – characters, and I can see her forming the centrepiece of future novels. True to form, she has all the flaws and tortured mind that make for an interesting fictional detective violating rules and constraints in order to get the job done and to see justice served. I struggled a bit to bond with any of the other characters, though the battles Jakey’s parents face every day in raising a child with disabilities are well drawn. Apart from a few loose threads that I felt needed tying up, the novel flowed well, though some readers may find the ending unsatisfying. I actually thought it was a fitting finale, keeping up the general theme of darkness and menace until the very end. All in all, a promising new voice in crime fiction and potentially the start of a new series featuring an interesting female detective with many more cases to solve. Definitely worth checking out!

Thank you to Netgalley and the publisher for providing me with a free electronic copy of this novel in exchange for an honest review.