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Kate (Oxford, Oxon United Kingdom)

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Before the Fall
Before the Fall
by Noah Hawley
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £10.49

5.0 out of 5 stars What an exhilarating, clever thriller - as much driven by character as it is action. Next to impossible to put down, 5 July 2016
This review is from: Before the Fall (Hardcover)
One summer’s night, the private plane of media tycoon David Bateman takes off from holiday island Martha’s Vineyard to make the brief flight to New York City. On board are Bateman and his young wife Maggie, their two children Rachel and JJ, Bateman’s bodyguard Gil, millionaire couple Ben and Sarah Kipling, a struggling artist Scott Burroughs, and the crew of three. When the plane dives into the sea just a few minutes after take off, only Scott and the Bateman son JJ survive. But surviving the plane crash was just the first hurdle. Scott, injured, must swim himself and this four-year-old child ten, fifteen miles, in a feat that will astound the world as the tragedy hits the media.

It only takes a brief perusal of the passenger list to spot that Scott is the odd one out. Not wealthy by any means, hardly used to taking a private jet, Scott thought himself lucky to be invited by the lovely Maggie to fly with them. Scott had an exhibition in New York to make, maybe his last chance to get his work noticed, Maggie’s invitation, offered at the farmer’s market after his work caught her eye, could be the first sign of the luck in store for him. But not luck at all. Rather a terrible disaster and tragedy, for the dead of course but also for the two survivors who must deal with the consequences, the trauma, the unwelcome attention, the isolation, the grief and the endless questions.

The opening of Before the Fall is powerful indeed. There’s not much that’s normal about the enormously privileged Bateman family and the Kiplings but it’s normal to them – shamefully so in Maggie’s and Sarah Kipling’s eyes – and it’s about to explode into terror and death. The novel makes it clear that these are the last few minutes of their lives and later on we’re reminded that the worst of horrors come out of the known and the familiar. The actions of Scott are undoubtedly heroic and like JJ, the little boy, now an orphan, who clings to this stranger for his life, we are drawn tightly to Scott. We are always on his side, whatever happens. He’s done more than enough.

Before the Fall is utterly engrossing. The pace never drops, the urgency of the questions surrounding the crash constantly demand answers, the media’s attention grows ever more intrusive, the investigation of the FBI and flight accident agents becomes increasingly pressured and tense. Everybody in the world wants to know who Scott is. Why was he on the plane? He has become everyone else’s business. And this is a big reason why Before the Fall is such a successful, accomplished novel – it is as much character-driven as it is action-driven.

The novel investigates each of the passengers and crew in turn, moving to and fro in time, always ending up on the plane, throwing up mysteries, scandal, in many of their lives, any of which fascinates the hungry media and their viewers and listeners. Everyone is on trial. Scott is of particular interest and he must deal with what this means. While the novel goes back and spends time with the dead, there are other parts of the book in which we exist in the present with Scott, watching him express himself through his art, trying to fit this disaster into his life. My only issue was that I wished we were given more time with Scott and JJ – this extraordinary, almost sacrosanct relationship lies at the heart of the novel and it is so well drawn.

Noah Hawley is a screenwriter as well as a novelist. He has a wonderful eye. But he also writes beautifully. Before the Fall is a fantastic novel, scrutinising people just as much as it depicts disaster. I think it could have gone even further, deeper into the histories of everyone involved. But then it would have been a very long novel indeed. There is so much scope here and we are given far more than I demand from a thriller. For me, Before the Fall is the thriller to beat this year.

Incidentally, I’ve been to Martha’s Vineyard – I’m glad I took the ferry. This book did nothing for my flying phobia! I'm grateful for the review copy.

Second Lives: The TimeBomb Trilogy: Book 2
Second Lives: The TimeBomb Trilogy: Book 2
by Scott K. Andrews
Edition: Paperback
Price: £13.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Thoroughly entertaining and a big step up from the first in the series, 5 July 2016
Second Lives continues the excellent time travel adventure begun with TimeBomb. You wouldn’t want to read one without reading the other and so this review assumes that you’ve read TimeBomb.

Jana, Dora and Kaz are back. These three young time travellers from our future, past and present continue to find themselves pulled back by some force in time to the laboratories under Sweetclover Hall in Cornwall. A quantum bubble draws them in like a magnet but it also keeps time out, giving them a temporary respite. They have escaped the mysterious, malign Quil but she continues to pursue them as they must also continue to pursue her. Each holds the other responsible for catastrophes in the future, on colonised Mars and on Earth. The time bomb is ticking. One would have thought that time is something that our young heroes have plenty of but they are discovering that it is running out. They can’t stay in the bubble forever, they have to go out there, throw themselves into the frontline, and try and change time.

I thoroughly enjoyed TimeBomb but Second Lives definitely takes a step up as we follow Jana, Dora and Kaz into the recent past (Beirut in 2010) and off planet in the future to Mars in 2158. In both cases there is an event to prevent, one of which is deeply personal to one of our three, and the team is about to learn just what happens when you try to meddle with time. There are more time paradoxes here than you can shake a cat at and, while it certainly becomes extremely complicated in places, it’s all done with a touch of humour. The solution is just to go where we’re taken and not to worry about what’s going on as strands of the story become increasingly entangled and characters meet themselves time after time, leaving enigmatic clues.

There’s a lot going on here that isn’t explained. We know more about Jana and Dora but there’s still much that’s being hidden for the next book. Likewise, Quil is more intriguing that ever and responsible for some of my favourite sections of the novel.

There are more shocks and emotional upset here than I was expecting and I liked that. There are a couple of moments when I had to ask myself if I really had just read that. Our three heroes are young people but they’re fast learning the consequences of deadly force and the potential tragedy of life. But despite some gloomy realism, Second Lives is such a fun novel to read. There’s plenty of humour, interesting character development (particularly between Jana and Kaz) and an abundance of puzzles – just enough to make your head spin.

This is such an entertaining series, utterly confusing (in a good way) and full of fun and teenage troubles. The series might be intended for a younger readership but I definitely think there is so much here for all ages to enjoy, especially if you like a good old flux in the space time continuum. I'm grateful for the review copy.

Behind Dead Eyes
Behind Dead Eyes
by Howard Linskey
Edition: Paperback
Price: £3.99

4.0 out of 5 stars An involving, slow-burning mystery which makes such good use of its 1990s' setting, 5 July 2016
This review is from: Behind Dead Eyes (Paperback)
The body of a young woman has been found, her face and identity cruelly burnt away. Another woman has disappeared, her father, once a well known local politician, is ready to do anything to find her. Detective Ian Bradshaw is tasked with both cases, one more officially than the other. Meanwhile, a man serving life for the brutal murder of his mistress down an infamous lovers’ lane, reaches out to true crime investigator Tom Carney as his last chance to prove his innocence. Journalist Helen Norton likewise has her hands full. She has uncovered a criminal conspiracy, feeding off political corruption, and the more she discovers the greater the threat to herself grows. Recently, Tom, Bradshaw and Helen successfully worked together on a case. They find themselves once again drawn together as their cases slowly show signs of a connection. Above all else, though, there is safety in numbers.

I haven’t yet read No Name Lane, the first in the series, but I didn’t find that this mattered at all, except for making me want to read it. Behind Dead Eyes is set in the north east of England during the 1990s and this time and location provides a great setting for the novel. Few people have mobiles, nobody’s walking around attached to tablets and smart phones, and the majority of investigative work is done on foot and not in front of a computer. But this is also a time with more than its fair share of sexism, corruption, with many a blind eye turned away. It works really well indeed and I also enjoyed the nostalgia element.

By focusing on three main characters, each with a different way of doing things, Howard Linsky is able to examine the cases from a broad range of perspectives, with the detective, investigator and journalist each following their own noses. Tom, Bradshaw and Helen certainly complement one another and, although there’s a touch of frisson between both men and Helen, this doesn’t get in the way of the developing relationships between all three. There are arguments but each has the others’ back and all three are going to need it. I think I particularly fell for Tom.

Behind Dead Eyes is a slow moving but involving novel, with each of its mysteries unwinding little by little, our three taking the time to mull over each of the clues in turn. Each of the cases takes its toll on Tom, Bradshaw and Helen. There are repercussions and watching how our three deal with it all forms a large part of the book’s appeal. Howard Linsky is such a good storyteller, with a fine eye for character and for motive. I think that the story of the convicted murderer is especially well done but I also really admired the way in which the missing girls’ story was unwound.

Howard Linsky has created an authentic, grimly fascinating and real world in which loose ends are a part of life and not everything can be neatly tied off. I have a new series to follow – and catch up on – I look forward to meeting our three again. I'm grateful for the review copy.

The Hatching
The Hatching
by Ezekiel Boone
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £9.09

4.0 out of 5 stars Loved this book! Mind you, if you're scared of spiders you might need a sedative to read it..., 5 July 2016
This review is from: The Hatching (Hardcover)
If you have a phobia for anything with eight legs then you might want to close your eyes while you read the review below. If you’re perfectly happy around our little eight-legged friends, you soon won’t be…

A rich man’s expedition into the Peruvian jungle has a less than desirable ending when the party is consumed by a writhing, seething black force of nature. A plane crashes in the US, its survivor surviving not very long at all when the worst thing that’s ever happened to him is swiftly followed by an even worse thing. The world is shocked by news that the Chinese government is dropping nuclear weapons – by accident, apparently – on remote areas of its own country. At the same time, India is shaken by tremors. It’s as if the Earth itself is reeling. It can hardly be a coincidence when scientist Melanie Guyer receives a package containing a pulsating, warm mass. Increasingly concerned by what she discovers, Melanie contacts her ex-husband, who has the ear of the American president. Meanwhile, FBI agent Mike Rich is on a trail of discovery and it’s littered with eight-legged flesh-eating spiders – and they are very hungry indeed.

As soon as I heard about The Hatching I was desperate to read it. The author is called Ezekiel Boone and that made me even more desperate to read it. I love disaster movies and stories and this has it all. It’s fast. We jump constantly and hungrily between characters and disaster hotspots around the world (including the Scottish island) in a crescendo of catastrophe. The focus is on Rich and Melanie – one following the action while the other follows the science, both destined to merge – but there are a host of other people to enjoy here. Not that it pays to get too attached.

I particularly enjoyed the Californian survivalists, who aren’t at all what you’d expect from survivalists, even those who live in a town called Desperation. They have the supplies and weapons stored in their bunkers – nothing unusual there – but these are people who realise that surviving the end of the world isn’t really worth it that much if you do it on your own. They are likeable, and one of the survivalist couples is gay. Stereotypes take a bit of an assault here and elsewhere in the book. Although, when it comes down to it, the critters attack and the people scream – the same way that it’s been done forever and it works.

I do like Ezekiel Boone’s writing. The author is clearly having as much fun as the reader but he also knows how to maintain the tension, the panic levels and the drama as everything spirals out of control. And we are not spared the gore and general unpleasantness of being attacked by ravenous carnivorous spiders. There are a few truly revolting moments mixed up in the thrills. It is extremely hard to put down and, to be honest, I didn’t even bother. I read it in one day.

The Hatching follows in the fine tradition of Jaws, Jurassic Park, The Swarm and others and, when done well as this is, I can’t get enough of such books. I was fortunate enough to read a review copy of this with spiders actually hidden within the pages. Whether this made me screech a bit is open to debate but The Hatching is such a thoroughly entertaining, deliciously skin-crawling horror thriller that you’ll like it with or without the spiders falling on your lap as you read it. The ending is fabulous, setting up the next book perfectly and I cannot wait. I'm grateful for the review copy.

The Girl in the Glass Tower
The Girl in the Glass Tower
by Elizabeth Fremantle
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £10.49

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The absorbing and intimate story of Lady Arbella Stuart who so nearly succeeded Elizabeth I to the throne in 1603, 5 July 2016
Lady Arbella Stuart was the Queen England so nearly had. Cousin to Elizabeth I, a descendent of Henry VII, Tudor blood running hotly through her veins, she was also the granddaughter of the indomitable Bess of Hardwick, the Countess of Shrewsbury. And Bess was determined to work the court, influence the mighty Cecil, to ensure that, when the time came for the ageing Elizabeth I to accept that her fate could be no different from that of any other mortal, Elizabeth would pick Arbella as her heir. Their other cousin, James VI of Scotland, son of the vanquished, beheaded Mary Queen of Scots, has his own eyes set on the throne, not least because he has one advantage over Arbella Stuart that she can never take from him – James is a man.

Arbella is a victim of the ambition of those around her. She turns from child to woman as a pawn in their game. The extent of their schemes only becomes apparent bit by bit, as Arbella struggles to hear news from court. The plot of the Earl of Essex has so incensed Elizabeth against any perceived rival to her throne – to any reminder that she will and must die – that she banishes Arbella from court. The court turns on its conspiracies and suspicious thoughts, Catholicism beginning to raise its head over the parapet, nobles shifting in their precarious seats. James is at the centre of much of it, but Arbella increasingly finds herself its victim, as planned marriages come and fade away, and she becomes little more than a prisoner to her grandmother and her Queen.

In The Girl in the Glass Tower, Elizabeth Fremantle once again picks the story of a fascinating, important and yet overlooked Tudor woman to tell. Although each novel is independent, there are echoes of the other novels, particularly in the shadow of the Lady Jane Grey’s equally tragic sister Katherine Grey (Sisters of Treason), whose bed Arbella must sleep in, and the resilient Penelope Devereux, sister of the Earl of Essex (Watch the Lady), who is one of the few to offer genuine friendship to the young woman. Arbella is likewise determined, well-educated, loyal and, given the chance, loving, but in The Girl in the Glass Tower we are shown just how little power this most noble of women had. How little any other woman would have cause to envy her. We follow her life through the years and it is painful and pitiful to watch the ways in which she tries to control her life, by controlling her body, making it undesirable, untouchable and touchless. This is a forceful portrait of a woman who has no choice but to make the best of her lot and the fact that, when she does stir this costs the lives and/or the well being of the few who love her, is not lost on Arbella Stuart.

But Arbella is not the only woman featured here. The novel is divided between Arbella’s story, told in the past tense, and that of another historical figure Aemilia Lanyer (Ami), a writer and poet, told in the present. Ami became a friend of Arbella’s before Ami fell from grace from the court of King James for her woman’s defence of Eve. Ami’s story is very different. She too has a struggle to stay independent but this is much more a matter of financial survival. But her memories and thoughts of Arbella give her both comfort and guilt and they also provide us with a fascinating portrait of James’s court and his Queen, two figures almost completely overshadowed in fiction by their glamorous Tudor predecessors.

The Girl in the Glass Tower is beautifully written, as you’d expect from Elizabeth Fremantle. Also just as you’d expect, it is full of psychological insight and empathy. I really enjoyed the way in which Ami is shown to exert her influence over the people who want to grind her into the dust. Likewise, I admired Arbella’s fortitude. Arbella’s story isn’t a happy one, this is a melancholic novel, but I did find that Arbella always kept her distance from me, keeping me from becoming too emotionally attached to her destiny. When she falls in love, the echoes of Katherine Grey are particularly strong. I found Ami much easier to empathise with, although, at times, harder to understand.

Much of the action of the times takes place on stage while we spend most of the novel in the wings or backstage, or even out of the theatre altogether, with Arbella and Ami. We do enjoy a couple of visits to court but otherwise events pass Arbella by and, like her, we have to rely on the letters and visits of others to her isolation, far from London. This does make for a slower pace at times but it is a colourful, rich one. I enjoyed the literary allusions, to Shakespeare and others, and the spectacular glimpses we see of this fascinating, charismatic, uncertain era. I love how Elizabeth Fremantle throws a whole new light on this age by focusing on some of the lesser known female figures. Lady Arbella Stuart deserves to be remembered.

As a footnote, I must comment on the title. I’ll be very happy when ‘The Girl’ is banished from the titles of books about women. Otherwise, this is a very attractive hardback. I'm grateful for the review copy.

The Lazarus War: Legion: Lazarus War 2
The Lazarus War: Legion: Lazarus War 2
by Jamie Sawyer
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.99

4.0 out of 5 stars Highly entertaining, exciting military science fiction - fast and fun, 5 July 2016
Major Conrad Harris has become a legend. Harris is now known as Lazarus for the simple reason that he has come back from the dead more times than anyone else – literally. Harris is more than a soldier. He has become a figurehead for Sim Ops, a military force comprising men and women who fight in ‘skins’, bio-genetically enhanced bodies with strength far superior to that of their real bodies which rest in capsules, waiting for Extraction and the reintegration of mind and body. The Sims might be expensive but they’re also expendable and this is just as well. The majority of the missions are little more than suicidal, with each soldier having to endure the memory, terror (and pain) of repeated violent death. This is not a job for everyone but Conrad Harris does it better than anyone, leading his Lazarus Legion of two men and two women who fight to die, time after time.

The Lazarus War: Legion is set a few months after the shocking events of Artefact, the first novel in Jamie Sawyer’s fast and furious military SF trilogy. Artefact is an excellent book and it pays to have read it first but Legion, despite being the ‘middle book’, does a fine job of standing on its own two feet. Nothing in the review here should spoil your pleasure in either novel.

The war between the Alliance and the Directorate, which left much of Earth covered in a cloud and dusting of radioactive fallout, paused when Earth and its colonies in space discovered a far greater, alien threat of the monstrous Krell. But sometimes humans just cannot stop themselves and now tension between the two factions is worse than ever. Even the new knowledge of another alien presence in the Galaxy, the Shard, hasn’t helped. Shard artefacts are now being discovered and humans and the Krell compete fiercely for them, turning them into deadly objects that only Sims can dare to approach.

A new artefact has been discovered deep in Krell space and Legion presents the grand mission of the Colossus to discover its purpose. Aboard is the Lazarus Legion and other Sim Obs units and what they must endure is beyond all reckoning. Legion is a fast, fun and furious read. The pages accelerate through the fingers as we follow Harris and his team on one lethal expedition after another into a deeply mysterious artefact, positioned on the edge of a remarkable anomaly in space.

I love the way that Jamie Sawyer combines the thrill of the military action with the mystery of the artefact and the camaraderie of the team. I’m not a big reader of military science fiction on the whole as it can feel a bit two-dimensional to me but this series has a lot going for it. I really enjoy the character of Conrad Harris and here we learn more about him with flashbacks from his childhood in a war-torn city on a depressed Earth. For much of the latter part of this novel there’s a sense that he might be losing his sanity and I like how this is handled with just the right amount of confusion for the reader. His Legion and their interaction reminds me a little of the team in the Expanse novels, and that is no bad thing at all. The tension and atmosphere of their missions is so well done, thrillingly exciting.

The setting and context for the Lazarus War series are fabulous! Here we have mysterious artefacts that hint at strange alien species that we can only guess at, a galaxy of fascinating star systems marauded by revolting alien monsters, intriguing techologies, and star ships and space stations which have wonders outside their enormous windows. Striding through it all is Lazarus and his team as well a bunch of other characters, some good, some less good, and others which are not at all as they seem.

The ending of Legion sets us up perfectly for the concluding The Lazarus War: Origins, which is published in August. So little time! I do love a trilogy that doesn’t keep me waiting. I'm grateful for the review copy.

Daisy in Chains
Daisy in Chains
by Sharon Bolton
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £8.00

5.0 out of 5 stars Some genuine jaw-dropping, blinking wildly and heart pumping moments, 5 July 2016
This review is from: Daisy in Chains (Hardcover)
Maggie Rose is reclusive, living a quiet life on the Somerset coast. She is also very well known as a lawyer and author of true crime. Her speciality is in defending the indefensible and to date she has fought successful campaigns for several convicted killers, responsible for their freedom and release back into the community. Hamish Wolfe is locked away on the Isle of Wight, convicted for the murder of three women. He is a handsome, charismatic man and his convictions have done nothing to stop the flow of fan mail to his cell, on the contrary. Hamish maintains his innocence. He persistently writes to Maggie Rose, asking for her help.

Hamish has many defenders on the outside, including his mother Sandra, and Maggie becomes their focus. Almost against her will, Maggie becomes interested, even more so as she digs into Hamish’s history, learning more about the three women he is accused of killing – three fat women. But, as Maggie becomes increasingly intrigued, will she be able to resist the charms of Hamish especially when they must meet face to face? Meanwhile, Detective Pete Weston follows developments very closely. He has good reason. Pete is the police officer responsible for Hamish’s conviction.

Sharon Bolton is one of those authors whose novels I have to read as soon as I can. The writing is always superb but so too is the quality of the mystery and the insight into the characters. Daisy in Chains is a stand alone novel and it bewitches from the opening pages, which immediately place Maggie in peril and set the atmosphere, and the pace, for the rest of the novel. Its grip is relentless. But it’s not just Maggie who fascinates, Hamish, too, is quite a character. Maggie has to decide how far she is prepared to fall for him – the reader must ask the same question of themselves. One of my favourite characters in the book, though, is Pete Weston. I loved how he develops through the novel, somehow pulling all of its many complicated strands together.

Daisy in Chains also boasts big themes, notably the way in which men and women perceive themselves and the prejudice that they face from society if they don’t fit or, alternatively, the rewards that they receive if they do. The victims of the killer were all large. This leads to awkward questions and at times the novel makes painful reading. It is very well done indeed. The novel also includes numerous extracts from letters, newspaper articles and other sources, including the draft of Maggie’s true crime account of the case, knowingly entitled ‘The Big, Bad Wolfe’.

Daisy in Chains contains some genuine jaw-dropping, blinking wildly and heart pumping moments. And, as you’d expect from Sharon Bolton, it is perfectly written as well. Crime thriller of the year? Definitely a contender. Bravo! I'm grateful for the review copy.

Distress Signals: An Incredibly Gripping Psychological Thriller with a Twist You Won't See Coming
Distress Signals: An Incredibly Gripping Psychological Thriller with a Twist You Won't See Coming
by Catherine Ryan Howard
Edition: Paperback
Price: £12.08

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars This book did not want me to put it down at all. Such a gripping, well-written mystery, 5 July 2016
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It’s taken long enough but at last Hollywood has shown interest in one of Adam Dunne’s screenplays. But that was a draft and now Adam has left himself only a week to submit the polished version. His girlfriend Sarah is off to Barcelona for a conference for a few days. As he drops her off at the airport (in Cork, Ireland), Sarah tells him that she’ll hold off calling him, giving him the chance to finish the manuscript. She’s true to her word, after a text to let him know that she’s landed and in her hotel, Adam doesn’t hear from her again. Ever.

Adam and Sarah’s parents become increasingly worried, especially when Sarah’s work tells them that there was no conference. Her best friend also looks like someone with something to hide. And then Sarah’s passport arrives in the post, with the briefest of notes in Sarah’s handwriting. Looking in to it, trying to get the police to help, Adam discovers that this isn’t the first time this kind of thing has happened. Another woman, Estelle, disappeared some months before on the cruise ship Celebrate. When Adam finds an unexpected connection between Sarah and the ship, he knows where he must head next. His anxious literary agent is going to have to wait.

I’d heard some great things about Distress Signals and I couldn’t wait to read it. It did not disappoint. And this was a big relief because I’ve found psychological thrillers extremely hit or miss over the last year. Distress Signals is one of the standout hits. The books grips from the very first disturbing, exhilarating chapter, with the tension built in expert stages as we follow Adam’s increasingly worried investigation into Sarah’s disappearance. Sarah inevitably remains something of an enigma but we learn more and more about Adam as he too is forced to face some uncomfortable home truths. The police investigation doesn’t help as they constantly remind him that grown adults can quite often simply walk away. If there’s a crime, Adam is going to have to prove it.

The scenes on the ship are so well done. This is a cruise from hell for Adam and I can’t say that it inspired me to buy a ticket any more than Sarah Lotz’s Day Four did. The confined and isolated location, the infinite blackness of the surrounding ocean, the secrets hidden in cabins, the inside knowledge of the crew, all of this adds up to the perfect setting for a crime novel. It certainly adds to the mood of menace.

The novel doesn’t just focus on Adam, there are two other narrative lines, one of which presents an extraordinary portrait of a killer. I thought this was brilliantly done. It’s not often I’ve been made to care for a killer, or to understand their way of thinking. This does that very well indeed. I did guess the end a little in advance but otherwise I found Distress Signals to be one of the most enjoyable crime thrillers I’ve read so far this year, not least for the author’s style and voice.

One thing I must say, though, is that I really, really don’t like that the book is subtitled on some sites with ‘An Incredibly Gripping Psychological Thriller with a Twist You Won’t See Coming’. This is totally unnecessary and does a very good book a disservice. Distress Signals should not be read for twists, they’re not its purpose nor the reason for its excellence. Also, I did see the twist coming so it’s also not accurate. And the fact that I did, didn’t matter at all. Catherine Ryan Howard is a fine writer and it’s hard to believe that Distress Signals is a debut novel – it is so confident and assured and I can’t wait to see what comes next.

The Fireman
The Fireman
by Joe Hill
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £13.60

5.0 out of 5 stars One of my most anticipated reads of 2016 and it did not disappoint - truly epic and unforgettable, 5 July 2016
This review is from: The Fireman (Hardcover)
Harper Grayson used to be a school nurse in Concord, Massachusetts, and it was there, just outside the school, that she saw a man spontaneously burst into flames and burn to death. Harper had much to do, calming the hysterical children and their teachers, all herded into the gym, hiding from the sight. But, looking back, those were the normal days. Far too soon others from the school would themselves burn, leading to the school’s closure, the movement of many of the population to the local hospital and everywhere the smell of burnt human flesh. The hospital itself, houses, towns, all catching fire from their inhabitants, society reduced to ashes.

Harper isn’t immune. One day she finds on herself the beautiful golden trail of the fiery virus known as the Dragonscale. Her husband turns against her, one of the many determined to destroy the carriers of the disease as the world goes mad. She has no choice but to flee, following the promise offered by the Fireman and others like him who appear to be able to control the Dragonscale, using the power of the Bright to rise above the elements of nature in the most extraordinary of ways.

The Fireman is without doubt a remarkable novel. It is epic and monumental in size, theme and wonder. In some ways it reads as a homage to The Stand by Stephen King (Joe Hill’s father). The Stand is one of my favourite novels of all time and reading The Fireman filled me with the same feelings – horror at the affliction scouring mankind but also wonder at the potential meaning of this apocalypse and its transformation of its victims and survivors into something else, the growth of new religion. Both feature journeys, a quest, damnation and hope, character types, but The Fireman stands tall as a fantastic achievement in its own right, moving the story on to the present day, filling it with so many fabulous pop culture references, bringing us the stories of unforgettable men, women and children, as they cope with the dread that at any moment they too will burn.

Here we have a grand battle of good versus evil – the forces against take on a demonic character and there is something holy and beautiful in the Dragonscale that glistens across the skin of the infected. But the nature of the Dragonscale itself is deeply enigmatic and ambiguous. Its place at the centre of a new spirituality is hardly surprising but is it, or the people who live with the Bright, to be trusted? And what is the alternative?

The Fireman is a large book but you hardly notice the pages turning and you certainly wouldn’t want to rush it. There are moments of extreme and violent action, fought by real people, there are other passages that are so evocative, memorable and beautifully written, with characters to match. There are also jawdropping moments. It’s the most atmospheric read I’ve had in a long time. When I think of The Fireman now, I feel wrapped in that atmosphere still. It’s not an easy book to review, it contains so much, not least the extraordinary, wonderful figure of Harper Grayson who will stay with me for such a long time. So, instead of rambling on, I would urge you to read The Fireman and let it carry you away. I'm grateful for the review copy.

The Murder Road (Cooper and Fry)
The Murder Road (Cooper and Fry)
by Stephen Booth
Edition: Paperback
Price: £4.00

5.0 out of 5 stars Loved this! A fantastic setting, great characters, intriguing mystery, 5 July 2016
When Mac Kelsey got his lorry wedged under a low country bridge, having been misdirected by his satnav, he might have thought that his delivery run of animal feed could get no worse. He would have been wrong. Afterwards, locals cross at being trapped either in or outside of this little hamlet, discover a mystery – the lorry is empty, the driver is gone, only a trail of blood to indicate he was ever there at all.

DI Ben Cooper is given the task of investigating Kelsey’s disappearance, becoming increasingly sure that at least one of the inhabitants of this tiny Peak District village of Shawhead knows more than they’re letting on. With the road blocked to allow forensic officers to do their work, the mood becomes ever more claustrophobic, angry and suspicious. These households might live on top of each other almost but it’s clear that little love is lost between most of them and the police officers certainly don’t see them at their best. It’s also entirely possible that the police don’t see some of them at all – these houses and farms have a lot of land. There are so many places to hide. So many secrets.

The Murder Road is, I’m ashamed to admit, the first novel by Stephen Booth that I’ve read, even though this is the fifteenth book in the Cooper and Fry series. I couldn’t resist the sound of it – the Peak District location, the limited number of suspects, the conundrum of Mac Kelsey, the potential link between this and other accidents on these otherwise quiet and peaceful roads. I fell for Ben Cooper immediately. I was a little surprised to find that DS Diane Fry, his colleague in the series title, features barely at all and now works in Nottingham. But what we do see of her makes me keen to know more. In fact all of this book does, which is why I went out straight away and bought five more.

I love Stephen Booth’s writing. The Peak District setting, the area around the town of New Mills in this case (a town that used to feature on long walks when I was a youngster) is so well evoked, capturing the beauty of this part of the world while also hinting that life there isn’t always easy. It’s the perfect location for murder, after all.

The cast of characters is also brilliantly done, as we move from one suspect to another and back again. The interplay between Cooper and the new ex-city DS Dev Sharma also works well, especially as the ripples of this appointment are felt by everybody in the team and Cooper himself has only just been promoted. There’s a lot of shifting going on as the ground settles.

I am mystified as to why this series has passed me by. It has everything I want from a crime series – great writing, atmospheric well-drawn locations, intriguing characters (both suspect and police) and a thoroughly satisfying mystery. I am now hooked and can’t wait to catch up on the older books in the series while also diving into the next, Secrets of Death, which, I’m thrilled to say, has just arrived to review! I love it when I discover a new author for my favourite shelf, even if I have been rather slow on the uptake.

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