Survivors – GX Todd

There are two kinds of people in this world. Those who hear voices, and those who want to silence them.

Pilgrim is a man with a past he can’t remember. When he wakes alone in a shallow grave, there is a voice in his head that doesn’t belong to him. It explains who he is and what he’s done. It tells him he has one purpose: to find a girl named Lacey.

As Pilgrim is drawn north to Missouri in search of Lacey, he must also travel back to where it all began – to those he left behind. War is coming, and Pilgrim is going to need all the allies he can get.

So here we are. Book #3 of The Voices, following on from Defender and Hunted, both of which made my Books of the Year for 2017 and 2018. A high bar has been set.

Survivors just smashed it. The first two books are brilliant, but in this, Todd has taken it to the next level. Hard to say too much without giving too much away – if you’ve read the first two then you’ll need absolutely no nudging from me to pick up this instalment.

If you haven’t read Defender or Hunted, then get yourself to a bookshop immediately, clear a weekend, stock up on tea and biscuits and settle down for what one book reviewer said about them:

It’s dark and brutal, and definitely not for the faint-hearted, but if you give it a chance, it’ll grab you by the hand and take you on a dust-soaked ride across the wilderness to some places you’ll not soon forget.

(ok, it was me)

Survivors takes us back in time to before the Voices, and we get to know a little more about how the world came to be in the state we find it in Defender. We also find out a lot more about the mysterious Pilgrim, and it was fascinating to learn his backstory.

As with the first two books, Todd’s worldbuilding is just superb, rich and gloriously imagined. I read Survivors on a road trip in the US over the summer, and couldn’t think of a more appropriate setting. Todd also does characters really *really* well, and despite the relative heft of this book, you find yourself lost in the pages, only emerging blinking into the daylight after the final page.

Book four just cannot come soon enough. Easily one of my favourite series of books, ever.

Survivors by G.X. Todd is published by Headline on 31st October 2019. Huge thanks to Caitlin Raynor and Headline for the review copy.

Doing Time – Jodi Taylor

At some time in the future, the secret of time-travel became available to all. Chaos ensued as people sought to take advantage. Because there will always be nutters who want to change history…

And so the Time Police were formed. Internationally sanctioned thugs whose task it was to keep the timeline straight by any and all means possible. And they succeeded. The Time Wars are over. The Time Police won. But who will win the peace?

Doing Time follows three hapless new Time Police recruits – Jane, Luke and Matthew – as they try to navigate their first year on the beat. It’s all going to be fine. Obviously.

Doing Time is a spinoff from Jodi Taylor’s Chronicles of St Mary’s series. Now I’ve not read any of those, but judging by the hijinks on display here, I think I might have a few books to add to my ever-growing backlog!

I enjoyed this a lot – it’s a fun romp through time following the adventures of the three new recruits. The action comes thick and fast, and we’re whisked from Time Police HQ in the future back to ancient Egypt and pyramids, to the Romans and the Ides of March.

Our misfit heroes are put through the wringer a lot, faced with trying to gel as a team despite pressures from all sides, save the history of the world as they go, try not to get in the way too much, and prove to everyone that they *do* know what they’re doing. Well, mostly…

Whilst you can read Doing Time as a standalone, there are a lot of references to St. Mary’s peppered throughout the book and it’s definitely got me intrigued as to what goes on over there. That said, we get plenty of glimpses at the backstory of St Mary’s here to bring you up to speed. I think that if you’re already a fan, there’ll be a lot there to make you smile. I wondered whether I might have missed out on some of the in-jokes though!

Doing Time by Jodi Taylor is published by Headline in October 2019. Huge thanks to Headline and Anne Cater for inviting me to take part in the tour, and for the advance review copy.

Snakes and Ladders – Victoria Selman

One killer on the loose. Another setting the rules. A profiler caught in the middle.

A serial killer is terrorising London, removing a body part from each victim and leaving in its place a single pink rose.

Dr Vernon Sange, a multiple murderer awaiting extradition, seems to know the culprit’s identity—but he’ll only talk to profiler Ziba MacKenzie, the woman responsible for putting him away. Though there’s something he wants in return from her. And time is running out.

With one killer whispering in her ear and another running rings around the police, Ziba must play a game in which only her opponent knows the rules, and the forfeit is death.

I do love a good serial killer book, and Snakes and Ladders fits the bill. It’s the third in Victoria Selman’s Ziba MacKenzie series, following on from Blood for Blood (nominated for the 2017 Crime Writer’s Award Debut Dagger) and Nothing to Lose, but can easily be read as a standalone.

Ziba MacKenzie is an ace profiler with the FBI, called back to London to deal with imprisoned serial killer Dr Vernon Sange, who says he knows the identity of the PRK, a new murderer on the loose. Shades of Silence of the Lambs at work here then, but this is very much its own story, and a gripping one at that!

Ziba and the team are faced with a deadly countdown until the Pink Rose Killer strikes again. Can she elude Sange’s mind games and figure out the clues?

Loved it – raced through this book in no time. The action comes thick and fast, and I thought I was *so* clever and had figured things out early on, only to find out that Selman had been playing me much like Dr Sange plays Ziba throughout the book! Tricksy authors…

I’ve not read the first two books in the series, but on the strength of Snakes and Ladders, I will definitely be adding them to my reading list.

If you like a good psychological thriller, with strong characters and a great plot that’ll keep you guessing, then I can highly recommend this book.

Victoria Selman will be appearing at the November instalment of First Monday Crime on 4th November 2019. Get yourself a ticket!

Snakes and Ladders by Victoria Selman, book 3 in the Ziba MacKenzie series, is published by Thomas & Mercer on 21st November 2019. Huge thanks to Victoria for the advance copy of her book to review.

After graduating from Oxford University, Victoria Selman studied Creative Writing at the City Lit and wrote for the Ham & High and Daily Express newspapers. In 2013 she won the Full Stop Short Story Prize, and her first novel, Blood for Blood, was shortlisted for the 2017 Debut Dagger Award. Victoria lives in London with her husband and two sons.

Little Siberia – Antti Tuomainen

A man with dark thoughts on his mind is racing along the remote snowy roads of Hurmevaara in Finland, when there is a flash in the sky and something crashes into the car. That something turns about to be a highly valuable meteorite. With euro signs lighting up the eyes of the locals, the unexpected treasure is temporarily placed in a neighbourhood museum, under the watchful eye of a priest named Joel.

But Joel has a lot more on his mind than simply protecting the riches that have apparently rained down from heaven. His wife has just revealed that she is pregnant. Unfortunately Joel has strong reason to think the baby isn’t his. As Joel tries to fend off repeated and bungled attempts to steal the meteorite, he must also come to terms with his own situation, and discover who the father of the baby really is.

Regular readers of this blog will know that I am a huge fan of Antti Tuomainen’s books. From 2017’s The Man Who Died and its Fargo-esque story of a poisoned man looking for his killer, to Palm Beach Finland‘s heady neon cocktail of Miami Vice, with a dash of Baywatch and a beach umbrella to top it off. Huge fun, black comedy at its best.

So, we’ve had #MushroomNoir and #FlamingoNoir. What flavour of Noir will Mr Tuomainen serve up next?

Well, it seems that this time round we’ve got #MeteoriteNoir. A small but very valuable meteorite crashes through the roof of a car on a dark, snowy night and changes the fortunes not only of the driver, but of the entire village. Because someone is out to make their fortune from the hunk of space rock, whatever the cost.

Told with Tuomainen’s signature wit, Little Siberia is another slice of brilliance from the King of Helsinki Noir. He’s got a lovely flair for character, and the inhabitants of Hurmevaara are a motley bunch, beautifully drawn. But characters alone cannot make a story, so we have a splendidly twisty black comedy to tie everything together.

And what a comedy of errors it is. It seems that most of the village is after the meteorite, with only Joel, the hapless town priest, setting his mind to make sure it’s safe until it can be moved on. He’s got his work cut out for him and it’s a sheer joy watching the plans within plans play out over the course of the book.

I loved The Man Who Died and Palm Beach Finland, but Little Siberia might just have pipped them both to be my new favourite of Antti Tuomainen’s books.

As ever, I can’t wait to see what he comes up with next.

Hugely recommended.

Little Siberia by Antti Tuomainen is published by Orenda Books on 17th October 2019. Huge thanks to Karen Sullivan at Orenda Books and Anne Cater for inviting me onto the blog tour.

Huge props, as ever, to David Hackston for the excellent translation work.

You can find Antti Tuomainen (and his fabulous shirts) on Twitter @Antti_Tuomainen

Snare – Lilja Sigurðardóttir

That cover. oof. So good.

After a messy divorce, attractive young mother Sonja is struggling to provide for herself and keep custody of her son. With her back to the wall, she resorts to smuggling cocaine into Iceland, and finds herself caught up in a ruthless criminal world. As she desperately looks for a way out of trouble, she must pit her wits against her nemesis, Bragi, a customs officer, whose years of experience frustrate her new and evermore daring strategies. Things become even more complicated when Sonja embarks on a relationship with a woman, Agla. Once a high-level bank executive, Agla is currently being prosecuted in the aftermath of the Icelandic financial crash. 

So, I’m late to the party. Lilja Sigurðardóttir’s third book in her Reykjavik Noir trilogy, Cage, has just been published, and here’s me not having read any of them.

Until today, that is. I practically inhaled book 1, Snare, over the course of an afternoon, and promptly kicked myself for missing out. At least I don’t have to wait for books 2 and 3, I suppose!

Snare follows three strands: Sonja, drug smuggler snared in a spiralling series of ever more dangerous strategies to get cocaine into Iceland. Agla, high-level bank executive under investigation following suspicious activity in the banking crash, and Sonja’s lover. Rounding off the trio we have the relentless Bragi, a customs officer determined to crack down on the drug smuggling through his airport.

I must admit that I found Sonja and Bragi’s stories more interesting than the seemingly drier financial investigations into Agla’s past, but it’ll be interesting to see how that plays out in the later books.

Sigurðardóttir has crafted an elaborate game of cat and mouse with Snare, though it’s not always clear who’s the cat and who’s the mouse. I’ve got a huge soft spot for a good twisty tale, and loved this one – from the brilliant characters to the Icelandic setting (huge thanks for the pronunciation guide!), I just couldn’t put it down. Right, now onto book 2!

Recommended.

Snare by Lilja Sigurðardóttir is published by Orenda Books. Translated by Quentin Bates (@graskeggur). Huge thanks as ever to Karen at Orenda for the review copy.

You can find Lilja Sigurðardóttir on twitter at @Lilja1972 or at her website http://www.liljawriter.com/

Nothing Important Happened Today – Will Carver

Nine suicides. One cult. No leader.

Nine people arrive one night on Chelsea Bridge. They’ve never met. But, at the same time, they leap to their deaths. Each of them received a letter in the post that morning, a pre-written suicide note, and a page containing only four words: Nothing important happened today.

That is how they knew they had been chosen to become a part of The People of Choice: a mysterious suicide cult whose members have no knowledge of one another. Thirty-two people on a train witness the event. Two of them will be next. By the morning, People of Choice are appearing around the globe. It becomes a movement. A social-media page that has lain dormant for four years suddenly has thousands of followers. The police are under pressure to find a link between the cult members, to locate a leader that does not seem to exist.

But how do you stop a cult when people do not know they are members?

Nothing Important Happened Today is, in a word, extraordinary.

Another word you might choose would be ‘dark’. And hoo boy, is it dark. I thought that Will Carver’s previous book, Good Samaritans was dark (and it most definitely is), but that’s like a little ray of sunshine on a bright spring morning compared with this, Carver’s latest. It’s like nothing I’ve ever read before. And I read a *lot*.

Trigger warnings – if you hadn’t guessed from the synopsis above, Nothing Important Happened Today deals with suicide. And lots of it. And up close and very visceral in places. Very much not for the faint-hearted.

So, nine people who have never met turn up at the same moment on the same day on the same bridge, and jump to their death. No-one falters. No-one has second thoughts. Yet they all jump as one.

What follows is an absolutely fascinating tale of how they got there, interspersed with perfect miniature portraits of each of the nine, and the others who follow.

It’s Carver’s ability to craft such intimate pictures of their lives is what gives this story such an emotional punch, and it’ll leave you reeling. The pace is breakneck, leaving you absolutely no room to recover. I devoured this in a day.

Good Samaritans showed Carver as an author to watch. Nothing Important Happened Today cements that as an author to watch very very carefully. He’s one of a kind, and part of me is kind of glad. I’m not sure I could handle more than one of him.

Nothing Important Happened Today by Will Carver is published by Orenda Books in November 2019

Many thanks to Karen Sullivan at Orenda Books for the advance copy of Will Carver’s book for review.

The Black Hawks – David Wragg

Delighted to be taking part in the blog tour for David Wragg’s The Black Hawks. More about the book later – first, a guest post!


Where did the Black Hawks come from?

Or “Whence came the Black Hawks?” if you like your titles pithy but archaic

Minor spoilers ahead, but if you’ve already read the blurb there shouldn’t be anything too destabilising

History

History was one of my favourite subjects at school. It’s no secret that you don’t have to look far with many works of fantasy to see their historical inspirations (cough Wars of the Roses cough), and I’m no great exception to the rule – no matter what horrors you can imagine, there’s always some historical bastard who got there first, often with considerably more enthusiasm. The period that most fascinated me was the Italian Wars of the 15th and 16th Centuries, featuring treachery, intrigue, mercenary companies and wars by proxy, shocking assassinations and an overmighty church intent on carving out its own territorial legacy. Astute readers may be able to draw some parallels in the book.

Classic Fantasy

I grew up immersed in Classic Quest Fantasy, from the Hobbit onwards, and internalised much of what I read as How Things Should Be Done. There should always be a journey, and a rag-tag band coming together to save the day from a terrible threat. Against that, however, we must balance…

My spiteful nature

I’m a contrary sod, and have an alarming tendency to do the opposite of what’s expected of me, simply because. The Black Hawks is the first of a two-part story (the Articles of Faith series) – a bilogy, not a trilogy, as my agent has begged me to stop calling it. I planned it as two instead of three just to be different. Many of the book’s events and characters are likewise a reaction to my much-loved fantasy tropes, starting with…

The also-rans

Fantasy has a tendency to put heroes front and centre (especially Heroic Fantasy, for some reason), from common-or-garden chosen ones to the Greatest Warrior Who Ever Lived to the Last Scion of the Bloodline and so forth. I thought it would be satisfying to focus more on those at the sharp end, who are just trying to scrape a living together while a fantasy plot-line rages on in the background. What might happen, for example, if you or I found ourselves caught up in the whirlwind of your standard fantastical intrigue?

Well, we’d almost certainly die immediately, so I had to take a few liberties with the story.

Personal experience

It’s not a huge spoiler to say Chel, the main character in the book, gets hurt.

A lot.

As well as a genre fiction, I’ve enjoyed a bounty of chronic pain in various forms since my teens. I thought it might be nice to share some of that day-to-day unpleasantness with my protagonist.

(Hell is) Other people

I’m old enough to have had a lot of jobs and worked on many projects, and in every one of them it’s been the people alongside me who have made or wrecked the experience. It’s possible to perform horrible, mindless drudgery and still look forward to a day of glorious chat with brilliant colleagues; conversely, a shower of dreadful bastards can swiftly torpedo the dreamiest posting. Given the chance, I’d assemble my own mercenary crew in a heartbeat. But you don’t often get to pick your colleagues – and nor do my characters.

This modern world

The book, and its sequel, contain a few more modern parallels than I’d first intended. Some will be obvious, some more subtle, but it shows we can’t help being influenced by our creative climate. Black Hawks 1 was first drafted in 2015 in relative peace (then revised many times since), but book 2 was written in the chaos of 2016. You can see what you make of it next year.

The Black Hawks are unleashed on 3rd October.

The Black Hawks by David Wragg is published by HarperVoyager. Many thanks to David Wragg for the guest post, and to the publisher for the copy of David’s book for review. You can find David Wragg on twitter at @itsdavewragg, or at his website https://www.davewragg.com/

Life as a knight is not what Vedren Chel imagined. Bound by oath to a dead-end job in the service of a lazy step-uncle, Chel no longer dreams of glory – he dreams of going home.

When invaders throw the kingdom into turmoil, Chel finds opportunity in the chaos: if he escorts a stranded prince to safety, Chel will be released from his oath.

All he has to do is drag the brat from one side of the country to the other, through war and wilderness, chased all the way by ruthless assassins.

With killers on your trail, you need killers watching your back. You need the Black Hawk Company – mercenaries, fighters without equal, a squabbling, scrapping pack of rogues. Prepare to join the Black Hawks.