A Wanted Man – Rob Parker

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Ben Bracken, ex-soldier, has just got out of Strangeways. Not by the front door.

With him, he has his ‘insurance policy’ – a bag of evidence that will guarantee his freedom, provided he can keep it safe.

Rejected by the army, disowned by his father, and any hopes of parenthood long since shattered, Ben has no anchors in his life. No one to keep him steady. No one to stop his cause…

The plan: to wreak justice on the man who had put him in prison in the first place, a ruthless mob boss who heads a powerful crime syndicate.

Loved it. There, that’s the review.

More?

Ok, fine. A Wanted Man is a fast-paced thriller set in and around Manchester, featuring ex-soldier and really fresh ex-con Ben Bracken. Who has just escaped from Strangeways, and has a score to settle.

The book kicks off with a bang, and doesn’t let go until the very end. Parker’s writing is sharp and snappy, his plot taut as a wire and somehow manages to ratchet up the tension consistently from the off. Ben Bracken is a great character and worthy addition to the genre, and whilst I’m late to the party (sorry Rob), it does mean I’ve got a new series to dive into.

I bought this book late the other evening and polished off two-thirds of it in one sitting, getting up early to finish it off the following morning. Proper definition of page turner.

I am very much looking forward to finding out what happens next. Highly recommended.

A Wanted Man by Rob Parker is out now.

Buy a copy from bookshop.org (affliate link)

Brothers in Blood – Amer Anwar

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A Sikh girl on the run. A Muslim ex-con who has to find her. A whole heap of trouble. 

Southall, West London. After being released from prison, Zaq Khan is lucky to land a dead-end job at a builders’ yard. All he wants to do is keep his head down and put the past behind him.

But when Zaq is forced to search for his boss’s runaway daughter, he quickly finds himself caught up in a deadly web of deception, murder and revenge. 

With time running out and pressure mounting, can he find the missing girl before it’s too late? And if he does, can he keep her – and himself – alive long enough to deal with the people who want them both dead?

I was at a virtual book event earlier this week (the fantastic London Calling – featuring Amer Anwar along with Rod Reynolds and Joy Kluver). Amer was there to talk about his new book, Stone Cold Trouble. I suddenly realised that whilst I’d been following Amer on twitter for ages, I hadn’t read his first book, Brothers In Blood.

That was quickly rectified, and immediately after the event I sat down to read.

Brothers in Blood won the CWA Debut Dagger a couple of years ago, and it’s easy to see why. This is a brilliant crime thriller, and I rattled through it over the course of that evening and the next, grabbing every spare few minutes to read another chapter.

Former prisoner Zaq Khan is working in a builders’ yard in Southall in London when his boss gives him a job. His daughter Rita has gone missing, and Zaq is given the task of tracking her down, or face prison once more. It’s a seemingly impossible task – all he’s got to go on is a photo and a list of names. And her brothers who seem almost more desperate to get her back than her father does.

I love a good crime book, and Brothers In Blood is a cut above. What really lifts it is the dynamic between Zaq and his mate Jags – these two just bounce off the page with their easy friendship, not afraid to take the piss out of each other for any and everything. It’s this lightness sprinkled through the book that gives a sharp contrast to the dark underbelly of the story, and boy does it get pretty gruesome in places.

As regular readers of this blog know, I really like a book with a great sense of place, and Brothers In Blood definitely has that as we follow Zaq and Jags around Southall and west London on the hunt for Rita, whilst trying to avoid her dangerous brothers and a few ghosts from Zaq’s past.

Just superb. And the great thing about coming to the book late is that I don’t have long to wait for book two. Result!

Hugely recommended. Go treat yourself to a copy.

Brothers In Blood by Amer Anwar is published by Dialogue Books.

You can get a copy via bookshop.org (affiliate link)

The Dark Archive – Genevieve Cogman

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A mysterious archive. A powerful enemy. And a cunning plan.

Danger is part of the day job for a Librarian spy. So Irene’s hoping for a relaxing weekend. However, her jaunt to Guernsey proves no such thing. Instead of retrieving a rare book, she’s almost assassinated, Kai is poisoned and Vale barely escapes with his life. Then the attacks continue in London – targeting those connected with the Fae-dragon peace treaty.

Irene knows she must stop the plot before the treaty fails. Or someone dies. But when Irene and friends are trapped underground, in a secret archive, things don’t look so good. Then an old enemy demands vengeance, and a shocking secret is revealed. Can Irene really seize victory from chaos?

The Dark Archive sees the welcome return of our favourite librarian spy, her dragon companion and the great detective. Oh, and a new Fae apprentice. It’s book seven in the series, so regular readers know what they’re letting themselves in for – adventure, hijinks, magical libraries (the best kind) and a spot of peril.

Oh, so much peril.

Shouts came from behind them. Irene knew that symphony; it started with There they are and continued on to Stop them, with occasional gunshot obbligato.

If you’ve not come across these books before, book seven is probably the wrong place to start (ok, it’s definitely the wrong place to start) as there’s a lot going on here which requires the reader to be up to speed on the current state of play.

But you’ve read all the others, haven’t you? (if not, why on earth not? Get thee to a bookshop/library if you can).

Still here? Right. The action starts with Irene and Vale off to get their hands on a rare book (of course). This does not go smoothly, and someone tries (unsuccessfully, thank goodness) to blow them up. The game, as another famous detective would say, is afoot.

Reader, as you may have guessed, I’m a huge fan of these books. And gladly spent a couple of hours in the company of the gang as they face a variety of terrors – remote-controlled zombies, poisonings, some very unexpected foes, a secret underground hospital, a visit to a grand exhibition, and some very interesting revelations.

Just glorious fun. I’ve enjoyed all the books so far, but this is one of the best yet.

The Dark Archive by Genevieve Cogman is published by Pan and is out now. Many thanks to the publisher for the review copy.

Buy a copy from bookshop.org (affiliate link)

Music To Eat Cake By – Lev Parikian – book extract

Delighted to be asked to take part in the blog tour for Lev Parikian’s Music To Eat Cake By. I loved his first book, Into the Tangled Bank.

What if readers had the power to choose what their favourite author writes about? Conductor and birdwatcher Lev Parikian responds to his readers’ requests with this collection of witty, fascinating essays on music, birds, the art of the sandwich, and much more

Here’s an extract from the book


SOUP

Subject provided by Isabel Rogers

It was enough to make my heart sink. ‘What’s for lunch?’
‘Soup.’
Oh.

It wasn’t that I hated the taste. The soup might have contained things I would eat: chicken, peas, sweetcorn, potatoes, sometimes even pasta. But it was soup, so all bets were off. Honestly, what was the point of it? It wasn’t food, and it wasn’t a drink. If it didn’t have chips or chocolate or jelly* or sugar or clotted cream, did it count as food? Put Frosties with extra sugar and top-of-the-milk in front of me and I’d eat three bowls; call it ‘cereal soup’ and I’d vomit. I was like Augustus Who Would Not Have Any Soup from Struwwelpeter – five days of soup and I would have died of starvation.

I gradually learned the trick. Soup was a vehicle for toast, and nothing was better than toast. Except butter. And that came with toast. So soup meant I could have toast and butter. I even learned to appreciate the heady pleasure of dunking toast into soup. That way it was like messy jam saturating the toast, and I could accept that. The other advantage of toast with soup was that I didn’t come away from a meal immediately wanting another one.

If this sounds like the confessions of an unadventurous eater, then that’s about right. Family legend holds that until the age of thirteen I ate nothing but hard-boiled eggs and Grape-Nuts, but I know that can’t be right, because I’m sure I had a packet of Rolos most days from 1972 onwards.

When did the breakthrough come? At what point did I transition from non-souper to souper? I don’t remember a Damascene moment, no ‘Holy wow, why didn’t you tell me about THIS?’ It just happened, and before you could blink I was souping with the best of them. Perhaps my gateway soup was, like many people’s, the tin of Heinz Cream of Tomato – sweet, bland, comforting; or maybe, fancying myself a foodie in my early twenties, I sneered at tins and found the fledgling Covent Garden Soup Company, with their upmarket cartons and adventurous combinations more appealing to my snobbish taste buds (this was the late 1980s – nouvelle cuisine had infiltrated the consciousness of readers of the Independent, but putting carrot and coriander onto the supermarket shelves was very much pushing the outer limits of exoticism). It wasn’t ‘proper’ cooking, but, for no good reason I can think of, opening a carton somehow felt closer to it than opening a tin – more grown-up, less bedsit-y.

If I don’t remember the exact moment of enlightenment, I do remember the first soup I made by myself. It was a French onion soup, by far the most ambitious thing the twenty-three-year-old me had ever cooked. I’d decided, with no basis in fact, that I was a foodie, and this meant I should be able to cook the fancy stuff you might normally find in top restaurants. The palaver of the making of this soup cannot be overstated. It took me about a day and a half.

It was, predictably, awful – a honking atrocity of a soup, an insult to both recipe-writer and guests, whose silence as they forced it down was testament to its inadequacy.

The broth was insipid, lacking depth or flavour, its resemblance to dishwater more than superficial; the bread, intended to offer a layer of contrasting texture to a rich and deeply flavoured liquid, was like the grubby washing-up sponge in the bowl; the cheese – stringy, pointless, dismal – added nothing to a dish already wallowing in a quag* of its own ghastliness. It was an offering entirely lacking any of the qualities that might have made it palatable.

I haven’t made it since.


Music To Eat Cake By, by Lev Parikian is published by Unbound, and is out now. Many thanks to Anne Cater from Random Things Tours for inviting me to take part in the blog tour.

Buy Lev’s books via Bookshop.org (affiliate link – it won’t cost you any extra)

Music To Eat Cake By

Into The Tangled Bank

Lev Parikian is a writer, conductor and hopeless birdwatcher. His first book,
Waving, Not Drowning, was published in 2013, and his second, Why Do Birds
Suddenly Disappear? followed in 2018. His numerous conducting credits include
the re-recording of the theme tune for Hancock’s Half Hour for Radio 4.

The Law of Innocence – Michael Connelly

Heading home after winning his latest case, defense attorney Mickey Haller – The Lincoln Lawyer – is pulled over by the police. They open the trunk of his car to find the body of a former client.

Haller knows the law inside out. He will be charged with murder. He will have to build his case from behind bars. And the trial will be the trial of his life. Because Mickey Haller will defend himself in court.

With watertight evidence stacked against him, Haller will need every trick in the book to prove he was framed.

But a not-guilty verdict isn’t enough. In order to truly walk free, Haller knows he must find the real killer – that is the law of innocence…

I’m a big fan of the Bosch tv show, but realised that I’ve never actually read the books. And it seems that Michael Connelly has written quite a few of them! The Law of Innocence is this sixth in his Mickey Haller Lincoln Lawyer series, and the 34th(!) in his Harry Bosch universe.

Seems like I’ve got a lot of catching up to do.

I really enjoyed The Law of Innocence. Defence lawyer Mickey Haller is heading home after a successful case when he’s pulled over by the police in an apparent routine traffic stop. And then they find a body in the trunk of his car. The body of a former client.

Mickey knows he didn’t do it, but the evidence is stacked firmly against him and he’ll have to defend himself from inside prison.

I do love a good courtroom drama, and Connelly clearly knows his stuff inside out and backwards. Haller’s task of defending himself seems insurmountable – a Not Guilty would still leave doubts, and ruin his professional career, so he needs to track down the actual killer, whilst stuck in prison.

Good job he’s got a great team on his side, including Harry Bosch himself. Loved the mix of detective work alongside the courtroom procedural, leaving you wanting to read just one more chapter.

Taut plotting, ingenious story and great characters elevate this above most that I’ve read, and I’ll be digging into the Bosch/Haller back catalogue as soon as I can!

The Law of Innocence by Michael Connelly is published by Orion on 10th November. Many thanks to Tracy Fenton of Compulsive Readers for inviting me on the blog tour, and to the publisher for an advance copy of Michael Connelly’s book to review.

One Way Street – Trevor Wood

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A series of bizarre drug-related deaths among runaway teenagers has set the North East’s homeless community on edge. 

The word on the street is that a rogue batch of Spice – the zombie drug sweeping the inner cities – is to blame, but when one of Jimmy’s few close friends is caught up in the carnage loyalty compels him to find out what’s really going on. 

One Way Street sees the welcome return of Jimmy Mullen, the homeless, PTSD-suffering, veteran as he attempts to rebuild his life following the events in The Man on the Street. 

As his probation officer constantly reminds him: all he needs to do is keep out of trouble. Sadly for him, trouble seems to have a habit of tracking Jimmy down.

A couple of weeks ago I read Trevor Wood’s first book, The Man On The Street. It had just won the CWA New Blood Dagger for best debut, I was between books, I found myself clicking ‘buy it now’ and before I knew it, I was hooked.

Last week I went along to the virtual launch of book 2, One Way Street in the excellent company of Rob Parker and Chris McGeorge and a host of other lovely bookish people via Zoom. I do quite like these virtual events, mainly because I get to go to more of them, but also because I was lucky enough to win a copy of Trevor’s book.

The first book was (and indeed is) brilliant, with a great cast of characters, set in my home town of Newcastle. I was intrigued to see what Trevor Wood would have in store this time, and reader, I was not disappointed.

There have been a series of drug-related deaths in the North East, runaway teenagers falling victim to a deadly batch of Spice. Before long, Jimmy and the gang find themselves investigating, and going down some very dark paths indeed.

It’s another great story, and kept me up far too late last night (or early this morning) finishing it. Jimmy Mullen is a great lead, with a different take on the regular investigative process. His PTSD episodes feel visceral, and add a real depth and complexity to his character.

But it’s the rest of the cast of characters that inhabit Jimmy’s world that really make these books pop – the inseparable Gadge and Deano. Dog -everyone loves Dog. And Sandy, Jimmy’s probation officer. I would *love* to see more of her in book three, she’s fabulous.

I don’t want to spoil the story of course, and think you’re better off going into this one fresh. Suffice it to say that Trevor Wood has been added to my list of authors to watch.

You should too. Cracking stuff, roll on book 3!

One Way Street by Trevor Wood is published by Quercus and is out now in ebook and audio. Many thanks to Trevor for the advance copy of his book. Opinions are, of course, my own.

Buy The Man On The Street and One Way Street at Amazon (affiliate links)

October round-up

It’s a new month, and thus time for a roundup of the books I’ve read last month.

Three non-fiction, one audiobook. Bit of a mix, this time! Taking my yearly total to 57 (I’ve read one this month already, so at 58 for the year).

First up, we had the fascinating Deep Fakes and the Infocalypse, by Nina Schick, which delves into how misinformation on a global scale is being used to affect democracy.

Sticking with the non-fiction theme, next up was Kate Humble’s A Year of Living Simply, which I really enjoyed, an ode to the life lived in a less complicated way. Review up soon.

Then we had Hard Time, by Jodi Taylor, book 2 in her Time Police series, another rollicking adventure up and down the time streams with our favourite Time Police recruits. 

I was tempted into renewing my Audible subscription this month as I had a long drive, and picked up Claire North’s The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August to keep me going. Huge fan of Claire North’s books, and have had this one recommended to me many times. Delightfully twisty, time jumping shenanigans. You’ve probably already read it, haven’t you? Most people I know seem to have!

Back to non-fiction for Do Photo by Andrew Paynter. This is the second of the ‘Do’ books I’ve read recently, and whilst I’ve found them both interesting and worth reading, they’ve both ended up being not quite what I expected. Here I was thinking it’d be more of a helpful guide to getting more out of photography, whereas it was more about Paynter’s approach. Which is fair enough, and as I say, an interesting read.

Book 6 of the month was The Law of Innocence, by Michael Connelly for the blog tour this month, so review later. It’s the first of Connelly’s books I’ve read, though it’s the 7th of his Mickey Haller books and the 34th in his Harry Bosch universe. Big fan of the Bosch tv series, and I enjoyed this a lot. A lawyer is locked up for a murder, and has to prove his innocence from behind bars. Good job he knows Harry Bosch, eh?

Last but by no means least, I read The Man On The Street, by Trevor Wood. Winner of the CWA John Creasey (New Blood) Dagger award at the CWA Awards, it’s a cracking read. I was between books whilst watching the awards, this popped up and I thought right, I fancy a bit of that. Set in my home town of Newcastle Upon Tyne, it follows homeless veteran Jimmy investigate a murder that no-one believes actually happened. Hugely recommended.


Book post this month:

Stuart Turton’s The Devil and the Dark Water – I’d been fortunate enough to get my hands on an advance copy, but had already ordered a signed edition from Waterstones back in January. Trouble is, I’d ordered it to come to the store in Leeds. Cue a masked trip to the shop to collect. It’s very lovely. Look at those edges!

The 99% Invisible City, by Roman Mars and Kurt Kohlstedt. Based on one of my favourite podcasts (99% Invisible), it looks at the hidden world of everyday design. Looks fascinating. Another ordering mishap here (bit of a month for it) as I ordered it so long ago my debit card expired by the time it came for the bookshop to charge me (or try and charge me) for it. Cue a fresh order, and a lovely new book.

Stratus, by Mark de Jager. Sent to my by my friend (and fabulous author herself) Liz de Jager (spot the link), this looks brilliant and is out at the end of November.

In the war-torn lands of Krandin, a kingdom fighting against the Worm King of the Penullin Empire and his dark magic, a stranger wakes, knowing only that his name is Stratus. He possesses great strength and magic, but only fractured memories of his past, and a growing certainty that he is not, in fact, human. As he explores this new world, disoriented, making few friends and many enemies, the battle for his mind will determine the fate of the world.

Then we have the intriguing 337 by M Jonathan Lee, from Hideaway Fall. Why Intriguing? Because you can start the book from either front or back, and indeed it’s hard to say which is which. Up on the blog soon…

Then we have Charles Stross’ Dead Lies Dreaming, which takes his world of The Laundry Files into a standalone story. Looks interesting!

Another book order this month was The Archive of the Forgotten by AJ Hackwith. LOVED the first book, The Library of the Unwritten, and excited to find out that there was a sequel. Which isn’t coming out in the UK until next year! Luckily the fabulous Portal Bookshop in York were able to get me a copy. Hurrah (support your local indie bookshops, folks. They’re awesome)

Nearly there, honest. Next parcel to arrive on the doormat was RJ Barker’s Call of the Bone Ships, sequel to his fabulous The Bone Ships. Further adventures of Lucky Meas and the Tide Child.

I’m not sure how I stumbled across Adventurous Ink, a book subscription service for outdoor-loving folk, but I’m glad I did. October’s book is Llama Drama by Anna McNuff, and I got to go to a fabulous zoom interview between Anna and Tim Frenneaux, founder of Adventurous Ink. Great fun, and I signed up immediately.

Lastly, an advance copy of Thirteen Storeys by Jonathan Sims, from the lovely folk at Gollancz.

A dinner party is held in the penthouse of a multimillion-pound development. All the guests are strangers – even to their host, the billionaire owner of the building. None of them know why they were selected to receive his invitation. Whether privileged or deprived, besides a postcode, they share only one thing in common – they’ve all experienced a shocking disturbance within the building’s walls. By the end of the night, their host is dead, and none of the guests ever said what happened. His death remains one of the biggest unsolved mysteries – until now.

So that’s my October. Have you read any of them? Any in particular take your fancy? Do let me know in the comments!

If you do like the look of any, you can pick them up via my list on bookshop.org – help support independent bookshops!

The Man on the Street – Trevor Wood

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When homeless veteran Jimmy thinks he witnesses a murder in Newcastle, the police refuse to believe him. He’s not quite sure he believes his own eyes. Then he sees missing persons posters matching the description of the man he saw killed, and he realises he wasn’t mistaken. But how do you catch a killer when nobody believes a murder has been committed?

Together Jimmy and the dead man’s daughter decide to take matters into their own hands and hunt down the murderer themselves. They soon realise it will be a far more dangerous task than they could ever imagine.

But Jimmy has one big advantage: when you’ve got nothing, you’ve got nothing to lose.

Recent winner of the CWA John Creasey (New Blood) Dagger award, Trevor Wood’s The Man On the Street had been on my radar for a while. Then it went and won an award, I was between books and before I knew what had happened, I found myself clicking ‘buy it now’ and a copy arrived on my Kindle.

Nowt like winning an award to boost sales! I polished the book off in two sittings, and it was easy to see why it won. In a market saturated with grizzled detectives (often with an interesting past and a quirk or two), having a homeless veteran as the lead felt distinctly fresh and immediately interesting.

But a story doesn’t live on a main character alone, and The Man On The Street has a great cast, and a fantastic location (ok, I might be biased as I’m from Newcastle orginally!). I loved following Jimmy around the city as he investigated the suspected murder. Newcastle has a very distinct feel and atmosphere to it, and Trevor Wood captures it brilliantly.

Jimmy Mullen is a great character too, with a real depth and complexity to him. A veteran of the Falklands War, his flashbacks to his time in the Navy are raw and often brutal. Indeed all the flashbacks to his life leading up to the time of the story just make you want to root for him all the more.

It’s a dark, gritty story which has a real authenticity to it. Do yourself a favour and pick up a copy now.

The Man on the Street by Trevor Wood is published by Quercus and is out now.

Image may contain: one or more people, text that says "CWA 2020 CWA DAGGERS WINNER CWA THE CWA JOHN CREASEY (NEW BLOOD) DAGGER what saw But him THE MAN ON THE STREET TREVOR WOOD TREVOR WOOD The Man on the Street #CWADAGGERS THECWA.CO.UK"

Get a copy (some of these are affiliate links – it won’t cost you any more but I might get a small amount if you purchase using these links)

Hard Time – Jodi Taylor

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Team Weird are back causing havoc in the Time Police in this irresistible spin-off series by international bestseller Jodi Taylor, author of The Chronicles of St Mary’s. If you love Doctor Who, Ben Aaronovitch and Jasper Fforde, you’ll love the Time Police.

A time slip in Versailles, problems in the Ice Age and illegal time travellers in need of rescue. Must be a job for the Time Police.

Luke, Jane and Matthew are back and ready to cause havoc – inadvertently or otherwise – in their latest adventures.

Following on from the adventures of Team Weird in the first book, Doing Time, we’re back with another rollicking adventure up and down the time streams with our favourite Time Police recruits. If you’ve read the first (and if not, why not?) then I heartily suggest that you do, then get yourself back for this, round two.

Doing Time and Hard Time are both spin-offs from Jodi Taylor’s hugely successful Chronicles of St Mary’s, which I still haven’t had a chance to read. Note to self: catch up!

Our lovable (if that’s the right word) misfits are thrust straight into the action to go and retrieve an illegal time tourist who has got lost in the past, who just happens to be Luke’s ex. Ooops. Before long, they’re hot on the trail of the criminals behind this new (and very very illegal) form of tourism.

Hijinks ensue. Boy, do they ensue.

As with the first book, this is a huge amount of fun (and boy, at 500+ pages, I’m not kidding about the huge bit). But even for such a big book it’s a quick read. The plot fairly rattles along, and we follow our heroes from 17th Century England, call in on Marie Antoinette, and even end up with the team in a *very* chilly spot.

Great fun. Grab yourself a copy and strap yourselves in for the ride!

Hard Time by Jodi Taylor is published by Headline, and is out now in hardback. Huge thanks to the publisher for an advance copy of Jodi Taylor’s book to review for the blog tour.

Deep Fakes and the Infocalypse – Nina Schick

It will soon be impossible to tell what is real and what is fake.

Recent advances in AI mean that by scanning images of a person (for example using Facebook), a powerful machine learning system can create new video images and place them in scenarios and situations which never actually happened. When combined with powerful voice AI, the results are utterly convincing.

So-called ‘Deep Fakes’ are not only a real threat for democracy but they take the manipulation of voters to new levels. They will also affect ordinary people. This crisis of misinformation we are facing has been dubbed the ‘Infocalypse’.

Deep Fakes and the Infocalypse looks at the recent advances in AI how the use of deep fakes – video or images created by computer – have come along in recent years so that they are now virtually indistinguishable from the real thing. It’s both scary and fascinating – whereas once video would count as proof, now it’s open to suspicion. Can anything be trusted?

Schick’s book is a slim volume, but one which delves into how misinformation on a global scale is being used to affect democracy. Covering the Trump election in 2016 and looking forward to the imminent 2020 election, Schick investigates the Russian interference and how it could (or rather is) happening again. She looks at the key challenges facing democracy in our current climate of fakery and distrust, and it’s not a comforting read.

It’s a well-researched, fascinating read. One which you could probably get through in a single sitting, but will sit with you for a long time afterwards.

Deep Fakes and the Infocalypse by Nina Schick is published by Octopus Books and is out now.