The Dying Squad – Adam Simcox

When Detective Inspector Joe Lazarus storms a Lincolnshire farmhouse, he expects to bring down a notorious drug gang; instead, he discovers his own body and a spirit guide called Daisy-May.

She’s there to enlist him to The Dying Squad, a spectral police force who solve crimes their flesh and blood counterparts cannot.

Lazarus reluctantly accepts and returns to the Lincolnshire Badlands, where he faces dangers from both the living and the dead in his quest to discover the identity of his killer—before they kill again.

Who better to solve a murder than a detective? Except in this case, the detective is dead, and the dead body is his. Before long he’s enlisted into The Dying Squad, a supernatural police squad based in The Pen/Purgatory who investigate the more… unusual murders.

Hugely enjoyed this. I read a lot of crime books and love a good supernatural thriller and police procedural, so this was right in my ballpark. I loved the interplay between Joe and his spirit… guide? Daisy-May as they navigate this world and the one beyond in their quest to figure out who killed Lazarus. Not everyone ends up in Heaven or Hell, and the Dispossessed are stuck for eternity. But Lazarus is given an out – solve his murder, and he gets to move on from the never-ending grey that is The Pen.

Loved the world building, loved the characters, and that’s all on top of a cracking murder mystery, with plenty of dodgy goings-on that will keep you on the edge of your seat. Lovely line in dark humour and some whip-smart dialogue make this one of my favourite books of the year so far.

Oh, and there’s a supremely creepy villain called the Xylophone Man, who you definitely don’t want to meet in a dark alley. Or anywhere. *shudder*

Strong Rivers of London vibes here, and if you liked that, then I highly recommended picking this up.

There’s a sequel coming later this year, and I can’t wait!

The Dying Squad by Adam Simcox is published by Gollancz and is out now. Huge thanks to the publisher for the copy of Adam’s book for review.

Gallant – VE Schwab

Olivia Prior has grown up in Merilance School for girls, and all she has of her past is her mother’s journal—which seems to unravel into madness. Then, a letter invites Olivia to come home—to Gallant. Yet when Olivia arrives, no one is expecting her. But Olivia is not about to leave the first place that feels like home, it doesn’t matter if her cousin Matthew is hostile or if she sees half-formed ghouls haunting the hallways.

Olivia knows that Gallant is hiding secrets, and she is determined to uncover them. When she crosses a ruined wall at just the right moment, Olivia finds herself in a place that is Gallant—but not. The manor is crumbling, the ghouls are solid, and a mysterious figure rules over all. Now Olivia sees what has unraveled generations of her family, and where her father may have come from.

Olivia has always wanted to belong somewhere, but will she take her place as a Prior, protecting our world against the Master of the House? Or will she take her place beside him?

Regular readers to this blog will know that I’m a big fan of VE Schwab’s books. The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue was simply magnificent. So it was with no small amount of excitement that I jumped at the chance to read Schwab’s latest, Gallant.

Schwab’s writing is like a warm, comfortable blanket that you throw around yourself on a cold winter’s day. It’s all too easy to lose yourself in the magical worlds she creates. And here we have a fantastic, fantastical world. A young girl without a voice, living at the cold, cruel Merilance School for Girls, receives a letter inviting her to the home she didn’t know she had. And on arriving at the manor house Gallant, she discovers that it has a mysterious mirrored world just over the garden wall.

She delves into both Gallants, and to her family secrets with the help of her mother’s journal. But what happened to her father? And who lives at the other Gallant?

I loved the writing. I loved the world and the characters that Schwab invites us to spend time in. The story itself is splendid, though I had a sneaking feeling that like the barrier between the two Gallants, it was maybe stretched a tiny bit thin in places, and not quite enough for a full length book. I feel it would have worked just as well if not better as a short story or novella length.

That said, I didn’t begrudge a moment spent in the world Schwab has created. Recommended.

Gallant by VE Schwab is published by Titan Books in the UK and is out now. Huge thanks to Titan Books for the advance copy for review.

Dawnshard – Brandon Sanderson

When a ghost ship is discovered, its crew presumed dead after trying to reach the storm-shrouded island Akinah, Navani Kholin must send an expedition to make sure the island hasn’t fallen into enemy hands. Knights Radiant who fly too near find their Stormlight suddenly drained, so the voyage must be by sea.

Shipowner Rysn Ftori lost the use of her legs but gained the companionship of Chiri-Chiri, a Stormlight-ingesting winged larkin, a species once thought extinct. Now Rysn’s pet is ill, and any hope for Chiri-Chiri’s recovery can be found only at the ancestral home of the larkin: Akinah. With the help of Lopen, the formerly one-armed Windrunner, Rysn must accept Navani’s quest and sail into the perilous storm from which no one has returned alive. If the crew cannot uncover the secrets of the hidden island city before the wrath of its ancient guardians falls upon them, the fate of Roshar and the entire Cosmere hangs in the balance. 

Described as ‘a new hefty novella‘ Dawnshard is book 3.5 of the Stormlight Archive, Brandon Sanderson’s bestselling series. Or rather, one of Sanderson’s bestselling series. He’s written a lot of books. Like, really a lot. So many that the word ‘lot’ probably deserves a capital L.

And yet, here’s yours truly. A fantasy fan since forever, and I’ve not read any of them.

Until now.

OK, admittedly jumping into book three-and-a-half of a long-running series of seriously chonky novels probably isn’t the best place to start. But Dawnshard is a novella, and I figured it would be a good taster and a chance to see whether spending time with another epic fantasy would be worth it.

And reader, I enjoyed it a lot. Maybe even a Lot.

Yes, there was an awful lot of world building that I had missed out on from the first three books in the Stormlight Archive (and probably others in the wider Cosmere universe of his books). But the story was well told, with some engaging characters, nicely paced and with some great action, and a sneak peek into the wider world.

I loved the magic, and Radiant The Lopen’s delightful devil-may-care attitude to life. I particularly liked the depiction of Rysn Ftori, shipowner and trader, who lost the use of her legs prior to this book. Sanderson apparently went to great lengths to ensure that he portrayed Rysn’s experience sensitively and accurately. I can’t speak to that myself, but it was very refreshing to see such a strong character and her thoughts on the journey.

At close to 250 pages, it’s more of a short book than a slim novella, and it packs a lot in there. As a starting point for Sanderson’s books it might not be the easiest entrance into the world of the Cosmere, but there were very few things that I couldn’t figure out that affected the overall story.

I guess the key question is whether Dawnshard whetted my appetite sufficiently to delve back into the Stormlight Archive.

Yes, I think it did. Though quite when I’ll find time to embark on such an epic quest is another question.

Dawnshard by Brandon Sanderson is published by Titan Books and is out now. Many thanks to Sarah Mather at Titan Books for the copy to review.

Into The Dark – Fiona Cummins

THE PLACE: Seawings, a beautiful Art Deco home overlooking the sweep of the bay in Midtown-on-Sea.

THE CRIME: The gilded Holden family – Piper and Gray and their two teenage children, Riva and Artie – has vanished from the house without a trace.

THE DETECTIVE: DS Saul Anguish, brilliant but with a dark past, treads the narrow line between light and shade.

One late autumn morning, Piper’s best friend arrives at Seawings to discover an eerie scene – the kettle is still warm, all the family’s phones are charging on the worktop, the cars are in the garage. But the house is deserted.

In fifteen-year-old Riva Holden’s bedroom, scrawled across the mirror in blood, are three words:


What happens next?

A new book by Fiona Cummins? Sign me up! I’ve been a huge fan of her books since the very first, Rattle. Last year we had the amazing When I Was Ten (which I have gushed about to anyone who’d listen, and several people who didn’t), and now we have Into The Dark.

Another author whose books I will devour in a single sitting, knowing that I am in very safe hands. There’ll be twists and turns and moments where you question everything and everyone, looking for the clues that are so deftly woven into the narrative.

Reader, I loved it. You know that I adore a good psychological thriller, and Cummins delivers yet another splendid one here. On the face of it there’s a missing family, disappeared without trace mid-breakfast. Cups still warm, phones still charging, cars in the garage. But there’s more to it than meets the eye, naturally. Why did they up and leave so suddenly? And why is there bloody writing on the teenage daughter’s bedroom mirror?

Into the Dark jumps around between multiple viewpoints and timelines, from the days leading up to the Holdens’ disappearance to the aftermath. Cummins carefully delivers little snippets of information as the plot unfurls, and you’re often left questioning what you thought you knew as each chapter plays out. Who do you trust, when no-one seems to trust each other?

Dysfunctional families, secrets, lies and mysterious goings-on. And a new police detective on the case with a bit of a dark past himself…

If you’re not already reading Cummins’ books, then get yourself to a bookshop pronto. I love her books.

Highly recommended.

Into The Dark by Fiona Cummins is published by Macmillan in April 2022. Many thanks to the publisher for an advance copy of the book via Netgalley

The Paris Apartment – Lucy Foley

Cover for The Paris Apartment by Lucy Foley

Welcome to No.12 Rue des Amants: a beautiful old apartment block, far from the glittering lights of the Eiffel Tower and the bustling banks of the Seine.

Where nothing goes unseen, and everyone has a story to unlock.

The watchful concierge

The scorned lover

The prying journalist

The naïve student

The unwanted guest

Something terrible happened here last night. A mystery lies behind the door of apartment three. Only you – and the killer – hold the key . . .

I really enjoyed this book. From the Paris setting to the delightfully odd cast of characters, it’s one which will draw you in and keep those pages turning as the secrets and lies of No. 12 Rue des Armants gradually come to light.

And what a cast of characters we have here. Jess, freshly arrived to visit her brother finds a suspiciously empty apartment. And none of the neighbours are saying much. Not Sophie, the rich old lady in the penthouse for who everything must be just so. Nor Nick, Ben’s old friend who invited him to stay in the apartment above his. Then there’s Mimi and Camille who live on the fourth floor. And not forgetting the concierge. Who knows what she’s seen whilst working there…

The book is told from the viewpoints of the residents of number 12, with each chapter seeing the events from one person’s point of view. The chapters are often short and snappy, which is perfect for a speedy read. You can’t help but want just one more chapter, to see what this new person thought of what was going on. It also jumps in time a little so we get to look back at the events before the arrival of Jess on that fateful night when her brother disappears.

It’s very cleverly constructed and kept me guessing all the way through. I thought I had it figured out, and whilst yes, I did spot some of what was going on, I was delighted to be surprised more often than not.

This is the first of Lucy Foley’s books that I’ve read, though I do have The Hunting Party on my kindle. I shall be bumping that up the list given how much I enjoyed this book!

Highly recommended.

The Paris Apartment by Lucy Foley is published by Harper Collins and is out now. Many thanks to the publisher for the advance copy of Lucy Foley’s book, and to Anne Cater of Random Things Tours for inviting me to take part in the blog tour.

Books of 2022 – February

Hello again, you lovely lot. We made it through February! The days are getting longer, and slightly warmer, there’s the occasional day of sunshine (like today) and we’re trying very hard not to read the news.

Let’s stick to books, eh? How’s that old TBR pile looking?

Books read (6)

  • The Goodbye Coast – Joe Ide  [ARC pbk, W&N, blog tour ]
  • The Interview – CM Ewan  [hbk, Macmillan, blog tour]
  • And Your Enemies Closer – Rob Parker  [audio, Audible sub]
  • Sourdough: or Lois and Her Adventures in the Underground Market– Robin Sloan [pbk, own copy]
  • The Untold Story – Genevieve Cogman [e-ARC, Macmillan]
  • Coasting: Running Around the Coast of Britain – Life, Love and (Very) Loose Plans – Elise Downing  [audio, Audible sub]

Solid month for reading. Couple of great blog tour books in there. The Goodbye Coast was a great bit of noir, and The Interview was a fantastic high-paced, edge-of-your-seat thriller.

I bought Sourdough at the City Lights bookstore in San Francisco when we were there a couple of years ago, and it’s been on my shelf since then. A rainy Saturday afternoon and I polished it off in a single sitting. I love Robin Sloan’s work – he also has an excellent newsletter which I highly recommend.

Got through two audiobooks as well. Rob Parker’s superb And Your Enemies Closer is the sequel to his Far From The Tree, both brilliantly narrated by Warren Brown of Luther fame. Hugely recommended.

I also listened to Elise Downing’s Coasting, a tale of her adventure running 5000 miles around the coast of Britain. Narrated by the author, this is a fascinating insight into what it’s like to spend ten months or so running and walking a huge distance. There seemed to be a lot of stops for cake, which I approve of.

Books bought

  • Vine Street – Dom Nolan [ebook]
  • The Lighthouse – Fran Dorricott [ebook]
  • What Goes Around – Emily Chappell [ebook]
  • Fifty Words For Snow – Nancy Campbell [pbk, Adventurous Ink subscription]
  • Coasting: Running Around the Coast of Britain – Life, Love and (Very) Loose Plans – Elise Downing  [audio, Audible sub]
  • How to Destroy the Universe: And 34 other really interesting uses of physics – Paul Parsons [ebook]

I picked up a hardback copy of Dom Nolan’s Vine Street over Christmas, but it’s a chonky boi so I jumped at the chance for a 99p kindle version. The Lighthouse was a pre-order from months ago, looks really good.

What Goes Around is the story of a London cycle courier, and has been on my amazon wishlist for more years than I care to think. Popped up on sale so picked that one up too.

Fifty Words For Snow is part of my Adventurous Ink ‘Slow Ink’ subscription. I must have talked about this before, but if not, go check out the site. Tim Frennaux (lovely chap, met him at a Sidetracked event last year) expertly curates some superb adventure books, as well as hosting interviews with some of the authors. Can often be found on Instagram talking about books, sometimes in a snowy woodland, once from up a tree. Avid wearer of caps. Lovely bloke, as I say.

How To Destroy The Universe popped up on an email newsletter somewhere and sounded fascinating. Another one for the ever-growing Kindle TBR pile. At least it doesn’t take up shelf space, of which I am rapidly running out.

Books received (3)

  • The Kaiju Preservation Society – John Scalzi [ARC pbk, Tor]
  • The Paris Apartment – Lucy Foley [hbk, HarperCollins, blog tour]
  • Gallant – VE Schwab [ARC pbk, Titan Books]

Big fan of Scalzi’s books, so excited to see The Kaiju Preservation Society land on the doormat. The Paris Apartment is for a blogtour next week (eek, best get reading) and is excellent thus far.

Finally, a much-coveted advance copy of VE Schwab’s latest, Gallant. Very much looking forward to reading that one.

So, that was February in books. Have you read any of those? Any take your fancy?

What have you been reading lately?

The Interview – C.M. Ewan

It’s 5 p.m. on a Friday.
You have been called to an interview for your dream job.
In a stunning office thirteen floors above the city below, you are all alone with the man interviewing you.
Everyone else has gone home for the weekend. 
The interview gets more and more disturbing.
You’re feeling scared.
Your only way out is to answer a seemingly impossible question.
If you can’t . . . what happens next?

Wow. That’s quite a blurb, isn’t it?

And I’m more than happy to confirm that the book lives up to it in every way.

PR Account Manager Kate Harding is invited for an interview at 5pm on Friday at the premises of Edge Communications. It’s an exciting opportunity to move up to bigger and brighter things, and despite the late appointment, she jumps at the chance. She’s shown into the building and past the bubbly team into the conference room where she’s to be interviewed. Except there’s a different interviewer than she was expecting. And whilst the questions start off easy, they very quickly take a turn, and we’re suddenly locked in a very different situation than she was expecting.

I absolutely tore through this book (metaphorically, no ripped pages here) in a single evening. It’s the very epitome of a page-turner thriller, and whilst the term ‘unputdownable’ is bandied about a lot, it was quite literally the case here.

It was so gripping that I finished the book only to find the cup of tea I’d made for myself before I started was now absolutely stone cold.

Yeah, it’s that good. Make you forget your cuppa good.

I’ve been a big fan of Chris Ewan’s books for some years now, so I felt like I’d be in pretty safe hands here, and I was not disappointed. Cracking plot, nicely ramping up the tension from the off, great characters and a neat ending make this an easy recommend.

So, I’m recommending it – if you like your thrillers fast and furious, this book is for you. Splendid stuff.

The Interview by C.M. Ewan is published by Macmillan and is out now.

Many thanks to the publisher for the advance copy of the book to review, and to Anne Cater of Random Things Tours for inviting me to take part in the blog tour.

Truly, Darkly, Deeply – Victoria Selman

12-year-old Sophie and her mother, Amelia-Rose, move to London from Massachusetts where they meet the charismatic Matty Melgren, who quickly becomes an intrinsic part of their lives. But as the relationship between the two adults fractures, a serial killer begins targeting young women with a striking resemblance to Amelia-Rose.

When Matty is eventually sent down for multiple murders, questions remain as to his guilt — questions which ultimately destroy both women. Nearly twenty years later, Sophie receives a letter from Battlemouth Prison informing her Matty is dying and wants to meet. It looks like Sophie might finally get the answers she craves. But will the truth set her free — or bury her deeper?

Ooh, now I do like a good psychological crime thriller, and that’s exactly what we have here in Victoria Selman’s excellent Truly, Darkly, Deeply. I’ve read one of her books before, Snakes and Ladders and enjoyed it a lot. This, a standalone, was one that I jumped at the chance to read.

A letter to Sophie from Battlemouth Prison from convicted multiple murderer Matty Melgren reawakens old wounds from some twenty years previous, when Sophie and her mother moved to London from the US. Matty moved into their lives as a serial killer started stalking the streets of North London.

Told from the point of view of Sophie now and Sophie before, it’s a fascinating glimpse into fractured family dynamics and the possibilities of innocence and guilt. Matty, seemingly a devoted father-figure to Sophie, could he really be the killer who roamed the streets near their home? And why do all the victims look like Sophie’s mum?

Selman’s writing is engaging and the various strands of the plot are well-constructed. I had my suspicions of what might be going on, but was delighted to see the ending wasn’t quite as I thought. Selman loves to drip-feed us with morsels of information as the story progresses, and I found myself wandering down the wrong path once or twice!

I enjoyed this book a lot. Recommended.

Truly, Darkly, Deeply by Victoria Selman is published by Quercus in July 2022. Many thanks to the publisher for an advance copy of the book via NetGalley

And Your Enemies Closer – Rob Parker

In the North West criminal underworld, a deal goes tragically wrong, resulting in war between the two main organised crime factions in the region. Shockwaves rock the 30-mile gap between Liverpool and Manchester – with retired detective Brendan Foley right in the middle of it all. 

For Brendan, six months after his resignation, life is all different. His marriage is a mess, he’s working as a nightclub bouncer, his brother is still missing and he just can’t stop searching for the crime family that destroyed his life. And at last, he’s found them – and he’s got them bang to rights.

Iona Madison, his one-time partner and now successor as a DI in Warrington Police, is tasked with a body pulled from the River Mersey – a teen-age boy that went missing the previous year, which might bring her own conduct into question. Not only that, Brendan is feeding her information whether she likes it or not – and his unsanctioned activities are causing her headaches.

And now, there’s a price on his head. A million pounds, dead or alive. 

And Your Enemies Closer is the follow-up to Rob Parker’s brilliant Far From The Tree, which I listened to on audiobook last year and loved. Warren Brown (DS Ripley from Luther) is back on narration duty once more, and does a superb job of capturing the many and varied characters in the book.

I was thrilled to discover Rob had written a second book in the series (now known to be a trilogy) and as soon as my new Audible credit arrived in January, I wasted no time in downloading it. Whilst book 1 kept me entertained on many long dogwalks, book 2 served as the backdrop for the daily college dropoff and pickup, meaning I got through it far more quickly than book 1.

And I’m glad I did! And Your Enemies Closer follows on six months after the events of the first book, and from the opening page (can it have a first page if it’s an audiobook?) I was hooked. I even found myself sat outside my house in the car for a couple of extra minutes’ listening time.

Brendan Foley has left the police and is working as a bouncer. His brother is missing and his home life is a mess. He’s still laser-focused on getting his own back on the crime family that ruined his life. What follows is a dive into the criminal underworlds of Liverpool and Manchester. Old criminals turn up with some new undesirables (and boy, are they undesirable) and the bodies start piling up. It’s up to Foley and his old colleague DI Madison of the Warrington police to bring them to rights. But it’s not easy when you’ve got a price on your head, as Foley is due to find out.

Parker has got a knack for creating compelling, flawed characters that half the time you’re rooting for, and the other half you’re wondering what on earth they’re doing. He’s also a dab hand at a dark, twisting plot and has some very creatively unpleasant ways for equally unpleasant people to get their just rewards.

Warren Brown’s narration is superb once more, bringing to life the ne’er-do-wells of the North-West and the people who try their best to stop them.

I can’t recommend these audiobooks enough. If you’ve got an Audible subscription, get them added to your list. And if you haven’t, you can get a free audiobook with their 30 day trial.

And Your Enemies Closer by Rob Parker is an Audible Original, and came as part of my own paid subscription.

A Loyal Traitor – Tim Glister

A Loyal Traitor by Tim Glister - book cover

It’s 1966. London is swinging, and the Cold War is spiralling.

Clear cut lines have faded to grey areas. Whispers of conspiracies are everywhere. Spies on both sides of the iron curtain are running in circles, chasing constant plots and counterplots. And MI5 agent Richard Knox is tired of all of it.

But when Abey Bennett, his CIA comrade in arms, appears in London with a ghost from Knox’s past and a terrifying warning that could change the balance of power in the Cold War for good, he has to fight to save the future.

He must also face an agonising choice: who will he believe, and who will he betray – his duty to his country or his loyalty to his friends?

A Loyal Traitor is the follow-up to Tim Glister’s 2021 novel, Red Corona. I must confess that I didn’t realise this when I was asked if I wanted to take part in the blog tour for the book, but you can happily (as I did) read this as a standalone. Though on the strength of A Loyal Traitor I’ll be jumping into Red Corona as soon as I can!

I loved this book. It’s a cracking spy novel with some definite shades of sixties-era Bond, with plenty of twists and turns and secret agent shenanigans. MI5 agent Richard Knox returns to London from a mission in Canada and meets a CIA colleague from his past, along with someone he thought long dead.

Great characters, solid action scenes, and a superb sense of time and place lift A Loyal Traitor above your regular spy novel. The wheels within wheels are intricately plotted but never confusing, and I found myself flicking through just one more chapter to find out what happened next.

A Loyal Traitor by Tim Glister is published by Point Blank in February 2022. Many thanks to Anne Cater of Random Things Tours for inviting me to take part in the blog tour, and to the publisher for an advance ebook to review.

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