Call Me Star Girl – Louise Beech

Call Me Star Girl by Louise Beech
Published by Orenda Books, April 2019
Source: review copy

Tonight is the night for secrets…
Pregnant Victoria Valbon was brutally murdered in an alley three weeks ago – and her killer hasn’t been caught.
Tonight is Stella McKeever’s final radio show. The theme is secrets. You tell her yours, and she’ll share some of hers.
Stella might tell you about Tom, a boyfriend who likes to play games, about the mother who abandoned her, now back after twelve years. She might tell you about the perfume bottle with the star-shaped stopper, or about her father …
What Stella really wants to know is more about the mysterious man calling the station … who says he knows who killed Victoria, and has proof.
Tonight is the night for secrets, and Stella wants to know everything…

Welcome, dear listener. It’s five after midnight and have I got a tale for you to take us through the small hours. Are you sitting comfortably? Got your hot chocolate? You might want something a little stronger this time.

You see this is a story of love and loss, of secrets and lies, of families that once were and might have been. Of obsession. And murder.

Are you still with me, out there in the dark? It feels strange, sat here with just the glow of the mixing desk, talking into the ether. There’s no-one here but you and me. It’s almost like a confessional. A final show, our last chance to share.

So this is a story about a girl and her mother. And what happened when her mother disappeared. As all such stories go, the girl grew up and met a boy and fell in love. Stella and Tom forever and ever.

And then, twelve years later, Stella’s mother came back. And long-held secrets started coming to light. And the world changed. For everyone.

There’s another girl in this story, Victoria Valbon. Poor Victoria is brutally murdered not far from the station where Stella works. And one of Stella’s callers says that he knows who did it…

Secrets and lies. Twists and turns. Where will it all lead, dear listener? Dare you find out?

I read a lot of crime books. Some are good, some are great. This one falls firmly into the latter category. Call Me Star Girl is tautly written, cunningly plotted and twistier than a curly wurly.

Louise Beech has crafted a beautifully dark little tale in Call Me Star Girl, with a creeping sense of menace that leaves you wondering if you locked the doors. You might want to go and check. You never know who might be lurking outside.

Highly recommended.

Call Me Star Girl by Louise Beech is published by Orenda Books in April 2019. You can find Louise on twitter @LouiseWriter.

Deep Dirty Truth – Steph Broadribb

A price on her head, and just 48 hours to expose the truth, and save her family…

Single-mother bounty hunter Lori Anderson has finally got her family back together, but her new-found happiness is shattered when she’s snatched by the Miami Mob, who they want her dead. But rather than a bullet, they offer her a job: find the Mob’s ‘numbers man’ – Carlton North – who’s in protective custody after being forced to turn federal witness against them. If Lori succeeds, they’ll wipe the slate clean and the price on her head – and those of her family – will be removed. If she fails, they die.

With only 48 hours before North is due to appear in court, Lori sets across Florida, racing against the clock to find him, and save her family…

Deep Dirty Truth is the third book in Steph Broadribb’s Lori Anderson series. Now, I loved the first two books, Deep Down Dead and Deep Blue Trouble, so it was with some sense of anticipation that I started book 3.

Never really in any doubt. Steph has delivered yet another fantastic instalment in the ongoing adventures of Lori Anderson, bounty hunter. This time the stakes are higher, with Lori sent off on an almost impossible mission – recover mob “numbers man” Carlton North from the FBI. In 48 hours, before he testifies against his former employer. Oh, and his location is secret. And if she fails, JT and her daughter Dakota will be killed.

Nothing like a bit of motivation, eh?

The action comes thick and fast, on a rattly rollercoaster of an adventure, throwing us hither and yon and back again, hanging on by our fingernails. JT and Dakota get their own adventure on the sidelines, though the focus is firmly on Lori, kicking ass and taking names (then kicking ass again to make sure it’s well and truly kicked). She’s a brilliant character though I think Steph Broadribb rather enjoys putting her through the wringer. Just when you think there’s a moment to draw breath, we’re off again.

Steph proved in the first two books that she can do Americana so very well, and the same deft skill with place is on show here. Hugely entertaining, fast-paced adventure that will leave you wanting just one more chapter until you look up and it’s 1.30am and it’s finished and how on earth are you supposed to get to sleep now?

Highly recommended, though you need to read Deep Down Dead and Deep Blue Trouble first!

Deep Dirty Truth by Step Broadribb is published by Orenda Books and is out now.

You can find Steph Broadribb on twitter @crimethrillgirl.

Many thanks to @OrendaBooks and @AnneCater for organising the blog tour.

Steph Broadribb was born in Birmingham and grew up in Buckinghamshire. Most of her working life has been spent between the UK and USA. As her alter ego – Crime Thriller Girl – she indulges her love of all things crime fiction by blogging at crimethrillergirl.com, where she interviews authors and reviews the latest releases. She is also a member of the crime-themed girl band The Splice Girls. Steph is an alumni of the MA in Creative Writing (Crime Fiction) at City University London, and she trained as a bounty hunter in California, which inspired her Lori Anderson thrillers. She lives in Buckinghamshire surrounded by horses, cows and chickens. Her debut thriller, Deep Down Dead, was shortlisted for the Dead Good Reader Awards in two categories, and hit number one on the UK and AU kindle charts. My Little Eye, her first novel under her pseudonym Stephanie Marland was published by Trapeze Books in April 2018.

Attend – West Camel

Attend, by West Camel
Published by Orenda Books
Source: Review copy, ebook

When Sam falls in love with Deptford thug Derek, and Anne’s best friend Kathleen takes her own life, they discover they are linked not just by a world of drugs and revenge; they also share the friendship of the uncanny and enigmatic Deborah.
Seamstress, sailor, story-teller and self-proclaimed centenarian immortal, Deborah slowly reveals to Anne and Sam her improbable, fantastical life, a history of hidden Deptford and ultimately the solution to their crises.

Well, now then. We are, dear reader, presented with somewhat of a conundrum when it comes to this book. A quandary, some might say.

Most books that I’ve read you could neatly slot into a category, or maybe two. Crime fiction. Check. Science fiction. Check. Crime fiction in space. Check.

Where to put Attend though?

Sometimes we’re too quick to attach labels, and those labels often mislead. It’s much like the sizing of my favourite t-shirts. One might say it’s a large, but be a little baggy, one an XL and yet be snug. When buying a new t-shirt, you never quite know what you’re going to get until you try it on.

And sometimes you get one which fits *just* right, despite what the label says. (I’m afraid there are going to be a lot of fabric-related analogies here folks).

Attend is just that.

It’s a book which doesn’t quite fit, yet fits perfectly.

It’s a wonderfully weird web of stories, deftly interwoven across time. It’s the story of Sam, a young gay man in Deptford. It’s the story of Derek, small-town gangster. It’s the story of Anne, middle-aged ex-junkie. Each thread of the story is held by the enigmatic, mysterious Deborah, always present, always overlooked.

The characters are all fascinating in their own way, but it’s Deborah who demands the most attention, despite all but disappearing in the real world. It feels that she’s embedded into the very fabric of Deptford, in a house that’s almost as invisible as she is.

I loved the way the story bounces from present-day back to Deborah’s younger days, unravelling her story one fold at a time. She’s a fascinating, unique character providing the warp threads to anchor the weft of the other three. She’s not the person they’re looking for, but she’s the person they all need in their own way. She fits *just* right.

West Camel has given us a gorgeous, multi-faceted novel, a book to curl up with and lose yourself in. One of those where you don’t know what to expect, but know that you don’t want to end.

Hugely recommended.

Attend by West Camel is published by Orenda Books. You can find West Camel on Twitter @west_camel. Huge thanks to Anne Cater and Karen Sullivan for the review copy. Kudos also to the hugely talented Mark Swan for another stunning cover.

Bait, Grist and Security – Mike Hodges

Today I’m delighted to take part in the blog tour for Mike Hodges’ Bait, Grist and Security, three darkly comic noir novellas from the cult director of Get Carter.

More on the book later, but first I’ve got an extract from chapter one of BAIT.

Summer is hell here.

Winter is the only time to be in this place. On a wet night preferably.

Like tonight.

The dark sea, flattened by rain, laps against the long curving beach. White-painted iron railings and ill-lit weather shelters recede into the mist. An amusement arcade, boarded up, sits like a blind man watching nothing.

The Grand Atlantic Hotel, a vast, corroding edifice, looms over the deserted esplanade. A torn canvas banner flaps over its darkened entrance, announcing the presence of the Brotherhood of Magicians Conference. Bedroom windows stacked up to the murky sky are black patches. The magicians are long in bed.
They’ll need steady hands in the morning. The clock tower strikes on the hour.

Twice.

An approaching motorbike cuts through the sound of rainwater smacking the tarmac. The red Yamaha rounds a corner slowly, ominously, powerful as a shark. A metallic titanium flip-front helmet glints under the street lamps. Moulded gloves with visor wipes, grinder boots, cowhide jeans and a leather jacket embossed with a bloody knife embedded in the rider’s back. The rider steers his machine along the esplanade before circling a traffic island housing the public urinals, all the while scanning the empty street.

A municipal shelter with a noticeboard advertising local events for wet winter nights stands beside the amusement arcade. It’s here the bike comes to rest. The rider leaves the engine running as he nervously pulls posters from a saddlebag.

He works fast, skilfully.

Soon the forthcoming amateur operatic production of Annie Get Your Gun is no longer forthcoming. But ‘The Personal Improvement Institute: A Course in Leadership Dynamics’ is. The etched face of a wild-eyed mountaineer intending to give a slide lecture the very next evening is replaced by the well-fed features of Dr Hermann P. Temple, who will show you the QUICK way to the TOP! during his impending weekend course on SUCCESS-POWER GETTING!

A similar fate is accorded ‘Pinkie and Barrie, the Comedy Duo’; ‘Diana Barnham playing Bach on the Clavichord’; and the providers of ‘Merrie England Banquets. Book now to avoid disappointment.’ All disappear within seconds to be replaced by five identical images of Dr Temple. A quintet of pointing forefingers, quiffs and eyes that would make a cobra back off.

*

A solitary light snaps on.

It’s on the third floor of an office block five minutes from the esplanade. The bare bulb backlights the gold lettering on the window: ‘Mark Miles Intercontinental’. Below that: ‘Creative Publicity and Personal Management’. On the bottom line: ‘MAKE your MARK with MILES. He’s WAY ahead.’

The block housing Mark Miles’ office is just that: a block. It has all the charm of a coal bunker. Built in the sixties, it’s an early example of how easily even smart people can be conned. Concrete is beautiful. Or so the architects decreed at the time.

Providence House, for that’s the block’s portentous name, takes on a gloomy appearance in the torrential rain. Mark Miles appears at the window, taking off his helmet, while simultaneously dropping the slatted blind. One side falls faster than the other, which doesn’t happen in movies, but almost always does in real life. Cursing, he tries to level it off, one-handed. Instead it becomes uncoupled and collapses on top of him. Mark Miles and his blind have one quality in common. Both spend their lives dangling.

Mark is sick of being a small fish in a small pond. His only remaining heroes are the sharks in the local aquarium. These massive glistening predators eye the awed visitors on the other side of the glass with contempt as they sweep majestically past in their eternal search for a way out. Like them, Mark wants to command respect. To this end, his pinball mind has been hyperactive since being approached by Dr Temple’s people to promote his weekend course. Leadership dynamics might just be the metamorphosis needed to take him to the top.

And quickly.

He switches on a battered desk lamp, puts it on the floor and kills the overhead. Mark has to be careful. The landlord suspects that, contrary to the terms of his lease, the office also doubles as his living quarters.
The landlord is right.
That’s why the chipped commode with ‘Hospital Property’ boldly stencilled on its lid, and smuggled in under cover of darkness from his late grandma’s council flat, is disguised with a potted palm. He lifts the palm and urinates into the china basin.

Slopping out has always been a complicated ritual. When he first moved into the building, the landlord – Fred Snipe, thin as a drainpipe
– was wont to ambush him on his early-morning run along the corridor to the communal lavatory. After several narrow escapes, Mark devised a strategy whereby he transferred the contents of the commode into a plastic first-aid box before embarking upon this essential mission.

Now, on their occasional encounters, Snipe’s nose twitches like a gerbil’s at the odour. His mouth opens but words refuse to emerge. He just can’t bring himself to ask what the container contains. Mark relishes these precious moments, smiling and patting the Red Cross on the box. ‘Preparation H, Fred. Works wonders.’ He sometimes varies the exchange: ‘Glycerine suppositories, Fred. Never fails to get you moving.’ Or, if he wants to make the landlord really blush, he adds, ‘Clinically proven to be effective against irritation and itching piles.’

These words always play on Snipe’s retreating figure.

Mark now eases out a crumpled futon and sleeping bag from under the defeated sofa, carefully avoiding any tangling with its bare springs. Rolling back and forth on the floor, he sheds his clothes and slips into the kapok envelope.

Light out.

*

In the street below Mark’s office, a black umbrella is opened from the shelter of a shop door. A man, short and paunchy, steps out, his suet- pudding face glistening in the rain. His name is William Snazell and he’s a private detective, a gumshoe. Dressed in a faded raincoat and shapeless trilby, he takes a final look at the darkened window before crossing the road. His shiny rubber galoshes shuffle through the sheet of rainwater.

~~~~~~

Bait, Grist & Security by Mike Hodges is published by Unbound on 29th November 2018. Many thanks to Anne Cater and Unbound for the review copy.

In ‘Bait’, a slippery PR man, Mark Miles, is unaware he’s being manipulated and dangled as bait by an investigative reporter until he’s swallowed by a sadistic mind-expanding cult from
America.
In ‘Grist’, the bestselling writer, Maxwell Grist, ruthlessly uses real people as fodder for his crime novels before finding himself living up to his name and becoming grist for his own
murder.
In ‘Security’, an American movie star, unhappy with the film he’s working on, refuses to leave his hotel for the studios, while in the corridor outside his luxury suite mayhem and murder take over.

All Systems Red – Martha Wells

In a corporate-dominated spacefaring future, planetary missions must be approved and supplied by the Company. Exploratory teams are accompanied by Company-supplied security androids, for their own safety.
But in a society where contracts are awarded to the lowest bidder, safety isn’t a primary concern.
On a distant planet, a team of scientists are conducting surface tests, shadowed by their Company-supplied ‘droid — a self-aware SecUnit that has hacked its own governor module, and refers to itself (though never out loud) as “Murderbot.” Scornful of humans, all it really wants is to be left alone long enough to figure out who it is.
But when a neighboring mission goes dark, it’s up to the scientists and their Murderbot to get to the truth.

Winner: 2018 Hugo Award for Best Novella
Winner: 2018 Nebula Award for Best Novella
Winner: 2018 Alex Award
Winner: 2018 Locus Award
One of the Verge’s Best Books of 2017
A New York Times and USA Today Bestseller

So, All Systems Red won a *lot* of stuff. And it’s just utterly splendid. A somewhat depressed Company supplied SecUnit hacks its own governor unit so can pretty much do what it likes, calls itself Murderbot (long story) and has a soft spot for soap operas. Then some creatures start attacking Murderbot’s clients and it, somewhat reluctantly, is forced to do something about it.

I love Murderbot. The story might be short (well, it *is* a novella), but it’s fast and funny, and the plot fairly whistles along. It’s also a lovely character study, delving into the mind of a machine hybrid that’s not entirely sure who it is, or wants to be.

You see, Murderbot doesn’t really like people. It just wants to be left alone to get on with watching the long-running Sanctuary Moon. I can empathise a lot with Murderbot.

All Systems Red is the first of four (at time of writing) in the Murderbot Diaries, and I’m greatly looking forward to following their adventures.

You can get All Systems Red here (affiliate link)

All Systems Red by Martha Wells is published by Tor. You can find Martha Wells on twitter @marthawells1 or on her website marthawells.com

The Lingering – SJI Holliday

Published by Orenda Books
Source: Review copy
Married couple Jack and Ali Gardiner move to a self-sufficient spiritual commune in the English Fens, desperate for fresh start. The local village is known for the witches who once resided there and Rosalind House, where the commune has been established, is a former psychiatric home, with a disturbing history.
When Jack and Ali arrive, a chain of unexpected and unexplained events is set off, and it becomes clear that they are not all that they seem. As the residents become twitchy, and the villagers suspicious, events from the past come back to haunt them, and someone is seeking retribution…

The Lingering is a deliciously creepy gothic tale of strange goings-on in a mysterious former psychiatric institution populated by some slightly odd characters.

What more do you need to know?

Oh, fine. Right, it’s also part psychological thriller, part domestic intrigue, part ghost story, and entirely brilliant. It’s got a lovely slow-burn build up where the characters and setting are introduced and you think that things might be a *bit* odd but then the tension starts ratcheting up, notch by inevitable notch. Given that the story is set in an abandoned asylum, you know that the characters aren’t in for a nice little summer holiday.

You’ll never look at a bathtub in quite the same way ever again, I can assure you.

There’s a creeping sense of unease as the story progresses and we find out more about Ali and Jack Gardiner, and what brought them to the self-contained commune in the Fens. It’s clear pretty much from the off that they’re hiding secrets, both from the commune and from each other, and it’s fascinating watching that play out over the course of the story. I loved Smeaton Dunsmore, head of the cult-like community lead by The Book of Light, and fellow commune-member Angela Fairley’s hunt for the paranormal in the halls of the former hospital.

And Rosalind House plays such a central role in the story, with its myths and legends about what might have happened there. It’s a fabulously creepy setting, and coupled with the what-are-they-really-up-to semi-religious commune, you’ve got the perfect mix.

If you like your psychological thrillers with a dash of paranormal, or your mysteries with a hint of Halloween chill, The Lingering will be right up your street.  Perfect for a cosy night wrapped up on the sofa. Just make sure you’ve got all the lights on…

Huge kudos to Mark Swan (@kidethic) for another stunning cover. It captures the mood of the book perfectly.

The Lingering by SJI Holliday is published by Orenda Books and is out now. Many thanks to Karen Sullivan and Anne Cater at Orenda for the review copy.

Changeling – Matt Wesolowski

On Christmas Eve in 1988, seven-year-old Alfie Marsden vanished in the Wentshire Forest Pass, when a burst tyre forced his father, Sorrel, to stop the car. Leaving the car to summon the emergency services, Sorrel returned to find his son gone. No trace of the child, nor his remains, have ever been found. Alfie Marsden was declared officially dead in 1995.
Elusive online journalist, Scott King, whose ‘Six Stories’ podcasts have become an internet sensation, investigates the disappearance, interviewing six witnesses, including Sorrel, his son and his ex-partner, to try to find out what really happened that fateful night. He takes a journey through the trees of the Wentshire Forest – a place synonymous with strange sightings, and tales of hidden folk who dwell there. He talks to a company that tried and failed to build a development in the forest, and a psychic who claims to know where Alfie is…

Matt Wesolowski’s Six Stories was one of my books of 2017. In Hydra we met Scott King with another of his Six Stories podcasts, this time much darker and much, much spookier. If Nana Wrack gave you nightmares the first time round, the black-eyed children in Hydra might just keep you awake all night.

Changeling is another beast, and easily Matt Wesolowski’s best yet. And that, my friends, is a pretty damn high bar.

Scott King is back with another of his ‘Six Stories’ podcasts. Six people, six sides to a tale, six viewpoints on the events surrounding the mysterious disappearance of little Alfie Marsden, thirty years ago.

I dipped my finger into the Alfie Marsden case and something reached up and took hold.

I *raced* through Changeling. Having read and loved Matt’s first two books, I thought I knew what I was letting myself in for, thought I had a feel for the pattern of the story. After reading the first episode of six, thought I knew where it was going.

Oh how very wrong I was. The thing I love about his writing is the way that he puts you in the head of these distinct characters. You’re hearing their voices, hearing their side of the story. But just as two people can see the same thing and tell you different versions of what happened, so imagine what six people can do. The plotting is ingenious, and the way those six stories mesh together is played to perfection.

Changeling deals with some pretty dark subjects – a missing child is never an easy read, but it’s so much more, and so much more that I can’t say without giving away too much. Trust me in this, it’s massively relevant, incredibly intense and just so, so good.

And can we talk for a minute about Wentshire Forest. I am *so* glad that I’m not going camping in the woods any time soon. Scarclaw Fell in the first book was pretty spooky, but that’s got *nothing* on Wentshire Forest.

Is that a tapping at the window I can hear…?

You can find Matt Wesolowski on Twitter @concretekraken. Mark Swan (@Kidethic) delivers yet another stunning cover. One day I’m going to have to do a post on my favourite of his covers – Changeling will definitely be on the list.

Many thanks to @OrendaBooks for the advance copy of Changeling