Gideon the Ninth – Tamsyn Muir

Gideon the Ninth book cover

Gideon the Ninth is the most fun you’ll ever have with a skeleton.

The Emperor needs necromancers.

The Ninth Necromancer needs a swordswoman.

Gideon has a sword, some dirty magazines, and no more time for undead bullshit.

Tamsyn Muir’s Gideon the Ninth unveils a solar system of swordplay, cut-throat politics, and lesbian necromancers. Her characters leap off the page, as skillfully animated as necromantic skeletons. The result is a heart-pounding epic science fantasy.

Brought up by unfriendly, ossifying nuns, ancient retainers, and countless skeletons, Gideon is ready to abandon a life of servitude and an afterlife as a reanimated corpse. She packs up her sword, her shoes, and her dirty magazines, and prepares to launch her daring escape. But her childhood nemesis won’t set her free without a service.

Harrowhark Nonagesimus, Reverend Daughter of the Ninth House and bone witch extraordinaire, has been summoned into action. The Emperor has invited the heirs to each of his loyal Houses to a deadly trial of wits and skill. If Harrowhark succeeds she will become an immortal, all-powerful servant of the Resurrection, but no necromancer can ascend without their cavalier. Without Gideon’s sword, Harrow will fail, and the Ninth House will die.

Of course, some things are better left dead.

This is one of my favourite books of the year. Weird, dark and often very funny, I loved it from the first page to the last.

It’s got everything – lesbian necromancers, a giant labyrinthine crumbling (possibly haunted, definitely deadly) house by the sea, swordfights, murder, blood, skeletons, locked rooms (which should *definitely* stay locked), mysterious mystics, battling Houses, daring cavaliers and a cluedo-esque whodunnit running throughout.

I *loved* the dynamic between Harrow and Gideon. Exchanging barbs and one-liners like they’re going out of fashion, the two Ninth House heroines have to battle against the other great Houses for the ultimate prize of Harrowhark becoming Lyctor to the Emperor. Except that she really needs Gideon’s help. And Gideon isn’t sure she can really be arsed.

The worldbuilding is glorious, though we only see a fragment of it on display here. The inter-House rivalries hint at larger things which we’ll hopefully see more of in the later books. The locked-room mysteries that the pair have to solve are delightfully cunning, and Harrow and Gideon make such a wonderful pairing. The Houses themselves are fascinating, as are the necromancers and cavaliers from each – for a book with 18 characters, they’re all well-realised and splendidly different.

Hugely recommended. I can’t wait to see where the story takes us in Harrow the Ninth, which is out next year.

Gideon the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir is published by Tor.

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

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.

Sleep – M.K. Boers

A marriage made in heaven, a murder made in hell.
Why kill the man you love?
Lizzy was struggling, everyone knew that.
He shouldn’t have done those things.
He shouldn’t have pushed her so hard.
And now, her children, her marriage, her hope – gone.
It was all her fault, she knew that, but was there a chance of redemption?
Lizzy Dyson’s on trial for her life. She knows she must pay for what she did, even if it wasn’t planned, but will the jury believe her?

I’m delighted to be taking part in the blogtour for M.K. Boers’ Sleep. I’ve got a Q&A with the author for you today.

What was the inspiration behind Lizzy’s story?

I wanted to explore what drives a woman to murder. Having experienced anger & frustration in my own relationships, I wanted to explore what could possibly push someone that far, especially someone who still loved their spouse so much. For women it can be hard juggling so much: work and running a home, and then if they choose to have children it’s even more. If they start to feel unsupported by their partner it can really tip the balance. I wanted the reader to understand and even feel sympathy for her.

Why did you use the topic of miscarriages as one of the factors?

Having children isn’t always that straightforward, although many men and women think it is. A large majority of women suffer miscarriages but you only find this out when you experience one yourself, as I did between my two children. Mine was early on but it was still an emotional ride, but I have many friends over the years who have had multiple losses & some quite late on. It can destroy a person and a marriage. It’s a subject that isn’t talked about very often, if at all. And although I only touched on it lightly with Tony’s character, it affects men too. I considered his affair to be, in some ways, his way of dealing with that loss and what was happening to his wife.

Lizzy clearly suffered a breakdown; did you find that difficult to write?

I didn’t, it sort of wrote itself. From the opening it is clear that Lizzy has had a break from reality and lost it completely. I have spent time in therapy myself, both in my early 20s and early 40s due to a traumatic childhood, so I understand the process of analysing and taking yourself apart and putting yourself back together. I knew what a therapist would say or do, and how they would direct her to help her gain clarity. In some ways they were the easiest parts of the book for me.

This is your first psychological thriller, do you plan to write more?

I don’t tend to write within genre lines. I didn’t really know what this book was until another writer friend read it and defined it. I always tend towards darker stories, even horror, particularly in terms of people’s minds – my flash collection Mostly Dark contains many of them. But I also like exploring science fiction and am currently working on a sequel to my novella The Game (found in my short story collection, Slipping Through). In this story a the dark villain is playing mind games with his victims forcing them to chase him through different parallels universes in attempts to get to their own time. What can I say, a sick mind intrigues me.

And finally, who was the most difficult character to write in Sleep & why?

Tony was actually quite hard because I liked him. He had a good heart and really loved Lizzy. I found it hard to turn him into a bad guy. For a while I wasn’t sure he was coming across bad enough until my early readers expressed a hatred of him. I think maybe because Lizzy is the main point of view and she still loved him that it was hard for me as the writer not to as well.

(Mostly Dark & Slipping Through are written under pen name Miranda Kate)

You can get a copy of Sleep, by M. K. Boers here.

You can find out more on her website, or Twitter @PurpleQueenNL

Miranda Kate spent her early childhood in Surrey, in the south of England, and her teens moving round the UK, but currently resides in the Netherlands. Miranda has been featured in several Flash Fiction anthologies, and has published two collections, one of dark flash-fiction tales, called Mostly Dark, and another of science-fiction stories, called Slipping Through. The latter containing a short novella, for which a sequel is forthcoming.

Violet – SJI Holliday

Carrie’s best friend has an accident and can no longer make the round-the-world trip they’d planned together, so Carrie decides to go it alone.

Violet is also travelling alone, after splitting up with her boyfriend in Thailand. She is also desperate for a ticket on the Trans-Siberian Express, but there is nothing available.

When the two women meet in a Beijing Hotel, Carrie makes the impulsive decision to invite Violet to take her best friend’s place.

Thrown together in a strange country, and the cramped cabin of the train, the women soon form a bond. But as the journey continues, through Mongolia and into Russia, things start to unravel – because one of these women is not who she claims to be…

Carrie and Violet set off on a journey on the Trans-Siberian Express. Strangers one day, travelling (and drinking) companions the next. But are either of them who the other thinks they are?

Let’s see:

  • Unreliable narrator? Check.
  • Psychological mystery? Check.
  • Glorious setting? Check.
  • Mysterious, murderous shenanigans? Check.

Absolutely loved this one, and sped through it in a single sitting. SJI Holliday’s previous book, The Lingering showed that she’s a dab hand at the old psychological thriller, and Violet is no exception.

It’s one of those books where you just know something Really Very Bad is going to happen, and Holliday seems to revel in dangling that Very Bad thing juuust in front of your nose, so tantalisingly close so you can almost touch it, then BAM, out of left field the actual Very Very Bad Thing just takes you out and leaves you glaring at the page for a moment before diving back in.

You may never speak to a stranger on a train ever again.

Hugely enjoyable, and highly recommended.

And can we just take a moment to bask in the glory that is the cover of the book? Sterling work!

Violet, by SJI Holliday is published by Orenda Books in September 2019 in ebook, and November in paperback. Many thanks (as ever) to Karen @OrendaBooks for the review copy.