Cold as Hell – Lilja Sigurðardóttir

Icelandic sisters Áróra and Ísafold live in different countries and aren’t on speaking terms, but when their mother loses contact with Ísafold, Áróra reluctantly returns to Iceland to find her sister. But she soon realizes that her sister isn’t avoiding her … she has disappeared, without trace.

As she confronts Ísafold’s abusive, drug-dealing boyfriend Björn, and begins to probe her sister’s reclusive neighbours – who have their own reasons for staying out of sight – Áróra is led into an ever-darker web of intrigue and manipulation.

Baffled by the conflicting details of her sister’s life, and blinded by the shiveringly bright midnight sun of the Icelandic summer, Áróra enlists the help of police officer Daníel, as she tries to track her sister’s movements, and begins to tail Björn – but she isn’t the only one watching… 

I had Cold as Hell in my little stash of books with me on a holiday earlier this year and it kept me company on the beach one long hot day.

Reading about the Icelandic summer and the mysterious goings on between Áróra and Ísafold kept me entranced throughout the day, pausing only to top up on ice-cream and sun cream. That day seems so very long ago now, but the book has stayed with me to these dark winter days.

Áróra is summoned back to Iceland to look for her sister, Ísafold. Their mother has lost contact and is worried. Áróra reluctantly agrees and soon discovers that her sister is missing, and starts to worry that something more sinister is afoot.

I’m a big fan of Lilja Sigurðardóttir’s work, having been introduced to it in the excellent Snare. She has a great knack for character and a lovely way with a twisty plot. The characters in Cold As Hell are fascinating, from the estranged sisters to the slightly odd neighbours, they’ll keep you guessing. And you know that I just love a book with a sense of place, and Cold As Hell’s Iceland jumps off the page and is much a character as any other.

The writing is brisk and pacy, and I whipped through this book, desparate to find out what had happened to Ísafold. It’s beautifully pitched, riveting and superbly atmospheric. Iceland in summer can be a dangerous place.

Highly recommended.

Cold as Hell by Lilja Sigurðardóttir is published by Orenda Books and is out now. Superbly translated by Quentin Bates.

Huge thanks as ever to Karen Sullivan at Orenda Books for providing an advance copy for me to read on the beach. Apologies that it’s taken me so long to review!

The Beresford – Will Carver

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Just outside the city – any city, every city – is a grand, spacious but affordable apartment building called The Beresford.

There’s a routine at The Beresford.

For Mrs May, every day’s the same: a cup of cold, black coffee in the morning, pruning roses, checking on her tenants, wine, prayer and an afternoon nap. She never leaves the building.

Abe Schwartz also lives at The Beresford. His housemate, Sythe, no longer does. Because Abe just killed him. 

In exactly sixty seconds, Blair Conroy will ring the doorbell to her new home and Abe will answer the door. They will become friends. Perhaps lovers. 

And, when the time comes for one of them to die, as is always the case at The Beresford, there will be sixty seconds to move the body before the next unknowing soul arrives at the door.

Because nothing changes at The Beresford, until the doorbell rings…

Regular readers of this little blog will know that I’m a huge fan of Will Carver’s books, dark though they may be. We had the devilishly clever Good Samaritans with some very unsavoury people (don’t mention the bleach), the extraordinary Nothing Important Happened Today, followed by Hinton Hollow Death Trip in which Carver clearly looked at the dials marked ‘Dark’, ‘Disturbing’ and ‘Weird’, laughed, and promptly whacked them all up to 11. Or possibly beyond.

And now we have The Beresford. What, dear reader, can we say about this book?

You see, the Beresford is a very… odd place, filled with very odd people. And people tend to die a lot in The Beresford, a seemingly harmless old building just , on the edge of town. Well they die once, I suppose, but there are a lot of them…

They don’t all die at the same time, of course. But when one does, and one inevitably does, just wait a minute (literally), and listen for the doorbell to ring.

Carver has an unnerving knack of being able to draw you into his stories, then whacking you over the head with a ‘what just happened?’ moment. And while you’re reeling from that, he’s darted back in and slapped you with a ‘wait, no what??‘, constantly keeping you on your toes.

I read this book, as I have with all of Carver’s books, in a day, soaking up the atmosphere of The Beresford, watching through my fingers as a lot of very unpleasant things happen to the residents of The Beresford, and waiting for the doorbell to ring, wondering who’ll step through the doors next.

And the doorbell always rings.

Superb, as usual. Not for the faint-hearted, as always. Mr Carver, you have a devious mind, and a way with words that keep me coming back.

Hugely recommended.

The Beresford by Will Carver is published by Orenda Books and is out now. Many thanks to Karen Sullivan at Orenda Books for the review copy.

My Heart is a Chainsaw – Stephen Graham Jones

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In her quickly gentrifying rural lake town Jade sees recent events only her encyclopedic knowledge of horror films could have prepared her for in this latest novel from the Jordan Peele of horror literature, Stephen Graham Jones.

Jade feels like she’s trapped in a slasher film as tourists go missing and the tension between her community and the celebrity newcomers to the Indian Lake shore heads towards a tipping point, when she feels the killer will rise. Jade watches as the small town she knows and loves begins to head towards catastrophe as yachts compete with canoes and the celebrity rich change the landscape of what was designated park lands to develop what they call Terra Nova.

Staggeringly good.

More? Ok, fine.

My Heart is a Chainsaw is a love letter to classic slasher movies, with a main character who lives and breathes the genre, who has an encyclopaedic knowledge of the movies, and who can spot the clues starting to add up. Then the Final Girl arrives, and Jade must do whatever she can to help save the day.

It’s dark. It’s gory. It’s beautifully written, and uncomfortable to read in places. It’s a story about a small midwest town called Proofrock which faces an invasion of sorts by a bunch of super wealthy families across the lake which will change the dynamic of the town forever.

Jade, the half-Indian goth geek daughter of the town’s drunk, who escapes into the world of the slasher movie. Who writes essays to her English teacher about those movies and how they’re constructed and how they work. Those essays form interludes between chapters of the book, and add so much to the background of the story.

The book starts with a bang (or rather a scream) as a young holidaying couple arrive in Proofrock one night, never to be seen again. Events start to echo the slashers that Jade loves so much, and when the Final Girl, the daughter of one of the wealthy families from over the lake, turns up Jade knows that bad things are about to happen.

Stephen Graham Jones takes us on a journey in this book through Jade’s eyes, and it’s both fascinating and utterly heartbreaking. You’ll find yourself rooting for Jade all the way, but knowing how these movies turn out, your heart is in your mouth as we edge ever closer to the final showdown.

It’s a testament to Jones’ writing that I enjoyed this book so much, despite having limited exposure to the movies that he clearly loves so. I know the names, and the stories, but I’m a little too squeamish to enjoyed the shock-horror of the films. Though maybe after this I’ll give some of them another go, to see if I can see the as Jade does throughout this book.

Hugely recommended, though it’s not for the faint-hearted!

My Heart Is A Chainsaw by Stephen Graham Jones is published by Titan Books in the UK and is out now in paperback. I bought my copy after hearing great things about the book from @bluebookballon and @runalongwomble on twitter. Shameless booktempters both.

Far From The Light of Heaven – Tade Thompson

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The colony ship Ragtime docks in the Lagos system, having traveled light-years to bring one thousand sleeping souls to a new home among the stars. But when first mate Michelle Campion rouses, she discovers some of the sleepers will never wake.

Answering Campion’s distress call, investigator Rasheed Fin is tasked with finding out who is responsible for these deaths. Soon a sinister mystery unfolds aboard the gigantic vessel, one that will have repercussions for the entire system—from the scheming politicians of Lagos station, to the colony planet Bloodroot, to other far-flung systems, and indeed to Earth itself.

It’s been a little while since I delved into a really good science fiction tale, and I really enjoyed Far From The Light of Heaven. In fact I enjoyed it so much I polished it off in a couple of sittings. It’s got everything I love in a story – great characters, interesting setting and a really intriguing story.

Far From The Light of Heaven revolves around a locked-room mystery (and who doesn’t love one of those?). The colony ship Ragtime has set off from Earth with a thousand passengers en route to the planet Bloodroot, in the Lagos system. It jumped through several interstellar gates to get there, and the ship is fully automated, with a sole human crewmember on board, just in case anything goes wrong.

Nothing ever goes wrong. Ever.

Until now.

The Ragtime arrives at its destination and wakes Shell up from her ten year dreamstate sleep. The ship AI isn’t responding as it should, and before long Shell realises that there is something very very wrong. There are some passengers missing, and a wolf roaming the corridors of the ship…

I loved this book. There’s a real sense of claustrophobia and danger aboard the Ragtime. The AI is unpredictable, the ship’s bots are even more so, and only Shell has any sort of control. Then the arrival of Fin to investigate what’s going on throws another spanner into the mix. Who killed the missing passengers? Why is there a wolf on board?

The tension ratchets up nicely, with both Shell and Fin trying to figure out what’s going on against the backdrop of a rogue ship AI trying it’s darndest to stop them. Throw in some interesting aliens and some political shenanigans and you’ve got a splendid scifi mystery.

Highly recommended.

Far From The Light of Heaven by Tade Thompson is published by Orbit Books and is out now. Huge thanks to Nazia Khatun and Orbit Books for sending me an advance copy to review. Opinions are, as ever, my own.

Bad Apples – Will Dean #blogtour #review

A murder

A resident of small-town Visberg is found decapitated in the forest

A festival

An isolated hilltop community celebrates ’Pan Night’ after the apple harvest

A race against time

As Visberg closes ranks, there could not be a worse time for Tuva Moodyson to arrive as deputy editor of the local newspaper. Tuva senses the scoop of her career, unaware perhaps that she is the story…

It’s Halloween season in Sweden and Tuva Moodyson is back in Bad Apples, the fourth in Will Dean’s superb series of books featuring everyone’s favourite journalist.

Regular readers of this little blog will be well aware of my love of this series. I’ve followed the adventures and misadventures of Tuva from the creepy forest of Utgard in Dark Pines, to the nefarious goings on at the Grimberg liquorice factory of Red Snow and then to Midsommar in Gavrik and her missing friend in Black River.

I’d been eagerly looking forward to Tuva’s latest adventure and promptly tucked into the Bad Apples as soon as it arrived in the summer. Then had to sit on my review for ages waiting for the blog tour to tell you just how good it is.

And hoo boy is it good. I loved the first three books, so the bar was set pretty high. Bad Apples is the pick of the already very very good bunch*.

*[Sorry, enough of the fruity puns]

Will Dean takes us to Visberg this time, an isolated little hilltop community, with plenty of weird happenings, odd characters and, of course, a crime for Tuva to investigate.

I love how Dean manages to create a sense of place in these books, and Visberg is a very odd place. He also puts our Tuva through the wringer again, and be warned, there are some scenes which are very much not for the squeamish. I’ve read a fair amount of crime fiction where unpleasant things happen, and even I winced a little at times!

Bad Apples may well be the fourth in the Tuva Moodyson series, but I think it would work as a jumping-in point for new readers. Though of course I highly recommend reading them all, on the offchance that you’ve somehow ignored me rabbiting on about these books for the past years.

Which of course you haven’t. So as a seasoned member of #TeamTuva, you’ll need no enticement from me to pick up this instalment.

Highly recommended doesn’t even begin to cover it.

Bad Apples by Will Dean is published by Point Blank and is out now. Many thanks to Margot Weale and Point Blank for the copy of the book to review, and to Anne Cater of Random Things Tours for inviting me to take part in the blog tour. Opinions are, of course, my own.

The Origins of Iris – Beth Lewis

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‘I opened my eyes and the woman wearing my face opened hers at the same time.’ 

Iris flees New York City, and her abusive wife Claude, for the Catskill Mountains. When she was a child, Iris and her father found solace in the beauty and wilderness of the forest; now, years later, Iris has returned for time and space to clear her head, and to come to terms with the mistakes that have led her here. But what Iris doesn’t expect in her journey of survival and self-discovery is to find herself – literally.

Trapped in a neglected cabin deep in the mountains, Iris is grudgingly forced to come face to face with a seemingly prettier, happier and better version of herself. Other Iris made different choices in life and love. But is she all she seems? Can she be trusted? What is she hiding?

As a storm encroaches, threatening both their lives, time is running out for them to discover why they have been brought together, and what it means for their futures.

A few years ago I read The Wolf Road and proceeded to pester pretty much everyone who asked (and several who didn’t) that they needed to read it. It’s stunning. If you’ve somehow escaped my nagging over the past five years, you should read it.

That was then, and this is now, and it was with no small excitement that I found a copy of The Origins Of Iris landing on my doorstep earlier in the summer. I took it away with me on holiday and dived right in.

Remember earlier when I said that The Wolf Road was good? Like, really good?

The Origins of Iris is somehow even better. Beth Lewis has somehow taken one of my favourite books of recent years and written another book which bumped it down the list.

It’s split into two timelines, the one in the now following Iris as she flees from her abusive partner into the Catskills, the other in the past, in the lead up to her marriage. Lewis deftly weaves these two different strands together over the course of the book, revealing Iris to us, and indeed herself bit by bit.

Then Iris meets another woman at the cabin in the woods. A woman whose face looks familiar. Another Iris. Another facet to the story.

Lewis’ writing is just a joy to read. It’s wonderful. Dark, raw and startlingly original, it will linger long in the memory after you turn the last page. It took me a while to recover myself after reading.

The Origins of Iris by Beth Lewis is published by Hodder Studio. Huge thanks to the publisher for the advance copy for review.

The Last House on Needless Street – Catriona Ward

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This is the story of a serial killer. A stolen child. Revenge. Death. And an ordinary house at the end of an ordinary street.

All these things are true. And yet they are all lies…

You think you know what’s inside the last house on Needless Street. You think you’ve read this story before. That’s where you’re wrong.

In the dark forest at the end of Needless Street, lies something buried. But it’s not what you think…

This is a book that caused a bit of a buzz amongst the book blogger community when it first came out. Then a little while later I was at a virtual book event and Catriona was there talking about her book, cats, and I found myself ordering a copy from the lovely Forum Books (which turned out to be signed, to my delight).

I have to confess that I promptly got distracted and the book sat on the shelf for a while.

Until yesterday, when I found myself browsing the shelves, looking for my next read.

I’m now kicking myself for waiting so long. The Last House On Needless Street absolutely blew me away. It’s astonishingly good. From the blurb you think you know what you’re going to get, and to a certain extent, you do. But there’s so much more to this book. It’s beautifully written, desperately tense at times, and goes to some very dark places indeed.

It’s hard to say more without giving away too much. I can tell you that you’ll meet Ted, a recluse who lives in the last house. Lauren, his daughter. And Olivia, his cat. I *loved* Olivia and her narrative voice is something that made this book extra special.

Whatever you do, don’t read any reviews (other than this one, of course), or go further than the blurb.

You trust me, don’t you? But brace yourself. Needless Street is a strange place, and the last house is stranger still.

Easily one of my books of the year.

The Last House On Needless Street by Catriona Ward is published by Viper and is out now.

#BlogTour #review A Slow Fire Burning – Paula Hawkins

Laura has spent most of her life being judged. She’s seen as hot-tempered, troubled, a loner. Some even call her dangerous.

Miriam knows that just because Laura is witnessed leaving the scene of a horrific murder with blood on her clothes, that doesn’t mean she’s a killer. Bitter experience has taught her how easy it is to get caught in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Carla is reeling from the brutal murder of her nephew. She trusts no one: good people are capable of terrible deeds. But how far will she go to find peace?

Innocent or guilty, everyone is damaged. Some are damaged enough to kill.

Reader, I really enjoyed this book.

A young woman is seen leaving the scene of a brutal murder on a canal boat. She’s got blood on her clothes. A man has been murdered. It can’t be that simple, can it?

Of course not! But what we have here is a deliciously twisty series of unreliable narrators, and who saw what and when (and why) unfurls over the course of this book, often leaving you guessing, and always leaving wanting just one more chapter.

The characters are fascinating, albeit not always immediately likeable. As the story develops we get to see their layers behind the surface, their complexities, what made them who they are. Not everyone is how they seem from the start, and it’s great fun trying to figure out where the story is going and who you dare to trust.

The way the story plays out is interesting – there’s a novellist character whose book is partly told within this story – a novel within a novel. It’s an interesting and unusual way of framing the story, and of course it shows yet another facet of the mystery at hand. It’s a neat plot device that I really liked.

This is the first of Paula Hawkins’ books that I’ve read – I’m not sure how I managed to miss reading The Girl On The Train given how huge it was, but on the strength of the writing here, I’m not surprised it was a hit. This is crying out for a TV adaptation, and I’d be first in line to watch it.

A Slow Fire Burning by Paula Hawkins is published by Doubleday and is out now. Many thanks to the publisher and to Anne Cater of Random Things Tours for inving me to take part in the blog tour, and for the advance copy of the book to review.

#BlogTour #Review – Resistance by Mara Timon

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Three women. One mission. Enemies everywhere.
May 1944. When spy Elisabeth de Mornay, code name Cécile, notices a coded transmission from an agent in the field does not bear his usual signature, she suspects his cover has been blown– something that is happening with increasing frequency. With the situation in Occupied France worsening and growing fears that the Resistance has been compromised, Cécile is ordered behind enemy lines.
Having rendezvoused with her fellow agents, Léonie and Dominique, together they have one mission: help the Resistance destabilise German operations to pave the way for the Normandy landings.
But the life of a spy is never straightforward, and the in-fighting within the Resistance makes knowing who to trust ever more difficult. With their lives on the line, all three women will have to make decisions that could cost them everything – for not all their enemies are German.

Resistance is the follow-up to Mara Timon’s debut novel City of Spies. Now, I’ve not read the first book but on the strength of the second I’ll definitely be adding it to the list.

It’s not often you get a really good strong female lead in a spy story, and in Resistance we have three! Elisabeth de Mornay is parachuted into France along with fellow agent Léonie to investigate suspicions that the Resistance has been compromised. De Mornay (codenamed Cécile) teams up with Dominique to help the Resistance prepare for the D-Day landings. Nothing is every quite straightforward though, of course.

This tense, atmospheric spy thriller keeps you on your toes from the very first page, with plenty of danger for our plucky SOE operatives. At times you could cut the tension with a knife (maybe Cécile’s trusty sgian dubh knife which she carries everywhere). Great cast of characters and a real sense of place and time give this book the edge that I look for in a thriller. There were plenty of references back to earlier events in City of Spies, but you could easily read this as a standalone, though I’m sure you’d get more out of it having read the earlier book. I definitely plan on going back to find out more about de Mornay’s adventures!

I really enjoyed this book (as you can probably tell!)

Highly recommended.

Resistance by Mara Timon is published by Zaffre. Many thanks to Zaffre and Tracy Fenton of Compulsive Readers for inviting me to take part in the tour.

The Killing Tide – Lin Anderson

After a fierce storm hits Scotland, a mysterious cargo ship is discovered in the Orkney Isles. Boarding the vessel uncovers three bodies, recently deceased and in violent circumstances. Forensic scientist Dr Rhona MacLeod’s study of the crime scene suggests that a sinister game was being played on board, but who were the hunters? And who the hunted?
Meanwhile in Glasgow DS Michael McNab is called to a horrific incident where a young woman has been set on fire. Or did she spark the flames herself?
As evidence arises that connects the two cases, the team grow increasingly concerned that the truth of what happened on the ship and in Glasgow hints at a wider conspiracy that stretches down to London and beyond to a global stage. Orcadian Ava Clouston, renowned investigative journalist, believes so and sets out to prove it, putting herself in grave danger.
When the Met Police challenge Police Scotland’s jurisdiction, it becomes obvious that there are ruthless individuals who are willing to do whatever it takes to protect government interests. Which could lead to even more deaths on Scottish soil . . .

The Killing Tide is the 16th book in Lin Anderson’s Scottish crime thriller series featuring forensic scientist Rhona MacLeod. It’s the first of the series I’ve read, and whilst there are plenty of callbacks to earlier books, it’s easily readable as a standalone.

Storm Burka delivers a seemingly abandoned cargo ship to the shores of Orkney, though of course there’s more to it than meets the eye. There are bodies on board – enter Rhona MacLeod to help unravel the mysterious circumstances surrounding their deaths.

I really enjoyed this book. The plotting is intricate and intriguing, and the strands of the investigations into the bodies aboard the abandoned ship and the woman set alight in Glasgow play out to a satisfying conclusion.

The characters are great too. We get a lot of glimpses into the history of MacLeod and DS McNab throughout this book which have taken place in earlier books, and I look forward to delving back (if that makes sense!) into those stories soon. MacLeod in particular is a fascinating character, strong and driven, determined to figure out the truth. The story moves between the viewpoints of MacLeod, McNab and investigative journalist Ava Clouston, and I really liked the way the story unfolded between the three of them.

Regular readers will know how much I love a book with a good sense of place, and The Killing Tide delivers just that. You can almost feel the storm lashing the windows of the cottages on Orkney, and the damp streets of Glasgow as we follow our investigators tracking down clues.

It’s not a book for the faint-hearted – there are some dark moments along the way as you’d expect from any good crime story!

The Killing Tide by Lin Anderson is published by Pan Macmillan and is out now. Many thanks to Anne Cater of Random Things Tours for inviting me to take part in the tour, and to the publisher for the copy of the book to review.

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