The Gameshouse – Claire North

Everyone has heard of the Gameshouse. But few know all its secrets…

It is the place where fortunes can be made and lost through chess, backgammon – every game under the sun.
But those whom fortune favors may be invited to compete in the higher league… a league where the games played are of politics and empires, of economics and kings. It is a league where Capture the Castle involves real castles, where hide and seek takes place on the scale of a continent.

Among those worthy of competing in the higher league, three unusually talented contestants play for the highest stakes of all…

Regular readers of this blog will know that I’m a huge fan of Claire North’s books, from the mind-bending 84K to the remarkable The Sudden Appearance of Hope. So it was with some excitement that I received a copy of The Gameshouse – originally published as three digital-only novellas The Serpent, The Thief, and The Master, now all three are collected together.

In the world of the Gameshouse, players come to make their fortunes through any and every game. The House itself can be anywhere, a door in London, New York, here today and gone tomorrow, for it exists out of time.

We start the tale with The Serpent, set in 17th century Venice, where a young woman is invited to play beyond the silver door into the higher league, a game of kings and pawns, where Thene the player moves her pieces around the city, real people with real stakes and very real consequences.

In The Thief we move to 1930s Thailand where we’re introduced to Remy Burke, who wakes up with a hangover having been tricked into a game of hide and seek. Except the field of play is Thailand, and the stakes are very high – twenty years of life if he wins, and the loss of his memories if he loses. And Remy is very hungover, very tall and very white. Not the ideal start to a game where you’ve got twenty minutes head start…

We finish up with The Master. Set in the present day, it ties the previous two stories together into a whole. Whereas the first game took place in a city, and the second in a country, the final game is truly global.

Just brilliant. Each game gets bigger in scope, with higher stakes, and each builds on the other, delivering a complex, layered narrative where little inconsequential things become vital pieces in the endgame. North’s writing is, as ever, just glorious to experience. She has a style which at times can take a little getting used to, but like all good things, worth the effort. The worldbuilding is phenomenal, and the world of the Gameshouse is fascinating and thought-provoking.

Hugely recommended.

The Gameshouse by Claire North is published by Orbit Books. Thanks as ever to Nazia Khatun for the review copy.

Worst Case Scenario – Helen Fitzgerald

Mary Shields is a moody, acerbic probation offer, dealing with some of Glasgow’s worst cases, and her job is on the line.
Liam Macdowall was imprisoned for murdering his wife, and he’s published a series of letters to the dead woman, in a book that makes him an unlikely hero – and a poster boy for Men’s Rights activists.
Liam is released on licence into Mary’s care, but things are far from simple. Mary develops a poisonous obsession with Liam and his world, and when her son and Liam’s daughter form a relationship, Mary will stop at nothing to impose her own brand of justice … with devastating consequences.

I must confess that after the first dozen or so pages of Worst Case Scenario I wondered if this was really the book for me. I wasn’t sure if I could cope with Mary’s in-your-face approach to life and work. Borderline alcoholic, menopausal, obsessed with her awful clients, she’s quite the character.

I pressed on and was rewarded with a deliciously dark, delightfully un-PC, often downright hilarious tale of a Glaswegian probation officer’s last days in the job. Mary Shields grew on me with every page, and I found myself watching events unravel with a horrified cover-your-eyes what-will-happen-next sense of anticipation.

She’s just brilliant, flawed and fiercely protective of her own. The scenes with John Paul were particularly poignant and touching (and heartbreakingly funny).

It’s Mary’s job to deal with some of the worst in society, and she’s dealt a rogue’s gallery of offenders, be they paedophiles or murderers, to deal with. They’re uniquely horrible people, making the book hard to read at times, but Fitzgerald’s skill is portraying a grim reality to their situations, with only Mary to look out for them.

Interspersed with excerpts from men’s rights activist Liam Macdowall’s awful book of letters to his dead wife, the story spirals towards a thoroughly unforgettable climax.

Short, sharp and not at all sweet, Worst Case Scenario is a book that’ll live with you for quite some time. Recommended.

Worst Case Scenario by Helen Fitzgerald is published by Orenda Books and is out now. Many thanks to Karen for the advance copy of Helen’s book to review.

Turbulent Wake – Paul E. Hardisty

Ethan Scofield returns to the place of his birth to bury his father. Hidden in one of the upstairs rooms of the old man’s house he finds a strange manuscript, a collection of stories that seems to cover the whole of his father’s turbulent life.
As his own life starts to unravel, Ethan works his way through the manuscript, trying to find answers to the mysteries that have plagued him since he was a child. What happened to his little brother? Why was his mother taken from him? And why, in the end, when there was no one else left, did his own father push him away?
Swinging from the coral cays of the Caribbean to the dangerous deserts of Yemen and the wild rivers of Africa, Turbulent Wake is a bewitching, powerful and deeply moving story of love and loss … of the indelible damage we do to those closest to us and, ultimately, of the power of redemption in a time of change.

When I was asked if I wanted to take part in the blog tour for Paul E. Hardisty’s latest book, I was told that it was something a little different from his Claymore Straker series. I was intrigued.

Turbulent Wake tells the story of a young man who discovers a manuscript in his recently deceased father’s estate. The manuscript appears to be a collection of short stories which turn out to cover his father’s life, but which turn out to be rather more than they appear.

I was absorbed by the structure of these stories within a larger story – each a facet of his father’s life, each providing a glimpse into the past and uncovering some uncomfortable secrets. Hardisty has shown that he’s a deft hand at the thriller in his Straker books, but the writing on display here is on another level. Fascinating to see how a young man’s life builds from a series of vignettes, played off against his son’s own story in the present day.

Some of the early stories are deeply uncomfortable, revealing a hidden traumatic childhood which is as hard for the reader as they are for the son. I think this is what I found the most interesting thing about the book – we’re reading about a son reading about his father, from his father’s own point of view, and discovering things about his father’s history as the son does. Seeing how our own reactions compare with the son’s as he finds out so much that he didn’t know about his father’s (and indeed his family’s) life is an unusual experience, but one which works well.

Already a fan of Hardisty’s books, Turbulent Wake has put him firmly onto the “can’t wait to see what he comes up with next” list.

Recommended.

Turbulent Wake by Paul E. Hardisty is published by Orenda Books and is out now. Many thanks as ever to Anne Cater and Karen Sullivan from Orenda Books for inviting me to take part in the blog tour.

The Passengers – John Marrs

Eight self-drive cars set on a collision course. Who lives, who dies? You decide.

When someone hacks into the systems of eight self-drive cars, their passengers are set on a fatal collision course.

The passengers are: a TV star, a pregnant young woman, a disabled war hero, an abused wife fleeing her husband, an illegal immigrant, a husband and wife – and parents of two – who are travelling in separate vehicles and a suicidal man. Now the public have to judge who should survive but are the passengers all that they first seem?

The Passengers is a high-concept, fast-paced thriller that you’ll just race through. Eight characters for the public to judge, who will live, who will die? But are we seeing the full side of each of their stories? And why does the mysterious Hacker want to make the public judge, jury and executioner?

Loved it. Completely hooked from the first page, and one of those books with more twists and turns than that really twisty street in San Francisco which will leave you wanting to read just a *tiny* bit further.

The characters initially feel a little bit cookie-cutter stereotype, but of course as the book progresses you find that there’s more than meets the eye for each of them, and finding out their true stories is fascinating. Similarly with the Hacker – initially a faceless Man In Black, but discovering the why behind his actions as the story progresses gives way to a much deeper character.

Also fascinating to see the role that social media plays in the story – our Hacker plays on the emotions of the public to see how they can make them turn for and against his Passengers.

Who will live? Who will die? There’s one way to find out…

The Passengers by John Marrs is published by Ebury in May 2019 in paperback but is available now as an ebook. Many thanks to Tracy Fenton and the publisher for inviting me to take part in the blog tour.

The Neighbour – Fiona Cummins

FOR SALEA lovely family home with good-sized garden and treehouse occupying a plot close to woodland. Perfect for kids, fitness enthusiasts, dog walkers . . .
And, it seems, the perfect hunting ground for a serial killer.
On a hot July day, Garrick and Olivia Lockwood and their two children move into 25 The Avenue looking for a fresh start. They arrive in the midst of a media frenzy: they’d heard about the local murders in the press, but Garrick was certain the killer would be caught and it would all be over in no time. Besides, they’d got the house at a steal and he was convinced he could flip it for a fortune.
The neighbours seemed to be the very picture of community spirit. But everyone has secrets, and the residents in The Avenue are no exception.
After six months on the case with no real leads, the most recent murder has turned DC Wildeve Stanton’s life upside down, and now she has her own motive for hunting down the killer – quickly.


I’m a huge fan of Fiona Cummins’ books – Rattle and The Collector are both brilliantly creepy with a fantastic (if that’s the right word) serial killer that you won’t forget in a hurry. Both books have made my ‘books of the year’ lists in 2017 and 2018, so it was with no small measure of excitement that I rushed to buy a copy (yes, bookbloggers *do* buy books!) of Fiona’s new book, The Neighbour.

Reader, I was not disappointed. I started reading on my commute into Leeds and was immediately hooked. Snatched a few more minutes with the book over lunchtime, then again on the way home, where I promptly settled down with a large mug of tea and promptly lost myself in the delightfully mysterious goings-on at The Avenue.

Garrick and Olivia Lockwood move into a quiet little street with plans to turn around the property and make some money. Except the house backs onto some woodland, where several people have met a rather sticky end. Enter DC Wildeve Stanton, who has her own reasons for tracking down the murderer. But it seems that everyone has secrets…

Told over the course of a few days over the long, hot, sticky summer of 2018, The Neighbour is wonderfully atmospheric, and not a little claustrophobic in places. The cast of neighbours on The Avenue are an intriguing bunch, and you’re never quite sure who to suspect, though you’ll end up questioning what you think about pretty much all of them along the way. I particularly liked DC Stanton, though Cummins does rather put her through the wringer in this one. I’d love to see more of her in future books.

Loved it from the first page to the last. Very highly recommended, and will be most surprised if it’s not on my books of the year list for 2019!

The Neighbour by Fiona Cummins is published by Macmillan and is out now.
You can find Fiona on twitter @FionaAnnCummins.

The Courier – Kjell Ola Dahl

In Oslo in 1942, Jewish courier Ester is betrayed, narrowly
avoiding arrest by the Gestapo. In great haste, she escapes to
Sweden whilst the rest of her family is deported to Auschwitz.
In Stockholm, Ester meets the resistance hero, Gerhard Falkum,
who has left his little daughter and fled both the Germans and
allegations that he murdered his wife, Åse, Ester ’s childhood
best friend. A relationship develops between them, but ends
abruptly when Falkum dies in a fire.
And yet, twenty-five years later, Falkum shows up in Oslo. He
wants to reconnect with his daughter Turid. But where has he
been, and what is the real reason for his return? Ester stumbles
across information that forces her to look closely at her past,
and to revisit her war-time training to stay alive…

So this marks the third appearance of Kjell Ola Dahl’s books on the blog, and roughly a year apart. First we had Faithless, then The Ice Swimmer, books five and six in his series featuring his detectives Gunnarstranda and Frølich. Classic slices of Nordic Noir, both.

And so now we have The Courier, a standalone historical thriller which delves into the dark history of Norway in WWII. The story is told across three time periods – 1942, 1967 and 2015, though the modern-day element bookends the story.

It’s a fascinating tale, told in Dahl’s signature style of short, punchy sentences, once more ably translated by Don Bartlett. It’s a style that in previous books took me a little while to get into, but here it’s like sinking into a familiar, favourite armchair and you’re soon lost in the story.

As with his earlier books, Dahl shows a deft hand with plot, juggling the two main threads between 1942 and 1967 and revealing his cards only when he’s good and ready. Even though we know how things turn out in the quarter century after the earlier chapters, there’s a real sense of menace and genuine peril in the earlier sections.

It’s not just the plot though, character and especially the relationships between them is where Kjell Ola Dahl excels. Fascinating to see Ester grow from the girl who loses her parents to Auschwitz, a courier who is forced to flee to Sweden to escape the Gestapo herself, to the woman she becomes some 25 years later. The world has changed and so has she, but then everything changes again when an old face makes a startling reappearance.

I don’t usually read a lot of historical fiction, but couldn’t resist seeing what Kjell Ola Dahl, the Godfather of Nordic Noir, would come up with. It’s proper, hard-boiled Noir with a wonderfully gritty, distressingly authentic edge.

It’ll keep you thinking for a long while after you’ve finished. Highly recommended.

The Courier by Kjell Ola Dahl is published by Orenda Books on 21st March 2019. You can find Kjell Ola Dahl on twitter @ko_dahl.

Huge thanks to Anne Cater and Orenda Books for inviting me to take part in the blog tour, and for the review copy.

The Leaden Heart – Chris Nickson

Leeds, England. July, 1899.

The hot summer has been fairly quiet for Detective Superintendent Tom Harper and his squad, until a daring burglary occurs at an expensive Leeds address. Then his friend and former colleague, Inspector Billy Reed, asks for his help. Billy’s brother, Charlie, a shopkeeper, has committed suicide. Going through Charlie’s papers, Billy discovers crippling rent rises demanded by his new landlord. Could these have driven him to his death? As Harper investigates, he uncovers a web of intimidation and corruption that leads back to the mysterious North Leeds Company. Who is pulling the strings behind the scenes and bringing a new kind of misery and violence to the people of Leeds? Harper is determined to unmask the culprits, but how much blood will be shed as he tries?


The Leaden Heart is the seventh of Chris Nickson’s Tom Harper Mysteries, but the first I’ve read. Set in Leeds in 1899, we find Detective Superintendent Tom Harper sweltering in the long, hot summer. Harper’s old friend and colleague, Billy Reed, comes back to Leeds from Whitby for the funeral of his brother, only to discover that it was suicide. The two friends dig into the mysterious circumstances of his death to discover there’s a lot more to it than meets the eye, and some powerful men do not want him uncovering the truth.

I really enjoyed The Leaden Heart. I read a lot of contemporary crime fiction so it was a breath of fresh air to delve back into my adopted city’s past and see it through a different lens. Familiar streets and places brought to life through Nickson’s evident extensive research and love of the city gave the story an extra edge for me. It may be the seventh book in the series, but could easily be read as a standalone as I did. That said, I’d be interested to go back and find out more about Harper and his investigations.

It’s a great story too, full of political intrigue and corruption. Harper is a fascinating character, a solid, no-nonsense old school copper with a determination to get to the bottom of what’s going on, no matter the consequences to his reputation. There’s an interesting subplot too featuring Harper’s wife Annabelle, a Poor Law Guardian investigating the deaths of two young girls and trying to change the minds of the men who make the rules but have no time or desire to listen to her.

I’ve not read much historical fiction, but on the strength of The Leaden Heart, perhaps I ought to add a few more to my reading list!

The Leaden Heart by Chris Nickson is published by Severn House at the end of March 2019. Many thanks to the publisher and author for the advance copy for review. You can find Chris Nickson on twitter @ChrisNickson2 or at his website www.chrisnickson.co.uk