One Way Out – A.A. Dhand

A bomb detonates in Bradford’s City Park.

When the alert sounds, DCI Harry Virdee has just enough time to get his son and his mother to safety before the bomb blows. But this is merely a stunt.

The worst is yet to come.

A new and aggressive nationalist group, the Patriots, have hidden a second device under one of the city’s mosques. In exchange for the safe release of those at Friday prayers, the Patriots want custody of the leaders of radical Islamist group Almukhtareen – the chosen ones.

The government does not negotiate with terrorists. Even when thousands of lives are at risk.

There is only one way out.

But Harry’s wife is in one of those mosques. Left with no choice, Harry must find the Almukhtareen, to offer the Patriots his own deal.

Because sometimes the only way to save lives, is to take them.

One Way Out is the fourth in A.A. Dhand’s Harry Virdee series of books, but my first introduction to the character. Set just down the road from me in Bradford, the story kicks of with a bomb alert in City Park and the pace doesn’t let up for a moment from that point on. Early books were billed as Luther meets The Wire and I think that’s pretty fair – Harry Virdee is a great character who takes a… creative approach to police work, even moreso when his wife is in danger!

I loved this book – great characters, superbly atmospheric with a real sense of place (something regular readers of this blog know that I find irresistible). And the plot is superbly taut, with the author ratchetting up the stakes and tension as we go. It’s not just the conflict between the terrorist demands and the police though, there’s also the very current and real danger between radical elements – here the so-called Patriots, and the equally radical Almukhtareen. Oh, and then there’s Harry’s parents, divided over their son’s marriage to his Muslim wife.

Faced with the choice of sacrificing four people to save a thousand, what would you do?

The plot is splendidly twisty – just when you think you’ve worked out what’s going on and what Harry is prepared to do, the author will flip the switch and send you off down another track, all the while hurtling towards a great final act.

It might be my first DCI Harry Virdee thriller, but it won’t be my last. Looking forward to picking up the rest of the series, and to what A. A. Dhand has in store for him next.

One Way Out by A.A. Dhand is published by Bantam Press in June 2019. Many thanks to Bantam Press and Anne Cater for inviting me to take part in the blog tour.

You can find A.A. Dhand on twitter @aadhand or his website www.aadhand.com

The Girl Who Could Move Sh*t With Her Mind – Jackson Ford

Teagan Frost is having a hard time keeping it together. Sure, she’s got telekinetic powers — a skill that the government is all too happy to make use of, sending her on secret break-in missions that no ordinary human could carry out. But all she really wants to do is kick back, have a beer, and pretend she’s normal for once.

But then a body turns up at the site of her last job — murdered in a way that only someone like Teagan could have pulled off. She’s got 24 hours to clear her name – and it’s not just her life at stake. If she can’t unravel the conspiracy in time, her hometown of Los Angeles will be in the crosshairs of an underground battle that’s on the brink of exploding

Oh, this was a lot of fun.

Teagan Frost has PK – psychokinesis – meaning she can literally move sh*t with her mind. And she works for a shadowy government organisation who use her… particular skillset for their own nefarious purposes.

On second thoughts, throwing myself out of the window of a skyscraper may not have been the best idea.

We’re introduced to Teagan and her gang of government-sponsored misfits mid-job (and mid-air for two of them), and the action does not let up from that point onwards. The job goes sideways and a body turns up. A body that could only have been killed by someone with a… particular skillset. One which only Teagan possesses.

It’s not been the best of days, if she’s honest.

She and her crew have 24 hours to prove that she didn’t do it. Only the crew aren’t convinced it wasn’t her.

I loved Teagan’s snarkiness and her wise-ass internal commentary as her day goes from bad (falling out of a window, albeit sort-of-on-purpose) to worse (being accused of murder) to properly sh*t-hits-the-fan (no spoilers).

It’s a cracking book, with wall-to-wall action and shenanigans aplenty as Teagan and crew zoom around Los Angeles try ing to prove her innocence. There’s a great sense of place here too as we visit some of the less salubrious parts of the City of Angels.

Jackson Ford is a pseudonym, and I’d love to find out who the author *really* is!

The Girl Who Could Move Sh*t With Her Mind by Jackson Ford is published by Orbit Books in June 2019. Huge thanks to Nazia Khatun for the advance copy to review.

Velocity Weapon – Megan E. O’Keefe

Sanda and Biran were siblings destined for greatness. Her: a dedicated soldier with the skills to save the universe. Him: a savvy politician with ambitions for changing the course of intergalactic war. 

However, on a routine maneuver, Sanda’s gunship gets blown out of the sky. Instead of finding herself in friendly hands, she awakens 230 years later upon an empty enemy smartship who calls himself Bero. The war is lost. The star system and everyone in it is dead. Ada Prime and its rival Icarion have wiped each other from the universe.

Now, separated by space and time, Sanda and Biran will find a way to put things right. 

Smart, slick sci-fi with brilliant characters and a cracking plot, Velocity Weapon is everything I love about science fiction. The worldbuilding is superb, spanning hundreds of years of political shenanigans and a planetbusting doomsday weapon wouldn’t be amiss in an Iain M. Banks novel.

We’ve also got a super smart ship AI in the form of The Light of Berossus – who prefers to be called Bero, a brilliantly complex character who might just have a little more to him than meets the eye.

The action unfolds across multiple timelines – the ‘now’ of Sanda’s awakening on Bero playing out against the ‘then’ of Sanda’s brother Biran, 230 years earlier when the battle which ended up with Sanda in a survival pod for a couple of centuries. Then there’s a third timeline involving a heist on another world which feels rather disconnected from the main narrative, at least initially. But of course everything is connected…

It’s hard to say too much about Velocity Weapon without spoiling the plot, and it’s really something you need to go into without knowing too much. Suffice it to say that if you like your space opera played out on the grandest, galaxy-spanning stage, with some brilliantly diverse characters and a whip-smart plot, then this book is for you.

Loved it. Ten sentient AIs out of ten. Hugely recommended.

Velocity Weapon by Megan E. O’Keefe is published by Orbit Books. Huge thanks to Nazia Khatun for the advance copy to review.

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.

Waiting on Wednesday: Heartstream – Tom Pollock

I spotted this over at Drew’s The Tattooed Book Geek and though it sounded like a great idea.

Waiting On Wednesday was a weekly meme hosted by Breaking the Spine. Each Wednesday you highlight a book that you’re really looking forward to. Unfortunately, the original creator is no longer able to host the meme and it has now linked up with Can’t Wait Wednesday over at Wishful Endings.

I’m going to choose Tom Pollock’s Heartstream. Due out in July from Walker Books.

Cat is in love. Always the sensible one, she can’t believe that she’s actually dating, not to mention dating a star. But the fandom can’t know. They would eat her alive. And first at the buffet would definitely be her best friend, Evie. Amy uses Heartstream, a social media app that allows others to feel your emotions. She broadcasted every moment of her mother’s degenerative illness, and her grief following her death. It’s the realest, rawest reality TV imaginable. But on the day of Amy’s mother’s funeral, Amy finds a strange woman in her kitchen. She’s rigged herself and the house with explosives – and she’s been waiting to talk to Amy for a long time. Who is she? A crazed fan? What does she want? Amy and Cat are about to discover how far true obsession can go.

Huge fan of Tom’s books – his Skyscraper Throne trilogy is just brilliant, and if you’ve not read White Rabbit Red Wolf, then you’re missing out. Go!

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.

The July Girls – Phoebe Locke

Every year, on the same night in July, a woman is taken from the streets of London; snatched by a killer who moves through the city like a ghost. 

Just stunningly good. A serial killer story with a twist, told from the point of view of Addie, a young girl caught up in a swirl of events. I’ve deliberately cut part of the blurb from Goodreads as I think this is one of those books that you want to go into knowing as little as possible, and find out for yourself what makes Addie’s story so unforgettable.

I polished off The July Girls in a couple of hours. Impossible to put down, with a truly different spin on the psychological crime thriller.

Easily one of my books of the year so far. Seek this one out folks, you will not be disappointed. Hugely recommended.

The July Girls by Phoebe Locke is published by Wildfire in July 2019. You can find Phoebe Locke on twitter @phoebe_locke. Many thanks to the publisher for the NetGalley copy of The July Girls to review.