Blogging birthday

Espresso Coco was brought into this world on 30th March 2009.

Happy eleventh birthday, little blog!

Of course I actually started blogging on 14th March 2003 over at Livejournal, so I’ve been blogging for over seventeen years. My LJ has over ten thousand blog entries over that time. I made nigh-on 35 thousand comments and received over 62 and a half thousand comments.

This is all pre-Twitter, of course. A goodly proportion of those posts and comments are what would happen in a regular day on Twitter now, so it’s probably not as impressive as it sounds.

Still, 10k posts, plus the 850 or so on here make it closer to twelve thousand little nuggets of thought spilled out onto the internet.

I miss the LJ days and the sense of community there.

Wonder how long it’ll take me to get up to a thousand on espresso coco?

Will you still be here? Will it still be mainly book reviews? Or something different?

Question, for those still reading. Leave me a comment about where we met online or in real life. Was it on LJ? Twitter? or somewhere else?

I’d love to know. And thanks for sticking around.

The City We Became – N.K. Jemisin

Every city has a soul. Some are as ancient as myths, and others are as new and destructive as children. New York City? She’s got five.

But every city also has a dark side. A roiling, ancient evil stirs beneath the earth, threatening to destroy the city and her five protectors unless they can come together and stop it once and for all. 

What a book this is. It’s glorious in its scope, worldbuilding (albeit atop our own world) which is second to none, and characters? Oh, the characters.

I do love a story with a sense of place, and this book is ALL about place. Some books you feel that the location could almost be a character in itself, but in The City We Became, that is literally true. You see New York City is made up of five boroughs: Manhattan, The Bronx, Queens, Brooklyn and Staten Island. And it’s these five parts which make up the whole, which must come together to fight off the ancient evil which lurks beneath.

Jemisin’s knack for character really shines here. Each of the boroughs, much like in NYC itself (I imagine) has its own distinct personality, its own quirks, its own relationship with the others and the whole. And what I loved about this book is that Jemisin takes the time to let them come to life, to breathe and become real, even as the story whistles along at breakneck pace.

It’s a great story too – New York is in the process of being born, of becoming A City. Its city avatars, in the form of the boroughs, become aware of themselves as part of the larger whole, and the powers that come with it.

And there’s a missing sixth player in the game, the city itself. And the Enemy is cunning and crafty and immense and ancient, and will stop at nothing to destroy New York itself. Can the five come together to find the sixth in time to avert catastrophe?

I just love Jemisin’s writing. Each page oozes atmosphere, the dialogue crackles with life and the picture she paints of NYC is stunning in breadth and scope. This is full on, widescreen four-dimensional New York, sights, sounds and smells and all. I can’t wait to see what happens next.

Hugely recommended.

The City We Became, by N.K. Jemisin is published by Orbit Books and is out now. Huge thanks to Nazia at Orbit for the advance review copy.

Three Hours – Rosamund Lupton

Three hours is 180 minutes or 10,800 seconds.

It is a morning’s lessons, a dress rehearsal of Macbeth, a snowy trek through the woods.

It is an eternity waiting for news. Or a countdown to something terrible.

It is 180 minutes to discover who you will die for and what men will kill for.

In rural Somerset in the middle of a blizzard, the unthinkable happens: a school is under siege. Told from the point of view of the people at the heart of it, from the wounded headmaster in the library, unable to help his trapped pupils and staff, to teenage Hannah in love for the first time, to the parents gathering desperate for news, to the 16 year old Syrian refugee trying to rescue his little brother, to the police psychologist who must identify the gunmen, to the students taking refuge in the school theatre, all experience the most intense hours of their lives, where evil and terror are met by courage, love and redemption.

Towards last year I found myself with an afternoon to spare and this book on my Kindle. I settled down with a cup of tea to read.

Three hours (or so) later I emerged from the book, my tea as cold as the weather outside, untouched.

Reader, this book is utterly absorbing, utterly terrifying, and one you will be utterly unable to put down.

I’ve been meaning to write a review of this book since December. I keep picking up the draft, then putting it down again, unable to find the right words.

It’s quite an experience. The subject matter was never going to make this an easy read, especially as a parent. We’re sadly all too familiar with the scenario from news stories in the US, but Three Hours‘ setting in a school in Somerset almost makes it more shocking. This isn’t something we’d expect to see here, making it all the more shocking.

Told over the course of the titular three hours, this is a complex, multi-layered narrative told from multiple viewpoints – the head teacher lying gravely wounded, the students trying to save him, the teenage Syrian refugee trying to find his little brother whilst the gunman stalks the halls. Relationships between the young students are brought to the fore, magnified and focussed by the ever-present threat of death, of life being snatched before they’ve had a chance to truly live.

It’s beautifully written, nail-bitingly tense and at times, heartbreaking. It will also be on my books of the year list, I can guarantee it even now.

Put it on your list. Hugely recommended. Solid five stars.


Three Hours by Rosamund Lupton was published by Penguin in January 2020. Many thanks to the publisher for an advance ebook via NetGalley


It’s my turn on the blog tour for Peter Laws’ new book, Possessed.

Without further ado, over to Peter to talk about movies!

In Possessed, Professor Matt Hunter is sceptical of exorcism. That’s no surprise. He’s an ex-church minister turned atheist academic after all. This means that any talk of Satanic influence tends to prompt his patented eyeroll. Yet when, in the book, he starts meeting people who claim to be controlled by demons, he’s immediately concerned. Not only is he worried these vulnerable people might be misdiagnosing mental health issues. He also suspects they’re unwittingly taking their cues from pop culture…and in particular, the cinema.

That’s right, movies have been the prime method by which our culture has learned ‘what possession looks like’. They tell us it must involve a sweary, wild-eyed, tongue-lolling victim (usually a woman), who gets strapped to a bed and strains away from the cross. All while spouting the type of sexually explicit one-liners that would make even the most laid back vicar blush.

So in a nod to the influence of these movies, let me offer five picks from what seems to be an ever-growing bank of possession movies. Note: these aren’t all chosen for quality reasons. In fact, some of them are decidedly ropey. Yet they’re all, in their own way, remarkable.


No other movie has impacted our view of possession than this one – the story of a 12 year old girl in the grip of Satan. I read the novel as a young teenager and it gave me bad dreams. Then I tracked down the film, and that scared me too. It wasn’t just the idea of a rampant devil that creeped me out. The rational explanation was just as frightening. Could an otherwise normal everyday kid suffer a complete mental breakdown? Could they become, in a sense, a monster?

The Exorcist changed me. I was deeply antagonistic about church and Christianity at the time. Yet this story of a vomiting girl made me consider an insane question: what if the devil exists…might God exist too? It even showed the clergy not as useless weirdos, corrupt evangelists or paedophile priests…but as normal, flawed, human heroes filled with faith and doubt.

Course, not everyone was impressed with the film. An insightful Satanist called Nikolas Shrek said the films presentation of the devil was laughable. He may have a point. Satan does seem surprisingly juvenile in this. Contrast it with the brilliant Omen films (the Exorcist for protestants). In those films the devil is a master strategist, planning to dominate the world. In The Exorcist, he just likes swearing a lot and puking in faces. Who knows? Maybe possessing kids is just Satan’s idea of a fun night out. A way of letting off steam between world domination plans. Or maybe, the devil is so desirous of torment, that he’ll do anything to cause pain on both a large scale and a small scale. Whatever the case, The Exorcist is an  amazing film, and it’s the key cultural signifier when it comes to possession, not least because it was so blatantly copied in other movies…as we’ll see.

SEYTAN (1974)

Make no mistake. Seytan isn’t a homage to The Exorcist. It isn’t inspired by it. It’s a full on photocopy that replicates both plot and specific scenes with zero restraint. We even hear the unauthorised use of Tubular Bells in the opening credits! There are, to be fair, slight variations. For example, in The Exorcist, the little girl is first possessed by the spirit of Captain Howdy, speaking through the Ouija board. In Seytan, the Ouija voice is called Captain Larson.

Another new angle comes from the fact that Islam is the major religion of Turkey. Catholicism is, therefore, largely removed from the film. That’s not to say it’s replaced by clearly Islamic equivalents, though I did notice the exorcist turns up with some Zamzam water. That’s Muslim holy water, taken from a scared well in Mecca. It’d be easy to dismiss Seytan as a shameless rip-off as that’s precisely what it is. It also looks like it was made by sixth formers for a drama project, so it cant compare to the original. Yet for me, it ends up as an endearing, low-fi spin that fuses the Christian nightmares of the West with the 70s sensibilities of the middle east.

Note: Seytan was just part of a popular trend in Turkish cinema from the 60s to 80s known as Yseilcam (meaning Green Pine). Here, Turkey would simply remake Hollywood hits, because it was way cheaper than licensing the original. Fun fact: others copies include The Man Who Saved the World (Turkish ‘Star Wars’) Rampage (Turkish ‘Rambo’) Buddy (‘Turkish’ E.T.) and my favourite re-title Omer The Tourist on Star Trek (Turkish ‘Star Trek’). 

ABBY (1974)

Just look at the release dates of the last three films to see how there was an explosion of Exorcist imitators in the wake of the originals release. Abby was commonly known as the ‘black Exorcist’, where a young woman is possessed by an African sex spirit. I’ve got a soft spot for Abby, not least because it’s more of it’s own thing than Seytan is. For a start, in The Exorcist, the girl is trapped in her bed for almost the entire movie. In Abby, she’s out and about, sometimes in nice mode, sometimes in potty-mouthed demon mode, dropping into 70s discos and causing mayhem. It’s fun. Plus, the theology’s unique. The spirit that possesses Abby is Eshu, a God from the Yoruba religion (found in Nigeria, Benin, and Togo).

One of Abby’s masterstrokes is having the brilliant William H Marshall play the exorcist, who manages to fuse both Christianity and Yoruba by wearing both a vicars collar and a traditional African ceremonial garb. Lovely. Marshall is best known for playing the dignified and powerful Blacula, from 1972 (yes, there’s a black version of Dracula…and it’s awesome). In Abby, Marshall’s bass filled voice is the perfect sound to cast out the mischevious spirit of Eshu…but is it really Eshu, calling the demonic shots here?


The Exorcism of Emily Rose strikes a Matt Hunter style chord, in that it keen to grapple with issues of faith. It’s unique too, being both exorcism movie and courtroom drama. Laura Linney plays a sceptical lawyer trying to defend a priest. He’s accused of killing a young girl through exorcism. Derrickson based the film on the horrifying 1975 case of Anneliese Michel – a young German woman who died during a series of catholic exorcism rites.

Linney starts experiencing strange phenomena as the case progresses, which she mostly dismisses it, absorbing it into her rational world views. Yet the audience is left wondering…what if there are such things? My Matt Hunter books live in that same netherworld too, so perhaps it’s no shock to learn that the film’s writer-director is Scott Derrickson, is a Christian too. He went on to direct hits like Sinister and Dr. Strange, and, like me, seems interested in exploring issues of belief through the horror and thriller genre.


Finaly, we have Deliver Us (aka Liberami), a documentary that follows Father Cataldo Migliazzo. He’s an 80-year-old Italian veteran exorcist who finds himself in high demand these days due to the rising demand for exorcism (this genuine real-world boom is a key theme in my book). He has so many ‘clients’ that he carries out mass exorcisms every Tuesday with a three hour service. The film shows Migliazzo calling out the devil from the altar while people in the crowd start groaning and twitching. Some jerk in spasms on the floor, other wail and shake, speaking in chilling voices and animal sounds. A woman calls out, “I’ll never give her up! I’m taking her to hell!” In other words, we see the same behaviour form the movies above, in a real life documentary.

There’s no narrator explaining it all. No interviewer asking questions off screen. Just the priests and the possessed, and a camera you forget is there. It’s poignant too, like the haunting shot of a woman listening to hymns at church. We see a tear roll down her cheek – she’s desperate for God. Then a priest passes and she painfully flinches like she’s been slapped. This idea of the possessed flitting between shocking and ‘normal’ fascinates me. Which is why I made it a feature of my novel, Possessed.

Three Honourable Mentions: 


Sam Neil worries his marriage to Isabelle Adjani might be collapsing. Is she having an outside affair…or an inside one? I doubt you’ll see another film like Possession. It’s a stunning, distressing and delirious blend of arthouse and horror. I loved it, and Adjani’s subway scene is simultaneously an acting masterclass, and a pure shot of nightmare fuel.


Toni Collette and her family face a sinister presence after the death of her strange and secretive grandmother. It’s not a possession movie in the ‘classic’ sense, but gosh it’s a good and horrible ride. Your heart-rate might suffer, so be warned. 


As a teenager, I was deeply offended that Hollywood were decided to trash one of my favourite horror movies. ‘You’re turning The Exorcist into a goofy comedy?’ Said I. ‘How could you?’ Now I’m more mature, I can see the brilliance in having the great Leslie Neilsen limber up for his exorcism with a Rocky style training scene. He knocks back raw eggs, does some shadow punching, then he whacks his crucifix and holy water into a Rambo lunch box, ready to fight. Genius.  

So there you have it, a bunch of possession movies who’s screams and wails rise just that little higher, than the others. Keep them in mind when you’re reading Possessed, and ask yourself: do you think that movies have taught people ‘how to feel and act demonic?’ Just like Matt Hunter claims? Or do these films simply reflect a chilling reality? After all, William Peter Blatty claimed that his novel, The Exorcist, was based on a true case.

I’ll leave it to you to decide. Assuming, that is, you can be yourself long enough to decide it.  And if I left out your favourite possession movie from the list, let’s just say the devil made me do it.

Possessed, by Peter Laws is published by Allison & Busby. For a review, go check out @LizLovesBooks excellent blog


When an unidentified and blood-soaked man is discovered with the name Baal-Berith scored into his flesh, Professor Matt Hunter is called in by the bewildered local police. As an atheist ex-minister and expert on religion, Matt can shed light on the ancient Canaanite demon known as the spirit of blasphemy and murder, but as he’s drawn into a frenzied murder investigation, a fury of media interest and a TV show documenting a mass exorcism, the situation follows a much murkier path. Striving to provide balance to the show’s increasingly sensational tone and rational support for the vulnerable ‘clients’, Matt cannot leave, even as events get seriously out of hand…

The Golden Key – Marian Womack – blog tour extract

Today I’m delighted to take part in the blog tour for Gothic mystery The Golden Key set in the wilds of the Norfolk Fens from the BSFA-shortlisted author Marian Womack. More about the book later, first I’ve got an extract for you.

That afternoon Sam went to visit John Woodbury, paying a long-overdue visit to the old man’s newly refurbished establishment in Cecil Court. The Little Haunted Bookshop specialised in books on Spiritualism, psychic research and its related sciences, as well as bewildering phenomena in all their possible manifestations. It also boasted a little printing press in the back, from which some small pamphlets condemning Spiritualist fraud had been published.

Sam found Mr Woodbury writing notes in a thick dusty ledger.

‘My friend! What a welcome sight!’

Woodbury insisted in giving him a tour of the cramped premises. Once Theosophy, Magnetism, Clairvoyance, Psychology, Mesmerism, Phrenology, Psychical Research, Astrology, Spiritism, Spirit Communication, Phonography, Agnosticism and the inevitable Vegetarianism had been dealt with, Woodbury insisted on showing him the latest book arrivals, among them Towards a Science of Immortality: Heat- Death of the Sun, and a New Dawn for Mankind, the lengthily titled monograph by none other than Count Maximilian Justus von Daniken Bévcar. Sam found himself compelled to buy a copy.

Mr Woodbury intrigued him. He was a genuinely zealous prosecutor of tricksters and fakes, who seemed to have many other interests outside of his work for the SPR. Once the business was done of admiring and interesting himself—as much as he was capable—in everything he was shown, Sam asked Woodbury if he knew the mysterious Miss Walton. Woodbury smiled oddly, a gesture Sam refused to read much into as he drank the cup of tea that the older man had prepared for him. Nonetheless, he seemed happy to respond:

‘She has gained the reputation of being a “respectable vessel” for communicating with the shadows. She is a serious young woman, the granddaughter of Ovid Walton.’

‘The classical scholar?’

‘Exactly. Miss Walton is educated—the last thing one would expect in a medium, if you ask me.’ Or in a woman, Sam thought he meant.

‘I see.’

‘She studied at Girton, by all accounts with the full support of her grandfather. Afterwards she trained briefly in one of the London hospitals, I think.’

‘She trained as a nurse? Nothing odd in that!’

Woodbury smiled his crooked smile again, full of square teeth.

‘Oh no, my friend. The woman trained to be a doctor, of all things!’

‘Is she a doctor, then?’ Sam refused to be scandalised by the notion; this was the twentieth century.

‘She was expelled from her studies. A little bit of a scandal, if you ask me, although I can’t remember the particulars right now…’

That was all the old man was prepared to share, it seemed.

Well, doesn’t that sound splendid? Can’t wait to read it myself. Huge thanks to Polly Grice and Titan Books for the copy for review – look out for that later!

London, 1901. After the death of Queen Victoria the city heaves with the uncanny and the eerie. Séances are held and the dead are called upon from darker realms.

Samuel Moncrieff, recovering from a recent tragedy of his own, meets Helena Walton-Cisneros, one of London’s most reputed mediums. But Helena is not what she seems and she’s enlisted by the elusive Lady Matthews to solve a twenty-year-old mystery: the disappearance of her three stepdaughters who vanished without a trace on the Norfolk Fens.

But the Fens are a liminal land, where folk tales and dark magic still linger. With locals that speak of devilmen and catatonic children found on the Broads, Helena finds the answer to the mystery leads back to where it started: Samuel Moncrieff.

The blog tour continues tomorrow!

Black River – Will Dean


Tuva’s been living clean in southern Sweden for four months when she receives horrifying news. Her best friend Tammy Yamnim has gone missing.


Racing back to Gavrik at the height of Midsommar, Tuva fears for Tammy’s life. Who has taken her, and why? And who is sabotaging the small-town search efforts?


Surrounded by dark pine forest, the sinister residents of Snake River are suspicious of outsiders. Unfortunately, they also hold all the answers. On the shortest night of the year, Tuva must fight to save her friend. The only question is who will be there to save Tuva?

Black River sees the return of reporter Tuva Moodyson, following the events of Dark Pines and Red Snow. Both superb books that kicked off my reading for 2018 and 2019 respectively, so I was thrilled to get the chance to read the third book to start 2020.

While Dark Pines was firmly rooted in the creepy Utgard forest, with its host of slightly odd inhabitants, and Red Snow took place in and around the equally odd Grimberg Liquorice factory, Black River sees the action move out of Gavrik to Snake River. And yes, the inhabitants there are just as strange…

Tuva has moved away from Gavrik to start her new life down in Malmö when she receives a call that her best friend Tammy has gone missing. Before long she’s back up north on the hunt. And it’s Midsommar, shortest night of the year, and the near-constant daylight is putting everyone under stress.

I adored the first two books, and am firmly #TeamTuva. She’s a brilliant character, though Will Dean does seem to rather relish putting her and those closest to her through the wringer!

We’re faced this time with a rather different Gavrik, sweltering in the summer sun with a constant cloud of insects trying to eat Tuva as she looks for her missing friend. The forest lurks menacingly, filled with things and people that are out to get you if you put a foot wrong. Frustration also abounds as most of the locals don’t seem to see Tammy as one of them, despite being as Swedish as they are. Then another girl goes missing and Tuva has to battle to keep her friend in the spotlight.

It’s a testament to Dean’s writing that you can almost feel the oppressive atmosphere, the swarms of insects that’ll have you batting away imaginary mosquitoes as you read. And if you thought Utgard Forest was bad, just wait until you get to Snake River itself…

The story fair rattles along, thwarting Tuva at every turn. It’s intense and scary at times, and there’s a real sense of panic in the air. You hope that all will turn out well in the end, but you can never tell until you turn the final page.

This is book three in a series so if you’ve not met Tuva yet, you should really go back to the start at Dark Pines and begin there. If you’ve already read the first two books, you’ll need no encouragement from me to pick up this one. It’s as good, if not better than you’d expect it to be.

Hugely recommended.

Black River by Will Dean is published by Point Blank in March 2020. Many thanks to Point Blank for the review copy of Will’s book.

Chilling Effect – Valerie Valdes

Captain Eva Innocente and the crew of La Sirena Negra cruise the galaxy delivering small cargo for even smaller profits. When her sister Mari is kidnapped by The Fridge, a shadowy syndicate that holds people hostage in cryostasis, Eva must undergo a series of unpleasant, dangerous missions to pay the ransom.

But Eva may lose her mind before she can raise the money. The ship’s hold is full of psychic cats, an amorous fish-faced emperor wants her dead after she rejects his advances, and her sweet engineer is giving her a pesky case of feelings. The worse things get, the more she lies, raising suspicions and testing her loyalty to her found family.

To free her sister, Eva will risk everything: her crew, her ship, and the life she’s built on the ashes of her past misdeeds. But when the dominoes start to fall and she finds the real threat is greater than she imagined, she must decide whether to play it cool or burn it all down. 

A captain, a crew and their beloved ship, all having some splendid adventures in deep space, pursued by a variety of evil types and a mysterious corporation. Throw in a smattering of cursing in a different language. There are some strong Firefly vibes going on in this delightful space opera romp.

Oh, and psychic cats.

Chilling Effect is, in short, a lot of fun. I loved the characters and their snappy banter. I loved the big scale adventures, even if they felt a little too episodic at times. The stakes are big, the baddies are suitably bad, but maybe the peril doesn’t feel quite perilous enough as our heroes find themselves bouncing out of danger and onto the next shenanigan, which is handily just around the corner.

If you’re looking for some hard-SF ‘serious’ space opera, then look elsewhere. But if you’re looking to spend some time in the company of a bunch of rogues and misfits, playing spot the influences, then Chilling Effect might just be the book you’re looking for.

Good fun. Looking forward to the next adventure of Captain Innocente and La Sirena Negra!

Chilling Effect by Valerie Valdes is published by Orbit Books. Many thanks to Nazia at Orbit for the review copy.

The Sinner – Martyn Waites

In prison not everyone is guilty . . .

Tom Killgannon, ex-undercover police officer and now in witness protection, is recalled to active service by his handler, DS Sheridan. His mission is to befriend notorious child killer Noel Cunningham and find out where he buried the bodies of his victims. The only problem is that Tom has to obtain that information from within Blackmoor prison itself. Undercover and with only DS Sheridan knowing he is there, Tom soon runs into danger.

In the prison is convicted gangster Dean Foley. He used to run Manchester’s biggest gang, until Tom’s testimony put him away for life. He recognises Tom, and so begins a cat-and-mouse game as Tom fights for survival before Foley can get his revenge.

But why can’t Tom reach DS Sheridan and what is the real reason that he has been sent to Blackmoor prison?

Towards the end of 2019 I picked up a copy of The Old Religion, the first book in Martyn Waites’ Tom Kilgannon series. Devoured it (metaphorically speaking) over the course of a day.

And now we have the second book, The Sinner, which I was greatly looking forward to. Tom Kilgannon is back, and is plucked from his safe(ish) witness protection life and thrust back into active service undercover. He has to infiltrate the notorious Blackmoor prison to get get some information out of convicted child killer Noel Cunningham.

Things naturally go awry fairly quickly (and fairly unpleasantly) and Tom is forced to face up to his past in no uncertain terms. And his past is not a cosy place…

Another quick read, this one. The action comes thick and fast from fairly early on, throwing Tom from one danger to the next. Trapped inside the prison with no friends and no way out, he’s forced to adapt to survive and it’s a real page-turner (albeit on kindle so not *quite* the same…) to find out how he’s going to get himself out!

I like Tom as a character, and was interested to find out more about his backstory, something which is alluded to in the first book but never really put on full display. The prison is nicely oppressive and claustrophobic, giving a hard backdrop to Tom’s quest for information. Despite one or two minor niggles with the premise of sending in an undercover cop into prison, I quickly got past that and into the story, and the second half practically rattled by.

Whilst you could read The Sinner as a standalone, I think you’d definitely benefit from reading The Old Religion first – they’re definitely separate stories, but characters from the second get set up in the first, and it gives you some context to Kilgannon’s backstory.

Good fun. Recommended.

The Sinner by Martyn Waites is published by @ZaffreBooks and is out now.

Many thanks to Tracy Fenton of Compulsive Readers and Zaffre for inviting me to take part in the blog tour, and for the advance ebook for review.

Death Deserved – Jørn Lier Horst and Thomas Enger

Oslo, 2018. Former long-distance runner Sonja Nordstrøm never shows at the launch of her controversial autobiography, Always Number One. When celebrity blogger Emma Ramm visits Nordstrøm’s home later that day, she finds the door unlocked and signs of a struggle inside. A bib with the number ‘one’ has been pinned to the TV.

Police officer Alexander Blix is appointed to head up the missing-persons investigation, but he still bears the emotional scars of a hostage situation nineteen years earlier, when he killed the father of a five-year-old girl. Traces of Nordstrøm soon show up at different locations, but the appearance of the clues appear to be carefully calculated … evidence of a bigger picture that he’s just not seeing…

Blix and Ramm soon join forces, determined to find and stop a merciless killer with a flare for the dramatic, and thirst for attention.
Trouble is, he’s just got his first taste of it…

What happens when you get two of Norway’s finest crime writers together to collaborate on a book?

Regular readers will know that I’m a huge fan of Thomas Enger’s books -in particular Killed and Cursed from his Henning Juul books are wonderfully dark and riveting, beautifully layered and expertly plotted.

I must confess that I’d not come across Jørn Lier Horst before until reading this book and discovered that he’s the author of the books that the excellent tv series Wisting was based on.

So it was with no small measure of excitement that I set off into Death Deserved. A heady mix of serial killer/police procedural will always pique my interest, and Death Deserved delivers solidly on both counts. Add into the mix celebrity blogger Emma Ramm doing her best to investigate the mysterious missing Sonja Nordstrøm, and you’ve got a cracking tale of cat (or, I suppose cats) and mouse.

The writing is, as you’d expect from these Nordic literary giants, splendid, as is the intricate plot. Tensions ratchet up along with the body count as Ramm and Blix race to work out the connection between them all.

It’s more than just a police procedural though and I suspect that this is where each author adds their own special something to the mix. There’s a strong human drama at play here too, as we delve into Blix’s past and the hostage situation nineteen years previously. It’s fascinating to see how the two timelines interweave and play out over the course of the book.

The contrasting characters of Blix and Ramm play off each other really well, and I’m delighted to see that will be the first of a series. I’m looking forward to seeing what Horst and Enger come up with for them next!

I enjoyed this book a lot (as you can probably tell). If you’re a fan of either Thomas Enger or Jørn Lier Horst, then I highly recommend you read this. And if you’ve not experienced either, this might just be the perfect place to start.

Death Deserved by Jørn Lier Horst and Thomas Enger is published by Orenda Books in January 2020. Hat tip to Anne Bruce for the excellent translation.

Thanks as ever to Karen Sullivan for the review copy.

Jørn Lier Horst and Thomas Enger are the internationally bestselling Norwegian authors of the William Wisting and Henning Juul series respectively.

Jørn Lier Horst first rose to literary fame with his No. 1 internationally bestselling William Wisting series. A former investigator in the Norwegian police, Horst imbues all his works with an unparalleled realism and suspense.

Thomas Enger is the journalist-turned-author behind the internationally acclaimed and bestselling Henning Juul series. Enger’s trademark has become a darkly gritty voice paired with key social messages and tight plotting. Besides writing fiction for both adults and young adults, Enger also works as a music composer.

Death Deserved is Jørn Lier Horst & Thomas Enger’s first co-written thriller.

Seven Blades in Black – Sam Sykes

Among humans, none have power like mages. And among mages, none have will like Sal the Cacophony. Once revered, now vagrant, she walks a wasteland scarred by generations of magical warfare. The Scar, a land torn between powerful empires, is where rogue mages go to disappear, disgraced soldiers go to die and Sal went with a blade, a gun and a list of names she intended to use both on. But vengeance is a flame swift extinguished. Betrayed by those she trusted most, her magic torn from her and awaiting execution, Sal the Cacophony has one last tale to tell before they take her head. All she has left is her name, her story and the weapon she used to carved both.

Vengeance is its own reward.

This is a big, chunky book.

And I loved it.

All of it.

I loved Sal the Cacophony. I loved her snark, her attitude, her relentless drive to cross all the names off her list. I loved her gun (the aforementioned Cacophony) which fires magic bullets. She’s scarred, emotionally and physically but refuses to let that get in the way of her quest. She’s splendidly cynical and world-weary, and often very very funny.

“…most Vagrants showing up where you live will ruin your day. Not me, of course. A girl like me tends to ruin your whole week.”

Sal the Cacophony

Sykes clearly loves a lot of genre stuff – this is almost like an episode of Final Fantasy writ large (even featuring Congeniality – a large, grumpy bird creature not entirely dissimilar to FF’s chocobo) – blade guns, hulking mechs, bloody awesome magics (and often very bloody).

It’s so JRPG it hurts. But in a good way.

And there’s a sword called Jeff. Who doesn’t want to read a story featuring a sword called Jeff?

I loved the worldbuilding, the magic system, the sheer joy of the writing on display here.

We follow the story as Sal tells it in flashback to her executioner as a sort of confession. And what a story it is. It’s fast and furious, funny and tender, bloody and brutal. We travel across the world of the Scar as Sal tracks down the Mages on her list, determined to end them before they end her. It’s a story of revenge against the people who took something from her.

And Sykes does a magnificent job with that list – each one is splendidly different and unique. And each boss battle (as they seem to be) ratchets up the tension and peril by yet another notch, until the glorious finale.

Supporting characters are just as good – Liette, Sal’s mad scientist friend is wonderful – I’d love to see more of her in future.

Seven Blades in Black by Sam Sykes is published by Gollancz and is out now. Thanks to Gollancz for the advance copy via NetGalley to review.