Changeling – Matt Wesolowski

On Christmas Eve in 1988, seven-year-old Alfie Marsden vanished in the Wentshire Forest Pass, when a burst tyre forced his father, Sorrel, to stop the car. Leaving the car to summon the emergency services, Sorrel returned to find his son gone. No trace of the child, nor his remains, have ever been found. Alfie Marsden was declared officially dead in 1995.
Elusive online journalist, Scott King, whose ‘Six Stories’ podcasts have become an internet sensation, investigates the disappearance, interviewing six witnesses, including Sorrel, his son and his ex-partner, to try to find out what really happened that fateful night. He takes a journey through the trees of the Wentshire Forest – a place synonymous with strange sightings, and tales of hidden folk who dwell there. He talks to a company that tried and failed to build a development in the forest, and a psychic who claims to know where Alfie is…

Matt Wesolowski’s Six Stories was one of my books of 2017. In Hydra we met Scott King with another of his Six Stories podcasts, this time much darker and much, much spookier. If Nana Wrack gave you nightmares the first time round, the black-eyed children in Hydra might just keep you awake all night.

Changeling is another beast, and easily Matt Wesolowski’s best yet. And that, my friends, is a pretty damn high bar.

Scott King is back with another of his ‘Six Stories’ podcasts. Six people, six sides to a tale, six viewpoints on the events surrounding the mysterious disappearance of little Alfie Marsden, thirty years ago.

I dipped my finger into the Alfie Marsden case and something reached up and took hold.

I *raced* through Changeling. Having read and loved Matt’s first two books, I thought I knew what I was letting myself in for, thought I had a feel for the pattern of the story. After reading the first episode of six, thought I knew where it was going.

Oh how very wrong I was. The thing I love about his writing is the way that he puts you in the head of these distinct characters. You’re hearing their voices, hearing their side of the story. But just as two people can see the same thing and tell you different versions of what happened, so imagine what six people can do. The plotting is ingenious, and the way those six stories mesh together is played to perfection.

Changeling deals with some pretty dark subjects – a missing child is never an easy read, but it’s so much more, and so much more that I can’t say without giving away too much. Trust me in this, it’s massively relevant, incredibly intense and just so, so good.

And can we talk for a minute about Wentshire Forest. I am *so* glad that I’m not going camping in the woods any time soon. Scarclaw Fell in the first book was pretty spooky, but that’s got *nothing* on Wentshire Forest.

Is that a tapping at the window I can hear…?

You can find Matt Wesolowski on Twitter @concretekraken. Mark Swan (@Kidethic) delivers yet another stunning cover. One day I’m going to have to do a post on my favourite of his covers – Changeling will definitely be on the list.

Many thanks to @OrendaBooks for the advance copy of Changeling

Fault Lines – Doug Johnstone

Published by Orenda Books, May 2018
Source: review copy
In a reimagined contemporary Edinburgh, in which a tectonic fault has opened up to produce a new volcano in the Firth of Forth, and where tremors are an everyday occurrence, volcanologist Surtsey makes a shocking discovery. On a clandestine trip to The Inch – the new volcanic island – to meet Tom, her lover and her boss, she finds his lifeless body. Surtsey’s life quickly spirals into a nightmare when someone makes contact – someone who claims to know what she’s done…

Fault Lines takes place in an alternate Edinburgh, where a new volcanic island, The Inch, has risen in the Firth of Forth. It’s an interesting premise and makes the setting feel distinctly unique.  The Inch looms large over the story as it unfolds and feels like an actual character in the book. And you all know how much I love a good location when it comes to books. Dare I suggest #VolcanicNoir? 🙂

It’s a short book, but packs a lot into its 200-odd pages. There’s the suspicious death of Tom, out on The Inch. It’s a classic whodunnit, with a small cast of characters in a relatively confined small-town location, but done so well. Surtsey is a brilliant character, flawed and genuine, not only dealing with the death of her boss and lover, but also her mum’s terminal cancer and her sister’s seeming indifference towards it. I wouldn’t be remotely surprised to see this developed for television and think it would work brilliantly on screen. Should we start the fantasy casting?

I polished this book off in a couple of sittings, and not just because of its relative slimness. It’s a gripping story which rumbles along at pace to a satisfying conclusion. I’ll definitely be adding Doug Johnstone to my list of authors to watch out for.

Highly recommended.

Fault Lines by Doug Johnstone is published by Orenda Books in May 2018.
Many thanks to Karen @OrendaBooks for the review copy and @AnneCater for inviting me onto the blog tour. Which continues tomorrow!

Force of Nature – Jane Harper

Published by Little, Brown, February 2018
Source: review copy
When five colleagues are forced to go on a corporate retreat in the wilderness, they reluctantly pick up their backpacks and start walking down the muddy path.

But one of the women doesn’t come out of the woods. And each of her companions tells a slightly different story about what happened.

Federal Police Agent Aaron Falk has a keen interest in the whereabouts of the missing hiker. In an investigation that takes him deep into isolated forest, Falk discovers secrets lurking in the mountains, and a tangled web of personal and professional friendship, suspicion, and betrayal among the hikers. But did that lead to murder?

Jane Harper’s first book, The Dry, was one of my favourite books of 2017, and featured highly in my criminally good books list of the year. I’ve pestered an awful lot of people to read it over the course of the year, and have been delighted to see friends reading it, and even moreso to find out that they too loved it.

I’m pleased to say that with Force of Nature, Jane Harper has delivered another cracking read. It’s a different beast, moving from the arid, drought-ravaged tight-knit farming community of Kiewarra to an outward bounds retreat in the rain-drenched forests of the Giralang Range. The setting couldn’t be more different, but the sense of place is still vividly drawn.

It’s the second outing for Harper’s policeman, Aaron Falk, and this time he’s helping look for a missing hiker who’s playing a key role in an ongoing investigation into underhand goings-on at the firm she works for. Five women set out for a weekend of corporate-sponsored teambuilding, but only four return. What exactly happened out there, and where is Alice? Only four women return, and each of them has a slightly different story.

I really liked the way that Harper layers the story in Force of Nature, starting with a mysterious middle-of-the-night phone call from Alice to Falk which drags him and his partner Carmen up to the retreat at the head of the trail where the women set off. We then jump back a couple of days to the start of the weekend, where the five women from very different backgrounds set off, some more reluctantly than others, on their adventure. The story plays out like this – Falk and Carmen investigating in the present, and the women’s story in flashbacks, each time uncovering a little more of what happened.

Force of Nature kept me guessing right up to the last – a couple of times I thought I’d called it, only for another sliver of information to upset my theory. It didn’t quite hit the lofty heights of The Dry for me, but Force of Nature is a splendid read, and I highly recommend it. It goes without saying (but I’m going to anyway) that if you’ve not read The Dry, you should get that too!

Force of Nature is published by Little, Brown and is out now.
Many thanks to @LittleBrownUK and @kimberleynyam for having me on the blog tour.

You can find Jane Harper on Twitter @janeharperautho

Hydra – Matt Wesolowski

One cold November night in 2014, in a small town in the northwest of England, 21-year-old Arla Macleod bludgeoned her mother, stepfather and younger sister to death with a hammer, in an unprovoked attack known as the Macleod Massacre. Now incarcerated at a medium-security mental-health institution, Arla will speak to no one but Scott King, an investigative journalist, whose Six Stories podcasts have become an internet sensation.

King finds himself immersed in an increasingly complex case, interviewing five key witnesses and Arla herself, as he questions whether Arla’s responsibility for the massacre was as diminished as her legal team made out. As he unpicks the stories, he finds himself thrust into a world of deadly forbidden ‘games’, online trolls, and the mysterious black-eyed kids, whose presence seems to extend far beyond the delusions of a
murderess…

Matt Wesolowski’s Six Stories was one of my books of 2017. In Hydra, we meet Scott King once more, and another of his Six Stories podcasts.

Hydra is a different beast to the first Six Stories. It’s darker and much, much spookier. If Nana Wrack gave you nightmares the first time round, the black-eyed children in Hydra might just keep you awake all night.

I love the concept behind Hydra and Six Stories – you get a look at the events of that fateful night through a series of perspectives, each one shedding a new light on what you’ve seen (or think you’ve seen before). There’s always a concern that with such a strong debut with such an original concept that the second time round it might feel less fresh, but Matt has pulled off another magic trick, deftly showing you just what he wants you to see, exactly when he wants you to see it. Hydra may follow the same structure as Six Stories, but is utterly original and astonishingly good.

I’ve recommended the original Six Stories to pretty much everyone since reading it. Save me the trouble and just go read Hydra now. It’s a finely crafted mystery with more than a hint of the supernatural oozing through the pages, with an entirely satisfying denouement which will make you want to read it again immediately.

I said last year that Six Stories would be on my Books of the Year list, and it was. I’m confident that Hydra will do the same for 2018’s list.

Hydra is published by Orenda Books and is out now in ebook, and in paperback January 15th.

You can find Matt Wesolowski on Twitter @concretekraken. Huge kudos to Mark Swan (@Kidethic) for another stunning cover.

Many thanks to @OrendaBooks and @AnneCater for organising the blog tour and inviting me along.

Scorched Shadows – Steve McHugh

In the final chapter of the Hellequin Chronicles, secrets will be revealed, friendships tested, and destinies fulfilled.

Avalon is under siege. A shadowy cabal, headed by a mysterious figure known only as “My Liege,” has launched a series of deadly attacks across the globe, catching innocent human bystanders in the crossfire.

Emerging from the debris of battle, Nate Garrett, the sixteen-hundred-year-old sorcerer also called Hellequin, and his friends must stop My Liege once and for all. But powerful forces stand in their way. To save Avalon, they will need to enlist the help of Mordred, once Nate’s greatest nemesis, now his most formidable ally. But Mordred is grappling with a dark prophecy that could spell Nate’s doom…

The fate of the world hangs in the balance. Even if Nate can halt the war, will there be anything left worth saving?

Hugely enjoying this – it’s a fast-paced action-packed tale of magic and mayhem featuring a host of characters you’ll recognise from Arthurian legend, but brought firmly up to date. It’s always daunting (or daft) to start reading a book series on the last book, but I was assured that Scorched Shadows could be read as a standalone. Whilst this certainly appears to be true, I think you’d get a *lot* more out of it if you start at the start! That said, it’s pretty easy to catch up with the events so far. Scorched Shadows is a splendid mix of mythology and urban fantasy, the writing zips along with a nice touch of humour.

Pop over to Emma The Little Bookworm to see what Steve has to say about ‘getting round to it‘.

Scorched Shadows by Steve McHugh is published in paperback on 19th December 2017. You can find Steve on twitter SteveJMcHugh. Many thanks to @AnneCater for the blog tour invite!

Follow the tour!

The Other Twin – LV Hay

When India falls to her death from a bridge over a railway, her sister Poppy returns home to Brighton for the first time in years. Unconvinced by official explanations, Poppy begins her own investigation into India’s death. But the deeper she digs, the closer she comes to uncovering deeply buried secrets. Could Matthew Temple, the boyfriend she abandoned, be involved?
And what of his powerful and wealthy parents, and his twin sister, Ana? Enter the mysterious and ethereal Jenny: the girl Poppy discovers after hacking into India’s laptop. What exactly is she hiding, and what did India find out about her?

What happened to Poppy’s sister? Was it suicide, or was she pushed? Poppy isn’t convinced it’s the former, so starts digging into her sister’s life, revealing a host of secrets that others would far rather have remained firmly buried.

The Other Twin is a smart psychological thriller, with an expertly woven web of twisted plot strands. There are secrets, lies and half-truths buried in the wintry lanes of Brighton, and Hay delivers an authentic taste of the city and its inhabitants as the tension ramps up and Poppy gets deeper into the mystery.

Poppy is a compelling heroine, drawn inexorably into the sometimes murky lives of her friends and family. It’s been some time since she was last home, and the people she knew have changed – who’s telling the truth and who’s bending the truth? I loved Poppy’s detective work into her sister’s life through the medium of blog posts, each throwing a new slant on what she thought she knew of her sister. Who is the mysterious Jenny? How is she linked to Poppy’s former boyfriend Matthew, his sister Ana, or any of the other key players?

The Other Twin is a relatively short read and I whistled through it in a couple of sittings. The writing is sharp and smart, the twists and turns nicely paced, and the characters well-drawn. Highly recommended.

The Other Twin by LV Hay is published by Orenda Books, and is available now. You can find Lucy on twitter @LucyVHayAuthor or at her website lucyvhayauthor.com.
Many thanks to Karen at @OrendaBooks for the review copy.

The Cardinal’s Man – MG Sinclair

I’m delighted to be kicking off the blog tour for M.G. Sinclair’s The Cardinal’s Man. Set in Cardinal Richelieu’s 17th-century France, this is a story about how great figures of history can pass by unnoticed. Those that have been born in the wrong body, sex or society at the wrong time; reminding us ‘that for every Archimedes of Shakespeare, there have been other seeds which have had the misfortune to fall on far stonier ground’.

Intrigued? Here’s an excerpt from the start of the book!

Escape
(1608 – 1632)

Sebastian Morra was born in Camoches, a village in the hinterlands of Normandy. Forty miles from Caen, it lay on an outcrop facing five thousand miles of open Atlantic, clinging to its spur like some barnacle to a whale. It was the ocean that brought the whiting, the bass, the mackerel, the bream and the crab. But it was also the ocean that brought the wind. A hard easterly that stung the eyes, that blew away the earth and left only sand and rock behind; that brought clouds and driving rain from September to June, an incessant wetness which made its way through every wall, roof and into the damp logs which sputtered in every fireplace. Dark and unrelenting months as the air tugged and squalled, wearing the people down as they protected their soil behind low walls, binding it as best they could with beans, beetroot and turnip, or else braved the water, with its currents and rip tides – moods that answered only to the earth and the sun.
The only release came with summer, both a blessing and a curse, a momentary respite from the scrabble and toil, a few weeks to revel, drink and forget. But always too brief and always with the same bitter ending, when the wind returned and the sodden cycle began all over again.
The village was a quarter of a mile from the shore, a straggle of no more than sixty dwellings, all in varying states of disrepair. Sebastian’s was no exception. Like its neighbours, it was walled with mud and stone. Timber was avoided, the fishermen knowing all too well how their boats suffered in the salt and the breeze. But while rock could resist the elements, whatever the mortar, the wind would pick it out, leaving the loose stones to crumble – particularly high up, near the thatch. And no matter how much his parents tried to repair the seaward side, they could never seal all the cracks or keep out the chill which followed every setting sun.
The inside was divided into two. One room for his parents. The other, larger, was used for everything else – a place to eat as well as a bedroom for him and his brothers at night. It was dark. The only light came through the open chimney and a door on the landward side, and Sebastian was to remember it more as a burrow than a home. A life of shadow. All of them packed together like a litter of newborns. Evenings spent crouched tight round the fire, with its familial stench of smoke and sweat that made its way into their clothes, skin and nose until everything they drank or tasted was overpowered by it.
Both his mother and father shared the local physiognomy, flat faces that had been ground to the nub, though it was there the similarity ended. His father was black-eyed, sullen and lean, dressed in his dark tunic, either away at sea or staring into the fire with a drink in his hand. She was the opposite. Blue-eyed, always around and busying herself in her dress and shawl, nudging and cajoling, a whirl of good humour and chat. They squabbled incessantly but seemed to fit each other’s absences well enough. She found comfort in his silence while he found sanctuary in her warmth. And each seemed content in their role, she taking care of the children, he fetching the water and catching the fish.
Sebastian was their first child, and as such, his birth was celebrated. However, by the age of three it was obvious something was wrong. While his chest was normal enough, his back, limbs and jaw remained of infantile proportions – the skull outlandish on his tiny body. Consequently, many of his earliest memories were of distorted faces: the expressions of horrified relatives, visitors flinching as they caught his eye, the stares of unfamiliar children peering round doorways.
Revolted, his father avoided him whenever possible. Instead the boy took sanctuary in his mother’s company. Pitying him, she swaddled him close, at first within the confines of the crib, and then when, aged five, he was able to escape it, she still kept him close to her skirts – safe from his two younger brothers Charles and Audrien who rampaged through the gloom, a pair of clumsy giants oblivious to his presence. And there he remained for his earliest years, secure in his orbit. A speck in infinite space, yet safely revolving around a single star.

The Cardinal’s Man is published by Black & White Publishing on 11th July.

Sebastian de Morra is born with as difficult start as one would care to imagine. A dwarf, born to a peasant family, he has only two things going for him – a first-class mind and a determination to find refuge from the sharp edges of the world.

Using his disadvantage to his advantage, he becomes a jester at the Parisian court entertaining the nobility. Making enemies easily, he also makes a powerful ally when one of history’s most notorious figures, his Red Eminence – the Cardinal Richelieu – requires his services. Under the Cardinal, he finds himself facing and even crossing swords with some of the greatest names of state, until his final task – an undertaking on which the entire future of his country depends.

The only child of two writers, M.G. Sinclair grew up in a world that revolved around literature. Breaking the family tradition, he rebelled and joined the corporate world, where he worked as a copywriter and marketing executive. However, unable to escape the inevitable, he has now completed his debut, a historical novel inspired by a trip to the Prado in Madrid.

author photo (C) Orlando Gili

The blog tour continues tomorrow…