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…

Netherspace- Andrew Lane & Nigel Foster

Delighted to be part of the blog tour for Netherspace, a new collaboration project from Andrew Lane and Nigel Foster. Netherspace is start of a brand new science fiction series in which contact with aliens is only the beginning…

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Contact with alien species was made forty years ago, but communication turned out to be impossible. There is only trade in technology, which allows humans to colonise the stars, but at a heavy cost: alien netherspace drives are exchanged for live humans. When a group of colonists are captured by a group of Cancri aliens, a human mission is sent to negotiate their release. But how can you negotiate when you don’t know what your target wants?

I’ve got an extract from the novel for you today. Enjoy!

~~~

Marc Keislack stared at the spherical display unit. On the other side of the crystalline metal his nanoforms were mixing and interacting like miniature weather systems. Each one was a different colour, separated from one another by a gooey transparent nutrient medium.
Despite the seals around the tank – still necessary when anyone was mucking around with nanoforms – the slightly vinegary smell of the nutrient medium hung in the air of his studio. Light from the large windows at the far end of the room illuminated the space. Dust hung and glittered in the buttresses of light, despite the best attempts of his cleaning bots to eradicate it. Outside, the rolling Welsh hills were illuminated by a low sun. Cows stood in small groups in the field that bounded his property, and larks drew scrolling lines across the deep blue of the sky, while inside the studio he was waiting for his own life – his own artificial life – to decide what it wanted to be. He ran a hand through his long hair. It needed cutting, but he had been so wrapped up in constructing this latest piece of art that he had forgotten about it. He would need to get it cut before the show. His agent, Darla, would insist upon it. “Don’t believe the crap about artists in garrets forgetting to eat or wash and still being romantic,” she’d told him at his last show. “People who can afford your art expect short hair and an expensive cologne. And don’t fall on the vol-au-vents like you’re starving.” She’d paused at that point, then added: “Of course, if there’s an alien in town, wanting to pick up some art in exchange for some new kind of battery or something, then all bets are off.”
“I was followed around by an Eridani for three weeks, remember? It took five art installations, leaving behind something GalDiv took away for deep investigation.” He’d laughed bitterly. “Who knows why the damn aliens trade anything?” He didn’t say – it wasn’t necessary, there were plenty who’d say it for him – that it was the Eridani interest that had made the unknown Marc Keislack rich and famous.
Darla had smiled tightly. “Of course I remember, darling. And I would have gotten you a much better deal – even with an alien.” She didn’t say that being the alien’s darling – the Eridani and more recently the Cancri still traded for his and only his artwork, no other artists need apply – meant that Marc didn’t need an agent at all, only a lawyer and an accountant.
He’d smiled back more gently. “That I would like to have seen.” Keeping alive the polite fiction that Marc Keislack was as talented as any other successful artist and not just a lucky bastard.
Now he glanced around the studio, at the works that were going into the show, which his agent wanted to call simply Here. Across the far side of the room was a tank of seawater in which luminescent Aurelia aurita the size of coins drifted, coming together and apart in a thousand different shades of colour, as dictated by the artificial genes that he had spliced into their DNA. The jellyfish were effectively immortal, as far as he knew. As long as they floated in a nutrient-rich broth and had a little natural light they would just keep on going, moving and glowing, forming different pictures as they did so. Given the human mind’s amazing ability to see patterns in chaos, if you stared into the tank long enough you would start to see faces staring back at you: grimacing, laughing, screaming. Marc had given it the title All Human Life Is Here, and Darla had said that if he parted with it for less than a hundred and fifty thousand virtscrip she would part with him, violently.
His gaze skipped to another piece: this one an earlier, unsold work. It was a self-portrait entitled My Life Is Here. Artificially grown muscle, fat and skin tissue, generated from stem cells taken from Marc’s own bone marrow, had been carefully arranged over a brass skull on a stand inside a transparent case. The flesh had been crafted to mimic his own face, but initially aged a hundred and twenty. The cells had been programmed in such a way that they would gradually alter over time: the skin becoming firmer, the fat reduced and the muscles better defined. His face would get younger as he, the artist, grew older. It had already regressed to the age of 115, although it had to be said that there was very little difference visible between now and when it had started. There would be a day when the two of them – the artwork and the model – would cross, and one of the terms of the sale was that Marc would, on that day, sit inside a similar case next to it, wherever the purchaser was displaying it, making himself part of the work. Another one of the terms of sale was that when the face had developed to infancy the work would be destroyed – a stipulation backed up by automatic cell death programmed into the artwork’s genes. The aliens wouldn’t understand the fine print, of course, but he didn’t care. The art was the art.
“Wonderful,” Darla had said when he had told her about the idea. “A reversed Picture of Dorian Gray reproduced with technology.”
“The what? Who?”
She had glanced at him, frowning. “Never mind. Just keep coming up with ideas.” Marc had no interest in the past, only his own present and future.
A momentary eddy in the tank beside him caught his attention. At the border between the mass of blue nanoforms and the transparent nutrient medium they existed within, small vortices were forming. It looked like the kind of effect one saw at the edge of fractals, or coastlines on a map. The nanoforms themselves were artificial, of course, but based on genetic material harvested from slime moulds of Fuligo septica. Their behaviour was pre-programmed in their simplified DNA and based on a handful of simple rules. Were they surrounded by others of their own colour, or by those of another colour? Were they in an area where nutrients were plentiful or sparse? Were they on the outside of a mass, exposed to ambient light, or on the inside, in darkness? How old were they? The rules themselves were simple, but the outcomes would be anything but. In computer simulations the virtual nanoforms automatically came together in small groups, which acted as individual entities: moving as one, co-operating with others of their kind, absorbing others not of their kind and then producing smaller versions of themselves which grew over time. It was emergent behaviour, not pre-programmed, but it seemed to replicate many of the features of more complicated life forms, all without instinct or intelligence. This one was entitled All Life Is Here, and he was still waiting to see how it developed.

~~~

Netherspace is published by @TitanBooks, and is out now. The blog tour continues tomorrow at Sci-Fi Bulletin.