Block 46 – Orenda Audio Week

Delighted to be taking part in Orenda Books’ Audio Week, where a host of awesome bloggers (and me) are reviewing the audiobook versions of some fantastic Orenda titles. Plus I’ve got *two* copies of Johana Gustawsson’s Block 46 audiobook to give away! More on that later.

Falkenberg, Sweden. The mutilated body of talented young jewellery designer, Linnea Blix, is found in a snow-swept marina. Hampstead Heath, London. The body of a young boy is discovered with similar wounds to Linnea’s. Buchenwald Concentration Camp, 1944. In the midst of the hell of the Holocaust, Erich Hebner will do anything to see himself as a human again. Are the two murders the work of a serial killer, and how are they connected to shocking events at Buchenwald? Emily Roy, a profiler on loan to Scotland Yard from the Canadian Royal Mounted Police, joins up with Linnea’s friend, French true-crime writer Alexis Castells, to investigate the puzzling case. They travel between Sweden and London, and then deep into the past, as a startling and terrifying connection comes to light.

Firstly, the story. It’s dark and often horrific, told in part through flashbacks to the Buchenwald Concentration Camp towards the end of the Second World War. The characters here are twisted and barbaric in their treatment of the prisoners, and you’re dragged along through the story of Erich Hebner as he does what he needs to do to survive. How this then links to the murder of Linnea Blix in the present, or to the murders of a young boy in London, is what drives this story.

The characters are brilliantly realised – I loved Emily Roy and Alexis Castells in particular as they unpick the unpleasant clues behind these horrific murders. There’s a real international feel to the book – written by a French author (and here translated into English by Maxim Jakubowski), with the action moving from Falkenberg in Sweden to London, with a Canadian Behavioural Insight Analyst (Roy) and a French crime writer based in London (Castells). Regular readers of this blog know of my love of books which give you a sense of place, and Block 46 delivers this in spades, across the various locations in the book.

The audiobook is narrated by Patricia Rodriguez and Mark Meadows. If I had any criticism, I found Patricia’s delivery to be a little too measured and slow. However, the great thing about the Audible app is that you can alter the speed of the narration. I found that by bumping it up fractionally to 1.25x speed, the delivery felt better for me, and I got through the book quicker – always useful when you’ve got a lot of other books to read! The shift between Rodriguez and Meadows as narrators worked really well and really gave the story an extra dimension.

Karen at Orenda Books has given me TWO copies of the audiobook to give away – leave a comment here on the blog, or retweet a link to this post – I’ll pop all the names into a random number generator next week and announce the winners on twitter. You’ll need an account at audible.co.uk though!

You can find Johana Gustawsson on twitter @JoGustawsson. Block 46 is published by Orenda Books.

Nemesister – Sophie Jonas-Hill

It’s a psychological mystery where the female protagonist stumbles into a deserted shack with no memory but a gun in her hand. There she meets an apparent stranger, Red, and the two find themselves isolated and under attack from unseen assailants.

Barricaded inside for a sweltering night, cabin fever sets in and brings her flashes of insight which might be memory or vision as the swamp sighs and moans around her.

Exploring in the dark she finds hidden keys that seem to reveal her identity and that of her mysterious host, but which are the more dangerous – the lies he’s told her, or the ones she’s told herself?

A woman with no memory of who she is. A woman with no name, with a gunshot wound and no idea where or how she got it…

Nemesister kicks off at a breathless pace and doesn’t really let up. It’s a compelling, gothic tale, told through the eyes of a character who can’t remember who she is. Flashbacks light up parts of her story, but they merely add to the confusion. Who is she? How has she got to the shack? And who is the mysterious stranger?

As the night draws in, it becomes clear that the pair are forced to spend the night together. The sense of unease begins to escalate.

Nemesister is an intriguing read. The characters are fascinating, and the setting claustrophobic and intense. Secrets are revealed gradually, but so are the lies – we’ve got an unreliable narrator, in an unreliable situation, with a distinctly unreliable companion.

It’s hard to say too much without giving away too much of the story. Suffice it to say that if you like your psychological thrillers in the american gothic style, with a hot, sticky, confined location, then Nemesister should be on your list.

Nemesister, by Sophie Jonas-Hill is published on July 6th 2017 by Urbane Publications. You can find Sophie on twitter @SophieJonasHill, or at her website The House of Crooked Sisters.

The blog tour continues tomorrow!

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…

Exquisite – Sarah Stovell

Bo Luxton has it all – a loving family, a beautiful home in the Lake District, and a clutch of bestselling books to her name.

Enter Alice Dark, an aspiring writer who is drifting through life, with a series of dead-end jobs and a freeloading boyfriend.
When they meet at a writers’ retreat, the chemistry is instant, and a sinister relationship develops… Or does it?

So, what can we say about Exquisite? Well, for starters I read it in a day, in pretty much one sitting. I’d picked up a sampler from Karen at the Orenda Roadshow in Leeds, a tantalising glimpse to whet the appetite.

Having read the full book now, I can happily report that it does not disappoint. Exquisite is an utterly compelling domestic noir of a burgeoning friendship which takes a rather ominous turn following a writers’ retreat in Northumberland.

Told from the viewpoints of Bo Luxton, a well-established author, and Alice Dark, a young woman with dreams of becoming a writer, the two start exchanging emails following the retreat and soon become friends. Bo’s life appears to be idyllic – a gorgeous writing retreat in the Lake District, a successful writing career, a happy family. But is there something deeper, something more… sinister going on? By contrast, Alice Dark is young, a fresh-faced wannabe writer, keen to learn everything she can from her mentor.

The characters are fascinating, the scenery gorgeous, and the sense of something slightly off becomes more and more unsettling as the novel continues to grow. Shifting viewpoints tell each side of the story and gradually unravel the truth. Or do they? The concept of the unreliable narrator is familiar (and great fun), but having two people tell the same events with their own slant on what happens is unusual. It works remarkably well.

Exquisite, by Sarah Stovell is published by Orenda Books, and is available now. You can find Sarah Stovell on twitter @sarahlovescrime. Many thanks to Karen at @OrendaBooks for the review copy.

The Mayfly – James Hazel

The Mayfly by James Hazel is the first in what I’m sure will be a long-running series featuring ex-detective turned lawyer, Charlie Priest. Charlie has… issues (as all good protagonists do), but in this case they’re rather more interesting than most. He’s approached by Kenneth Ellinder, a wealthy entrepreneur, to investigate the murder of his son, Miles.

Oh, and what a murder it is. You’ll need a strong stomach for this one! Charlie and his team investigate, albeit reluctantly at first, and are swiftly drawn into a mystery dating back to the World War II and the interrogation of a Nazi surgeon. The story is interspersed with flashbacks to the questioning, and I really liked how this tied back into the story. I’d have loved to find out a little more about Colonel Ruck around that time. Perhaps a spin-off series…?

The Mayfly is a cracking psychological mystery. I loved the character of Charlie Priest – despite initial worries that he was going to be a yet another cookie-cutter ex-policeman-turned-lawyer (personal issues: check, family issues: check), he quickly grew on me with his quick thinking, smart wit and sense of humour. The plot hums along at quite a pace, sagging only slightly in the final third – there’s a romantic element which I felt kind of got in the way of the main narrative a little, but that’s more my personal preference than anything else. The supporting cast are also great – Georgie and Okoro fill out the gang nicely (more of Mr Okoro please) and Charlie’s family… well, I’ll let you find out more about them.

A sharply told tale – I look forward to seeing what Mr Priest gets up to next.

The Mayfly by James Hazel is published by @BonnierZaffre and is out now. You can find James Hazel on twitter @JamesHazelBooks

It’s happening again.

A mutilated body discovered in the woods.
A murderous plan conceived in the past.
A reckoning seventy years in the making . . .

Charlie Priest, ex-detective inspector turned London lawyer, is hired by influential entrepreneur Kenneth Ellinder to investigate the murder of his son. But Priest is no ordinary lawyer. Brilliant, yet flawed, this case will push him, and those closest to him, to the edge.

Priest traces the evidence back to the desperate last days of the Second World War. Buried in the ashes of the Holocaust is a secret so deadly its poison threatens to destroy the very heart of the establishment.
With more victims going missing, Priest realises that not everyone should be trusted. As he races to uncover the truth, can he prevent history from repeating itself?

Strange Practice – Vivian Shaw

Meet Greta Helsing, fast-talking doctor to the undead. Keeping the supernatural community not-alive and well in London has been her family’s specialty for generations.

Greta Helsing inherited the family’s highly specialized, and highly peculiar, medical practice. In her consulting rooms, Dr. Helsing treats the undead for a host of ills – vocal strain in banshees, arthritis in barrow-wights, and entropy in mummies. Although barely making ends meet, this is just the quiet, supernatural-adjacent life Greta’s been groomed for since childhood.

Until a sect of murderous monks emerges, killing human and undead Londoners alike. As terror takes hold of the city, Greta must use her unusual skills to stop the cult if she hopes to save her practice, and her life.

Meet Dr Greta Helsing, medic to the… differently alive residents of London. She looks after the capital’s supernatural inhabitants, be they vampire or vampyre (and yes, there is a difference!), ghoul, mummy or demon. The trouble is, someone is going around killing people. And that simply will not do. Dr Helsing (her family dropped the ‘van’ many years ago) must join forces with some of her patients to sort it all out.

What a splendid adventure this is – Dr Greta Helsing is a brilliant character, world-weary doctor on-call at all hours, sorting out the ills of the undead and trying to run her Harley Street practice without drawing too much (or any) attention to her patients from the living world.

The monks are delightfully evil and horribly focused on the job in hand. The underlying mystery is nicely twisty, and Dr Helsing has a splendidly quirky coterie of undead friends to aid her on her quest – Fastitocolon and Ruthven were particular favourites, and not forgetting Sir Francis. Of the supporting characters, I’d love to find out more about Anna and Dez, Greta’s helpers in her rather peculiar practice. Here’s hoping they’ll all be back for book 2 in what promises to be a splendid new urban fantasy series.

Strange Practice by Vivian Shaw will be published on July 25th 2017 by Orbit. You can find Vivian on twitter @ceruleancynic. Many thanks to Nazia at Orbit for the review copy (and the sweets – she knows the way to a bookblogger’s heart!)

The Good Thief’s Guide to Venice – Chris Ewan

Charlie Howard, gentleman thief and famous crime-writer, has gone straight. But holing himself up in a crumbling palazzo in Venice in an attempt to concentrate on his next novel hasn’t got rid of the itch in his fingers. And to make matters worse, a striking Italian beauty has just broken into his apartment and made off with his most prized possession, leaving a puzzling calling card in its place.
It looks as though kicking the habit of a lifetime will be much more of a challenge than Charlie thought.
Sneaking out into Venice’s maze of murky canals, Charlie’s attempts to tame a cat burglar embroil him in a plot that is far bigger and more explosive than he could ever have imagined.

Let me start off with this – I’ve been a huge fan of Chris Ewans’s ‘Good Thief’s Guide to…’ books since the very first. So I jumped at the chance to read Venice and write up something for the relaunch of the series in their snazzy new covers!

Charlie Howard is a thief, and a darn good one at that. He’s had a number of adventures, from <a href=”http://amzn.to/2svMQQF”(hijinks involving stolen monkey figurines and a damsel in distress), to Paris (oil painting hijinks) and Vegas (more hijinks involving magic, a dead redhead and a casino heist). He’s also an author, writing a series of suspense novels about a gentleman thief called Michael Faulks. Who better to write a thief than another thief?

The books are sheer, glorious fun. Charlie Howard is a fantastic character with a nice line in inner monologue to go with his safe-cracking, lock-picking and general hijink-having abilities!

In Venice, Charlie has taken a bit of time off from nicking stuff to concentrate on his latest novel in Venice. Holed up with his erstwhile editor and friend Victoria, all is going well until a stunning catburglar breaks in and steals his beloved (though stolen, of course) good luck charm – a signed first edition of The Maltese Falcon.

Hijinks ensue, naturally, as Charlie is forced to put his writing plans on hold whilst he goes on the hunt for his missing book. And just who is that mysterious woman…?

Enormous fun – if you’re looking for a witty, fast-paced, high-concept, high-action thriller, then Mr Ewan is your man, and his ‘Good Thief’s Guide’ books should be on your list. And they’ve got some lovely new covers too! They’re available individually, or you can pick up the set on kindle here.

Many thanks to Chris Ewan for sending me a copy of The Good Thief’s Guide to Venice. You can find Chris on Twitter at @ChrisEwan

Right, I’m off to read the next one – Charlie is off to Berlin, apparently! (thanks to Chris for that one too!)

ou can’t keep a good thief down . . . Charlie Howard is back and robbing the city of Berlin blind, until he witnesses a murder being committed right before his eyes

Charlie Howard, part-time writer, part-time thief, has been engaged in a veritable spree of larceny and misappropriation since moving to Berlin, Germany. He’s supposed to be working on his next novel. But high rent and a love for thrill-seeking has been hard on his word count.

But Charlie’s larcenous binge is interrupted by the call to duty—on behalf of Her Majesty’s Government. Four embassy employees are suspected of stealing a sensitive item. Charlie is to break into their homes, find the culprit and recover the stolen property. But there’s a catch. The item is so sensitive, Charlie isn’t told what he’s looking for. Not its size, not its weight, nothing. He’s only told that he’ll recognize it when he sees it.

Charlie has been a successful thief because he follows his own rules, the first being “Don’t get caught.” Well, after he enters the first suspect’s home, he has to add a new rule: “Don’t admire the view.” As Charlie stares across the street, he sees something he really wishes he hadn’t—a woman being murdered. And that’s just for starters. What follows is a wild adventure in the former cauldron of spies.