Void Black Shadow – Corey J. White

Mars Xi is a living weapon, a genetically-manipulated psychic supersoldier with a body count in the thousands, and all she wanted was to be left alone. People who get involved with her get hurt, whether by MEPHISTO, by her psychic backlash, or by her acid tongue. It’s not smart to get involved with Mars, but that doesn’t stop some people from trying.

The last time MEPHISTO came for Mars they took one of her friends with them. That was a mistake. A force hasn’t been invented that can stop a voidwitch on a rampage, and Mars won’t rest until she’s settled her debts.

This is the second book in Corey J. White’s Voidwitch Saga, the first being the splendid Killing Gravity (a ‘a kick-ass, whip-smart sci-fi short story/novella’). Book 2, Void Black Shadow continues in much the same vein. Mars Xi, genetically engineered psychic voidwitch is on a mission to retrieve one of her friends, and woe betide anyone who gets in her way.

The action is bloody, brutal and relentless. Mars is brilliantly acerbic and pissed off with anyone who gets between her and her target, which turns out to be 90% of the people we meet in this book. So much blood. So much mayhem. So much fun.

The writing style is punchy and taut, with no time wasted. This book is short and to the point (often brutally so – did I mention all the blood?), and unlike some of its contemporaries, doesn’t wallow around waiting for stuff to happen. It’s a gloriously refreshing thing. Devoured in a couple of sittings. Loved it. Bring on book 3

Void Black Shadow by Corey J. White was published in March 2018 by Tor.com. You can find Corey over at his website, coreyjwhite.com or on twitter @cjwhite

I picked up Corey’s first book from a recommendation in Warren Ellis’ excellent email newsletter, Orbital Operations. He mentioned book 2 recently so I dashed off to order it, only to find out that previous me had already done so. I are so smart. 🙂

Killed – Thomas Enger

Published by Orenda Books, February 2018
Source: review copy
Crime reporter Henning Juul thought his life was over when his young son was murdered. But that wasonly the beginning…

Determined to find his son’s killer, Henning doggedly follows an increasingly dangerous trail, where dark hands from the past emerge to threaten everything. His ex-wife Nora is pregnant with another man’s child, his sister Trine is implicated in the fire that killed his son and, with everyone he thought he could trust seemingly hiding something, Henning has nothing to lose … except his own life.
Packed with tension and unexpected twists, Killed is the long-awaited finale of one of the darkest, most chilling and emotive series you may ever read. Someone will be killed. But who?

Last year I reviewed Thomas Enger’s Cursed. I said at the time that Cursed was

… dark and riveting, with a plot which zigs and zags through a twisting landscape of suspense, truth and lies. Brutal in places, but beautifully layered and plotted.

I also met Mr Enger at the Orenda Roadshow back in February last year, amused to see that we’d both gone for a blue shirt/jumper ensenble. 🙂

Killed, the fifth and final book in the Henning Juul series, follows on directly from Cursed. Henning is still on the hunt for his son’s killers and the investigation weaves its way along a path once again strewn with half-truths, red herrings and dead ends. Henning is not a man to be deterred in his quest, uncovering clues as we go on this one last journey with him. And what a journey it is.

Thomas Enger has given us a veritable smörgåsbord of memorable characters, not least of which is Henning Juul himself. He does rather seem to enjoy putting them through the wringer though! I was very grateful for the list of characters which Thomas presented at the start of the book! I found myself flicking back to remind myself who was who at the start of the book. Very useful!

Killed is quite a journey, and the title does give away that not everyone makes it to the end. It’s often brutal, but never gratuitously so, and we are rewarded handsomely with some answers to the questions which have been dogging us for so long.

Farewell, Henning Juul. I’ve enjoyed our time together. Now I just need a little lie-down to recover.

Killed, by Thomas Enger is published by Orenda Books on 28th February 2018. You can find Thomas on twitter @EngerThomas
Many thanks to Karen @OrendaBooks for the review copy and @AnneCater for inviting me onto the blog tour.

Granite Noir fest 2017. Thomas Enger.

Thomas Enger is a former journalist. He made his debut with the
crime novel Burned (Skinndød) in 2010, which became an international
sensation before publication. Burned is the first in a series of 5 books about the journalist Henning Juul, which delves into the depths of Oslo’s underbelly, skewering the corridors of dirty politics and nailing the fast-moving world of 24-hour news. Rights to the series have been sold to 26 countries to date. In 2013 Enger published his first book for young adults, a dark fantasy thriller called The Evil Legacy, for which he won the U-prize (best book Young Adult). Enger also composes music, and he lives in Oslo.

Senlin Ascends – Josiah Bancroft

Published by Orbit Books, January 2018
Source: review copy
The Tower of Babel is the greatest marvel in the world. Immense as a mountain, the ancient Tower holds unnumbered ringdoms, warring and peaceful, stacked one on the other like the layers of a cake. It is a world of geniuses and tyrants, of airships and steam engines, of unusual animals and mysterious machines.

Soon after arriving for his honeymoon at the Tower, the mild-mannered headmaster of a small village school, Thomas Senlin, gets separated from his wife, Marya, in the overwhelming swarm of tourists, residents, and miscreants.

Senlin is determined to find Marya, but to do so he’ll have to navigate madhouses, ballrooms, and burlesque theaters. He must survive betrayal, assassination, and the long guns of a flying fortress. But if he hopes to find his wife, he will have to do more than just endure.

This quiet man of letters must become a man of action.

Senlin Ascends is an astonishing book, but not an easy one. The worldbuilding is incredible, and Bancroft’s Tower of Babel must rank up there with the best of literary wonderlands. It’s an intriguing concept, a tower which scrapes the sky, built of many ‘ringdoms’. Each level of the tower is its own little microcosm of life, each one startlingly different from the last, yet linked together by the tale of the titular Thomas Senlin on the hunt for his missing wife.

Thomas and Marya are honeymooning at the Tower when they are separated in the throng of tourists in the market which skirts the tower’s base. Thomas hopes that she will make her way to their hotel on the third floor, so sets off in pursuit. What follows is one of the… odder stories I’ve read for a very long time.

I must confess that I struggled a little with the beginning of Senlin Ascends. The style takes a little getting used to, and it wasn’t quite what I was expecting (though I’d hesitate to say exactly what that might be). A case of the wrong book at the wrong time, perhaps, as I picked it back up again recently and ploughed through Senlin’s ascent at quite a rate. It’s easy to empathise with Senlin’s quest, though I found myself wanting to tell him to stop faffing about quite so much and get on with tracking down his beloved Marya rather than having quite so many interesting (though time-consuming) adventures!

Senlin is a fascinating character, though initially one which it’s rather hard to actually like. He does grow on you over the course of his ascent, and by the end of this, the first book, you find yourself rather rooting for him in his quest. Handily book 2 arrived just this morning, so I don’t have *too* long to wait.

The Arm of the Sphinx is out in mid-March, so you’ve just got time to rattle through Senlin Ascends before that arrives. I’d get going though, it’s a long climb…

Huge thanks to Nazia Khatum (@gambit589) and Orbit Books for the review copy of Senlin Ascends and The Arm of the Sphinx. Keep your eyes peeled for a review of that soon!

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

Slow Horses – Mick Herron

Published by John Murray
Source: own copy
Slough House is a dumping ground for British intelligence agents who’ve screwed up a case in any number of ways—by leaving a secret file on a train or blowing a surveillance. River Cartwright, one such “slow horse,” is bitter about his failure and about his tedious assignment transcribing cell phone conversations.

When a young man is abducted and his kidnappers threaten to broadcast his beheading live on the Internet, River sees an opportunity to redeem himself.

Is the victim who he first appears to be? And what’s the kidnappers’ connection with a disgraced journalist? As the clock ticks on the execution, River finds that everyone has his own agenda.

I’d heard a lot of good things about Mick Herron’s Slow Horses, so when I saw him on one of the panels at Hull Noir last year, I took the opportunity to pick up a copy and get him to sign it for me.

Slow Horses opens with a scene at King’s Cross station, where we follow River Cartwright in pursuit of a suspect. It’s an incredible opening, with a deft hand for detail and tension. What follows is the story of the ‘slow horses’, sidelined to the nondescript Slough House, each a failure of sorts, put out to pasture where they can cause the least harm.

Slough House is filled with some brilliant characters, not least their leader and chief misfit, the unforgettable Jackson Lamb. I’ve read a fair few thrillers and have never come across his like. Grumpy, sarcastic and almost entirely unpleasant, Lamb is a fabulous character who’ll grow on you over the course of the book, whilst still maintaining his gruff, unkempt and almost entirely unpleasant exterior. But there’s more going on beneath – Lamb is a smart, savvy character who will quite happily eat you for breakfast before breaking wind and sloping off for an actual breakfast.

The story is also first-rate – a young man is kidnapped and his captors are threatening to broadcast his beheading live on the internet. ‘Five’ at Regents Park are on the case, but will Lamb and his slow horses pip them at the post?

Gritty, dark and shot through with a beautifully dark wit, Slow Horses is one not to be missed. Utterly brilliant, and I’ll be racing through the rest of Mick Herron’s back catalogue to get ready for book five, London Rules which is out now.

Deep Blue Trouble – Steph Broadribb

Published by Orenda Books, January 2018
Source: Review copy
Single-mother Florida bounty hunter Lori Anderson’s got an ocean of trouble on her hands. Her daughter Dakota is safe, but her cancer is threatening a comeback, and Lori needs JT—Dakota’s daddy and the man who taught Lori everything—alive and kicking. Problem is, he’s behind bars, and heading for death row. Desperate to save him, Lori does a deal, taking on off-the-books job from shady FBI agent Alex Monroe. Bring back on-the-run felon, Gibson “The Fish” Fletcher, and JT walks free. Following Fletcher from Florida to California, Lori teams up with local bounty hunter Dez McGregor and his team. But Dez works very differently to Lori, and the tension between them threatens to put the whole job in danger. With Monroe pressuring Lori for results, the clock ticking on JT’s life, and nothing about the Fletcher case adding up, Lori’s hitting walls at every turn. But this is one job she’s got to get right, or she’ll lose everything.

A couple of years ago I read Steph Broadribb’s first book,  Deep Down Dead.  It made my Books of 2016 list, and I said at the time that it was

a *great* thriller, steeped in Americana with settings and characters which feel completely authentic and with a plot which insists that you don’t put it down.

I also said that I couldn’t wait to see what she came up with next. Which neatly leads us to Deep Blue Trouble (though there is another short story featuring our kick-ass bounty hunter heroine Lori, The Last Resort, which is also fabulous).

Deep Blue Trouble finds Lori with a mission from dodgy FBI agent Monroe – track down Gibson “The Fish” Fletcher before anyone else, let Monroe have a quiet five minutes with him, and the FBI will clear JT’s name. And Lori needs JT to stay alive for the sake of her daughter…

Nothing is ever quite that simple, leading Lori on a chase from Florida to San Diego and over the border into Mexico where she’ll need the help of Monroe’s other bounty hunter team, run by Dez McGregor.

Action-packed, no holds barred from the off, this second installment is another roller-coaster ride of action and adventure.

Steph Broadribb has a knack of giving you a sense of Americana, shown once again to great effect as Lori crosses the country, but she also comes up trumps again with some brilliant characters. I liked the way Lori and Dez rubbed up against each other, with their differing styles clashing as they hunt for Gibson. I particularly liked Bobby  Four Fingers! I hope we get to see him again. Lori works best alone though, and it’s where we see her figure stuff out and get stuff done that her character really shines. I loved Lori in Deep Blue Trouble, but here she’s given even more room to show off her skills.

If you love a good action thriller with brilliant characters, a real sense of place, and a great story, then I heartily recommend Deep Blue Trouble. And if you’ve not read Deep Down Dead, then what are you waiting for? Go get them both (with The Last Resort thrown in for good measure)!

I had the great pleasure of seeing Steph at the fantastic Hull Noir festival in November last year, both as part of the Brawlers & Bastards panel, and briefly to say hello and tell her how much I’d enjoyed her first book. If you get the chance to see Steph at a book event, I’d definitely recommend it. She’s appearing as part of the Orenda Roadshow (with lots of other brilliant Orenda authors) at Waterstones Liverpool on Monday 26th February, Waterstones Nottingham on 27th February and Northgate Methodist Church in Warwick on Wednesday, 28th February. If you’re in the area, get yourself along and say hello!

You can find Steph Broadribb on twitter @crimethrillgirl.

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

Dark Pines – Will Dean

Published by Point Blank, January 2018
Source: Review copy
It’s week one of the elk hunt and the sound of gunfire is everywhere. Two hunters are found murdered in the forest, with their eyes missing. When Tuva Moodyson, a young deaf reporter on a small-time local paper, investigates the story that could make her career, she stumbles on a web of secrets. Are the murders connected to the unsolved Medusa killings twenty years ago? Can Tuva outwit the killer before she becomes the
next victim? Tuva must face her demons and venture deep into the woods to stop the murderer and write the story. And then get the hell out of Gavrik.

First book of the year, devoured over the course of a weekend, Dark Pines takes us deep into the immense forest of Utgard where a young reporter investigates the death of a hunter. Could it be connected to the infamous ‘Medusa murders’ of twenty years ago?

Regular readers will be aware that I love a book which has a real sense of place, and Dark Pines is just such a book. The pines of Utgard are superbly creepy, with a tangible sense of menace made all the scarier by its inhabitants. They’re a wonderfully odd bunch – the ghostwriter with a fascination for Tuva Moodyson’s deafness, the slightly (very) odd twins and their wooden trolls. The story follows Tuva as she investigates first one murder, and then another, drawing her deep into the forest. It’s not just the forest though – Gavrik is one of those small town, tightly-knit communities where everyone knows everyone else, but everyone seems to have a secret. Can Tuva get to the bottom of the killings?

Tuva Moodyson is an interesting character – her deafness plays a key part in the story, but never feels forced or gimmicky for the sake of plot. She has a rugged determination in pursuit of the story which will give her a future outside Gavrik – I really liked her, and hope we get to see more of her investigations in the future. She’s just one of a set of great characters though, and the plot is artfully crafted, with the suspense ratcheting up notch by notch. Tuva’s fear of the forest is tangible – forests can be creepy at the best of times, but imagine a forest where you are unable to hear anything, knowing that there is someone out there with a rifle who could very well be taking aim right now.

Dark Pines is a splendid Noir, beautifully written and unsettling. Will Dean has come up with a brilliant character in Tuva Moodyson, and I’d love to see her again.

Highly recommended.

Dark Pines is published by @PtBlankBks and is out now. You can find Will Dean on twitter @Willrdean