CTG Reviews: Beyond the Rage by Michael J. Malone

Beyond the Rage cover image

Beyond the Rage cover image

What the blurb says: “Kenny O’Neill is a criminal with a touch of class about him, a self-made man who’s always one step ahead. But right now he’s raging. His high-class escort girlfriend has been viciously attacked and his father is reaching out from the past – despite abandoning Kenny as a child after his mother’s suicide. Kenny embarks on a dual mission to hunt down his girl’s attacker and find out the truth about his dad … but instead he unravels disturbing family secrets and finds that revenge is not always sweet.”

Kenny O’Neill might be a criminal, but you can’t help but root for him in this pacey thriller. Never one to back away from a fight, and with a highly developed sense of justice (just not necessarily the legal kind) he’s determined to find out who’s behind the vicious attack on Alexis, his escort girlfriend. But when unresolved questions from his past start resurfacing, and those he cares for start getting hurt, he realises that Alexis is not the only target. As the body count rises, Kenny has to call on his friends from both sides of the law if he’s going to find those responsible, and get out alive.

This is a gritty, brutal crime thriller, with plenty of salty language and a nice touch of dark humour. It throws you into Kenny’s (criminal) world and gets you up-close-and-personal with some violent and conniving people. There are loads of fabulous characters, from the elderly mixed martial arts gym owner, to the retired cop who’s never forgotten Kenny’s mothers’ death and his fathers’ disappearance, to Kenny’s mysterious and unpredictable girlfriend, Alexis, and her larger-than-life mother. There’s also a lot of heart.

An atmospheric, compelling, rollercoaster of a read, BEYOND THE RAGE is a fabulous piece of tartan noir.

Highly Recommended.

[with thanks to CONTRABAND for my copy of Beyond the Rage]

 

The Touched Blog Tour: A Writer’s Life guest post by Joanna Briscoe

Joanna Briscoe (c) Jason Alden

Joanna Briscoe (c) Jason Alden

Today I’m handing over the reins of the CTG blog to Joanna Briscoe whose latest novella TOUCHED is published today. Joanna is the author of Mothers and Other Lovers, Skin and the highly acclaimed Sleep with Me which was published in ten countries and adapted for television.

She spent her  early years in ‘the village of the damned’ – Letchmore Heath in Hertfordshire – which was the location for the celebrated 1960 film based on John Wyndham’s novel The Midwich Cuckoos – and the inspiration for her Hammer novella TOUCHED.

So, over to Joanna …

A Writer’s Life

There is much that is unglamorous about a writer’s life… and much that is privileged. At the moment, I walk through a King’s Cross that changes daily, and have a swim, on the way to the British Library, and this feels amazing.

It’s true that there are lots of publishing parties, award parties, and I hang out with lots of other authors, but I wouldn’t really wish this career on my children. It’s too solitary, neurotic, insecure… How I dream, so often, about being with other people, in an office, on a film set, in a school. Just being surrounded by people working, instead of labouring in silence, would be amazing.

Yet, as with most writers, I am driven to do this. It doesn’t feel like a choice, rather, a compulsion.

TOUCHED cover image

TOUCHED cover image

TOUCHED has collected some rave reviews and is an eerie ghost story, and a chilling and creepy tale.

Here’s the blurb: “Rowena Crale and her family have moved from London to a cottage in a picture perfect English village. But despite their efforts, the cottage resists all attempts at renovation. Walls ooze damp, stains come through layers of wallpaper, ceilings sag, and strange voices emanate from empty rooms. And then, one by one, Rowena’s daughters go missing….”

To find out more hop over to Joanna Briscoe’s website at www.joannabriscoe.com and follow her on Twitter @JoannaBriscoe

 

CTG Reviews: AND SHE WAS by Alison Gaylin

 

AND SHE WAS cover image

AND SHE WAS cover image

What the blurb says: “When Brenna Spector was a child, her older sister stepped into a strange car never to be seen again. This traumatic event triggered in Brenna a rare neurological disorder that enables her to recall every detail of every day of her life, except – cruelly – that dark day when her sister disappeared.

Nowadays Brenna puts her unusual skill to use as a missing persons investigator and it’s while she’s trying to find local woman Carol Wentz that she discovers connections to another child’s disappearance, ten years earlier. Before too long a link to her own past emerges. Could this be the answer she’s been hunting for all these years?”

Brenna Spector is a truly unique investigator – smart and dedicated to her work as a missing persons investigator, and very human in her struggle to balance the demands of her job while trying to make quality time for her daughter. She also has a rare neurological disorder that lets her recall every detail of every day since it developed.

Brenna’s latest job is to find Carol Wentz, a resident of the small town – Tarry Ridge. Hired by Nelson Wentz, Carol’s husband, Brenna starts to piece together Carol’s movements in the days leading up to her disappearance. It’s not easy, Nelson is far from forthcoming, and the town holds many memories for Brenna which cause her mind to plunge her back into the aftermath of when the young girl – Iris Neff – was taken; a case which caused Brenna to visit the town ten years previously.

Then a body is found.

With the Police looking to make a quick arrest and Brenna’s client – Nelson Wentz – firmly in the frame, Brenna finds herself out of a job. But things don’t feel right to Brenna, and she keeps digging, discovering the dead woman’s increasing obsession with the child who was abducted many years before.

Much of the book focuses on the residents of fictional small town – Tarry Ridge – and the secrets they’ve kept from each other. It explores loss, and guilt, and the devastating consequences a single decision has both in that moment and across a decade.

Brenna is a resourceful and engaging protagonist. She juggles life as a single-parent with her job, and maintains good relationship with her ex-husband and his new wife even though the memories of the good times force her to relive her loss of him every time they meet.

I especially liked the growing relationship between Brenna and Detective Nick Morasco of Tarry Ridge PD. Both sense something more is going on in the small town than at first appears, and although initially neither is sure whether they can trust the other, they build at first a truce and then a partnership that helps both their investigations reach the truth.

Beautifully written, with enough twists and turns to keep the reader perched on the edge of their seat, this is a fabulous start to a fantastic new series. I can’t wait to read the next one.

Highly recommended.

[with thanks to Sphere for my copy of AND SHE WAS]

CTG Reviews: Dead Man Walking by Paul Finch

Dead Man Walking cover image

Dead Man Walking cover image

What the blurb says: “DS ‘Heck’ Heckenburg is back and facing his most challenging criminal yet in unfamiliar territory. But tracking down a psychotic serial killer with the upper hand isn’t the only issue – it’s knowing who you can trust.

Consigned to a remote valley in the Lake District, DS Mark ‘Heck’ Heckenburg is getting used to a quieter life – a far cry from the bloodbath of his former division, the Serial Crimes Unit. But wherever Heck goes, trouble is never far behind.

Unknown to Heck, ‘The Stranger’ has returned. Last seen on Dartmoor ten years earlier, this prolific serial killer has found a new home. As a dense, frozen mist descends on the Lakes, The Stranger returns to his old ways, starting with two young women lost high on the hills. Only one girl is ever found – barely alive – but able to confirm Heck’s worst fears.

As The Stranger lays siege to the remote community, Heck helplessly watches as the killer plays his cruel game, letting off his trademark call before viciously picking off his victims.

And with no way to get word out of the valley, Heck has no choice but to play ball …”

Heck has started to build a new life for himself away from the stresses and unrelenting pressure of the Serial Crimes Unit. He’s got a new woman in his life – Hazel Carter, owner of The Witch’s Kettle pub – and a keen and resourceful work partner in DC Mary-Ellen O’Rourke. Things are looking good, but that’s all about to change!

This is a rollercoaster of a read from the get-go. Using the beautiful yet remote setting of the Lake District to the maximum, The Stranger waits until severe weather descends, cloaking the community and surrounding hillsides in freezing fog. One by one, the killer picks off their victims – first those dwelling outside the main village, then becoming bolder – targeting police officers, cutting off power and telephones, and isolating the community from the outside world.

As the body count rises, Heck has to grapple with an added complication. DSU Gemma Piper – his previous boss, and former lover – was a member of the original team assigned to catch The Stranger before he disappeared ten years earlier. When she hears that the killer has returned, she travels from London to the Lake District, pitching up in Heck’s new life and bringing all the memories, and the tensions, from before with her.

Told through multiple points of view, the reader follows Heck as he tries to alert the residents to the danger in their wake and then, as the killer closes in, seeks to get them to safety; you also get a wider perspective of what’s happening in other parts of the small community through the eyes of Gemma, Hazel, and a number of other villagers (and victims).

The sense of isolation and disorientation caused by the fog ramps up the tension as the killer stalks their prey. As the loyalties and motivations of those close to him are called into question, Heck has to decide who he can trust, and who he can’t. If he makes a mistake it’s likely to be fatal.

Packed with atmosphere, and super-charged with action, this is a creepy, unsettling and suspense-filled read.

Highly recommended.

 

[many thanks to Avon for my copy of Dead Man Walking]

 

CTG Reviews: The Target by David Baldacci

The Target cover image

The Target cover image

What the blurb says: “Government operatives Will Robie and Jessica Reel are faced with a lethal mission. An attack from North Korea looks likely as US involvement in an attempted coup is revealed, and a bond of trust has been broken at the very highest level.

Chung-Cha is a young woman who was raised in the infamous Yodok concentration camp. It’s a place where honour, emotion and compassion don’t exist. Cold, calculating and highly skilled, Chung-Cha has been trained to kill. And the task she has been given is to destroy the enemy at all costs.

A dangerous and deadly operation of cat and mouse plays out between East and West. But who will be hunter and who will be hunted when the true target is finally revealed?”

The Target hooked me into the story from the very first page. Will Robie and Jessica Reel make for a great, if rather unconventional, duo. Both highly specialist government operatives with years of difficult missions behind them, trusting other people doesn’t come easy to either of them, but with each other they’ve forged a rare bond. Which is good, because on their last mission they went against orders and now the Director is gunning for them, determined to test their loyalties to the limit before he’ll let them back into the field.

When a threat at the very highest level of national security is made, Robie and Reel are thrust into a succession of high danger missions that take every ounce of teamwork and skill they have to survive. This book is action packed and fast paced, but it also explores the characters of Robie and Reel, revealing more about their personal lives and those they hold dear (and would protect unconditionally).

One of the stand out elements of the novel is the deadly operative Chung-Cha. Raised in the Yodok concentration camp in horrendous conditions and with brutal treatment, she is a lethal assassin who strikes without emotion, or so her commanders would believe. Her journey is a compelling, shocking and thought-provoking narrative that adds another layer of emotion and depth to the story.

With high stakes, and ever-rising tension, this book is a must-read for thriller fans.

Highly recommended.

 

[with thanks to PAN for my copy of THE TARGET]

 

CTG’s Top Reads of 2014

There have been so many wonderful books published this year it’s been really hard to narrow it down to my most favourite. So, instead of my top five picks, this year I’ve made it my top nine (!).

Here they are, my top picks of 2014 …

Truth or Dare cover image

Truth or Dare cover image

TRUTH OR DARE by Tania Carver (Sphere)

Tania Carver is fast becoming one of my favorite authors. Every book is fresh and inventive, and as readers of the series will have come to expect, unflinchingly dark, creepy, and nail-bitingly tense.

TRUTH OR DARE starts with a Darren Richards being forced to make a horrific choice – his life, or that of his family. Right from the outset, the ‘Lawgiver’ shows just how serious he is about his mission to serve justice where he believes the criminal justice system has failed. Enter Detective Inspector Phil Brennan and his team – investigating what looks set to become a serial killer case in Phil’s new home of Birmingham.

What I especially admired in this book is the skillful way the author touches on issues of morality, social justice and economic deprivation in relation to attitudes and motivations towards crime, without ever becoming preachy. The characters feel real and fully drawn; the settings gritty, grimy and highly atmospheric.

Tightly plotted, with a rapid pace and twists that will blindside you, this is a super-moreish read.

The Good Girl cover image

The Good Girl cover image

THE GOOD GIRL by Mary Kubica (Harlequin MIRA)

This spellbinding debut thriller uncovers just how many dark secrets can be hidden behind a perfect family image. Schoolteacher, Mia Dennett, turned her back on her family’s extravagant lifestyle to work as an inner-city teacher and make her own way in the world. But when her boyfriend stands her up one time too many, a spare-of-the-moment decision to go home with the smooth and attractive Colin has horrifying consequences for more than just Mia.

Told through three main viewpoints – the mother, Eve, the kidnapper, Colin, and the cop, Gabe – each character shows the reader a different perspective on the events, and on Mia, leading up to, during and following the kidnapping.

With the viewpoints and timeline told out-of-sequence, the story builds the tension to the max as the details of what happened to Mia are uncovered. It’s a complex tale of deceit, jealously, fear, and love played out against the bustling, bright lights of Chicago and the frozen, unforgiving landscape of rural Minnesota in winter.

I found this artfully crafted story brutal at times, and yet so beautiful that it made me cry (and I can’t remember the last time a story did that). A stunning debut.

The Bones Beneath cover image

The Bones Beneath cover image

THE BONES BENEATH by Mark Billingham (Sphere)

THE BONES BENEATH takes Tom Thorne away from his home turf, reluctantly chaperoning one of the most dangerous criminals from his past on a trip to Bardsey Island to retrieve the body of a teenager. Part road-trip, part closed location mystery, the suspense builds from the outset.

Stuart Nicklin is a master manipulator without a shred of remorse for his victims and their families, yet he says he’s willing to lead the police to the body of one of his early kills in order for the boy’s mother to get closure. The catch –Thorne must be the police officer to escort him. But Thorne knows the trip isn’t about any sense of conscience Nicklin has, so why does he want to take a trip to the island now?

As Thorne and his team, along with prisoners Nicklin and Batchelor, make the journey there’s a real sense of impending doom.

The remote island makes the group geographically isolated. At the mercy of the weather, and limited by the small amount of equipment they could bring, the team start their search for the body. But finding it is only their first challenge.

The relationship between Thorne and Nicklin is grating and tense. Nicklin tries his upmost to taunt and provoke Thorne, while Thorne battles to keep his reactions in check. They’re well matched adversaries – smart, savvy and both determined to stop the other getting the upper hand. But as the full extent of Nicklin’s plan is put into play, the body count rises, and Thorne is forced to make an impossible choice.

This tense, suspenseful and claustrophobically gripping story hooked me in from the beginning and kept me reading into the early hours because I just couldn’t put the book down. A truly fabulous read.

The Distance cover image

The Distance cover image

THE DISTANCE by Helen Giltrow (Orion)

This is a stylish, espionage-type thriller with a bold and courageous female lead character. Karla (and her alter-ego Charlotte Alton) is super-smart, brave and principled (in her own very distinct way). But this job is different. To get a hit-man into ‘The Programme’ – an experimental prison that is meant to be impossible to break in or out of, and the hit-man is Johanssen – a guy she has a history with.

Karla takes the job, but as Johanssen assumes a new identity in order to enter The Programme, Karla gets increasingly suspicious of the client and their motives. The target of the hit is a woman, and the only information they have on her is a photo and an assurance that she did ‘something bad. Yet she seemingly has no identity, no history, and there is no record of her being inside the prison. Still, Karla has seen the CCTV footage – she knows that the target is inside and very much exists.

Concerned for Johanssen’s safety, Karla digs deeper to find the identity of the target and, in doing so, unravels the complex web of lies, bribes and murder. As she gets closer to uncovering the violent truth hidden behind the hit, Karla, and those close to her, become targets.

Set in the near future and played out over twenty-four days, the story is packed with tension. It’s told in the present tense, which adds to the momentum, and hammers along at a tremendous pace. The plot twists and turns, then twists some more and turns again. Dark, edgy and, at times, brutal, this is a stylish and highly original debut.

The Killing Season cover image

The Killing Season cover image

THE KILLING SEASON by Mason Cross (Orion)

THE KILLING SEASON has everything I love about action thrillers – the intrigue, the danger, the chase and the multi-layered characters. And, it’s Mason Cross’ debut novel, which makes it all the more impressive.

The main character, Carter Blake, is something of an enigma – charismatic, highly skilled, and at the top of his game. But he doesn’t let power and politics get in the way of his investigation, and he makes sure justice is brought, whatever the personal cost. So pairing up with Special Agent Elaine Banner makes for an interesting working relationship – she’s career-driven and has her eyes on the next promotion, working with a talented maverick like Blake gives her a set of problems she can well do without.

The serial killer antagonist – sniper Caleb Wardell – is a smart and cunning adversary, engaging Blake and Banner in a deadly game of cat and mouse. The tension is high from the get-go and just keeps on rising.

I cannot sing this novel’s praises highly enough – it’s a joy to read, utterly engaging and kept me hooked right from the first page to the last. There’s high stakes and high tension, and the chemistry between Blake and Banner sizzles off the page. If you love action thrillers, go and read this book. I’m sure you won’t regret it.

The Long Way Home cover image

The Long Way Home cover image

LONG WAY HOME by Eva Dolan (Harvill Secker)

Another fabulous debut of 2014 is LONG WAY HOME. DS Mel Ferreira and DI Dushan Zigic from the Peterborough Hate Crimes Unit are called in to investigate the murder of an unidentified man, burnt alive in a garden shed. As they start their investigation the man is identified as an immigrant, but no one will talk about the murder. There are plenty of suspects though; from the owners of the shed who seem to be hiding something, to a convicted arsonist, and the local men who use (and abuse) cheap labour – the victim seems to have made plenty of enemies. Question is, who killed him and why?

A compelling and moving story, from the brutal murder, to the horrendous conditions immigrant workers are found to be living in, their callous treatment and the cheapness of human life to the trafficking gangs and local racketeers. DI Zigic and DS Ferreira battle to bring the guilty to justice against the backdrop of a city where the undercurrent of radical tension is high and the threat of violence never far away.

Beautifully crafted, artfully plotted and deeply thought provoking, this stunning debut is the beginning of a fantastic new crime series.

Better Off Dead cover image

Better Off Dead cover image

BETTER OFF DEAD by Tom Wood (Sphere)

BETTER OFF DEAD has terrific pace, a contemporary, gritty feel and, rather unexpected for a novel whose protagonist is an assassin, a real depth of heart.

In this story, Victor (the Assassin) is called by an old contact, now enemy – Russian crime boss Norimov – and asked to protect his estranged daughter who is being targeted by an unidentified gang. At first Victor refuses, but finally agrees to find and protect Gisele in honour of her dead mother, who was his friend.

In London, Victor realises that finding Gisele may be more problematic than he’d first anticipated. When he locates Gisele things aren’t any clearer. She has no idea who is after her, and is highly reluctant to go with him. He manages to persuade her, and that’s when the serious attacks begin.

Forced to rely on his instincts and training, Victor battles to keep Gisele safe as they try to unravel the real motive driving those that are targeting her. The bond that grows between Gisele and Victor makes them an engaging pair. Gisele’s a fast learner and a brave co-protagonist. She’s also rather adept at challenging Victor, acting rather like a moral compass in the more violent moments.

With some fabulous action scenes, and ever increasing stakes, this is a breath-taking read from start to finish. A must read for fans of action thrillers.

Dear Daughter cover image

Dear Daughter cover image

DEAR DAUGHTER by Elizabeth Little (Harvill Secker)

Told from the point of view of Jane “Janie” Jenkins DEAR DAUGHTER tracks the IT girl turned criminal as she searches to find the truth about her mother’s murder – did she do it? If she didn’t, who did and why?

It’s an action-packed, cross-country race of a read as Janie follows the few clues she has to the secrets in her mother’s past – the family Janie’s never met, the childhood her mother never spoke about – hunting out anyone who can help her find out what links her glamorous, wealthy mother to a small town out in the middle of nowhere.

But it’s not easy with the media, and an especially determined blogger, out to find her. So Janie goes undercover, transforming her super bitchy, razor sharp-witted, and hair to die for self into a more wallflower-esq alter ego. And it works, for a while. But as she digs deeper, and starts to uncover the secrets hidden for so long by her mother, and those of other members of the close-knit community, her true identity – and the danger that brings – is discovered.

Janie is a real love-to-hate protagonist – smart and resourceful, and I loved riding along with her on the hunt for the truth. Mystery, suspense, a non-stop pace and a wonderfully quirky, strong female narrator – this book has them all. I read it in a single weekend.

The Dying Place cover image

The Dying Place cover image

THE DYING PLACE by Luca Veste (Avon)

When the body of a murdered teenager is found outside a church, Murphy and Rossi are called in to investigate. As they delve deeper into the case it becomes clear that someone, or some people, are taking teenagers off the street and holding them against their will, trying to ‘re-train’ them through a brutal form of national service.

Veste’s Liverpool is an unsettling, dangerous place where frustrations between the older generation and the young run high. Told through multiple points of view, the story highlights the impact of violent crime on victims’ families – on the parents whose children don’t ever return home and on the adult children whose elderly parents fall victim to teenage gangs. It also shows how grief can twist into vengeance and how that can be a powerful motivator, exploring the theme of vigilante justice in an up-close and disturbingly convincing way through the eyes of the characters.

As in Dead Gone, Murphy and Rossi are a brilliantly paired double act; the strong bond between them showing through their ever-present banter, and their unswerving loyalty in the face of adversity.

A fast-paced police procedural that keeps you guessing right to the end, THE DYING PLACE is a truly gripping read.

 

So that was 2014. I can’t wait to find out what wonderful books 2015 has in store …

CTG Reviews: WANT YOU DEAD by Peter James

Want You Dead cover image

Want You Dead cover image

What the blurb says: When Red Westwood meets handsome, charming and rich Bryce Laurent through an online dating agency, there is an instant attraction. But as their love blossoms, the truth about his past, and his dark side, begins to emerge. Everything he has told Red about himself turns out to be a tissue of lies, and her infatuation with him gradually turns to terror. Within a year, and under police protection, she evicts him from her flat and her life. But Red’s nightmare is only just beginning. For Bryce is obsessed with her, and he intends to destroy everything and everyone she has know and loved – and then her too…”

DCI Roy Grace returns in the latest book in Peter James’ best selling detective series – Want You Dead. He’s juggling the new responsibilities of parenthood with planning for his approaching wedding when his team is called to inspect the scene of an apparent suicide. But the suicide is suspicious, and when the dead man is found to be the current boyfriend of Red Westwood, a women whose previous boyfriend – Bryce Laurent – is known for his violent outbursts, Grace and the team are pulled into a deadly race against time to find the killer before he strikes again.

Red is a survivor of domestic abuse, determined to rebuild her life after being betrayed and brutalised by the man she loved. She’s started a new career, and is beginning to date again. But when her boyfriend is found dead, and she starts to catch glimpses of her ex – Bryce Laurent – her confidence begins to crumble.

Bryce is a smart and terrifying villain, able to be both utterly charming and brutally violent. Obsessed with Red, and destroying her and all she holds dear, anyone who threatens his success instantly becomes a target.

Told in short chapters, with points of view alternating between viewpoint characters including Grace, Red Westwood, Bryce Laurent, and Sandy (Roy Grace’s wife who disappeared many years previously) the tension continues to rise as Brighton becomes the setting for a series of devastating fires. Alongside the case, Grace and his fiancé – Cleo – prepare for their wedding, but unknown to them, in the background someone is watching – Sandy, Grace’s first wife, who has now been declared legally dead.

The story twists and turns at break-neck pace towards its dramatic showdown with plenty of shocks along the way. It’s a must-read for fans of the series, and all those who love police procedurals.

Highly recommended.