CTG Reviews: THE DEFENCE by Steve Cavanagh

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To celebrate the paperback release of THE DEFENCE I’m re-running my review of this fabulous thriller …

What the blurb says: “Eddie Flynn used to be a con artist. Then he became a lawyer. Turned out the two weren’t that different.

It’s been over a year since Eddie Flynn vowed never to set foot in a courtroom again. But now he doesn’t have a choice. Olek Volchek, the infamous head of the Russian mafia in New York, has strapped a bomb to Eddie’s back and kidnapped his ten-year-old daughter, Amy. Eddie only has forty-eight hours to defend Volchek in an impossible murder trial – and win – if he wants to save his daughter.

Under the scrutiny of the media and the FBI, Eddie must use his razor-sharp wit and every con-artist trick in the book to defend his ‘client’ and ensure Amy’s safety. With the timer on his back ticking away, can Eddie convince the jury of the impossible? Lose this case and he loses everything.”

The Defence is hands down one of the best legal thrillers I’ve read in years. Eddie Flynn – con artist turned lawyer – is haunted by the last case he took to trial. He’s turned his back on the legal profession, taken up drinking and become estranged from his wife and child. Things seem pretty bad, but as the reader discovers from the very start of The Defence, things are about to get much, much worse for Eddie Flynn.

With his daughter abducted, and a bomb strapped to his own body, Eddie is forced to represent Olek Volchek – a man he has no doubt is guilty of murder. In order to buy enough time to figure a way out of the terrifying situation he’s in, Eddie has to draw on all his skills – both legal and criminal – and his friends on both sides of the law, as he gambles against increasingly higher risks in his attempt to get his daughter safe. Smart, courageous and driven by the need to protect his young daughter, Eddie makes for a compelling character – someone you can really root for.

This rapid-paced, page turner has bucket-loads of action and piles of sky-soaring tension.

A fabulous must-read – highly recommended for all thriller fans.

To find out more about Steve Cavanagh and his books hop on over to his website at stevecavanaghbooks.com and be sure to follow him on Twitter @SSCav

And to buy THE DEFENCE from Amazon click here or buy it from Waterstones via the link here

CTG’s TOP READS 2015: THRILLER

Last week was all about my Top Crime Reads of the year. This week is all about Thrillers.

Here’s the second (and final) post of my Top Reads 2015: my Top Thriller Reads …

 

THE DARK INSIDE by Rod Reynolds

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“In this town, no one is innocent. 1946, Texarkana: a town on the border of Texas and Arkansas. Disgraced New York reporter Charlie Yates has been sent to cover the story of a spate of brutal murders – young couples who’ve been slaughtered at a local date spot. Charlie finds himself drawn into the case by the beautiful and fiery Lizzie, sister to one of the victims, Alice – the only person to have survived the attacks and seen the killer up close. But Charlie has his own demons to fight, and as he starts to dig into the murders he discovers that the people of Texarkana have secrets that they want kept hidden at all costs. Before long, Charlie discovers that powerful forces might be protecting the killer, and as he investigates further his pursuit of the truth could cost him more than his job …”

This debut novel from the uber-talented Rod Reynolds serves up a perfect slice of American noir. New York reporter Charlie Yates is a damaged man. Haunted by career problems and a failing marriage, he’s alienated many of the people close to him. With his employers desperate to be free of him for a while, he’s sent to cover a spate of double murders in Texarkana. He’s angry and isolated in an unfamiliar and unwelcoming place, but as he starts to make acquaintances with the locals and gets up to speed with the facts of the murders, he realises that the town, and the people in it, are hiding many more secrets than they’re willing to share.

Like a lovechild of Raymond Chandler and John D. MacDonald, with a smidgeon of Jim Thompson on the side, this is a relentless, dark and gritty tale about a man who cannot let go until he’s uncovered the truth of what is really going on inside the close knit community of Texarkana. Inspired by the true story of the unsolved Texarkana Moonlight Murders, with deeply drawn characters and a vividly claustrophobic atmosphere, THE DARK INSIDE is an utterly engrossing debut and one of my top reads of 2015 – an absolute must-read for all thriller fans.

You can find out more about Rod Reynolds by following him on Twitter @Rod_WR

 

THE WRONG GIRL by Laura Wilson

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“In 2006, three-year-old Phoebe Piper went missing on a family holiday. Despite massive publicity and a long investigation, no trace of her was ever found. Seven years later, Molly Jackson, aged ten and recently uprooted to a Norfolk village, finds her great uncle Dan dead in his bed. Molly remembers nothing of her early years, but she’s been sure for ages that she is Phoebe. Everything in her life points to it. Dan’s death brings his sister Janice back to Norfolk where she’s re-united with Molly’s mother Suzie, the daughter she gave up for adoption decades earlier. Janice discovers that a former lover, Joe Vincent, lives nearby. Joe was a rock star who, at the height of his fame, turned his back on public life. As she is drawn back into the past, Janice begins to wonder if Dan’s death and Joe’s reputation as a reclusive acid casualty are quite what they appear. And then Molly disappears.”

I found myself pulled headlong into Janice and Molly’s worlds. Through their narratives the reader discovers the events in their pasts that have shaped their sense of selves and identity, and how the secrets and suspicions that they hold influences each of their decisions in the present. One of the many joys of this book are the fabulous characters – they are so vividly drawn, and the dialogue pitch-perfect, that it feels like you’re watching real-life action unfold before you.

A twisting, turning mystery of tangled secrets, guilt and regret THE WRONG GIRL artfully combines the dark undertones of past trauma with a growing sense of impending doom. With stunning writing, vivid characters and bags of suspense, THE WRONG GIRL is a must read for fans of psychological thrillers.

To find out more about Laura Wilson and her books hop on over to www.laura-wilson.co.uk and follow her on Twitter @LWilsonCrime

 

THE DARKEST DAY by Tom Wood

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“He is darkness. She wants him dead. In a city starved of light, she might just succeed. She moves like a shadow; she kills silently: Raven. This elegant assassin has been on the run for years. This time though, she has picked the wrong target. The hitman known only as ‘Victor’ is as paranoid as he is merciless, and is no stranger to being hunted. He tracks his would-be killer across the globe, aiming not only to neutralise the threat, but to discover who wants him dead. The trail leads to New York … And then the lights go out. Over twelve hours of unremitting darkness, Manhattan dissolves into chaos. Amid looting, conspiracy and blackout, Victor and Raven play a vicious game of cat and mouse that the city will never forget.”

In the latest book in this fantastic series – The Darkest Day – Victor finds himself the target of a talented female assassin with a flawless kill record. Rather than going into hiding after escaping her first attempt on his life, Victor vows to eliminate her as a threat. Alternately threatening or charming information from Raven’s associates, Victor discovers her background and tracks her to a safe house in New York. The clues stack up, and he has everything planned in perfect detail to neutralise her. Then the power goes out in New York City and everything he was so sure about starts to become hazy.

The pace is unrelenting, the danger ever escalating, and Victor is forced to abandon his usual preparations and safe-guards in order to keep out of his pursuers’ – both legal and criminal – way. It’s fascinating to see this character, who is always so in control, plunged into a sustained environment of chaos and having to react to a far more unpredictable set of circumstances than before. Action packed, adrenaline fuelled, thriller writing at its best – THE DARKEST DAY is a must read for all crime thriller fans.

And find out more about Tom Wood and the Victor the Assassin series by hopping over to his website at www.tomwoodbooks.com and following him on Twitter @TheTomWood

 

COLD MOON by Alexandra Sokoloff

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“The hunt for mass murderer Cara Lindstrom is over. FBI Special Agent Matthew Roarke has been working for this moment: the capture of a killer who savagely hunts the worst of humanity. But Roarke remains traumatized by his own near-death at the hands of the serial killer who slaughtered Cara’s family…and haunted by the enigmatic woman who saved his life. Then the sixteen-year-old prostitute who witnessed Cara’s most recent murder goes missing, and suddenly pimps are turning up dead on the streets of San Francisco, killed with an MO eerily similar to Cara’s handiwork. Is a new killer on the loose with a mission even more deadly than hers? In the pulse-pounding third Huntress/FBI Thrillers book, Roarke will have to go on the hunt…and every woman he meets, even those closest to him, may prove deadly.”

COLD MOON is a serial killer story with a difference – this killer is female. Driven by the need to confront ‘It’ – evil – Cara Lindstrom targets those in society who prey on the innocent and the helpless. The story starts with her awaiting trial for murder, but it soon becomes clear that she may not be the only person fighting back against those men who prey on vulnerable women. Detective Roarke – the man responsible for Cara being in jail – is conflicted about the upcoming trial. On the one side he knows Cara is a killer, on the other he is becoming increasingly sympathetic to her cause. And he cannot deny that he’s attracted to her either.

Set in California, COLD MOON shows the glamour and the grime, the privileged (and those who abuse that privilege) and the disadvantaged. It’s highly atmospheric, with compelling, dynamic characters and vivid, rapid-paced action. With super-charged tension and nail biting suspense, this is a real page turner of a read.

To find out more about Alexandra Sokoloff hop over to her website at www.alexandrasokoloff.com and follow her on Twitter @AlexSokoloff

 

THE SAMARITAN by Mason Cross

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“When the mutilated body of a young woman is discovered in the Santa Monica Mountains, LAPD Detective Jessica Allen knows she’s seen this MO before – two and a half years ago on the other side of the country. A sadistic serial killer has been operating undetected for a decade, preying on lone female drivers who have broken down. The press dub the killer ‘The Samaritan’, but with no leads and a killer who leaves no traces, the police investigation quickly grinds to a halt. That’s when Carter Blake shows up to volunteer his services. He’s a skilled manhunter with an uncanny ability to predict the Samaritan’s next moves. At first, Allen and her colleagues are suspicious. After all, their new ally shares some uncomfortable similarities to the man they’re tracking. But as the Samaritan takes his slaughter to the next level, Blake must find a way to stop him … even if it means bringing his own past crashing down on top of him.”

The Samaritan is packed with all the trademark heart-stopping action, break-neck pace, and twisting-turning plotlines that made Mason’s debut novel – The Killing Season – such a huge success.

In The Samaritan we also get to find out more about the past of mysterious ‘people finder’ Carter Blake (although don’t worry, he’s still pretty damn mysterious!). Jessica Allen is a great female lead – strong, determined and courageous in the face of extreme danger. She reluctantly accepts Blake’s assistance, but is less inclined to completely trust him. As they each follow their own lines of enquiry, gradually closing in on this most brutally sadistic of serial killers, they both become targets.

Set in Florida and California, The Samaritan showcases some great locations (including one very creepy and atmospheric one that I can’t mention – sorry, it’d be too much of a spoiler) to create a vivid backdrop to the story. With great characters, fab locations and a super-twisty plot, The Samaritan is an absolute page-turner. I already can’t wait for the next Carter Blake novel – I think this is a series that’s going to run and run.

To find out more about Mason Cross head over to his website at www.masoncross.net and follow him on Twitter @MasonCrossBooks

 

UNTOUCHABLE by Ava Marsh

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“Stella is an escort, immersed in a world of desire, betrayal and secrets. It’s exactly where she wants to be. Stella used to be someone else: respectable, loved, safe. But one mistake changed all that.

When a fellow call girl is murdered, Stella has a choice: forget what she’s seen, or risk everything to get justice for her friend. In her line of work, she’s never far from the edge, but pursuing the truth could take her past the point of no return. Nothing is off limits. Not for her – and not for them. But is anyone truly untouchable?”

Stella (real name, Grace) is an escort by choice. She enjoys her job and the financial freedoms it brings, although she does sometimes wonder if she’ll ever be able to stop. That all changes when another high-end escort she recently worked with is murdered. Suddenly she’s feeling on edge with even her regular clients. Unwilling to believe the Police’s version of events, and plagued by the feeling that her friend was killed for something she knew rather than who she was, Stella can’t move on. Taking matters into her own hands, she sets out on her own search for the truth, but as she begins to get closer to finding the identity of the killer it becomes clear that her quest could have deadly consequences.

Unflinchingly authentic, this thriller gives a peep into the world of a high-class escort, from the clients and the money, to the drama and tension the profession causes in their personal relationships [but beware, if you don’t want to read graphic sex scenes, this book might not be your thing!]. It’s a real page-turner of a read – darkly funny at times, heart-breaking at others – with a riveting mystery at its heart. As pacey as Lee Child, racier than EL James, and utterly gripping – Untouchable is unmissable!

To find out more about Ava Marsh pop over to her website at www.avamarsh.co.uk and be sure to follow her on Twitter @MsAvaMarsh

 

TENACITY by JS Law

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“A brutal murder. A lone female investigator. Two hundred metres below the ocean’s surface, the pressure is rising … Suicide must be investigated, especially when a Royal Navy sailor kills himself on a nuclear submarine only days after his wife’s brutal murder. Now Lieutenant Danielle “Dan” Lewis, the Navy’s finest Special Branch investigator, must interrogate the tight-knit, male crew of HMS Tenacity to determine if there’s a link. Isolated, and standing alone in the face of extreme hostility, Dan soon realises that she may have to choose between the truth and her own survival. Justice must be served, but with a possible killer on board the pressure is rising and her time is running out …”

This debut novel from J.S. Law is a tense read from start to finish. Danielle “Dan” Lewis – a top investigator with more than a fair share of secrets hidden in her past – is brought in to investigate the alleged suicide of a member of HMS Tenacity’s Ship’s Company. Right from the get-go it’s clear that the odds are stacked against her – Tenacity’s men are a close-knit team and they don’t want anyone – especially a woman – poking around in their business.

Like the novel’s title suggests, Dan is a tenacious lead character and someone that, as a reader, I found it easy to root for. She’s a survivor of injustice, using her own experiences as fire to fuel her unrelenting determination to achieve her goal – utterly focused on searching out the truth, even when it puts her own life in danger.

As an ex-submariner, author J.S. Law’s detailed knowledge of the Navy and submarines shines through to make for a highly authentic and atmospheric setting. The uniqueness of the tightly sealed environment of HMS Tenacity is made increasingly claustrophobic through the ever-increasing build-up of jeopardy. Gritty, super-charged with tension and claustrophobically atmospheric, TENACITY is a real page-turner of a read.

To learn more about JS Law go over to his website at www.jslawbooks.com and be sure to follow him on Twitter @JSLawBooks

 

THE GIRL WHO WOULDN’T DIE by Marnie Riches

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“HE’S WATCHING HER. SHE DOESN’T KNOW IT…YET. When a bomb explodes at the University of Amsterdam, aspiring criminologist Georgina McKenzie is asked by the police to help flush out the killer. But the bomb is part of a much bigger, more sinister plot that will have the entire city quaking in fear. And the killer has a very special part for George to play…”

This fast paced thriller is Marnie Riches debut novel and the first book in the Georgina McKenzie series. Opening with a bombing on campus at the University of Amsterdam, the stakes are high from the off and continue to escalate as criminology student, Georgina ‘George’ McKenzie gets drafted in to help the police, and specifically Detective van den Bergen, gather intelligence from within the student and wider communities. Experienced cop – Detective van den Bergen – is a great pairing for George. Whereas she is headstrong and prone to charge into a situation, he is analytical and considered (and a bit of a hypochondriac) – but both are determined and single-minded about the need to get to the truth behind the killings and bring those responsible to justice, and they’re not afraid to go against direct orders to achieve their goal.

Bold and fearless, George is quick to piece together the evidence, and gets frustrated by the slowness of the police. As the stakes escalate, and the danger draws closer, she takes increasingly bigger risks – putting herself (and her friends) in danger. One of those friends is Ad – who George enlists to help her check out the evidence and run her own investigation. Between them they’re often a few steps ahead of the Police and end up feeding information to van den Bergen. The story hurtles along at a breakneck pace as George and Ad track their suspects across Holland and Germany, and it seems sure that they’ll soon have the killer. But George is hiding a secret past, and as the ghosts of her past come back to haunt her, she realizes she’s going to need all her street smarts to foil the killer and keep her friends, and herself, alive. A nail-biting, seat-of-your-pants read – The Girl Who Wouldn’t Die is a great read for those who love action thrillers and fabulous introduction to a great new series.

You can find out more about Marnie Riches and her books by hopping over to www.marnieriches.com and following her on Twitter @Marnie_Riches

 

THE ABRUPT PHYSICS OF DYING by Paul E. Hardisty

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“Claymore Straker is trying to forget a violent past. Working as an oil company engineer in the wilds of Yemen, he is hijacked at gunpoint by Islamic terrorists. Clay has a choice: help uncover the cause of a mysterious sickness afflicting the village of Al Urush, close to the company’s processing facility, or watch Abdulkader, his driver and close friend, die. As the country descends into civil war and village children start dying, Clay finds himself caught up in a ruthless struggle between opposing armies, controllers of the country’s oil wealth, Yemen’s shadowy secret service, and rival terrorist factions. As Clay scrambles to keep his friend alive, he meets Rania, a troubled journalist. Together, they try to uncover the truth about Al Urush. But nothing in this ancient, unforgiving place is what it seems. Accused of a murder he did not commit, put on the CIA’s most-wanted list, Clay must come to terms with his past and confront the powerful forces that want him dead.”

This epic story is a spell binding read. Highly atmospheric, it feels grounded in the Yemen landscape, with the tension of a country on the brink of civil war sparking from every page. Rugged and resourceful, Claymore ‘Clay’ Straker has an incredible personal journey from “company man”, there to do a job – no more, no less – to smooth the way with the local people and get the oil company closer to their profit targets, into a dynamic eco-warrior, determined to get to the truth of what’s really causing the children in Al Urush to become so sick, and to put a stop to it – whatever the personal cost.

THE ABRUPT PHYSICS OF DYING is a thought provoking and heart wrenching book. It exposes the horrors some are willing to inflict in pursuit of riches, it shows the lengths others will go to in order to stop them, and it highlights the scars and wounds left both in the earth and on flesh as a consequence. This emotive subject, combined with fabulous writing, a great cast of characters, and a super-fast pace makes it a must read thriller and a stunning debut.

To find out more head to the Orenda Books website at www.orendabooks.co.uk/paul-e-hardisty and follow Paul on Twitter @Hardisty_Paul

 

I LET YOU GO by Clare Mackintosh

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“In a split second, Jenna Gray’s world descends into a nightmare. Her only hope of moving on is to walk away from everything she knows to start afresh. Desperate to escape, Jenna moves to a remote cottage on the Welsh coast, but she is haunted by her fears, her grief and her memories of a cruel November night that changed her life forever. Slowly, Jenna begins to glimpse the potential for happiness in her future. But her past is about to catch up with her, and the consequences will be devastating …”

Opening with a hit-and-run incident which leaves a five-year-old boy dead, this hard-hitting psychological thriller grabs you by the heart and keeps you captive until the very last page.

Jenna has left everything behind to make a new life for herself in Wales. At first she stays inside the remote cottage she’s rented, not engaging with the community, and reliving the horror she’s been through, unable to see a way through her grief. But as the months pass, she gradually begins to forge tentative relationships and starts to believe that perhaps it is possible to continue living. That’s the moment the past catches up with her with terrifying consequences.

Meanwhile, Detective Inspector Ray Stevens hasn’t given up on getting justice for the little boy killed in the hit-and-run. Although his superior officers have told him to move onto other cases, and his wife is getting increasingly irritated by his lack of support in helping resolve the problems their son is having at school, he continues to work the case supported by Kate, the newest Detective Constable in his team. As his home life becomes tenser, and the case remains a mystery, Ray and Kate get increasingly closer as they spend more and more time investigating the details in secret.

With brilliantly drawn characters, and a hard-hitting emotional core to the story, this is a truly gripping novel. From the hauntingly atmospheric winter at a Welsh seaside town, to the claustrophobic terror of Jenna’s inner demons, and the tenacious determination of Ray and Kate to bring justice to a case no matter how long it might take, this is a thought-provoking book. Beautifully written, and with a twist that will have you gasping out loud (it did me!) I Let You Go is an utterly compulsive read, and one that will stay with you long after you’ve read the final page.

You can find out more about Clare Mackintosh by hopping over to her website at http://claremackintosh.com/ and following her on Twitter @claremackint0sh

 

 

 

 

 

CTG Reviews: #TheDefence by Steve Cavanagh

The Defence cover image

The Defence cover image

What the blurb says: “Eddie Flynn used to be a con artist. Then he became a lawyer. Turned out the two weren’t that different.

It’s been over a year since Eddie Flynn vowed never to set foot in a courtroom again. But now he doesn’t have a choice. Olek Volchek, the infamous head of the Russian mafia in New York, has strapped a bomb to Eddie’s back and kidnapped his ten-year-old daughter, Amy. Eddie only has forty-eight hours to defend Volchek in an impossible murder trial – and win – if he wants to save his daughter.

Under the scrutiny of the media and the FBI, Eddie must use his razor-sharp wit and every con-artist trick in the book to defend his ‘client’ and ensure Amy’s safety. With the timer on his back ticking away, can Eddie convince the jury of the impossible? Lose this case and he loses everything.”

The Defence is hands down the best legal thriller I’ve read in years. Eddie Flynn – con artist turned lawyer – is haunted by the last case he took to trial. He’s turned his back on the legal profession, taken up drinking and become estranged from his wife and child. Things seem pretty bad, but as the reader discovers from the very start of The Defence, things are about to get much, much worse for Eddie Flynn.

With his daughter abducted, and a bomb strapped to his own body, Eddie is forced to represent Olek Volchek – a man he has no doubt is guilty of murder. In order to buy enough time to figure a way out of the terrifying situation he’s in, Eddie has to draw on all his skills – both legal and criminal – and his friends on both sides of the law, as he gambles against increasingly higher risks in his attempt to get his daughter safe. Smart, courageous and driven by the need to protect his young daughter, Eddie makes for a compelling character – someone you can really root for.

This rapid-paced, page turner of a legal thriller has bucket-loads of action and piles of sky-soaring tension.

A fabulous must-read – highly recommended for all thriller fans.

 

To find out more about Steve Cavanagh and his books hop on over to his website at stevecavanaghbooks.com and be sure to follow him on Twitter @SSCav

CTG Reviews: The Killing Season by Mason Cross

 

The Killing Season cover image

The Killing Season cover image

The Killing Season was one of my top reads of 2014. It’s now out in paperback, and to celebrate I thought I’d re-run my review …

What the blurb says: “When Caleb Wardell, the infamous ‘Chicago Sniper’, escapes from death row two weeks before his execution, the FBI calls on the services of Carter Blake, a man with certain specialised talents whose skills lie in finding those who don’t want to be found. A man to whom Wardell is no stranger.

Along with Elaine Banner, an ambitious special agent juggling life as a single mother with her increasingly high-flying career, Blake must track Wardell down as he cuts a swathe across America, apparently killing at random.

But Blake and Banner soon find themselves sidelined from the case. And as they try desperately to second guess a man who kills purely for the thrill of it, they uncover a hornets’ nest of lies and corruption. Now Blake must break the rules and go head to head with the FBI if he is to stop Wardell and expose a deadly conspiracy that will rock the country.”

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 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 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.

So as Banner and Blake pursue Wardell, following the evidence, trying to find a pattern and anticipate his next move, the body count continues to rise. Blake’s the only person who is able to get close, and Banner starts to realise that sometimes the only way to get the job done right is to step away from procedure and follow your instinct.

As Blake and Banner get closer to the truth, they become targets – in the sights of Wardell and someone in the Agency itself – question is, can they get to them both in time, and get out alive?

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, if you love crime fiction, go and read this book. I’m sure you won’t regret it.

Highly Recommended.

[with thanks to Orion for my copy of The Killing Season]

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CTG Reviews: The Distance by Helen Giltrow

The Distance cover image

The Distance cover image

To celebrate the paperback release (this week) of Helen Giltrow’s fabulous debut thriller – THE DISTANCE – I’m re-running my review of this brilliant book ...

What the blurb says: “Charlotte Alton has put her old life behind her. The life where she bought and sold information, unearthing secrets buried too deep for anyone else to find, or fabricating new identities for people who need their histories erased.

But now she has been offered one more job. To get a hit-man into an experimental new prison and take out someone who according to the records isn’t there at all.

It’s impossible. A suicide mission. And quite possibly a set-up. So why can’t she say no?”

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). She is the best of the best at helping people who want to disappear, and is herself a master of disguise.

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, ramping up the suspense page by page. A great read, it had me hooked from the first page to the last.

Dark, edgy and, at times, brutal, this is a stylish and highly original debut.

Highly recommended.

 

[I bought my copy of The Distance]

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 Interviews: AK Benedict, author of The Beauty of Murder

AK Benedict

AK Benedict

Today I’m delighted to welcome the fabulous AK Benedict to the CTG blog. Her spellbinding debut, The Beauty of Murder, was one of my favorite books of 2013, and was shortlisted for this years’ eDunnit Award.

So, to the questions ...

Your fabulous debut novel, THE BEAUTY OF MURDER, comes out in paperback this month. Can you tell us a bit about it?

The Beauty of Murder is a crime thriller with a fantastical twist set in Cambridge in both the 21st and 17th centuries. My main character, Stephen Killigan, is a philosophy lecturer at Sepulchre College and stumbles upon the body of a missing beauty queen and a mystery that changes the way he views the world. The novel includes many of the things that fascinate me: philosophy, music, tattoos, time travel and cake.

In your novel the setting, Cambridge, plays a big part. What was it about that particular city that inspired to you to write about it?

I was an undergraduate at Cambridge and spent a lot of time wandering its streets. I love the austere beauty of its ancient buildings and how some streets make me wonder which century I am in. It is a city of elemental extremes: in summer the old stone shines, trees are big with blossom and people sunbathe by the river but in winter it is cold and forbidding. It feels to me like a place of magic and possibility, the ideal starting point for a mystery. I first thought of a time travelling serial killer while I was at Cambridge and both Jackamore Grass and the city have haunted me since.

Could you tell us a little about your writing process, do you dive right in, or plan the story out first?

It varies: sometimes the words fly right out, other times I sit with stories for a long time, letting ideas and characters wander about before settling down and talking to me. I like to know the beginning, middle and end before I start writing, leaving lots of room to be surprised by what develops. If I know exactly what happens and who has committed all of the crimes, then I feel no need to write! I write by hand and transfer it onto my computer to start with then work straight onto the keyboard when the story gathers momentum. Towards the end of the first draft, I don’t eat, sleep or get out of my onesie. I’m a real catch.

The Beauty of Murder paperback cover image

The Beauty of Murder paperback cover image

THE BEAUTY OF MURDER is your debut novel. What was your route to publication?

I have longed to be a professional writer since I was three so it has been a route taking thirty odd years! I wrote several partial novels, a full one, stories and poems before The Beauty of Murder was published in 2013. Rejection letters sighed through the letterbox with the occasional encouraging remark, small publication or competition win along the way. I enrolled on a creative writing course at the University of Sussex and toned up my dialogue, plotting and pacing while learning how to receive and make use of criticism. I started writing The Beauty of Murder during my second term and worked on it for the next couple of years while working as a musician and composer. I met my agent, Rupert Heath, at a Meet the Agents Day organised by New Writing South and he saw the novel’s potential and encouraged me every step along the way. When it was ready, he sent it out to editors and I was amazed when it went to auction. It was a very surreal time. The three year old me who wanted ‘to be a writer and have lots of pens’ was very happy; thirty-three year old me ran across a hilltop in Hastings with champagne and a grin.

What advice would you give to new writers aspiring to publication?

Write hard, write soft, write about what makes you smile, write about what you want to know and what lies beneath the stones but, most of all, write. When you have a slew of stories, scripts or poems, throw them out into the world and see which ones find land. The pile of rejection letters is something to stand on while you reach for your goal.

And lastly, what does the rest of 2014 have in store for you?

I am in the middle of editing my second novel, due out in November, while starting the sequel to The Beauty Of Murder and researching other ideas. There are also some exciting TV opportunities and visits to crime and fantasy festivals and conventions.

Sounds like 2014 is going to be a busy one!

A huge thank you to AK Benedict for popping by the CTG blog for a chat.

To find out more about AK Benedict hop on over to http://akbenedict.com/

The Beauty of Murder is published by Orion and out in paperback now. You can find it in all good bookstores, and online at http://www.amazon.co.uk/The-Beauty-Murder-A-Benedict/dp/1409144518

And, read our review of The Beauty of Murder here