Book Reviews

My Book Reviews for January 2021

My Book Reviews for January 2021

Here are my book reviews for January 2021 – an about-to-be-massive-bestselling horror thriller, a first-rate haunted house mystery, a cracking light crime thriller and a good virus-genre serial killer story.


The Burning Girls by C.J. Tudor

I was delighted to be approved on Net Galley to read an advance copy of C.J. Tudor’s new book and am grateful to the author and publisher for the opportunity. I’m a recent convert to this author’s books, having read and enjoyed The Chalk Man only last month. (See my review here.)

The Burning Girls is a super horror thriller. In a village where everyone has a dark secret, a new vicar takes over their pastoral care. How far back must the newcomer delve to reach the village’s dark heart? To sixteenth century Protestant martyrs burned at the stake? To thirty years ago when two teenage girls suddenly disappeared? To two recent, unexplained deaths by hanging? Or has the vicar’s own buried past brought evil to the village?

With crazy clergy, a dilapidated chapel, abandoned cottages, mutilated apparitions, exorcisms, putrescent flesh, blood and fire, there’s plenty here for the horror fan. But there are also some cracking mysteries and a large, fully-realised cast, expertly wrapped up in an intricate, well-written plot. This will be a big hit and deservedly so.


Home Before Dark by Riley Sager

A terrific haunted house mystery.

When her father dies, Maggie inherits the house her family fled from one night 25 years earlier when she was a young child. She has no memories of the night, and although her parents refuse to talk about it, their reticence didn’t stop her father from writing a bestselling account of their days in the haunted house. The book makes the family rich and, to Maggie’s disgust, famous. Her whole life has been tainted by strangers knowing who she is. She’s always been convinced her father made up the entire story in an elaborate hoax, but she thinks there’s something else her parents haven’t told her. As the new owner, she decides to visit the house and discover the truth.

Excerpts from her father’s bestseller appear alongside Maggie’s no-nonsense narrative. Two ghost stories for the price of one – a genius approach.

And I have a big, fat, smug grin on my face because I guessed the denouement early on. How crazy-warped am I?

Highly recommended.


White Horse by Joss Stirling

Having loved Black River, the first in this new crime series, I was keen to read the second instalment, White Horse, and it didn’t disappoint.

Impulsive and reckless private investigator Jess Bridges takes on an undercover role at a commune. She is there to make contact with her client’s missing daughter, but she’s kind of hoping the rumours about it being a sex cult are true. [Told you she was impulsive and reckless…] Meanwhile, Detective Inspector Leo George, who met Jess on his previous case, has a ritualistic murder to investigate. A young woman, dressed like the members of the commune, has been left strangled on an ancient white horse carved into a hillside. As the two investigations converge, Jess finds herself in danger and has to call on her ex-boyfriend, Michael, an Oxford psychologist and the third leading character from book one.

It’s a good mystery with great characters and more than a dollop of well-placed humour. I recommend this series and have already bought book three. Read my review of Black River, the first in the series, here.


The Visitor by Terry Tyler

Last month I reviewed an advance copy of Last One at the Party by Bethany Clift, a pandemic novel that’s getting a lot of attention on social media. This month I read The Visitor, another good virus novel that came out quietly last year and deserves more recognition..

Like Last One at the Party, it’s set in 2024 when a virus more deadly than Covid-19 has broken out. In The Visitor, thanks to immunity, vaccination or judicious self-isolation, there are pockets of survivors. Four friends plan to travel to a Norfolk village and hole up in a house that one of the friends has inherited. Her late, apocalypse-obsessed uncle kitted out a fully stocked survival bunker in the cellar. But things don’t quite go according to plan when two of the friends die of the virus before they get to the bolthole. Their places are taken by the girlfriend of one of the dead friends and by the brother of the other one. They also hadn’t banked on how difficult it would be to conceal the existence of the bunker from their nosy neighbours, the twenty plus villagers who have also survived. There’s also the small matter of a serial killer who is intent on getting the twenty plus down to single figures. A well-written page turner.

I hadn’t heard of this prolific writer before but I’ll definitely be seeking out more of her books.

So there are my book reviews for January 2021. I’ve already made a start on reading some crackers for my February blog, including the next Jess Bridges mystery and one about goings-on in a commune that attract the attention of the security services as well as a private investigator duo.

By Rachel Sargeant

Rachel Sargeant is a British author. Her latest thriller, The Roommates, is a Closer Magazine "Must Read". Her other titles are The Good Teacher, The Perfect Neighbours and Gallipoli: Year of Love and Duty. Rachel won Writing Magazine’s Crime Short Story competition and has been shortlisted in various competitions including the Bristol Short Story Prize. She was born in Lincolnshire and is a graduate of Aberystwyth University. She now lives in Gloucestershire with her husband and children.

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