Book Reviews

My Book Reviews for September 2022

My Book Reviews for September 2022

My book reviews for September 2022 comprise a first-rate horror story, a terrific missing persons’ mystery, two tense thrillers and a psychological character study.

The White Road by Sarah Lotz

This was another great book by Sarah Lotz where the real-life situation contains more horror than the paranormal element. The otherworldly aspect of the book revolves around the concept of the third man, a spirit in human form that guides a person out of danger. In this case the spirit guiding main character Simon is one he picked up after a disastrous caving expedition. Rather than keeping Simon safe, this spirit is malevolent and menacing.

However, even scarier is the caving expedition itself. Simon, retired from climbing after a bad accident, is persuaded by his friend Thierry to go into a cave in Wales to photograph the bones of dead cavers for their fledgling website. Lotz conveys the panic-inducing claustrophobia of the narrow tunnels, the icy cold, the perpetual darkness and the rising flood water.

But that’s only part 1. The bulk of the novel takes place on Everest where Thierry sends Simon to photograph more corpses. Although Simon soon finds himself accompanied by an evil presence he picked up the Welsh caves, the real horror of the story – for me – is the utterly revolting atmosphere of the rest camps on Everest – litter, frozen vomit, snow speckled with urine and even some open sewage. And when Simon starts climbing, there are those dead bodies to climb over, altitude sickness, and the risks of frostbite, High Altitude Cerebral Oedema and hypoxia. I read the book on the beach in blazing sunshine and 28˚ C heat, but such is Lotz’s skill at conveying setting, I was shivering.

An evocative, stomach-churning horror story. I can’t wait to read another one by this talented author.

My review of Lotz’s novel The Three is here.

 

Halfway by B.E. Jones

After starting this book, I had to put it down to get on with other projects that took priority. You could say I stopped halfway with Halfway. Normally when that happens, it takes me an age to get back into the story, but with this novel the characters stayed in my mind and I picked up the thread again quickly. Not that it’s an easy plot – far from it. There are at least three crime scenes which relate in different ways to different characters. The connections are slowly revealed via three viewpoint characters who converge on a rundown pub in the village of Halfway:

  • a rookie police officer who is disappointed to find herself side-lined from the biggest investigation to hit the area in decades. But that’s before she unwittingly drifts into something bigger;
  • a hard-as-nails hitchhiker who is fleeing her sins and seeking shelter from the snow blizzard;
  • a bedridden elderly man who can do nothing to warn his unexpected guests of the danger they are in.

The standouts of the novel are: the distinctive voices – variously jocular, distrustful and melancholy – and the quality of the writing which perfectly evokes the bleak December of the mid Wales setting.

I will seek out other books by this author.

 

What Can’t Be Seen by Brianna Labuskes

This is the second in the Dr Gretchen White series about a consultant who advises the Boston Police Department on crimes involving criminals with personality disorders. What makes Gretchen so good at knowing the psychopathic mind is her own diagnosis as a sociopath. The trouble is not everyone in the department is happy to work with her, believing she’s only ever a hair-trigger away from committing a violent crime herself. Detective Shaughnessy, in particular, keeps a weather eye on her. It’s not just because of her diagnosis that he watches her. He was the first cop on the scene when she was found as an eight-year-old wielding a bloodstained knife over the dead body of her aunt.

However, Gretchen has a new ally in Detective Lauren Marconi who believes the way to silence Shaughnessy’s suspicions is to help Gretchen investigate the thirty-year-old cold case herself. The trouble is Gretchen comes from a wealthy Boston family who may have used their connections to suppress the evidence against her. And Gretchen isn’t the only family member with sociopathic tendencies. Digging up the past is either going to incriminate a family member or prove Gretchen’s guilt beyond doubt.

The story is told from three viewpoints – the brittle, cold and volatile Gretchen; the weary, sorrowful Shaughnessy who may know more about the case than he’s letting on; and Tabby, a bereaved young woman who’s carrying out a different investigation.

Told across three timelines – from 1983 to the present day – the story is packed with twists and turns. Although it can be read as a standalone, it would be better to start at book one as this is where the key players first make their mark.

 

The Blackbird by Tim Weaver

For me, this story was reminiscent of some of David Raker’s early cases where he has a baffling mystery to solve without a personal connection to those involved. And what a mystery it was – several mysteries in fact.

Cate and Aiden’s car careers off a road into a ravine and bursts into flames. When emergencies services reach the vehicle, they find no sign of the couple. Two and a half years later, they are still missing and police have exhausted all lines of enquiry. Cate’s parents call in Raker to conduct his own investigation but he is up against an unsolvable riddle. Two separate eyewitnesses to the accident confirm that no one climbed out of the car before it burst into flames. How could the couple have even survived let alone vanished?

A separate timeline takes us back thirty years to two detectives investigating the murders of three women. We also meet pregnant teenager Amelia who is befriended by one of the detectives. Author Tim Weaver keeps this storyline dangling just out of reach of the main storyline so the reader keeps turning the pages keen to find the link.

I’ve always had a soft spot for Raker’s beleaguered friend Colm Healy. He’s back in this story and in jeopardy again. I look forward to even more danger for him, and for Raker, in the next book.

A page-turning mystery of puzzles within puzzles. A good read featuring a reliable lead character.

 

My Book Reviews for September 2022 also include two books I had the chance to read as advance copies in exchange for independent reviews. I thank the authors, publishers and NetGalley for this opportunity:

Caged Little Birds by Lucy Banks

Released from prison at the end of a twenty-five year sentence, Ava is housed in a council house in a town she doesn’t know and given the new name Robin. Keeping a lid on her feelings by self–medicating with sleeping pills, she convinces her psychiatrist and her probation officer that all is well. And sometimes all does go well, especially when she spends time with Bill, an ex-homeless man whom the council have housed next door. Although Robin keeps most of her past hidden, it seems that Bill is a kindred spirit, prepared to accept that a person can change despite a flawed background. But Bill has a daughter, Amber, who recognises Robin from somewhere and grows suspicious of her father’s blossoming friendship with her. And then the threatening notes start arriving and the pressure builds for Robin.

Less of a thriller and more of a psychological character study, this well-written novel depicts a descent into paranoia and violence. The narrator was unreliable, unlikeable and utterly compelling.

The Skeleton Key by Erin Kelly

Ideal for readers who enjoy a twisty mystery across different timelines. Anyone who remembers the phenomenon of Masquerade by Kit Williams will completely understand why and how it inspired Erin Kelly to create this clever story.

 

So there are my Book Reviews for September 2022. I’d like to end the blog with a plug for two of my titles:

Her Deadly Friend – the closer she gets, the more people die

The Suspect
Bullied by Steph Lewis at school, then betrayed by her lover, Amy Ashby still seethes with fury. Despite the decades-old resentment, she’s on the hunt for a new man and a fresh start. This time for keeps.

The Detective
Now Detective Inspector, Steph follows a tip-off to her old rival. After quarrels exploded beyond the playground and changed lives forever, she vowed never to see Amy again. But that was then.

The Stalker
When both women are stalked by a figure from their shared past, danger threatens.

The Deaths
Murder rocks the city. First one, then another. The body count reaches five, and all Steph’s leads point to Amy. But is Steph obsessed with a schoolgirl vendetta or closing in on a deadly killer?

My first novel in my new Gleveham Killers Suspense series came out in August. Thank you to everyone who has bought, read, reviewed and tweeted it. The reviewers who took part in the blog tour were wonderfully supportive and wrote cracking reviews. Here are just a few of the lovely things they said:

‘Her Deadly Friend is a fast paced twisty read from one of my favourite authors’ – JoJo’s Over the Rainbow book blog

‘I flew through Her Deadly Friend … I’m looking forward to seeing where she takes this series next’ – Hooked from Page One

‘The writing is flawless and the plot is so twisty and original that I didn’t see any of it coming’ – The Book Magnet

Her Deadly Friend is the first title in my Gleveham Killers Suspense series.

 

The Roommates – Four Freshers. Four Secrets. One Devastating Lie.

Good luck to everyone starting or returning to university this month. I’m now almost three years through my research degree. My return to study at uni inspired my previous novel, The Roommates, a psychological thriller set in freshers’ week.

THEY LIVE IN YOUR HOUSE
University is supposed to be the best time of your life. But Imo’s first week is quickly going from bad to worse.

YOU SHARE EVERYTHING
A stalker is watching her flat, following her every move, and Imo suspects that her new roommates are hiding dark secrets…

BUT DO YOU TRUST THEM?
When one of them suddenly disappears, the trauma of Imo’s recent past comes hurtling back to haunt her. And she begins to realise just how little she knows about the people she lives with…

‘Gripping. We loved this book … full of twists and turns’ Closer

‘Deliciously dark & twisty… a gripping page-turner’ Woman’s Weekly

“Twisty and unnerving, Rachel is back with a thriller that will keep you up all night. Her best novel yet!’ Phoebe Morgan, author of The Doll House

‘From the very first page, the intrigue of this page-turning mystery builds until the gripping climax’ Caroline England, author of My Husband’s Lies

By Rachel Sargeant

Rachel Sargeant is a British author. Under the name Rae Sargeant, she writes the Gleveham Killers Suspense series, published by Hobeck Books. The first title is Her Deadly Friend. Her titles as Rachel Sargeant, with HarperCollins, are: The Roommates, a psychological thriller set in a university during freshers' week; The Good Teacher, a detective mystery, featuring DC Pippa “Agatha” Adams, and The Perfect Neighbours, a psychological thriller set in Germany. Rachel grew up in Lincolnshire, studied at Aberystwyth University, spent several years living in Germany and now lives in Gloucestershire with her family. She holds a PhD from the University of Birmingham.

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