Dark Murder by Helen H Durrant – a review

I bought this on amazon recently for no other reason than I happen to have a friend of the same name. Now obviously I know she didn’t write this book (she would have mentioned it I’m sure) but it still sparked my interest enough to click buy.

Greco is a new investigator who moves to the fictional town of Oldston to be near his ex-wife and child. His first case involves a serial killer who is killing and disfiguring women. Being new to the area, Greco is having to contend not only with trying to catch a serial killer, but also be a father for his daughter. On top of this having a brand new team he doesn’t know, means he isn’t sure who is on his side or not.

I enjoyed this novel although wasn’t blown away by it. It was a book that ticked all the crime story basics – murder, serial killer, drugs, dysfunctional police officers, single mothers struggling to balance work commitments, and terrorists. However despite the formulaic approach this was definitely worth a read.

The main character was apparently a character from another of Helen Durrant’s series. I haven’t read these but I don’t think it detracts from the story as this felt very much a stand alone novel. There was a lot of back story around the characters so you didn’t feel as though you had missed anything. I liked the fact that as it was a new series it felt like you were learning about the team the same way their new boss was.

The story itself was interesting. The clues are all given so that you can work out the perpetrator yourself, but I don’t think that is always a bad thing. I’m sure we all read crime in the hope we can actually work it out so it’s nice to do so for once. There were a lot of different strands within this book and it felt like they all came together neatly at the end.

Overall this was an enjoyable read, and it would be interesting to read some of her other series to compare. Buying a book based purely on someone’s name can be a risky business, but it worked out in this case.

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Deal breaker

This weekend I spent a lovely Saturday afternoon catching up with two very good friends over a couple of bottles of wine. It was, as always, lovely to see them and we had a nice afternoon looking at their wedding pictures and catching up on all the gossip (well two of us did, one half of our friendly foursome were mainly interested in the football for the first couple of hours)

Over dinner as is often the case the subject of books was discussed. The M’s have always been a big supporter of my blog and it’s always nice to hear that someone other than the Mother actually reads it. One thing that came up was a request for book recommendations before Mrs and Mrs M set off on their honeymoon.  Apparently Mrs M had picked up a copy of Girl on a Train based on my enjoying it, and so she fancied some similar reading matter.

You’d think that this would be a simple thing for me to do. I love books, I love reading books, I love reviewing books and I love talking about books. However offering recommendations absolutely terrifies me. It’s a challenge utterly fraught with problems that can be a real deal breaker. What if I recommend a book and they don’t like it? It could ruin their honeymoon. What if I recommend a favourite of mine and they think it’s terrible? It could ruin a friendship. What if I recommend a book and they are really bored by it? It could ruin my blogging reputation (ok that’s a bit of a long stretch)

However I’ve decided to bite the bullet and offer my holiday reading recommendations based on the caveats put on them by Mrs M. Namely they should be as gripping as Girl on a Train and good enough to keep her interest despite the very easy distractions of beaches, sunshine and cocktails. So here goes. My top 5 reads good enough to take on honeymoon:

Disclaimer by Renee Knight – a review

Great story, interesting angles and perfect holiday reading matter.

The Liar’s Chair by Rebecca Whitney – a review

Slightly more disturbing than Disclaimer but a gripping tale with unreliable narrators giving it a claustrophobic feel perfect for open air beach reading.

The Deaths by Mark Lawson – a review

A tale of suburban family life that’s a great antidote to the excesses of an all inclusive buffet restaurant.

Rush of Blood by Mark Billingham – a review

Not only one of my favourite authors but also a great standalone novel with a holiday front cover.

The Girl in the Red Coat by Kate Hamer – a review

A great story and she’ll also hopefully be appearing here in December to answer some questions, (so clearly a bit of self-promotion but it’s still a great book honestly!)

So that’s the end of it, my top 5 holiday reads. Fingers crossed they go down well, and there are more afternoons of wine and chat in the new year!

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As Good as Dead by Elizabeth Evans – a review

I was given a copy of this via netgalley as I’d received an email stating I’d been approved for a copy even though I don’t actually remember requesting it so maybe it was meant for someone else. I’m never one to turn down the chance to read something though so downloaded it.

As Good as Dead starts with Charlotte and Will together, they are both academics and have been married for twenty years. When they were at University together Will went off to do some research in Italy, which is when Charlotte met Esme. They soon became best friends until, as often happens, their lives took different paths. With no contact for years Charlotte is therefore a bit perturbed when Esme shows up at her door and the real reason for her visit is revealed.

I would say that this is not a particularly fast paced story. When I downloaded it I had assumed both from the title and the blurb that it was a thriller, which I don’t really think it could be described as. However it was an interesting story. We gradually uncover what happened between Charlotte and Esme, as well as Will and Esme’s current husband, and you find out why the two women haven’t seen each other for so long.

Unfortunately I did think that the motives and actions throughout the story were a bit thin. Without giving away any spoilers it seemed as though they were all a bit childish – however this could have been due to the fact that it wasn’t meant to be something big and dramatic.

One thing I really enjoyed about this book was the actual writing. To me it felt quite a gentle book, that made you think about interactions between people. By the end of the novel I liked the main character Charlotte, despite her being quite naive and gullible. The other characters in the book were not quite so likable but that is obviously done on purpose. The ending was actually good, although if people are expecting this to be an exciting mystery then it will probably be seen as a bit of a let down.

Overall I really liked this. It was different to my usual choices, but sometimes different is good and it was in this case. It was definitely a good case of mistaken netgalley identity.


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Beside Myself by Ann Morgan – a review

Beside Myself by Ann Morgan is her first novel, The story focuses on Helen and Ellie who are identical twins but with very different personalities. One day as a game they decide to swap places and both are pleased when they manage to fool their mother. However things start to go wrong when Ellie refuses to swap back. Having previously always been the submissive one Ellie seems to relish in becoming the more popular Helen and Helen fails to find anyone who will believe that they have swapped. This leads to Helen suffering behavioural problems at school and becoming more ostracized from her family. The book switches from the twins when young, to ‘Smudge’ now an adult and barely surviving on her own.
This wasn’t my usual type of thriller, there were no murders for a start but it was interesting and for the most part I enjoyed it. The idea of swapping twins around and the outcomes of this was fascinating. It is almost the perfect nature versus nurture experiment. Can being the favourite child really give you a better start in life?
I must admit there was a bit of me that did find some of it all a bit unbelievable at the start, surely a mother would notice the difference between her two children? Surely Helen wouldn’t have shut up until someone listened?
Yet what I thought was really good was the portrayal of Helen’s breakdown. After the swap Helen is lost and you can see clearly how someone so marginalised and un-cared for easily falls into the self destructive path she took to try and get some attention. She felt as though she was disappearing so desperately wanted someone to notice her, hence the drug taking and acting up in school. I felt that this was a really good depiction of someone suffering from mental health issues without any family support.
On the less positive side it did take me a while to get into the way the story was told as it skipped about a lot between the timelines covering current Helen, young Helen and middle Helen as she starts to grow up and build her life. However once this clicked with me, it gave the story an almost frantic feeling, which mirrored the way Helen lived. There was a lot of description which I must admit to skipping over a bit as I just wanted to get to the story but that’s just a personal preference.
It was quite a hard read, not just because of the way the story was written but also the subject matter which was quite dark. At times you almost feel like you are actually the one getting a bit manic. Although I thought the ending was a little bit of a let down overall I enjoyed this book and thought it was a good debut novel.

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Body of Evidence

As you all hopefully remember a couple of weekends ago the clocks all went backwards an hour. This meant that for one day only everyone had an hour extra in the day. I very smugly used this extra hour to go for a run, although this meant in reality I was in bed by 9pm that night. Of course the clocks changing cause it to be pitch dark by 5 at night. Which means our street is even quieter than normal as when it’s dark older people do not venture out. At least that is what I always thought.

They do say it’s the quiet ones you have to watch, and on the surface it doesn’t get any quieter than our street but I’m now convinced this just hides a dark secret. As I’ve touched on briefly before there is a real element of Stepford Wives living down our street. The lawns are all mown to stripy perfection and the windows are always shiny. However I’m beginning to think it’s even more sinister than that. I suspect there is an entire criminal underworld operating down my street, the Stepford Wives of Apple Drive is just the cover up. Apple Drive is actually the ‘go to’ place for body disposal.

Once you look for it, the evidence is there for all to see. Despite the fact we live on a cul-de-sac with very little traffic all day,  suddenly at 4am you’d think we lived next to the M25 there are so many cars going up and down in the middle of the night. Then there is the chap up the road, who always carries a carrier bag with him. He walks up and down past our house at least five or six times a day. Firstly nobody needs to go shopping that often, and secondly his bags are always full on the way out, and empty on the way back. He is the main ring leader, The Chopper. The bodies get dropped off early morning, he chops them up and then buries body parts across the city. It’s the obvious explanation.

He’s not in it on his own, it’s a full street effort. The old couple over the road with the daily deliveries are receiving the cash payments. Why else would they get so many parcels delivered? Howard 2 is the driver for when they need to move heavy torsos. He comes across as deaf as a post, as he shuffles round with his walking stick. Yet once a week he goes out in his car in the middle of the night. The only way we know he’s been out is because invariably in the morning the car will be parked at some random angle across the drive way, or one night he’d backed it straight into his garage door.

Betty up the road disposes of smaller parts that it’s not worth burying. These she just puts into the wheelie bins around the street. You’ve never seen someone so keen to put other people’s bins in and out. As soon as the bin collectors have gone she’s off like a rocket putting everyone’s dustbins back, so she can check all the body parts have gone from inside. Mr Emmerdale Farm Extra cleans up after The Chopper, that’s the reason for the wellington boots and wax jacket. Even the grandkids of the old couple over the road get involved, the young boy looks like he’s innocently kicking a football around or riding his bike, but in reality he’s acting as look out and messenger. How else does The Chopper know how many bodies to expect?

Once you look at it like that it all fits. It also explains why the street is so quiet during the day, everyone is worn out from all the night work. I know the publicised reason behind the clocks changing is something to do with farmers, but I’m not sure that’s the real reason. I think it’s to help out body disposal groups. More darkness in an evening gives more chance for them to get bodies delivered. I’m definitely going to stick to early morning runs in future, less chance of me getting caught up with The Chopper.

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24 Hours by Claire Seeber – a review

I was given a copy of this by netgalley.

24 Hours starts with a fire at a hotel where Laurie and her best friend Emily are spending the night. Emily dies but Laurie believes that she is the intended target and therefore her daughter could also be in danger. So begins a frantic race by Laurie across the UK to try and get to her daughter first.

This story is told both from a present day viewpoint as Laurie spends 24 hours trying to get to her daughter, and also by flash back scenes. Through these flashbacks we find out about not only the unpleasant and violent relationship with her husband Sid, but also a new relationship with the father of a boy in her daughters school. At the beginning Laurie is convinced that it is her ex-husband who is the danger. However as she becomes increasingly desperate she becomes more unsure as to who she can trust.

I enjoyed reading this. The structure worked well and the 24 hour time frame gave it a sense of urgency that meant it felt like a fast paced thriller. However unfortunately something just didn’t really work for me. It all felt a little John Cleese like (In his film, Clockwise. I remember watching it years ago and just wanting to shout ‘stop, shut up, think’ the whole way through) Whilst obviously it would be difficult to get from Devon to Ashford train station with no money, according to Google maps you could walk it in 9 hours, so quite why it takes her 15 hours via a combination of trains, hitch hiking and car theft I don’t know.  Clearly her sense of direction is as bad as mine.

I also felt that the motives for the varying elements of the novel were a bit thin, there were the usual standard ex-husband with glamorous new partner, the best friend who is bad with men, the new boyfriend with a shady past, they were all covered here.

However despite my misgivings there were lots that I really enjoyed about it. The writing itself was very fluid and despite the constant backwards and forwards it didn’t seem at all disjointed. Plus you really start to care about Laurie getting to her daughter, despite the rather circuitous route she seems to take. All in all I did enjoy it, and it certainly passed the time on a foggy train ride to Manchester.

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The Ripper Gene by Michael Ransom – a review

I was lucky enough to be contacted by the publisher and offered a free copy of The Ripper Gene by Michael Ransom. It was not just an ebook freebie either, this was a proper hard backed freebie sent all the way from America. Obviously despite the huge excitement that a free hardback book brings, the proof is in the writing, and I’m pleased to say it didn’t disappoint. As people may know I’m a huge fan of Criminal Minds and have watched all nine series at least twice (series one I’ve probably seen three or four times) so a novel set within the world of criminal profiling was always going to be a winner with me.
The main protagonist is Dr Lucas Madden. The story starts with Madden as a child witnessing a traumatic family event and being powerless to stop it. Back to the present day and Madden is now a famous neuroscientist-turned-FBI-profiler who has discovered a gene that was common in the brains of psychopaths, nicknamed the Ripper Gene. He has gone one step further now and proposed the ‘damnation algorithm’ that could predict the way future serial killers may behave.  He is called into a case when a woman is found murdered with a letter on her forehead and an apple next to her. So begins the case the of the Snow White Killer.
I thoroughly enjoyed this novel and once I started it I struggled to stop reading (sadly work gets in the way of being a full time reader – if only full time reader was an actual paid job!) Clearly the book is written by a scientist and there is a good balance between technical science stuff and murder mystery thriller which really appealed to me. The novel opens with a scene that I really thought was chilling, and this continued through what was a fast paced book. I thought the main characters were both endearing, and there was a good mix of back story whilst still concentrating on the Snow White Killer.
There were some bits that didn’t really ring true, such as why Madden was estranged from his family. To me it just didn’t seem to have been much of a valid reason for Madden to be the one pushed out, however we all know families are funny things. There were also some bits that were very standard for a crime thriller, the rugged handsome detective (FBI Profiler) who is single and lonely, having a relationship with his pretty female companion. Yet these are really minor criticisms, as overall I thought it was a great story.
This is Michael Ransom’s debut novel and I hope there will be plenty more.

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