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Time Of Death by Mark Billingham

The Blurb On The Back:

The missing.


Two schoolgirls are abducted in the small, dying Warwickshire town of Polesford, driving a knife into the heart of the community where police officer Helen Weeks grew up. But this is a place where dangerous truths lie buried.

The accused.


When family man Stephen Bates is arrested, Helen and her partner Tom Thorne head to the flooded town to support Bates’ wife – an old school friend of Helen’s – who is living under siege and convinced of her husband’s innocence.

The dead.


As residents and media bay for Bates’ blood, a decomposing body is found. The police believe they have their murderer, but one man believes otherwise. With a girl still missing, Thorne sets himself on a collision course with local police, townsfolk – and a merciless killer.


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The Verdict:

The 13th in the TOM THORNE SERIES is another gripping crime thriller filled with twists and turns that touches on mob mentality and how it’s stoked by irresponsible tabloid journalism. The best thing about the book is that Thorne and Weeks’ relationship is central to it and I really welcomed Weeks’ character development as we learn more about her family background and childhood, even though it’s built on an idea that I find overdone for female characters in crime fiction. What’s interesting is how little Thorne really knows about Helen, how timid he is at asking her what’s going on and how the age difference between them is perceived by others and I’ll be interested to see what happens between them in the coming books. Although the pacing is great, I found the killer a little unbaked and I found it difficult to believe that Brigstocke did so little to bring Thorne back into line when he’s clearly still under a shadow from the Nicklin affair. I also thought that both Thorne and Weeks were more than a little naïve in their suggestion to a key witness to go to the press and I wanted to see more of the fall out of that. That said, this held my attention from beginning to end and I will definitely check out the next Thorne book.

Seoul Survivors by Naomi Foyle

The Blurb On The Back:

According to the Mayan Calendar the world as we know it is about to end – but despite the threat of impending eco-apocalypse, Sydney Travers, an impetuous blonde runaway, is determined to reinvent herself as a top hi-tec fashion model in Seoul. The glitzy Asian metropolis is also a haven for Damien Meadows, an inept drug smuggler and untrained English tutor desperate to buy a fake passport to the planet’s safest terrain. For Lee Mee Hee the road to the city is slick with tears: grieving the loss of her newborn son to famine, she lets a kind Foreign Aid medic smuggle her from North to South Korea in the bottom of a truck.

Assessing all three from a seclude mountain villa is Dr Kim Da Mi, a maverick Korean-American bioengineer with a visionary scheme to redesign humanity and survive the coming catastrophe. Mee Hee and her fellow refugees are offered sanctuary – in return for signing up as surrogate mothers – but convincing prime Caucasian specimens Sydney and Damien to donate their DNA is a more complex procedure. Over a long hot summer, seduction bleeds into coercion and mutual betrayal, until Lucifer’ Hammer, the long-prophesied meteor, nears the Earth and the ruthless forces backing Dr Kim demand a sacrifice …


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The Verdict:

Naomi Foyle’s cyber thriller has some great ideas and slick plotting and I loved the South Korean setting but for me it lacked an emotional heart, particularly as every character except Mee Hee has their own personal agenda that involves manipulating and using the people around them, which made it difficult for me to root for or empathise with any of them. I loved the portrayal of technology here – the way Foyle shows the evolution of phones as design accessories was great – but at times there was too much going on, e.g. the meteor (which only some people take seriously), nuclear terrorism, the idea of building surrogate bodies, genetic manipulation, futuristic theme parks – so that not all of them were, for me, developed in a coherent way, which robbed some of them of their potency. The characters at times risk also falling into cliché – notably Dr Kim (whose motivations don’t get sufficiently explored) and Johnny Sandman (who’s a violent abuser with woman problems) and I was concerned that Mee Hee is a completely passive character who is never in control of her destiny. While this book didn’t quite come good for me, there is nevertheless enough here for me to want to check out Foyle’s other work.

Six Of Crows by Leigh Bardugo

The Blurb On The Back:

Criminal prodigy KAZ BREKKER has been offered wealth beyond his wildest dreams. But to clam it, he’ll have to pull off a seemingly impossible heist:

Break into the notorious Ice Court
(a military stronghold that has never been breached)

Retrieve a hostage
(who could unleash magical havoc on the world)

Survive long enough to collect his reward)
(and spend it)


Kaz needs a crew desperate enough to take on this suicide mission and dangerous enough to get the job done – and he knows exactly who: six of the deadliest outcasts the city has to offer. Together they just might be unstoppable – if they don’t kill each other first.


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The Verdict:

Leigh Bardugo’s YA fantasy heist novel is an exhilarating and exuberant read set in the same world as her bestselling GRISHA TRILOGY – think OCEANS’S ELEVEN with a fantasy twist. The plot unfurls at a rollicking pace and the fun lies in how Bardugo puts obstacles in the path of her gang of thieves and shows them overcoming them. Although the gang themselves are taken from stock stereotypes, Bardugo invests enough in their backstory and relationships with each other to make you care about what happens to them – especially the apparently heartless Kaz, who I found fascinating both because of what happened to make him as he is and because of his fractious relationship with Inej and his ambitions for his future. I also enjoyed the expansion of the Grisha world and the hints of what is happening in Ravka following the dreadful civil war – this book draws more from Dutch, Chinese and Scandinavian influences in its world building and I enjoyed how Bardugo twists and makes them her own. The pace is relentless with Bardugo switching points of view to keep the action coming and seamlessly reveal backstory and as a result, I was gripped from beginning to end. The book ends with a set-up for a sequel, which I will most definitely be checking out.

Silenced by Kristina Ohlsson

The Blurb On The Back:

Fifteen years ago a young girl was brutally attacked as she picked flowers in a meadow near her parents’ Swedish country home. The crime went unreported; the victim silenced.


Cut to the present. It is a bleak February morning in Stockholm, when Alex Recht’s federal investigation unit is assigned to two new cases.

A man has been killed in a hit and run. He has no identification on him, he is not reported missing nor wanted by the police. Investigative Analyst Fredrika Bergman has the task of finding out who he is.

At the same time, a priest and his wife are found dead in their apartment. All evidence suggests that the priest shot his wife and then committed suicide. But is that all there is to it?

Two different cases, seemingly unrelated. But it is not long before the investigations begin to converge and the police are following a trail that leads all the way back to the ‘90s, to a crime that was hushed-up, but whose consequences will reach further and deeper than anyone ever expected.


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The Verdict:

The second in Kristina Ohlsson’s BERGMAN & RECHT SERIES (translated by Sarah Death) is a slick crime thriller that nevertheless didn’t quite pull together the threads enough to provide a satisfying ending. I hadn’t read the first in the series, but Ohlsson provides enough information so that it isn’t necessary to do so (although it would perhaps help in explaining some of the relationships – notably Fredrika’s role within the team and the tensions it’s created). Ohlsson’s got an easy style and I enjoyed the first two-thirds of the book and the way she ties the different plot lines together, utilising different points of view to provide information but leave enough mystery to keep the reader interested. Unfortunately, I didn’t think that there was enough of a pay-off to the different mysteries – in particular the revelation of the antagonist and their motivation was somewhat vague and I wasn’t completely convinced by the explanation for how it was all pulled together or why. I also felt that the storyline involving Alex’s relationship with his wife and his growing concern that his wife is keeping secret wasn’t developed enough on page to have the impact it was clearly intended to have, which is a shame because there was a lot of potential there. All in all, while this book didn’t quite come good for me, there was enough here to make me interested in checking out the rest of this series and Ohlsson’s other work.

Thanks to Simon & Schuster for the review copy of this book.

The Pledge by Kimberly Derting

The Blurb On The Back:

Seventeen-year-old Charlaina knows she has exceptional but perilous powers.


In the far future, in a land controlled by an aged and ruthless queen, the classes are strictly divided by the language they speak. Even acknowledging a member of the ruling class while they are speaking their native tongue is punishable by death. Charlie can understand all languages, a secret she must protect to stay alive.

When she meets the alluringly handsome Max, who speaks in a language she hasn’t heard before, she is intensely attracted to him. Max believes that Charlie is the key to something bigger and he pledges to protect her. But as war descends, can she trust him?


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The Verdict:

Kimberly Derting’s YA dystopian novel (the first in a trilogy) has some great ideas – particularly those about language and communication and how it can both bring people together and keep them apart – but the romance element is shallow (essentially based on love at first sight) and the rebellion plot doesn’t have enough time to develop, relying on a number of plot jumps and reveals that didn’t really satisfy me. This is a shame because there is some good writing – notably the relationship between Charlaina and her younger sister, Angelina and Charlaina’s friendship with Brook. Unfortunately I found Max to be an underdeveloped character – there’s no real basis shown for his feelings for Charlaina or his motivation in protecting her. Similarly, I found the resistance underdeveloped and I wasn’t completely sure what they planned to achieve after overthrowing the Queen (who I found two-dimensional). I have to admit to also being a little bored the idea that only a queen could rule the country and wished that there had been more exploration of ways to make democracy work (although this may come in later books). I’m not sure whether I’d continue with this trilogy but I will check out Derting’s other work.

The Owl Killers by Karen Maitland

The Blurb On The Back:

England, 1321. Welcome to the Dark Ages.


Deep in the heart of the countryside lies an isolated village governed by a sinister regime of Owl Masters. Theirs is a pagan world of terror and blackmail, where neighbour denounces neighbour and sin is punishable by murder.

This dark status quo is disturbed by the arrival of a house of religious women, who establish a community outside the village. Why do their crops succeed when village crops fail, their cattle survive despite the plague? But petty jealousy turns deadly when the women give refuge to a young martyr. For she dies a gruesome death after spitting the sacramental host into flames that can’t burn it – what magic is this? Or is the martyr now a saint and the host a holy relic?

Accusations of witchcraft and heresy run rife while the Owl Masters rain down hellfire and torment on the women, who must look to their faith to save them from the lengthening shadow of Evil … a shadow with predatory, terrifying talons.


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The Verdict:

Karen Maitland’s second novel skilfully mixes historical fiction with mystical elements and a strong feminist screed that kept me turning the pages from beginning to end. I particularly enjoyed how Maitland switches points of view in the novel to keep the action moving and at the same time bring together the independent plot strands to form a cohesive whole. Particularly good are those chapters told by Servant Martha and Father Ulfrid, each of whom has their own secrets that make them both desperate and bring them into insurmountable conflict with each other. I also enjoyed learning more about beguinages – a group that was common in Europe but which never really got a footing in the UK and again, the conflict between Christianity and pagan custom forms a neat tension within the book that the hapless villagers find themselves caught between. Maitland does well at making the history feel authentic and the feminist themes feel modern without contradicting the time period. I did find some of the characters – notably Robert D’Acaster and his slimy nephew Phillip, but also Ulfrid’s lover, a little two-dimensional – and the downbeat ending may disappoint some, but I found myself gripped by what was happening so that while this is a very long book, I read it very quickly and will definitely check out Maitland’s other work.

Thanks to Penguin Books for the review copy of this book.

The Beauty Of Murder by A. K. Benedict

The Blurb On The Back:

Stephen Killigan has been cold since the day he arrived in Cambridge. Seven hundred years of history staining the stones of the university have given him a chill he can’t shake. Then he stumbles across the body of a missing beauty queen – a body that disappears before the police arrive …

Killigan enters the sinister world of Jackamore Grass on a trail that reaches back to seventeenth-century Cambridge. It’s a world of cadavers, tattooists, philosophers and scholars of deadly beauty, a world where a corpse can be found before someone goes missing and of a city and a killer that hold many secrets written in blood.


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The Verdict:

A. K. Benedict’s debut crime novel mixes time travel, murder and the philosophy of beauty to mixed effect. I picked this up because I loved the idea of a time-travelling killer and for the most part Jackamore Grass is a suitably creepy antagonist whose unusual abilities have made him arrogant and disconnected to such an extent that it’s only the discovery that Killigan shares his time-travelling gift that brings some excitement back to his life. Unfortunately I found Killigan a less interesting protagonist – a drifter for most of his life he flits from supporting character to supporting character and never really develops a relationship with anyone, whether it’s his supposed best friend Satnam or his love interest, Lana (who are brought in and out as the plot dictates it). I was particularly frustrated by his failure to push anyone for information – especially in his scenes with Robert Sachs, which don’t really go anywhere and served to irritate me as much as Killigan. I actually found myself wanting more of Hart, whose battle with breast cancer made her easy to empathise with and whose struggle to come to terms with what Killigan tells her is well depicted. The biggest let down of the novel though is the lack of resolution and while that is in keeping with the philosophical themes in the book, it made for a disappointing end. Ultimately, although this book didn’t quite work for me, there’s enough here for me to read more of Benedict’s work.

Sockpuppet by Matthew Blakstad

The Blurb On The Back:

This page has been reviewed by

We declare it a lie and a fraud

Nothing is private

No one is safe


Maverick hacker Dani Farr created sic_girl to win a bet. She’s just a piece of code turned Internet celebrity.

Until overnight she becomes a political assassin.

Minister of Information Bethany Lehrer has been gambling with people’s information, and now sic_girl is going to make her pay. With the country on the verge of revolt and the government on its knees, it’s up to Dani to stop sic_girl … before it’s too late.


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The Verdict:

Matthew Blakstad’s debut technological thriller (the first in a series) is a jargon heavy affair with a convoluted plot filled with cross and double cross that relies on characters at times behaving in ways that defy logic or credibility. This is a shame because there are some great ideas in this novel – particularly the strong themes about privacy and the tension between it and government and corporate interests. However, the plot seems to rely on both Bethany and Dani being incredibly naïve about this issue, which at times really strained my ability to believe in either of them. In fact, I was disappointed that for the most part both women are essentially victims both of the press and of the hackers and it isn’t until the end that they start to think and act about what’s best for them. This isn’t to say that the male characters are treated any better – for the most part they’re little more than stock characters who barely rise above the issues that they’re there to discuss. I did enjoy the depiction of the corporate drivers at play in the tech industry and the reliance placed on old-fashioned PR to cultivate and propagate the image that they want the public to see. However, ultimately there is a lot of dense, jargon-filled dialogue in this novel, which I really didn’t connect with (although if you’re more tech savvy than me, you may well find it easier to follow). Ultimately, I don’t think there’s enough here for me to want to continue with the rest of the series, but I would probably check out Blakstad’s other work.

SOCKPUPPET will be released in the United Kingdom on 19th May 2016. Thanks to Amazon Vine for the ARC of this book.

Kill Shot by Vince Flynn

The Blurb On The Back:

Mitch Rapp is a man on a mission.


For months, Mitch has been working his way through a list of the men responsible for the Pan Am Lockerbie bombing – bullet by bullet.

His next target – a Libyan diplomat – should be easy. Prone to drink and currently in Paris without a bodyguard, Rapp quickly tracks the man down and sends a bullet into his skull while he’s sleeping. But at the moment he squeezes the trigger, the door to the hotel room is kicked open and gunfire erupts around him.

A wounded Rapp escapes with his life, but when the news breaks in France he is a wanted man. His handlers have only one choice. Rapp has become a liability, and he must not be taken alive. Alone in Paris, on the run from the authorities and from his own employers, Mitch Rapp must prepare to fight for his life.


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The Verdict:

Vince Flynn’s action thriller (the second prequel in the MITCH RAPP SERIES) is a fast-paced action thriller but the result is never really in question, which means that the stakes aren’t there to make this a gripping read. Rapp is from the predictable school of action heroes – the best at what he does, he’s always one step ahead of everyone else and, obviously, always in the right. The supporting characters are painted in broad brushstrokes and this isn’t really a book for those who like strong female characters as all of them (from Irene Kennedy, Rapp’s handler to Detective Neville who’s investigating the hit) are shown as being led by their emotions who need the men to tell them what to do and how to behave. Flynn handles the action scenes well but the corruption storyline veers dangerously close to ridiculous (especially as certain characters refuse to acknowledge what’s right in front of them) and Rapp’s main antagonist is so obviously out to lunch that it beggars belief he’d ever be allowed to keep his job. Ultimately, this is a book in the square-jawed hero kicking ass ilk and if that’s your thing then there’s a good chance you’ll enjoy this – although I kept turning the pages, I’m not sure that I’m invested enough in this to read more in the series.

Thanks to Simon & Schuster for the review copy of this book.

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