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Cover Reveal – End Game by Matt Johnson

I’m absolutely thrilled to have the honour of revealing the cover for the final instalment of the Robert Finlay trilogy, written by the immensely talented Matt Johnson, and published by truly brilliant Orenda Books.

First of all, here’s the blurb:

Robert Finlay seems to have finally left his SAS past behind him and is settled into his new career as a detective. But when the girlfriend of his former SAS colleague and close friend Kevin Jones is murdered, it’s clear that Finlay’s troubles are far from over. Jones is arrested for the killing, but soon escapes from jail, and Finlay is held responsible for the breakout. Suspended from duty and sure he’s being framed too, our hero teams up with MI5 agent Toni Fellowes to find out who’s behind the conspiracy. Their quest soon reveals a plot that goes to the very heart of the UK’s security services. End Game, the final part in the critically acclaimed Robert Finlay trilogy, sees our hero in an intricately plotted and terrifyingly fast-paced race to uncover the truth and escape those who’d sooner have him dead than be exposed.

Without further ado, here is the fantastic new cover:


Matt has also been kind enough to allow me to interview him, about his creation, Robert Finlay, about his struggle with PTSD and a reveal on when we can expect publication of this long-awaited climax to a wonderful series.

I’ll be posting this shortly!😊

CWA Anthology of Short Stories – Mystery Tour – Edited by Martin Edwards (Orenda Books)

I don’t read a lot of short stories. Not because I don’t like them, more that I enjoy immersing myself in a longer narrative that will give me hours of reading pleasure. However, I have read two lots of short story anthologies recently and I have enjoyed them both immensely. The first was Reader, I Married Him, a collection of short stories with some connection (some barely recognisable) to the Charlotte Bronte classic, Jane Eyre. The most recent anthology was the the CWA Anthology of Short Stories – Mystery Tour. What struck me about both collections is the diversity of stories that have emerged by the various authors when given the same theme. This review is for the latter collection. The authors of the CWA Anthology of Short Stories – Mystery Tour were given the theme of travel to write a short crime/mystery story.

There wasn’t a single story I didn’t enjoy in this anthology, which is testament to whoever selected the stories to put in it. All the stories are very different but each is intriguing and engaging, with different angles on the theme of the collection. Of course, the authors are all members of the Crime Writers Association, so there is an expectation that the writing will be quality crime fiction, but there are no disappointments at all in this collection, each story individual but with a shared sense of trepidation for the reader as each story commences and surprise at the conclusion  (or lack thereof).

Although I enjoyed all of the stories, I had a few favourites in the collection. The Queen of Mystery by Ann Cleeves gets the anthology off to a brilliant start with an unusual turn of events. Her first person narrative gives off no clues as to how the story will pan out. Return to the Lake by Anna Mazzola is heart-rending, as is You’ll Be Dead By Dawn by C.L.Taylor, a wonderful achievement for such short narratives.

The Last Supper by Carol Ann Davis made me smile, a gem of a crime story with the ability to amuse. Similarly, Ed James’s contribution Travel Is Dangerous with his wonderful DS Scott Cullen character, a character I have come to know and love from James’s series, also provides some comedy in the dynamic between Cullen and his nemesis and former boss DS Brian Bain, alongside a great mystery story.

I liked the sense of vindication in High Flyer by Chris Simms, Wife on Tour by Julia Crouch and The Repentance Wood by Martin Edwards, highlighting the lengths people might go to when they have felt diminished by those around them.

Three On A Trail by Michael Stanley adds a little extra to the standard mystery (though I’m not going to say what that is). Having loved the recent Dectective Kubu novels released by Orenda Books, I’m already a fan of the writing duo that it was no surprise to enjoy this gripping short story. I also enjoyed the short, but sweet contribution by another Orenda stalwart, Ragnar Jonasson, whose letter from a traveller to his mother combines intrigue and the beautiful Icelandic landscape to  provide a chilling mystery.

If I had to pick one favourite, however, it would have to be No Way Back from J.M.Hewitt. This story was particularly memorable and hard-hitting, shocking and beautifully written, to fully encompass the theme of travel with a frighteningly murderous plot. There’s not a lot I can say about it without giving too much away, other than to say it is a fantastic short story. I have J.M. Hewitt’s novel, Exclusion Zone, on my kindle and will definitely be boosting it up my extensive TBR list, having enjoyed this story so much.

Overall, I have thoroughly enjoyed reading this collection of stories which provides the reader with myriad stories that gives short, sharp bursts of mystery-filled tales. Whilst I enjoy a more lengthy, character-building, plot-twisting narrative, what these authors have managed to achieve in such a short amount of words is nothing short of genius. What I have also found is that it will give you a taster by authors who you may not have previously read to entice you into reading their longer works. The compilation of the stories is perfectly balanced between totally shocking stories, amusing mysteries, and good old-fashioned detective tales. I look forward to reading more short story anthologies in the future.

 

Stella Sky One – The Perfect Ending ❤️

About 18 months ago, I wrote a post about the end of Stella Season 5, imploring Ruth Jones to bring back the wonderful characters of Pontyberry, when there was doubt as to whether the show could carry on with the death of Stella’s first true love, Rob Morgan. Stella Sky One – My Thoughts and a Plea to Ruth Jones I thought it could. Despite being Team Rob all along (and still am😉), I felt it was the right decision to kill him off and let Stella have a life with Michael. I pondered the idea that Rob could return as a confidante to Stella in ghostly form (so pleased I got my wish!)

After watching this final series, Ruth Jones having made it clear that at this was the end, I have loved seeing Stella and Michael battle over the revelation that Rob was baby Holly’s dad, in a twist that I didn’t see coming at all. I was strangely pleased that Holly was Rob’s (see, always Team Rob) and whilst I never really bought into the idea that Stella and Michael wouldn’t find their way back to each other, the final episode was sheer writing perfection to draw everything to a stunning conclusion that leaves everyone satisfied, though not without it’s drama. I did wonder if Stella would just walk away with Rob, adding a real definitive finality to the series, but I’m glad she didn’t.

I have watched every episode of Stella right from the first episode and I have loved every single minute of it. Ruth Jones is immensely talented, having written a wonderful series and played Stella so beautifully. She has given each and every cast member their own unique identity that even when they play a tiny role in a scene, it gives so much viewing pleasure. A gutteral noise from Auntie Brenda, a gasp from Bobby, a “that’s disgusting” from Nadine, or a “cock” from Rhian adds such humour to a scene, it is impossible not to smile.

There has been lots of laughter over the years, but there have also been tears. Craig Gallivan has made me cry the most. He’s had some harrowing scenes to film over the six seasons and he is a wonderful actor. His “don’t make me into a f**king orphan” speech tonight had me in floods again. To have a show generate such warmth for its characters from its viewers is a wonder to behold and a show that can initiate a myriad emotions in an hour is genius.

I argued for Stella last year that for those who felt it was getting boring perhaps were not seeing the value in the community of Pontyberry as it is. The dynamic between the characters was enough to keep me invested regardless of the plot, although personally I have not felt there has been a dip in the plot anyway. Is now the right time to draw it to a close? Ruth Jones seems to think so. I could have watched more series of it had tonight’s ending not played out as it did.

However, what Ruth Jones did in tonight’s episode was a stroke of genius. She gave Stella the perfect ending. No loose ends, no what if’s (as Rob said, “it’s the here and now that matters” – I might be paraphrasing here), and an ending that leaves the viewer feeling that if there is no more Stella, as Ruth Jones has indicated, there were no unanswered questions to frustrate, as is common in many dramas. 

I’m terribly sad to see it end, but I’m happy in the knowledge that my box sets will be like old friends to comfort and amuse whenever the mood takes me. I have favourite episodes that already I watch again and again. They all have a strong Rob presence, I admit. To name but a few, the one when Luke fights Lenny, when Emma has her baby, when Rob dies, and tonight’s episode will undoubtedly join that list.

Thank you to the wonderful actors who brought these vibrant, funny, multi-layered characters to life. You have, and will continue to make me laugh and cry. Biggest thanks goes to Ruth Jones though, who has written this stunning masterpiece that has the perfect mix of quirky humour and overwhelming poignancy that has left me rather emotional yet again. I look forward to reading the novels that Ruth Jones is currently writing and doing what I normally do on this site and reviewing her books. To date, Stella has been the only TV programme to inspire me to review it. There’s a good reason for that: because I’ve cockin’ loved every minute of it, presh! So long, Stella. You will be missed.

Dying To Live by Michael Stanley (Orenda Books)

A few months ago, I read Deadly Harvest, the first Detective Kubu novel published by Orenda Books, and I loved it, a great crime novel set in Botswana. I was really excited to read another Detective ‘Kubu’ Bengu crime story. 

In Dying To Live, Kubu is battling demons on a personal, as well as professional, level. Whilst a bushman, Heiseb, who appears older than you would assume is physically possible, is found murdered in the desert, Kubu’s adopted HIV positive daughter is fighting for her life, as her retrovirals start to fail. As in Deadly Harvest, muti, witch doctor potions, are heavily featured throughout the narrative. As Kubu and his colleague, Samantha Khama, try to find out who killed Heiseb, the disappearance of a prolific witch doctor seems too much of a coincidence.

As with Deadly Harvest, Dying to Live is a gripping crime novel, and while it is quite slow paced (mirroring the Botswanaian lifestyle), the plot is fascinating as it offers clues and red herrings throughout. The modern versus traditional lifestyle is juxtaposed beautifully and as even Kubu begins to wonder if muti could help his sick daughter. The writing duo, Michael Sears and Stanley Trollope, writing under the pseudonym Michael Stanley, have created a wonderful main protagonist in Kubu and a formidable sidekick in Khama, that the reader cannot help but want them to succeed. Restricted as they are by their location and the mindset of the traditionalist inhabitants, they always seem to get their answers one way or another.

A number of characters are introduced, both to inform and to confuse the reader into what these crimes are all about. The various characters are from a variety of backgrounds, traditional and modern, and the reader is left wondering just who the criminals are. 

Dying To Live is a fantastic novel, which is, of course, what we have come to expect from a book published by Orenda Books. Kubu is a really endearing character and there are times in this novel where I wanted to give him a big hug. These novels entice the reader with a beautifully written narrative and an engaging plot. I look forward to reading the next Michael Stanley collaboration.

The Black Hornet – Rob Sinclair (Bloodhound Books)

A couple of months ago, Rob Sinclair rebranded his fantastic Carl Logan character from the Enemy series and released the James Ryker series. Carl Logan went into hiding with his girlfriend, Angela, at the end of Hunt For The Enemy and he returned as James Ryker in The Red Cobra, with Angela renamed as Lisa Ryker. This was a very brave move by Sinclair, to take an already loved character such as Carl Logan and to rename him to generate a whole new series, but it absolutely paid off. The Red Cobra was brilliant and while Carl Logan was threaded throughout, the reader readily accepted him as James Ryker, as he returned to his past life for, supposedly, a short time. After really enjoying The Red Cobra and left reeling at its cliffhanger ending, I was really looking forward to reading the next book in the James Ryker series, The Black Hornet, and thankfully, I didn’t have to wait too long.

In The Black Hornet, we join Ryker on his quest to find Lisa, who had vanished from their hideaway at the end of The Red Cobra. Ryker is in Mexico to catch up with an old contact, who he thinks will have information on Lisa’s disappearance. The meeting quickly deteriorates and he finds himself set up for murder and put in prison, seemingly as retaliation for transgressions during his time with the Joint Intelligence Agency, back when he was Carl Logan. However, not all is as it seems and Ryker has to navigate his way out of jail and to decide who he can trust, as he realises there is more to this situation than meets the eye. At the same time, in America, Congressman Douglas Ashford is embroiled in a dangerous game that links to Ryker’s situation. Ryker needs to find out how he can get himself out of the predicament he finds himself in, and how his past and present link, as well as trying to figure out how Lisa’s disappearance is linked to the complex situation he finds himself in.

One thing I have always commented on in all my reviews of Sinclair’s books, with no exceptions, is that he has a remarkable talent for building up suspense, often by mixing things up to keep the reader guessing. Things are never as they seem and often Logan/Ryker is key in throwing the reader off the scent as his emotions get the better of him. I really didn’t have a clue how it was all going to pan out right until the end, and again, we are left with many unanswered questions by the end of the novel, which only serves to enhance the reading experience as we eagerly await the next instalment.

Ryker struggles with conflicting emotions,  as he finds himself, yet again, being dragged back into Joint Intelligence Agency business against his will. Ryker can’t escape his past, and as he becomes more in control of his actions, the reader witnesses Ryker come into his own, using his experiences from when he was Carl Logan but with a more objective, more considered view about what to do next. His feelings for Lisa and his desire to get to the bottom of her disappearance is his motivation. He is no longer as motivated to be the fantastic J.I.A. agent that he was, however he can still take a good beating without faltering and he still has good instincts, both working in his favour.

How Sinclair amalgamates Logan and Ryker is really clever. Of course, they are one and the same, but Sinclair manages to instill in the reader a way of viewing them differently. We have seen a progression of the character from Dance With The Enemy, the first in the Enemy series, to The Black Hornet. His main protagonist has become more cynical, more aware and has learned to use his emotions largely to his advantage, where previously, he may have allowed them to engulf him and affect his judgement. Sinclair has developed Carl Logan to become a more savvy, thoughtful version of the headstrong Logan from the Enemy Series,  as James Ryker.

The Black Hornet is a brilliant sequel to The Red Cobra, and as eagerly anticipated as this book was, so too will the next instalment. There is so much more mileage in this character, particularly through this regeneration, and that is all down to Sinclair’s skill as an author. I starting reading this book as soon as it hit my inbox and I have no doubt that if I’m asked to be on the next blog tour, the next book will be read just as quickly, as I am desperate to know what James Ryker will do next. In Rob Sinclair’s hand’s, anything could happen, but it will be a brilliant, engaging read, that’s for sure.

The Black Hornet

Exquisite by Sarah Stovell (Orenda Books)

I’ll be honest, this review was almost not ready in time for my day on the Exquisite blog tour. I’ve spent the last two weeks knowing I needed to read it, really wanting to read it, but not finding the time in a busy two weeks of daily work, kids and general time-consuming life tasks. I needn’t have worried, though. In four and a half hours, I’ve devoured this psychological thriller and I’m comfortably writing this review at 2:45pm on Sunday 4th June, to be ready for my day on the blog tour on Monday 5th June. Phew!

Exquisite tells the story of Alice, a clever, aspiring writer who has had a troubled upbringing, and she has found herself in a rut with her artist-cum-layabout boyfriend, living in a hovel, and in her determination to revive her ambitions to be a writer, she submits a short story to try and gain a place on a writing course in Northumberland with revered, famous author, Bo Luxton. Bo reads Alice’s story and instantly feels a buzz about her potential protegé. When they meet, a relationship develops that throws both Bo and Alice into a turmoil. However, all is not as it seems.

Sarah Stovell writes with considerable artistry. The dual viewpoints of Bo and Alice enlightens the reader whilst adding another sense of mystery, as the reader does not know who to trust. The sporadic chapters written from Her Majesty’s Prison for Women, Yorkshire, written in italics, tells the reader that one of the women has done something so drastic that they have ended up in prison, but the reader is none the wiser as to which of the characters has turned to criminality.  The balance of the narrative is perfect to mislead the reader into changing their mind throughout as to who is speaking from prison.

The plot itself is quite simple but what Stovell does with it, how she builds it up and tells the story is nothing short of brilliant. I’m so glad I read this book in one sitting, because I know I would not have been able to put this down. Stovell has the reader gripped from the first chapter, one of the prison chapters. The novel holds such promise as a build up to some terrible event that has led to the apparent model prisoner committing a crime so terrible.

As is characteristic of novels published by Orenda Books, there is a great onus on the character development of the main protagonists in Exquisite. Bo and Alice are written with such precision, both with a harrowing back-story, both with their crosses to bear and both with a habit of making bad decisions. Stovell creates in the reader a sympathy with both characters and a confusion as to how one of these women could commit a crime so heinous that it leads to jail time. The prison chapters make the reader look for clues, but although they are there, Stovell still manages to distract the reader from the identity of the prisoner until it is revealed towards the end.

The beautiful Lake District backdrop to a considerable amount of the story feeds into the air of mystery, as the characters walk the fells and picnic in the stunningly atmospheric countryside. It’s used as  foreboding landscape, adding a sense of the unknown to the background, cleverly adding another layer of tension to the action without the reader fully being aware of it. Contrasted with Brighton, where Alice calls home, the Lake District is made to feel extremely attractive to the reader, particularly with its rich tapestry of literary history, but there’s an added feeling of vastness, which gives the narrative an interesting dynamic.

It is no surprise to me that this book is so brilliant. It has become so natural for Orenda Books to be synonymous with beautifully written, atmospheric, engaging and unique novels that it’s not so much an expectation, but a foregone conclusion that any novel released by Orenda will be exceptional to the point that you want to unread it and read it again with an unknowing mind. Exquisite is no exception. There is definitely scope for a sequel too. I don’t know if that is the intention, or whether this will be a stunning, stand-alone that leaves you to imagine what could happen next but what I do know is that I have enjoyed every twist and turn of this novel and I will, as always, be recommending this book wholeheartedly.

Exquisite Vis 3

Block 46 -Johanna Gustawsson

Orenda Books is renowned for publishing amazing translated novels. The blurb and promotional material for Block 46 by Johanna Gustawsson promised that this was going to be another gripping novel. It didn’t take me long to get from start to finish from this latest Orenda offering. No change there, then!

Block 46 is the first in the Roy & Castells series, which follows true-crime writer Alexis Castells and criminal profiler Emily Roy. Following the brutal murder of Alexis’s friend, Linnea Blix, in Sweden, Castells and Roy come together to try and find out what happened to her, how her death links with the recent murder of a little boy in London and what events at a concentration camp in 1944 have to do with these vile attacks.

The narrative starts quite slow and initially feels a little disjointed as it traverses time and location, as all the main characters are introduced. However, as the picture builds, the different landscapes become more and more intriguing, and the reader is treated to a mult-faceted story that entices the reader to search for clues alongside Castells and Roy. Told from a variety of viewpoints, Gustawson develops a story that is a beautifully woven web of shocks and unexpected outcomes. Just when you think you have it sussed out, another twist arises so you truly do not know where the story will go to the very end of the book.

Gustawsson has created brilliantly sculptured characters with plenty of mystery to pique your interest and to keep you wondering what will happen next. Whilst Alexis is quite emotional and has a vested interest in finding the murderer, Emily is a cool character, very focussed on finding the killer, but without any kind of emotional connection, more wanting to solve the puzzle. Their contrast makes for a very interesting pairing and they work in sync very well together, both bringing their skills to the table to get to the bottom of the murders.

The dynamic of the novel, with flashbacks to 1944, present day action and odd chapters of narrative from the killer’s perspective, helps to generate the rising tension throughout. I thought I had the killer worked out early on. I was wrong, at least three times! However, even when I thought I had worked it out, I was desperate to know what happens next and very keen to read on. (Good job too, because I was always wrong!!)

Roy and Castells are a perfect match and will undoubtedly have many more crimes to solve. The tenacity of Roy and Castells to get to the bottom of the crime rubs off on the reader as you become amateur detective alongside the fictional investigators, and that, for me, is truly the best kind of crime novel. If future novels are as fascinating as Block 46, I will be first in line to read them. Orenda Books continues to find brilliant novels and I continue to love them!

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