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Proof of Life by Steven Suttie

I’ve been a supporter of Steven Suttie’s novels for some time now, ever since I read One Man Crusade, the first DCI Miller book, a couple of years ago. I liked books two, Neighbours from Hell, and three, Road to Nowhere, but I found book four, Gone Too Far, incredibly disappointing; it seemed like it was a parody of non-celebrity Katie Hopkins that was brimming with childish toilet humour between the detectives. This was a big departure for the usually serious and politically sensitive Suttie novels that I had come to know and admire. Suttie returned to form with book five, The Final Cut, but I felt the ending didn’t quite take advantage of what could have been a real statement about the political agenda he had built up throughout the novel. So, it was with a little trepidation that I began to read Proof of Life.

In Proof of Life, DCI Miller is once again facing a case that takes the country by storm, arousing a social and mainstream media frenzy. A teacher appears to have abducted one of his pupils for unknown reasons. However, as is common in Suttie’s novels, there are two sides to every story and nothing is ever at it seems.

I am over the moon to say that I loved this book from start to finish. I always want to love Suttie’s novels but my expectations of being blown away are so high, with One Man Crusade setting the bar, that it is inevitable that not every book will have the same effect. Of course, Suttie has had an excellent response to the two books that didn’t quite match my expectations, (although I should clarify that I loved The Final Cut right up to the end, which I felt detracted from the issues highlighted throughout), so they have obviously struck the right chord with other fans, which I’m really happy about, as I have championed Suttie on Segnalibro many times.

I love the way that Suttie sets a political agenda, and with a journalistically styled narrative that refers to real media outlets, and the effects of social media, he creates a brilliantly effective story that tells both sides of the story, often leading the reader to question their own beliefs and viewpoints. DCI Miller and his team are great conduits in the narrative and while the toilet humour is a little overbearing and in my opinion, unnecessary at times, the tales he tells show real crises in our country today.

Suttie never shies away from a political “hot potato”, in fact he embraces it with both hands and teaches us a thing or two along the way. He cleverly gives us a viewpoint that we might not have considered before but without any sense of bias on the narrator’s part. He tells it like it is, but leaves the reader to make his own mind up.

Proof of Life is a brilliant novel that kept me gripped from start to finish. As the characters of the DCI Miller characters become more familiar with each novel, the reader is much more invested, as with any good series of novels. In future novels, I’d like to see more of the detectives out of work. We’ve had snippets in the novels so far but I’d like to see more. Whatever Suttie chooses for his next subject, I’ll undoubtedly be one of the first in line to read it.

Proof of life

Paul McGraw:Kid to Killer by Paul Elliott

I must start this review with a big apology. I was invited onto this blog tour, read the book, started the review then life got in the way and I missed my tour date of yesterday. Sincerest apologies for the delay. Hopefully my review will be worth the wait.

Kid to Killer by Paul Elliott starts as a coming of age novel. Paul is fifteen years old and has moved around a lot, but after starting a new school in a rough part of Edinburgh, whilst he makes new friends quite easily, he finds the area is overrun with “zombies”, drug-addled individuals who terrorise the locals and attack them to obtain funds for their drugs or because the drugs have made them out of control. After an encounter with a “zombie”, the course of Paul’s life changes forever.

The novel does what it says on the cover. Paul goes from being a kid to being a killer. Elliott does a good job of showing his progression from one to the other, as circumstances dictate the initial actions in the novel but eventually Paul’s chooses his path.

I found this novel very easy to read and I was hooked all the way through. The premise is good and Elliott handles it well. Paul is a well-constructed character, and the other characters in the novel support the narrative very well. It also makes the reader question their own viewpoint on whether Paul’s actions can ever be justifiable.

I really enjoyed this novel from start to finish and I’d like to read more from Paul Elliott in the future.

End Game by Matt Johnson (Orenda Books)

As I’ve mentioned previously on this blog, author Matt Johnson was one of the reasons why I started writing book reviews. Floored by his self published debut novel Wicked Game, where readers were introduced by former SAS soldier turned police officer, Robert Finlay, I found myself enjoying reading a book that was not something I would have chosen to read voluntarily. I realised that I was likely missing out on a variety of books by not stepping out of my comfort zone. So, from then on, I read whatever was suggested to me and I’ve reviewed what I read ever since. Having read the two self published versions of Johnson’s first two books, I’d read the versions published by Orenda Books already knowing most of the story. So, I was very excited to read End Game, with no insight as to what would happen to Finlay.

In End Game, Finlay finds himself in danger again, after his friend Kevin Jones is framed for murder and the police complaints branch are attempting to take them to task for anything that they can make stick. With help from MI5 agent, Toni Fellowes, and Commander Bill Grahamslaw, Finlay tries to uncover the mystery whilst keeping himself and his family out of harms way.

Johnson has written a compelling story that ties up loose ends with Finlay and his associates. The characters that Johnson surrounds Finlay with adds a different perspective to his tale, making him an unreliable narrator at times. His judgement is often flawed due to the effects of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, and given his own experience with PTSD, Johnson portrays this with great authenticity.

Like his first two novels, End Game is full of secrets and lies, and the plot moves quickly from one mystery to another. UK Security Services are a key factor of this novel with a shifting perception of whether or not they are good or bad. Johnson displays a great working knowledge of the police, army and security services that make his novel very believable.

As a trilogy, the expectation is that this novel will round off the series, and it does exactly that. The reader is left with no loose ends by the end of the novel and feels that they have been on a traumatic journey with Finlay as he struggled to cope with the mess he found himself embroiled in, and his progression from suffering, to recognising, to learning to live with the symptoms of PTSD.

I have looked forward to reading this novel for so long and I was not disappointed. It has been an immense pleasure to follow Matt Johnson’s writing journey from self publishing his first two novels, to the Orenda Books versions and End Game. I look forward to reading future novels by Johnson and there is plenty of scope for more Finlay novels, if Johnson chooses to take that direction. Either way, I feel privileged to have been part of the Robert Finlay Series promotion and I look forward to writing my next review for Matt Johnson.

End Game Vis 2

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.

 

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

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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