Turbulent Wake by Paul E. Hardisty (Orenda Books)

Paul E. Hardisty’s Claymore Straker series has been a triumph for Orenda Books. I have enjoyed reading the books so far in that series immensely, so I was excited and intrigued to hear that Hardisty was writing a novel that wasn’t in this series. Here’s the blurb:

A bewitching, powerful and deeply moving story of love, loss and grief. This extraordinary departure from the critically acclaimed thriller writer Paul E Hardisty explores the indelible damage we can do to those closest to us, the tragedy of history repeating itself and ultimately, the power of redemption in a time of change. Paul drew on his own experiences of travelling around the world as an engineer, from the dangerous deserts of Yemen, the oil rigs of Texas, the wild rivers of Africa, to the stunning coral cays of the Caribbean.

Ethan Scofield returns to the place of his birth to bury his father, with whom he had a difficult relationship. Whilst clearing out the old man’s house, he finds a strange manuscript, a collection of vignettes and stories that cover the whole of his father’s turbulent and restless life.

As his own life unravels before him, Ethan works his way through the manuscript, searching for answers to the mysteries that have plagued him since he was a child. What happened to his little brother? Why was his mother taken from him? And why, in the end, when there was no one left for him, did his own father push him away?

The blurb itself would have been enough to encourage me to read this novel. The premise is intriguing, thought-provoking and mysterious. Hardisty writes with such intellect and brings his own personal career experiences into his novels that you feel much more educated after reading.

Like Claymore Straker, Ethan and his dad, Warren, are troubled souls. Their lives prior to the present day of the novel have been that fraught with challenges and traumatic experiences that it is not difficult to see why Ethan feels like he is misplaced. It is clear that “the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree” but the novel explores if that is as a result of Warren’s behaviour and experiences before and during Ethan’s childhood, or if Ethan has made his own path.

The narrative structure serves the premise well, with Warren’s manuscript of stories that detail pivotal points in his life interspersed with Ethan’s take on how his own life is progressing (or not), and of his relationship with his Dad before and after the illuminating manuscript. Like many Orenda Books novels, it strays from a linear narrative which increases the tension and keeps the reader guessing.

Like with the Claymore Straker novels, Hardisty beautifully describes the variety of locations that both Ethan and Warren find themselves in. His narrative is rich in stunning, figurative language that is intertwined into the story to make the reader feel (or at least, wish) they are in these gorgeous locations.

Hardisty does not disappoint with this beautifully written novel. With diverse characters and a variety of sumptuous settings, this, like many other Orenda Books, is a work of art. I would recommend any Hardisty novel, but this one in particular is a beauty.

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.


Six Stories by Matt Wesolowski (Orenda Books)

Today I am honoured to be a stop on the blog tour for Six Stories by Matt Wesolowski. I was really looking forward to reading this latest Orenda Books thriller, so was very excited when it dropped through my letterbox for me to read and review.

Six Stories is written around a series of podcasts by Scott King (a pseudonym), a podcaster who interviews his interviewees wearing a mask to maintain his anonymity. The Six Stories series looks into unsolved murders and interviews those involved to try to glean some truth about what actually happened. This Six Stories series is an investigation into the death of 15-year-old boy, Tom Jeffries, whose body was found on Scarclaw Fell, a foreboding and ominous fell, 12 months after he had been reported missing. As Scott King interviews the various main players in events leading up to Tom’s disappearance, the reader is drawn into the mystery to discover the real story about how and why Tom came to be partially buried on the fell, only to be found by Harry Saint Clement-Ramsay, son of the new landowner, and his friends.

The structure of this novel is a really unusual, but very effective concept in building up the tension throughout. Using the six podcasts as the main structure, with a side narration by Harry, as he too tries to get some answers by returning to the mysterious and dangerous landscape, we have a series of untrustworthy narrators, all of whom could be lying or at least omitting important information, which gives the reader a multitude of potential explanations as to how this young boy met his demise. The comments of Scott King as narrator of the podcasts, as he questions the stories told by these friends and witnesses to events leading up to Tom’s disappearance, feeds the reader with more questions too, so even when a story rings true, the reader can be thrown off course by the doubt that Scott King casts on their interviews, or provides validation to our own thoughts that may match those of Scott King.

The location of the events is foreboding in itself and appears to hold many secrets. Scarclaw Fell is created beautifully by Wesolowski and is undoubtedly an extra character, and suspect, in this story. In every scene, the fell looms as a secret-keeper. Indeed, as Harry is wandering the fell, this sense of potential answers being held within the landscape adds another layer of possibility for the reader, as its dark and dangerous presence is felt throughout.

There are contradictions in every story and every time it seems that you are getting nearer to the true story, another interviewee will cast doubt. Wesolowski creates the tension very effectively as each interview adds pieces to the puzzle, maybe. Scott King thinks the answers lie in the dynamics of the group of friends that Tom was with during the run up to his disappearance and as this is laid bare, Wesolowski cleverly creates the wonderful twists and turns that make up a fantastic thriller.

I absolutely loved this novel. Unusually, the danger to the individuals involved has passed, but even in investigating what happened to lead up to the tragic death of Tom Jeffries, the tension is palpable throughout. Wesolowski has taken a unique structure and used it to create a brilliantly written, enigmatic novel that draws the reader into the mystery of this story. Whilst Scott King focuses on the past, the inclusion of Harry returning to the fell weaved throughout, provides the reader with a multi-faceted narrative that keeps the reader fascinated. I loved the structure and what it brought to the mystery of this tale, bringing a modern twist to a traditional “whodunnit”. I will be happily recommending this novel to anyone who loves a good thriller.

The Evolution of Fear by Paul Hardisty (Orenda Books)

Last year, I read and reviewed The Abrupt Physics of Dying by Paul Hardisty. Hardisty displayed his skills as writer so well, it was a joy to read. Claymore Straker, the main protagonist, is just what I love in a male lead character – brooding, flawed, slightly arrogant but caring, despite his determination to remain detached. I have been very much looking forward to the next Clay Straker novel and I have absolutely devoured it from start to finish.

Clay begins the novel in hiding in the Cornwall countryside, trying to avoid the heat caused by his recent assassination of Rex Medved in the last novel. He finds himself on the run, and trying to find and protect his love interest, Rania, who is working under her alias, Lise Moulinbecq, to write articles on the political wranglings in Cyprus between the Cypriots and Turks, including underhand dealings on land development and it’s connection to the mysterious decline of the turtle population as the number of turtles breeding on the Cypriot beaches has reached an all time low. With an enormous price on his head by Medved’s sister, Regina, he has to try and keep under the radar of would-be bounty hunters and find out why Rania has come out of hiding to report on this particular story. Clay finds himself, and Rania, embroiled in a web of political and murderous situations that threaten the lives of them both.

While The Abrupt Physics of Dying was more ebb and flow of action, The Evolution of Fear is fast paced and gripping from the off. Even in the first chapter, Clay is in danger and this sets the tone for the rest of the novel. I polished this book off in three days, only stopping for work and sleep. There never seemed a good place to lay it down, to read at the next opportunity, so each time I had to stop, it was a real challenge to put the book down. (Sign of a good book, for me!)

We get to grips some more with Clay’s psyche in this novel. As he battles with his emotional connection to Rania, Hardisty wonderfully illuminates Clay’s evident PTSD from his time as a soldier in Angola. His conscience about atrocities committed during this time repeatedly dog Clay, often at the most inopportune moments. Crowbar, his former commanding officer and friend, is a great parallel for Clay, in that he has suffered the same atrocities but his way of dealing with it is to carry on regardless and drawing a line under what happened to some extent. However, Clay just cannot ease his conscience and is suffering because of it. Indeed, he doesn’t think himself worthy of love or happiness, which affects his decision making processes and the relationships he has with others, in particular, Rania. I particularly liked Hardisty’s approach to describing how Clay is overcome by memories of past traumatic events and it becomes another enemy for Clay to fight against.

As with the first book, Hardisty excels in his use of the landscape as a sometimes unforgiving backdrop to the action, or as a perfect setting for a particularly pleasant moment. His descriptive narratives are beautifully rich and vibrant, giving multi-sensual pictures in the mind of the reader of the various places Clay visits. He puts real passion into describing the natural elements of the landscape, and the novel is all the better for it.

Not only do you get a gripping plot with a Paul Hardisty book, you get an intelligent narrative that educates, informs and showcases Hardisty’s scientific background as an environmental scientist. He uses his extensive knowledge of his chosen field to add authenticity to the story line by giving the reader some scientific fact to highlight the problems faced by the characters.

The Evolution of Fear is a fantastic tale of political espionage and underhand tactics that provide a brilliant vantage point for Clay Straker as he battles to control his inner demons from past experiences. Hardisty has written a very fitting sequel to the first novel that, for me, is better than the first (and I really enjoyed The Abrupt Physics of Dying). Clay Straker is a formidable main protagonist with plenty of stories still to tell (I hope). Certainly the sneak peek at the end of this book implies so. Hardisty has again shown himself as an excellent creator of twists, turns and ploys to take the reader on a journey where they have no idea who Clay should and shouldn’t trust. Add to that mix his stunning descriptions of the landscapes and settings plus his careful application of scientific fact to the plot, and you have a perfect adventure story. I am certainly looking forward to reading and reviewing further Clay Straker adventures. Orenda Books is on fire at the moment, and with writers like Paul Hardisty, amongst others, signed up with them, it is no surprise at all.

House of the Lost Girls by Carissa Ann Lynch

In September, I read a great book called Have You Seen This Girl?  by Carissa Ann Lynch. Although it’s subject matter disturbed me, it was a wonderfully written book that, although very dark in content, was gripping from the beginning and had twists and turns aplenty with one massive twist at the end that I just didn’t see coming at all. Knowing that this was the first book in a series, I didn’t really know where Lynch was going to take it but I didn’t have long to wait to find out.

House of the Lost Girls picks up 20 years later, with teenager Marianna, who has arrived in Flocksdale with her mother and step-father, the new judge of Flocksdale. Unhappy at having to move away from her home and her friends, Marianna is sullen and irritable. She takes herself off to get to know her new home and quickly makes friends. However, Flocksdale’s macabre history is ever present, and when a young girl is kidnapped, it seems that history may be repeating itself. 

This book was much better than the first book. I couldn’t put it down, as I found myself ensconced in the mysteries of Flocksdale. Lynch excels at building up the tension, feasibly leading her characters down the wrong path, leaving the reader mentally screaming at the characters “Don’t do it!”whilst baffling the reader so that they do not see the big reveal coming at all. As with the first book, this book has a surprise in store at every turn.

 That being said, some of the novel is a little predictable. I’m not going to go into how, because perhaps it is just how I read the book that I managed to guess at certain involvements throughout (though not all, I might add!) Knowing the story of the first book gives a lot of clues to the second book, which maybe explains why I had an idea of who was involved in what. Perhaps this book may have worked better as a standalone, in terms of retaining the mystery.

However, I enjoyed this book more than the first one, which although well written, left me feeling uncomfortable with it’s plot. Lynch builds up her characters well and, of course, the return of feisty Wendi Wise, the main protagonist of Have You Seen This Girl?, was a good device to aid the link of the two books.

I don’t know if there will be more Flocksdale Files to come, given the way this book ended, and also I’m not sure how much mileage is left in the storyline but I thoroughly enjoyed this book and I didn’t necessarily expect to, given the way I felt about the first book. Yet, this book did not give me that same feeling of ickiness as the first one did. Instead, I enjoyed the journey and wouldn’t hesitate to read future Carissa Ann Lynch novels, or to recommend them. 

The Abrupt Physics of Dying by Paul Hardisty

I’ll be honest. I feel like I’ve been reading The Abrupt Physics of Dying by Paul Hardisty (Orenda Books) for a month! In actuality, it’s only been a week but what an adventure it has been!

Set predominantly in Yemen, the main protagonist, Claymore Straker finds himself literally “between a rock and a hard place” when he is kidnapped with his friend and driver, Abdulkader, by a terrorist organisation, and told to use his position as a contractor for oil company Petrotex to investigate a mystery illness that has befallen the locals and is killing their children. A notorious terrorist, Al Shams, gives Clay a deadline and an ultimatum: find the cause and expose this illness that he suspects has been caused by the activities of Petrotex or Abdulkader dies.

Clay has had a troubled past, having had a stint in the South African military that has left him with some mental battle scars and a financial commitment: the healthcare costs of his comatosed best friend. Nursing a desire to right some wrongs from his past, Clay uses his scientific expertise to test the local waters to find out if Al Shams is right. As Clay faces a serious conflict of interest, (the life of his friend against his career) he begins to wonder who the bad guys really are.

I’m not really sure how I would categorise this novel. It is a thriller of sorts but with a political and scientific tone. What I will say is that it certainly gives food for thought. At a time where terrorism, corporate and political corruption seem to be commonplace in world news, this novel suggests a link between them, albeit in a fictional sense. As Hardisty tells a story of various political and corporate agencies working in cahoots for a supposed “greater good”, the (perhaps cynical) reader can’t help but consider if there is some truth in the fiction.

Hardisty also describes the how the faith of the locals provides them with an envious sense of freedom in their belief that Allah determines everything. Abdulkader is a perfect example of this sentiment. As Clay remonstrates and fights to control the next course of action, Abdulkader is calm in the knowledge that he will die when Allah determines it. He shows no fear or panic. He seems to find an inner peace in the thought that he has no control of his fate, that what will be, will be. Clay denies this deterministic ideology but comes to realise that his own fate is controlled by the people he is surrounded by and powers beyond his reach, again to maintain the “greater good”.

As the reader follows Clay’s plight, they are treated to some glorious descriptions of the Yemen landscape. This novel is rich in detail, reminding me of Charles Dickens’ narratives. Obviously the settings are very different to Dickens’ locations but the intricate description of the geological landscape is articulate and beautiful. The multi-sensory journey through the country enhances the reading experience considerably and is well worth the extra pages. The contrast between the materialistic western lifestyles and the simple lifestyles of the Yemeni people further enhances the sense that the Western world is invading this country for its natural resources at any cost, including the lives of the poverty-stricken Yemeni people. Clay doesn’t concern himself with the part he plays in the process of manipulating the locals with bribes to facilitate Petrotex’s extraction of Yemen’s spoils until he is faced with the reality that children are dying as a result. Haunted by reminders of his past mistakes, he is determined to expose the corporate “fat cats” who make decisions based on financial gain with no concern for the human life cost.

There is, of course, the obligatory love story, which shows Clay’s vulnerable side.His love for Rania is fraught with difficulties, as she fights with her religious beliefs and her mission in the Yemen and Clay wonders if she can be trusted, as he suspects that there is more to this beautiful journalist than meets the eye. However, any reader would undoubtedly want their relationship to succeed as they work together to try to solve the mystery of this strange illness.

There is definitely a sense that just as you think you have worked it all out, Hardisty throws in a curve ball which throws your entire theory out of the water, and just as you think that Clay has found someone who can help him blow the situation wide open, there is another layer of corruption to unearth. As a reader, I was willing Clay to find that one person who he could completely trust, just so he wasn’t alone against the corporate and political machine.

This is a fantastic novel and the character of Clay Straker holds great promise for future novels. Hardisty writes with incredible passion and technical precision and the reader can never be quite sure who is good and who is bad, which keeps the reader gripped to the end. His exquisite descriptions of Yemen and the extensive scientific knowledge that he brings to the narrative provides the reader with an epic reading experience that will have them yearning to know what happens next. I’m certainly looking forward to future Clay Straker adventures, but for now, I’m going to spend some time recovering from this one!