Review: The Turn of the Key by Ruth Ware

The Turn of the Key
The Turn of the Key
may be the first book I’ve read by Ruth Ware but it definitely won’t be the last. I loved Ware’s writing style and the dark and sinister atmosphere she created and somehow managed to maintain throughout. It’s a gripping read that kept me compulsively turning those pages until the very end.


WHAT’S IT ABOUT

When she stumbles across the advert, she’s looking for something else completely. But it seems like too good an opportunity to miss: a live-in nanny position, with a staggeringly generous salary. And when Rowan arrives at Heatherbrae House, she is smitten by the luxurious ‘smart’ home fitted out with all modern conveniences, by the beautiful Scottish Highlands, and by this picture-perfect family.

What she doesn’t know is that she’s stepping into a nightmare – one that will end with a child dead and her in a cell awaiting trial for murder.

She knows she’s made mistakes. But, she maintains, she’s not guilty – at least not of murder. Which means someone else is.


MY THOUGHTS

The Turn of the Key is an addictive read based loosely on The Turn of the Screw, with the main character Rowan hired as live in nanny to four children. What initially seems like a dream job, however soon becomes a nightmare as she’s left alone to look after the children for weeks in a house with a bit of a dark history, spooky goings on and more than a few secrets. It’s not long before one of the children ends up dead and Rowan gets the blame despite her protestations of innocence.

It’s a genuinely creepy read at times and I loved the way the author built up the tension, revealing little hints and throwing in the odd twist along the way. I very much enjoyed the way the story was told in the form of letters from Rowan to a potential barrister. I’m not sure it felt wholly convincing as a letter but I did love the conversational style to it.

I thought the characters were for the most part well developed and intriguing and I loved how little by little more is revealed about Rowan’s past as the story unfolds. I’m not sure I would describe her as likeable or nice, she’s the typical unreliable narrator so you can’t really trust her, but I certainly felt some empathy for her by the end. The other characters are a little more mysterious and there were a couple in particular whose motivations I’m not sure I ever fully understood. It does however work within a story that keeps you guessing who dunnit so I can’t complain too much.

The real highlight for me however was the atmosphere which is dark and sinister throughout. I loved the Scottish Highland setting and the sense of remoteness and isolation it created. I also loved the use of technology, it’s a smart home with all of the latest gadgets, to give a classic story a much more contemporary feel.

If I had one complaint, it would probably be the ending. I’m not going to say much about it so no spoilers, but it felt a little rushed and unsatisfying to me. Possibly that may be what the author intended but given the build up I would have liked a little bit more.

Overall though I thought this was a great read and one I’d recommend to anyone looking for a slightly creepy who dunnit.

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Review: The Shape of Night by Tess Gerritsen

The Shape of Night

With a combination of ghost story, romance and murder mystery The Shape of Night by Tess Gerritsen was not at all what I was expecting and I think may surprise a lot of her fans. It’s certainly different and I have to admit I found it addictive reading but I’m not convinced the romance side of the story really comes off and there are a few scenes I found disturbing.  If you’re looking for a Rizzoli and Isles type story you may be disappointed but if willing to give something very different a try you may enjoy this.


THE BLURB

We’ve all done things we’re ashamed of . . .

When Ava arrives at Brodie’s Watch, she thinks she has found the perfect place to hide from her past. Something terrible happened, something she is deeply ashamed of, and all she wants is to forget.

But the old house on the hill both welcomes and repels her and Ava quickly begins to suspect she is not alone. Either that or she is losing her mind.

The house is full of secrets, but is the creeping sense of danger coming from within its walls, or from somewhere else entirely?


MY REVIEW

As a long time fan of Tess Gerritsen, I have to admit I was a little surprised by this story. It’s not that I’m not happy she’s doing something different but this felt like one of those romantic suspense (with the emphasis on romance) books she wrote way back at the start of her career. I didn’t particularly mind this as I’ve loved pretty much everything she’s written but I suspect fans of her more recent thrillers may be a little disappointed.

It does have the quality of writing regular readers have come to expect from Gerritsen and I can’t deny it made for addictive reading, I read the whole thing in a day, but I’m not sure the combination of ghost story, murder mystery and romance really comes together. It feels like the romance takes centre stage and considering this is a Fifty Shades style relationship it makes for slightly disturbing reading.

I did find Ava to be a very intriguing character and for the most part likeable. She’s in Maine for the summer ostensibly to finish the cookbook she’s writing but in reality she’s running away from something terrible she’s done. She’s plagued by guilty feelings and has developed a bit of a drinking problem which makes you question just how reliable she is when she starts to question the disappearance of the previous resident in the house she’s renting and even more so when a ghostly apparition appears to her. I will admit I found it hard to accept how obsessive she became about the captain but I did like how different she was as a character and how she develops over the course of the story.

Where I struggled was the romance, I’m afraid it just stretched the bounds of credibility for me and there were elements that were problematic. I understand why the author went down that route but it feels abusive and unhealthy a lot of the time, and I’m saying this as someone who enjoyed Fifty Shades of Grey. There were a couple of scenes that I found disturbing to read and I suspect I won’t be the only one.

There are however other things to enjoy about this story. I loved the setting of a small town in Maine, the wonderful cast of secondary characters and all of the references to food. It made it very easy to imagine yourself there. I also liked the murder mystery even though I guessed pretty early on who the killer was. I just wish there had been a little more focus on this side of the story and a little less on the “romance”.

Overall therefore, my feelings are decidedly mixed. I did enjoy it for the most part, the speed I read it certainly supports that, I’m just struggling to get past the issues I had with the romance. Don’t let my feelings put you off though, if you’re curious it’s worth a read.

Thanks to the publisher for providing me with an advance reader copy via NetGalley. This has in no way influenced my review

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Spooktober Review: The Six by Luca Veste

The Six

The Six by Luca Veste

Full of twists and turns The Six by Luca Veste is a gripping read that keeps you guessing till the very end. Also have to say a huge thank you for the 90s nostalgia, I loved it.


THE BLURB

Six friends trapped by one dark secret.

It was supposed to be our last weekend away as friends, before marriage and respectability beckoned. But what happened that Saturday changed everything.

In the middle of the night, someone died. The six of us promised each other we would not tell anyone about the body we buried. But now the pact has been broken. And the killing has started again …

Who knows what we did? And what price will we pay?


REVIEW

The Six, or “I Know What You Did Last Summer 90s Music Fest”, is just the kind of addictive serial killer thriller I love. I literally couldn’t put it down once I started it and read it from cover to cover in an afternoon.

The story follows six thirty something friends who go to a 90s music fest to try and relive their youth. They’re having a great time until the final night when tempers start to fray a little and someone ends up dead. The friends decide to cover it up by burying the body and making a pact to never speak about it again but as guilt starts to eat away at them and one of them dies suddenly a year later it seems the secret won’t stay buried.

It’s a cracking story and just the sort of twisty tale that keeps you guessing, and boy did I come up with some pretty out there theories. It doesn’t really help that the author throws in more than a few red herrings to send you down the wrong path or to point out how crazy that brilliant theory you’ve come up with is.

Pretty much the whole thing is told from the pov of Matt, one of the friends and this single pov works perfectly. Matt is not the most reliable of narrators and it’s safe to say he is not coping well with things, he barely sleeps or leaves the house and is living in a constant state of fear. It definitely makes him an intriguing and compelling character.

I also loved the portrayal of the other characters too. They are so well defined and distinctive and the way they develop and grow is perfect. It’s a real character study in how different personalities deal with guilt but it’s also a story about friendship. I think a lot of people will be able to recognise themselves and those friends they’ve had since childhood in this.

Given the characters are of a similar age to me I could certainly relate to them. I also have to say a big thank you for all of the music references, they really took me back to my school and uni days.

My only real niggles were the time line which for me felt a little off (although it’s very possible I just missed something) and that I found it a little repetitive at the start.

Other than that I enjoyed it. This was my first book from Luca Veste but it will not be the last. It’s very clear he knows how to tell a great story.

Thanks to netgalley and the publisher for providing me with an advance copy. This has in no way influenced my review.

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Review: The Glass Woman by Caroline Lea

The Glass Woman by Caroline Lea
The Glass Woman
by Caroline Lea

This was one occasion when choosing a book based on its cover worked out so well. The Glass Woman is a truly compelling and atmospheric read. The wonderful writing weaves together historical fiction, mystery and a touch of the supernatural to create a chilling and addictive read.


THE BLURB

1686, ICELAND. AN ISOLATED, WINDSWEPT LAND HAUNTED BY WITCH TRIALS AND STEEPED IN THE ANCIENT SAGAS.

Betrothed unexpectedly to Jón Eiríksson, Rósa is sent to join her new husband in the remote village of Stykkishólmur. Here, the villagers are wary of outsiders.

But Rósa harbours her own suspicions. Her husband buried his first wife alone in the dead of night. He will not talk of it. Instead he gives her a small glass figurine. She does not know what it signifies.

The villagers mistrust them both. Dark threats are whispered. There is an evil here – Rósa can feel it. Is it her husband, the villagers – or the land itself?

Alone and far from home, Rósa sees the darkness coming. She fears she will be its next victim . . .


MY REVIEW

This was one of those books I picked up on a whim based on a very pretty cover and a blurb that made it sound like just my type of read and boy was I right. There was something so compelling about the writing that from the very first page I was hooked and more or less devoured the whole thing in a day.

The story is set in Iceland in 1686 and begins with the discovery of a woman’s body trapped in the ice off the coast. It then flashes back to six months earlier to another small settlement where young woman Rosa agrees to marry a wealthy stranger who can ensure her mother gets the food and fuel she needs to survive the harsh winter. Rosa has led a relatively sheltered life, innocent and naive she knows very little of the world and even less about her soon to be husband.

Despite this and the rumors around what happened to his first wife she leaves her home and everything she knows behind to start a new life with this man in a remote and fiercely religious community where she is made to feel like an outsider. Isolated and alone, strange things start to happen that make her question just who this man she married is, what he’s hiding, and why the village seem to be afraid of him and his strange apprentice Petur. And I think it’s probably best I stop there as if I say anymore I fear I’ll give something away and I feel it’s better you discover it for yourself.

What I can say is that it’s an intriguing mix of historical fiction, mystery and thriller but with the suggestion that there may be supernatural forces at work. The author picked the perfect setting and time period for this story and the writing is absolutely wonderful. There’s such a great sense of place and it’s very easy to imagine life in this community or in Rosa’s case on the outskirts of it. It’s a cold and forbidding place, with a real feel of remoteness and isolation. From the very start there’s a tense and chilly atmosphere and the author somehow manages to maintain this even when there’s not a lot of action.

The story is told primarily from the point of view of Rosa and follows her as she travels to this strange new place and tries to figure out what’s going on. Interspersed with this are brief chapters set after the discovery of the body, told from the point of view of husband Jon. I did prefer Rosa’s chapters but the little hints and suggestions of what’s to come from Jon do make for an addictive read.

I don’t want to go into too much detail about the characters as again I feel it’ll give too much away but I loved how complex they were and how they developed over the course of the story. No one is wholly good or bad and actually it’s very difficult to get a handle on who they really are and whether they can be trusted. Even Rosa is the typical unreliable narrator as while she’s likeable and comes across as very meek and naive for a lot of the story, she’s also intelligent and determined. She’s superstitious and seems to have an active imagination and a fondness for stories which make it hard to tell at times what is real and what’s in her head.

I did love the way the author worked folklore and mythology into the story and in particular the clash between these old ways and the strict religious beliefs that forbid any kind of superstition or traditional practices, viewing them as blasphemy or witchcraft.

Overall this may not be a fast paced, action packed read but it’s a truly compelling story that had me gripped from the very start till the very end. It was unexpected and unlike anything I’d read before and I kind of loved it.

My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

Thanks to the publisher for providing me with an advance copy via NetGalley. As always all thoughts are my own.

Review: I Know Who You Are by Alice Feeney

I Know Who You Are by Alice Feeney
I Know Who You Are
by Alice Feeney

As a huge fan of Feeney’s first book I was ridiculously excited about I Know Who You Are but while there’s a lot to like about it I’m afraid it didn’t quite live up to my admittedly too high expectations. There are some great twists and some gripping moments however the final reveal was a step too far for me.


THE BLURB

l Know Who You Are is the brilliant tale of two stories. One is about Aimee Sinclair—well-known actress on the verge of being full-on famous. If you saw her, you’d think you knew her. One day towards the near-end of her shoot on her latest film, Aimee comes home from filming to find her husband’s cell phone and wallet on the dining room table. He never goes anywhere without them. But he’s nowhere to be found. She’s not too concerned—they had a huge fight the night before. They both said things they didn’t mean. He might have done things he didn’t mean, things she can’t forget. Even though she has a history of supposedly forgetting. After all, she’s a very good actress.

The next morning she goes for her morning run and then goes to her favorite coffee shop. But her card is denied. When she calls the bank they say her account has been emptied of $10,000. She immediately suspects her husband. But they say no, it was Aimee herself who closed out the account. And thus begins a bizarre rabbit hole into which Aimee finds herself falling where nothing is at it seems.

Alternating with Aimee’s story is that of a little girl who wandered away from home. We always tell our kids not to talk to strangers or bad things will happen. Well, bad things happen.

In I Know Who You Are, Alice Feeney proves that she is a master at brilliantly complicated plots and twists after twists.


MY REVIEW

As someone who absolutely loved Alice Feeney’s first book Sometimes I Lie I was ridiculously excited to get the chance to read an advance copy of her latest one. I really love her writing, the complex characters she creates and the sudden twists that will literally leave your jaw on the floor. Unfortunately however, while there is a lot to love in this book I’m afraid the ending kind of ruined it. There are a lot of twisty thrillers around at the moment and I can understand the temptation to push the boundaries to make your story stand out with that big surprise ending but I’m afraid for me this pushed things a little too far, becoming unbelievable. It’s a pity, as up until that point there was a lot to like.

Main character Aimee Sinclair for example was wonderful as the unreliable narrator. As an actress on an upward trajectory she knows how to play a part, to show the world what they expect to see. When her husband suddenly vanishes without a trace it’s difficult to tell how she really feels about it (and possibly more importantly, whether or not she had anything to do with it) but it’s clear there were problems in the marriage. As other strange things start happening around Aimee it becomes increasingly difficult to work out what’s real and what’s not and, as she is constantly pretending, it’s hard to tell how she really feels. Consequently I was never too sure what to think about her. I think I liked her and was rooting for her but there were moments when I really had my doubts.

Interspersed with the Aimee in the present day is the story of a little girl in Ireland who wanders away from home to look at the pair of shoes she really wants in a shop window. She knows she’s not supposed to be out on her own and she’s not supposed to talk to strangers but she does and bad things happen.

This for me was the more gripping (and horrifying) part of the story. It’s often dark and occasionally very disturbing (there’s mental and physical abuse, and violence) but I found it difficult to stop reading it (although I may have skimmed over one particularly disturbing scene). It’s clear there’s some kind of connection between these events and the odd things happening to Aimee in the present but it’s pretty much impossible to figure out what.

The big reveal at the end however just didn’t work for me. I’ll try to keep this vague to avoid spoilers but while it was surprising it just wasn’t believable. I kind of wanted to just throw the book at the wall at that point.

Anyway, regardless of the ending it is a well written and gripping story so it hasn’t put me off Feeney as an author. I will still be looking out for whatever she writes next.

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for providing me with an advance copy. This in no way influenced my review.

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Review: From The Shadows by G.R. Halliday

 

THE BLURBFrom the Shadows

A stunning, atmospheric police procedural set against the grit of Inverness and the raw beauty of the Scottish Highlands, this is the first book in the DI Monica Kennedy series.

Sixteen-year-old Robert arrives home late. Without a word to his dad, he goes up to his bedroom. Robert is never seen alive again.

A body is soon found on the coast of the Scottish Highlands. Detective Inspector Monica Kennedy stands by the victim in this starkly beautiful and remote landscape. Instinct tells her the case won’t begin and end with this one death.

Meanwhile, Inverness-based social worker Michael Bach is worried about one of his clients whose last correspondence was a single ambiguous text message; Nichol Morgan has been missing for seven days.

As Monica is faced with catching a murderer who has been meticulously watching and waiting, Michael keeps searching for Nichol, desperate to find him before the killer claims another victim.

From the Shadows introduces DI Monica Kennedy, an unforgettable new series lead, perfect for fans of Ann Cleeves’ Vera, Susie Steiner and Peter May.


MY REVIEW

From the Shadows is a promising start to a new crime series set in the Scottish Highlands. It’s a dark and atmospheric story that is truly gripping at times and while I didn’t love it quite as much as I hoped I would this is definitely a series I want to read more of.

The story is told primarily from two points of view, DI Monica Kennedy and social worker Michael Bach, and is part police procedural, part mystery/thriller with Kennedy leading a murder investigation and Bach trying to track down one of his clients who has disappeared. It’s an intriguing story, a little chilling and gruesome at times but one that goes in a very unexpected direction and kept me guessing throughout.

Both Monica and Michael make for interesting characters and are for the most part likeable however I’m not sure I ever got to know them well enough to feel truly invested in them. Both clearly have issues and shadows hanging over them from the past but while there are some hints as to what these may be I still feel like there’s a lot to learn about them. I suspect the author is holding things back for subsequent books in the series but I feel like there could have been a bit more development of the characters and more depth given to them. I also found the constant references to Monica’s height (she’s very tall) and her insecurities about it became irritating after a while. It’s great to have a detective who’s different from the norm but it seemed a little overdone.

Similarly, I felt like the secondary characters such as DC Fisher and DC Crawford were also under developed. They seem a bit stereotyped and lacking in depth at times and it was the characters who appeared very briefly who made the biggest impression. It also felt to me like the relationships between characters were all a little too serious and formal. It would have been nice to see some humour (even if it was dark) or an emotion other than anger or guilt to provide a contrast to what is a very disturbing and tense narrative.

The highlight of the story for me was by far the Highland setting and the very dark and chilling atmosphere the author creates. It’s here that his writing really shines and he very skillfully conveys the wildness and remoteness of the rural communities while also taking us into the seedier parts of the city of Inverness, giving a real sense of place. I loved the way he showed the different sides of the area, the beauty and peacefulness and also the isolation and danger. It actually made me want to head up north for a visit despite the plot.

Overall, while not perfect From the Shadows does show some real skill from the author and I think there’s a lot of potential for the characters to grow and develop. As the first book in a series I think it shows promise and I will certainly be looking out for more books by the author.

I received an advance copy of this book via a Readers First giveaway

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Review: Close to the Edge by Toby Faber #blogtour @MuswellPress @Toby_Faber #ClosetotheEdge

Today I’m delighted to be taking part in the blog tour for Close to the Edge, an exciting new thriller by Toby Faber set in and around the London Underground. Before I say anything else I want to say a big thank you to Muswell Press and Brownlee Donald Associates for inviting me on to the tour and sending me a copy of the book.


THE BOOKClose to the Edge

Morning rush hour on the London tube. Laurie Bateman is on her way to work when she witnesses a terrible accident. Only later does she realise that what she has seen is potentially much more sinister.

Compelled to investigate, Laurie breaks into the Underground at night to look for clues. The ambush comes out of nowhere, forcing Laurie to flee for her life through pitch black tunnels and deserted stations.

The hunter has become the hunted.

.


MY REVIEW

The London Underground is truly the star of this new thriller by Toby Faber as it makes the perfect setting for an original and engaging story. I was hooked from the first page until the very last.

The story follows Laurie, who on the way to work one morning witnesses a man falling in front of a train. When the police decide to write it off as a suicide despite Laurie’s statement she starts to reexamine what she saw and begins an investigation of her own into who he was and just what happened on that platform. When she makes some unexpected discoveries odd things start to occur in her own life and it seems that someone may not want her to uncover the truth.

I have to admit this story did not go in the direction I was expecting. There are elements to it that are predictable and which I guessed but there were a lot more that I really didn’t see coming and as someone who reads a lot of thrillers I loved that. I’m not often a fan of the amateur detective story, I can never understand why they don’t just go to the police, but in this case it works incredibly well and I enjoyed following Laurie’s methodical research and investigation.

Laurie makes for a great main character and I really liked how she developed and grew over the course of the story. In the beginning she seems very flat, going through the motions at work, no real friends other than her flatmate/cousin and no romantic prospects. Seeing someone killed by a train is obviously horrifying and extremely traumatic but it seems to shock her out of the daze she’s been living in. As she begins to investigate her interest and passion spreads to more than just getting to the truth and it is wonderful to see her start to live her life and take pleasure in things.

I also have to say how much I loved Laurie’s dad as a character and the relationship between them was portrayed incredibly well. It’s rare to see father/daughter relationships in books so it made for a welcome addition to the story.

The real highlight of this story for me however was the setting. Faber has a real gift for description and the story is full of those little details that bring places and situations to life. I’m not sure whether he’s drawing from his own experiences (he has had a rather varied career) or extensive research but it all felt very authentic and believable. It does feel like you’re very much in each moment experiencing everything Laurie does, whether that’s running through underground tunnels in the dead of night, exploring abandoned stations or even just doing every day things like enjoying a family lunch, fighting with spreadsheets at work or galloping across a field on a horse (ok those last two are probably just me).

As there is a lot of detail and character development I wouldn’t necessarily say it was a fast paced read but there is still plenty of action and quite a few scenes that had me absolutely gripped. There were also a couple of scenes that I found very uncomfortable to read, some of that is down to my own issues but there is one scene in particular I think most will find disturbing.

Overall this is a really enjoyable read and it’s clear that a lot of work has gone into getting all of the details just right. It’s unexpected and has just enough twists to keep you guessing till the very last page.


ABOUT THE AUTHORRelated image

Toby Faber was a banker and management consultant before joining the family firm in 1996. He was MD of Faber for four years and remains on the board; he is also chairman of Faber Music. He has written two highly praised works of non-fiction, Stradivarius and Fabergé’s Eggs, this is his first novel. He lives in London with his family.


THE TOUR

The blog tour is on until the 19th so make sure you check out all of the stopsthumbnail_Blog Tour_FB_v04.jpg

Review: Twisted by Steve Cavanagh

Twisted

Twisted by Steve Cavanagh

Hmmm reviewing a book that’s packed full of jaw dropping twists and surprises, this is going to be a challenge. I should probably just say it’s a fast paced and addictive read that keeps you well and truly on your toes. Expect the unexpected, or better yet, don’t expect anything just enjoy the ride. I did.


THE BLURB

BEFORE YOU READ THIS BOOK
I WANT YOU TO KNOW THREE THINGS:

1. The police are looking to charge me with murder.
2. No one knows who I am. Or how I did it.
3. If you think you’ve found me. I’m coming for you next.

After you’ve read this book, you’ll know: the truth is far more twisted…


MY REVIEW

I think the title “Twisted” pretty much sums this one up. I don’t think I’ve ever come across a book with quite so many twists and turns. Every time you think you have it figured out and you know what’s coming next there’s yet another switch and nothing is what you thought it was. Needless to say this is making it very difficult to write a review without giving anything away.

I’m not going to say a huge amount about the story other than it’s mostly about the mystery surrounding the identity of author JT LeBeau. LeBeau is one of the biggest thriller writers around, with his books famous for their big twist that no one sees coming, and LeBeau most famous for his elusiveness. No one knows who he is, not even his publisher, and it seems clear that he’s hiding his identity to conceal something he’s done. Add in a murder or two and a police investigation and this is a really addictive read.

In some ways it almost feels like a parody of itself and I can imagine the author had a lot of fun writing it. This was actually my first book by Cavanagh so I can’t compare to any of his other stories but this was well written and very clever. Some of the twists were literally jaw dropping. There was the odd moment where I felt like it was on the brink of going too far (and in danger of becoming ridiculous) but I think he kept it just to the right side of the line and there are enough clues scattered to make it just about believable.

The story is told from a few different pov’s and while I had a little bit of a niggle about one specific character I did like the different perspectives. They are very distinctive and although sometimes a bit stereotyped, they are pretty well rounded.

My only real criticism of this book is that I think it peaked a little too soon and the first half felt stronger than the second. With so many twists and turns it was probably always going to be difficult to keep the element of surprise and I did find my attention wandering a little around the mid point but the author does pull it back at the end.

Overall a fast paced and exciting read with some truly shocking moments. I will most certainly be reading more of Cavanagh’s books.

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for providing me with an advance copy of this book. This has in no way influenced my review.

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Review: The Hunting Party by Lucy Foley

The Hunting Party


THE BLURB

Everyone’s invited…everyone’s a suspect…

For fans of Ruth Ware and Tana French, a shivery, atmospheric, page-turning novel of psychological suspense in the tradition of Agatha Christie, in which a group of old college friends are snowed in at a hunting lodge . . . and murder and mayhem ensue.

All of them are friends. One of them is a killer.

During the languid days of the Christmas break, a group of thirtysomething friends from Oxford meet to welcome in the New Year together, a tradition they began as students ten years ago. For this vacation, they’ve chosen an idyllic and isolated estate in the Scottish Highlands—the perfect place to get away and unwind by themselves.

They arrive on December 30th, just before a historic blizzard seals the lodge off from the outside world.

Two days later, on New Year’s Day, one of them is dead.

The trip began innocently enough: admiring the stunning if foreboding scenery, champagne in front of a crackling fire, and reminiscences about the past. But after a decade, the weight of secret resentments has grown too heavy for the group’s tenuous nostalgia to bear. Amid the boisterous revelry of New Year’s Eve, the cord holding them together snaps.

Now one of them is dead . . . and another of them did it.

Keep your friends close, the old adage goes. But just how close is too close?


MY REVIEW

One of my favourite tropes in the thriller/mystery genre has always been (and probably will always be) the group of people stranded in a remote location with a killer in their midst. There’s just something so primal about it, both in terms of the way the characters when under threat revert to their base urges (fight or flight) and the genuine chills it gives me as a reader. I have always found this idea of being trapped with no way of getting help a bit terrifying and who doesn’t love a few chills in this kind of story.

Needless to say as soon as I discovered The Hunting Party was about a group of old friends snowed in at a hunting lodge in the Scottish Highlands with a killer among them I knew I had to read it (and not just because of the Highland setting).

So did it deliver? Well yes and no. It’s very well written and as a character study, absolutely wonderful but I felt it was a little lacking in the creepiness and tension I so badly wanted. I did really love the way in which the author portrayed the friendship dynamics within the group and the ways in which they’ve changed since they first met (well most of them) at University. They are not the same people now and despite the best efforts of some, have grown apart (and grown up) and lost the closeness they once had. They may think they know each other well but how well can you really know someone, even if they were once your closest friend.

What makes this an even better read is that these characters are for the most part, deliciously horrid. Interested primarily in appearance and position, they are self centered, vain, bullying and nasty. They may have been friends at some point (although I have my doubts) but now they’re more like competitors, trying to outdo each other with their successes. There are also more than a few secrets and grudges being held.

It’s safe to say there wasn’t a single one of them I liked. There was the odd aspect of certain characters that I could relate to or recognize in myself and I did have some sympathy for the poor lodge manager and gamekeeper who had to look after them (and had some secrets of their own) but most of my enjoyment came from watching these nasty people tear each other apart.

Where I felt a little let down however was in the murder mystery. It lacks the tension and the chills it needs to make it a truly thrilling and unputdownable read and I think this is due in part to the format. There are dual timelines running throughout, the first starting right after the discovery of one of the guests bodies (we don’t know which one), and the other a few days before as the party make their way up to the lodge. I personally was not a fan of this approach as I never felt truly in the moment and consequently there was no sense of danger.

There is definitely some mystery to it and it does keep you guessing, firstly which of these horrible people has met a sticky end and then who was behind it and why, but there was none of the killer in our midst tension from the party I was hoping for. This is probably in a large part due to the post murder events being told from the pov of Heather, the lodge manager, with the other guests (the party) barely featuring. I also found it a little silly the way in which the identity of the victim was concealed from the reader, with the author avoiding even gender pronouns so as not to reveal whether it was a man or woman.

All of these criticisms are probably starting to make you think I didn’t enjoy it but I really did. It may not have been exactly the story I was expecting to read but I genuinely enjoy character studies of unpleasant people. There’s just something fascinating about not knowing what someone will do next and Foley has created some well rounded and believably nasty characters.

Overall I would recommend this to anyone who likes a more character focused mystery and doesn’t mind it not being action packed or chilling.

My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

Thanks to Netgalley and the publisher for providing me with an advance copy. All views are my own.

Review: The Lost Man by Jane Harper

The Lost Man

 


THE BLURB

He had started to remove his clothes as logic had deserted him and his skin was cracked. Whatever had been going through Cameron’s mind when he was alive, he didn’t look peaceful in death.

Two brothers meet at the remote fence line separating their cattle farms under the relenting sun of the remote outback. In an isolated part of Western Australia, they are each other’s nearest neighbour, their homes three hours’ drive apart.

They are at the stockman’s grave, a landmark so old that no one can remember who is buried there. But today, the scant shadow it casts was the last hope for their middle brother, Cameron, who lies dead at their feet.

Something had been on Cam’s mind. Did he choose to walk to his death? Because if he didn’t, the isolation of the outback leaves few suspects…

The Lost Man is the highly anticipated new book from the bestselling and award-winning Jane Harper, author of The Dryand Force of Nature.


MY REVIEW

Jane Harper author of two of my favourite books of this year The Dry and Force of Nature is back with a new standalone thriller set in the Australian Outback. It’s a tense and atmospheric read with the wonderful descriptions and characterization we’ve come to expect from Harper. The setting of the story is once again the highlight with the writing so brilliant that it’s all too easy to imagine yourself in this hostile and unforgiving place. The intense heat, barren flat ground with nothing for miles creates a real sense of isolation that make this a gripping read despite a relatively slow paced story.

There are very few characters in this story with the focus very much on Nathan as he comes to terms with, and tries to solve, the mystery of his brother’s death which it soon becomes clear was not an easy one. How did he end up miles from his car (which was fully loaded with supplies and running perfectly) in blistering heat when he knew better? Did he deliberately head out there knowing it would mean his death or did something (or someone) happen to him? And why is it these brothers haven’t really spoken in years?

I thought Nathan was a very likeable character, there was something about him and his history that reminded me of Aaron Falk the lead in the author’s other series. He’s an outcast in town due to something that happened in the past, he had a difficult relationship with his father but generally seems like a decent bloke. I found myself very intrigued by him and loved the way his backstory was gradually revealed over the course of the book. It was difficult to imagine just what he could have done that would be so terrible the whole town would turn against him.

There are very few other characters and those there are are predominantly Nathan’s family. Each and every one however is well developed and complex. The relationships between them are similarly complicated. They have a shared history that goes back a long time and know each other incredibly well, or at least think that they do. I loved the way that the dynamic between them shifted and developed over the course of the story and I was particularly fascinated by Nathan’s relationship with his son Xander.

This isn’t an action packed story but with such a tense atmosphere and the hostile environment in which it takes place it still makes for a gripping read. The little reveals and twists are spaced out perfectly, making it difficult to put down. There are also more than a few red herrings thrown in to keep you guessing until the very end, and when the ending does come it’s absolutely perfect.

Overall this is a great read and one I’d recommend to anyone who loves a good mystery with a setting that’s just as compelling as the story.

Thanks to the publisher for providing me with a copy of this book. As always all views are my own.

My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars