CTG Reviews: DISCLAIMER by Renee Knight

DISCLAIMER cover image

DISCLAIMER cover image

What the blurb says: “How would it feel if you came across yourself in a book? It is unmistakably you. Worse, it is about something you have never told anyone – anyone living, that is.

When an intriguing novel appears on Catherine’s bedside table, she curls up in bed and begins to read. On opening The Perfect Stranger by E.J. Preston, she is horrified to read an account of a day from twenty years ago she’s chosen to forget. Desperate for answers as to who the author is and what they want, she ploughs through the novel, until she reaches the end: the author’s portrayal of Catherine’s death.

Catherine has never met Stephen. But Stephen knows all about Catherine, including the details of her most closely guarded secret, unknown to her husband and son. Now that Stephen has found her secret, he is going to carefully and deliberately expose both it and her, exactly the ultimate revenge.”

At the moment ‘the big twist’ is hugely popular in psychological thrillers. You know, that moment where the reader turns the page and says ‘Oh my God, I never saw that coming – now everything’s changed’? Well, this book has so many ‘oh my God’ moments that I lost count!

Catherine isn’t so much an unreliable narrator as a secretive narrator. She knows the truth about what happened – it’s been festering in her mind, gnawing away at her for the last twenty years – but she still can’t bring herself to think about the details, and make herself relive the horror, of what occurred. So her side of the story remains a mystery to the reader for much of the book.

She hides what’s going on from her husband. As the stress and fear take hold, her life – work, family, self-perception – starts to fall apart, but she still won’t, can’t, tell those important to her the truth. It’s both heart-breaking and maddening (you want her to tell them, to tell you!) – and it makes for an utterly gripping narrative.

And while Catherine’s life comes apart, Stephen’s life is looking up. His plan is working, and he’s feeling more alive, more connected, to his wife, than he has done in many years. He begins to hope that maybe, finally, he’ll have succeeded in claiming some sort of justice.

Both lead characters are compelling and captivating in equal measure. Nuanced and flawed, and utterly real, they make bad choices, have regrets, and struggle to cope with the guilt they carry with them from the past.

I loved the quirky, up-close style of the narrative, and the shifts between past and present tense that really added to the feeling of what happened ‘then’ and what was happening ‘now’.

When I finished this book I sat looking at the cover and thinking about the story. ‘Wow’, I thought. Really, WOW! It is that good.

A heart wrenching, beautifully written and perfectly paced psychological thriller – with big twist after big, jaw-dropping twist – DISCLAIMER is one of my top ‘must reads’ of 2015 so far.

Highly Recommended.


[with thanks to Transworld for my copy of DISCLAIMER]

I AM PILGRIM by Terry Hayes

I AM PILGRIM cover image

I AM PILGRIM cover image

Out in paperback this month …

What the blurb says: “Pilgrim – the codename for a man who doesn’t exist – who once headed up a secret espionage unit for US intelligence. Before he disappeared into deep-cover retirement, he put all his experience into the definitive book on forensic criminal investigation. But that book will come back to haunt him.”

Pilgrim has retired from the spy life. He’s walked away from the job, written his book, and disappeared into a new life in a new country. But when NYPD cop, Ben Bradley, comes to call he realises that he didn’t erase his previous life (or lives) as thoroughly as he’d thought. Drawn back to New York, Pilgrim is pulled in to help solve a seemingly unsolvable crime – a woman found in a bath of acid, all forensic evidence destroyed. He recognises the case – it’s straight from the pages of his book – and finds only one small clue to the whereabouts of the killer. But that small clue, and the horrifying discovery of the US intelligence agency, sets Pilgrim on the first steps of an against the clock race to prevent a devastating attack on his country.

It’s tough to give a worthy description of I AM PILGRIM. Perhaps it’s a spy thriller, it certainly immerses the reader into the world of espionage and counter-intelligence, like a cross between Bourne, 24 and Homeland. But it’s also more than that. As a reader it feels like you’ve been sucked inside the private world of Pilgrim – you see what he sees, know what he knows, and feel what he feels – and that’s one hell of a scary place!

As Pilgrim pursues the man believed to be preparing a terrorist attack on US soil, he learns how the events in his life have led him to believe in the absolute necessity of the devastation he is planning. What I found particularly powerful about this story is how it builds a vivid picture of the life of the antagonist. It allows the reader to understand his conviction, although not forgive the horrendous actions he chooses to take as a result.

And the book is a brick: 700 pages of captivating story. By the end, not only had I learned more than I’d ever imagined about the intelligence world, travelled around the world, and been pulled along by the story, reading well into the night to discover what would happen next, but I’d also developed some pretty good muscle tone on my biceps! [although I guess this isn’t so relevant if you read the story on Kindle!]

A must-read for fans of spy thrillers, action thrillers and stories which have you thinking about the characters, and their world-apart realities, long after you’ve finishing reading the final page.

Highly recommended.


[Many thanks to Corgi Books for my copy of I AM PILGRIM]

CTG Reviews: Stone Bruises by Simon Beckett

Stone Bruises cover image

Stone Bruises cover image

What the blurb says: “Sean is on the run. We don’t know why and we don’t know from whom. Under a relentless French sun, he’s abandoned his blood-stained car and taken to the parched fields and country lanes. And now he’s badly injured.

Almost unconscious from pain and loss of blood, he’s rescued and nursed by two young women on an isolated farm. Their volatile father, Arnaud, is violently protective of his privacy and makes his dislike of the young Englishman clear. Sean’s uncertain whether he’s a patient or a prisoner, but there’s something beguiling about the farm. Tranquil and remote, it’s a perfect place to hide.

Except some questions can’t be ignored. Why has Arnaud gone to such extreme lengths to cut off his family from the outside world? Why is he so hated in the neighbouring village? And why won’t anyone talk about his daughter’s estranged lover?

As Sean tries to lose himself in the heat and dust of a French summer, he comes to realise that the farm has secrets of its own. It might be a perfect hiding place, but that means nobody know he’s there … which would make it the perfect place to die.”

As a reader I like my books action packed and pulse poundingly fast, but this story isn’t like that. It’s a slow burn, teasing and taunting with clues and twists, building the anticipation of what is to come in a way that kept even an adrenalin junkie like me hooked.

At the start of the story it’s clear that Sean has something to hide, something he’s running from, but this danger is soon overtaken by a more immediate problem when he gets caught in one of many traps set in woodland surrounding a dilapidated farm. Taken in and nursed back to health by the farmer’s daughters, Sean goes from victim, to prisoner, to willing labourer. All the time, trying to safeguard his secrets, and not ask too many questions about the rumours surrounding the farm. But as time passes, and Sean bares witness to increasingly strange goings on, it becomes clear that the place that has given him refuge may be a greater threat than the danger he has been hiding from.

The way that Beckett creates a deeply claustrophobic feeling within a remote and spacious setting is superb. The intrigue and suspense build with every page, and soon both the reader and Sean have the chilling realisation that the dysfunctional family have secrets far more sinister than they’d ever imagined. This rising sense of impending doom is paid off in full at the end of the story with a brutal climax and some shocking twists.

Artfully plotted and lyrically told, this is a story that stays with you long after the final page has been finished.

Highly recommended.


[with many thanks to Bantam Press for my copy of Stone Bruises]

Just finished reading: High Heat by Lee Child

High Heat cover image

High Heat cover image

What the blurb says: “July 1977. Jack Reacher is almost seventeen, and he stops in New York on his way from South Korea to visit his brother at West Point. The summer heat is suffocating, fires are raging in the Bronx, the city is bankrupt, and the mad gunman known as Son of Sam is still on the loose. Reacher meets a woman with a problem, and agrees to help her . . . and then the power grid fails and the lights go out, plunging the lawless city that never sleeps into chaos. What does a visiting teenager do in the dark? If that visiting teenager is Jack Reacher, the answer is: plenty.”

High Heat is a Jack Reacher Novella (Kindle Single). It’s 79 pages of fabulous Reacher action, and things get hot in more ways than one!

Reacher is younger, but just as tough (and tall) as readers of the series have come to expect. It’s his first visit to New York and he’s only in town for a short while, but he manages to make the most of it: helping a woman with a problem, identifying a killer on the loose, and even having time for a bit of romance.

If you’re looking for a sizzling summer read to tide you over until the next full Reacher novel comes out at the end of August, you should check it out.

A must for Reacher fans and all those who love a great action thriller.

Highly Recommended.

The Deep Blue Goodbye by John D. MacDonald

The Deep Blue Goodbye cover image

The Deep Blue Goodbye cover image

What the blurb says: “Travis McGee isn’t your typical knight in shining armour. He only works when his cash runs out, and his rule is simple: He’ll help you find whatever was taken from you, as long as he can keep half.

Travis McGee isn’t particularly strapped for cash, but how can anyone say no to Cathy, a sweet girl who’s been tortured repeatedly by  her manipulative ex-boyfriend Junior Allen? What Travis isn’t anticipating is just how many women Junior has torn apart and left in his wake.

As Travis hunts for the ruthless man who steals women’s sensibilities and livelihoods, he can’t guess how violent his quest is soon to become. He’ll learn the hard way that there must be casualties in this game of cat and mouse …”

Gosh, where to start.

Well, within the first few pages of this story I was both shocked that it’d taken me this long to pick up a John D. MacDonald novel, and delighted that there is now a whole new series for me to work my way through. MacDonald’s straight-talking, uber observant yet fast paced style feels highly contemporary, despite The Deep Blue Goodbye first being published in 1964.

Travis McGee is a character you can’t help but want to spend time with: tough yet tender, honest yet outside of the law when necessary, and to-the-point yet charming. He lives by his own rules, even when those rules might well get him into life or death situations.

In The Deep Blue Goodbye, Travis McGee is living on his houseboat, the Busted Flush, and not especially looking for work, but when a friend asks him to help her friend, Cathy, he agrees to look into the situation. He starts following the trail of Junior Allen, an insincere, charmingly seductive but abusive con-man, and as he digs a little deeper Travis discovers the wartime secret Cathy’s father left behind and just why it made her a target of Junior Allen. In the process of trying to recover what is rightfully Cathy’s, Travis comes across another woman who has suffered at the hands of Junior. Determined to help both woman, Travis tracks Junior down and prepares to confront him during the climax of the con he’s working on a group of young people. It’s a bold and dangerous move, and one that requires all Travis’ resourcefulness to survive.

As well as a masterfully plotted storyline, MacDonald’s book takes the reader into Travis’ world – Lauderdale, Florida in the 1960s. It balances perfectly timed action and pace with deep emotion and heartbreak. It makes you want to keep reading, undisturbed, from the first sentence to the very last.

Highly recommended.


The Deep Blue Goodbye is available through Transworld Digital on Kindle. Over the coming months each of the Travis McGee series will be re-published in order. This new release of the series includes a foreword by Lee Child.

[A massive thank you to Transworld Digital for my copy of The Deep Blue Goodbye]

Review: Crocodile Tears by Mark O’Sullivan

cover image

cover image

What the blurb says: “DI Leo Woods’ life is a mess. Work keeps him sane. More or less. On an ice-cold winter morning in an affluent Dublin suburb, he stares down at the bloodied corpse of a property developer. Dermot Brennan’s features, distorted in terror, are a reflection of Leo’s own disfigured face. Life does that kind of thing to Leo. Makes faces at him.

With the help of ambitious but impetuous Detective Sergeant Helen Troy, Leo uncovers a frosted web of lies, where nobody is quite who they seem. But who ever is? A host of suspects emerge: Brennan’s beautiful but aloof wife, Anna; their estranged son; two former business associates bearing grudges and secrets; a young man convinced Brennan has ruined his life; an ex-pat American gardener; and an arrogant sculptor who may or may not have been having an affair with the dead man’s wife.

As ice and snow grip Dublin, Woods and Troy find themselves battling forces as malevolent as the weather: jealousy, greed and betrayal. Can they identify the murderer before things get even uglier?”

Mark O’Sullivan is already an award-winning author having published three pre-teen, four Young Adult and one adult novel. Crocodile Tears is his debut in literary crime fiction.

It’s a beautifully crafted and gripping story as you follow fifty-six-year-old DI Leo Woods on the hunt for a killer.

As the blurb says, there are a lot of suspects in this story, all with secrets to hide, and all with potential motive and opportunity to have killed Dermot Brennan.

What I loved about this book is the way that the investigation gradually revealed clues to the killer’s identity without making the final truth clear until the end. Add into the mix the atmospheric setting, Leo’s rather complicated personal life, and his need to keep the investigation (and his bosses) on track and on site despite the sometimes rash actions of his talented, eager but on occasion impetuous Detective Sergeant, Helen Troy, and you’ve got an engrossing story and a web of relationships and secrets that will stay with you long after you’ve read the final page.



[With thanks to Transworld Publishers for my copy of Crocodile Tears]


Attending the (Transworld) Crime Scene

Transworld Crime Scene poster

Transworld Crime Scene poster

On Wednesday I was really excited to be heading over to the first ever Transworld Crime Scene event at Transworld Publishers, Ealing.

Special guest for the evening was Cath Staincliffe, author of the Scott & Bailey novelisations, who was interviewed by Rachel Rayner, Commissioning Editor for Crime and Thrillers.

Cath spoke about her latest book in the series BLEED LIKE ME and about how she ensures that the novels dovetail in with the television series and also work as stories in their own right.

With the Scott & Bailey series, plus standalone novels and radio plays in production, Cath sounds like she never has a dull moment.

When asked about her writing process, Cath revealed that she always writes her novels out in longhand first before typing them onto the computer. To make sure the procedural details and technical aspects are correct, she checks them with a police adviser before the final draft.

After the interview, Cath signed copies of her new book, BLEED LIKE ME, and there was plenty of time to chat to the Transworld editorial crime team, bloggers, competition winners and the folks from Dead Good Books.

It was a fabulous evening.

As well as the Scott & Bailey series, Cath also writes standalone crime novels for C&R Crime. Her next standalone book BLINK OF AN EYE will be published next month.

BLEED LIKE ME by Cath Staincliffe is available now (watch this space for a review coming soon).