Heartlands by Kerry Watts

This had great potential, with some really interesting characters and an emotional crime, although I felt the vast amount of characters was slightly confusing.

Twenty years ago, Sophie Nicoll never came home from school. Days later her body was found in a shallow grave on a remote farm a few miles from her hometown. Two boys from her school were found guilty. The press called the boys evil. Sophie’s family wanted them dead. The judge promised they’d never walk free.
Two decades later and schoolgirl Shannon Ross has vanished from a small town in the Scottish Highlands.
It’s Detective Jessie Blake’s first big case since she joined Perthshire Police. Having recently arrived from London, Jessie lives in fear of people finding out about her past and her reasons for moving north.
When Shannon’s body is found in the river on the outskirts of Inverlochty, Jessie discovers she’s not the only one with something to hide. As the small community begins to crack under pressure, people begin to point fingers. And soon, the big secrets hidden within the small town are revealed – with devastating consequences.

This story started off quite strongly, with an intriguing insight into the two boys responsible for the death of Sophie Nicoll. It was interesting seeing the perspective of Daniel, and he was written so well that I still don’t feel like I fully understand him, but in a positive way. He’s a dark character, but he had moments where he seemed really human, and so he was a fascinating character to start with. The prologue is genuinely really shocking, and it’s a great start to the novel.

However, I found the transition between timelines really hard to follow, and it wasn’t immediately clear to me that we had jumped forward. This was quite disorientating, and I feel like there could have been more of an effort to distinguish between timelines in some way. Once I got to grips with this it was interesting seeing some of the connections between the years become more apparent, especially with the introduction of the journalist following both stories.

The four parents were a strong core, with Louise’s grief coming through very strongly, and Jason’s anger painful to watch. However, (spoiler alert) I just found Rob’s true past slightly hard to believe, as there appeared to be little connection between his previous life and present life. I understand the idea of a reformed man, but it was a hard connection to make, and I wished more time had been spent on developing this further. I liked the main detective, I thought Jessie Blake was a solid character, with a great sense of justice and a stubborn determination to solve the crime. Her partner, Dylan, was also great, and they were a brilliant team.

I liked the detectives, and thought some of the characters were written really well, but overall this wasn’t my favourite, and I wished more time had been spent on connecting the past with the present.

The Manhatten Project by Paul McNeive

This was an informed, detailed and realistically terrifying novel, with a solid main character and some heart-breaking motives.

Bioterrorism.
Real. Invisible. Devastating.
And it’s taking New York by storm.
With its insatiable hunger for fast food, easy fixes and life lived at breakneck speed, 
the city that never sleeps is hurtling towards disaster. Now John Wyse, an ordinary New York cop, looks set to be the only person who can thwart catastrophe on an apocalyptic scale …
New York City is under attack. Millions may die. But the enemy’s weapons are invisible, undetectable and creating terror at lightning speed. Now, there’s nothing to stand in their way …
A Hiroshima survivor turned criminal mastermind
A pharma industry riddled with corruption
A Libyan entrepreneur coerced by threats to his family
A New York cop falling fast for an elusive beauty
A visitor to Tokyo from the mountains of Afghanistan
One terrible desire for revenge connects them all. With the clock ticking on an audacious, devastating plot to bring America to its knees, can anyone save New York from catastrophe?

This novel was detailed, fast-paced and had a realistic connection to the Hiroshima tragedy. I felt that the characters were mainly well-written, although more attention was given to developing the character of Tsan Yohoto than John Wyse. Tsan’s past was clearly the contributing factor to his decisions, and for such a sensitive and devastating topic it was well written. His building anger at America, and the grief he was clearly unable to process were the ultimate combination of emotions. What was so horrifying about his plan was that it was so realistic, and it played on current fears and issues. The idea of bio-terrorism is not new, but this plan was so carefully thought out that it seemed like a threat no-one had planned for – as indeed they hadn’t.

There was quite a lot of science and medical detail involved, but I felt that McNeive used just the right amount of detail, while also simplifying it for the reader, in order to keep the reader interested. It felt technical to me, as someone with no science knowledge, but more importantly it felt believable. This is what made it so scary, as it felt like a situation that could actually happen.

Spoilers about to happen… What was surprisingly satisfying about this was that the plan actually succeeded. Normally, these sorts of plans are heroically discovered at the last second, and yay the world has been saved! What McNeive has cleverly done is show the realities of this threat, combining scenes from the police and doctors with stories of real people dying, whole families being wiped out and people suffering. It was honestly quite frightening to read, as no-one was safe. And yet, this is what made the novel so effective, as it highlighted the utter helplessness of America in this situation.

I also felt there was a lot of nuance in the novel, as there was a sense of awareness of race and ethnicity, and these were only brought into the story where relevant. One book I read recently was particularly bad at assuming the terrorist suspects had to look a certain way, but McNeive’s book is considerably more nuanced and different than this. One description of a suspect details not only his ethnicity, but also his height, clothes, backpack etc. and when John Wyse spots a potential fit for the suspect, it’s the clothes and backpack that lead him to this conclusion. This isn’t to say that race and ethnicity are ignored, as that would be equally unrealistic, rather that McNeive shows a good level of detail, bringing in a variety of views in discussions about Islam, demonstrating flawed thinking from police officers, but also offering characters that have a more open mindset.

The vast range of characters in this book can be quite hard to follow, but if enough attention is given towards understanding them all, it’s a very satisfying read, with lots of far-reaching connections, and a very surprising plot twist near the end. John Wyse is a very likeable detective. What I liked is that even though he is an intelligent character, and is naturally suspicious, there was no unrealistic sudden ‘light bulb moment’ solving the mystery at hand, more a sneaking suspicion that something is wrong and good old-fashioned detective work. Yes, towards the end there is more excitement and sudden revelations, but this worked really well and made the build-up much more exciting.

This is a terrifying, realistic and detailed book, set over the space of more than a year to show how a well thought out, but fundamentally morally wrong plan, comes to fruition. It shows the psychological consequences of real events from the world’s history, and the deep impact it has had on communities around the world. The genuinely upsetting first chapter sets up an emotional story, building to a frightening peak of terror, and ending with what I felt was an extremely satisfying ending. I would definitely recommend this to anyone looking to read a political thriller that’s a bit different. Without a doubt, a 5* star read.

The Manhatten Project
Paul McNeive
Black & White Publishing, 16th May 2019

Dead Inside by Noelle Holten

This was a really emotional and hard-hitting read, with a focus on domestic abuse and the pain it causes while also incorporating elements of a traditional detective mystery.

One by one they’re being killed off. Who’s behind it…?
DC Maggie Jamieson has just joined a new team. Confronted with getting to know her colleagues and trying to solve a brutal murder, she soon finds herself suspecting those she works with and knows well. As the body count rises and links between the victims appear, it’s clear this case is personal.
Soon, Probation Officer Lucy Sherwood’s husband is found dead. Maggie struggles to believe that Lucy could be capable of this, but no other suspects seem to be forthcoming.
Can Maggie solve this and find the truth in time?

This novel really built up the suspense, and despite there being lots of characters to keep track of, they were all written brilliantly. From the genuinely creepy Mick O’Dowd, to the strong-minded Shell Baker, and the trustworthy DC Maggie Jamieson, they were all perfectly written and interacted with each other wonderfully.

There were a lot of different types of relationships to include in this book, which Holten has written with nuance and emotion. Lucy and her husband Patrick were a fascinating but heartbreaking pair, and seeing Lucy’s pain was really hard to read in places. In places it was genuinely upsetting to read, but this is credit to the brilliant and emotive writing. Lucy’s reasoning with herself regarding Patrick’s behaviour and why she stayed was equally hard to read considering her job as Probation Officer, and the logic and determination she showed in that role. She was a perfect main character, with just enough focus on her to show the struggle she was going through, but still with enough focus on the crimes themselves.

The police officers themselves were great. PC Kat Everett was hilarious at times with her swearing, and offered a few light-hearted moments in an otherwise hard-to-read book. Her wild emotions and intense anger were also relatable, as was her colleague Mark’s disgust with the domestic abuse offenders they came across. It was interesting seeing how the officers balanced their personal feelings with their professional duties, and I felt their emotions were portrayed really believably.

Moving on to the actual crimes themselves, it was one of those mysteries that genuinely had me stumped as to who was committing them. I had some theories throughout the book, but it was so cleverly written that I almost didn’t have time to spend being too suspicious of anyone or working it out. There was so much going on, and it was nicely fast-paced, that I honestly didn’t think about who was responsible for the murders at all. Although I wouldn’t say I was totally shocked by who did it, I didn’t feel that this was a negative at all, as it felt like it was more about why they did it, the long-lasting effects that abuse has on people, and the person’s relationship with their past.

I also liked that the ending was sort of split in two (I’m trying not to give too much away…), and it wasn’t a clear wrapping up of all the deaths in one go. Lucy’s fragile state towards the end was devastating, but there was a real sense that her inner strength was still there, and she was definitely a survivor.

This book was brilliantly nuanced and emotive, the crimes themselves were fascinating, but the real depth is in the characters themselves. The writing is so clever, so emotional and just genuinely touching. I loved this, it’s a 5 star read, and I’d definitely recommend it.

BLOG TOUR: Catch Your Death by Kierney Scott

This was fast-paced, electrifying and super intense, and I thought the crime was a brilliantly written mystery.

There were five of them once. Now the others are all dead. And he’s next.
When FBI Agent Jess Bishop gets an urgent and scared phone call in the middle of the night, she sets off to Gracemount Academy, an extremely prestigious school. When she gets there, she finds the body of a young student, who has apparently taken his own life.
But she soon discovers that he’s not the only one. Five students have died within months of each other, all of them good friends.
Fighting her own inner demons from her past, Jess will stop at nothing to uncover the person behind these deaths, putting her own life on the line in the process. How far will she go to save more lives being taken?

Before I start my review, I just want to note that this is part of a series, but I read this as a standalone. I think I would have enjoyed this more if I had read the rest of the series, as there were clearly some intense backstories, but these were more or less explained throughout this novel.

The actual crime itself was truly sinister, and it soon became clear that there were some properly disturbing activities occurring both at the school and beyond it. The whole ‘undercover/secret society’ element of the mystery worked really well, and it just added to the chilling nature of the story. I’ve always loved stuff like this, and I thought that Scott played it perfectly, making it clear what this secret society was, but keeping whether or not it was involved questionable. It made for a really interesting read, as I was desperate to know the link between the deaths, and Scott added in a couple of clever side characters to add in extra layers of suspicion without it becoming ridiculous.

Jess was a fascinating main character. Her determination to succeed goes almost too far, and she’s actually quite frustrating at times for the reader, as she’s extremely stubborn. This, however, is exactly what makes her a brilliant agent, quick on her feet and an intelligent thinker, and her partnership with Jamison was really interesting. Again, there are clearly problems stemming from events in previous novels which would help the reader’s understanding of their relationship, but they’re still a great team. Jamison was a brilliantly stable character, contrasting Jess’s chaotic stubbornness really well, and at times their level of communication between each other was outstanding.

This was a brilliant novel, I thoroughly enjoyed it as a standalone, but will definitely be going back to read the full series.

Past Tense by Lee Child

This was definitely an intriguing and fast-paced story, and yet an unexpected one for Jack Reacher, and I loved the different take!

The present can be tense . . . 
A young couple trying to get to New York City are stranded at a lonely motel in the middle of nowhere. Before long they’re trapped in an ominous game of life and death.
But the past can be worse . . .
Meanwhile, Jack Reacher sets out on an epic road trip across America. He doesn’t get far. Deep in the New England woods, he sees a sign to a place he has never been – the town where his father was born. But when he arrives he is told no one named Reacher ever lived there. Now he wonders: who’s lying?
As the tension ratchets up and these two stories begin to entwine, the stakes have never been higher for Reacher.

I have to confess firstly, that I’ve been re-reading a lot of the early Jack Reacher novels before this one came out in paperback, as I haven’t read them for a while and it’s easily one of my favourite series. So I was definitely excited for a new one, and oh wow it did not disappoint!

The main thing I noticed was that it was fairly different to the rest of the series in that there were two parallel stories happening that didn’t converge for absolutely ages. Normally with Jack Reacher it’s all-in straight away, no hesitation, head-butting people left and right! This one however, took some time to build up, which I found refreshing and really enjoyed.

Child focused much of the novel on Reacher’s past and family history, which I loved – he managed to do this in such a way that he didn’t take away from Reacher’s independent and isolated nature but still revealed enough of his relationship with his family to satisfy the reader. It was a clever and fine balance between the two and it worked really well. Reacher’s attitude towards his family history was just as I’d expect it to be, curious rather than passionately interested.

The other half of the novel, which followed the story of Patty and Shorty, was honestly the most mysterious story I’ve read in a while. I genuinely couldn’t figure out what was going on at the motel they stayed at, and was definitely not prepared for the turn it took. Rather than have Reacher really involved in this part of the story, I liked that Child instead let it play out on its own. The ending wrapped it up really nicely, and there were some finer details which linked everything together. I won’t say too much about this part of the novel in case of spoilers, but it’s a great story.

I always love the Jack Reacher books, but this one had the sense of something different about it which I really enjoyed. Reacher is a brilliant character, and I always look forward to a new Jack Reacher book! Would absolutely 100% recommend this.

Past Tense
Lee Child
Bantam Press, 4th April 2019

Between the Lies by Michelle Adams

I thought this was a fast-paced, disorientating read, with a multi-layered main character.

Chloe Daniels regains consciousness in a hospital with no memory of how she got there. She doesn’t recognise the strangers who call themselves family. She can’t even remember her own name. Her past remains a mystery to her, but as she slowly recovers, her parents and sister begin to share details of her life. The career, the seaside home, the near-fatal crash. But Chloe can sense they are keeping dark secrets and she is determined to find out the truth.

The fact that Chloe can’t remember anything of her previous life adds an immediate sense of fear and suspicion into this book, and the overwhelming presence of the unknown throughout is almost suffocating. She’s a very interesting main character, and as the reader finds out more about her past life, I felt that there was a real disconnect between herself before and after the crash that the story revolves around. Chloe almost seems like a different person, but it really works well. Towards the end, the two sides of Chloe definitely start to join and work together to show who she really is, and I loved this sense of piecing together throughout.

Her family are also well written, and her dad is the most interesting yet damaging character. His actions are truly bizarre at times, and it seems like he only views his daughter as a clinical patient, rather than have an actual connection with her. I thought that this really highlighted the trauma Chloe was going through, and the secrets he keeps from her are honestly mind-boggling. I struggled to believe that anyone would genuinely keep these things secret, but for the sake of letting the suspense and fear build up, I went along with it. Her mum and sister definitely deserved more time, I couldn’t really understand why they didn’t team up and go against her dad, and I don’t feel that the relationship between them and the dad was properly explored. It felt rather assumed that he was so controlling they were unable to argue back, but this seems pretty easily resolved by the end…

I guessed who the ‘villain’ was pretty early on, but it felt so obvious that perhaps the reader was meant to know, as it got really frustrating (in a good way) that Chloe was unable to see it herself. Despite guessing who was responsible, I didn’t actually figure out the events that occurred to get to the crash itself, and it was definitely a good twist and a great ending.

Credits:
Between the Lies
Michelle Adams
St. Martin’s Griffin, 05th March 2019

Keep Her Close by M. J. Ford

This was a brilliant, compulsive thriller, that kept me on the edge of my seat throughout.

When a young girl goes missing from an Oxford College, DI Josie Masters is on a race against time to find her. However, when more kidnappers happen, unforeseen connections begin to appear…

I loved this novel – it was a great detective mystery, and I was genuinely clueless at the beginning as to who it could be. The links between the kidnappings were so unclear at first, and there were a lot of dead ends and red herrings, which made for very suspenseful reading.

Towards the end, I started to get suspicious of one particular character, and although I guessed right (so pleased with myself), I could NOT have predicted the reason for their actions!! It was so shocking, and although it was hinted at, it was subtle enough to not be remembered and to come as a complete surprise. It was a truly great twist. I loved the connections with the past and the present, and there were real depths of cunning and true human heartbreak required to carry through with this crime.

I loved the characters in this novel – Josie Masters was brilliantly written, her battle with her past and her demons delicately interwoven into the story to make a really complex case. DS Jack Pryce was a great addition, and their relationship as both colleagues and friends was super interesting to watch.

I loved the style of writing, it was both detailed and fast paced, and it really kept me on tenterhooks to find out what happened. Truly brilliant, and I seriously can’t emphasise how much I loved the ending!

Credits:
Keep Her Close
M. J. Ford
Avon Books UK, 07 March 2019