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

Closer Than You Think

This was a compelling thriller, with some interesting insights into the mind of the killer themselves, while tending to focus on Claire, the only surviving victim.

He’s watching. She’s waiting.
Having barely escaped the clutches of a serial killer, Claire Moore has struggled to rebuild her life. After her terrifying encounter with the man the media dubbed The Black-Out Killer, she became an overnight celebrity: a symbol of hope and survival in the face of pure evil. And then the killings stopped.
Now ten years have passed, and Claire remains traumatised by her brush with death. Though she has a loving and supportive family around her, what happened that night continues to haunt her still.
Just when things are starting to improve, there is a power cut; a house fire; another victim found killed in the same way as before.
The Black-Out Killer is back. And he’s coming for Claire…

I thought the main character, Claire, was very well written. Her vulnerability was so clear, but it was inspiring to see her go from strength to strength throughout the novel. Her fear and constant anxiety was so intense I even started feeling on edge myself, clearly showing the high quality writing in these scenes. Claire’s relationship with her mum was really heart-warming, and her mum was so supportive. It was a wonderful dynamic to read, with unspoken actions between them meaning more than words a lot of the time. Claire’s stepdad was another strong presence, offering her support from a distance, and recognising the long-lasting psychological effects that Claire’s past has had on her. The family unit was really strong, perhaps stronger than it would be in reality, but it was still believable due to the great writing.

Claire’s new boyfriend, Paul, was a really intriguing addition to Claire’s life, and I think it really worked that we didn’t get to see his perspective of their relationship, and instead we only saw hers. He seemed to be the perfect man – perhaps too perfect in some ways, so as to make him seem suspicious, but I do have to say that I didn’t feel this really worked. He simply seemed like a generous and patient man, and I didn’t believe he was the culprit behind the Black Out Killings. The segments that were written from the perspective of the Black Out Killer had a couple of details in that didn’t seem to match Paul as the suspect, so it wasn’t believable enough for me.

In terms of Claire’s personal development and trust issues, making Paul a suspect did work, as it highlighted her improvement and confidence, but other than that I didn’t feel it served too much purpose.

I won’t give away who actually did it, but I did suspect it was them. There were a couple of details I picked up on that made me suspect this character, so I was really satisfied to know that I guessed right. However, the ending left me feeling really frustrated. The relationship between Claire and the killer wasn’t explored enough, and I would have liked more insight into their relationship and history. It was quite an abrupt ending, although I do understand that it was meant to suggest at character growth from Claire herself.

Overall, this was an intriguing mystery, with an unusual motive behind them and some fascinating insights into the mind of the criminal. The ending left me feeling unsatisfied, which was a shame.

Closer Than You Think
Darren O’Sullivan
HQ Digital, 15th March 2019

Fatal Fortune by Miranda Rijks

Thanks so much to Emma from @damppebbles for organising this blog tour!

Is someone trying to frame psychologist Pippa Durrant for the brutal murder of a woman she’s never even met?
It certainly seems that way when Pippa’s photo is found on the body of murdered lottery winner, Leanne Smith.
Pippa soon finds herself a suspect at the centre of a huge media storm. But she has an invaluable skill set – she is a human polygraph, expertly trained to spot lies and deceit. Skills she will need to help her to solve the mystery of who killed Leanne before it destroys her career – and her life.
But every cloud has a silver lining and this one arrives in the shape of DS Joe Swain. Initially suspicious of Pippa, he comes to trust her and to value her lie detection skills. Soon it’s clear there’s a definite spark between them….
Then, when another body turns up, Pippa realises her reputation isn’t the only thing in danger. Can she identify the killer before she becomes the next victim?

This book was definitely intriguing right from the start! There is seemingly no connection between Pippa, and the woman whose body her photo was left on. It’s genuinely quite mysterious and creepy, particularly the fact that they are described as looking alike.

I really liked Pippa as a character. She was really relatable and quite likeable, although also irritating at times – but then that’s what made her seem human. Her reaction to her photo being left on the body started as worried yet curious which turned into panic and fear – almost exactly as you’d imagine that situation would. She had a real determination to find out why she was being targeted like this, and I think the reader was really behind her the whole time, willing her to find out who was doing this. Her relationship with her son was interesting, and I feel like it’s something that will act as an over-arching storyline in future books.

The Smith family was a great opposing force to Pippa’s half of the story. Donna was kind of annoying, but you couldn’t help but feel intensely sorry for her after losing her mum. Watching her become more and more isolated and upset throughout the novel was hard, but again that’s what made her a relatable character. Her husband Ricky was super annoying, he was overly controlling and intense, and he did seem quite suspicious at times, but I never fully believed it was him either. He was clearly an emotional man, battling events and emotions from his past, and yet still trying to keep his family together in his own way. Their relationship was definitely a bit fractured, but there was clearly love there, which made later events of the novel really emotional.

I guessed who did it not too long before it was revealed, but it was definitely an interesting twist that I think worked really well. It linked it nicely with Pippa’s professional work, but also with her family life, so it had a definite personal touch. The character in question was brilliantly written, and it really was a sensitive and fascinating insight into mental health and personality.

I would definitely recommend this, and would love to read more Dr Pippa Durrant novels in the future!

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: I Want You Gone by Miranda Rijks

This was SO good, really intense, fast-paced and genuinely creepy – the kind of creepy that gives you chills as you read it.

The only obituary you never want to read – is your own.
Laura Swallow is dead. 
A life cut tragically short, says the newspaper obituary.
But that’s a lie.
Estate agent Laura did not die in a car accident. She is alive and well.
At first, Laura thinks it’s a sick joke.
But multiple announcements of her death are followed by increasingly sinister real-life events. Already fragile, struggling to recover from a recent divorce, Laura is plunged into a living nightmare.
Who can she trust? Her new lover? Her clients and work colleagues? What about her ex-husband and his smug fiancée? Can Laura even rely on her best friends? And why is it that Laura’s present troubles are so tied up with her sister’s sudden death all those years ago?
But one thing Laura is sure of – someone out there wants her to suffer. Wants her gone.
Forever.

The reason I found this so creepy is that Laura is really easy to relate to in many ways, meaning that the story starts to feel real as well. It starts off with a Facebook post on Laura’s account claiming she has died, followed by a sinister obituary in the newspaper. It’s seriously weird, and the way Laura dismisses the first Facebook post as an odd error is genuinely believable, which is what helps to make it so sinister. The newspaper obituary escalates the situation a bit, and the sheer sense of weirdness surrounding Laura becomes inescapable.

What’s most distressing about this story is the total isolation that Laura feels and experiences throughout the novel – it’s actually really sad to read, and enhances the creepiness further. Laura’s a great character because she is so human – sometimes she’s so annoying because I just wanted her to see what was happening to her, but that’s why she’s a great character as her reactions to these events were realistic.

The other characters in this were brilliant as well. I liked that Miranda played with the reader a bit, making them suspicious of most of the other characters in the book. I would say that perhaps some of this felt a bit contrived, but I could definitely see what the author was trying to do in isolating Laura further by creating this aura of paranoia.

I guessed who was behind in about halfway through, but it didn’t necessarily ruin the book for me at all – the character in question was probably the best one in the book for me, very intriguing and hard to read and I wouldn’t have guessed the reasons behind their actions.

I thought this was an interesting read, I enjoyed the character-focused writing and would recommend if you’re looking for something a bit different to read!

Thanks to Emma from damppebbles for organising this book tour!

I Want You Gone
Miranda Rijks
Inkubator Books, 13th April 2019