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.

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

Finding Grace by K. L. Slater

This had a sinister tone throughout, keeping the reader on their toes, and a shocking ending.

When Grace goes missing, Lucie is beside herself to find her. With a dark secret of her own buried in her past, it slowly comes back to haunt her, and it’s difficult to know who she can trust.

The beginning of the novel is surrounded by a sort of cloud of the unknown. It becomes increasingly clear that Lucie is hiding something, but we don’t know what, and Slater really does keep us on our toes, and gives us no more information than we need. The suspense just keeps building, and the flashbacks to the past just emphasise this more. It’s superbly clever, and I was so desperate to know what happened to both Grace and Lucie and how they were linked.

As more and more is revealed, the story gets seriously intriguing. Lucie’s mysterious backstory is definitely not what I thought it would be, and it definitely took me by surprise. There was also a nice twist, meaning that Lucie’s past is not so ‘past’ as she thought it was.

The characters are all really well-written, with lots of extra small twists and turns throughout. Even down to Lucie’s annoying mother-in-law, each character is brilliant in their own way! Suspicion falls on most people in the novel, and some of the side characters pop up unexpectedly to reveal sudden truths. I loved the constant sense of surprise throughout the story.

The ending was brilliant – it definitely wasn’t what I thought it was going to be, and I loved that Slater was able to keep the suspense and surprise up all the way until the end! The whole story, with the switches between past and present, really built up to a great ending, with quite sinister characters.

Great characters, brilliant ending, and a truly sinister undertone. Loved this!

Finding Grace
K. L. Slater
Bookouture, 14th Feb 2019

Where No Shadows Fall by Peter Ritchie

If I’m honest, I found this quite difficult to get through. The story was quite bitty and disjointed, and required serious concentration to understand all the nuances.

The beginning of the story was quite slow, focusing on the death of a young man and the fate of the man that goes down for it – there was just a lot of establishing various relationships, and I just wanted the story to get going a bit quicker than it was.

At the same time, the fact that it was quite complicated did mean that getting to the end and the reveal was rewarding, and gave a real sense of satisfaction, but it wasn’t for me.

I’m not a fan of only using surnames in a novel, as it depersonalises the characters for me and I find it hard to connect – it also didn’t help that a lot of the surnames were similar, so the fact that Ritchie chose to use these was slightly confusing at times.

There were a LOT of characters in this – in some ways this was brilliant, as it kept the reader on their toes, and it was difficult to guess at who did what. However, what I found was that this led to an anticlimax at the end – so much time had been spent on all the characters, that the mystery of the crime itself became less important.

There was also an odd side story that never really found its feet, and its only real purpose seemed to be to build up to an unexpected death – I do understand that it gave the reader quite a shock for a few pages, but I was expecting something really shocking to happen, which never really took off.

This could have been really great, as it was an intriguing gang-related mystery but it never really found its feet for me. I have seen some brilliant reviews of this novel however, so if you’re prepared to fully invest yourself in this I think it would really pay off.

Where No Shadows Fall
Peter Ritchie
Black & White Publishing, 07th Feb 2019

In Safe Hands: A DCI Anna Tate thriller by J. P. Carter

What story about nine missing young children wouldn’t grip you right from the start? This is a fast-paced and intriguing mystery about the type of crime that can’t fail to wrench at your heartstrings.

I felt that the writing was slightly stilted at the beginning. There was a reasonable amount of establishing the past and Anna’s backstory, so it was a bit slow in terms of following the actual mystery, despite the fact that the crime happens almost immediately. Nine children are kidnapped out of a nursery, and no one seems to have seen anything. It’s one of those stories that is immediately filled with emotion.

However, once Anna’s backstory and personal experiences are well established, this novel really comes into its own, and it’s completely gripping. I tore through this book, as I simply couldn’t understand where the clues were leading to. Carter gradually starts to lay the breadcrumbs, and so by the time the reader has figured out who’s behind it, they are so invested in these poor missing children that it comes as a complete shock. I thought the ending was brilliant, and not so simply clear-cut as ‘this is who did the crime’. There were a lot of emotions involved, and it was such a horrific crime that it becomes obvious that some real depths of despair were reached in order to commit it.

DCI Tate becomes an increasingly stronger character throughout the novel, and by the end I was really invested in her, and definitely want to read more Anna Tate novels! As the story goes on it also becomes clearer why there was so much time spent on her backstory, as it allows for a very intriguing cliffhanger at the end…

Brilliant story, with great characters – definitely worth a read! I’m delighted to say that I’ve found a new series and I will be eagerly waiting for the next installment!!

In Safe Hands
J. P. Carter
Avon, 24 Jan 2019

The Stone Circle by Elly Griffiths

As always, Ruth Galloway novels are one of my favourites. With links from the past connecting to present events and fascinating relationships between the characters, I love this series and this novel in particular.

I like the links between the past and the present, especially with this one going right back to the beginning with a crime that links to Ruth’s past. There are quite a lot of connections to the first book, so it may be hard to follow if you haven’t read it yet, but for me it made the mystery more interesting as I got to reconnect back with a story that I loved. In this one, the body of 12-year-old Margaret Lacey is found during a dig near a stone circle, bringing the series back round to the death of Scarlett Henderson in the first novel – the girl that Nelson couldn’t save. I like that Ruth Galloway novel focus on the crime as well as all the symbolism and meaning behind the stone circles, as I love history/crime novels in particular!

This novel also really highlighted the development of the characters, especially the relationship between Ruth and Nelson. These two have always been a fascinating couple to watch, especially the way Ruth is both fiercely independent and yet also can’t quite let Nelson go. It makes for interesting reading, especially after developments in their personal lives, such as Michelle’s baby and the developing relationship with Nelson’s two older daughters.

Going back to the actual story, there were quite a lot of red herrings, which I loved – it kept me on my toes and meant I was never quite sure what to believe! Elly Griffiths always sneaks in a lot of detail, about both the mystery and the lives of the characters, and I always love noticing the links here and there. It’s a very satisfying ending, and it would be impossible to predict, so definitely came as a surprise. It really builds, with lots of twists and turns, and Griffiths also links in the relationship between Judy and Maddie which just makes it that bit more meaningful.

The descriptions of people, places and events is always so vivid, which I love, as I’m a very visual reader. All the reoccurring characters are so consistently well-written, and I have to admit that Cathbad and Judy will always be two of my favourites, however much I love Nelson and Ruth.

This is a great series, and both as a collection and as standalone novels, definitely worth a read.

The Stone Circle
Elly Griffiths
Quercus Books, 7 Feb 2019

The Couple by Sarah Mitchell

This was a novel with a great twist, and some seriously intriguing characters.

At first, I felt that the story was a bit random and directionless. Claire, the focus of the novel, is extremely hard to understand or relate to – although this makes her more interesting in some ways, it also means there is a sense of lack of direction.

However, once the story builds, all I can say is Oh. My. God.

The intensity of the relationships between some of the characters, and the seeming innocence of Claire in the midst of such crimes really hooks the reader in. Claire is so well-written, the reader starts to feel simultaneously more and less connected from her, if that’s even possible!

Mitchell also provides some flashbacks from the perspective of an unknown character, but one which I assumed I knew. The revelation as to whose perspective this is from really shocked me, and from then on the story just keeps building.

The twist at the end is so unexpected, I actually think it overshadowed the rest of the book, but it’s one of the best twists I’ve read in a while. The seeming slowness of the first half of the book all makes sense once you get to the end, and this is definitely a novel which builds and builds to its best right at the end.

I would definitely recommend this to anyone, and it’s for sure a 5 star read, if purely because of the brilliant ending.

The Couple
Sarah Mitchell,
Bookouture, 5 Feb 2019

The Second Wife by Sheryl Browne

This was a really gripping story, with a clever switch between two timelines. Both the main female characters were fascinating, with Rebecca’s decisions hard to fathom until nearly halfway through the novel.

As the letters that Nicole wrote to Rebecca in the past are gradually revealed, the weird atmosphere around Richard and his daughter Olivia is slowly exposed for what it is, with an unexpected twist that left me truly shocked.

I loved the switch between timelines. It meant that the same revelation happened at parallel moments in the novel for Rebecca and Nicole. The build up to the major events of the novel was doubly intense because of this, and I loved their different perspectives and seeing the different decisions they chose to make.

I also found Richard one of the most interesting and multi-layered characters in a suspense novel like this that I’ve read in a while. His aloofness and seemingly perfect nature at the beginning slowly unravels as we learn more and more, and I loved this gradual wearing down of his persona.

Olivia was also a fascinating character, and definitely not what she seemed at first. I loved the development of her personality and her chilling thoughts about the women her father dated.

This whole novel has a great story, with a really intense build up and a shocking twist. All four main characters are fascinating, and the relationships between them are layered and complicated. Rebecca in particular, is one of the best and strongest characters I’ve read in a while.

The Second Wife
Sheryl Browne
Bookouture, 29 Jan 2019

The Woman in the Window by A. J. Finn

Although this got really intense in the second half of the book, I found this quite slow and tough to get through at first.

The main character in this I just found extremely irritating to begin with. I think this would be great for fans of The Girl on the Train, but for me I just got frustrated by the lack of sense the main character made. Anna Fox never leaves her house, instead observing her neighbours through her windows – she drinks, she plays online chess, and has an interesting relationship with her husband and daughter. She’s a child psychologist, so I did enjoy seeing her relationship with her own mental health change and evolve. For me however, I didn’t enjoy the first half of the book as much, as it was too repetitive and too reliant on the shadowy events that were unfolding and the unreliability of the narrator. Her observations and discussions with people she interacts with make no sense due to her drinking and mixing prescription drugs, but for me this just went on too long and it became frustrating. Some readers will definitely like this though, and will enjoy the sense of the true unknown that this provides.

Towards the second half of the novel, however, things really picked up. As Anna became more proactive, the descriptions and language became really visual and it’s easy at times to feel like you are actually feeling and experiencing Anna’s agoraphobia. It was a very absorbing second half, and A. J. Finn writes Anna’s mental health struggles very well. It was also increasingly difficult watching her struggle to believe her own memory, as it made the mystery of what was happening in the house across the road take a backseat for a while.

This then meant that once the reader got back into the mysterious events unfolding in the house, there was absolutely no way to know who did what. The ending is rather sudden, although genuinely quite surprising, and I did enjoyed the level of closure Finn allowed the reader – not so much a ‘happy ever after’ but a definite sense of satisfaction.

Anna’s relationship with herself also becomes much more interesting towards the end of the novel – without giving away spoilers, her relationship with her family was definitely not what I was expecting, and sudden extra twists like this I thought really gave this novel it’s edge.

Overall, this is a great quick read, but for me it just takes too long to build. Once within the mystery though, it’s a really gripping tale and I did enjoy it.

The Woman in the Window
A. J. Finn
HarperCollins, 2018

Dead Memories by Angela Marsons

Wow. Simply, wow. **minor spoilers ahead**

Not only is this series one of my favourite detective series, the characters are so interesting and complex that I find it impossible to put this book down.

Couple that with a truly gripping story, with events from Kim Stone’s past being recreated in the present, this is both a deeply disturbing and emotional storyline.

What I loved about this Kim Stone book in particular is that while is it very fast-paced there was also a lot of time dedicated to her past and the emotions of the team. This really balanced well with the truly horrific crimes they were dealing with.

I also liked the way that the main suspects began as the obvious contenders from Kim’s past, but of course it was never going to be that simple! The range of characters that are, quite frankly, chilling to read about, from Nina to Symes, really does make you completely hooked on this book. What I also loved is that even though this draws heavily on crimes and characters from Kim’s past and previous cases, absolutely nothing about it feels repeated or overdone.

As per usual, Marsons provided lots of red herrings, twist and turns, and sudden revelations to keep the reader absolutely hooked. This book does use a lot of connections with Kim’s past, and so to truly get the most out of the story and understand all the links and nuances, it would be better to read this series in order, as it really does benefit your reading.

But of course, this is not to say that if this book takes your fancy as a one off, you can’t read it! It’s an absolutely cracking read, truly gripping, and I’m super grateful to Bookouture & NetGalley for sending it my way! As a standalone book it’s still a horrifyingly good story.

I would of course recommend this book, along with the entire series. I loved this book so much that I have found it almost impossible to put it into words! What a genuinely thrilling 10th book in the series!

Dead Memories
Angela Marsons
Bookouture, 22nd February 2019

The Librarian by Salley Vickers

Despite a rather slow story, this novel hooks you in gradually, with wonderfully layered main characters.

This book isn’t what I thought, in that I was expecting a bit more ‘drama’ – I think this is fair enough considering the blurb ends with ‘dramatic consequences for them all’. I’m not sure exactly what I was expecting, but what this novel provides is a very focused story in the 1950’s with a quaint but thoughtful narrative.

The centre of the book is the setting, the Children’s Library in the small town of East Mole. It’s old fashioned, and beautiful in its descriptions, and yet it’s actually quite a subtle setting. Many of the events that unfold are related to the library in some way, and it’s fascinating with the way that Vickers associates the opening up of the library, and so perhaps the opening up of imagination and creativity, as the trigger to the drama that occurs.

The main character, Sylvia Blackwell, is interesting in that she seems unaware of her own naivety but also frustratingly aware that she’s overly involved in the lives of others. Her decisions seem to end up affecting or alienating those around her, and there’s a very subtle underlying sense of annoyance with her; but I also can’t deny the fact that I really liked her and the friendships she has with the children. This may be due to the fact that she is a very real character, with emotions and decisions that we could all relate to.

Many of the key characters are actually children, and they are wonderfully written. Sam Hedge, a young boy living next-door-but-one to Sylvia, is a fascinating character – he is rebellious, but also sensitive and emotional, and I loved seeing the evolution of the friendship between the two.

The one thing I really wasn’t keen on was the ending – the fast forward in time felt forced, like a way to bring together a love story that I wasn’t invested in anyway. For a book that highlights the way reading and learning can change lives, for it to fall back on a happy-ever-after ending was a frustrating read for me. I loved the undertone throughout that kept bringing Sylvia back to books, the way that at almost all key moments a book was mentioned or referred to. It was a beautiful message of love for literature, so I was disappointed that the ending was an ambiguous love story.

I did like that the flash-forward brought us back to the original library, and the clash with technology was made abundantly clear – it was an interesting reflection on modern life. The characters (with the exception of parts of the ending) were exceptionally interesting, mainly because none of them were perfect. They were so utterly human that it was impossible not to be drawn into their story.

Although this wasn’t what I was expecting when I picked up this book, it’s a lovely read, with great characters and a story that seems to almost be grounded in real life.

The Librarian
Salley Vickers
Penguin, 2018

Snap by Belinda Bauer

With unusual main characters and a fast-paced story, this book keeps you intrigued for the whole story.

I liked that the main character was a 13-year-old boy, desperately trying to solve the mystery of his mothers disappearance and subsequent murder. It was a slightly more unusual protagonist than an adult or detective, and it was interesting to follow the thought process of a child through a very traumatic incident.

I also enjoyed the fact that there wasn’t any confusion about who ‘did the crime’ so to speak – the novel builds the story as much as it possibly can, and then starts to hint towards a side of one of the characters that you don’t see coming. The boy, Jack, has fascinating relationships with each of the other central characters, including his sisters, the detectives working his case, his criminal best friend and most intriguingly, his father. The novel focuses so much on the disappearance of his mother that I almost genuinely forgot his father existed, except for the odd mention of him that raises the sneaking suspicion that all is not as it seems with his relationship with his father.

I loved the constant twists and turns, which ran right to the end. I would admit that it was slightly predictable towards the end, but this actually made for an extra satisfying ending in my opinion, rather than being an anticlimax. It felt like a very fulfilling ending, as the characters get what they deserve (or that’s how it seems anyway), while also ending suddenly enough that there wasn’t room for any ‘happy ever after’ type writing. After a fast-paced thriller, I turned the final page both wishing for more but also pleased it ended the way it did.

The novel was quite an easy and quick read for me, but I thoroughly enjoyed it and could hardly tear myself away from it! I haven’t read a Belinda Bauer novel before but now I’m thinking I’m missing out on a really great author.

Belinda Bauer
Black Swan, 2018

Dead Lions & Real Tigers by Mick Herron

What I love about this series is that each book is so different, and without giving too much away, there is a reasonably high turnover of characters. Each character has their own intriguing backstory and the way they work together in these two great mysteries is really interesting to follow.

They follow on from the first book really well, but on both these books I was completely hooked from the beginning, unlike the first one, so this is a series worth sticking with.

Jackson Lamb, the apparent ‘lead’ member of this team of ex-spies, is both disgusting but also has hidden depths of intelligence and well-laid plans that often surprise the reader.

I also like that Jackson Lamb often alienates the rest of the team through his methods that he rarely bothers to explain to them, and it’s an interesting dynamic. Rather than a clearly cohesive team, there are often times when each member or pair goes off on their own, but manage to just about hold everything together by the end.

The books do offer satisfying endings, but the journey to the ending is always full of ups and downs and struggles to complete the job, which makes for an exciting read.

These are definitely great books, different to everything else I’ve read, and I would highly recommend this series.

Dead Lions
Mick Herron
John Murray Publishing, 2017

Real Tigers
Mick Herron
John Murray Publishing, 2017