‘The Dare’ by Carol Wyer ⭐⭐⭐⭐.5

IMG_20190314_182709

Jane’s daughter is a good girl. What’s she hiding?

When thirteen-year-old Savannah Hopkins doesn’t come home straight from school, as she always does, her mother Jane immediately raises the alarm.

Leading the investigation is Detective Natalie Ward whose daughter Leigh is the same age as Savannah. Soon Natalie’s worst fears are confirmed when the teenager’s broken body is found in nearby shrubland.

Evidence points towards a local recluse, but  just as the net is closing in around him, one of Savannah’s friends, Harriet, is reported missing.

As Natalie delves into the lives of both girls, she soon discovers a sinister video on their phones, daring the girls to disappear from their families for 48 hours.

But Natalie isn’t quick enough for this killer, and she is devastated to find Harriet’s body on a fly tip a day later.

Caught up in the case, she takes her eye off her own daughter and when Leigh goes missing after school she knows she must be in terrible danger. The clock is ticking for Natalie. Can she catch this killer before her little girl becomes the next victim?

 

Thank you to NetGalley, Bookoture and Carol Wyer for the chance to read this novel in exchange for an honest review.

Carol Wyer has delivered another compulsive and unputdownable thriller. Secretive teenagers, social media and crazy dares are a deadly mix in this riveting novel.

Jane Hopkins is running late home from work. She likes to be there when thirteen-year-old Savannah arrives home from school, not like her own teenage years as a ‘latchkey kid’. When she arrives she’s surprised to find no trace of her daughter and no answer when she calls her phone. Savannah always comes straight home from school so Jane is immediately concerned. After checking with the few friends she’s made since they moved to the area and finding they haven’t seen her since school ended, Jane alerts the police.

Detective Natalie Ward is put in charge of the case but everyone’s worst fears are realised the next morning when the teenager’s body is discovered in a  nearby park. As the murder investigation begin and secrets the teenager was hiding begin to come to light another young girl disappears. When the second teenager is also found dead it is confirmed they’re dealing with a parent’s worst nightmare. But this is a killer who leaves few clues and could be any one of a number of suspects. When her own teenage daughter, Leigh, goes missing the hunt becomes personal for Natalie. Can she catch the killer before it’s too late?

The Dare is the third installment in the fantastic Detective Natalie Ward series and is the best yet. If you haven’t read the other books you could read this as a stand alone as the author provides enough snippets of information for you to understand the characters, their relationships and motivations. However I’d recommend you read them simply because they are great crime fiction.

Told from multiple points of view, the book opens as a mystery man with a large snake tattoo  on his torso is watching school children pass by. He talks about the snake having not been fed for a while and promises that it will soon be sated. The chilling tone of this chapter was repeated each time we met the adult killer. His conversations with his tattoo and his view of it as a separate entity, the thing that needed him to kill and feed it’s desire, made him seem more frightening and maleficent and left me with a chill down my spine. Later in the book there were some flashback chapters from his childhood where we see he was ridiculed at school and ignored at home. Feeling powerless we see what lead him to commit these awful acts and why he sees the snake as synonymous with his actions.

One of the best things for me about this book is the author wrote it so well that there was no clear suspect. There were multiple connections between the victims and possible candidates, but each time it seemed we knew who it was something would come along to make you doubt it was them. This uncertainty had me racing to the end to find out who had been terrorising the town and if Natalie’s daughter was found safe.

Ms Wyer has a talent for writing stories that get to the heart of what we as parents dread and striking horror in our hearts. As a mother to two teenagers I could relate to the stresses and trials the mothers in this story faced, how the children who once told us everything now hide things from us and we’re treading that fine line between giving them space to be independent and making sure they’re safe. Online safety is something we’re learning to navigate with this generation of teenagers and there were things this book made me consider that I’d never thought of before (I’ll not say more as I don’t want to give away spoilers).

I was on the edge of my seat as I devoured this book in almost one sitting. This is a must read for crime fiction and thriller fans. The only problem now is waiting for the next installment, one I’m personally hoping finally gives us more clues about Natalie’s elusive estranged sister.

Out April 25th.

‘Little Darlings’ by Melanie Golding ⭐⭐⭐⭐

aviary-image-1551189314082

THE TWINS ARE CRYING.

THE TWINS ARE HUNGRY.

LAUREN IS CRYING.

LAUREN IS EXHAUSTED.

Behind the hospital curtain, someone is waiting…

After a traumatic birth, Lauren is alone on the maternity ward with her new-born twins when a terrifying encounter in the middle of the night leaves her convinced someone is trying to steal her children. Lauren, desperate with fear, locks herself and her sons in the bathroom until the police arrive to investigate.

But there’s nothing on the CCTV. No one remembers seeing a woman come close to Lauren, or her babies. They don’t believe anyone was ever there.

And yet, Lauren keeps seeing the woman and is convinced her babies are in danger. With every step she takes to keep her children safe, Lauren sinks deeper into paranoia and fear. From  the stark loneliness of returning home after birth, to the confines of the psychiatric unit, Lauren’s desperation increases as no one will listen t her. But here’s the question: is she mad, or does she know something we don’t?

Thank you to NetGalley, HQ and Melanie Golding for the chance to read and review this novel.

This book is such a triumph that I can’t believe it’s the author’s debut novel. Deliciously sinister, twisted, dark and unsettling, this beautifully written book starts with a letter to the reader that tells us about changeling folklore and how the child-friendly, Disneyfied Fairy Tales we know today are very different from their terrifying origins that were used to scare children rather than entertain them. Through the main character this book emerges you into every mother’s worst nightmare and chills you to the bone.

‘Choose one,’ said the woman, ‘choose one or I’ll take them both…I can make sure they look the same.’

Lauren Tranter is feeling traumatised after the difficult birth of her twin boys, Morgan and Riley and feeling overwhelmed with the task of caring for the two tiny infants alone in the hospital. In the middle of the night Lauren a woman in the supposedly empty bed next to hers singing an eerie song. Lauren decides to ask her to stop and is confronted with a strange, ugly woman with two babies of her own. She tells Lauren both sets of twins are charmed, only hers are cursed with darkness. To balance this out she demands they exchange a twin and that if Lauren refuses she’ll take both and make sure the replacements look the same. Lauren, aghast and overcome with fierce maternal protection, locks herself with in the bathroom with the twins and calls the police. But hospital security say no one was there and there’s nothing on the CCTV so Lauren is referred to a psychiatrist. Despite this, DS Jo Harper can’t shake the feeling that there is more to this case than meets the eye.

Back at home Lauren lives in fear that the woman is going to take her children grows but no one believes her, not even her husband, Patrick. She refuses to leave the twins alone even for a minute, won’t leave the house, is scared to sleep and is just trying to survive each day. Patrick and her friends become increasingly worried about her. Eventually, she takes the boys to the park but the outing ends in disaster when she falls asleep on a bench and wakes to find the boys gone. Lauren’s elation at their recovery soon turns to horror when she realises these babies are not Morgan and Riley. The woman has carried out her threat to take them both. But everyone else is fooled and her desperate attempts to convince them leads to her being sent to a psychiatric unit.

At the psychiatric unit Lauren is filled with panic and fear.She knows she has to convince them she isn’t insane, that she doesn’t think the babies are her children so that they will let her go and she can save the real Morgan and Riley. So she tries to say the right things and act like she isn’t full of revulsion for the things that have replaced her perfect boys. When the police investigation finds no suspects everyone seems sure that Lauren is suffering from mental illness. Everyone except DS Harper. She still feels sure there’s something they’re missing and begins investigating various leads that could prove she’s right. But is she being fooled by a sick and unstable mother who is a danger to her children or the only person who believes a mother who is innocent and desperately trying to save them?

There’s some books you seem to just instantly connect with for one reason or another and this was one of those for me. The letter at the start, the ominous prologue and even the setting, were reasons this novel resonated with me so quickly. The book is set in my hometown of Sheffield and while I’ve read books set in places I’ve been or know a little, I have never before read a book set in my hometown. It added an extra layer of enjoyment when reading for me. I loved that I could picture the hospital Lauren gives birth in as I gave birth there myself and all the places mentioned are so familiar that I could picture them clearly.

One of the things I loved about this book was the uncertainty if Lauren was crazy or the fairy tale was real. I vacillated on this point many times and still can’t decide which I believe or which would be the least unsettling. Sometimes I find such ambiguity ruins a book for me but in this case I thought it enhanced the story. Afterall, this is a story based on a fairy tale and they require you to suspend your disbelief at the impossible, so it isn’t a stretch for me to believe that Lauren was telling the truth. But then the changeling folklore began as an explanation for the impossible, for something that is now a recognised mental illness, and therefore it is also not hard to believe that this is the explanation for what she is seeing. Overall, I did like Lauren. She did whatever she could to protect and save her children in her mind and while she seemed weak and paralysed by fear at the start, she found strength and fought her fears as the book went on. DS Jo Harper was also a great character, probably my favourite. Her back story gave substance to her actions that you could tell were often emotional and I liked that when she believed in something she pursued it, even if it got her in trouble. Patrick is another matter. I couldn’t stand him and for most of the book I wanted to reach through the pages and slap him as hard as possible. His complaints about losing sleep, complaining he can’t function without it and she knew that before the babies made me so angry. He was anything but the helpful father Lauren expected and my heart went out to her as she realised the man she married wasn’t who she thought he was. Although he did seem to step up after the babies were abducted his earlier actions and other revelations meant that even this didn’t endear him to me.

Little Darlings is a spine-tingling, absorbing and spectacular novel. Filled with clever twists, shocking revelations, edge of your seat suspense and unnerving changeling folklore this is a book that will stay with you. Melanie Golding is an exciting new voice in fiction and has created a book everyone will be talking about.

Out May 2nd

‘The Stillwater Girls’ by Minka Kent ⭐⭐⭐⭐

IMG_20190225_151421

Two sisters raised in fear are about to find out why in a chilling novel of psychological suspense from the author of The Thinnest Air.

Ignorant of civilisation and cautioned against evils, nineteen-year-old Wren and her two sister, Sage and Evie, were raised in off-the-grid isolation in a primitive cabin in upstate New York. When the youngest grows gravely ill, their mother leaves with the child to get help from a nearby town. And they never return.

As months pass, hope vanishes. Supplies are low. Livestock are dying. A brutal winter is bearing down. Then comes the stranger. He claims to be looking for the girls’ mother, and he’s not leaving without them.

To escape, Wren and her sister must break the rule they’ve grown up with: never go beyond the forest.

Past the thicket of dread, they come upon a house on the other side of the pines. This is where Wren and Sage must confront something more chilling than the unknowable. They’ll discover what’s been hidden from them, what they’re running from, and the secrets that have left them in the dark their entire lives.

Thank you to Thomas and Mercer, NetGalley and Minka Kent for the chance to read and review this book.

I tore through this compelling thriller in less than 24 hours. It was my first read by this author but it won’t be my last.

Wren and Sage have been alone since their Mama left with their sister Evie 63 days ago. Their supplies are dwindling and Wren isn’t sure they’ll survive the coming winter and is losing hope of Mama returning. The girls have never left their secluded cabin on the edge of Stillwater Forest, always cautioned to fear what lurks beyond it. But then a man knocks at their door claiming to be looking for their mother. He keeps asking questions and says he won’t leave without them so Wren decides they have to break Mama’s rule. They have to go into the forest. Gripping each other’s hands the sisters battle their overwhelming fear to escape and find help beyond the trees. But neither girl is prepared for what they find on the other side of the forest and for their whole lives to be turned upside down. Long hidden secrets are revealed and lies uncovered as the authorities try to discover the girl’s identities and search for their missing mother and sister.

I don’t like putting spoilers in my reviews which makes it difficult to say much about what happens after the sister’s leave their home. I was gripped from the first page and though I didn’t have any inkling of the twists, turns and revelations that would leave me reeling, I could tell this was going to be a book that saw seemingly unrelated things converge.

Wren and Sage are two of the most innocent characters I’ve ever read. They are oblivious to the real world, never having heard of electricity or a flushing, inside toilet. They are vulnerable, terrified, dazed and full of wonder at life outside the cabin. Wren in particular relishes the freedom to make simple choices and begins to see how dominating and deceitful her Mama had been. Having Wren as a narrator helped me connect to her and made the abnormal situations feel believable. I had a lot of empathy for the girls and I was rooting for them to have a happy ending after all they had gone through.

The Stillwater Girls is a thrilling, fast paced and compelling book that pulls you into the world of it’s characters. The author has the ability how to keep the reader in the dark about what’s coming but still keep them so emerged in the story that they can’t stop reading. The only downside for me is that it was over too quickly.

Out April 9th.

‘Closer Than You Think’ by Darren O’Sullivan ⭐⭐⭐⭐

cover156860-medium

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’s 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.

Thank you to Netgalley, HQ Digital and Darren O’Sullivan for the chance to read and review this book.

“The one who lived”. That’s what the media called her. But Claire Moore doesn’t feel like she’s living. It’s been a decade since she survived the night that she was supposed to become the victim of a serial killer. A night that killed her husband. Still struggling with the guilt of not dying too, afraid to be in the bathroom alone, plagued by nightmares of that night and a fear of someone coming for her once again, Claire is a virtual prisoner. On the rare occasions she leaves her house she is terrified of every noise she hears and person she sees. But she wants to live again so in an attempt to lay her ghosts to rest she heads back to the place her life was destroyed and to visit her husband’s grave for the first time since his death. Not only that but on the advice of her mother she starts a slow building relationship with a man named Paul who is patient and understanding of her trauma. Maybe she can finally enjoy life again. If only she could shake the paranoia she’s being watched…

But what Claire doesn’t know is she isn’t paranoid, there is someone watching her. The same man who tried to kill her ten years ago is watching and he doesn’t like what he sees. She’s forgetting him and the lesson he taught her. He writes her chilling letters but never posts them, waiting for the right time for her to read them. The letters detail his obsession, his disappointment, his promises that they will meet again soon and that this time she won’t get away. But first he has to make her remember him. What better way than by killing again in the exact same way he did before; striking fear not only in Claire, but the general public once again.

This book was narrated by both Claire and the elusive killer, who’s name we don’t know for almost all the book. I think having the killer narrating as well as including the letters he was writing helped the tension of the book. When the book starts the world thinks The Black-Out Killer is dead so without the chapters from the killer it would seem like Claire, who is constantly on edge and frightened of every little thing, was being paranoid and it would have been easy to get sick of her character, despite the empathy I felt for what she’d been through. But as we knew he was still alive and plotting her demise once more, there was apprehension every time Claire left the house, or thought she was being watched or heard a suspicious noise in the house and I felt like telling her to be even more cautious many times as we knew she was right to be worried, but just not in the way she knew of.

I did like both of the main characters and, yes, I’m aware it’s a little strange to like a serial killer, but I liked that he was intelligent and had clear motivations for what he did, albeit very twisted and misguided ones. His obsession with Claire seemed to be something he couldn’t shake, a weakness as it were. The conflicting duality of his personality: a killer who delighted in his task, and relished the pain and terror he inflicted, bu then also held himself to a strict reason for each victim being chosen and vetting process, rather than simply killing for fun, was captivating. Claire was also a great character. Her agoraphobia, unhealthy coping mechanisms and fear of trust were understandable of someone who had gone through what she did. The reason it could have become annoying is very often she was overreacting to things but when you know she’s in mortal danger and is actually being watched by the killer you are glad she isn’t blase about things. The thing I loved most about how Claire was written was the fantastic description of her anxiety and panic attacks. I too suffer from them and after reading this book I will forever see them as “icy fingers playing” or “the icy hand that rested in my chest.” I’ve never read such a vivid and accurate description of how it feels.

I liked that I was never quite sure if my suspicions of certain characters were correct while reading this book. There were people who rang alarm bells but I always had this nagging doubt that this could be “him”. However absolutely nothing could have prepared me for the big reveal and I was in awe at the final twist the story took before leaving me to rethink everything I had just read. A brilliant thriller from an author I will certainly be reading again.

Out March 15th.