Blog Tour Review: A Shadow on the Lens by Sam Hurcom ⭐⭐⭐⭐

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Today is my stop on the blog tour for this debut novel. Thank you to Compulsive Readers for the invitation to take part and to Orion Publishing Group and NetGalley for my ARC copies of this book.

SYNOPSIS:

The Postmaster looked over my shoulder. As I turned to look I saw a flicker of movement from across the street. I felt unseen eyes peer at me. He walked away without another word. I watched as he climbed on his bicycle and sped away down the street. I turned back and looked over my shoulder.

Someone had been watching us.

1904 . Thomas Bexley, one of the first forensic photographers, is called to the sleepy and remote Welsh village of Dinas Powys, several miles down the coast from the thriving port of Cardiff. A young girl by the name of Betsan Tilny has been found murdered in the woodland – her body bound and horribly burnt. But the crime scene appears to have been staged, and worst still, the locals are reluctant to help.

As the strange case unfolds, Thomas senses a growing presence watching him, and try as he may, the villagers seem intent on keeping their secret. Then one night, in the grip of a fever, he develops the photographic plates from the crime scene in a makeshift darkroom in the cellar of his lodgings. There, he finds a face dimly visible in the photographs,  a face hovering around the body of the dead girl – the face of Betsan Tilny.

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MY REVIEW:

“He never left, he still remains. The demon of this village.”

Murder mystery meets supernatural thriller and gothic fiction in this chilling tale. Thomas Bexley is writing his story a decade after the events take place, using his diary entries for reference and we see extracts at various points in the book. He begins with a note addressing the reader directly and I loved the promises of the chilling, dark and sinister things to come. This is the first time he’s really spoken about what happened during that strange case and he admits to feeling concerned about how he will be viewed once he reveals the truth of all that transpired. 

Forensic photography is still in its infancy and Bexley, known in the field for his eye for detail and his gift for putting the evidence together, is a specialised investigator who is sent to assist with serious crime cases across the country. When Betsan Tilny is brutally murdered in the isolated Welsh village of Dinas Powys, Bexley is called to help solve the crime. But on his arrival he’s dismayed to find that those in charge seem to resent his presence. They’ve made up their mind who committed the crime and see Thomas as an unnecessary complication stirring up trouble and not understanding how they do things. 

Soon after his arrival Bexley has a sense of being watched, which only increases over time. He also comes down with a fever that inhibits his ability to work and forces him to take to his bed. And is it this fever that is making him imagine seeing the ghost of Betsan Tilny? He’s a man of science and doesn’t believe in such nonsense and decides that it is a manifestation of his fever.  But he can’t shake the fear that what he’s seeing is all too real and the victim trying to tell him something. Impeding his investigation is the unwillingness of the villagers to assist in the investigation. They’re hiding something, maybe even harbouring a killer, and Bexley is determined to get to the bottom of it.

Bexley is a serious, focused man who has no time to make friends or laze about. He’s there to do an important job in a thorough manner and will not let anything get in his way, not even being so sick he can barely stand. He was a great protagonist and I liked that unlike most others he saw no correlation between Betsan’s rumoured promiscuity and her death, reminding people repeatedly that nothing gives anyone the right to rape or kill another and nothing someone does mean they deserve such things happening to them. I was glad she had Thomas in her corner, fighting to find the truth and bring her killer to justice when others were glad of an easy way out and eager to brush the whole thing under the carpet. 

Councilman Robert Cummings is a loathsome character. He is the polar opposite of Thomas and seems completely uninterested in solving the crime. He makes no secret of the fact that he doesn’t want Thomas there, his repulsion of the victim, or that he’s made up his mind about who killed Betsan no matter what the evidence shows. He goes out of his way to prevent a real investigation and Thomas wonders if Cummings is the reason everyone is reluctant to talk to him. Like Thomas I was suspicious of what he really knew and what he didn’t want him to unearth. 

As truths were slowly revealed and the secrets of the village begin to be brought to light, the book became increasingly hard to put down. I was gripped and couldn’t turn the pages fast enough. A brilliant debut that is a superb mix of some of my favourite genres and one I would recommend. The atmospheric prose made me feel fully immersed in the story and there was an eeriness throughout. This is one of those books you need to read with the lights on. 

Publication Date: September 5th.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Sam Hurcom was born in Dinas Powys, South Wales in 1991. He studied Philosophy at Cardiff University, attaining both an undergraduate and master’s degree. He has since had several short stories published and has written and illustrated a number of children’s books. Sam currently lives in the village he was raised in, close to the woodlands that have always inspired his writing.

A Shadow on the Lens is Sam’s debut novel.

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Review: ‘At Your Door’ by J. P. Carter ⭐⭐⭐⭐.5

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Happy publication day to J.P Carter and the amazing second installment in the DCI Anna Tate series.

SYNOPSIS:

What happens when the past comes back to kill you?

When DCI Anna Tate is called to the gruesome discovery of a woman found on Barnes Common, she is plunged into a high profile investigation involving a prominent MP. London is baying for blood – but is there more to Holly’s death than first meets the eye?

Meanwhile, the hunt is on for Anna’s missing daughter Chloe, who vanished ten years ago when her father kidnapped her. The case has been cold for what feels like forever – but a phone call brings a new lead…

Can Anna solve the murder case whilst dealing with her own personal demons? Or is someone from the past planning to get in her way?

REVIEW:

Bravo, Mr. Carter. Bravo. Nothing in this book happened as I expected and I loved it. I was on the edge of my seat guessing what would happen right until the final page and I didn’t see either ending happening coming until it smacked me in the face and my jaw was on the floor. This was a surprising, salacious, emotive, tense and gripping thriller that exceeded my expectations and left me thirsty for more…

DCI Anna Tate and her colleagues at the Major Investigation Team have barely had time to draw breath after their last high profile case when the body of 23-year-old Holly Blake is found and they’re plunged head-first into a case that will put them under more pressure than ever before. It seems to be a simple case of revenge and murder, but as the investigation continues shocking secrets are revealed, and multiple suspects come to light. As the complexity increases, so does the pressure to make an arrest, but it seems every time they find an answer to one question, another three take its place. 

Simultaneously, the decade-long search for Anna’s missing daughter, Chloe, seems to finally be gaining momentum and she finally has real hope of them being reunited. But she darent get up her hopes too much or allow herself to be distracted from her job so she throws herself into the hunt for Holly’s killer while waiting for what she hopes is the call she’s longed for.

I already knew from the first book that I loved Anna. Her ability to compartemtalise her personal and professional lives even when her mother’s heart must have been screaming to forget about her job and go find her daughter, was remarkable. We saw her strength and how she refused to be intimidated or bow down to pressure, instead searching for the truth and being determined to get justice for Holly. She is a fantastic character and everything in this book made me love her more. 

Poor Sophie. My heart broke for her as revelations saw her world crumble and she was left with an impossible dilemma, a true “Sophie’s choice”. She was superbly written and I loved how she was such a big focus of this book. Her story was vital to Anna’s hunt for Chloe and made the matter more convoluted, no longer simply a case of rooting for mother and daughter to be reunited. I was riveted by the twists in this part of the tale, intrigued by what Sophie was hiding, and found myself wishing there was a way for all parties to come out of this happily. 

The author also wrote some great villains in this book. Nathan was sleazy, vile, aggressive and just simply a disgusting person that I never felt an ounce of sympathy for. From the first moment he’s introduced he made me both furious and cringe at the same time. And then there’s Bruno. His sickening plot for revenge surpassed any other evil in this book. He is a psychopath in every sense of the word and the author gave me chills whenever this character was on the page. 

To create such amazing characters that inspire such a range of feelings in the reader, and write two stories that both maintain momentum and keep you hooked throughout, shows what a skilled writer the author is. He will distract you, letting you think you know the outcome, and then hit you with the truth so suddenly you’re left dazed and confused. I was in tears by the end of this book, my heart was broken and yet I wanted more. 

If you love readable police procedurals, great characters, gruesome murder scenes and addictive, twisty thrillers, then this is the book, and the series, for you. 

Thank you to NetGalley, Avon Books UK and J. P. Carter for the chance to read this novel in exchange for an honest review.

Out today. 

 

Review: ‘Then She Vanishes’ by Claire Douglas ⭐⭐⭐⭐

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SYNOPSIS:

THE ONLY THING MORE SHOCKING THAN THE FIRST CHAPTER…IS THE LAST.

Everything changed the night Flora disappeared.

Heather and Jess were best friends – until the night Heather’s sister vanished.

Jess has never forgiven herself for the lie she told that night. Nor has Heather.

But now Heather is accused of an awful crime.

And Jess is forced to return to the sleepy seaside town where they grew up to ask the questions she’s avoided for so long.

What really happened the night Flora disappeared?

REVIEW:

“I feel calm…Not as I imagined a person would feel who’s about to commit murder.”a

An exciting, twisty thriller full of suspense about secrets kept for almost two decades that merge with the shocking, and seemingly motiveless, murder of an elderly woman and her son in a sleepy seaside town.

This gripping story is told mostly from the perspectives of Jess, a journalist rebuilding her life in Bristol after she left London in a cloud of controversy, and Margot, the mother of Heather, who is the woman accused of killing two people before she attempted suicide. There appears to be no motive for the crime. She didn’t know the victims so why murder them in cold blood? It also flashes back to August 1994 when Heather’s older sister, Flora, went missing and even to Heather in her coma.  

“The image I’ve always had of my one-time best friend is warping and distorting in my mind..”

Jess isn’t just a journalist in this case though, she grew up in Tilby, the location of the murders, and the alleged perpetrator was her best friend until the summer of 1994 when Heather’s sister, Flora, went missing and secrets tore them apart. Now Jess not only has to do her job and get the story, she also has to face things she’s been running from for the last eighteen years and face the best friend she betrayed.

But is Heather guilty? Both Jess and Margot insist that the murders are out of character for the gentle, kind and loving woman they knew. She’s happily married with a longed for child, why would she do this? But while saying these things out loud they both secretly wonder and allude to there being another side to Heather. Something lurking beneath the surface that they’ve tried to ignore.

“Do you remember what she told you? it was a secret you promised never to tell. And if you had told, it might not have happened”.

Jess has been hiding a secret about Flora’s disappearance all these years and is wracked with guilt over what she never told anyone. But she promised she wouldn’t. And at 14 years old she thought she was protecting the person who swore her to secrecy, not putting Flora in danger. But she isn’t the only person keeping secrets; everyone is keeping them in this twisted tale, even Heather in her coma teases us with secrets and possible answers to our many questions if she could only wake up. What we don’t know is how all these secrets piece together and how all our characters are linked.Nothing is simple and everything will be revealed.  

They didn’t lie when they said the final chapter was even more shocking than the first – Wow! The dramatic prologue was chilling, the whole book had me on the edge of my seat, but the final chapter was sensational and startling. The author cleverly keeps you on tenterhooks playing a guessing game right until the end and the payoff is totally worth it. This was my first read by this author but I now want to go and read her previous books. You won’t be able to put this book down.

Thank you to NetGalley, Penguin UK – Michael Joseph and Claire Douglas for the chance to read this novel in exchange for an honest review.

Publication Date: June 27th

 

Review: ‘Someone We Know’ by Shari Lapena ⭐⭐⭐⭐

 

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SYNOPSIS:

It can be hard keeping secrets in a tight-knit neighbourhood.

In a tranquil, leafy suburb of ordinary streets – one where everyone is polite and friendly – an anonymous note has been left at some of the houses.

‘I’m so sorry. My son has been getting into people’s houses. He’s broken into yours.’

Who is this boy, and what might he have uncovered? As whispers start to circulate, suspicion mounts.

And when a missing local woman is found murdered, the tension reaches breaking point. Who killed her? Who knows more than they’re telling? And how far will all these very nice people go to protect their secrets?

Maybe you don’t know your neighbour as well as you thought you did..

REVIEW:

Everybody has their secrets. And in the wealthy New York suburb of Aylesford the secrets of some neighbours are about to collide when one of them is found dead in her car in the lake. Was it her husband who was sleeping with one of the neighbours? Was it her own secret lover? And did the teenage boy who’s been breaking into neighbours homes see something that could be the key to solving the crime?

Once again Shari Lapena takes you on a roller-coaster ride of twists and turns in this surprising thriller. She is an author who knows how to grip and entertain her audience, building the tension slowly before ramping it up to a point where I was so hooked that I stayed up until ridiculous o’clock to get to the end.

The story involves a number of characters and subplots that are clearly all going to link together but you aren’t quite sure how. Sixteen-year old Raleigh Sharpe has been breaking into people’s homes for a kick, his mother Olivia is beside herself when she finds out and thinks he should be made to apologise to his victims, something his father, Paul, is against. Robert Pierce has reported his wife, Amanda, missing after she never returned from a weekend away with her friend. The police think she’s run away until her body is found stuffed in the boot of her car at the bottom of the lake. Both of the Pierce’s were being unfaithful but with whom? Other neighbours are harbouring their own secrets and you are left guessing who’s secrets are the important ones, who will be the key to finding out who killed Amanda, and who is actually telling the truth.

Out of all the characters I thought Olivia was the most sympathetic. I could feel her pain, despair, and helplessness after finding out what Raleigh had done. Her concern at what else she doesn’t know and how she had no idea what to as her world falls apart were reactions I think any of us would have. As a mother of teenage boys I could relate to her feelings and know I would feel as shocked and lost as she did if I were in her shoes. The least sympathetic character was Robert. He was creepy, chilling, malevolent and manipulative. He seems to be the obvious killer and I found myself understanding why Amanda cheated on him as he was so vile. I don’t think I’ve ever hoped someone is guilty as much as I did with him.

I’ll admit, I didn’t know if I was going to like this book. It started slowly and though my interest was held it didn’t instantly thrill me like her other books. But then the author masterfully began to weave the puzzle pieces together, the secrets began to escalate, and there is one twist after another until we reach the dramatic final reveal. Someone We Know is another fantastic thriller and example of Shari Lapena’s skill at writing character-driven suspense with a conclusion that will leave you in awe.

Thank you to NetGalley, Random House UK, Bantam Press and Shari Lapena for the chance to read this novel in exchange for an honest review.

Publication Date: July 25th.

 

Review: ‘A Nearly Normal Family’ by M. T. Edvardsson ⭐⭐⭐⭐

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Every murder cases starts with a suspect.

What if the suspect was your daughter?

Would you believe her, or the evidence against her?

THE FATHER Believes his daughter has been framed.

THE MOTHER Believes she is hiding something.

THE DAUGHTER Believes they have no idea what she’s truly capable of…

There are three sides to the story. And the truth will shatter this family to pieces.

 

Thank you to NetGalley, Pan Macmillan and M. T. Edvardsson for the chance to read this novel in exchange for an honest review.

“We were a perfectly ordinary family, and then everything changed.”

Eighteen-year-old Stella Sandell is being held on suspicion of murder. Her father is sure she’s innocent. Her mother thinks there’s a chance she’s guilty.The evidence against her is mounting and yet her lips are sealed. Did she brutally stab Christopher Olsen in a fit of jealousy or is there another culprit out there? Why won’t she tell them where she was that night? Does she know what happened?

Told in three parts, each from the perspective of a different family member, each of our narrators are unreliable and leave us wondering which parts of their versions are true. The first part, which was narrated by the father, was probably the slowest and least enjoyable of them all for me. I think I just didn’t like him and quickly got the impression that despite being a pastor he was not practicing what he preached and was one of those who used their faith to excuse what they do wrong. I also found his spiraling unethical behaviour both idiotic and hypocritical. As a parent of teens I did understand some of his feelings and actions but something just never sat quite right with me and I had more empathy for his rebellious teenage daughter.

Part two was where this book became impossible to put down. Narrated by Stella, I was gripped by the raw honesty and saddened by how her parents let her down, didn’t seem to listen to her and see who she really is. Her father in particular seems only concerned with control and making Stella who he thinks she should be. There was one particular incident where I was enraged at how they handled things. They failed their daughter at the time in her life she needed them the most and I understood her rage towards them. Her conversations with her psychologist were fascinating and I liked the observations she made about how we can all find parts of ourselves in any psychological test we take. As Stella told the story of the night Chris was killed I was on tenterhooks for the reveal only to have it snatched away as the author then switched narrators for part three. A frustrating but fantastic move on his part in my opinion. I had so many questions by this point and had no idea what the truth was so I was left with no other option but to read furiously to the end for answers.

As we reached the final part where the mother, Ulrika narrates, it is time for the trial. Ulrika is a lawyer and we learn she has used her legal knowledge to concoct a plan with her daughter’s lawyer Michael. She talks a lot about her guilt at failing her daughter over the years. She had always struggled to be close to her daughter and focused on her career to alleviate the guilt she felt at being an inadequate parent. She’s clearly hoping that she has the chance to rectify these mistakes, if the mysterious plan works. She knows more about what happened that night than we’ve been led to believe and as we head towards the end of the book the bombshells are dropped in spectacular style and left me reeling. Ulrika’s apprehension in this part of the book was palpable and it was impossible not to get caught up in how she felt.

I have read a few books lately that tackle the question of what you would do if your child was accused of murder. This novel stands out among them as a captivating, ambiguous and twisting story about family, the secrets we keep and the lengths we’ll go to for those we love. I liked that each narrator was unreliable as it left you trying to figure out who is telling the truth as well as guessing how the story will end.

The author pulled off an amazing coupe de grâce with the way he ended this book. I loved how he pulled everything together and kept the reader on tenterhooks until the very end. A Nearly Normal Family is a brilliant piece of Scandinavian Noir that I recommend to anyone who loves thrillers.

Publications Day: July 11th.

 

Review: ‘Someone You Know’ by Olivia Isaac-Henry ⭐⭐⭐⭐

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You can trust your family, can’t you…?

Tess Piper was fourteen when her adored twin sister Edie disappeared.

She has spent the last twenty years building a life away from her fractured family, desperate to escape the shadow of the past.

Only now she needs to confront the huge hole her sister’s disappearance left in her life, because a body has been found. The police are shining a spotlight on the Piper family. And secrets are about to surface.

After all, it’s common knowledge that more often than not these crimes are committed by someone close to the victim. Someone they trust. Someone they know…

What really happened to Edie Piper?

Thank you to NetGalley, Avon books and Olivia Isaac-Henry for the chance to read this novel in exchange for an honest review.

This thriller was a quick and gripping read. From early on there seemed to be a glaringly obvious culprit. But was this the case or was the author deliberately trying to mislead us so we are surprised by the truth? I vacillated between the two possibilities many times during this book and later on when I considered other suspects.

The dual timelines with different narrators works well for the story. In the present day we have Tess narrating and see how she remembers her sister, events leading to and surrounding her disappearance, and how it shaped her life and still affects her to this day. In the flashback chapters our narrator is Edie. This allows us to get to know her as more than a body that’s now been found and learn who she was, what she thought from her own perspective instead of through Tess’s eyes. The difference in how Tess remembers things and how Edie viewed things at the time, and how very different the two girls were, adds a greater dimension to the story and gives us more clues as to who could have killed her than if we had just had the one narrator.

One of the themes that runs through the book is the family’s mistrust of the police. This stems from how close family members were suspected back when Edie vanished and things they said were twisted. Determined to find out what happened to her twin Tess begins to investigate for herself, only for her family to dissuade her from doing that too. Could there be more to both these things? Are they actually trying to stop her from finding out a truth they’ve been hiding all these years?

Full of twists and turns this was a thriller that repeatedly surprised me. I recommend this to anyone looking for a good readable thriller.

Out now.

‘The Corset’ by Laura Purcell ⭐⭐⭐⭐.5

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Is prisoner Ruth Butterham mad or a murderer? Victim or villain?

Dorothea and Ruth. Prison visitor and prisoner. Powerful and powerless. Dorothea Truelove is young, wealthy and beautiful. Ruth Butterham is young, poor and awaiting trial for murder.

When Dorothea’s charitable work leads her to Oakgate Prison, she is delighted with the chance to explore her fascination with phrenology and test her hypothesis that the shape of a person’s skull can cast a light on their darkest crimes. But when she meets teenage seamstress Ruth, she is faced with another theory: that it is possible to kill with a needle and thread. For Ruth attributes her crimes to a supernatural power inherent in her stitches.

The story Ruth has to tell of her deadly creations – of bitterness and betrayal, of death and dresses – will shake Dorothea’s belief in rationality, and the power of redemption.

Can Ruth be trusted? Is she mad, or a murderer?

This gothic novel had been languishing on my shelves for a while when I decided to pick it up as my fiftieth read of 2019. The Silent Companions was one of my favourite reads last year so I began this full of high expectations. I was not disappointed.

Dorothea  Truelove is attracted to the forbidden and isn’t interested in the life expected of her as a wealthy heiress, but in becoming a better and more useful person. She spends time on charitable work which leads her to Oakgate Prison and Ruth Butterham. Sixteen-year-old Ruth is awaiting trial for murder. She grew up poor and was sold to work as a seamstress to pay of her mother’s debts. It is her talents with a needle and thread that she claims enabled her to kill, saying that she has the ability to sew death into the things she creates.

Dorothea and Ruth are two very different women. Dorothea has known a life of privilege while Ruth has known nothing but poverty. Both have suffered loss but the effect it’s had on their lives is very different. When they meet they have outlooks on life that are also different but find that they come to bond over Ruth’s story. I liked both main characters and the author did a great job of writing their diverse lives in a way that made you understand their actions and beliefs. There were some other great characters in this book too. Some I loved and others I despised.

The author highlights many important issues of the time in this novel. There is an interesting look at mental health and phrenology, women’s roles in society and how workers were sold into slavery with no rights and treated appallingly. In particular, I think Ruth’s life and the struggle of the poor in Victorian times was particularly well written. I could almost smell the rot and decay of their dank, desolate and depressing living conditions and feel their terror at being starved, having no rights and the fear of what their cruel employer might do to them for the slightest reason. There were parts of Ruth’s story so harrowing I’d have to stop reading and take a break for a while.

I am so glad that I finally read this book. Dark, haunting, atmospheric, chilling and raw, this was impossible to put down. The story is exquisitely written and has solidified Ms Purcell as one of my favourite authors whose novels are a must-read. There is so much I loved about this novel: the ambiguity, the magnificent writing and that mindblowing ending that had me sitting there in disbelief at what I was reading. I would vacillate from heartbreak to anger to disgust as I read Ruth’s story. To be honest Dorothea’s chapters almost felt like light relief in comparison.

So is Ruth mad or a murderer? Victim or villain? That is something you’ll have to read and decide for yourself. The Corset is an outstanding piece of gothic noir that I highly recommend.

Out Now