Category Archives: Thriller

The Poison Artist, Jonathan Moore – Book Review

I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

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The Poison Artist is a dark, tense and disturbing psychological horror which had me captivated throughout.
The Poison ArtistIt’s about Caleb Maddox, a toxicologist working in San Francisco, studying the scientific effects of pain. His life is turned upside down after an argument with his girlfriend finds him staying in a hotel and meeting a mysterious woman whom he promptly becomes obsessed with, before quickly being sucked into a serial killer mystery.

There’s lots going on, and the author delves straight into the action with very little scene-setting prelude. Who is Caleb? Why did his long-term girlfriend throw a glass at him before throwing him out of the house? And why does he become obsessed with this chance meeting with a woman in a bar? It feels like we are thrown right into the heart of the story and the core of Caleb’s obsession, with the protagonist’s patchy background only gradually being revealed as the story continues. Continue reading


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The Darkest Secret, Alex Marwood – Book Review

I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review
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I’m ashamed to admit that this is the first Alex Marwood book I’ve read, even though I love a good psychological mystery. I bought her much-hyped debut The Wicked Girls back in 2012, but it’s still languishing away on my shelf waiting to be read. I’ll be rectifying that soon, because her latest book, The Darkest Secret, is a tense, engrossing and addictive read.

This book is all about secrets. It follows a group of family at friends, who at first seem a close-knit group; privileged and lucky, but scratch the surface and there’s a world of tension, lies and deceit bubbling away underneath. Continue reading


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The Girl With No Past, Kathryn Croft – Book Review

I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review
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This book, like many others released in the past 12 months, is recommended for ‘fans of Gone Girl’. Whilst most of the novels labeled as such don’t live up to this acclaim, I felt that this one did. It’s not particularly similar in plot or the writing style – but what both Gone Girl and this novel have in common is that they had me thinking about them while I wasn’t reading them. They both pose countless questions, teasing the reader with small nuggets of information, but holding back from revealing the full story.

The Girl With No Past
This book had me pondering over all of the characters, coming up with my own theories on the outcome when my mind should have been on other things. I had relatively average expectations going into it, but I’m glad I pressed request on this one. I would go as far as to say this is the best psychological thriller I’ve read this year.

Leah Mills leads a quiet, lonely existence. She works in a library, and surrounds herself with books both at work and at home which she uses to escape from her past. She has no real friends to speak of, and has always been happy that way.

“On the surface, perhaps the best years were ahead of me, but I couldn’t tell Maria, or anyone else, that my past had erased any chance of a future.”

But recently, her curiosity has been piqued by a dating website which she begins spending more and more time on. At first, she’s just watching other people’s conversations play out, but after a while she is drawn into one-on-one conversations with a user called Julian, and she starts to wonder if her life could change. But someone is watching Leah. Someone who thinks she doesn’t deserve a chance at happiness; someone who is determined not to let her forget her past.

From the first few pages, the writer deftly drew me into Leah’s world. With a mix of sympathy and intrigue, I pitied her existence, but was also desperate to know what had happened in her past to cause her to live her life this way. This information is revealed very gradually in a separately unfolding timeframe which follows Leah’s time in school. Croft takes the time to build up the characters in both Leah’s present-day life and her school days, offering the reader an insight into each of the characters’ personalities, but leaving you with no idea who to trust.

There were so many questions flying through my mind while reading this book – why does Leah live such a lonely life? What is she punishing herself for? What happened to her old school friends? Who is her present-day stalker and why are they so determined to take away everything good in her life? The stalker’s efforts start subtly and build to a crescendo, making for a deliciously dark, slow-burning, multilayered story as Croft builds layer upon layer of intrigue and then peels back the layers of Leah and the surrounding characters to reveal the brutal truth. I don’t want to give too much away on this book but the end destination is worth that tense, nail-biting journey to get there. I loved it.


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Playing With Fire, Tess Gerritsen – Book Review

Thanks to Transworld Publishers for sending me this book for review.

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Tess Gerritsen could easily be dismissed as yet another thriller writer in an overcrowded market, but her stories are much more than the average cookie-cutter crimes. She’s proved her talents once again with this standalone story which might be one of her best yet. Playing With Fire has it all – romance, history, war and psychological suspense all culminating in a heart-stopping race through the streets of Venice.

Playing With Fire, Tess Gerritsen

The story is told in alternating viewpoints between violinist Julia, living in present-day America, and Lorenzo, a passionate Italian musician living in Venice on the cusp of WWII. Their two storylines are linked by one piece of music, Incendio written by Lorenzo and found decades later by Julia.

While exploring a quaint old antique shop in Rome, Julia is charmed by the idea of playing a mysterious piece of music which she finds inside an old book of gypsy songs. But the first time she plays the piece back home it seems to have a profound attack on her daughter, who attacks and murders the family dog in a cold-blooded outburst.

And that’s just the beginning, Julia’s daughter Lilly continues to behave oddly, moving on from killing the dog to attacking her own mother. Murderous children have to be one of the most terrifying things I’ve read depicted in fiction, and Gerritsen executes these scenes perfectly. It’s chilling, and I felt Julia’s fear and apprehension. Naturally she wants to find out what is wrong with her daughter, and she traces the start of trouble back to the strange piece of music.

Meanwhile, we meet Lorenzo, the writer of the piece and an Italian Jew living in 1930s. His story is told against the backdrop of the Holocaust, a bold move which really elevates this above the standard thriller and adds a layer of depth and history to the story. Through elegant prose, Gerritsen weaves a tale of love and war in amongst the mystery, and it really works a treat.

The combination of the fast paced plot, sharp, gripping prose and complex characters meant I flew through this book. It is short at around 250 pages, but it’s completely engrossing I did feel slightly let down by the end which felt a little rushed, with certain characters and plotlines I’d invested in being explained away too easily. But, she has still packed a story of impressive depth into so few pages, another cracking thriller from Gerritsen.

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Black-Eyed Susans, Julia Heaberlin – Book Review

I received a copy of this from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

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Black-Eyed Susans follows a similar plot to quite a few recent releases in the genre; girl is captured or attacked (or, in this case, left for dead in a ditch surrounded by the other victims’ bodies). She survives and goes on to forge a decent life for herself, but years later her past comes back to haunt her. It could have been formulaic, but it’s not. This is a taut, tense and dark psychological thriller, one of the best I’ve read this year.

blackeyedsusansbook Almost 20 years ago, Tessa Cartwright was left to die with a group of other young female victims, dubbed the ‘black-eyed Susans’ due to the flowers which grew near their make-shift grave. Tessa is the only survivor. A man named Terrell Goodman was convicted, but as Tessa looks back years later she feels she was coerced into giving a damning testimony in court, when in fact she remembers nothing of the events which lead up to her rescue.

The story is told from two perspectives; Tessie (as she was known then) aged 17 immediately following the incident, and Tessa present day. In the past, she is having regular meetings with a therapist in an attempt to come to terms with her trauma and ready her for court. In the present, she’s going through it all again, as she discovers the Black-Eyed Susan plant growing outside her window out of season, and is convinced the killer has planted them. She agrees to help a team of lawyers who are working to free Goodman from death row, and in turn find the real killer.

The characters in this novel were brilliant, particularly Tessa both past and present. Her younger self is so raw; at 17, there’s a naivety about her despite the fact that she’s experienced trauma far beyond her years. She has all the elements of a typical stroppy teenager, but something much darker shapes her actions. Her present-day character is still haunted, and regularly hears the voices of the other Susans who died beside her. She becomes fixated on freeing the man she originally sent to jail, in order to provide herself and the other girls – who she never knew alive but feels inextricably tied to – with justice. The supporting characters are all equally well-drawn; the lawyer, the forensic analyst, the therapists and Tess’as old best friend Lydia; loyal, quirky and complex. There is a small element of romance which I didn’t feel was particularly needed, but it doesn’t overtake the story and contributes to the character development, so I can’t complain too much.

It’s a tense, creepy read with Tessa’s paranoia gradually increasing as she comes closer to the truth. The two time frames complement each other, slowly revealing pieces of the puzzle which has remained unsolved and unfinished for two decades. It’s one of those novels where you can’t really say much about the plot itself – it’s best you read it with as little preconceptions as possible, so that you can make your own decision on who you think the killer might be. But, whether you figure it out or not, the writer has you rooting for Tessa, building an emotional involvement so you’ll be desperate for her to find the truth and get her closure once and for all.


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The Martian, Andy Weir – Book Review

I bought this book on my Kindle way back at the beginning of the year, but it took me until after the film release to actually get around to reading it. I’d seen some mixed reviews before-hand from some people who struggled with the level of science in the novel, so I wasn’t quite sure what to expect.

The Martian

If, like me, you’re a self-confessed science-phobe and are unsure whether this book is for you, do not let this put you off. Yes, this book is packed with meticulously researched technical information about how a human might try to survive in the hostile environment which is Mars. But it’s also an awesome story with one of the most charming, loveable protagonists I’ve read in a long time. Part sci-fi, part thriller and part a heart-wrenching story of survival against all odds, it’s maybe the most original book I’ve read this year. And, you learn stuff too!

For those of you who somehow don’t already know the basic premise of The Martian, it’s the story of Mark Watney, a botanist astronaut who is left stranded on Mars after his crew abandon the Ares 3 mission due to a violent sandstorm. Watney is injured in the storm, and his crewmates leave him behind, mistakenly assuming him dead.

The book opens first person from Watney: “I’m pretty much fucked.” It’s a great, hard-hitting first line, and you may well think that’s the case, but that defeatist attitude doesn’t last long. From the first few pages, Watney is a fighter and it continues throughout the novel. With the odds stacked against him, it could be so easy for him to lose hope, but this plucky survivor does everything he can to battle the extreme conditions, near starvation, lack of oxygen, risk of equipment failure and a myriad of other problems he could encounter. Not to mention, intense isolation for an incredibly long period of time – which could be enough to send some people over the edge on its own.

Not only does Watney fight to survive, but he does it with a brilliant sense of humour, embracing and celebrating his geekiness every step of the way; “Hell yeah I’m a botanist! Fear my botany powers!” His first person narrative is laden with scientific analysis, but it’s written in such an accessible way, it’s still enjoyable to read.

As the story progresses, Watney’s first-person dialogue is intercepted with chapters relaying events back on earth as NASA begin to realise what has happened. While Watney is no doubt the star of this story, the characters on earth are well-drawn too, and this additional view adds another dimension to the novel. It’s not just Watney fighting alone; he’s got the whole world behind him.

This book looks at progress, science and the interplanetary future with (as far as I know) a reasonably good degree of accuracy and, according to the Washington Postit “may have saved NASA and the entire space program.” But, more importantly than that, it’s a unique story of survival, and a celebration of the human race. Watney survives dire conditions, all because of the power of his mind, and the innate desire in humans to help others. It’s an instinct which is “so fundamentally human that it’s found in every culture without exception” and this book illustrates the power of people coming together perfectly.


Filed under Book Reviews, Drama, Sci-Fi, Thriller

Broken Promise, Linwood Barclay – Book Review

I received a copy of this from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

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As with all of best-selling thriller writer Linwood Barclay’s novels, when reading Broken Promise you can’t take anything for granted. Nothing is at it seems; the story is packed with twists, turns and plenty of action.


The book’s protagonist is David Harwood, whose life has taken a series of unfortunate turns which find him living back with his parents in his hometown, bringing his son Ethan with him. He hopes for a little downtime for him to get back on his feet. He of course gets nothing of the sort.

David’s unstable cousin Marla has been troubled since losing her baby last year, so when he turns up at her house to find her looking after a baby she claims an ‘angel’ delivered to her doorstep, he’s not convinced. Things take a darker turn when the mother of the baby, Rosemary Gaynor, is found murdered, and David decides to conduct his own investigation into events.

Alongside David’s storyline, we’re introduced to local detective Barry Duckworth, the disgraced ex-Mayor Randall Finley and a few other key figures in the small town. Rosemary’s murder isn’t the only drama to take place that day – there’s been a series of gruesome goings-on involving a bunch of squirrels, a rollercoaster and a potential rapist on the local college campus.

Fast-paced is a little bit of an understatement for this novel – from the beginning, there’s lots going on and Barclay adds layer upon layer of small town mystery and intrigue. At times, it’s almost too much – there’s a lot of seemingly unconnected strands and various viewpoints so it can be a little difficult to keep track.

I was hoping they would be tied together nicely in the conclusion of the story but, whilst it was satisfactory, it still leaves a lot more to be explored and explained as this novel sets up the beginning of a new series. Barclay has definitely created an intriguing little town here with a great cast of colourful characters; perfect for a series but the ending isn’t the best if you’re just trying to read the novel as a standalone.

Still, this is a great little book which kept me guessing. It’s fun, action-packed and engaging with colourful, well-drawn characters. Barclay has definitely set the stage nicely for the sequel next year.

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Finders Keepers, Stephen King – Book Review

Finders Keepers is the second installment in Stephen King’s Bill Hodges/Mr Mercedes Trilogy and yet another foray for him into the crime thriller genre. I wasn’t as enamoured with Mr Mercedes as I have been with some of his other books, but it was a great, solid crime thriller which stood out within its genre, and this one met a similar standard for me.

Finders Keepers

The story starts out brilliantly; acclaimed writer John Rothstein is under attack in his own home. After immense success with his series of Jimmy Gold books, he’s been living a reclusive life in the country and hasn’t published anything in decades. But someone is unhappy with the way his famous series ended, and they’re looking for vengeance.

That person is Morris Bellamy. Morris has developed an unhealthy obsession with Rothstein’s Jimmy Gold character, and sees it as a personal insult that Rothstein took his story in the direction he did, telling him: “You created one of the greatest characters in American literature, then shit on him… A man who could do that doesn’t deserve to live.” He’s sure there must be more, and after breaking into Rothstein’s home and shooting the aging author, he gets away with a trunk of notebooks filled with fresh stories which have never before seen the light of day. “Literature was eternal and that was what was waiting for him: a lost geography as yet seen by no eye but its creator’s”. But before he has time to get stuck into the unpublished Jimmy Gold novels, Morris is arrested on an unrelated charge, and leaves his newfound treasure buried in a park near his home.

The notebooks, plus a stack of cash also taken from Rothstein’s home, are found by chance by Pete Saubers, a thirteen-year-old whose family has been on the rocks since that famous Mercedes massacre. His parents are constantly arguing about money, so when the boy finds the money he uses it the best way he knows how – to help his family. But along with the money comes the notebooks, and with those comes a price to pay.

The first part of the novel almost reads as a homage to literature. King has always dropped the occasional names of novels and nods to readers into his novels, but this one really ramps it up. As a reader, it’s always enjoyable to read about others who love reading; about the passion books can ignite and the way they can affect people’s lives. But with the character of Morris, King explores what can happen when this seemingly innocuous passion crosses the line into a dark obsession.

King flits mainly between the story of Morris and Pete as the action builds, interspersing the past with present day “He put his dirt-smeared jeans and sweatshirt in the washer, an act that would also be replicated by Pete Saubers years later,” building up to the point that Morris is released, and goes looking for the notebooks now in Pete’s possession. It’s around this point that Bill Hodges, along with Holly, Jerome and a few other minor character from Mr Mercedes are immersed back into the plot. I have to admit, looking back, I didn’t find Bill from Mr Mercedes hugely memorable , and I was kind of glad he didn’t have a star role in this novel – rather he and his new private eye business Finders Keepers, are the glue which bring the disconnected elements of the novel together and help drive it to its dramatic conclusion.

The stars of this story have to be Morris and Pete; two men at very different point in their lives, who both fall under the spell of Rothstein’s writing, but react in diversely different ways. Pete is definitely painted as the good guy – a little too much at times – whereas Morris is an out-and-out villain, although I didn’t enjoy him quite as much as the Mercedes Killer, Brady.

But while the links are tenuous between the first two novels in this trilogy, Bill’s and Brady’s presence are still acutely felt. There’s hint for a very exciting finale to bind these novels together, and, just maybe, a return to King’s classic supernatural writing.


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Death Is A Welcome Guest (Plague Times Trilogy #2), Louise Welsh – Book Review

I received a copy of this from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

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Death Is A Welcome Guest is the second novel in Louise Welsh’s new Plague Times trilogy, although it can be read completely independently as a stand-alone. The only things the novels really have in common for the majority of the story is that they are set in a present-day London at a time when an unknown pandemic, nicknamed The Sweats, breaks out wreaking havoc on the population. This one also has that perfect blend I mentioned in my last review, of post-apocalyptic drama and murder mystery thriller.

Death Is A Welcome Guest

The two novels in the series so far focus on completely different characters, and the protagonist of this story is Magnus McFall. Magnus is a struggling comedian on the cusp of a big break when, after a heavy night, he attempts to stop a rape and becomes embroiled in a brawl which lands him thrown in jail without trial. This is just as the disease is starting to take hold of London; Magnus is jailed immediately without bail as part of emergency procedures and thrown into a prison full of dying men.

Like with the first novel, Welsh wonderfully conveys the tension and brutality of a city on the brink of collapse, but this time in the more confined, almost claustrophobic, environment of a prison. “It was how the place made you feel, like it was alive and biding its time before it crushed you.” In the face of a national emergency, the men are abandoned without food or information surrounded by the dead, to the point where those who aren’t already dying or dead from disease are beginning to starve. Through a lack of other options, Magnus befriends his cellmate Jeb, and the two hatch a plan to escape the desolate prison.

As the two venture back out into the world, Welsh paints a bleak picture of the city seized by virus; first the abandoned jail, then the journey through the halted underground, where their only company is the piles of dead bodies fallen where they were awaiting trains, and the rats which have claimed the rails as their home.

As we follow Magnus and Jeb out of the city the pace of the story does feel a little slow, but this gives Welsh more time to build up the bleak, desperate atmosphere. This novel has a more contemplative feel to the first, exploring the emotions associated with the collapse of society, the survivors’ guilt and the desperation to find loved ones safe and well. Welsh explores how the devastating loss could affect those which remain; the idea that the disease could be followed by an epidemic of suicide and even murder. “Life is cheaper than it was before. Who knows what effect it will have on those of us who remain?” Plus, there’s the complete loss of everyday technologies, and the realisation that those remaining have no idea how to replicate it; “It was civilisation, and none of us know how it worked.”

The delicate relationship forged between Magnus and Jeb is intriguing; having met in extreme circumstances, it’s a tentative friendship laden with with suspicion on both sides and the two have no idea how the other really landed in jail and what their intentions are. Welsh draws out the lingering mystery, offering sporadic details gradually as the drama unfolds.

The story takes a turn and the pace picks up when they arrive at Tanqueray House, where a small settlement has formed; a community headed by a gun-toting priest. The two are pleased to get some relief from their journey, but then bodies start turning up, and they realise that being part of a community may be no safer than being alone on the road.

This trilogy is shaping up to be something really quite brilliant; I love the way the first two novels work both together and as standalones, as they explore different sides to the disease and corruption that follows. Although they follow very different characters, right at the end of the novel the authors delivers a twist which begins to bring the seemingly unrelated strands together. I can’t wait to see what she has in store for the final instalment.

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The Quality Of Silence, Rosamund Lupton – Book Review

I received a copy of this from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

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The Quality Of SilenceRosamund Lupton has already began carving a name for herself in the literary thriller market with her 2010 debut, Sister, and then its follow up, Afterwards. The Quality Of Silence is her third offering and in this novel she’s moving away from familiar territory, forgoing good old England for the icy mountain roads of Alaska.

Yasmin and her deaf daughter Ruby arrive in Alaska from England looking forward to being reunited with Matt, Yasmin’s wildlife cameraman husband and Ruby’s father. But the family reunion plans are marred as soon as they step off the plane when the police tell Yasmin that there’s been a savage fire in the village where Matt was staying. There’s no survivors.

Yasmin just can’t believe that her husband is dead, she’s sure she received a phone call from him but the police won’t listen so she decides to set out into the hostile Alaskan wilderness to find him. Lupton gradually reveals how their fragile marriage had reached at breaking point after Matt kissed a local villager and Yasmin is driven by her love as she embarks on the perilous journey. “And here was the base of illogic on which she built the rest of her cogent hypothesis – that he had to be alive because she loved him; an emotional truth so keenly felt and absolute, that it couldn’t be dented by rational argument.”

The journey to find Matt takes them on some of the most treacherous roads in the world, and it seems Lupton’s change of location has paid off. There’s a wonderfully tense atmosphere as she captures the dangers of the road and struggle to survive in a cold which is “predatory and remorseless” in “unutterable darkness” and “screaming wind.”  The pair battle both natural dangers – ice, avalanches and hypothermia – and something more human, and altogether more sinister.

The characters in this book were a little bit of a mixed bag. I was unsure how I felt about Yasmin throughout the novel and kept changing my mind; she’s represented as a strong, powerful woman but she chooses to expose her child to unthinkable dangers. And yet, I couldn’t help but sympathise with her as she battled inhumane conditions, finding the will to carry on out of a deep-seated love and determination for her family.

On the other hand, I loved Ruby throughout; her young, innocent voice was refreshing to read in what could have otherwise felt like quote a bleak novel. Her deafness added an extra layer of complexity to her and her relationship with the outside world, including her mother. Ruby relies on her laptop for a lot of her communication and loves social media and she feels it is the only place where she can connect to people on an equal playing field. This habit of communicating through a computer irks her mother, but as their journey progresses, so does their relationship and respect for each other as they begin to understand one another better.

The author has a knack of slipping ethical issues into her psychological thrillers, and this one is no different. In the wilderness of Alaska, she examines the effect of hydraulic fracturing – or fracking – on the natives of the land. It’s something I’d never even thought about, but I was drawn in straight away and Lupton covers it well without ever getting too bogged down with an overload of facts.

The mystery in this novel is quite a slow burn; it’s more of a relationship drama in parts and a survival novel in others, but it picks up in last third. There are some good twists and it had me gripped throughout, but it does require a little suspension of disbelief and the final few pages felt a little bit weak. Still, the original plot, great characters and epic location make this a worthwhile read.


Filed under Book Reviews, Drama, Family, Mystery, Other Countries, Thriller