Wednesday, 29 July 2020

A couple of snippets from ONE EYE OPEN

Yesterday, this happened …


Hopefully, that video speaks for itself, but in a nutshell, advance copies of my next novel, ONE EYE OPEN, arrived at our pad, which was something of an unexpected pleasure. It will also give me the opportunity to read a couple of choice snippets for you all … which I’m going to do very shortly in this post.

Before we get onto that, I should also mention that today I’ll also be reviewing and discussing the claustrophobically chilling (and all-round excellent) psycho-thriller, THE RESIDENT, by David Jackson.

As always with my book reviews, you’ll be able to find that at the lower end of today’s post. But if you don’t like reading reviews before you’ve read the books yourself, I still urge you to get hold of this one. Jackson is a high-quality thriller writer, and THE RESIDENT is knife-edge stuff all the way through. As I say, my full review is at the bottom end of today’s post, in the Thrillers, Chillers section.

However, if you’ve got a bit of spare time first, why not check out …

One Eye Open

As you’re probably sick of me saying by now, ONE EYE OPEN is my first book for Orion, and it’s a stand alone crime thriller, which pitches an Essex Traffic officer into a world of robbery, double-dealing and murder. 

As promised, I’ll shortly be reading a couple of clips from the finished book. 

But before then, for your delectation (and my complete and shameless self-aggrandisement), here is the back-cover blurb, followed by a short handful of quotes from the 25 NetGalley reviewers to thus far give it the big thumbs-up.

YOU CAN RUN

A high-speed crash leaves a man and woman clinging to life.
Neither of them carries ID. Their car has fake number plates.
In their luggage: a huge amount of cash.
Who are they? What are they hiding?
And what were they running from?

YOU CAN HIDE

DS Lynda Hagen, once a brilliant detective, gave it all up to raise her family.
But something about this case reignites a spark in her...

BUT YOU'LL ALWAYS SLEEP WITH ...

What begins as an investigation soon becomes an obsession.
And it will lead her to a secret so dangerous that soon there will be nowhere left to hide.

ONE EYE OPEN
  
‘I absolutely loved this stand alone masterpiece’. – Beverley S.

‘Fast paced action, dramatic shootouts and an overwhelming sense of threat’. – Jen L.

‘A rich police thriller from an author who always gives a great insight to the world of criminals and the police who go after them’. – Pat C.

‘Breathtaking, shocking and dark!’ – Samantha L.

And now, while my head shrinks back to its normal size, here are a couple of short(ish) readings from the book, provided by yours truly.

In this first one, it’s a cold winter’s day as DS Lynda Hagen pursues a potential witness to a crime into an abandoned holiday park …


In this second one, ex-racing driver, Elliot Wade, finds himself in a fast car with two shady characters, and a lot to prove …


Okay, hope you guys enjoyed those. As I say, ONE EYE OPEN is available for purchase from August 20 in all your usual outlets. Hope you’re interested enough to take a punt.


THRILLERS, CHILLERS, SHOCKERS AND KILLERS …

An ongoing series of reviews of dark fiction (crime, thriller, horror and sci-fi) – both old and new – that I have recently read and enjoyed. I’ll endeavour to keep the SPOILERS to a minimum; there will certainly be no given-away denouements or exposed twists-in-the-tail, but by the definition of the word ‘review’, I’m going to be talking about these books in more than just thumbnail detail, extolling the aspects that I particularly enjoyed (I’ll outline the plot first, and follow it with my opinions) … so I guess if you’d rather not know anything at all about these pieces of work in advance of reading them yourself, then these particular posts will not be your thing.

THE RESIDENT by David Jackson (2020)

Outline
Schizophrenic serial killer, Brogan, his hands still red with the blood of his latest victims, is on the run from the police in the heart of an urban sprawl. But when all avenues of escape seem to be closed to him, he seeks refuge in the empty end-house of a rather run-down terraced row. Unexpectedly, this doesn’t just give him the ability to lie low, because when he investigates the property thoroughly, forcing his way up into the loft, he finds that the dividing wall between this and the next property is incomplete, along with the next dividing wall after that, and the next one and so on.

In short, Brogan finds that he can access all the houses on this side of the street without the official occupants even knowing that he is there … so long as they don’t come up into their attics.

With a jolt of intoxicating pleasure, it slowly dawns on the killer, who never plans very far ahead, that this empty house can be much more than just a useful hiding place.

The problem is that his mind is divided neatly in two, one half more conciliatory but still unstable, callous and inclined to a sexual enjoyment of violence, the other half clever, scheming and sadistic. Occasionally, these two distinct personalities, who occupy Brogan’s head both at the same time, fall out with each other, but mostly they exist in a state of symbiosis, and they are completely in sync when it comes to the way that Brogan should be spending the next few days.  Because not only can he creep down into the houses when their owners are out, feed himself and rummage around among private possessions in order to steal, he can also learn all there is about his new hosts, and start to play games with them, alternately antagonising them, making fun of them, frightening them, setting them against each other, the outcomes of which he can watch from the safety of the loft space overhead.

And it’s not as if there isn’t plenty of material for him to work with. Eighty-year-old Elsie is one occupant, an elderly lady who lives alone and is now suffering from mild dementia. Carers visit from time to time, but mostly she is vulnerable and very easily played with.

Then there is Jack and Pam, a middle-aged couple who clearly love each other even though they squabble like cat and dog, and blame each other whenever anything goes wrong (and are out a lot of the time, their property left ripe for plundering); they too make easy targets for manipulation.

Last but very far from least, there is Collette and Martyn. This pair are of particular interest to Brogan, because they are only in their twenties, Collette beautiful and sweet and, Brogan suspects, a little sad.

What fun he is going to have with her in particular.

This is certainly one of the shortest synopses I’ve ever written for one of my online book reviews, quite simply because you’ve already got the crux of it, and to say more might give away vital spoilers.

Suffice to say that Brogan, the new unknown resident in the terraced row, is going to enjoy himself a great deal at the expense of his various unwitting hosts. But it isn’t going to go all his way. Anything can happen in the next few days, things he won’t be expecting at all, and while the situation is unlikely to end well for those who officially live here, it could easily go badly for him too …

Review
The Resident is certainly not the first ‘hider in the house’ scenario I’ve encountered in crime and thriller fiction. I’m pretty sure there was even a movie called Hider in the House once. However, there is no idea these days that is original, and in any case, this is without doubt the most intense, dramatic, best-plotted and most enjoyable version of the grand old theme that I have ever read. It’s not a massive tome, coming in at just over 300 pages, but it literally flipped by because almost every one of its short, concise chapters ends on a cliff-hanger as taut as piano wire.

Brogan himself is a fascinating antagonist. We only get to learn about his many terrible crimes through the bizarre conversations that occur inside his head, which we hear in full, and which as well as being subtly informative both about him and his grotesque track-record, are also chilling in their depiction of criminal insanity, and at times wildly if darkly funny.

Yes, there are some comedic elements in this grim tale, but it’s not for the faint-hearted. I even had to stifle a snigger or two at the thought of Brogan, a mad killer, happily making himself at home in others people’s houses, cooking beans, buttering toast, stirring tea, while the actual occupants are out at work, though God knows, it would be an unspeakable invasion of privacy if it were to happen in real life.

You probably wouldn’t care as much for the characters wrapped up in this horror if you didn’t gradually come to see them so clearly, and this is another neat touch by David Jackson. When the killer first arrives in his improvised refuge, neither he nor we know anything at all about the population of this terraced row, but that’s okay, because we learn about them as Brogan does and at exactly the same pace, by listening to their interactions through trapdoors or watching them through peepholes in the ceiling.

While Jack and Pam are perhaps a little bit stock, Elsie is a wonderful creation. I can imagine that a veteran actress would have a lot of fun with this part in any screen adaptation. Her tragic situation, which you might expect to cast her as one of life’s forgotten victims and maybe a constant mope, is enlivened by the return of her maternal instincts (long buried, but always there) and the feistiness with which she treats her carers when she starts to suspect they are humouring her about the ‘return of her deceased son’.

The other stars of the show, though, are the final couple in the terraced row, Collette and Martyn, though Collette is the more important of the two, at least where Brogan is concerned.

In classic ‘beauty and the beast’ fashion, Brogan doesn’t just desire her physically; the more he gets to know about her, the more he subconsciously likes her, and the more he starts to think of her as a potential companion rather than a victim. In concert with this, the more he starts to distrust and finally hate her husband, Martyn, which developing ménage à trois gives us some of the most intense and emotionally dramatic sequences in the book.

But all the thrills and chills aside, in a relatively quickfire piece of writing, David Jackson has created several such exceptional dynamics, which crank the readability of The Resident up to top notch. You really feel for everyone, and really need to know what’s going to happen next.

Of course, getting back to Brogan and the terrible situation he has engineered and soon ends up trapped in – and this is the real heart of the story, the part that works so well for me – he may increasingly take Collette and Elsie’s side, he may view them both (but mainly Collette) as lost, abused and neglected, as a twosome who deserve so much more than life has dealt them, so it’s no wonder he sees himself reflected there. But this isn’t going to be reciprocated, because to the likes of Collette, Brogan will always be a monster. That’s the underlying darkness in this tale, and its cleverness. Though you live inside his head with him and get to know him well, though you even start to empathise a little … you never forget that Brogan is a monster.

Read The Resident. It’s a superb, fast-paced thriller, weaving multi-layered characters into a scenario from Hell that will have you both shuddering and snickering all the way through.

As always, I’m now going to try and cast this saga. Just a bit of fun – who would ask me? – but here are the main actors I would choose, were I putting this cracker on the screen:

Brogan – Max Irons
Collette – Lupita Nyong’o
Elsie – Gemma Jones
Martyn – Samuel Anderson

Sunday, 12 July 2020

All the chills of Christmas this dark July


So, we had blistering sunshine in March and April, pouring rain and bitter winds in June, and now … we’ve got Christmas in July.

Well, it’s not strictly true that we’ve got Christmas in July, but as the jacket art is now ready for the three Christmas books I intend to bring out this autumn, I thought this might be an opportune time to give you your first glimpse, and maybe to chat a little about the plans I’ll put into force once this strangest summer of all has ended.

Which reminds me that – even though the virus is still with us, and many holidays have been cancelled, and the weather is pathetic compared to the weather we had in spring – it is still summer. So, in keeping with that, today I’ll also be reviewing and discussing one of the best summertime horror novels I’ve ever read: THE ELEMENTALS by the late, great Michael McDowell. 


If you’re only here for the McDowell discussion, then that’s fine, as always. Just shoot on down to the lower end of today’s blog, and you’ll find it in the Thrillers, Chillers section.

Before then, however, if you’ve got a bit of extra time, I’m going to talk a little about …

Scary stuff this Christmas

Readers who follow this column regularly, will know that I’m a big fan of Christmas-themed scare-fare. Now, I assure you that this doesn’t mean I think about the festive season from January to December. I like all the seasons, and I particularly enjoy horror fiction (folk-horror would be the thing for this, I guess) that encompasses these different times of year with their various special days and ancient festivals.

But winter, and Christmas in particular, has always been a biggie in this regard. If you need proof of that, don’t take my word for it. I mean, I might have written many Christmas ghost and horror stories, but it’s a tradition that goes way back to MR James, Charles Dickens and beyond. So, there is a kind of precedent for it, to say the least.

By the way, I’m not comparing myself to those masters of the short form, but I do like to think I’ve got a decent track record when it comes to this sort of thing. Hence, I thought this year I’d try to package some Christmas specials – some ‘Christmas annuals’, as they used to say in comic parlance – and put them out there in print.

Two of these will not be unfamiliar, though I did feel it was about time they got something of a reboot.

First of all, we have:

IN A DEEP, DARK DECEMBER
Five Festive Chillers


First published in 2013, though some technical hiccups saw it briefly removed from Amazon a couple of years ago, which obliterated the 30-odd approving reviews it had garnered, this is a collection of five Christmas stories and novellas, all supernatural in tone, all horrific in theme.

The table of contents is as follows:

The Christmas Toys
Midnight Service
The Faerie
The Mummers
The Killing Ground


You may wonder why I’m bringing it out again. Well, the truth is that I’m not really. It remains available as an ebook as it always was, but one complaint I received back in the day was that it never existed in print. Well … from this autumn it will do, under the above newly-designed wrap from the original artist, the indefatigable Neil Williams.

Yes, it’s the same stories that appeared electronically, but for the first time ever (in English) it will now be available in paperback too. On top of that, I’m very excited to announce that it will also be coming out in Audible, as narrated by actor, Greg Patmore, who did such a storming job with last year’s autumn release, SEASON OF MIST.

In a similar mood but much newer, the second festive collection I’ll be bringing out towards the end of this year is:

THE CHRISTMAS YOU DESERVE
Five Festive Terror Tales


This is another collection of horror stories and novellas set in and around the Christmas season. But these you won’t have seen together in a single collection, electronically or otherwise … until now. Here’s the table of contents:

The Merry Makers
The Unreal
Krampus
The Tenth Lesson
The Stain


This too will be available in print, as an ebook and on Audible (yet again, with Greg Patmore providing the silken tones). As before, enjoy the marvellous cover art created by Neil Williams.

Last of the three, we’re back in familiar territory again, but with a completely new look. This one is:

SPARROWHAWK


People may recall that this Christmas-themed horror / romantic / Victorian novella first appeared in 2010 from Pendragon Press, and that it was shortlisted for the British Fantasy Award in the capacity of Best Novella the following year. In due course though, the print-run ended, and it was available from that point only as an ebook.

Well, the ebook remains and can be acquired as we speak. But this autumn there’ll be a brand new paperback version and again, it will be coming out on Audible (courtesy of Mr Patmore).

For those unaware, the story is set during the bitter winter of 1843, and follows the fortunes of an Afghan War veteran, who, on release from the debtors’ prison is tasked with protecting a mysterious house in Bloomsbury against an unknown enemy, a duty that unleashes a literal smogasbord of Yuletide terrors.

To round up, I apologise for talking Christmas in early July, but I do like to drop hints about what’s coming in the months ahead. If you continue to watch this space, there’ll be many more details – links, background info etc – posted here as the summer finally wanes and the darker months draw on.

Now okay, I know it’s pretty dark and gloomy outlook at present, but I promise you that this distinctly is not the case in the book I’ve chosen to review this week. Read on if you don’t mind getting sunstroke simply from the written page.


THRILLERS, CHILLERS, SHOCKERS AND KILLERS …

An ongoing series of reviews of dark fiction (crime, thriller, horror and sci-fi) – both old and new – that I have recently read and enjoyed. I’ll endeavour to keep the SPOILERS to a minimum; there will certainly be no given-away denouements or exposed twists-in-the-tail, but by the definition of the word ‘review’, I’m going to be talking about these books in more than just thumbnail detail, extolling the aspects that I particularly enjoyed (I’ll outline the plot first, and follow it with my opinions) … so I guess if you’d rather not know anything at all about these pieces of work in advance of reading them yourself, then these particular posts will not be your thing.

THE ELEMENTALS 
by Michael McDowell (1981)

Outline
The Savages and McCrays are a prosperous pair of families. Born into the Deep South elite, Alabama aristocracy from way back, they lack for absolutely nothing.

Head of the Savage household, Dauphin, is a multi-millionaire and still relatively young. He’s known far and wide as a thoroughly nice guy, and is married to former beauty queen, Leigh, ex of the McCrays, which is where the link between the two families comes in. The McCrays, in their turn, live under the shadow of their patriarch, Lawton, a hugely successful businessman who is now standing for Congress, while his son, Luker, who lives in New York, is so well-fixed professionally that, at the drop of a hat, he can afford to take the entire summer off and vacation in the South.

And yet for all this gold-plated privilege, there are deep strains within the two families, equally deep animosities and even deeper divisions.

Lawton McCray, for example, is separated from his wife, Big Barbara, and reviled by Luker, who views him as the worst kind of ruthless capitalist but as a dangerous man too, because in the spirit of the Old South, where he was born, Lawton will stop at nothing, even crime and violence, to get what he wants. Due in no small way to this unhealthy arrangement, Big Barbara is an unreformed alcoholic, which has left her a silly, unthinking woman, who Luker can also barely tolerate, though recognising that there’s no real evil in her, he does his best. All that said, Luker himself has no dealings with his own ex-wife, from whom he is very acrimoniously divorced … to such an extent that his teenage daughter, India, who has lived with him most of her life, has been raised to dread the mere mention of her mother’s name. India, in fact, though a free-spirited, well-educated New York girl, often struggles because of her father’s domestic prejudices, whether they are merited or not, scarcely knowing how to react to her grandparents.

And then there is the infamously bad-tempered Marian Savage, Leigh’s mother-in-law, whom Luker also hates – or perhaps that should be hated, because we open the narrative at Marian’s funeral. Just in case none of what we’ve so far learned is dysfunctional enough, the funeral service, which is very poorly attended, is interrupted halfway through by an age-old Savage tradition, Dauphin opening his mother’s casket and stabbing her in the heart. Apparently, this is now the custom at all Savage funerals on account of a non-too-distant ancestor being unfortunately buried alive.

So far so Southern Gothic, you may think, and yes, we are firmly in that sun-soaked, uber-melodramatic territory. But The Elementals is also a ghost story, and it isn’t long before we arrive at the scene of the haunting.

At the close of the funeral, the two famlies head south to Mobile, on the Gulf Coast, where they are both part-owners of Beldame. This is basically a narrow spit of sand extending far out into the ocean (though often, the high tide renders it an island), the extreme tip of which is occupied by a row of three beautiful Victorian houses. Here, year-round warm weather (gloriously so in summer), blue skies, an even bluer sea, and complete isolation, always provide a relaxing break. The older members of the two families are completely besotted with the place and have been coming here since the 1950s. Even India, who has never been before, doesn’t much care for her relatives and would rather be in New York, is stunned when she first arrives. She can’t believe how lovely it is, even if oddities emerge almost straight away.

The third house in the row, for example, is owned by neither the Savages nor the McCrays (no one seems to know who owns it) and is succumbing to an immense sand dune, which has built up alongside it and is now slowly engulfing the entire structure.

In due course, this third house will start to cause serious problems, though at first all is well.

It’s unusually hot, even for Southern Alabama, and the two families are just glad to have got away from it all, and now unwind in the taciturn but fastidious care of Odessa, the Savages’ black servant, who’s been with the family since before the Civil Rights Movement but who stays with them because she is treated like a relative, even though she herself doesn’t behave this way.

During this languid time (when the livin’ is very easy!) other quirks of Savage/McCray family life emerge in full keeping with the oddball Southern Gothic tradition. Though Luker is well regarded by his family, he swears and profanes freely in front of them all, including his mother, and thinks nothing of sunbathing naked in the presence of his 13-year-old daughter (a liberal approach to life that she returns in full). But none of this seems out of place here at Beldame, where the sun beats down, the sea laps, the sands continually shift, and time literally seems to stop (the families never follow any kind of itinerary when they’re here, they just let the day and the mood take them).

And yet throughout, there is a clear feeling that, despite the summer lassitude, all is not well. The families love Beldame, but it’s soon evident that they are wary of the place too, particularly the third house, though no one seems to be willing to say why, especially Odessa, even though she – or so India suspects – knows most.

The youngster finally starts to wheedle it out of her elders just what the problem is, learning that the third house has been a blot on this picturesque coastline for quite some time. The reasons for this seem to vary. It’s not exactly an eyesore, but it’s been empty and unclaimed for so long that it’s decaying as well as disappearing into the sand. It seems especially weird though that third house is still fully furnished inside, almost as if someone still lives there. And yet neither the McCrays nor the Savages ever go in to look around.

Most interesting to India, though, are the third property’s ghostly aspects.

There are only one or two stories to this effect, and they have the aura of campfire tales. For example, a bunch of school friends once swore blind that they saw a naked fat woman walking around on the third house’s roof.

When India commences her own investigation of the third property, she immediately detects a presence and later learns that Odessa had a little girl once, Martha Ann, who disappeared here but was presumed drowned, India concludes that the third house is haunted by the child’s ghost. Odessa, finally breaking her silence, simply replies that it isn’t so.

Martha Ann is indeed dead, she says, but what occupies the third house is not her ghost. It is something much, much worse …

Review
Michael McDowell wrote several successful novels, but died at the tragically young age of 49, which on the evidence of The Elementals, was a major loss to genre fiction.

Because, in short, this is a very frightening ghost story.

Not only that, it tips all expectations on their head. Sun, sea, sand. Hardly scary, you may think. Well, you’d be wrong. An affluent southern family: handsome men, gorgeous women, heated passions – all the ingredients of a domestic melodrama rather than a horror story, right?

Wrong.

Wrong, wrong, wrong.

It’s a bit of a culture shock when you first start reading The Elementals. Because the one or two minor macabre details aside – Marian Savage’s funeral, Luker’s utter (and never fully explained) hatred for his ex-wife – it does feel as if you’ve strayed into a Tennessee Williams play. But that doesn’t last long. Because Beldame (which in Old English used to mean ‘witch’, of course), is so well-realised a location that it really is a place apart. Its atmosphere is one of strangeness, dreaminess, and yet all the time, right from the outset, the sinister presence of the third house is there, just on the corner of our vision.

All of this feeds nicely into the plot’s slow-burn development. We certainly have a lengthy period when nothing really seems to happen, the family re-acclimatising to Beldame, sunbathing, sleeping, engaging in idle conversation, and yet odd, unnatural things do happen. At first, they are small, and eerie rather than frightening. But they come more and more regularly, the sense of foreboding gradually growing, until finally the occupants of the third house, disturbed from their slumbers by both India’s curiosity and Lawton’s villainous schemes, explode out in some of the most terrifying ways imaginable.

But I think what works best for me in The Elementals is not so much the increasingly scarier story, but the unknowable nature of the antagonists.

I don’t want to say too much about them because I don’t want to spoil things more than I already have. But as you are likely to guess from an early stage, these aren’t ghosts or even demons in the conventional sense. This is something else entirely. Luker McCray only calls them ‘elementals’ because he can’t think of any other way to describe them, but it’s highly appropriate. Because whatever they are, they are part of this place, and always have been.

It certainly makes for a intriguing conflict: the time-honoured, all-powerful southern clan coming up against an infinitely more ancient and immovable force, something intangible and yet sentient, something that is intricately connected to this lonesome spit of land, so much so that it can control the sand, the air and the water, and yet something that can strike at its opponent in any number of ghastly and horrifying ways – and trust me, these are ghastly.

You may have to wait a little while for them, but the moments of horror, when they come, are literally hair-raising.

As I say, apart from the catastrophe of losing Michael McDowell as a person, we also lost a prodigious talent, and what I imagine would have been a plethora of such clever and spine-tingling tales.

If you’ve not read The Elementals, you must do. It was first published in the 1980s, but it’s a timeless chiller in the best way, and I’m not remotely surprised that Poppy Z Brite referred to it as ‘surely one of the most terrifying novels ever written,’, or that Stephen King described McDowell as ‘the finest writer of paperback originals in America,’ while Peter Straub called him ‘one of the best writers of horror in this or any other country’.

And now, here we go again. I’m going to be bold (or stupid) enough to try and nominate my own cast should this very fine horror story ever hit the screen. If only I had the power to make it happen in reality:

India McCray – Lara Decaro
Odessa Red – Viola Davis
Luker McCray – Joe Kinnaman
Lawton McCray – Woody Harrelson
Big Barbara – Rebecca Front


(The picture at the top is not mine, but despite searching online, I couldn't find an owner. If anyone has an issue with me using it without a credit, just let me know and I'll add a credit immediately, or even remove it).

Sunday, 21 June 2020

Cops and killers from page to big screen


Okay, we’re not quite there yet … and no, I’m not talking about the end of lockdown (though it feels closer than it was). I’m referring to ONE EYE OPEN, my next cop novel, which is due for publication across all platforms on August 20. In fact, it’s so close now that today I received my first tweet from a NETGALLEY reviewer about how much they are enjoying it.

Talk about a nice way to start the day.

Of course, one of the things that always enters an author’s mind as the publication of their new novel appears on the horizon is ‘will this be the one?’ Not just the breakout novel, but the one that hits the top of the charts and stays there? The one that means the staff in your local branch of Waterstones actually start to say ‘hello’ to you? The one that gets adapted into a multi-million dollar movie?

We all live in hope of course, but just to prove that it can happen sometimes, today I thought I’d look at some of those awesome cop thrillers that went before me and then hit the light fantastic a second time when Hollywood got hold of them.

In that same spirit, I’ll also be reviewing and discussing IN THE WOODS by Tana French – a superb police novel which, while it didn’t become a blockbusting movie, went on to become a successful TV series (see above).

If you’re only here for the Tana French review, no worries. Get straight on down to the lower end of today’s post. But if you’ve got some extra time on your hands, you might also be interested in …

Screen cops who were on the page first

Though I’ve written lots of movie scripts, two of which actually got made into movies, I’d reserve a special place in my heart for any novel of mine that received the film treatment.

I’m not sure why. Perhaps it’s just that with something you hatched yourself and have then lived and breathed for month on end, sweated over, bled over (etc), characters you gave birth to, nurtured and developed (etc), it would just be so damn cool to see someone else’s take on the same story, especially if they were putting Hollywood-type money into it, and even more especially with a major league talent behind the lens.

Of course, whenever this happens, authors aren’t always happy with the outcome no matter how much money it might earn them from the cinema-going public. 

Stephen King famously didn’t like Stanley Kubrick’s 1980 reimagining of his 1977 novel, The Shining, while Gordon Williams was furious when, in 1971, Sam Peckinpah turned his 1969 novel, The Siege of Trencher’s Farm, into the controversial and violent Straw Dogs.

I’m not sure how I’d have reacted in either case, given that both movies made a bomb at the Box Office and probably re-energised the sales of the original books to some tune. A bigger issue for me might be the occasionally-heard complaint that a film version has overtaken the book in terms of fame … even to the point where the book itself has all but vanished from public awareness.

A couple of obvious examples of this spring to mind. Most people remember Alfred Hitchock’s 1972 serial killer thriller, Frenzy, but very few even know that it was adapted from Arthur Le Bern’s 1966 novel, Goodbye Piccadilly, Farewell Leicester Square. Likewise, we all remember Hitch’s even more sensational slasher horror, Psycho, but who outside students of the genre is even aware that it came from Robert Bloch’s 1959 novel of the same name?

Again, I’m not sure how I’d respond. In truth, I think I’d just be happy that Hollywood was taking a punt. But again, just to prove the point that it can also happen with my genre, here, in no particular order, are …

Ten Major Cop Movies You (Quite Possibly) Didn’t Know Started Life as Novels

1 Bullitt (1968)

Long years have passed but most movie fans still fondly recollect the late, great Steve McQueen’s superb performance as Frank Bullitt (top), a San Francisco police lieutenant, who, when he loses his mob supergrass to hitmen, makes it his personal mission to catch the bigwig who gave the order. They also remember the astonishing car chase, at the time one of the greatest ever committed to film.

Not many know that this cinema cop classic came to us straight from Robert L Fish’s 1963 novel, Mute Witness. Swap a few names and the San Fran setting for New York, and it’s a very similar tale. 

2 Cop (1988)

James Woods puts in a mesmerising shift as amoral LAPD detective, Lloyd Hopkins, whose talent is recognised by his superiors, but who is also considered a risk-taker. As such, when he investigates the death of a politically active call girl and concludes it’s the work of an unidentified serial killer, the top floor won’t trust him. Hopkins, who already has problems at home, has no option but to go it alone.

It sprang from a more famous original novel in this case, James Ellroy’s 1984 classic, Blood on the Moon, the first in a Lloyd Hopkins trilogy. Similar thrills, similar politics, but with an even grittier 1970s setting.

3 Hell is a City (1960)

Stanley Baker is pitch perfect in Val Guest’s famous Brit Noir, in which a tired Manchester DI is so determined to nail an old foe who has recently staged a violent jailbreak and might already be responsible for another robbery, that his failing marriage takes second place. Riding the British New Wave film movement, the producers happily left London and hit us with some real northern grit.

In the original, in 1954, Maurice Procter introduced us to Detective Chief Inspector Martineau in the pacy Somewhere in the City, the first of a whole series of gritty hard-hitting thrillers set in the bleakly industrial North.

4 The Big Heat (1953)

Vintage Noir, as Glen Ford takes on the mantle of small-town cop looking into the suicide of a fellow officer, only to uncover a rat’s nest of intrigue, corruption, prostitution and murder. ‘Master of Darkness’ Fritz Lang added many horrorish moments, including a real shocker in which low level thug Lee Marvin throws scalding coffee into the face of gangland moll, Gloria Grahame.

Originally written by William P McGivern, The Big Heat appeared episodically in The Saturday Evening Post in 1953, only hitting the bookstalls much later as a complete novel. Every bit as tough as the film.

5 Who Framed Roger Rabbit? (1988)

Yes, you heard that right. Disney/Amblin’s big ‘live action plus animation’ hit of the late 1980s actually started life as a comedy suspense novel. In the movie, you’ll recall that Bob Hoskins is the down-on-his-luck detective who has spent most of the 1940s drunk but who, when called on to check the suspicious antics of cartoon star Roger Rabbit’s wife, Jessica, uncovers a fiendish conspiracy. 

In Gary K Wolf’s 1981 original, Who Censored Roger Rabbit?, the story differs quite a bit, the toons mostly from comic strips, but sexy Jessica still gets to say that she’s ‘not bad, just drawn that way’.

6 The Taking of Pelham One Two Three (1974)

One of the great action movies of the 1970s, Joseph Sargent’s high tension tour-de-force follows the capture of a New York subway train and its passengers by a gang of highly organised hijackers under the control of a ruthless British former-SAS soldier (a steely Robert Shaw) who will kill anyone that defies him, while Transit Lieutenant Walter Matthau coolly attempts to outmanoeuvre them.  A crime classic.

John Godey’s 1973 novel of the same name follows the same course as the film, with some differences in terms of characters but the same ingenious plot twists that would give the movie its wow factor.

7 Bunny Lake is Missing (1965)

Perhaps not strictly a ‘cop movie’, more a ‘psychological thriller’, though Detective Superintendent Newhouse (Laurence Olivier) is the main investigator and a key character when toddler Bunny Lake goes missing from her London nursery school, the top cop increasingly turning curious about her stressed single parent (Carol Lynley) as there is progressively less evidence that the child ever existed.

Evelyn Piper’s 1957 original is set in New York and focusses much more on the terror and trauma of the shunned single mother as she searches for her child alone. Both however, are regarded as masterpieces.

8 In the Heat of the Night (1967)

Virgil Tibbs, a black police detective from Philadelphia, is accused of murder while visiting a Mississippi town, but eventually forms an alliance with the racist chief of police, teaching him the error of his ways and at the same time helping him catch the real killer. Sidney Poitier and Rod Steiger give unforgettable star turns in this groundbreaking thriller, which was much applauded by the Civil Rights movement.

John Ball’s original novel of 1965 told the same story, though the setting is South Carolina and Tibbs is a cop with Pasadena PD. Its huge success kickstarted a whole series of Virgil Tibbs novels.

9 The Detective (1968)

Frank Sinatra gives what is generally regarded as a career best performance as Joe Leland, a veteran NYPD sergeant, whose ‘no nonsense’ approach to his job holds his team together when a disgusting murder leads them into a world of vice and exploitation. A grown-up and high-quality mystery thriller, one of the first ever to openly confront such new-fangled issues as pornography and gay prostitution.

Roderick Thorp’s original 1966 novel was a cutting-edge slice of Noir in an age when that genre hadn’t yet dated. Concerns a PI, not a cop, but still packed with grown-up material and frank police speak.
  
10 Die Hard (1988)

Everyone’s favourite Christmas action movie, NYPD reject John McClaine taking on a whole posse of deranged terrorists when they take over LA’s Nakatomi Tower but make the mistake of capturing his exec wife in the process. It made stars of Bruce Willis and Alan Rickman and set a new high bar when it came to full-on Hollywood shoot-em-up. Very few know that it was the sequel to The Detective (above.).

Roderick Thorp wrote Nothing Lasts Forever in 1979, with creaky retiree, Joe Leland, taking on the terrorists in LA’s 40-storey Klaxon Tower. Amazingly, 73-year-old Sinatra almost got the part in the film.


THRILLERS, CHILLERS, SHOCKERS AND KILLERS …

An ongoing series of reviews of dark fiction (crime, thriller, horror and sci-fi) – both old and new – that I have recently read and enjoyed. I’ll endeavour to keep the SPOILERS to a minimum; there will certainly be no given-away denouements or exposed twists-in-the-tail, but by the definition of the word ‘review’, I’m going to be talking about these books in more than just thumbnail detail, extolling the aspects that I particularly enjoyed (I’ll outline the plot first, and follow it with my opinions) … so I guess if you’d rather not know anything at all about these pieces of work in advance of reading them yourself, then these particular posts will not be your thing.


IN THE WOODS 
by Tana French (2007)

Outline
During a gorgeous summer in Knocknaree, in the lush countryside outside Dublin, three 12-year-olds sleepwalk into tragedy. A close-knit group of friends, they are Jamie, Adam and Peter, and they are living life as only carefree youngsters can, spending each day of their school holidays romping through the sun-drenched meadows and woods – particularly through the woods.

Where one day something terrible happens.

When the evening arrives and the trio still haven’t come home, their parents get concerned and the police start searching. Of Jamie and Peter there is no trace, but Adam is found dazed and uncommunicative, his shoes and socks soaked with blood. His catatonic state persists, and even when he recovers sufficiently to talk, he has no memory of what happened in the woods. The police, meanwhile, continue to search, but find nothing.

We then rush forward two decades, to a time when the adult Adam, now an English-accented detective with the Dublin Murder Squad, returns to the same place during a sunny summer uncannily similar to that one all those years ago, to investigate with his colleagues, detectives Cassie Maddox and Sam O’Neill, what looks as if it may be the ritual slaying of a 12-year-old girl, Katy Devlin, whose brutalised body has been found on a druidic sacrificial slab at a partially excavated archaeological site.

Adam, who has renamed himself ‘Rob’ in order to put distance between himself and the traumatic events of all those years ago, was partly inspired to join the Gardai because of that unspecified but dreadful incident (and more importantly, by the imposing men who investigated it), but now that he’s back here in Knocknaree, he is increasingly discomforted by his fogged memories and by a brand-new case that in many ways is reminiscent of the old one.

Initially, Rob is ably assisted by Cassie, who in truth is a better all-round copper than he is, and who provides strong personal support because their friendship surpasses professional buddy-buddyism by a big margin. Having originally joined the Squad as misfits, they naturally gravitated together, and their relationship, though strictly platonic, has become extraordinarily close, the twosome getting on so well that they spend most of their off-duty hours together, cooking, drinking, and laughing raucously at each others’ bad jokes, often into the early hours of the morning, at which point they’ll happily crash on each others’ couches.

In terms of the case, they have a number of lines of enquiry. The archaeologists on the site, most of them students, are a mixed bunch, but the shy, nervous Damien Donnelly, who actually found the body, seems like an oddball, while the site’s unofficial ‘foreman’, an angry hippy type called Mark Hanly, is cocksure and irritable, and immediately catches Rob’s eye as someone he doesn’t particularly like. Equally worth investigating, however, is Jonathan Devlin, Katy’s father, who isn’t just the main organiser of ‘Move the Motorway’, a pressure-group looking to divert a new road, which will otherwise devastate the local natural woodland (and obliterate the archaeological dig!), but who Rob remembers from childhood. Jonathan Devlin wasn’t a respectable middle-class man back then, but a local lout, who used to cause trouble in the surrounding district, and who was certainly hanging around in the woods, or so Rob seems to recall, on that day when his young friends disappeared. At the same time, the introverted Devlin family are themselves under pressure from unknown persons, Jonathan claiming to have received threatening phone-calls, while there is even a suggestion that Katy, a promising dance student, might have been the victim of a recent attempted poisoning. The household itself is in flux, the family members constantly at odds with each other, all of them viable suspects in their own way, while the emotionally vulnerable Rob finds the victim’s fetching older sister, Rosalind, a particularly taunting and distracting presence.

No more distracting, though, than his memories of Knocknaree as a child, before the Celtic Tiger, when the area was poorer but quieter and less suburban, or the mysterious fate of his two friends, which, when one of Jamie’s hair-clips is found near the scene of Katy Devlin’s death, he becomes convinced is connected to this present day crime.

Frustrated by this and by the investigation team’s failure to hit paydirt with any of their leads, and under huge pressure from his boss, gruff old-schooler, Detective Superintendent O’Kelly, Rob opts to try and jumpstart his memories by camping out alone overnight in the woods close to the scene of the crime.

Which will prove to be a catastrophic mistake …

Review
Tana French’s debut novel and dark psychological thriller, In the Woods, made a huge impact on first arrival, sparking a popular TV series and a whole list of Dublin Murder Squad mysteries. It has won almost universal acclaim for its detailed study of an outwardly confident but secretly tormented police hero, whose journey through a complex, distressing murder case is compromised by his memories of a similarly harrowing experience during his own childhood.

The book has also won hefty praise for neatly capturing the Irish zeitgeist of the early 21st century, not just disdaining the dewy-eyed American view of Ireland as a rural idyll of green hills and flame-haired beauties, but also criticising the more materialistic era of short-lived affluence during the 1990s and early 2000s, and putting the deluge of financial difficulties spilling from the ensuing property bubble into a real context.

I approached the book well aware of all this praise but have no real quibbles with any of it. In the Woods does all these things very well indeed. It is also sumptuously written (unusually so for a thriller) and is populated by a plethora of memorable characters.

The hero, Adam ‘Rob’ Ryan, has certainly been to Hell and back. His personal dynamic is quite fascinating, the awful truth lurking in his subconscious but his constant and torturous attempts to recollect it fruitless, a personal trouble that grows steadily more intrusive as the narrative progresses. And yet, Tana French doesn’t use this as a device purely to elicit our sympathy. More than once, for example, it is hinted that the younger Rob’s bizarre memory lapse might have been convenient for him, and that, though he was young when this grim event happened, he wasn’t prepubescent, and so it’s not beyond the bounds of possibly that he himself was in some way culpable. Of course, we readers think we know differently because we can see into Rob’s head, and we know that he is indeed a lost and bewildered soul, but if you think about it, that still doesn’t make him innocent.

The juxtaposition to Rob is of course Cassie Maddox, his fellow investigator and best friend, and in some ways, this is where I have one of my few doubts about In the Woods. For me, Cassie is just a bit too perfect: attractive in the best kind of way (i.e without being overtly, daftly sexy), very empathetic, very intelligent, intuitive, analytical and sharp-eyed. In short, an all-round excellent person as well as a quality copper, she seems a little bit too good to be true, and in that regard detracts quite a bit from our main character, who appears weak and incompetent by comparison, and irritatingly inclined to self-pity.

On top of that, while their close friendship feels natural enough – square pegs will always seek each other out when all the others are round – there are times when the duo strike me as being more like matey students than murder detectives, raucously bantering when off-duty, playing silly jokes on each other while putting the world to rights, staying up all night drinking despite being in the middle of a challenging child-murder investigation. It made a nice change to see male and hero leads presented as friends rather than lovers, but from the very beginning, I couldn’t help wondering how long this was going to last.

But despite all that, which I won’t pretend didn’t spoil the book for me a little, the central relationship still works on the whole, the duo forming an effective focal point for the story, and though they are both remarkably young for homicide detectives, investigating the case believably and authoritatively.

By contrast, most of the other police characters are a little bit stock, though I did enjoy rough-edged Detective Superintendent O’Kelly, whose complete disregard for political correctness reminded me persuasively of my own senior supervisors back in the day, at one point casually dismissing a male officer’s headache as ‘womanly shite!’

The suspects, of course, come thick and fast, and as well as adding depths of mystery, form a well-framed microcosm of Irish society, one of the author’s key aims with this novel, I suspect, showing us everyone from the money men at the top of the tree, who are still looking at ways to expand their empires, to the struggling middle-classes left so bereft after the era of prosperity ended, to the scruffy young idealists who still believe that digging up ancient Irish history is more important than the creation of fast roads to stimulate business. The fact that they’re all framed as potential murder suspects is a clever move. It’s certainly the case that very few people here are completely right or completely wrong, and none are cast as being so pure that they’re beyond murder (not even our main hero).

In addition to all this, Tana French has done her research in terms of police procedure. She’s been accused in some quarters of ditching reality altogether by creating a Dublin Murder Squad when there actually isn’t one. But whether this should be a cause for concern is moot. In the Woods is French’s own book, so in truth she can do what she wants with it, and she never pretends that it isn’t a work of imagination. I do feel that she’s been influenced more than she perhaps should be by the American style of cop fiction, wherein the most gruesome murder cases are handled by a couple of plucky detectives virtually on their own, while in reality – certainly in the UK, and maybe in Ireland too – what appears to be a ritualistic child-murder would see the creation of a dedicated taskforce.

But again, it’s all about entertainment. Tana French is not in the business of writing police textbooks. In the Woods is a thriller, a genre that isn’t honour-bound to replicate real life blow-for-blow, and having reduced the number of investigators, and dispensed with most of those by-the-book protocols that sometimes clutter up crime fiction plotlines, it’s a thriller that fulfills one of its key ambitions nicely by rattling along at an enjoyable pace

It’s a big book, running to 600 pages, but I was so hooked that I read it inside a week. Perhaps it’s a tad overwritten. Beautiful descriptions are not to everyone’s taste in a novel like this, while I found the repeated pop culture references a bit unnecessary, but there can’t be any real complaint when a big, solid chunk of a novel keeps you so engrossed that you get through it so quickly. Strongly recommended. 

Regulars on here may know that I often like to round up each of these reviews by casting the work for an imaginary TV adaptation. Well, it’s not required in this case, given the enjoyable Irish television series of 2019.

Tuesday, 26 May 2020

Dark fiction to relish in the months ahead


Well, while some lockdown restrictions are easing, the virus is clearly still present and many of us remain deprived of normality for the foreseeable future. It’s not been bad news across the board, of course. Apparently, we’ve all done a lot more reading than normal. That certainly applies to me. I mean, I read a lot anyway, but these last few weeks I’ve been motoring through novels and anthologies at a phenomenal rate. I’ve also drawn up a list of those titles due out before the end of this year that I consider must-reads, and today I intend to share them with you.

However, as in one of these cases – ALL FALL DOWN by MJ Arlidge – I was the grateful recipient of a review copy, I’ll be paying that one special attention and giving it my usual detailed review in the Thrillers, Chillers section at the bottom of today’s column.

First off though, let’s look at …

My most anticipated

I read across a broad range of genres, but four in particular are relevant to this particular blog. They are: CrimeHorrorThriller and Just Plain Dark. Every month I scan the publishers’ ‘forthcoming’ articles online and pick out those that look to be of most interest to me. And this year, for obvious reasons, it’s been even more important to do this.

Thus, below are ten books from each of those categories I mentioned, which are due to be published between (and including) June and December this year, and which I am hugely looking forward to reading. In each case, I’ve posted the cover and the publisher’s official blurb.

Please note that the dates of publication I give mostly refer to paperback releases, which is my preferred method of reading. One or two of these may already have appeared as ebooks or hardbacks, though there are also a couple here that are only due out before the end of this year as hardbacks. I’m still including these if I like the look of them. Hope that makes at least a modicum of sense (whatever, they’re all either coming out very soon, or have come out recently in one form or another, so just follow the links for the full skinny).

One last thing; apologies to anyone who feels their book should be in here but isn’t. There were several I had to leave out because their covers are not available yet, and also because, as always, there just was not room for everything. This is not by any means the entirety of the books still due this year that I am excited about.

Anyway, that’s the waffle done. So, here we go, in no particular order …
  
CRIME

1. ONE EYE OPEN by Paul Finch
(due for pub on August 20)

(Come on, guys. You didn’t think I was going to leave my own summer release off this list, did you?)

If the lies dont kill you, the truth will

An electrifying, high-octane thrill ride; the new must-read standalone from a Sunday Times bestseller. You won't be able to tear yourself away! Dark, gritty and always at the edge of your seat, this unforgettable new outing from master-craftsman, Paul Finch, will appeal to fans of Stuart MacBride, Mari Hannah and Alex Cross.
   
You can run ...

A high-speed crash leaves a man and woman clinging to life. Neither of them carries ID. Their car has fake number plates. In their luggage: a huge amount of cash.

Who are they? What are they hiding? And what were they running from?

You can hide ...

DS Lynda Hagen, once a brilliant detective, gave it all up to raise her family. But something about this case reignites a spark in her...

But you’ll always sleep with ..

What begins as an investigation soon becomes an obsession. And it will lead her to a secret so dangerous that soon there will be nowhere left to hide.
  
ONE EYE OPEN


2. ALL FALL DOWN by MJ Arlidge 
(due for pub on June 11)

(Quick reminder that I offer a detailed review and discussion of this title at the end of today’s blog.)

You have one hour to live.

Those are the only words on the phone call. Then they hang up. Surely, a prank? A mistake? A wrong number? Anything but the chilling truth ... That someone is watching, waiting, working to take your life in one hour.

But why?

The job of finding out falls to DI Helen Grace: a woman with a track record in hunting killers. However, this is a case where the killer seems to always be one step ahead of the police and the victims.

With no motive, no leads, no clues - nothing but pure fear - an hour can last a lifetime ...


3. THE CURATOR by MW Craven
(due for pub on June 4)

It’s Christmas and a serial killer is leaving displayed body parts all over Cumbria. A strange message
is left at each scene: #BSC6

Called in to investigate, the National Crime Agency’s Washington Poe and Tilly Bradshaw are faced with a case that makes no sense. Why were some victims anaesthetized, while others died in appalling agony? Why is their only suspect denying what they can irrefutably prove but admitting to things they weren’t even aware of? And why did the victims all take the same two weeks off work three years earlier?

And when a disgraced FBI agent gets in touch things take an even darker turn. Because she doesn’t think Poe is dealing with a serial killer at all; she thinks he’s dealing with someone far, far worse: a man who calls himself the Curator.

And nothing will ever be the same again ...


4. A PRIVATE CATHEDRAL by James Lee Burke
(due for pub on December 10)

Detective Dave Robicheaux is caught in the crossfire of Louisiana’s oldest and bloodiest gangland feud ...

From the wreckage of Louisiana’s oldest family rivalry, Detective Dave Robicheaux faces his most sinister enemy yet ...

Isolde and Johnny - the star-crossed teenage heirs to New Iberia’s criminal empires - have run away together, and Robicheaux is tasked with finding them. But when his investigation brings him too close to both Isolde’s mother and her father’s mistress, the venomous mafioso orders a hit on Robicheaux and his partner, Clete Purcel.

In order to rescue the young lovers, and save himself, Robicheaux must face a terrifying time-travelling superhuman hitman capable of inflicting horrifying hallucinations on his victims, and overcome the demons that have tormented him his whole life ...


by Christopher Fowler 
(due for pub on July 23)

One Sunday morning, the outspoken Speaker of the House of Commons steps out of his front door
only to be crushed under a mountain of citrus fruit. Bizarre accident or something more sinister? The government needs to know because here’s a man whose knowledge of parliament’s biggest secret could put the future of the government at stake?

It should be the perfect case for Bryant & May and the Peculiar Crimes Unit, but unfortunately one detective is in hospital, the other is missing and the staff have all been dismissed. It seems the PCU is no more. But events escalate: a series of brutal crimes seemingly linked to an old English folk-song threatens the very foundation of London society and suddenly the PCU is offered a reprieve and are back in (temporary) business!

And if the two elderly detectives, ‘old men in a woke world’, do manage to set aside their differences and discover why some of London’s most influential figures are under life-threatening attack, they might not just save the unit but also prevent the entire city from descending into chaos ...

The most consistently brilliant, entertaining and educational voice in contemporary British crime fiction, the utterly fabulous Christopher Fowler.
Cathi Unsworth, CRIMESQUAD


6.  HER HUSBANDS GRAVE by PL Kane
(due for pub on June 26)

A hint of gold glistened in the sand. It was a watch, no doubt about it. A watch… attached to a body.

Criminal psychologist Robyn Adams is at breaking point after her last case resulted in an attempt on her own life. But as she sits in the car about to head home, her phone rings. It’s Robyn’s cousin, Vicky Carter, who she hasn’t seen or heard from in years.

Vicky’s voice cracks down the phone. Her husband, Simon, has been found buried on Golden Sands beach. Desperate to help and determined not to let her last case get the better of her, Robyn returns to the coastal village where she spent summers with Vicky as a child.

Robyn knows that she has let Vicky down in the past and is set on making up for lost time. Throwing herself into the case, she combs through evidence, intent on discovering a lead that will help the local police.

But there is clearly someone who wants Robyn gone. She is convinced someone is watching her and when she begins to receive threatening notes, Robyn knows that she could be risking her life…

But Robyn won’t leave again – she owes it to Vicky to stay.

Fans of Helen Phifer, Gregg Dunnett and Robert Dugoni will love Her Husband’s Grave!


7.  MOONFLOWER MURDERS by Anthony Horowitz 
(due for pub on August 20)

A bestselling crime novel. A labyrinth of clues. A killer with a lot to hide.

Featuring his famous literary detective Atticus Pund and Susan Ryeland, hero of the worldwide bestseller Magpie Murders, a brilliantly intricate and original thriller

Retired publisher Susan Ryeland is running a small hotel on a Greek island with her long-term boyfriend. It should be everything she’s always wanted - but is it?

She’s exhausted with the responsibilities of making everything work on an island where nothing ever does. And she’s beginning to miss her literary life in London.

And then an English couple come to visit, and the story they tell about a murder that took place on the same day and in the same hotel in which their daughter, Cecily, was married is such a strange one that Susan is fascinated by it.

And when they tell her that Cecily has gone missing a few short hours after reading Atticus Pund Takes The Case, a crime-novel Susan edited some years previously, Susan knows she must return to London to find what’s happened.

The clues to the murder and to Cecily’s disappearance must lie within the pages of this novel. 

But what Susan cannot know is that very soon her own life will be in mortal danger …


8.  CRY BABY by Mark Billingham 
(due for pub on July 23)

One of the great series of British crime fiction. 
THE TIMES

Cry Baby is the perfect prequel to send us back to revel in Tom Thornes twenty years. As if we needed reminding how good Mark Billingham is. 
VAL MCDERMID

It's 1996. Detective Sergeant Tom Thorne is a haunted man. Haunted by the moment he ignored his instinct about a suspect, by the horrific crime that followed and by the memories that come day and night, in sunshine and shadow.

So when seven-year-old Kieron Coyne goes missing while playing in the woods with his best friend, Thorne vows he will not make the same mistake again. Cannot.

The solitary witness. The strange neighbour. The friendly teacher. All are in Thorne’s sights.

This case will be the making of him ... or the breaking.

The gripping prequel to Mark Billingham's acclaimed debut, Sleepyhead, Cry Baby is the shocking first case for one of British crime fiction's most iconic detectives.


9.  THE HEATWAVE by Katerina Diamond 
(due for pub on June 25)

One summer. One stranger. One killer …

Two bad things happened that summer: A stranger arrived. And the first girl disappeared.

In the wake of the crime that rocked her community, Felicity fled, knowing more than she let on.

But sixteen years later, her new life is shattered by the news that a second girl has gone missing in her hometown.

Now Felicity must go back, to face the truth about what happened all those years ago.

Only she holds the answers – and they’re more shocking than anyone could imagine.

The heatwave is back. And so is the killer.


10. FIFTY FIFTY by Steve Cavanagh 
(due for pub on September 3)

Two sisters on trial for murder. They accuse each other.

Who do YOU believe?

‘911 what's your emergency?

‘My dads dead. My sister Sofia killed him. She's still in the house. Please send help.

My dads dead. My sister Alexandra killed him. She's still in the house. Please send help.

One of them is a liar and a killer. But which one?


HORROR

1.  EDEN by Tim Lebbon 
(due for pub on June 15)

From the bestselling author of Netflix’s The Silence comes a brand-new horror eco thriller.

In a time when Earth’s rising oceans contain enormous islands of refuse, the Amazon rainforest is all-but destroyed, and countless species edge towards extinction, the Virgin Zones were established in an attempt to combat the change. Off-limits to humanity and given back to nature, these thirteen vast areas of land were intended to become the lungs of the world.

Dylan leads a clandestine team of adventurers into Eden, the oldest of the Zones. Attracted by the challenges and dangers posed by the primal lands, extreme competitors seek to cross them with a minimum of equipment, depending only on their raw skills and courage. Not all survive.

Also in Dylan’s team is his daughter Jenn, and she carries a secret––Kat, his wife who abandoned them both years ago, has entered Eden ahead of them. Jenn is determined to find her mother, but neither she nor the rest of their tight-knit team are prepared for what confronts them. Nature has returned to Eden in an elemental, primeval way. And here, nature is no longer humanity's friend.


ed by James D Jenkins and Ryan Cagle 
(due for pub on December 8)

What if there were a whole world of great horror fiction out there you didn’t know anything about, written by authors in distant lands and in foreign languages, outstanding horror stories you had no access to, written in languages you couldnt read? For an avid horror fan, what could be more horrifying than that?

For this groundbreaking volume, the first of its kind, the editors of Valancourt Books have scoured the world, reading horror stories from dozens of countries in nearly twenty languages, to find some of the best contemporary international horror stories. All the foreign-language stories in this book appear here in English for the first time, while the English-language entries from countries like the Philippines are appearing in print in the US for the first time.

The book includes stories by some of the worlds preeminent horror authors, many of them not yet known in the English-speaking world.


3.  FINAL CUTS ed by Ellen Datlow 
(due for pub on June 2)

Legendary genre editor Ellen Datlow brings together eighteen dark and terrifying original stories inspired by cinema and television. A BLUMHOUSE BOOKS HORROR ORIGINAL.

From the secret reels of a notoriously cursed cinematic masterpiece to the debauched livestreams of modern movie junkies who will do anything for clicks, Final Cuts brings together new and terrifying stories inspired by the many screens we can't peel our eyes away from. Inspired by the rich golden age of the film and television industries as well as the new media present, this new anthology reveals what evils hide behind the scenes and between the frames of our favorite medium. With original stories from a diverse list of some of the best-known names in horror, Final Cuts will haunt you long after the credits roll.

NEW STORIES FROM: Josh Malerman, Chris Golden, Stephen Graham Jones, Garth Nix, Laird Barron, Kelley Armstrong, John Langan, Richard Kadrey, Paul Cornell, Lisa Morton, AC Wise, Dale Bailey, Jeffrey Ford, Cassandra Khaw, Nathan Ballingrud, Gemma Files, Usman T. Malik, and Brian Hodge.


4.  DEVOLUTION by Max Brooks 
(due for pub on June 16, 2020)

As the ash and chaos from Mount Rainier’s eruption swirled and finally settled, the story of the Greenloop massacre has passed unnoticed, unexamined ... until now.

But the journals of resident Kate Holland, recovered from the town’s bloody wreckage, capture a tale too harrowing – and too earth-shattering in its implications – to be forgotten.

In these pages, Max Brooks brings Kate’s extraordinary account to light for the first time, faithfully reproducing her words alongside his own extensive investigations into the massacre and the beasts behind it, once thought legendary but now known to be terrifyingly real.

Kate’s is a tale of unexpected strength and resilience, of humanity’s defiance in the face of a terrible predator’s gaze, and inevitably, of savagery and death.

Yet it is also far more than that.

Because if what Kate Holland saw in those days is real, then we must accept the impossible. We must accept that the creature known as Bigfoot walks among us – and that it is a beast of terrible strength and ferocity.

Part survival narrative, part bloody horror tale, part scientific journey into the boundaries between truth and fiction, this is a Bigfoot story as only Max Brooks could chronicle it – and like none you’ve ever read before.


5.  THE ONLY GOOD INDIANS by Stephen Graham Jones 
(due for pub on July 21)

Adam Nevills The Ritual meets Liane Moriartys Big Little Lies in this atmospheric Gothic literary horror.

Ten years ago, four young men shot some elk then went on with their lives. It happens every year; it’s been happening forever; it’s the way it’s always been. But this time it’s different.

Ten years after that fateful hunt, these men are being stalked themselves. Soaked with a powerful Gothic atmosphere, the endless expanses of the landscape press down on these men - and their children - as the ferocious spirit comes for them one at a time.

The Only Good Indians, charts Nature’s revenge on a lost generation that maybe never had a chance. Cleaved to their heritage, these parents, husbands, sons and Indians, men live on the fringes of a society that has rejected them, refusing to challenge their exile to limbo.


6.  WONDERLAND by Zoje Stage 
(due for pub on July 16)

Shirley Jackson meets The Shining in this richly atmospheric and thrillingly tense new novel from the acclaimed author of the deliciously creepy debut Baby Teeth (New York Post).

One mothers love may be all that stands between her family, an enigmatic presence - and madness.

After years of city life, Orla and Shaw Bennett are ready for the quiet of New York’s Adirondack mountains - or at least, they think they are. Settling into the perfect farmhouse with their two children, they are both charmed and unsettled by the expanse of their land, the privacy of their individual bedrooms, and the isolation of life a mile from any neighbour.

But none of the Bennetts could expect what lies waiting in the woods, where secrets run dark and deep. When something begins to call to the family - from under the earth, beneath the trees, and within their minds - Orla realises she might be the only one who can save them ... if she can find out what this force wants before it’s too late.

With an ending inescapable and deeply satisfying, Wonderland brilliantly blends horror and suspense to probe the boundaries of family, loyalty, love, and the natural world.


7.  THE RESIDENCE by Andrew Pyper 
(due for pub on September 1)

In this gripping and terrifying horror story based on true events, the Presidents late son haunts the White House, breaking the spirit of what remains of the First Family and the divided America beyond the residences walls.

The year is 1853. President-elect Franklin Pierce is traveling with his family to Washington, DC, when tragedy strikes. In an instant, their train runs off the rails, violently flinging passengers about the cabin. But when the great iron machine finally comes to rest, the only casualty is the President-elect’s beloved son, Bennie, which casts Franklin’s presidency in a pall of sorrow and grief.

As Franklin moves into the White House, he begins to notice that something bizarre is happening. Strange sounds coming from the walls and ceiling, creepy voices that seem to echo out of time itself, and visions of spirits crushed under the weight of American history.
                                     
But when First Lady Jane Pierce brings in the most noted Spiritualists of the day, the Fox sisters, for a séance, the barrier between this world and the next is torn asunder. Something horrible comes through and takes up residence alongside Franklin and Jane in the walls of the very mansion itself.

Only by overcoming their grief and confronting their darkest secrets can Jane and Franklin hope to rid themselves - and America - from the entity that seeks to make the White House its permanent home.


8.  BONE HARVEST by James Brogden 
(due for pub on November 17)

From the critically acclaimed author of Heklas Children comes a dark and haunting tale of an ancient cult wreaking bloody havoc on the modern world.

YOU SHALL REAP WHAT YOU SOW

Struggling with the effects of early-onset Alzheimer’s, Dennie Keeling leads a quiet life. Her husband is dead, her children are grown, and her best friend, Sarah, was convicted of murdering her abusive husband. All Dennie wants now is to be left to work her allotment in peace.

But when three strangers take the allotment next to hers, Dennie starts to notice strange things. Plants are flowering well before their time, shadowy figures prowl at night, and she hears strange noises coming from the newcomers’ shed. Dennie soon realises that she is face to face with an ancient evil - but with her Alzheimer’s steadily getting worse, who is going to believe her?


9.  SURVIVOR SONG by Paul Tremblay 
(due for pub on July 7)

A riveting novel of suspense and terror from the Bram Stoker award-winning author of The Cabin at the End of the World and A Head Full of Ghosts.

When it happens, it happens quickly.

New England is locked down, a strict curfew the only way to stem the wildfire spread of a rabies-like virus. The hospitals cannot cope with the infected, as the pathogen’s ferociously quick incubation period overwhelms the state. The veneer of civilisation is breaking down as people live in fear of everyone around them. Staying inside is the only way to keep safe.

But paediatrician Ramola Sherman can’t stay safe, when her friend Natalie calls her husband is dead, she’s eight months pregnant, and she’s been bitten. She is thrust into a desperate race to bring Natalie and her unborn child to a hospital, to try and save both their lives.

Their once familiar home has becoming a violent and strange place, twisted into a barely recognisable landscape. What should have been a simple, joyous journey becomes a brutal trial.


by Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan 
(due for pub on August 4)

From the Oscar-winning director of Pan’s Labyrinth, The Shape of Water and Hellboy, and the authors of The Strain comes a new paranormal thriller, X-Files meets Ben Aaronovitch

A horrific crime that defies ordinary explanation.

A rookie FBI agent in dangerous, uncharted territory.

An extraordinary hero for the ages.

Odessa’s life is derailed when she’s forced to turn her gun on her partner, who turns suddenly, inexplicably violent while apprehending a rampaging murderer. The shooting, justified by self-defence, shakes Odessa to her core and she is placed on desk leave pending a full investigation.

But what most troubles her isn’t the tragedy itself – it’s the shadowy presence she thought she saw fleeing the deceased agent’s body after his death.

Questioning her future with the FBI and her sanity, Odessa accepts a low-level assignment to clear out the belongings of a retired agent in the New York office. What she finds there will put her on the trail of a mysterious figure named John Blackwood, a man of enormous means who claims to have been alive for centuries. What he tells her could mean he’s an unhinged lunatic. That, or he’s humanity’s best and only defence against an unspeakable evil that could corrupt even the best of us ...

THRILLER

1.  KILL A STRANGER by Simon Kernick 
(due for pub on November 26)

TO SAVE A LIFE ... COULD YOU TAKE ANOTHER?

Great plots, great characters, great action’ LEE CHILD

Simon Kernick writes with his foot pressed hard on the pedal HARLAN COBEN

You come home to find your wife missing - and the body of a woman you’ve never seen in her place.

A phone in her hand starts to ring. A voice says you have 24 hours to clear your name. 24 hours to save your wife.

But there’s only one way to do it. You must kill someone for them. Someone you’ve never heard of. A complete stranger.

And the clock is ticking ...

Relentless, gripping and full of twists, this is a masterclass in page-turning suspense where nothing is what it seems and no-one is to be trusted.

2.  I FOLLOW YOU – Peter James 
(due for pub on October 1)

From the number one bestselling author, Peter James, comes I Follow You, a nerve-shredding standalone thriller.

To the outside world, suave, charming and confident doctor Marcus Valentine has it all. A loving wife, three kids, a great job. But there’s something missing, there always has been ... or rather, someone ...

Driving to work one morning, his mind elsewhere and not on the road, he almost mows down a female jogger on a crossing. As she runs on, Marcus is transfixed. Infatuated. She is the spitting image of a girl he was crazy about in his teens. A girl he has never been able to get out of his mind.

Lynette had dumped him harshly. For years he has fantasized about seeing her again and rekindling their flame. Might that jogger possibly be her all these years later? Could this be the most incredible coincidence?

Despite all his attempts to resist, he is consumed by cravings for this woman. And when events take a tragically unexpected turn, his obsession threatens to destroy both their worlds. But still he won’t stop. Can’t stop.


3.  THE DIRTY SOUTH by John Connolly 
(due for pub on August 20)

It is 1997, and someone is slaughtering young black women in Burdon County, Arkansas.


But no one wants to admit it, not in the Dirty South.

In an Arkansas jail cell sits a former NYPD detective, stricken by grief. He is mourning the death of his wife and child, and searching in vain for their killer. He cares only for his own lost family.

But that is about to change ...

Witness the becoming of Charlie Parker.


4.  WORSE ANGELS by Laird Barron 
(due for pub on June 11)

Ex-mob enforcer-turned-private investigator Isaiah Coleridge pits himself against a rich and powerful foe when he digs into a possible murder and a sketchy real-estate deal worth billions.

Ex-majordomo and bodyguard to an industrial tycoon-cum-US senator, Badja Adeyemi is in hiding and shortly on his way to either a jail cell or a grave, depending on who finds him first. In his final days as a free man, he hires Isaiah Coleridge to tie up a loose end: the suspicious death of his nephew four years earlier. At the time police declared it an accident, and Adeyemi isn’t sure it wasn’t, but one final look may bring his sister peace.

So it is that Coleridge and his investigative partner, Lionel Robard, find themselves in the upper reaches of New York State, in a tiny town that is home to outsized secrets and an unnerving cabal of locals who are protecting them.

At the epicentre of it all is the site of a stalled supercollider project, an immense subterranean construction that may have an even deeper, more insidious purpose ...


5.  VIRTUALLY DEAD by Peter May 
(due for pub on November 20)

His first life is a disaster ...

2010, South California. Scottish-American crime scene photographer Michael Kapinsky is a mess, six months on from the death of his wife.

His second life is a distraction ...

As a means of coping, he is persuaded to enter the online virtual world of Second Life, to participate in a new kind of group therapy.

Now both are in deadly danger ...

Once there, he discovers a chilling connection between crime scenes he has attended in real life, and scenes depicted in the virtual world.

And when he then uncovers a series of killings, and links them to a lucrative financial scam, Michael finds himself a marked man in both worlds.


6.  THE SHADOW FRIEND – Alex North 
(due for pub on July 9)

The gripping new psychological thriller from the bestselling author of Richard & Judy Book Club pick, The Whisper Man.

The victim was his friend. So was the murderer.

Twenty-five years ago, troubled teenager Charlie Crabtree committed a shocking and unprovoked murder.

For Paul Adams, it’s a day he’ll never forget. He’s never forgiven himself for his part in what happened to his friend and classmate. He’s never gone back home.

But when his elderly mother has a fall, it’s finally time to stop running.

It’s not long before things start to go wrong. A copycat killer has struck, bringing back painful memories. Paul’s mother insists there’s something in the house. And someone is following him . . .

Which reminds him of the most unsettling thing about that awful day twenty-five years ago.

It wasn’t just the murder.

It was the fact that afterwards, Charlie Crabtree was never seen again ...


7.  THE ENGLISHMAN by David Gilman 
(due for pub on July 9)

Penal Colony No. 74, AKA White Eagle, lies some 600 kilometres north of Yekaterinburg in Russia’s Sverdlovskaya Oblast. Imprisoning the country’s most brutal criminals, it is a  winter-ravaged hellhole of death and retribution.

And that’s exactly why the Englishman is there.

Six years ago, Raglan was a soldier in the French Foreign Legion engaged in a hard-fought war on the desert border of Mali and Algeria. Amid black ops teams and competing intelligence agencies, his strike squad was compromised and Raglan himself severely injured.

His war was over, but the deadly aftermath of that day has echoed around the world ever since: the assassination of four Moscow CID officers; kidnap and murder on the suburban streets of West London; the fatal compromise of a long-running MI6 operation.

Raglan can’t avoid the shockwaves. This is personal. It is up to him to finish it – and it ends in Russia’s most notorious penal colony.

But how do you break into a high security prison in the middle of nowhere?

More importantly, how do you get out?


8.  THE GAME by Luca Veste 
(due for pub on November 12)

An edge-of-your-seat thriller that merges the twists of a psychological-mystery with the investigative layers of a procedural . . .

You receive a call, an email, a text – it’s from a person who knows your secret, someone who wants to ruin you.

If you don’t do what they say, they’ll tell everyone what you’ve been hiding. They will come after you, destroy you, and they aren’t afraid to kill.

It’s time to play The Game.



9.  THE HOUSE GUEST by Mark Edwards 
(due for pub on June 3)

A perfect summer. A perfect stranger. A perfect nightmare.

When British twenty-somethings Ruth and Adam are offered the chance to spend the summer housesitting in New York, they can’t say no. Young, in love and on the cusp of professional success, they feel as if luck is finally on their side.

So the moment that Eden turns up on the doorstep, drenched from a summer storm, it seems only right to share a bit of that good fortune. Beautiful and charismatic, Eden claims to be a friend of the homeowners, who told her she could stay whenever she was in New York.

They know you’re not supposed to talk to strangers—let alone invite them into your home—but after all, Eden’s only a stranger until they get to know her.

As suspicions creep in that Eden may not be who she claims to be, they begin to wonder if they’ve made a terrible mistake…

The House Guest is the chilling new psychological thriller from the three million copy bestselling author of Here to Stay and Follow You Home.


10.  DEAD TO HER by Sarah Pinborough 
(due for pub on June 10)

Something old …

When Marcie met Jason Maddox, she couldn’t believe her luck. Becoming Jason’s second wife catapulted her into the elite world of high society. But underneath the polite, old money manners, she knows she’ll always be an outsider, and her hard-won life hangs by a thread.
  
Something new …

Then Jason’s widowed boss brings back a new wife from his trip to London. Young, beautiful, reckless – nobody can take their eyes off Keisha. Including Jason.
  
Something you can never, ever undo …

Marcie refuses to be replaced so easily. People would kill for her life of luxury. What will Marcie do to keep it?


JUST PLAIN DARK

1.  THE INVENTION OF SOUND by Chuck Palahniuk 
(due for pub on September 3)

Chuck Palahniuk returns with the chilling tale, in classic Palahniuk tradition, of a father in search of his daughter, a young woman witha secret, and a malicious recording that can make the whole world scream at the exact same time.

Private detective Foster Gates is a father is in search of his missing daughter, and sound engineer Mitzi harbours a secret that may help him solve the case. It’s Mitzi’s job to create the dubbed screams used in horror films and action movies. She’s the best at what she does.

But what no one in Hollywood knows is the screams Mitzi produces are harvested from the real, horror-filled, blood-chilling screams of people in their death throes. This is  a technique first employed by Mitzi’s father and one she continues on in his memory, a deeply conflicted serial killer compelled beyond her understanding to honour her father’s chilling legacy.

Soon Foster finds himself on Mitzi’s trail. And in pursuit of her dark art, Mitzi realizes she’s created the perfect scream, one that compels anyone who hears it to mirror the sound as long as they listen to it, a highly contagious seismic event with the potential to bring the country to its knees.


2.  THE HOUSE OF WHISPERS by Laura Purcell 
(due for pub on June 9)

A new Gothic Victorian tale from Laura Purcell, set on the atmospheric Cornish coast in a rambling house by the sea in which a maid cares for a mute old woman with a mysterious past, alongside her superstitious staff.

Consumption has ravaged Louise Pinecroft’s family, leaving her and her father alone and heartbroken. But Dr Pinecroft has plans for a revolutionary experiment: convinced that sea air will prove to be the cure his wife and children needed, he arranges to house a group of prisoners suffering from the disease in the caves beneath his new Cornish home. While he devotes himself to his controversial medical trials, Louise finds herself increasingly discomfited by the strange tales her new maid tells of the fairies that hunt the land, searching for those they can steal away to their realm.

Forty years later, Hester arrives at Morvoren House to take up a position as nurse to the now partially paralyzed and mute Miss Pinecroft. Hester has fled to Cornwall to try to escape her past, but surrounded by superstitious staff enacting bizarre rituals, she soon discovers her new home may be just as dangerous as her last.




3.  THE ANTHILL by Julianne Pachico
(due for pub on June 16)

Linda returns to Colombia after twenty years away. Sent to England after her mother’s death when she was eight, she’s searching for the person who can tell her what’s happened in the time that has passed. Matty - Linda’s childhood confidant, her best friend - now runs a refuge called The Anthill for the street kids of Medellin. But her long-anticipated reunion with him is struck by tension. Memory is fallible, and Linda discovers that everyone has a version of the past that is very, very different.

‘International in scope, profoundly human in its concerns, it feels like just the kind of novel we need in unsettling times.’ 
Laird Hunt


4.  MEXICAN GOTHIC by Silvia Moreno-Garcia
(due for pub on June 30)

The acclaimed author of Gods of Jade and Shadow returns with a mesmerising feminist re-imagining of Gothic fantasy, in which a young socialite discovers the haunting secrets of a beautiful old mansion in 1950s Mexico.

He is trying to poison me. You must come for me, Noemí. You have to save me.

When glamorous socialite Noemí Taboada receives a frantic letter from her newly-wed cousin begging to be rescued from a mysterious doom, it’s clear something is desperately amiss. Catalina has always had a flair for the dramatic, but her claims that her husband is poisoning her and her visions of restless ghosts seem remarkable, even for her.

Noemí’s chic gowns and perfect lipstick are more suited to cocktail parties than amateur sleuthing, but she immediately heads to High Place, a remote mansion in the Mexican countryside, determined to discover what is so affecting her cousin.

Tough and smart, she possesses an indomitable will, and she is not afraid: not of her cousin’s new husband, who is both menacing and alluring; not of his father, the ancient patriarch who seems to be fascinated by Noemí; and not of the house itself, which begins to invade Noemi’s dreams with visions of blood and doom.

Her only ally in this inhospitable abode is the family’s youngest son. Shy and gentle, he seems to want to help, but might also be hiding dark knowledge of his family’s past. For there are many secrets behind the walls of High Place. The family’s once colossal wealth and faded mining empire kept them from prying eyes, but as Noemí digs deeper she unearths stories of violence and madness. 

And Noemí, mesmerized by the terrifying yet seductive world of High Place, may soon find it impossible to leave this enigmatic house behind ...


5.  THE QUICKENING by Rhiannon Ward 
(due for pub on August 20)

An infamous seance. A house burdened by grief. A secret that can no longer stay buried.

England, 1925. Louisa Drew lost her husband in the First World War and her six-year-old twin sons in the Spanish Flu epidemic of 1918. Newly re-married and seven months pregnant, Louisa is asked by her employer to travel to Clewer Hall in Sussex to photograph the contents of the house for auction. Desperate for money after falling on hard times, she accepts the commission.

On arrival, she learns Clewer Hall was host to an infamous séance in 1896, the consequences of which still haunt the family. Before the Clewers leave England for good, the lady of the house has asked those who attended the original séance to recreate the evening. Louisa soon becomes embroiled in the strange happenings of the house, unravelling the long-held secrets of what happened that night thirty years before ... and discovers that her own fate is entwined with Clewer Hall’s.

An exquisitely crafted mystery that invites the reader into the crumbling Clewer Hall to help unlock its secrets alongside the unforgettable Louisa Drew.



6.  THESE WOMEN by Ivy Pochoda 
(due for pub on November 5)

These Women is full of resilient and undaunted characters that society often doesnt give a second look to. But Ivy Pochoda does and in these pages she gives us the small story that grows so large in meaning and emotion as to transcend genre. It tells us how to look at ourselves and at what is important.’ 
Michael Connelly

The dancer. The mother. The cop. The artist. The wife.

These women live by countless unspoken rules. How to dress; who to trust; which streets are safe and which are not. The rules grow out of a kaleidoscope of fear, anguish, power, loss and hope. Maybe it is only these rules which keep them alive.

When their neighbourhood is rocked by two murders, the careful existence these women have built for themselves begins to crumble.

Pochoda turns grief, suffering and loss into art, crafting a literary thriller that is no less compelling for its deep emotional resonance. 
Vogue


7.  LONG BRIGHT RIVER by Liz Moore 
(due for pub on December 31)

Kensington Ave, Philadelphia:

The first place you go for drugs or sex.
The last place you want to look for your sister.

Mickey Fitzpatrick has been patrolling the 24th District for years. She knows most of the working women by name. She knows what desperation looks like and what people will do when they need a fix. She’s become used to finding overdose victims: their numbers are growing every year. But every time she sees someone sprawled out, slumped over, cold to the touch, she has to pray it’s not her sister, Kacey.

When the bodies of murdered sex workers start turning up on the Ave, the Chief of Police is keen to bury the news. They’re not the kind of victims that generate a whole lot of press anyway. But Mickey is obsessed, dangerously so, with finding the perpetrator - before Kacey becomes the next victim.


8.  THIRTEEN STOREYS by Jonathan Sims 
(due for pub on November 26)

A chilling thriller that’s perfect for fans of Get Out and The Haunting of Hill House.

A dinner party is held in the penthouse of a multimillion-pound development. All the guests are strangers - even to their host, the billionaire owner of the building.

None of them know why they were selected to receive his invitation. Besides a postcode, they share only one thing in common - they’ve all experienced an unsettling occurrence within the building’s walls.

By the end of the night, their host is dead, and none of the guests will say what happened.

His death remains one of the biggest unsolved mysteries - until now.


9.  SISTERS by Daisy Johnson 
(due for pub on August 13)

Something unspeakable has happened to sisters July and September.

Desperate for a fresh start, their mother Sheela moves them across the country to an old family house that has a troubled life of its own. Noises come from behind the walls. Lights flicker of their own accord. Sleep feels impossible, dreams are endless.

In their new, unsettling surroundings, July finds that the fierce bond she’s always had with September – forged with a blood promise when they were children – is beginning to change in ways she cannot understand.

Taut, transfixing and profoundly moving, Sisters explodes with the fury and joy of adolescence. It is a story of sibling love and sibling envy to rival Shirley Jackson and Stephen King. With Sisters, Daisy Johnson confirms her standing among the most inventive and exciting young writers at work today.


10. THE RETURN by Rachel Harrison 
(due for pub on September 10)

Her best friend disappeared. A stranger came back.

Julie is missing, and no one believes she will ever return-except Elise. Elise knows Julie better than anyone. She feels it in her bones that her best friend is out there and that one day Julie will come back.

She’s right. Two years to the day that Julie went missing, she reappears with no memory of where she’s been or what happened to her.

Along with Molly and Mae, their two close friends from college, the women decide to reunite at a remote inn. But the second Elise sees Julie, she knows something is wrong: she’s emaciated, with sallow skin and odd appetites. And as the weekend unfurls, it becomes impossible to deny that the Julie who vanished two years ago is not the same Julie who came back. But then who - or what - is she?

An eerie storm of a debut that fuses thriller and horror into a brilliant depiction of women’s friendships - the rivalries, jealousies, anxieties and love.



THRILLERS, CHILLERS, SHOCKERS AND KILLERS …

An ongoing series of reviews of dark fiction (crime, thriller, horror and sci-fi) – both old and new – that I have recently read and enjoyed. I’ll endeavour to keep the SPOILERS to a minimum; there will certainly be no given-away denouements or exposed twists-in-the-tail, but by the definition of the word ‘review’, I’m going to be talking about these books in more than just thumbnail detail, extolling the aspects that I particularly enjoyed (I’ll outline the plot first, and follow it with my opinions) … so I guess if you’d rather not know anything at all about these pieces of work in advance of reading them yourself, then these particular posts will not be your thing.


by MJ Arlidge (2019)

Outline
It’s an ordinary day in the life of Justin Lanning, a successful South Coast businessman. Until, out of the blue, he receives a phone call telling him that he has one hour to live. Unnerved, but treating it as a cruel joke, Lanning goes about his business … and the next morning is found strangled.

Detective Inspector Helen Grace, the Southampton Major Incident Team’s on-call SIO, cops for the assignment, and immediately takes charge with her usual efficiency.

All Fall Down is the ninth novel to date in MJ Arlidge’s popular detective series, but almost immediately in this tale, the motorbike-riding heroine finds that things aren’t running quite as smoothly as they normally would.

To start with, her best friend and very able deputy, DS Charlene ‘Charlie’ Brooks, is heavily pregnant and not quite the force of nature she normally is. At the same time, Grace, though famous for forging her own somewhat bull-headed path in life (despite suffering occasional bouts of depression) has recently entered a relationship with another of her underlings, tough guy DS Joe Hudson, whom not everyone else on the team trusts, and which puts a slight distance between herself and the others.

As if that isn’t problem enough, the case quickly becomes more complex and disturbing than she anticipated. To start with, this isn’t the first time Lanning has been attacked. Eight years earlier, he was one of a group of five teenagers abducted and tortured by a weird, sadistic loner called Alan King, who, even though it all happened in King’s bleak moorland cottage, has never been brought to book for the crime.

The incident, which saw the youngsters get lost while orienteering for the Duke of Edinburgh Award, and then be imprisoned and brutally mistreated in the reclusive nutcase’s filthy cellar, one of them dying in the process, was a major story at the time, and yet never resolved. King is still believed to be at liberty somewhere, and, when other members of the group are also murdered, once again after having been informed beforehand that they have only one hour to live, the obvious assumption is that the madman has returned from his self-imposed anonymity to finish off the rest. This horrifying possibility attracts wholesale media attention, one journalist in particular, Emilia Garanita, determined to find a big scoop and constantly dogging Helen Grace’s heels.

Grace herself, a hard-headed realist, might not be inclined to believe the sensationalist theory, except that another of the survivors, Maxine Pryce, has since become a writer and is soon to publish her own literary account of the original atrocity.

The increasingly stressed DI doesn’t want to admit it, and continues to keep an open mind (when she isn’t being distracted by the progressively more troubling changes in her private life – there are certainly things about Hudson that are starting to bother her!) but it seems increasingly possible that Pryce’s forthcoming book might well have provoked a response from King and that he has indeed re-emerged, firstly to torment his chosen group of victims by telephone, and then to kill each one of them at their appointed time … 

Review
On reflection, there were three specific things about All Fall Down that I found most satisfying.

The lead character, Helen Grace, is very far from being a cliché. As a motorbike-riding female cop, who has attained dominant status in what is still largely a man’s world, it would be too easy to portray her as a kind of non-superpowered Jessica Jones, leather-clad, effing and jeffing with the best of them, crime-fighting as an escape from a car crash lovelife and, of course, kicking ass everywhere she goes.

But MJ Arlidge’s police heroine, for whom, as already mentioned, this is the ninth outing, has always been far more grounded in reality. Yes, she’s had to tough her way to DI, and it has cost her. She’s long been a loner, especially when it comes to romance, but she’s where she is because she’s a skilled and thorough investigator, not because she fights like a man, takes terrifying risks that no police force in real life would reward, or because she has endless public spats with the boss despite the pair of them being secret best buddies.

And the realism goes even further than that. Grace’s lonely lifestyle is not a tale of drunken self-pity in some grotty flat that no one in the right mind would ever want to visit, eating hotdogs for breakfast, lunch and tea, with a phone that never rings unless it’s work. There are one or two slight abnormalities, granted, but these are rather personal and don’t really manifest in All Fall Down. Otherwise, it’s a normal, lower-middle class existence, Grace still working lots of hours, but taking time for herself and getting on well enough with her team to socialise when they’re off duty.

What’s more, Grace’s ‘ordinary person’ persona works particularly well in the context of this book. She’s facing an unknown psychopath, who is organised and efficient and, within a couple of pages of the narrative commencing, looks highly likely to become the English South Coast’s next serial killer.

This is a superior kind of enemy – what you might call ‘serious opposition’ – though in the world of Helen Grace, he/she must still be tackled the proper way. So, you know you’re not going to get exhausting and implausible action sequences. You know that this case, no matter how hellish it becomes, no matter how desirous of revenge our protagonists feel, will be investigated steadily and methodically and always within the confines of the law, because that’s the way it would happen in real life. But that doesn’t mean that this procedure-based response won’t be stretched to its ultimate extremes by the horrific nature of the killer, not to mention the mystery that surrounds him or her, which makes it all the more compelling a story.

This brings me to the second thing that I really liked about All Fall Down: the nature of the foe.

MJ Arlidge’s tenth book is a crime novel through and through, but the premise at its heart skates along the edge of horror. The main story here is dark enough: the idea that your killer will call to warn you exactly one hour before he/she strikes, and still manage to pull it off. But the back-story is darker still.

The kidnapping of a gang of children while alone on a wintry moorland, while striving for the Duke of Edinburgh Award, strikes a nightmarish note. If it were to happen in real life, it would be the headline of the month in most countries. The fact that one of the kids is then mercilessly killed, the abductor seemingly intent on doing the same to all the others as well, makes it even more chilling.

Grace, as a realist, doesn’t automatically leap to the conclusion that the terrible events of today are an encore to this savage melodrama of the past, but as the evidence leans increasingly towards that, the full potential of what this would actually mean becomes evident. Namely, that a deranged murderer – a vicious ambush-predator who up until a decade ago had somehow managed to hide his dark light under a bushel – launched a murderous attack on a bunch of the most vulnerable without any provocation, and then evaded justice and was able to lie low for years, watching those who got away (maybe from a distance, maybe from close up, who knows?), just waiting for the spark that would reignite his mania all over again.

And yet, all the way through, we are reminded that this is only one of several possibilities. Suppose the killer is someone else? Even then, surely it must be connected to the events of the past? But what if it isn’t? What if the twisted motivations here are something else entirely? 

This is way more than a routine mystery, the grim back-story as good a nail on which to hang a taut police thriller as any I’ve come across. It’s high concept from start to finish, Arlidge working it for everything he can, but at the same time cleverly making it appear that something which surely could only occur in a movie is genuinely happening in this very authentic world.

This is wonderful stuff, edge-of-the-seat scariness abutting constantly with the frustrations and uncertainties that bedevil real life major investigations, and all the while, of course, with the ticking clock factor in the background. Whoever our antagonist is, they are determined to work their way through the entire gang of survivors, and yet remain confident enough to warn them all in advance. I’ve certainly never seen that done before in a thriller. The thought alone makes your skin crawl and adds a whole new level of horror to the proceedings.

The third thing that really won me over to All Fall Down was the presence in Helen Grace’s life of Joseph Hudson, a rugged, handsome DS, not necessarily an old-school brawler, but an impulsive door-kicker all the same, and an energised, athletic guy who you can imagine would make the perfect foil for our heroine in matters of love as well as work.

Has she at last found the ideal partner? It would seem so. Except that something isn’t quite right about this relationship, and it takes close friends to start picking up on this before Grace does. Isn’t this bloke a bit too good to be true? Why doesn’t he talk much about his past? He likes taking the lead and yet it doesn’t always pan out. Are his instincts good, or totally awry?

Again, Arlidge uses subtlety to introduce these doubts, gradually but steadily creating a whole new battlefront for Grace to engage on, which in a case like this is the last thing she needs.

All Fall Down is another great piece of work from MJ Arlidge, proper cop stuff alternating with an unfolding nightmare of ruthless and ingenious criminality. The gripping plot, clean and concise writing style, and very short chapters only help make this one of those perfect poolside page-flippers (here’s hoping we all manage to get to a pool some time this summer).

As always now, in my own inimitable and ridiculous fashion, I’m going to try and cast All Fall Down in the event it attracts TV attention. Just a bit of fun, of course. Were we to be fortunate enough to see Helen Grace hit the screen, any series would most likely start with the first book in the series, Eeny Meeny, instead. But hell, let’s give it a go anyway.
 
DI Helen Grace – Michelle Dockery
DS Joseph Hudson – Brian Gleeson
DS Charlie Brooks – Lashana Lynch
Emilia Garanita – Romola Garai
Maxine Pryce – Elizabeth Debicki
DSU Grace Simmons – Amanda Ryan
Fran Ward – Emma Rigby