Tuesday, 22 August 2017

The Hit by Nadia Dalbuono

The Hit
By Nadia Dalbuono
Published by Scribe (9 February 2017)

Publisher's description 
Detective Leone Scamarcio, the son of a former leading mafioso, has turned his back on the family business, and has joined the Rome police force. He may be one of the last honest men in Italy. 
But when Scamarcio is handed a file of extremely compromising photographs of a high-profile Italian politician, and told to ‘deal with it’, he knows he’s in for trouble. And when a young man is found stabbed to death in Rome, and a young American girl disappears on a beach in Elba, Scamarcio’s job gets a whole lot more complicated. 
Worst of all, every lead seems to implicate the prime minister ― a multi-media baron, and the most powerful man in Italy. As the case spins out of control, and his own past catches up with him, Scamarcio must navigate the darkest currents of Italian society ― only to find that nothing is as it seems, and that the price of truth may be higher than he can pay. 

My verdict
The Hit is the third in the Leona Scamarcio detective series, which is set in Rome. This is a new series for me, and what better place to read the book than in stunning Rome itself. I took The Hit away with me on my six-day summer break last month.

I enjoy reading police procedurals, but even more so when they're set in another country, as you learn so much about the culture there through the eyes of the locals. This twisty police procedural contains enough description to give the reader a great sense of place, but not too much to slow down the plot. This was an enjoyable gripping read, filled with tension and humour and a lead detective with murky family roots.

The book can easily be read as a standalone, although I'm now intrigued enough to buy the first two books to catch up on Scamarcio's family background. I also loved the insight into Italian culture, organised crime and police corruption.

I received an Advance Reader Copy from the publisher.

Monday, 21 August 2017

BEST OF CRIME with Tammy Cohen

Welcome to my latest BEST OF CRIME feature, looking at crime writers' top picks, from their favourite author and fictional detective to their best writing tip. 

Today I'm delighted to welcome 


to share her BEST OF CRIME ...

I’ve loved both of Liz Nugent’s books because they’re so fresh and different. Belinda Bauer’s originality makes her stand out in the crowded terrain of psychological thrillers. I’ve always loved Lisa Jewell’s writing, but her more recent venture into psychological suspense has given her books a darker edge, but still with her trademark focus on totally rounded, utterly believable characters, which is an unbeatable combination. Recently I’ve loved The Dry by Jane Harper, set in the parched outback in Australia. You can feel the relentless heat coming off the page. 

Strangers on a Train is still the ultimate crime movie for me. The central concept of the Patricia Highsmith novel on which it is based – two random strangers swap murders - is so neat and perfectly self-contained. And the character of Bruno Anthony is such a brilliant psychological study. Oh, and all the most crucial action takes place in an amusement park, ending in an out-of-control carousel ride. Who could resist? 


Like millions of others, our household was hooked on the first two series of Narcos where two DEA officers try to bring Colombian drug baron Pablo Escobar to justice. It’s the combination of a powerhouse central performance from Wagner Moura which shows the violence and cruelty of Escobar, who went from nothing to being one of the richest men in the world, and at the same time his vulnerability. But also the psychological interplay between the DEA agents and their quarry, and between Escobar and his various key henchmen. And all set against the breathtaking backdrop of Colombia itself.

As soon as I read Caroline Kepnes’ brilliant psychological thriller ‘You’, I fell a little bit in love with Joe Goldberg, a charming, witty, razor-smart New York bookseller, who just happens to be a stalker. And a psychopath. But somehow that doesn’t stop the reader from secretly willing him on. Genius.

Commandant Camille Verhoeven, the invention of French crime writer Pierre Lemaitre is a brilliant creation. At just four foot eleven (due to his mother’s heavy smoking during pregnancy), what he lacks in height he makes up for in intellect and determination and old-fashioned nobility. His own tragic past, which involved the murder of his beloved wife, has made him more intuitive to evil, but also to love.

I’m such a total wuss, I can’t read or watch very graphic violence. However, Robert Harris’s Mason Verger being fed to his own beloved pet pigs whom he has been cultivating purely for the pleasure of seeing them eat his nemesis Hannibal Lecter, has stuck in my mind.

See above. 

I’m a big believer in the old adage ‘the truth is stranger than fiction’ and when I’m at a loose end for plot ideas, I’ll invariably end up googling ‘weirdest real life crimes’ or some variant thereof and then spending the rest of the day lost down the wormhole of bizarre human behavior. Although all too often I’ll get enthused about an idea before ruling it out on the basis that if I tried to put it in a novel, readers would claim it was too far-fetched.

Don’t show your first draft to anyone – unless you want to find yourself pulled in a myriad of conflicting directions.
If your interest is flagging, chances are your readers’ will be too. Think about the most shocking thing that might happen at this point. And then write it. You might not end up keeping it in, but at least it might have re-energised you.
Accept that some people won’t like what you write. That’s fine. Most of my favourite books have a low to average rating on Amazon. That’s because the writer hasn’t played safe. Which, conversely, is why those are my favourite books! 

I drink a lot of coffee and green tea (not together, that would be weird), so the ideal writing snack has to be one that is eminently dunkable. I’m going to sound very dull here, but I favour the plain, simple, noble digestive. Please don’t stop buying my books now I’ve shared that. 


Tammy Cohen wrote three dark contemporary novels (The Mistress’s Revenge, The War of the Wives, Someone Else’s Wedding) under the name Tamar Cohen, before deciding to move into crime, principally because crime writers always seemed to be having the most fun. Her psychological thrillers The Broken, First One Missing, Dying For Christmas, When She was Bad and They All Fall Down, have all been published internationally and When She Was Bad has been optioned for television. Tammy’s first historical novel, A Dangerous Crossing, written under the pseudonym Rachel Rhys, came out in March 2017 and has been shortlisted for the 2017 HWA Golden Crown Award. A Dangerous Crossing is one of Richard & Judy's Autumn 2017 Book Club Selection. As well as writing fiction, Tammy has worked as a journalist for over twenty years, writing for newspapers such as The Times, The Telegraph and magazines including Marie Claire, Cosmopolitan and Woman & Home.

Find Tammy Cohen on her website, FB page and on Twitter - @MsTamarCohen


Publisher's description
Orange is the New Black meets One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. They All Fall Down is set in a private psychiatric clinic for women at high risk of self harm where Hannah Lovell is a patient. From the outset it’s clear she’s done something shocking, but we don’t know what. When two of Hannah’s fellow patients die in quick succession, suicide is the obvious assumption. Only Hannah is convinced there's a serial killer at large in the unit, preying on her friends. But who will believe she's telling the truth when she's proved so expert in lying to herself? 

They All Fall Down was published by Transworld on 13 July 2017.

Look out for more BEST OF CRIME features coming soon.

Click here to read more BEST OF CRIME features.

Sunday, 20 August 2017

The Collector by Fiona Cummins - VERY EARLY REVIEW

I don't usually do such early reviews. So apologies. This isn't out until 2018 but I couldn't wait to read it. Now I've read it, I couldn't wait to review it. If you haven't read Rattle, Fiona Cummins' first book, I suggest you buy it now (out in paperback on 24th August). Then the wait for The Collector won't seem quite so long.

The Collector
By Fiona Cummins
Published by Pan Macmillan

Publisher's description
Jakey escaped with his life and moved to a new town.
His rescue was a miracle but his parents know that the Collector is still out there, watching, waiting...
Clara, the girl he left behind, is clinging to the hope that someone will come and save her.
Life has fallen apart for Clara’s mother as she starts to lose hope.
The Bone Collector has a new apprentice to take over his family’s legacy. But he can’t forget the boy who got away and the detective who had destroyed his dreams
Detective Etta Fitzroy’s life collapsed when the Collector escaped. With Clara still missing, and a new wave of uncannily similar murders beginning, will she be able to find him again?
The Collector is back and this time he has nothing to lose . . .

My verdict
Fiona Cummins is one of the most talented crime writers I've stumbled upon in recent years. Not only is she a plotting genius, but her writing is sublime. I loved Rattle - an outstanding crime thriller - and couldn't wait to read The Collector. Well, not only has Fiona done it again but she's totally surpassed herself.

The Collector is harrowing, gruesome, chilling, terrifying, horrific, gripping, compelling... I could go on. This is a very dark plot, and descriptions may turn your stomach, get right under your skin and (dare I write this) rattle your bones. BUT the horror is dabbled with moments of tenderness and hope, with characters to believe in and invest in. This is a return to old characters and an introduction to new ones. Could this be read as a standalone? Probably. Yet why do so, when you can read Rattle too?

The plot moves at a cracking pace, with short concise chapters - I barely took a breath all the way through. This is a book that's hard to put down once you've started reading. It tackles all of your senses in one go, with such powerful writing in every word, every sentence, every paragraph, every page...

Fiona Cummins' books are perfect for fans of top authors Mo Hader and Thomas Harris. I suspect in years to come, though, that Rattle, The Collector and many more of Fiona's books themselves will be on the lists of crime fiction masterclasses to study pace, tension and creepiness.

The Collector is, without doubt, going to be a top recommendation of mine for 2018, just as Rattle has been this year. I can't wait to see what Fiona Cummins writes next - unfortunately, I suspect I'll have to wait a while, considering this book isn't out for several months.

I received an Advance Reader Copy from the publisher.

Here's the link to my review of Rattle: http://off-the-shelfbooks.blogspot.co.uk/2017/01/rattle-by-fiona-cummins.html

Thursday, 17 August 2017

The Last Resort by Steph Broadribb

The Last Resort: A Lori Anderson Short Story (Rookie Bounty Hunter)
By Steph Broadribb
Published by Orenda Books (1 August 2017)

Publisher's description
Done with a life of exploitation and violence, Lori Anderson is training to be a bounty hunter. Holed up in the Georgia Mountains with her reclusive mentor, JT, Lori is determined to put her new skills into practice. Behind JT's back, she breaks his rules and grabs the chance she's looking for. Will her gamble pay off, or will she have to learn the hard way? 

My verdict
If you're a Lori Anderson fan, you're in for a treat with The Last Resort. You're also in for a treat if you haven't yet read Steph's Broadribb's Deep Down Dead, the first novel in her Lori Anderson series. This was the best action thriller I had read in a long time and it's sure to be in my top reads this year.

I'm not going to give anything away about the plot (other than the blurb above), because it is a short story. But The Last Resort is a fun quick read (with a rookie female bounty hunter with attitude and a sexy bounty hunter pro) while you're waiting for the next Lori Anderson book, Deep Blue Trouble, which is being published by Orenda Books in January 2018. We get a snippet of Lori's life while she was training with bounty hunter JT, well before their story in Deep Down Dead.

The Last Resort is also a great introduction to Steph Broadribb's Lori Anderson series, as you get the added bonus of the first three chapters of Deep Down Dead at the end - and they're certain to leave you wanting more. They left me wanting more, and this is my third time reading them, having read Deep Down Dead twice (yes, I am a 'bit' of a fan).

If you're a fan of Janet Evanovitch and Lee Child, buy this short story and buy Deep Down Dead! Oh, and pre-order Deep Blue Trouble too!

Fierce Kingdom by Gin Phillips

Fierce Kingdom
By Gin Phillips
Published by Transworld (15 June 2017)

Publisher's description
Lincoln is a good boy. At the age of four, he is curious, clever and well behaved. He does as his mum says and knows what the rules are.
'The rules are different today. The rules are that we hide and do not let the man with the gun find us.'
When an ordinary day at the zoo turns into a nightmare, Joan finds herself trapped with her beloved son. She must summon all her strength, find unexpected courage and protect Lincoln at all costs – even if it means crossing the line between right and wrong; between humanity and animal instinct.
It's a line none of us would ever normally dream of crossing.
But sometimes the rules are different.

My verdict
Fierce Kingdom was a powerful, intriguing and emotive story, with a chilling opening chapter, although it wasn't all as fast paced as I expected. It explores the behaviour of a mother and her young son during an emergency situation, rather than reading like an action-packed thriller all the way through.

The book focuses mainly on Joan and four-year-old Lincoln, who are caught up in a shooting incident at their local zoo. This is a place they know well, so Joan knows exactly where to hide when the shooting begins. The focus is on their relationship and the difficult decisions Joan has to make to keep them safe.

Fierce Kingdom is beautifully written, with vivid descriptions of the zoo, although this did slow down the pace at times. Most chapters follow Joan's thoughts, as she works how to keep Lincoln calm at a time of immense danger. Being a typical young child, he gets bored easily, needs food and struggles to keep quiet. But we do 'meet' another couple of the people in hiding, as well as one of the gunmen.

The tension ramped up as the book progressed, once Joan and Lincoln left their hiding place in search of food. The ending was fairly dramatic but also a little abrupt, leaving me to wonder what had happened to some of the other characters. Plus, being set in a zoo, I would have loved more animal involvement.

Overall though, this was an enjoyable read and certainly made me think 'what would I have done in that situation?'

I received an Advance Reader Copy from the publisher via NetGalley.

Monday, 14 August 2017

Maria in the Moon by Louise Beech

Maria in the Moon
By Louise Beech
Published by Orenda Books (15 August 2017)

Publisher's description
Long ago my beloved Nanny Eve chose my name. Then one day she stopped calling me it. I try now to remember why, but I just can't.' Thirty-two-year-old Catherine Hope has a great memory. But she can't remember everything. She can't remember her ninth year. She can't remember when her insomnia started. And she can't remember why everyone stopped calling her Catherine-Maria. With a promiscuous past, and licking her wounds after a painful breakup, Catherine wonders why she resists anything approaching real love. But when she loses her home to the devastating deluge of 2007 and volunteers at Flood Crisis, a devastating memory emerges ... and changes everything. Dark, poignant and deeply moving, Maria in the Moon is an examination of the nature of memory and truth, and the defences we build to protect ourselves, when we can no longer hide...

My verdict
Maria in the Moon is yet another stunner from Louise Beech.

Set in Hull, just after the floods of 2007, the book focuses on Catherine Hope, who can't remember her ninth year. All she knows is that this was when her father died. She's volunteering at Flood Crisis, helping people resolve their own problems even though she can't deal with her own. She's filled with so many questions. When and why did her family stop using her full name (Catherine-Maria)?  When did her insomnia and other health problems begin? Why does she shy away from real love? Then her childhood memories start coming back.

Maria in the Moon features more humour than Louise Beech's other books, yet the underlying story is even darker and more evocative. The writing is simply stunning, so vivid and descriptive that it takes you right into the heart of the story and into the lives of her diverse, larger-than-life and highly realistic characters. I couldn't help but be transported into Hull at a time of crisis.

I wanted to read this book slowly, to savour every moment, yet found myself racing ahead, just to see what had happened to Catherine in the past and what was going to happen to her next. The book is filled with surprises - some good, some bad and some that turned me into a total wreck.

All of Louise Beech's books are different in subject and plot, yet they evoke the same emotions - or rather, all the emotions. I defy anyone to read her books with at least a tear in their eye, although it's more likely to be a trickle or maybe even a flood. Keep the tissues handy!

I received an Advance Reader Copy.