The Whispers Review: A Haunting Thriller That You’ll Remember For All The Right Reasons

As part of her blog tour, I’m excited to share my thoughts on the latest book from renowned thriller writer Heidi Perks.

After Perks’ past works, including Come Back For Me, Three Perfect Liarsand the incredible Now You See Her, comes her latest offering, the deliciously deceitful The Whispers.

The author’s latest release is a gripping thriller with a Gone Girl esq twist. Not to spoil the plot, but honestly, if you love Gillian’s Flynn’s bestseller then The Whispers could be the perfect read for you.

The story revolves around four very close friends, who live in the picturesque, fictional Dorset town of Clearwater, near the very real town of Weymouth. These four friends are all parents of 8 year olds kids, who are all in the same class at primary school.

On the surface, these four live picture-perfect, happy lives. They have great husbands, lovely children, and beautiful homes. Those who have jobs seem to enjoy them, and the rest love being homemakers and taking care of their husbands and children.

All of this is pulled apart with the arrival of Grace, a woman who used to live in Clearwater but moved to Australia when she was a teenager. Now a married mother with an 8 year old daughter in the same class as the four friends’ kids, she comes back and expects to fit in with her former best friend, Anna, one of the four.

However, Anna now has her three new friends, and she is increasingly distant from Grace. The other three women all rally round her and seem to try to keep her away from her childhood best friend. In a desperate attempt to fit in and win her old friend back, Grace agrees to come to a Christmas night out at the local pub.

The night is filled with in fighting and strange revelations. Grace leaves early while the other four women stay and party. The next day, Anna has disappeared, and Grace soon finds that her friends aren’t being honest about what happened to her. In desperation, Grace goes to Anna’s gormless husband, then takes it upon herself to report the disappearance to the police.

Not only is Anna’s vanishing scary for Grace, but it also brings back unwelcome memories of an eerily similar disappearance that happened back when the girls where teenagers. A girl in their class disappeared, only to be found dead having fallen from the cliffs. The cliffs in the area are renowned as dangerous, but now Grace begins to wonder.

She meets up with a policeman who worked the case all those years ago, and the two reminisce. There’s little he can do to help Grace find Anna, and no one else seems to care that she’s missing. Anna has left an amazing husband and a gorgeous small boy behind, and there doesn’t seem to be any reason behind her sudden vanishing.

When Anna reappears suddenly, it’s clear that all is not well. All of her friends are clearly keeping secrets, and the story rattles on to its final, breath-taking conclusion. In between, the story is taut and tense, with Perks teasing the reader with small titbits of information but never giving us the full story until right at the very end.

It’s the author’s masterful storytelling abilities that keep The Whispers so engaging and enticing. The tale itself is a deliciously simple one, but the writing style means that the reader is left hanging on Perks’ every word as they traverse this bitter and backbiting fiction town with her as their guide.

The ending of the novel is insanely captivating. The reader is left wondering who was right: Grace or Anna? Perks does an amazing job of keeping everything ambiguous and leaving it open to interpretation. She keeps you guessing right to the very end, and then leaves you with more questions than answers. By giving various perspectives on the narrative, she makes it tough for you to get a clear view of the plot. You’re constantly wondering who is lying and who is covering for themselves.

It’s for this reason that her latest novel is so haunting. Even after it’s over, you’ll still be questioning everything that you read and wondering who to believe. I’ve been left wondering about the book and dissecting each detail of the plot ever since I finished it a few weeks ago. I struggled to put the book down when I was reading it, and now I can’t get it out of my head.

That’s the hallmark of a good thriller. It stays with you long after it’s over and haunts you at odd moments. There are few truly exceptional books that will stay with you and give you the fear long after they’re done, and this is definitely one of them. You’ll remember the plot and notice random qualities in people you meet that remind you of the characters. It’s also the kind of thriller that you’ll want to re-read as soon as the plot even starts to fade from your memory. I’m already considering giving it another go and I’ve only just finished it!

With all that said, it’s clear that I’d thoroughly recommend The Whispers to anyone who wants to read an engaging thriller that will help you escape from your reality. The book quickly draws you in and makes you feel invested in the fates of the characters. You’ll want to find out what happened to Anna and how her past actions have affected her future reality.

When all is said and done, I think that Perks’ latest novel is a gritty, modern thriller that really packs a punch. Like Now You See Her before it, I believe that this is the sort of novel that’ll soon be optioned by NBC, Netflix or Hulu and I can totally see Reese Witherspoon trying to grab one of the main roles for herself. She’d make a great Nancy, in my opinion. I’d be excited to see a TV adaptation of this terrifying exploration of the depths of human deceit and how quickly families and relationships can crumble under the pressure of past deception.

Have A Very Norwegian Easter By Reading A Crime Novel

Happy Easter weekend to all the lovely Dorset Book Detective readers!

If you’re looking for a new tradition for Easter this year, when things are a bit weird, then I’ve got the perfect idea for you: read crime fiction.

Hear me out: I know crime fiction doesn’t sound very Easter-y, but in some countries it actually is a time-honoured tradition to read thrillers at this time of year.  

At Easter here in the UK, traditions include hiding chocolate Easter eggs for kids to find, eating a cake made with marzipan balls meant to symbolise the apostles and cooking an oversized roast dinner.

While the holiday retains some religious symbolism for some Christian households, most of us just enjoy having the time off, seeing our loved ones and stuffing our faces with tasty treats.

One international tradition that I think we should adopt in the UK is the Norwegian habit of Påskekrim, or reading crime novels at Easter.

At Easter, in this beautiful and chilly Scandinavian country, people cuddle up with a gripping thriller or binge watch a Scandi crime film or TV show.

The tradition allegedly started when two Norwegian crime writers took out an advert in the newspapers that convinced readers to read their new novel. The advert was so persuasive that many readers thought the tale was true.

Thanks to the success of the stunt the book was a huge success. As well as literary success, the publicity strategy started a tradition where readers would seek out new thrillers and mystery novels to read at Easter.

As a result, publishers started timing the releases of new crime fiction novels to coincide with the religious holiday. That meant that there were even more awesome thrillers for readers to check out at Easter every year. It also meant that it’s become a time-honoured tradition to read them over Easter.

Personally, I think that reading crime fiction at Easter is the perfect tradition for the UK. It’s a great way to reinvigorate yourself over the long weekend and expand your mind, while being lazy at the same time. Crime fiction is gripping and great for helping you to escape tough times.

It’s safe to say that there haven’t been too many times that have been tougher than these. That’s why crime fiction is particularly useful for this Easter. After all, we’re probably going to all being feeling a bit of FOMO (fear of missing out) as we’re not able to meet up with as many people or do the fun Easter activities that we’re used to enjoying. But reading, particularly gripping mysteries and thrillers, is a great way to feel exhilarated even while you’re stuck indoors, or in the garden if the weather stays fine.

Really well written crime fiction novels can take you out of your home, or garden, and transport you to a new time, place and situation. There’s a type of crime fiction for every writer, ranging from quaint cosy crime fiction through to terrifying political thrillers and more. That means that whatever you’re into, there’s a mystery for you to enjoy this Easter.

Also, reading crime fiction is one of the few Easter traditions that doesn’t involve food. Don’t get me wrong: food is really good. Everyone needs food, and most of love eating it (except for people who just eat those weird Huel meal replacement things, and they’re weird). However, Easter is a lot about food for most Brits. From the cake with the marzipan apostles to the classic crème egg, hot cross buns to the all-important roast dinner, there’s just so much traditional Easter food to choose from. So, it’s nice to have a new tradition that’s not edible.

While I know some people who do use this time to read, or re-read, the Bible, as it’s a religious holiday, most of us don’t believe and therefore choose not to read it.

If that’s the case, then Påskekrim could be the perfect solution. By making this a yearly tradition, we can feel comforted by the familiarity and get the chance to read shiny new crime fiction novels. It’s a win-win situation if you ask me!

Going one step further with the tradition and giving crime fiction books at Easter could be the UK’s way of stepping up this tradition, and I for one am all for it! While we give out loads of edible gifts, mostly in chocolate form, we could start giving out a longer lasting reminder of the awesomeness of Easter. Whether you’re religious or not, this is an amazing time of the year. We get time off and the sun is shining. There will soon be cute baby animals for us to fawn over and pretty flowers. The days are getting longer and the weather’s getting better, and this year, we’re also beating a pandemic.

Being reminded of all that with a shiny new mystery novel would be ace. I for one have already treated myself to a few new thrillers over the past couple of weeks, and I’ll be reading them over the long weekend to celebrate Easter. I think in the future, getting one wrapped in egg covered wrapping paper would make me a very happy reader!

In all, I hope the weather does stay fine for us all this Easter weekend, and that everyone gets the opportunity to read an engaging thriller. It’s even better if you can eat some yummy chocolatey treats while you’re reading too! It’s been a tough year of lockdown, and while it’s getting easier, life is far from back to normal. So, please, be kind to yourself this Easter and consider adopting a new tradition: self-case and reading your favourite crime fiction.

5 Insightful Books About Famous Serial Killers For Documentary Fans

In lockdown, binge-watching Netflix documentaries has become the new normal, and the platform and other streaming services have stepped up.

Streaming sites are constantly creating new documentaries, so we can stay entertained.

One common topic for these shows is serial killers, which are a popular obsession for many.

Killing multiple people is deeply fascinating for many people, as it’s something that seems so abhorrent to us that we can’t understand how, and more importantly why, people do it.

That’s why we love to watch serial killer documentaries and get an insight into the motives behind the crimes and how murderers are able to get away with committing them for so long, in many cases.

After you’ve watched loads of documentaries, it’s easy to want to learn even more, which means reading up about serial killers and the psychology behind their crimes.

There are many true crime books out there, and many books focus on serial killers in particular and offer insight into their lives before and after they started their killing sprees.   

If you’re enjoying watching documentaries to learn more about serial killers, their victims and the crimes they committed, then here is a selection of five of the most interesting books about them.

I’ve chosen books about some of the most famed serial killers, as well as a couple on less renowned murderers who, nonetheless committed cruel crimes that deserve to be remembered and studied.

5. The Phantom Prince: My Life with Ted Bundy: The inspiration behind the film Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile, this book brings a unique perspective to the Ted Bundy murders. While many books about serial killers are written either from the perspective of relatives of the victims or criminology experts, The Phantom Prince: My Life with Ted Bundy is written by Elizabeth Kendall, who dated Bundy for six years. Later editions include additional information by Kendall’s daughter Molly, who Bundy spent a lot of time with while he was dating her mother. The book explores the relationship between the two and how Bundy’s façade of charm and wit hide a barbaric and depraved killer with a true contempt for his fellow human beings.

4. Killing For Company: The Case Of Dennis Nilsen: The inspiration behind the ITV drama starring David Tennant, this award-winning book from Brian Masters was created with the full corporation of Nilsen himself. He killed at least 15 people in the late 1970s and early 1980s in the Muswell Hill area. By taking advantage of society’s ignorance and paranoia about homosexuality and the fact that young gay men were tragically overlooked at the time, he was able to ensnare his victims. As society at the time didn’t care about them, he was able to snatch them out of their lives and commit depraved acts. Masters uncovers a man who is obsessed with death and pain, and feels little remorse for his vile crimes. The book provides unique insight into the mind of a horrendous serial killer.

3. The Jolly Roger Social Club: A True Story of a Killer in Paradise: Investigative journalist Nick Foster explores the serial killer known as ‘Wild Bill’. Real name William Dathan Holbert, the American ex-pat and conman killed at least five other Americans living in the beautiful city in Panama called Bocas del Toro. The book explores Holbert’s history of lying and conning others out of money, as well as the nature of Bocas del Toro and why the region was the perfect place for Wild Bill and his wife to search for their victims. Their murders were purely for financial gain; the pair of them earned a lot of money and built up an impressive real estate portfolio thanks to their copious crimes, which included the slaying of the teenage son of one victim who was selling his home. Foster uses his storytelling skills to paint a picture of a beautiful but flawed paradise where criminals were able to easily entrap their victims and carry out their crimes with little notice for several years. If you want to learn more about this often overlooked serial killer, then this is the book for you.

2. The Five: The Untold Lives of the Women Killed by Jack the Ripper: OK, so this isn’t strictly about a serial killer. Instead, it’s an exploration of the lives of the five women who were killed by famously uncaught serial killer known as Jack The Ripper. While the popular media is keen to focus its attention on who the Ripper was, it rarely provides any information about his victims. When it does, it’s often highly inaccurate: for example, only one of the women was actually a prostitute, as this insightful book shows. Popular culture might make them all seem like streetwalkers, but several of them were from very respectable backgrounds, and writer Hallie Rubenhold shares their story respectfully in this must-read for serial killer enthusiasts.

1. My Friend Dahmer: As a former friend of Jeffrey Dahmer, the renowned serial killer who butchered 17 men and boys and committed atrocious acts on their corpses, John Backderf, known as Derf, is in a unique position to shine a light on the early life of this vile killer. Backderf is a graphic artist, who shares his story of his time trying to connect with the teenage Dahmer in the form of a graphic novel. It’s an inventive way to learn more about the early life of a killer and the weird, uncanny actions he committed that foreshadowed his future murders. The images are creative and perfectly complement this tantalising true tale of a teenage friendship with a boy who later grew into a twisted killer.

The Primary Objective Review: A Promising Political Thriller Missing A Few Teeth

Political thrillers, when done well, are the perfect escapist literary. As a far of political thrillers who’s in need of an escape, I was looking forward to checking out Martin Venning’s new novel The Primary Objective.

Primarily set in a small village on the border between Iran and Azerbaijan, the novel charts the work of Peace International, a fictional charity organisation dedicated to providing reconciliation and mediation support to governments and military factions around the world.

Led by London-based Operations Director Edwin Wilson and a mysterious insurgent named only as ‘Dave’, a small team is put together from international experts in warfare, local tour guides, scientists and communications experts. Together, they infiltrate the small town of Ibrahim Sami and work to understand how the region is becoming so prosperous and what the military base on the outskirts of town is doing.

During the initial reconnaissance, the team from Peace International find out that the base is being managed in tandem with the Chinese military. Slowly, the team uncovers a lot of information about skulduggery that could threaten to destabilise the region and cause untold harm to millions. There’s a lot at stake, and the team has to work hard to understand the issues they face and to work together to stop threats that are coming in from all sides.

The novel switches between the perspective of the team and other players in the drama that unfolds. These include a young shipping magnate who is being used to provide logistics support for an underground organisation and a local man who is supporting Peace International’s work but is deeply concerned about his father’s involvement with the military in his hometown.

By switching through a variety of different perspectives and by moving around the world, Venning keeps the reader interested. From the dismal streets of London to the wilds of small town Iran and the hustle and bustle of Tehran, the plot traverses the globe and means that there’s never any shortage of action and adventure. As such, the novel lives up to its name- everyone’s ‘Primary Objective’ is different, so we see a variety of perspectives.

While this does serve to keep the reader entertained and the plot moving forward, the author’s constant chopping and changing does make The Primary Objective harder to follow than it needs to be. Also, as each chapter is from a different character’s perspective, and in some cases, the perspective switches even within paragraphs, readers aren’t able to get attached to any one character or storyline.

Instead, we’re constantly seeing the action from a different point of view. This approach does serve to ensure that the reader is never bored when reading this book, but it also makes the action less engaging. With so many characters involved, and with the reader seeing the story from the perspective of almost all of them, it’s hard to get attached to anyone or to care about their fate.

Also, Venning uses a lot of info dumping in his novel; where loads of information is foisted on the reader through a lengthy explanation or piece of explanatory dialogue, rather than being integrated naturally throughout the story. Inserting long explanations makes the text feel very dense and less enjoyable to read, although Venning makes up for that issue with his fast-paced plot and by moving the action around a lot.

As for the characters, while there are too many, and the reader isn’t able to get too attached to them thanks to the almost constantly switching perspectives, they are still intriguing and well crafted. Each character is believable and relatable in some way, even the very unique military individuals that most people don’t encounter on a day-to-day basis.

The character backstories are often dumped on the reader haphazardly, but that doesn’t mean that we don’t slowly become invested in their fates as the novel progresses. Many of the characters give long, rambling depictions of their lives and what has happened to them, but as the action gets more exhilarating and the plot thickens we still get excited to see their fates.

Ultimately, I enjoyed The Primary Objective, but the novel is far from perfect. In the future, I’d be interested in reading some more from Martin Venning, and seeing if his coming works rectify some of the issues I found with this exciting yet somewhat confusing book.

The Top Five Alex Delaware Novels To Get You Hooked On This Daring Psychiatrist/ Detective Duo

It’s only in the last couple of years that I’ve become a fan of John Kellerman’s writing, but now I am I’m hooked.

He’s a prolific writer who’s created books across a number of different genres, but my favourites are definitely his Alex Delaware/ Milo Sturgis novels.

This seemingly unlikely detective duo make for a great team. Kellerman breaks the mould with these two; unlike traditional detective double acts, the narrator and assistant is the cerebral one, while the Lieutenant and clear leader is the bullish everyman.

Together, the pair combine their skills to solve some of LA’s most brutal and disturbing crimes. While the novels are set in LA, Kellerman is quick to make witty retorts against the modern bullshit he sees around him and to turn potentially dreary lines of questioning into rapid, witty dialogue.

Personally, I hadn’t heard of the Alex Delaware novels until a couple of years ago. Since then, I’ve enjoyed several of the Alex Delaware series, although I’ve not yet read them all. I was surprised, when I started buying more of them, how many books are actually in the series.

If you want to know where to start, then check out my pick of five books in the series that are great for anyone who wants to test the waters and find a new favourite series to binge on.

5. Blood Test: In this gripping thriller, Alex Delaware is called in to negotiate when the parents of a young boy with cancer refuse his life-saving treatment because of the beliefs of their cult. The seemingly easy job quickly turns sinister when the five year old boy and his parents disappear from the hospital. A bloodied hotel room is found and Milo is drawn into the investigation. The cult turns out to be less wholesome than you might think, and Alex and Milo soon discover that the group is deadly dangerous and there’s more than one life at stake.

4. Serpentine: The most recent novel in the series, Serpentineis a cracking modern crime novel that is relatable and insightful, so it’s great for new readers just checking out these books. When Milo has a very old cold case thrust on him by his superiors, he asks his old friend Alex Delaware along to work out the psychology of the woman who is searching for answers about her mother’s murder more than thirty years previously. What initially seems like an impossible case, with little to no evidence, soon transforms into a

3. The Museum Of Desire: An unsettling staged murder scene in the back of a limo outside a rented mansion sets the scene for a gripping police procedural. The Museum Of Desireis both unique and enticing, as Kellerman draws you through the sordid and seedy underbelly of LA, dealing with everyone from rich, airheaded philanthropists through to washed up artists and beyond. Alex and Milo work hard to whittle down their cacophony of suspects down to a select few, then face a vicious fight to track down and capture the monster who staged the scene and committed more atrocities in the name of art and revenge.

2. Survival Of The Fittest: When the mentally disabled daughter of a rising diplomat is found murdered in a desolate corner of the mountains, Milo and Alex suspect a political motive. However, the girl’s father is adamant that there isn’t one, and wants to be in control of the investigation. Thanks to his power, he’s able to make the detective duo’s work difficult, and seems determined to either send the investigation on the wrong track or bury the investigation. When another body is discovered, things get difficult and Alex is forced to go undercover in what turns out to be a deeply sinister plot with far-reaching implications. This novel is chilling and the conclusion will stay with you long after you’ve finished the final chapter.  

1. When the Bough Breaks: As I keep saying, when you want to start a new series, start at the beginning. The first in the Alex Delaware novels isn’t the best in the series, but it is an ideal introduction to the psychiatrist and his friend in the LAPD, Milo Sturgis. In When The Bough Breaks, Alex is bought in on a case where a psychiatrist is found murdered, with one possible witness in the room; a traumatised seven year old girl. Alex must help her to tell the police what she knows, but he quickly realises that the murdered man wasn’t a decent human being, and that there are links to his own past trauma that he has to face before he and Milo can uncover the truth. This book is good for anyone who wants an introduction to Kellerman’s characters and story-telling style, but there are more engaging plots in the later novels.

Rebecca Wait Interview: “I’ve always been especially interested in the nuances of relationships”

Teacher and writer Rebecca Wait, author of the amazing thriller Our Fathers, The Followers and other incredible contemporary novels talks to me about her writing and how she uses her experiences to inform her work.

Tell me about how you came to define your writing style. What drew you towards thriller and mystery writing?

Despite the subject of Our Fathers, I’ve never really thought of myself as a mystery or thriller writer until recently. My previous novel The Followers also occupies quite clear crime/ thriller territory, though it was never marketed that way (and when asked, I always describe my books in unhelpfully vague terms as ‘contemporary fiction’). But I read a lot of thriller and mystery novels, which I think often distil some of the most important elements of novel writing, with their emphasis on clear story-telling, narrative momentum and pace. The very best also display depth of characterisation, psychological acuity and emotional heft – which essentially makes for the perfect novel.

What is your background and how did you get in to writing professionally?

I’ve always written stories, and decided when I was still quite a young child that I would be a writer one day (whilst having no idea, obviously, what it involved). I finished my first novel not long after graduating from university and was taken on by my agent off the back of that (she’s fantastic, and is still my agent now). Then I secured a book deal for that first novel, and everything followed from there.

This all makes it sound like it was very easy for me, but in terms of publicity and book sales I would describe my success as pretty modest – it’s often felt like two steps forward and one step back, which I think a lot of writers would echo. Our Fathers has been my most high profile book to date. I’d never have been able to make a living from writing alone. I qualified as a secondary school English teacher after university, and have been balancing teaching and writing ever since. I’m lucky that I enjoy both jobs, so it’s worked out well for me, though occasionally I feel a bit frazzled and short of headspace.

Please tell me about your books. Why do you think readers are drawn to them?

Well, I hope they offer the things I look for myself in the books I read: a gripping story, well-drawn characters and emotional impact. I’ve always been especially interested in the nuances of relationships, and those micro-interactions between people that carry so much more weight than might appear. So I suppose one of my main focuses has always been the gap between what’s on the surface and what’s below the surface. It also occurs to me that all three of my published novels have some kind of trauma at their heart: my most recent two deal with the lead up to and aftermath of a violent crime, whilst my first, The View on the Way Down, focuses on a catastrophic tragedy that befalls a family. So there’s a lot of darkness there, but I also try to inject some warmth and humour.

Where do you find your inspiration? Are there any particular places or incidents you draw on when you find yourself with writer’s block?

I definitely find inspiration from teaching – not specific events, but just being out there in the world, interacting with people; and my students can be very funny. Similarly, an evening in the pub with my friends (though that feels a long time ago now) can get my ideas going. I also read a lot of non-fiction, especially medical and psychology books, which sometimes spark ideas. The novel I’m currently working on is about a particularly dysfunctional family, and so I’ve been reading a lot of self-help books about distancing yourself from a toxic mother (I should add here that my own mother is lovely; unfortunately too lovely for the purposes of my research).

If you could collaborate with anyone, living or dead, on a writing project, who would it be and why?

I’m not sure I’d be a very good collaborator when it comes to novels; it all feels so internal that I can’t imagine I’d play well with others. But if I could force another writer to collaborate with me, I’d ‘collaborate’ with Hilary Mantel on a novel.  (I put collaborate in inverted commas because I wouldn’t really plan on helping much. I’d just watch her beadily to see how she works, make some mental notes, and then claim 50% of the credit when the book came out.)

What books do you enjoy reading yourself and how do they influence your own work?

It definitely varies depending on my mood. At the moment, I only seem to be reading thrillers. I’m in a lockdown slump, and really need a strong storyline to carry me through a book. Usually I read more widely: lots of contemporary fiction, lots of non-fiction, plus as an English teacher I obviously read a lot for my job and at the moment that’s taking up most of my mental capacity. I’m doing Middlemarch with my A-Level class at the moment, over Zoom, which is fantastic, but also quite high-effort for us all.

In terms of influence, I think it’s quite indirect for me: I notice when I read what other writers are doing well (and sometimes, what they are doing less well), and that can give my own work a steer. For example, if a plot development has been really carefully seeded throughout a book, I might go back and look again at how those clues have been planted, and how the reader might have been misdirected.

Do you have any projects coming up that you are particularly excited about?

I’m excited about the novel I’m working on at the moment, which I’ve almost finished now. I really am pleased with it. But it’s hard to sustain giddy levels of excitement during lockdown. At the moment, I get more excited about my next meal than about my work. For instance, I’m making pancakes later. It’s all I can think about.

Are there any new books or writers that you are looking forward to coming up?

I really enjoyed Romy Hausmann’s novel Dear Child, so I’m looking forward to her next book, which is out later this year. And Elizabeth Strout has a new novel out in October – I can’t wait for that.

Is there anything you’d like to add?

Thanks for the interview!

Many thanks to you Rebecca; it’s been an absolute pleasure learning about your writing and background!

Serpentine Review: A Cold Case That Becomes A Contemporary Crime Caper

Having enjoyed The Museum Of Desire when I reviewed it last year, I was excited to check out the latest Jonathan Kellerman novel Serpentine.

Kellerman brings back his gruff, burly LAPD homicide lieutenant Milo Sturgis and psychologist Dr Alex Delaware, who join forces once again when Milo has a very cold case foisted upon him by the higher ups.

He’s unwilling to take on the case, which is more than 35 years old, but he and Alex go to meet a wealthy and influential young businesswoman who has used her connections to wangle herself a review of the case, despite it’s age and the very low probability that it’ll get solved.

From the first meeting with the women, a gym wear mogul whose mother was found shot dead in a car miles on a remote road in LA, it is clear things aren’t what they seem with this accident case. The site where the car is found is very from her home in Danville, but besides that there’s very little for the pair to go on.

From this first meeting, it’s clear that the unusual yet well-matched sleuthing duo know that they’ve got their work cut out for them. The woman has little information to go on; she only found out a few years ago from her stepfather what had happened to her mother. Her stepfather refused to tell her anything and there’s limited information out there about the case.

She only has one photo of her mother; a strange picture that shows her standing awkwardly alongside the man she’s supposedly in love with. The only possession she has left from her late mother is her necklace, made of Serpentine, which is where the novel gets its name. The jewellery isn’t something that this seemingly stylish lady would wear, but her daughter clings to it like a comfort blanket that reminds her of the mother she never knew.

With her stepfather now dead and gone, the young woman is desperately searching for answers, and she’s happy to get the help of a pair of experts, neither of whom is as happy to be taking on the case. Milo and Alex have limited information from the start- there’s not even an accurate site for where the car was torched all those years ago.

Kellerman’s characterisation is brilliant in this novel; there are some really amazing characters involved with this case as it unfolds. One of my personal favourites is the last living detective who was assigned to the case: a truly obnoxious vegan who goes by the name ‘Du’.

It’s as the pair, with a little help from Du and the Internet, delve deeper into the case, that they see that it’s not the dead end they’d originally thought it was. In fact, alongside the initial victim, there are several other unexplained and unusual deaths connected to the case. For example, the boyfriend of the murdered woman, who raised her daughter, died on a hike when he’s clearly not an man who’s accustomed to spending time outdoors.

As the case shambles on, Milo and Alex realise that there’s more to this case than meets the eye. There’s something sinister going on, and there are powerful people who don’t want the truth to see the light of day.

Much like The Museum Of Desire, Serpentine is witty and engaging. The main detective, Milo Sturgis, is reminiscent of some of the best hardboiled detectives. His supporter and fellow investigator, psychologist Alex Delaware, who’s also the novel’s narrator, is his opposite, and in a way the pair turn the traditional detective pairing on its head.

While many detective duos are headed by a cerebral detective who is aided by a strong everyman, in this case Milo is the strong, burly, ordinary bloke. Alex is the cerebral thinker of the pair, and he assists the LAPD detective by using his professional and personal knowledge to assist his more streetwise colleague.

Together, the pair works hard to solve the case. As with the previous novel, there are a couple of small issues with the plot, and it does feel a little frustrating how hard the sleuthing duo works, only to have some major for major breakthroughs in the case to drop into their laps. While luck and coincidence must, in real life, assist with some cases, with a cold case like this one, it seems highly unlikely that so much good luck would bring so many great pieces of information and fresh leads to light.

These issues are small and inconsequential, however, when you consider the excellence of this fast-paced plot. Kellerman is a master at suspense, and his excellent characterisation will keep you engaged and invested in the story throughout this witty mystery.

Overall, Serpentine is much more than just a dry old cold case story. The plot quickly transforms into a fast moving modern thriller with plenty of twists and turns to keep you guessing. There are plenty of mysteries associated with the cold case where the investigation begins, so there’s enough to keep you entertained and leave you with no idea what’s coming next, which is ideal for a police procedural.

Matters Of Life And Death Review: An Enthralling Collection Of Occult-Themed Fantasy Stories

Short story collections are usually a mixed bag; they usually contain half-baked ideas and the tales that preceded longer, better writing projects. While it’s interesting to watch the thought-process unfold, short story anthologies can sometimes compromise on readability as a result.

As such, I wasn’t expecting every story in Philip M Stuckey’s collection, Matters Of Life And Death, to interest me. I’d expected that some would be works in progress, but I was amazed by how engaging and unique each one is in this incredible collection.

The stories range from futuristic stories of how tech is changing our lives, through to timeless tales of witches and sorcery. There’s also a truly terrifying reimagining of the Bogeyman that will actually haunt your dreams. Some of the stories are clearly set in a specific time period or setting, usually the English countryside. Others are timeless and seem to be set in another world, but the author still keeps them grounded and unique.

Characterisation is amazing in this collection of short stories; Stuckey creates two dimensional, well-rounded characters with backgrounds, feelings and unique perspectives, despite the short length of most of the stories. Some are as short as just one page, but they still manage to pack a punch and capture the reader’s imagination.

What unites this disparate group of tales is the author’s unique storytelling and inventive plots. Stuckey deftly combines human interest with inventive plotting to create relatable short stories that capture the imagination and hold it long after you’ve finished this relatively short book.

While each story is unique and inventive, that isn’t to say that there are not some similarities and reoccurring themes throughout the collection. The tales in Matters Of Life And Death are all bound together with the same focus on human nature and the way that people are connected to the earth and the mysterious forces that drive the often inexplicable occurrences that come about in nature, such as coincidences and supposed miracles.

Also, some writing techniques, such as the simile of a mute dog straining at a leash, are repeated in several stories; after a couple they become noticeable. However, these repetitions are few and far between, so while you might notice them slightly more than you would in other short story anthologies, they don’t detract from the tales as much as they do in other collections. It’s clear that all of these stories are unique and that they’ve all been written specifically for the collection; they’re not just old, half-finished projects that are thrown into a short story book to make up the numbers and get something published. These are all engaging stories in their own right, and together they create an unmissable short story collection that has something for every reader.

One of the issues in this innovative short story collection is that some of the dialogue reads too well; it sounds like a written diary entry. Most people don’t speak in this flowery, descriptive way, so the dialogue sounds a little forced. The dialogue in some stories, such as the first one in the collection, Witch In A Bottle, should really have been a diary entry or a written statement. As dialogue, it seems a little overdone and unlikely, but it would make a fantastic written statement from the character in question, a historical priest who is the victim of a supernatural possession or crime.

My only other issue with Matters Of Life And Death is that there’s no author introduction. It would be amazing to have insight direct from the author’s mouth about the inspiration behind the short story collection, which is usually reserved for the introduction. This book is only around 100 pages long, so a short intro wouldn’t have made it too long and difficult to read. It would also give us an insight into the author’s fascinating life; Stuckey isn’t just an author, but also a entrepreneur, a singer, songwriter and a poet, so he clearly has a lot of interesting things to say. If they ever re-release this short story collection in the future, I think that his publishers should definitely insist on an introduction; I’d buy another copy just for that addition!

Despite these small niggles, I’m a pretty big fan of this collection of enthralling tales. It’s a great book to binge-read, simply because once you start it, you won’t be able to put it down until it’s finished. Some of the stories are haunting and evocative, so they’ll stay with you for a long time.

Overall, I think that Philip M Stuckey’s collection of eclectic, occult themed short stories is engaging and intriguing in equal measure. If you enjoy creepy, spine-tingling tales, then you should definitely check out Matters Of Life And Death. This incredible anthology has got me all excited for the author’s upcoming fantasy novel, The Hunt For Moss And Magic. If it’s even half as good as the short stories in this collection, then it’ll be a knockout.

Dishonoured Review: A Gripping And Unique Psychological Thriller

From the acclaimed author of Proximity and No Signal, Jem Tugwell, comes a new stand-alone novel, Dishonoured.

I was really excited to check it out, and I wasn’t disappointed. Tugwell creates a gripping thriller that has stayed with me even though I finished reading it at the end of last year.

Dishonoured begins by introducing its readers to Dan. Dan’s a happy dude. He’s got a pretty perfect looking life. He has a family, a nice home and a great job.

He’s also a bit of a creature of habit. One day, one random day, he’s taking his usual train, when he recognises the waitress who served him earlier. In one short moment, everything changes in Dan’s life.

No spoilers, but when Dan gets off the train he’s a criminal with his life in tatters. The waitress said ‘sorry’ to him, but what could she mean by that? Dan’s left to pick up the pieces of his shattered life. He’s a determined guy, so he sets out to try and right the wrongs and find the culprit who’s trying to trash his life.

Through this journey, there are so many twists and turns that, in the hands of a lesser writer, this novel would be hard to follow. Thankfully, Tugwell is a superior writer, so Dishonoured is engaging and unforgettable. It’s remarkably easy to keep up with, despite the fact that there is loads of plot twists to keep you guessing.

Tugwell’s real skill is creating relatable characters, so that the reader invests in them emotionally. Every character is intriguing and enhances the story. The dialogue is also snappy and swift, so the story runs smoothly and you’re kept hooked throughout every plot twist and new piece of information.

One of the best things about this novel is that the really scary thing isn’t violence or monsters, but human nature and cruelty itself. Tugwell creates a psychological thriller that shows the darkest depths of human anguish and how far people will go to destroy each other. If you’re looking for a breathtakingly thrilling tale that will take your mind off the current mad situation, then this is the ideal book for you.

At the end of the day, while Dishonoured doesn’t have the same familiar characters as Tugwell’s past novels, it retains the same cutthroat plotting and razor sharp dialogue as his earlier work. It’s a gripping thriller that will have you on the edge of your seat, and with so many twists and you’ll find it almost impossible to put the novel down.