Gathering Dark Review: An Unstoppable Thriller You’ll Devour In One Go

gathering dark

As I promised in my previous post, today I’m reviewing Candice Fox’s gripping new thriller Gathering Dark.

Jumping straight into the action, the novel begins with the robbery of a cartel owned gas station by a frightened young woman with a gun. The woman working the night shift is Blair Harbour, known as ‘The Neighbor Killer’ after she shot her next-door neighbour more than 10 years ago.

She claimed he was hurting his girlfriend, but the girlfriend herself denied it and claimed the attack was unprovoked. After spending 10 years in prison, Blair is now out and determined to make a fresh start for herself and the young son she gave birth to as she began her sentence.

Her hopes of a normal life vanish when her former cellmate, a drug-taking thief, shows up unannounced and proclaims that the woman who held Blair up at knifepoint was her daughter, with whom she has a tempestuous relationship.

The girl is missing, and Blair is quickly drawn into the messy world of this young woman. Teaming up with another former jailbird, this one now a powerful gangster, and the policewoman who put her away, Blair tries to navigate LA’s sleazy underbelly to find the missing girl and bring her home.

This central plot links nicely with Fox’s myriad of sub-plots, including police corruption, a huge inheritance given to a police officer for a job well done, millions of dollars worth of missing money from a bank job gone wrong, and Blair’s fight for the truth about what happened to get sent to prison.

While most of the sub-plots are intriguing and help to drive the narrative forward, this last one is full of plot holes. The police case rested on flimsy evidence, which would suggest a serious lack of care from the officers involved, yet Fox still tries to push the idea that the cop now helping Blair, Jessica Sanchez, is some sort of epitome of professionalism and diligence.

That’s despite the fact that she led the case, yet didn’t even complete the bare minimum of checks before sending an innocent woman to prison for a decade. The case rested on an uneaten sandwich and a lack of a motive for the victim to attack his girlfriend, but the sandwich wasn’t DNA tested and the motive could’ve been found with even a routine background check on the victim and his girlfriend- as it eventually is when Sanchez starts applying herself.

Aside from this glaring plot hole, the novel is incredibly well written and intriguing. Once you get over the slight issue of this poor plotting, you can see that Fox has crafted an incredible cast of characters. Her dialogue is flawless and there’s a surprise around every corner, so the reader is constantly kept guessing.

All of the chapters are written in a series of different styles, including the form of letters between the missing girl and an incarcerated felon, as well as the from the viewpoint of Blair, written in the first person, and from the viewpoint of Jessica, written in the third. As such, there’s a clear distinction between each chapter and the reader is constantly on the edge of their seat.

The city of Los Angeles comes alive and becomes another character to add to the list of those who are working to achieve their own agenda. All of Fox’s characters are working towards their own ends, with Blair and the story of the missing girl caught up in the middle. Through the tangled web of stories the reader wades, getting more invested in the story by the chapter. By the end, you’re so immersed in the story that you might fail to realise, as I did, that you’ve been reading several hours past your bedtime.

From the ending, it’s clear that Fox is setting up for a sequel, or possibly even a series, based on the characters in Gathering Dark, and I for one am excited to see what’s in store for Blair, Jessica and the rest. It might not be perfect, but this is a contender for one of the best thrillers of 2020, so any follow up is bound to be good. If it’s even half as engaging and intriguing as this novel, then it’ll be a gripping read that I definitely don’t want to miss out on.

Transference Review: A Gory Mystery Not To Be Missed

transference

In the sequel to Untethered, John Bowie, who I had a great interview with previously, transforms the city of Manchester into a brutal extra character to add the list of strange, perverted and generally intriguing individuals.

The second novel to feature John Black, Transference [Love + Hate In Rain City], and picks up with the character living in witness protection in Bristol. After having offended gangland bosses in his hometown and helped to send many, including some big names, to prison, he’s now hiding out and keeping his head down.

He’s not long for the southern city or the quiet life, however, as Black is desperate to leave and return to his old stomping ground, Manchester. He had been driven out by Mr Big following an incident his club, where Black worked as a bouncer, and which led to arrests and unrest.

Following the news that the notorious gangster is soon to be released from jail, Black, a PI and writer, contrives a fairly implausible way to get himself a new case. He rings a bingo hall, and then asks for all of the people who’ve just ticked off the number 27 to be bought to the phone.

Then, he asks about a vague case, until he finds a suitable mark whose son, a student living away from home, recently died in mysterious circumstances. Black takes on the case, and then leaves Bristol on a trip back to his past, where he works on the death of the boy, as well as the perilous task of confronting his own demons.

The police set Black up with a job as a security guard turned admin guy at the block of flats from which the boy fell. The case has barely started, but quickly Black realises that the boy’s death was no accident or suicide, as the police are trying to claim to his distraught mother. He also started to notice connections between the case and his past, leading him on a self-destructive journey back into the heart of the murkiest parts of the city.

The writing is impressive, and at points it is incredibly poetic. Some paragraphs read like angst ridden punk rock lyrics, whilst others are beautifully atmospheric. The story turns incredibly dark and gory at times, and violence is peppered throughout, but somehow the author manages to make the gore interesting, not off-putting as it can be in the hands of lesser writers.

Characterisation is Bowie’s strong suit- the author creates a unique and intriguing cast of characters that keep you guessing. Some feel realistic, others like ethereal beings whose movements and thoughts can’t be predicted. All of them are intriguing and unique- from the former stripper turned literary agent to the gang lord ruling over Manchester and desperately trying to torment Black.

The book is mostly written in the first person, from protagonist Black’s perspective, and the character is what could be described as an unreliable narrator at times, particularly when he’s drunk. I’ve seen plenty of men give ‘the death stare’ before, and trust me, they’re not nearly as hard as they think they are. Most of the time, people get out of the way because they think you’re nuts, not tough.

Black’s narration pushes the novel forward, and it reads like a taught thriller full of twists, turns and the absurdity of real life. At times, Bowie takes things too far, and becomes too poetic; an early example is a list of barred patrons of a grimy pub, which Black reads off the wall as he searches for his own name. The list is far too detailed and lyrical to be realistic- most barred lists just have a photo, name and occasional notes telling bar staff to steer clear or call the management.

Aside from this, the novel is an engaging one. It’s the second in the Black Viking series, named after Black, the protagonist, and the Viking being that appears to him as a vision when his physical strength is waning and the going gets really tough. The Viking image is a bold and striking one, and the author uses it well to show Black’s mental instability and dogged determination.

All in all, I enjoyed Transference, and I’d be interested to read the next novel in the series. It’s not perfect, but there’s a lot to like about this gritty and grim thriller, and it keeps you enthralled until its bone-chilling ending. There’s clearly more to come, and I’d be interested to see what’s next for Black.

No Signal Review: A Dystopia To Rival The World Outside

no signal

As the world struggles with its own dystopian reality, I thought now was as good a time as any to review a book set in an even more challenging and controlling world.

The second in the iMe series, and the follow up to the incredible Proximity, is another thriller sci-fi masterpiece.

Author Jem Tugwell delivers a searing indictment on technology, control and surveillance as he brings back DI Clive Lussac, a disenfranchised policeman with very little to do now that technology has rendered his job essentially void.

Following the events of Proximity, not much has changed in Tugwell’s compelling setting. Everything and everyone is still tracked through iMe, although many are now campaigning for less state control and more personal freedom.

On the other side of the debate is a tyrannical church, which Clive is compelled to attend by his girlfriend and his doctor, as they both believe it will help him to curb his cravings and make positive changes to his lifestyle and mood.

At the same time, a sinister game is being plotted and played in Europe, with contestants playing to win a coveted place in the Forbidden Island augmented reality universe.

The game takes place in the UK, and when contestants travel here they are forced to wear iTourist bracelets, which track their every move and interaction, much like the iMes that citizens wear.

When these game contestants take drastic measures to take themselves off-grid, Clive finally has some proper work to occupy himself with. It becomes apparent pretty quickly, both to Clive and the players, that this is no ordinary game. Something sinister is happening here, and it’s up to Clive and his limited team to find out what and stop it before it wreaks havoc.

As he did in his first novel, Tugwell has displayed exceptional knowledge of technology, and the ability to explain it brilliantly. There are no wordy explanations or info dumps here; just a gripping thriller that draws you in and doesn’t let go until its jaw-dropping final chapters.

The plot races along thanks to the author’s storytelling prowess, with very few stops to describe the events or technologies involved. Every character, plot twist and setting seamlessly weaves its way into the story, making the book very hard to put down.

The result is a thrilling adventure that takes readers around the world and into the depths of human desperation. Unlike the first in the series, No Signal doesn’t focus on a murderer; this time, it’s about a network and the extreme lengths it will go to achieve its ambitious goals.

So, if, like me, you’re completely aghast by the state of the world right now, then transport yourself to a slightly worse one with the help of this incredible writer.

 

 

Wilding Review: An Impassioned Rumination On A Return To A Rural Idyll

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I promised it last year when I reviewed The Peregrine, but I’ve been busy since then so apologise that this review is a little late.

Better late than never, I’ve finally had the chance to read and review Isabella Tree’s phenomenal book Wilding: The Return Of Nature To A British Farm.

The author is married to the owner of Knepp castle and estate, in Sussex, where this incredible pastoral experiment took place. She and her husband decided to stop using the land for farming, and instead return it to a more natural state and allowing free-roaming animals to graze on natural plants, shrubs and bushes.

Trees were allowed to die and remain as havens for animals, birds, flora and fauna, with minimal human intervention to keep the space as naturally wild as possible.

The author delves into the history of Knepp, European wild animals and how we came to achieve the ‘closed canopy’ theory, which says that the UK and most of mainland Europe was covered in dense trees before humans cultivated it.

Isabella Tree disagrees with this theory, and sites a lot of evidence to highlight why she believes that the landscape was in fact covered in a diverse range of plants cultivated by grazing herbivores.

She tells the story of how she and her husband learned, through trial and hilarious error, the means by which they could rewild Knepp and turn it into a natural British paradise.

Funny, intelligent and enlightening by turns, Wilding is a perfect pastoral book for anyone who wants to educate themselves on British wildlife and the history of man’s long and strained battle against nature.

At a time when the world is, ridiculously slowly, opening its eyes to the realities of climate change and man’s impact on our planet, this is a very timely reminder that there are things that can, and are being, done to help restore our land to its former glory. The book also shows how science is often very out of touch when it comes to the mysteries ways of Mother Nature.

In short, if you’re looking for a book to read that will take you on an eventful journey through British, and international, natural history, and end with you wanting to explore everything that nature has to offer, then I’d thoroughly recommend Wilding. Isabella Tree is passionate about bringing biodiversity back into the world and proving that every avenue is worth exploring as we journey towards a greater understanding of how the earth was before we started taking it over.

 

 

 

Addressed To Kill Review: A Creepy Christmas Crime Story

COVER FOR ADDRESSED TO KILL

The newest instalment in the Inspector Stark novels features a chilling Christmas mystery, as Keith Wright delivers another thrilling instalment in this incredible series.

In 1987 Inspector Stark is gearing up for another busy Christmas, having just enjoyed his station’s festive shindig, when on Christmas Eve the body of a young woman is found having been brutally raped and murdered in a park.

Switching between viewpoints, Wright paints a picture of a deeply twisted murderer with a strange modus operandi revolving around toying with his victims before raping and brutally murdering them.

As such, Stark and his team are forced to spend the festive season battling to find the culprit before he attacks again. With many leads to follow and a variety of red herrings put in their way, the team have their work cut out if they want to uncover the truth.

Wright isn’t afraid to delve into the gritty details of sordid crimes such as this, and as such this book, much like the others in the series, has many enticing details that will engage and thrill crime fiction fans. For those who love reading creepy, dark novels full of suspense, this is the book for you this winter.

It’s not as atmospheric as it could be, but Wright has a way of pushing the plot along so you hardly notice, and instead quickly become wrapped up in the disturbing world of the killer and the police’s obsessive hunt for the truth. Stark and his team, as well as the other characters readers encounter, are all deeply human and well-rounded, making the story believable and engaging.

Overall I was incredibly impressed by Addressed To Kill. I’m not usually a big fan of Christmas themed books, but in this novel Wright shows how the festive season makes victims more unsuspecting and gives killers opportunities they don’t usually have, making it an eye-opening and gripping tale that you’ll want to revisit time and time again.

 

Trace and Eliminate Review: Inspector Stark Is Back And Better Than Ever

trace and eliminate

After having interviewed author Keith Wright I was excited to check out the second in his Inspector Stark series. I had to wait a little while but eventually I received a copy and was keen to check it out.

Set in the 1980s, this latest in the Inspector Stark series sees the dogged detective battle against both his own demons and the seemingly motiveless murder of a solicitor.

A hard-working family man seemingly with everything going for him, there doesn’t seem to be any reason for anyone to kill him. As Stark and his team race to find the killer a second, equally motiveless murder occurs, and the team has to work even hard to prove themselves to be ahead of this evil killer.

This is only the second in the Inspector Stark series, yet somehow he feels like a long established character with his own quirks. Yet, despite this, he doesn’t feel like a tired caricature; Stark is as individual as it gets, and his team all work together well, interacting in a natural way that makes this book exciting, thrilling yet at the same time completely believable.

The characterisation is the real selling point for this novel, with the core detectives, their suspects and witnesses all perfectly crafted so as to be both suspicious and at the same time believable. Many obvious but often-overlooked traits, such as pride, envy and intuition are all shown here in all their glory, making readers sympathetic to the character’s and their situations.

One thing I would say, and it’s literally my sole criticism, is that at times the language is a little clunky. There’s a lot of hedging that goes on, with phrases like ‘a bit’ used with alarming regularity at times. At others, the novel is exceptionally witty and intense, with the author taking control of the narrative and driving it towards intense conclusions that leave readers guessing with every new clue discovered and every new lead followed.

In all, this is a great historical novel, and as such if you’re a fan of old school detectives then Trace and Eliminate is the book for you.

The Olympian Review: A Glitzy Jet-Setting Thriller

the olympian

Having recently interviewed author Mark Atley I was keen to read his debut novel, The Olympian.  

The titular Olympian is a guy called Samuel, who is being blackmailed by a bookie while on a family vacation. His holiday is intercepted by a bookkeeper who is determined to get back money that someone else skipped town with.

Set in an all-inclusive Mexican resort owned by a cartel, it features a strange cast of characters that are all equal parts evil, strange and dastardly. As more characters from both Samuel’s past and the cartel’s roster of criminal associates arrive the plot thickens and the reader is drawn into a complex plot involving love, money, drugs and much more.

There’s Johnny, an escaped criminal on the run from his bondsman and his bookie with a load of stolen cash, as well as a journalist and her cameraman, attending a bizarre intervention that is quickly derailed by everyone else’s criminal activities. The plot quickly spirals forward and the reader is propelled on a strangely compelling journey.

The only downside The Olympian is the slightly stilted dialogue. Ately’s characters are intriguing, two-dimensional individuals, yet they speak like robots that have, at one point read a Raymond Chandler novel.

For all of its dialogue flaws, the novel is still fast-paced and deeply thrilling. Readers are invested in following the plot as it rattles on towards a gripping finale. There are plenty of twists and turns along the way, and with so many characters the reader has to work hard to keep on top of who’s aligned with whom as each moves to outwit the others.

At the end of the day, I’m impressed by Atley’s debut and keen to find out what’s in store for his next book. The Olympian will be a tough act to follow, but with a few enhancements any future books have the potential to be bestsellers.

 

 

 

Come Back For Me Review: Summer’s Contender For Most Enticing Plot

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Firstly, apologies for the lack of posts over the past week, I’ve been on a very exciting work trip to the beautiful city of Dubai!

Whilst I was out there I took one of the ever-growing stack of books that I still haven’t got round to reading to keep me occupied during my long waits at the airport. As I wanted something I knew I would enjoy I selected Heidi Perks’ latest novel, Come Back For Me. 

Having already read and reviewed her previous novel, Now You See Her, I was certain that I would enjoy her latest offering, and I wasn’t wrong.

Come Back For Me tells the story of therapist Stella who, as a young child, fled with her family in the middle of the night from their home on a remote island off the coast of Dorset (my home county and the best place in the world, fact). A fictional place named Evergreen, Stella’s childhood memories show an idyllic space where her family gambolled and played happily and freely.

Now living in Winchester, Stella is a family counsellor hoping to support other families that have been through trauma such as her own, without fully understanding or acknowledging the seismic events that led to the breakdown of her own family all those years ago.

That is until one day a news item appears announcing that a body has been found on Evergreen, at the site of Stella’s beloved former family home. She is shocked to discover that there might be more to her past than meets the eye, and as such she sets out on a quest to find out the truth about what drove her family to flee.

Perks is a skilful and brisk storyteller, and as a result Come Back For Me is a fast-paced thriller that readers will hardly be able to stop reading. Every time I felt I could put a bookmark in and go do something for a bit I found myself driven further into the narrative by the gripping plot and the incredible sense of foreboding that haunts every aspect of the narrative, from Stella’s prickly sister Bonnie and haunted brother Danny through to the enticement of her trip back to Evergreen, which seeps out of the pages and makes the reader almost urge her on to go and check it out.

So in all, if you’re looking for a tantalising and thrilling tale to keep you occupied this summer, I can recommend nothing better than Come Back For Me. Trust me when I say that you won’t be able to put it down or forget it in a hurry.

Killing Eve Season Two: Even Better Than The First!

Killing Eve Season 2

Just in case you’ve been living in a cave or something, there’s a new season of the brilliant Killing Eve out, with all eight episodes available to stream on the BBC iPlayer.

Although technically a spy show, the first series did not dwell on this aspect of the narrative, instead focusing on the relationship between Sandra Oh’s Eve, an MI6 Agent, and Jodie Comer’s serial killer Villanelle.

In this latest season, the spying really coming into the fore, with Fiona Shaw getting a much larger role (thankfully!) and delivering both laughs and shocks. I’ve always been a bit annoyed by spy novels or shows that try to bring in too much of a human element to their narratives, as if plot and spying aren’t as relevant or interesting.

Season two offers both a closer look at this, frankly unhinged relationship and the role MI6 plays in tracking down criminals and security threats. Villanelle is both brilliantly witty and expertly playing the system as she overcomes her dramatic stabbing from the end of season one and enters the real fray, working against the organisation that employed her previously.

Later episodes show the real power of MI6, and any Fiona Shaw fans will be impressed by her exquisite performance. She offers her lines with relish and there’s something uniquely powerful about her, even when she’s in vulnerable positions.

As well as being a great thriller, Killing Eve is also deeply feminist, and it’s a real pleasure to be able to see women in positions of real power, working alongside men and being respected. Eve and Carolyn are not in their roles because of diversity: they are there because they are bloody good at their jobs, and that’s refreshing, even in 2019.

Personally, I binge watched the entire second season in one day pretty much as soon as it came out, but if, unlike me, you have an actual life and don’t want to waste your precious free time on a show that sucks, please, take it from me, this one really doesn’t.

At the end of the day, Killing Eve has everything you could possibly want from a spy thriller: death, international terrorists, security services, guns, sex, violence, the lot and more. Throw in some truly fabulous fashion, great writing and beautiful locations and you something genuinely spectacular.