‘When the Dead Come Calling’ – Helen Sedgwick

When the Dead Come Calling is an intriguing read, like no crime novel I’ve read before, and I’m grateful to NetGalley for allowing me to read this prior to publication in March 2020.
Set in the northern coastal town of Burrowhead, we get to see a dark underbelly to a seemingly rural idyll. Secrets abound, and there’s a small-town mentality to the characters in this that is both understandable but also scary.
The style is unusual for a crime novel, and may not be to everyone’s tastes.
At the start of the novel we learn of the discovery of a body in the local playground. It is that of a local doctor. His body is discovered by a local police officer, who also happens to be his boyfriend. A note is discovered near his body suggesting that racism could be a factor in this crime.
As I imagine to be common in a police case, details are not immediately forthcoming. We spend what seems like a lot of time trying to work out what is going on, and when another body is discovered to try and establish the links.
What struck me most while reading was that everyone seemed to be harbouring some kind of secret. I don’t want to give away details that affect the reading, but this is definitely a read that becomes more engaging as we learn more about those involved.
Throughout the story I was struck by the references to the past of the village, and the beliefs that seemed to shape the attitudes of those currently living there. I am still unclear as to how some of the references to the Others are linked, but I understand this is the first in a series so we may get answers further in the future.

‘Woman in the Water’ – Katerina Diamond

Detectives Adrian Miles and Imogen Grey are now in a relationship, though that’s not common knowledge at work. However, on this case things come too close to home and it has serious repercussions for both.

On his way into work Miles stops as some women think their children saw a body in the water. Upon investigation, it is a woman…and she’s alive. Someone wanted her dead, but there’s no signs of robbery or sexual assault. It becomes a matter of some urgency to work out what on earth happened when the beaten body of a young man is also found nearby.

Before we know it we’ve been pulled into a very dark place. This isn’t a ‘whodunnit’, but a trying to pull it together to prove they did it kind of story.
We focus on Angela Corrigan, the much younger wife of local businessman Reece. Nobody will speak out against him, and though we’ve strong reason to believe he’s been up to all sorts of things nobody will talk, and there’s no evidence.

It’s testimony to the bullishness of these two Detectives that we get anywhere. However, it comes at awful personal expense.

Adrian Miles suffers in the course of this investigation in a way that you cannot begin to imagine. It’s brutal, totally demeaning and the disgust I felt as we learn the extent of the wrongdoings against not just him but so many others was upsetting.

While it was a dark story that was not, in any way, enjoyable to read, I am intrigued at the potential for where this might go next.

Thanks to Diamond and NetGalley for allowing me to read this in exchange for my honest thoughts, prior to its publication in November 2019.

 

‘Take it Back’ – Kia Abdullah

Take It Back is a gripping courtroom drama, perfect for fans of Apple Tree Yard, He Said/She Said and Anatomy of a Scandal.

A compelling read, and I’m grateful to NetGalley for allowing me the chance to read this prior to publication.

When we first meet Jodie Wolfe, she’s walking into a Rape Crisis centre asking for help. At sixteen, and with extreme facial deformities, Jodie has become accustomed to abuse. As she relays her experience, the reader cannot help but feel sympathy for her. Her physical appearance is not the issue here, but when she starts to blame herself for what happened because she thought someone was physically interested in her you can’t help but wince.

The details of her attack by four of her classmates are – understandably – difficult to read. The courage someone in her position shows cannot be underestimated.
The way this story is told focuses most of our attention on ex-barrister, Zara, who is determined to support this young girl because she believes her. We follow Zara as she supports Jodie in preparing to go to trial, and the inevitable fallout this causes as the boys Jodie accuses are ‘good Muslim boys’, well-respected in their community, and Zara’s involvement is quickly seen as evidence of her turning against her faith.

The nature of the case means so much depends on the reliability of witnesses. Four against one. No matter how strong the case seems to be, these are hard odds to beat.

Our narrative swiftly turns to the trial and the various attempts to undermine credibility of witnesses. We also deal with growing unrest in the community, and some awful behaviours as so many people try to appropriate events to suit their own ends.

It’s crucial that you go into this not knowing where this is going. Nothing is what it seems. We get to learn the truth, but talk about a Pyrrhic victory. Few come out of this story well, but it’s a must-read in my opinion.

‘The Whisper Man’ – Alex North

An accomplished debut that had me completely caught up in the events described.

A small child with an imaginary friend who begins to talk about the boy under the floor. An unknown man believing he’s doing the right thing by the children he’s taking. A police officer intent on making up for what they see as the mistakes of the past. A terrifying set of circumstances that draw a group of people together. This book had so many elements that combined to form a compelling read.

In the small town of Featherbank everyone has heard the rumours of The Whisper Man. All small children know not to leave their doors open, and stories of children hearing whispers outside their windows are common. Yet the man behind these rumours was caught and imprisoned, having admitted to the murders of five children.

When we learn that widowed Tom Kennedy has decided to move to Featherbank with his son, Jake, it’s pretty obvious that things are not going to be quite what he’d hoped. And opening with the description of a young child being abducted sets us up for the idea that, perhaps, The Whisper Man had an accomplice. The moment when Jake starts to talk about hearing voices there was an awful sense of inevitability to this story.

Thankfully, the details of the crimes against the children were not recounted in graphic detail. However, there was a fair amount of graphic violence, and the psychological focus was intense.

Early on in the story I had my doubts as to well this mood could be sustained. I needn’t have been. Throughout I was double-checking details and trying to test theories.

A huge thank you to NetGalley for allowing me to read this prior to publication, and it’s already been recommended to a number of friends.

‘The 57 Bus: A True Story of Two Teenagers and the Crime that Changed Their World’ – Dashka Slater

One teenager in a skirt.
One teenager with a lighter.
One moment that changes both of their lives forever.

If it weren’t for the 57 bus, Sasha and Richard never would have met. Both were high school students from Oakland, California, one of the most diverse cities in the country, but they inhabited different worlds. Sasha, a white teen, lived in the middle-class foothills and attended a small private school. Richard, a black teen, lived in the crime-plagued flatlands and attended a large public one. Each day, their paths overlapped for a mere eight minutes. But one afternoon on the bus ride home from school, a single reckless act left Sasha severely burned, and Richard charged with two hate crimes and facing life imprisonment. The case garnered international attention, thrusting both teenagers into the spotlight.

A seemingly innocuous action, done with little thought of the potential consequences, and I’m fairly certain that many teenagers could identify – to some degree – with this scenario. What will be quite different is that for most of us who carry out a ‘dumb/risky’ action there will be no further impact. Richard was not quite so lucky.

From the outset we are told exactly what happened to the two students involved – Richard and Sasha. Sasha fell asleep on a bus travelling home from school, Richard put a lighter to their skirt and then watched as they were seriously burned. The consequences for both could have been so much more severe, but what we are privy to here is enough.

We begin by focusing on Sasha. Born as Luke this section outlines how they came to view themselves as agender and what that meant for them and their family. There’s a lot of info packed into this section, but it gives a clear insight into some of the issues facing teens exploring their identity.

Next we’re introduced to Richard, a cheeky young boy who wants to achieve. Circumstances seem to play a huge part in his life and the options open to him, but each person has to take responsibility for their actions and live with the consequences of their actions.

As we watch the bus journey unfold, the moment Richard sets Sasha’s skirt on fire is fleeting. However, the repercussions of this moment are enormous.
The story takes us through court appearances, how both families reacted and some of the wider issues involved. It poses a number of questions about hate crime, how teens are treated in the justice system and how we can accommodate difference.

I felt quite humbled reading this, and very fortunate to not be faced with so many of the issues touched on within the pages. While the writing style had an inevitable journalistic tone, the story was engaging and one that needs to be shared. Thank you to NetGalley for granting me access to this book.

‘The Chalk Man’ – C.J. Tudor

For me, this was an assured debut that I devoured but did not want to end.
Our narrator, Eddie, is in his early-40s and he lives in his childhood home, teaching in his old high school. One day he receives a drawing of a stick man in the post and it sparks memories of a childhood game he and his friends used to play.

Told in two different time-frames, this really is a compelling read. We jump from the present (2016) to thirty years earlier when Eddie and his friends are on the cusp of adolescence. It’s a very different time, and one which will only be familiar to some readers from Stephen King’s ‘The Body’ and the Netflix show ‘Stranger Things’. Eddie’s group of friends share a lot, but they all have their secrets.

The key secret that the novel focuses on is the murder and dismemberment of a teenage girl in 1986. The group are involved as they find the body having been led there by chalk drawings. We’re never certain if they know more than that, and what quickly becomes apparent is that in this town there’s a lot of people with things they’d rather others didn’t know.

I particularly liked the way the shifting perspective meant we could never be certain what revelations were relevant and how, and the nod to King is evident in so many ways (not least with the teacher being called Halloran). The style of writing was one I found hard to put down. It was very easy to picture this as a film, and seeing the viewpoint of both child and adult narrator added a complexity to this that I found hard to resist.

All in all, a wonderful read for the start of the new year and one I’d highly recommend.

‘The 7 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle’ – Stuart Turton

The rules of Aiden Bishop’s incarceration are simple. Every night at 11.00pm Evelyn Hardcastle will be killed. You have eight hosts, from whose perspective you will see the day re-run, and eight days in which to solve the murder. Once you reveal the name of Evelyn’s murderer you’re free to leave Blackheath.
That is all you are told before starting, so there’s enough to pique your interest but you’re left alone to find out the extent to which Aiden is manipulated through the course of the day.

There was a wonderful cast of characters in this. As we follow Aiden through his time, and start to learn a little of what he is required to do, we really get under the skin of these people. Not all of them were pleasant, but there was something compelling about seeing events through the different perspectives.

For me, the appeal was the twisting structure of this. I’ll admit it required focus on occasion to try and draw events together, and to keep track of the bodies into which Aiden was thrown. However, for a devoted fan of Quantum Leap this was like pulling on a cosy jumper and being let loose in a familiar setting.

I couldn’t trust anyone, and I even doubted Aiden’s sanity at times. The linking of this event to a murder many years previously was a master stroke, though it does make sense once we’re in possession of some key details.

Hugely entertaining, and an intriguing idea (which you’ll be desperate to talk about once someone’s read it) that deserves to become a book to be talked about.
Thank you NetGalley for the advance copy in exchange for my review.

‘Mistletoe and Murder’ – Robin Stevens

Daisy Wells and Hazel Wong return…and I can’t fault it. I’ve got rather a soft spot for these two, and i’m pleased to say that Mistletoe and Murder offers more of what I love about this series. This time the girls go to spend Christmas with Daisy’s brother, Bertie. Unfortunately, the girls’ habit for getting involved in murder and mayhem continues apace as they find themselves embroiled in another investigation.

The relationship between the two is somewhat akin to Holmes and Watson, and there’s a certain charm in the recreation of 1930’s Cambridge. I also admit to having a bit of a soft spot for the Christmas setting which creates a fairly cosy feel for a book involving a number of deaths.

In case you hadn’t grasped this yet, I love these books and this is yet another great addition to the series. I liked the involvement of our second Society, though I fear Alex and George’s involvement is going to cause issues later.

‘You Don’t Know Me’ – Imran Mahmood

An unnamed defendant stands accused of murder. Just before the Closing Speeches, the young man sacks his lawyer, and decides to give his own defence speech. 
He tells us that his barrister told him to leave some things out.Sometimes, the truth can be too difficult to explain, or believe. But he thinks that if he’s going to go down for life, he might as well go down telling the truth. 
There are eight pieces of evidence against him. As he talks us through them one by one, his life is in our hands. We, the reader – member of the jury – must keep an open mind till we hear the end of his story. His defence raises many questions… but at the end of the speeches, only one matters:
Did he do it?

This was an interesting format-told through transcripts from court. We focus on our unnamed narrator, who is on trial for murder, and who gets to tell his story in his own words. This created a rather claustrophobic atmosphere, and though you wanted the narrator to stop talking at times – you can picture just how well some of the information given would have gone down – I admired the voice and the insight he tried to give into his existence.

Part of me expected a straightforward retelling of a story with a final focus on the decision. While we were given a story, it didn’t quite go as expected.

The actual telling of the story building up to the shooting for which he is in court meanders all over the place. We twist and turn as details are passed over because they don’t quite fit at this moment, and we have to trust our narrator knows what he’s doing. Given his position, it does make it hard to decide to what extent we’re getting a brave attempt to recreate his life for us, and how much we’re listening to the delusions of someone trying to escape justice.

The voice of the narrator is, sadly I think, representative of many young black men in court. Much is made of the advice he is given to ‘play the jury’ and to present himself in the best light possible. Does the truth matter? Our narrator thinks so, even if it doesn’t present him in the most favourable light. He is keen to stress that those judging him don’t know the reality of his life and are judging stereotypes.

The story unfolds quite slowly, but it worked. We learn what our narrator tells us about the events he is caught up in. Did he shoot the man? It almost doesn’t matter, as we’re so focused on his account of what he recalls. What I was frustrated by was the sense of inevitability to his experience.

I would like to thank NetGalley and publishers Michael Joseph for the opportunity to read this in exchange for my honest review.

‘The Missing Hours’ – Emma Kavanagh

Make no mistake – in this story we are exposed to a murky world.

Serena Cole is in the playground with her two young daughters. She goes missing, leaving her children in the park. Twenty hours later, she is found.

Alongside this, the body of a defence lawyer is found. Could there be links between the cases?

In this case, we know that’s inevitable. This is rather more focused on us working out just how the two cases are connected, and who does what.

Told from multiple viewpoints this is a story packed full of intrigue. Alongside the investigation into a murder in Herefordshire we are exposed to the workings of a kidnap and ransom group.

I was hooked on this from the moment I picked it up. The shifting perspectives meant it was quite a slippery read, and I wasn’t ever fully certain what revelation we’d get next. Sadly I felt some of the links were just too neat (ultimately) but the senseless nature of some of the events was quite upsetting.

Thanks to NetGalley for the advance copy in exchange for my review.