‘The Chain’ – Adrian McKinty

Well, that was a rollercoaster read.

We begin with Kylie on her way to school. She’s kidnapped at gunpoint, and chained in a basement. Horrific stuff, but even worse when we learn that her kidnappers are doing this because it is part of the condition of getting their own kidnapped son released.

The family have become part of The Chain, a terrifying concept that threatens your very existence unless you follow the rules.

Kylie’s mum is desperate to get her daughter back. She gathers the ransom then plans to carry out her own kidnap. The key rule is that she must not involve the police and must do as she is told.

I recall chain letters being a thing (a bit like those ‘share this post’ stuff) when I was younger, and the advice you were given was to ignore them because the senders couldn’t do anything. While you know this behaviour is morally unacceptable, how far would you be prepared to go to protect your children?

Horrific subject though it is, this was a story that really had you from the off.

The only thing that marred it for me was the shift to the viewpoint of the perpetrators. It seemed to move the focus of the book in a way that lost my interest a little, and I still find it hard to believe that someone who’d set this up for so long – and clearly been very successful – would make such careless errors.
Still, I can see why this is being touted as a thriller to read.

‘Top Marks for Murder’ – Robin Stevens

A welcome return to Deepdean. A murder witnessed from afar becomes the focal point for the Detective Agency this time around, but they are up against it as nothing is quite what it seems.

Daisy and Hazel are changing (as you’d expect) and the setting echoes the sense of growing turmoil. They have a rather predictable response to returning to school and finding things have changed a little in their absence, but quickly things settle into their usual routine.

Their friend witnesses a murder so the girls decide to investigate. Nobody is found, so as parents descend on Deepdean for the anniversary celebrations the girls decide to monitor things carefully. It’s not long before they have witnessed an actual murder, so the race is on to learn exactly who is behind this crime.

We have the usual red herrings and a bit of sidetracking with other events. All too soon, though, the girls piece things together and end up solving the crime.
The usual great fun, and it’s lovely to see the characters growing and developing. I love this series!

‘Swipe Right for Murder’ – Derek Milman

Aidan, our main character, is a bit of a pampered young man. He’s friends with some wealthy people, and this explains why we find him at the start of the book in an exclusive hotel. At this point I didn’t find myself that keen on him – he was very focused on the impression he gives and too bothered about himself to really take note of those around him.

Finding himself alone in this lovely hotel in New York City, Aidan gets himself logged onto a dating app and tries to find himself a no-strings hook-up for the evening. Effort one is someone he knows from school, and things don’t go well. Rather than lock himself away, Aidan tries again.

Second time round he’s met by a rather older man called Benoit who keeps asking him about an item he’s meant to deliver. Aidan (naturally) has no idea what he’s talking about. When he wakes up and finds his one-night stand dead beside him Aidan realises he’s got himself into something very very dangerous.
What follows is high-adrenaline action-packed stuff, the likes of which I love reading about but if there was the slightest hint of it happening in real life I’d curl under the nearest table before running away.

Aidan manages to drag himself through a range of incredibly bizarre scenarios. He’s being used by the FBI to bait a highly-organised terrorist organisation and his picture is plastered all over the news. Given the profile of this group/scenario what happens seems quite unbelievable, but it doesn’t stop it being good fun to read.

‘All Eyes on Us’ – Kit Frick

All Eyes On Us focuses on two girls – Amanda and Rosalie – who seem very different, but who have a lot more in common than they realise…Carter Shaw, son of a local businessman.

Amanda is part of his social circle and their families have been pushing for them to be a couple since they were little. Amanda’s life is mapped out for her. College with Carter, a long engagement and then children, turning a blind eye to Carter’s indiscretions because that’s what’s expected of her. For years, she’s gone along with this but when Amanda starts to receive anonymous text messages she begins to question the wisdom of her life choices.

Amanda knows Carter has not always been faithful to her. She knows he is currently seeing Rosalie on the side. But what neither she nor Carter knows is that Rosalie is actually using Carter as a cover for the fact that she is a lesbian and her fundamentalist Christian parents can’t accept her choices. Forced to hide who she is, Rosalie decides to use Carter as her cover, while seeing her girlfriend in secret.

The messages that both girls receive are meant to be vaguely threatening, but there’s a limit to what people can do if you don’t succumb to their threats. Unfortunately, in the vein of the Pretty Little Liars characters, the girls in this respond to the messages and threats and start to let them rule what decisions they make. This is frustrating and leads them into quite unrealistic scenarios.

The book is a bit slow to get going as we establish the characters of Amanda and Rosalie. There’s a lot of focus on the parents of Amanda and Carter which makes little sense at first, but we do realise its significance eventually. My biggest gripe was with the character of Carter who was, in essence, a serial cheater and not a particularly appealing character.

Thanks to NetGalley for the advance copy in exchange for my thoughts. This is a definite must-read for fans of the Pretty Little Liars books.

‘Three Things About Elsie’ – Joanne Cannon

The three things we need to learn about Elsie aren’t explained fully, but we know she’s important to Florence.

Initially I wasn’t sure what was happening with this. An old woman called Florence appeared to be lying on the floor, waiting for someone to discover her. It wasn’t clear what had happened to her, or why nobody had found her. Returning to her during the story we realise she is lying on the floor throughout the five or so hours it takes to cover the narrative.

Alongside the real-time events, we get flashbacks and recounts of the key moments of Florence’s past and slowly come to realise the significance of Elsie.
The story itself focuses on someone unburdening themselves of a secret they’ve held close for years. Unfortunately this secret is also misguided, and we learn events didn’t quite happen as thought. The secret is linked to the presence of a man called Gabriel Price,who bears an uncanny resemblance to a man called Ronnie Butler who Florence knew years ago.

Interspersed with the secret and the details of Florence are a number of characters working in the home that Florence is in. From quite early on, we get signs that Florence is living with dementia, but the significance of this doesn’t really become known until later.

While I preferred Joanne Cannon’s first novel, this was an interesting read and one which certainly made me take a moment to think about how we treat those amongst us who are most in need of help.

‘The Perfect Mother’ – Aimee Molloy

Mothers’ groups can be a great source of companionship, but they also result often in a strange form of one-up man-ship as those involved strive to maintain the facade of ‘perfect mother’. This book takes what’s become quite a common thing and plays up to every fear you might have about the people you’re suddenly sharing intimate details with.

The May Mothers…a group of women (and a token male) who bond over the fact they each gave birth in May. Keen to support, but it’s very easy to see that these people know very little about each other.

On a night out when their children are young, the unthinkable happens and one of the children is abducted. What follows is a curious mix of establishing what happened to Baby Midas and unearthing the many secrets held by each of the group members.

We get multiple POVs which made it seem quite slow. Everyone had a secret and we just had to wait and see how these linked to the story.

I can see why this has been optioned for a movie, and I imagine it will be a book on many group lists. Unfortunately, the ending fell a little flat for me and I felt things were increasingly rushed in an attempt to resolve the many strands.

‘Lock Every Door’ – Riley Sagar

If something sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Those words, spoken by Jules’s best friend, come back to haunt us as we work out exactly what’s going on.
There’s an interesting time frame to this story that allows us glimpses of the key events, while also showing the build-up to them. Jules has, by any standards, had a tough life. Her sister went missing years ago and her parents died in a house fire. When she loses her job she returns home to find her boyfriend having sex with someone else. So, putting all those things together it’s hardly surprising that she’s keen to respond to the advert she sees.

When Jules sees the advert requesting a house sitter for an apartment she thinks it’s the answer to her prayers. When she hears how much she’ll be paid, she is determined to see it out although the rules that are in place seem draconian.
From the moment Jules moves into The Bartholomew she’s fed crazy stories from her concerned friends, and her own paranoia starts to prey on her mind. She tries to avoid thinking too much about her concerns but as another of the house-sitters disappears, Jules can’t help but try to work out what’s going on.

The truth is far more terrifying than anything she could have imagined.

Having thoroughly enjoyed the other novels by Riley Sager, I am – again – grateful to NetGalley for allowing me to read this prior to publication in exchange for my honest thoughts.

‘Fragments of the Lost’ – Megan Miranda

Jessa is given the unenviable task of sorting through her boyfriend’s room when he dies. His mum doesn’t know that Caleb and Jessa were no longer an item, but when Jessa is asked to do this final thing, she feels she has to help out. Even though she feels Caleb’s mum holds her responsible.

Jessa was one of the last to see Caleb alive. He turned up to her cross-country meet then left. Rumours circulate as to why, but nobody could have predicted that Caleb would be caught in the floods that swept their town that night and that his car would be swept off the local bridge.

Jessa is everywhere in this room, and it is certainly not the kind of experience you’d wish on anyone. However, as Jessa packs up Caleb’s belongings there are clues that perhaps she didn’t know him as well as she thought.

In the opening stages of the novel it seems to focus very much on the relationship and grief element, which had limited appeal. However, very quickly we move into Jessa trying to uncover the mystery of Caleb’s last days and putting together the clues she’s been left as to exactly what happened. This soon became a tense mystery, and slowly trying to put the pieces together was great fun. Jessa was believable and though I was surprised by the ending it really was a great read.

‘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.

‘Wilder Girls’ – Rory Power

Raxter Island – deserted – and on it a boarding school for girls, with a small number of students. These students have, effectively, been cut off from the outside world after exposure to a virus.

We focus primarily on three girls: Hetty, Byatt and Reese. Like the other girls their exposure to the Tox has created some bizarre occurrences. Yet they’re surviving.

Without really knowing what happened, it was hard to get a handle on this scenario. I spent a large chunk of the book feeling as if I was blindly following someone down a dark alley. Aside from being discomfited as I read, I found the developing situation a compelling one.

I was desperate to know what was happening, while also having a very clear feeling that I wouldn’t like the truth.

There’s a grim darkness to this that might have been handled differently. While I enjoyed it, I always felt there was background info left out and that there were details I was keen to know that were glossed over.