‘These Fleeting Shadows’ – Kate Alice Marshall

Due for release early August 2022, thanks to NetGalley for giving me the opportunity to read this prior to publication.

Touted as Knives Out meets The Haunting of Hill House, this was always likely to be a book that perplexed and entertained. With clear nods to the Gothic, this was a story that started oddly and just got stranger.

When her grandfather dies, Helen Vaughan goes with her mother to the ancestral home (known as Harrow). She learns that she is due to inherit millions and the property on the condition that she lives in the house for a year and is not rejected.

From start to finish we never know who to trust. Helen grows sick and starts to see things that make little sense. She is determined to get to the bottom of these visions, but we soon see that this could be a more dangerous scenario than envisioned.

I loved the fact this was based on a story that sounds even weirder and creepier than the one Marshall delivers. Deftly blending horror and mystery, this was a story that both puzzled and entertained.

‘Razorblade Tears’ – S.A. Cosby

There’s so much about this book that should make me hate it – transphobia, homophobia, graphic descriptions of wanton violence being the main ones – but this got under my skin and was a surprising hit.

Razorblade Tears is unflinching in its honesty. Sometimes the things said are very hard to read, but from start to finish this was a book that I found myself fully engaged with.

Ike and Buddy Lee are fathers who feel they have let down their kids. Ike, a black ex-convict, has tried to keep on the straight and narrow but is judged whenever he sets foot outside his home. Buddy Lee is a drunk white redneck (his own description) who is hiding from the fact he has cancer. In spite of their sons being married, the two men don’t know each other. When their boys are murdered, the police don’t seem to be looking too hard for answers, so Ike and Buddy Lee take it upon themselves to try to make up for the way they treated their sons while alive to avenge their deaths.

From the outset it’s clear there is something big at stake here. The gang links and casual attitude to violence were a challenge to read – how anyone can be so casual about disposing of a body in a wood chipper I don’t know – but they help to explain a little where these two very flawed men are coming from.

Neither is without fault, and I can’t imagine taking the law into your own hands, but Cosby paints a sympathetic picture of two men struggling to accept their shortcomings.

This will not be for everything, but it really was an unexpected hit for me.

 

‘The Drift’ – C.J. Tudor

From start to finish The Drift had me hooked. In spite of reading this on the hottest two days of the year, my blood ran cold.
In the beginning we are given three unusual scenarios. A group of teens in a crashed bus. A group of adults trapped in a cable car. A group in a place known only as The Retreat. We know this is a world in which a deadly virus has taken hold; a virus for which there seems to be no cure. What we don’t know is how these scenarios link, or exactly what is happening.
The lack of detail should be off-putting, but Tudor carries us through with barely time to pause for breath.
I want to say more, but not knowing exactly how these stories link made such a difference to my reading of the book. I was thrown more than once as I pieced together who was who and the links between their stories. Plotting to die for…and a sign that we’ll never know just how far we’re prepared to go when it counts.
Thanks to NetGalley for giving me the opportunity to read this prior to publication.

 

‘The Retreat’ – Sarah Pearse

The Retreat opens with an insight into an event so horrific that its influence is still felt years later. A young couple are out in the woods when one of them is attacked. The other runs. We know nothing of them, but the death was part of a gruesome attack on a remote island known as Reacher’s Rock.

The history of this island is steeped in mystery, and locals tell a good story. Since the murder of a group of children on a summer camp the locals have talked of a darkness. Over the course of the book we come to understand why, and how the events of the past link to the present.

When we pick up the story Reacher’s Rock is home to a luxury retreat offering people with money the chance to get away. Jo, an influencer, has organised a holiday on the island for her sisters and their partners. From the outset there is tension between them, and as our story progresses we come to learn a little more about each of them.

Early in the story a body is discovered. Having seemingly fallen from a balcony while under the influence, this could have been it. But the young woman found dead was not a guest on the island. Only days later another body is found.

Detective Elin Warner is on her second big case, full of doubts, but this time round she seems a little more certain of herself and her decisions seem more circumspect. As she investigates these mysterious deaths she too falls under the spell of the island, but with the help of her partner Steed she teases out the finer points of these crimes and unearths a determined plot for revenge.

For those who enjoyed The Sanatorium there’s a sense of the character developing, and I feel this could work as a stand-alone story. I found myself more unsettled by the ending than I care to admit, and I’m hoping that in Warner’s next outing we’ll get to the bottom of who has their own vendetta against her.
Thanks to NetGalley for giving me the opportunity to read this prior to publication in exchange for my review.

 

‘The Island of Lost Girls’ – Alex Marwood

In light of some of the things coming out recently, this book struck a nerve. Money can buy you a lot, and the contempt I felt for some of these characters was visceral. It was too easy to see how some of these predators engineered situations to exploit the vulnerable, and I really hope people who pick this up will stick with it.

Mercedes is a young girl living on a beautiful island and she, like many in her hometown, is rather taken aback when multi-millionaire Matthew Meade arrives with his daughter. The glamour and wealth they bring has its allure…and we soon see how certain people are prepared to look the other way if they can benefit from their association. Mercedes is one of the first victims, when her father takes a huge payout in order to encourage his daughter to befriend Tatiana Meade.

While Tatiana has some redeeming qualities as a child, we also see her as an adult exploiting her relationship with Mercedes. There are hints of behaviour that sets alarm bells ringing, but the true horror is not revealed quickly.

As we follow Mercedes going about her work, we also follow the story of seventeen year old Gemma and the mother seeking her runaway daughter. Their stories inevitably link, and when they do we see the full horror hidden beneath the glamorous surface.

A mesmerising read, and one which feels unsettlingly relevant. I’m grateful to NetGalley for giving me the chance to read this prior to publication.

 

‘They’re Watching You’ – Chelsea Ichaso

Due for release in January 2023, I was thrilled to get a copy of this via NetGalley. The cover and blurb had me tingling in anticipation…and now I’ve finished, I can’t wait to recommend this to others.

Ichaso strikes the right note here. At the outset, I was sucked in by Maren’s quest to find out what happened to her friend. She is gutsy, a little reckless, but it soon become obvious that someone was toying with her and that this game could be a lot more serious than she imagined.

What Maren learns is that Polly had become part of a secret society in their exclusive boarding school. Maren digs until she finds a way in…and then we started a curious cat and mouse game.

From the moment the Society is mentioned, Ichaso ramps up the tension. There’s a love triangle (of sorts) but it’s never clear who can be trusted, and Maren herself falls prey to this. Some of the challenges seemed rather childish…but it was evidently part of a much bigger plan. As we learn about the scope of the Society we start to see how serious this could be.

Once underway, this was a hard story to put down. It exploited the fears of the characters very well, and was written in a way that always left me with a niggling suspicion.

For a book about secret societies, deadly rituals and with potentially life-threatening scenarios this was great fun!

 

‘Bad Things Happen Here’ – Rebecca Barrow

To the outside world, Parris is a beautiful town full of people whose lives are to be envied. What they don’t see is the dark side to the town, the secrets that lurk in the shadows and which keep those who live in Parris trapped.
Our main character is Luca Laine Thomas, from one of the wealthy families who everyone knows. Her life might seem easy, but Luca believes in the curse that is rumoured to haunt the town. Her best friend, Polly, was found dead and though it was ruled accidental, Luca is convinced there’s more to the story.
My initial thoughts on Luca and her friends were not particularly positive. While they expressed unease at the events taking place in their town, they seemed to be as much a part of the problem as anyone else. Their behaviour towards the new neighbour, Naomi, felt a little patronising and yet I hoped things would not be quite as I thought.
Once Luca learns that her sister, Whitney, has been found dead after a party, things got a lot more interesting. Luca cannot accept what she’s being told and decides to carry out her own investigation. What she learns shows that nearly everyone has something to hide.
I found myself caught up in this once the story got underway, and fans of The Cheerleaders or Kit Frick will no doubt love the approach taken. The ending left me rather stunned, but it was nice to see Luca grow in self-belief as she made her way through events. Thanks to NetGalley for giving me the opportunity to read this in advance of publication.

 

‘The House Across the Lake’ – Riley Sager

The House Across the Lake was a story I was so excited to get my hands on, and parts of it really were exciting. However, as a whole, it felt messy and just too much to take in.

Our main character is recently widowed actress Casey Fletcher who has been banished to her lakeside home (the place where her husband died) by her mother who wants her out of the public eye after one too many drunken incidents. In what felt like a Rear Window homage, Casey takes to watching the home across the lake from her…home to supermodel Katherine Royce and her media husband Tom.

Casey’s first meeting with Katherine is when she fishes her out of the lake and saves her from drowning. The tentative steps to a new friendship are forged, but Casey is convinced that things in the Royce household are not what they seem. Obsessive, alcohol-fuelled stalking events occur and it’s hard to workout whether Casey is deluded or if there’s some truth to her fears about Tom.

In the background of this bizarre situation is a local writer, an ex-cop whose wife died and three missing women. From the moment each element is introduced my brain went into overdrive trying to work out what was a red herring, what was plausible and what was a diversion. Casey lurches from one imagined scenario to the next and things ramp up once Katherine goes missing and Tom starts acting suspiciously.

It was at this point that the book went to a whole other level and I had to check if I was reading the latest Sarah Pinborough. I have no problem with the introduction of the supernatural to a story, but in this instance it felt like a gimmick. It served merely to offer a hitherto unthought-of reason for what was happening, but it also served as a diversion to another element of the plot. It felt as if bets were being hedged here as to what type of book was the ultimate aim, and the truth is that it feels as if we don’t get a satisfactory answer.

I’m grateful to NetGalley for giving me the chance to read this before its scheduled July publication, but I’d have been so gutted to have waited for release date and spent the amount I’ve had to on previous Sager books to then get this. I’m afraid this didn’t work for me.

‘Wrong Place, Wrong Time’ – Gillian McAllister

Our story opens with Jen, a lawyer, waiting for her adult son to come home after a night out. I feared there might be an accident as we watch Jen observe her son get closer to home. Another figure approaches her son, and I thought we were about to witness an awful crime that Jen would have to relive as she deals with this moment. We did…but it wasn’t at all what I expected. Todd, Jen’s son, stabs and kills the man. Watching your son get hurt would be awful, but I can’t imagine how you’d feel watching him kill someone.

The next day, the strangest thing happens. Jen wakes, and it is the day before the crime. Nothing has happened, and she believes she is going mad. Each time she goes to sleep she seems to travel back in time. There has, Jen is certain, to be a reason for this. Can she learn anything that will help her stop this crime before it happens?

Wrong Place, Wrong Time was a skilfully constructed story. From start to finish it was fascinating to observe Jen’s experiences and to try to piece together anything that could have relevance to the crime that instigated this event. McAllister weaves a rich story, where nothing is quite as it seems. We watch Jen as she is forced to relive her life, reflecting on interactions and trying to work out what might hold the key to protecting her son.

As the story unfolded I found myself quite amazed by the concept. I loved the mercurial quality to the story, and found myself wholly unsettled by the ending.
I can’t wait for someone I know to pick this up and read it. A huge thank you to NetGalley for giving me the chance to read this in advance of publication.

 

‘Hollow Fires’ – Samira Ahmed

Due for release in early May, I’m grateful to NetGalley for giving me access to this prior to publication. From start to finish this had me hooked, and I think it is Ahmed’s most powerful book to date.

It’s easy to feel outrage at the kind of privilege shown throughout this book. It’s easy to feel angered by the behaviour of the two young adults who plan, carry out and almost get away with their murder of a younger teen. It’s easy to feel the fire of injustice that forces Safiya into action. But it’s also easy for many readers (and I probably count myself in this) to feel that anger and yet to not be further impacted by it. This is not part of my daily experience, and I fear that my ‘fire’ as I finished this book could be seen as ‘hollow’ if I don’t do anything with it. This is something I need to digest further.

The story of Hollow Fires itself is a compelling one. It begins when Jawad, son of Iraqi refugees, is arrested when his English teacher believes the home-made Halloween costume he proudly takes into school is a suicide bomb. The absurdity of this situation stands out…but even after being cleared of all charges, Jawad is persecuted. He becomes known by the moniker BombBoy and the growing sense of unease felt by students who are not white is deftly portrayed through the character of Safiya. When Jawad goes missing, there is an appeal but the police quickly write him off as a run-away.

Safiya has always wanted to be a journalist and she has an inquisitive nature that doesn’t allow her to blindly accept some of the things she’s told by those in authority. She is determined that people should not accept this version of events. Set against a growing backdrop of racially-motivated attacks, Safiya is convinced there is more to Jawad’s disappearance. When she finds his body wedged in a culvert in a little known part of the local park, Safiya knows that there’s more to this story than people are prepared to acknowledge. She takes it upon herself to try and get justice for Jawad, determined that those responsible will be held to account.

There are issues with the way Safiya interferes with an ongoing investigation. The way certain characters behaved didn’t always seem realistic, and there’s still a part of me that feels the outcome of this case would not, in reality, have gone quite as it’s presented here. However, these were not enough of a distraction to prevent me from feeling this is a book I would highly recommend.