by Pamela Hartshorne
The Cursed Wife is one of those books that is difficult to categorise. There is murder, suspense, revenge, mystery and even a hint of witchcraft, all centred around two “sisters” living in Elizabethan London.
Mary and Cat are thrust together when they were very young. Distant relations, they become as close as sisters. Loving and fighting in equal measure. But they are not and never can be equals. One is the orphaned daughter of a penniless country gentleman, the other titled and privileged.
But their lives are entwined, even as their fates diverge on different paths.
Cat has led a privileged life, but following the death of her father, she becomes little more than a pawn as her brother effectively sells her off to the highest bidder. It isn’t long before her husband’s depravity and games lead Cat to make a decision that will change both of their lives forever. A chance meeting in the summer rain brings the two women back together throws Mary’s life into turmoil as Cat’s presence threatens everything she has spent the past 16 years building.
The narrative alternates between the two women, each telling the story from their own point of view. With their fortunes reversed, their former friendship turns to rivalry and they are forced to hide their true pasts.
There are plenty of twists and turns as the story unfolds. I enjoyed the story, the characters and the pace. I also found the interaction between the two protagonists fascinating. The way each of the interpreted the events of their past acts as a reminder that not everything is as black and white as it seems. Truth is sometimes malleable and often biased.
Pamela Hartshorne uses all her experience as a historian to ensure consistency and authenticity. It is a great story and an enjoyable read.
by Rob Boffard
The concept of being cast adrift, out of reach of help and fighting for survival is a recurring scenario repeated in many good books and films. As the word itself suggests, these stories are generally confined to the dramas set in the sea, usually under attack from an unknown or unseen assailant. In this case, though, the ship in question is a small leisure shuttle taking its passengers to view the Horsehead Nebula – it’s the best view the Galaxy according to the tourist literature.
When they board the rather shabby and far from state-of-the-art Red Panda for their short excursion into space, those on board have no idea that they’re lives, and the lives of thousands of others, are about to change forever.
It was supposed to be a routine trip. A short journey away from the sprawling Sigma Station, a quick look at the Nebula, then back in time for tea. But everything changes when a mysterious ship appears seemingly from nowhere and, as they watch, destroys the station and everyone on it. With no idea who is behind the attack or why, the passengers and crew find themselves struggling to avoid detection. They have no weapons, very little food or water, and no way to escape.
Adrift is a tense drama that keeps the reader in suspense from beginning to end. The story is driven by some interesting characters, most of whom have secrets that pose as much of a threat to the group’s survival as the mysterious enemy now stalking them.
Each twist of the plot provides insight into who the individuals are. There are heroism and betrayal in equal measure from unexpected places in this well-crafted adventure. Rob Boffard has once again proven that he is a great storyteller and a good observer of human nature.
For those who have already read his Out Earth trilogy, Adrift offers more of the same and is a must. If you haven’t yet read his work then this is as good a place to start as any. You will not be disappointed if you are looking for drama, adventure and some science fiction.
by Helen Fitzgerald
Having to deal with Glasgow’s darker characters every day has made probation officer Mary Shields a little cranky. Her inclination to drink, her lack of respect for authority and her naturally suspicious nature should probably have made her unsuitable for the role, but ironically she is good at her job. But now with her job on the line, she prepares to walk away, but not before she can clear one final case on her books.
Enter Liam Macdowall, imprisoned for murdering his wife but now out on licence and put under Mary’s watchful eye. There is an instant distrust between the two, but on the surface, it is a simple enough case, not more difficult than any of the thousands she has handled before. But things soon get messy and the result is devastating for Mary and everyone around her.
Worst Case Scenario is one of those rare books that manage to combine gritty thriller with lashings of humour. Mary is a wonderfully imagined character whose flaws are plain to see but make her all the more charming.
Helen Fitzgerald has a reputation for writing psychological thrillers and this is certainly a prime example of the best of the genre. I was gripped from the very first page, following Mary and Liam’s relationship with growing alarm and dread. At heart, it is a very tense and dark story, but the humour that runs through it like a seam of gold elevates it beyond the run-of-the-mill. I thoroughly enjoyed the book and was left wanting more.
A great read.
by Sophie Hannah
Sophie Hannah has an enviable reputation as a thriller writer, but this particular book offers very little either psychological or thrilling.
I found the main character, Chloe Daniels frustratingly fickle and unbelievable. The plot had all the makings of an interesting thriller, but it never really got going.
The whole concept lacked conviction. The chance meeting with her knight in shining armour, the reaction of her best friend and the warnings from another stranger all failed to convince me of the validity of the plot.
Not what I had expected at all. A very disappointing read whos only saving grace is that it is short.
by Sophie Hannah
Sophie Hannah is best known for her psychological thrillers but in this novel, commissioned by the Hammer imprint, she put all her experience to good use as she turns her attention to the world of the supernatural.
The Orpha Choir is something of a slow burner. Louise Beeston is being tormented by her party-loving neighbour Juston Clay (or, as she likes to call him, Mr Farenheit). For months Louise, along with her husband Stewart, have had to put up with having Clay’s musical choices foisted on them on a regular basis. But it is Louise who suffers the most and is finally driven to breaking point. When she contacts the Environmental Health Department things seem to improve, but not for long.
Louise’s life takes some strange twists over the following months, but it is not just Clay’s musical choices that are behind her troubles. With her son recently accepted as a border at the prestigious Saviour College School, Louise is struggling to cope and lack of sleep is not helping. There are a few interesting twists and it is clear that all is not as it seems.
Louise and Stewart live ordinary lives in Cambridge, struggling with the usual worries – work, family, neighbours and their own relationship. It is the very ordinariness of their lives that makes the way the plot unfolds so intriguing.
This is not a classic horror or ghost story. It is an intriguing story of one woman’s battle against forces beyond her control. I enjoyed the plot and the characters and who knows, one day we may see the movie – it is a Hammer Horror book after all.
by Linwood Barclay
There is no denying that Linwood Barclay can write a good thriller. This is the fifth of his books I have read and each one has proven to be a gripping and exciting read.
There is a sort of formula to his work which I find offers a reliability I find comforting.
In this story, private investigator Cal Weaver finds himself drawn into a tangled web of deceit, murder and secrets, hidden beneath the thin veneer of the town’s respectability. It all begins when he receives a tap on the window of his car one wet evening. Against his better judgement Cal offers the bedraggled teenage girl a lift home and what follows leaves both of them running for their lives.
When the girl goes missing Cal finds himself a suspect and going up against a police force that has become renowned for its disregard of procedure and rights. But this is not Cal’s only problem. The recent death of his teenage son has left his marriage on the rocks and his own state of mind in question.
From the very beginning, A Tap On The Window kept me hooked. The story is littered with clues. some of which were more obvious to me than they were poor old Cal who really should have seen what was happening much sooner.
As far as I am concerned, this book just confirms Linwood Barclay’s reputation.
by Ian Fleming
I am not sure why but when I read the James Bond series back in my youth, this particular episode eluded me. Anyway, a bit late but I have now rectified that and can happily say that I have now read them all – the Fleming novels at least. So far I have only managed one on the newer novels (Colonel Sun) and was not impressed.
Back to The Spy Who Loved Me. As with all but a couple of the Bond stories, the book and its film adaptation are about as alike as Blue Cheese and black puddings. I don’t even want to think about the film version of this which is, if memory serves me right, appaling.
James Bond is probably one of literature’s most well known and enduring characters. But the books, particularly Fleming’s original series, portray a man far removed from the screen Bond we see today.
In a deviation from his usual style, this particular adventure is told in the first person, but not by Bond. Instead, this is very much Vivienne Michel’s story, with Bond not making an appearance until page 108 (of 172). By then Vivienne has told us her life story and found herself, through no fault of her own, at the mercy of two thugs whos intentions are all not too clear.
Bond, as expected, saves the day, but even then he is on the periphery. There are no spies and actually very little in the way of adventure. This is primarily the story of a young Canadian woman and her failed romantic and career choices. It is very much the odd book out as far as I can see, and although I enjoyed the story itself, I can’t consider it to be a serious part of the Bond canon.
by Pamela Hartshorne
House of Shadows is a story of possession, betrayal, discovery, love and redemption. It is a ghost story without ghosts – or at least not in the way you might expect. This is possession, but not in the Exorcist, spinning head and strange voices way. The supernatural element of this compelling tale is much more subtle than that.
It is really the story of two women, separated by four centuries but united by their love and need to reconnect with their sons. Both women find themselves being manipulated by those they trust with dramatic and tragic results.
When Kate Vavasour wakes in the hospital she remembers nothing of her life, her family or her friends. Everyone around her is a stranger. She doesn’t even know why she is in the hospital and no one seems in a hurry to explain it to her. When her memories do begin to come back it is very quickly obvious that that can’t be hers. In fact, they are the memories if Isabel Vavasour who had lived and died four hundred years before.
Kate now has to not only reconnect with her own memories, rebuilding her relationships with those closest to her but also try to make some sense of her visions of Isabel’s ultimately tragic life.
As I said, this is not a ghost story as such Isabel’s presence in Kate’s life is a plea for help and as Kate begins to understand this, her fear is replaced by a dogged determination to find out all she can to answer Isabel’s questions about her son. What she doesn’t know is it was that very singlemindedness that landed her in hospital in the first place.
House of Shadows is a tense and thrilling novel that kept me gripped right from the start. It was easy to piece together what was really going on with all the characters. At the heart of the book are two young mothers, both married into the Vavasour family, and both driven by a deep and enduring love for their husbands and sons. But ultimately, both are blinded by unquestioning loyalty to friends who have their own agendas.
An excellent story very well told.
by Dan Brown
Once again, Harvard professor Robert Langdon finds himself at the epicentre of an event that could change the course of human history forever, or at the very least, kill him. You would think that by now after all that has happened in the previous four books, he would have learned to stay at home and keep the phone off the hook.
Mind you, while the action may be short-lived, for the duration of each of his extracurricular adventures he gets to spend the time with a new and always very attractive young lady.
There is predictability to the Langdon series that tells me it is high time he retired from the lecturing and let Dan Brown move onto someone new.
That aside though, Origin is the best of Professor Langdon’s adventures since his run-in with the Catholic Church in the Davinci Code. Once again it is the church that plays a big part in this very action-packed tale, but it is not the main focus of the story. Art, architecture and computer science takes centre stage this time around.
For me, Origin is something of a return to the form that made Dan Brown and his favourite symbologist household names. There is plenty of action and more twists and turns than a motor racing circuit. The bulk of the action is split between Barcelona and Bilbao with a cast of characters that include the Spanish royal family, a former naval officer with his own personal agenda, a billionaire computer geek with a hatred of all religions and the mysterious Winston, without whose help Professor Langdon and his beautiful assistant would not have made it past page 125.
An immense amount of research has gone into writing this book and Dan Brown has made sure that none of it has been wasted. There are times when the text begins to read more like a history lecture, and I sometimes felt a little like the dunce at the back of the class who had to have everything spelt out for him. But having said that, I do felt I learnt a lot from the book, as well as being thoroughly entertained.
An really gripping and well plotted take that kept me hooked – and guessing – right too the very end.
by Tim Lebbon
Every now and again I pick up a book by someone I have never read before and Know almost straight away that I have found something special. What attracted me to the book I do not know – it was probably recommended – but I am so glad it did.
From the very first page, I was totally gripped by the intriguing plot, engaging characters and the wonderful storytelling. Told in both first and third person, the readers’ viewpoint switches rapidly as the apocalyptic events unfold.
Telling the story from her own point of view is young Alley, a deaf teenager. Used to a world of silence, Alley is almost uniquely skilled to help her family survive when their world is threatened by the emergence of what become commonly known as vesps, creatures that have evolved in the darkness of a vast cave system and hunt by sound.
I have read plenty of end-of-the-world type books over the years, with humanity coming close to extinction more times than I can remember. So the premise of the book is nothing new as such, but the way it is told and the form of the threat very different from anything I have come across before.
At the heart of the story are Alley and her family. Alley’s deafness gives them a distinct advantage over their peers. They have developed their own family sign language that allows them to communicate in a world when the smallest of sounds can bring death in the form of these ravenous batlike creatures. Death is never far away and sacrifice often the only means of escape.
As the family move from their home and make their way north, they have to deal with not only their own fears but also the outward effects of fear on the people they meet. As mankind fights for its survival Alley sees first hand just how far others are willing to go to save the ones they love. And in the figure of the Reverand, one of the creepiest characters I have read for a while.
From beginning to end, The Silence is a great mix of horror and thriller. The characters are as well formed as any and the story itself compelling. A great book.