First Monday Crime – April 2020 @1stMondayCrime @erskine_fiona @PointBlankCrime @margotbookpr #TheChemicalReaction

Well, when we were planning First Monday Crime back in January, we had no idea what was coming. Considering we all have something to do with publishing in various ways – author, editor, publicity, blogger etc. – to find ourselves in a real-life dystopian novel is a bit surreal. But that isn’t going to stop us shouting out about the authors and novels that were due to feature in April’s event. One of the authors booked to come was Fiona Erskine. Her new novel is The Chemical Reaction, a follow-up to The Chemical Detective. Margot Weale at Oneworld has kindly sent an extract for you all to read. But first the blurb.


The Blurb

As Jaq is pulled further into a murky underworld of deceit and corruption, things take an explosive turn…

After escaping almost certain death amidst the ruins of Chernobyl, Jaq finds herself in even hotter water. Deep in debt, she decides to take on a risky contract in China. But when her former student and the chemical factory she was meant to be investigating both mysteriously disappear, she realises nothing is as it seems.
From fraudulent art auctions in London to a troupe of male strippers in Shanghai, the mystery of the vanishing factory begins to look ever more complicated as the days pass. Can Jaq work out what happened – and whether it has anything to do with her nemesis Frank Good – before time runs out?


The Chemical Reaction

The Extract

Twenty nautical miles from the Crimean coast, Black Sea

Dark clouds raced in from the east, the yacht creaking and sighing as it sped towards land in a desperate attempt to outrun the approaching storm.

Jaq grasped the wheel, the varnished wood smooth and warm under her hands, staying the course, filling the sails, running for shelter. The yacht was a living thing beneath her bare feet, bucking and twisting, stretching and straining, rolling and slewing.

A crimson glow lingered above the hills as the sun dipped below the wine-dark sea. Calm water lay ahead. Chaos and darkness, behind.

The rendezvous had gone smoothly, the ‘cargo’ picked up in the Crimea, delivered at the appointed time and place, twelve nautical miles from shore.

Mission accomplished.

A flash of silver lightning split the sky, illuminating the deck. One . . . and . . . two . . . and . . .

Giovanni worked around her, trimming the spinnaker sheet, keeping the huge sail filled as the boat rolled, wrenching every ounce of speed from the Frankium.

Five . . . and . . . six . . . and . . .

She looked up at the sails, perfectly set like the wings of a massive bird, propelling them over the ocean.

Ten . . . and . . . eleven . . . and . . .

They worked well together, just the two of them. Jaq setting the course, both hands on the wheel, keeping the wind behind them, optimising their speed. Maximising tension, minimising resistance. Constant small adjustments. Watching and listening, sensing, anticipating.

In contrast to Jaq’s pool of stillness at the helm, Giovanni darted from side to side, a lithe dynamo in constant motion. Synchronised motion. Perfectly attuned to each other’s needs. In and out of bed.

His dark curls blew about his face in the wind, eyes glinting in the gleam of the running lights, brown irises merging with dilated black pupils as he adjusted his vision to the gathering darkness. His skin was tanned by sunshine, weather-darkened by a life lived in the open air. He wore a striped T-shirt, the fabric plastered to his broad chest, damp with sweat and sea spray, the long sleeves rolled back to reveal muscled forearms. His blue chinos ended above bare ankles. Rubber soles squeaked as his white plimsolls scooted across the teak planking of the foredeck, his compact, wiry frame twisting and turning, bending and stretching.

They couldn’t carry this much sail if the gusts increased. At her signal, Giovanni clipped his harness to the jackstay and started forward to drop the spinnaker. The symbol on the billowing white nylon – a black box containing the letters Fr, the chemical symbol for the eighty-seventh element in the periodic table – wrinkled and folded as the nylon sail spooled onto the deck. Giovanni bagged the sail and dropped it down the forehatch.

Fifteen . . . and . . . sixteen . . . and . . .

A massive wave lifted the stern and the boat rolled. The wind snuck behind the mainsail and forced it hard against the preventer. It rattled, straining to break free.

Jaq spun the wheel, trying to stop the boat from broaching, but it wasn’t responding.

‘Gybe!’ Jaq bellowed.

Giovanni ducked as the preventer snapped and the boom scythed across the deck, the mainsail rattling like machine gun fire before billowing out on the other side. The boat righted and steadied itself as she brought it back on course. Giovanni waved a fist in mock anger.

That was close. Too close. The boat was answering the helm again but it felt sluggish, no longer smoothly responsive and finely tuned. What had changed?

Giovanni must have sensed something too. ‘Troppo scuro!’ he hollered. ‘Troppo agitato!’ Too dark. Too risky. She mimed her reluctant agreement to reduce sail. He put a reef in the main and rolled in some of the staysail.

Twenty-five . . . and . . . twenty-six . . . and . . .

The yacht pitched and yawed, the waves rolling past the hull as it barrelled downwind. A shudder ran through the craft from prow to stern.

Twenty-eight . . . and . . . twenty-nine . . . and . . .

Thunder cracked and boomed, the roar of an angry sky dragon, threatening from on high.

Twenty-nine and a half seconds. Jaq did the mental calculation. Thunder and lightning happen at the same time, both caused by an electrical discharge from heaven to earth. Or cloud to sea, in this case. The delay in perception is only due to the different speeds at which light and sound travel. Speed of light 299,792,458 metres per second: instantaneous to all intents and purposes. Speed of sound 343 metres per second. Twenty-nine and a half seconds between the light and sound reaching them meant the storm was ten kilometres away and closing. It would hit the boat long before they made land. And hit them hard. With winds approaching 100 km/hr, 50 knots, they had less than six minutes. All around was darkness; only the rasp of sea spray on her skin, the shrieking wind howling across the Black Sea.

Had she been wrong to release the crew? Essential to the rendition, but after capturing The Spider – the criminal mastermind behind a chemical weapons factory – and rescuing his prisoner, double agent Camilla Hatton, Interpol had taken over. Sending the crew away with Interpol had seemed the obvious thing to do. More than obvious – necessary. The crew were mercenaries, soldiers not sailors, the right men for a dirty job. Task complete, Jaq wanted nothing more than to forget the mission, forget the bloodshed and forget her own part in it all.

After the lightning, then the thunder, came the scent, borne on gusts of wind, the familiar metallic smell of ozone, the telltale chemistry of the sky.

And another scent. Testosterone and sandalwood. Giovanni appeared beside her. ‘It’s getting wild.’

Jaq cocked her head and appraised him. ‘Shall I tie you to the mast?’

A shadow passed over his face as he handed her a life jacket. ‘Put this on.’

She pulled it over her head and tightened the buckle. ‘When this storm is over, let’s find a quiet bay somewhere and—’

She stopped as his expression darkened. What did she see there? Something new. Was it fear? No; Gio was in his element out here in the storm. Something had changed between them. Gone was the easy intimacy, replaced by a new reserve.

‘What’s wrong?’

He put a finger to her lips.

‘I need to check something.’ He turned away and dropped through the hatch.

Jaq stood alone on the deck, fighting the untrammelled forces of nature. No time to think about Gio right now. The yacht was increasingly hard to handle. Even with reduced sail she was strug­gling to maintain course, to keep the wind in the sails, to stop the boat broaching again.

Giovanni popped his head up from the hatch, his eyebrows meeting in a frown.

‘Water in the cabin,’ he shouted. ‘I’m going down to investigate.’

Lightning split the dark sky, fingers and tongues of silver all around. The shriek of wind in the rigging vied with the crash of the sea against the hull of the yacht. The waves were getting bigger and stronger, foaming salt water sluicing down the deck.

The boat vibrated from the aftershock of another thunderclap. And kept on quivering. Jaq stood still. The juddering beneath her feet felt different. Not the familiar tremors of the craft yielding and rebounding. Something less elastic, something tearing and wrenching. Something below the waterline, dampened by the sea and yet violent enough to be sensed on deck.

A sudden screech, louder than the wind, than the waves, louder than thunder. The boat itself was crying out. Rebelling. Out of control.

The boom heaved across and then back, the yacht pitched and yawed. She was falling, sliding across the sea-drenched deck, halting her slide by grabbing the jackstay. Jaq lay panting, opening her eyes wide to make sense of the dark shape that rose up in front of her.

No time for panic, or for despair – the boat was going over.


Hand over hand, she hauled herself up the tilting deck away from the water.

The boat continued to heel as another massive wave caught her broadside.

Merda! One choice, two options.

Option one was to use the motion of the boat, dive under the starboard rail as the boat turned upside down, use the swell from the capsize to throw herself clear, facing the full fury of the sea.

Option two was to stay where she was. Easier for a rescue vessel to find. Remain in the boat. Allow it to roll over her. Swim to an air pocket, pull herself out of the water into a cave protected from the waves. Hope that it would not sink, rely on the inherent buoyancy, trust in a well-maintained compartmentalised design to ensure that the Frankium remained afloat.

Trust. Could she trust anything connected to Frank Good, the owner of this wretched craft? Given the evidence so far? Was there even a choice?

Jaq took a deep breath. As the deck thundered overhead, she plunged into the water. The shock of immersion gave her new strength. She swam down, kicking wildly, scooping the water in mad, desperate strokes as the wounded boat completed its death roll. As she emerged a huge wave crashed over her. Tumbling and turning, she surfaced, only to be buffeted by a new wave, at the mercy of the angry sea.

Something rose beneath her, erupted from the water and arced through the air. The life raft had launched itself and inflated. By the time she reached it, she no longer possessed the strength to haul herself on board, but she caught a tether and clung to the side.

A flash of lightning lit the upturned hull of the Frankium, bobbing on the waves, a pale sea creature.

No sign of Giovanni. She had to get the raft to the upturned boat and send him a signal.

She started to swim back towards the yacht, towing the raft behind her, but the currents were against her, arms aching as the distance only increased.

How to get out of the water and into the raft? It was no use fighting the waves. Could she use them? She positioned herself between the next wave and the raft, hoping to surf above it. Bad idea. The force of the wave slammed her into the side, knocking her breath away so that she almost lost hold of the rope. Burra! If at first you don’t succeed, try something different.

Many years ago, she had learned how to right a kayak. Johan, then her instructor, now her best friend, had superb upper body strength, but she always beat him in the timed drills. Brains over brawn. Use the buoyancy as your friend; let physics do the work. Time to apply that here. Once her breathing was almost back to normal, she repositioned the raft between her and the next wave, tipping the side towards her until it was almost perpendicular, grabbing the ropes inside. As the wave passed underneath, the raft scooped her up and she collapsed, like a flapping fish, into the bottom of the vessel.

She lay on the rubber floor for a few minutes, gathering what was left of her wits, then scrabbled around for the paddles and a waterproof pouch of survival gear: flares, water, energy bars, first aid kit, compass, rope, a handy-billy block and tackle, knife.

Where were they? She checked the compass. North led back to Crimea, east to Russia, west to Bulgaria, south to Turkey, the direction they had been heading. There was no sign of land – black ocean pitched and heaved in all directions – and no sign of her captain.


The worst of the storm had passed, the intervals between lightning and thunder extending, the intensity decreasing, the wind dropping, the waves subsiding.

She let off a flare. If Giovanni was already in the water, then he’d soon find her. She unwrapped an energy bar and washed it down with a swig of fresh water. Then she wrapped herself in a blanket, took up the oar and paddled towards the upturned boat.

As she drew closer, she could see the rudder and skeg, but where was the keel? The huge underwater fin stuffed with five tonnes of lead had only one job – to keep the boat upright. Nothing remained but a tear in the hull and jagged holes where the keel bolts should be.

‘Giovanni Fantucci!’ she yelled as loud as she could. She brought the life raft alongside the stricken, upturned yacht to where the cabin should be, and struck the side with an oar. Was it her imagination, or was there a faint noise in return? She knocked again, twice this time.

Then listened. Nothing.

She tried again, smashing harder, scanning the water, expecting him to emerge: his flashing white teeth and dark brown eyes. And then came the reply. Three faint taps, three scratches, then the taps again. Dot dot dot, dash dash dash, dot dot dot. SOS. Giovanni was under the wrecked boat and needed help.

Heart racing, cold hands fumbling, she threaded the life raft’s painter around the rudder shaft and tied a bowline. She set off another distress flare before diving into the dark water. Her life jacket fought against her, pulling her back. She surfaced and removed it, tossing it back into the life raft before diving again, using her hands to pull herself under the boat, jackknifing under the rail and swimming up through the companionway into the cabin. If she didn’t find air soon, she was not sure she could make it out again. Her lungs were bursting, close to the point of no return. She took a gamble, let go of the rope and kicked upwards.

A hand came down and caught hers, guiding her into an air pocket. She took a breath. Deus. He was alive. She took another breath. And another. Bolas, it was worse than she thought. There was barely enough room for Giovanni, and the water was up to his shoulders. The air, what little of it there was, was stale. No: worse than stale. Oxygen-depleted.

‘Lucia?’ he whispered.

Who was Lucia? No time for that now.

‘It’s Jaq. I’ve got the life raft. Can you swim out with me?’

‘Trapped,’ he gasped. ‘Can’t move.’ He was panting hard.

Merda. Alive, but only just. And her presence was using up his oxygen supply. She felt around his body. One arm was wedged at a strange angle between a loose floorboard and the base of the mast. She tried to yank the fallen board free, but even before he screamed, she knew his arm was trapped and broken.

‘I’m going to get you some air. Then I’m going to get you out of here.’

No reply.

‘Gio. Don’t leave me. Don’t give up. I need you.’


‘Lucia needs you.’ Whoever she was.

‘Lucia.’ He sighed.

How could she get air to him? There was nothing in the life raft: no oxygen tank, no scuba mask, no tubing. Even the life rings were foam-filled.

Could she open an air hole from the top? The knife would never pierce the hull. She had no drill, no saw, no blowtorch.

A plastic bowl floated past, followed by an empty Tupperware box. Tupperware. Suddenly she knew what to do.

‘Gio!’ she whispered. ‘I’m going to get you out of here.’ Jaq kissed his cold cheek. The stubble rasped against her lips. She took a shallow breath and dived down.

She used the position of the mast to guide her to the locker. She yanked it open and scrabbled around until she found it: the little Tupperware box confiscated from a man who’d tried to kill her. She stuffed the box into the waistband of her shorts. You never knew when a kilo of Semtex might come in handy.

There was only one way to free him. It might kill Giovanni. Deus perdoa-me. But if she did nothing, he would die anyway. Alone in a cold, dark cave, suffocating in his own exhalations. She was out of other options. Better a bang than a whimper.

Jaq was going to blast what remained of the Frankium to smithereens.

And pray that she didn’t kill her lover.


Wow! Will Gio survive? There’s only one way to find out! The Chemical Reaction is currently out in e-book and the hardback will be published 16th April. You can buy/pre order here

Or if you want to support an independent bookshop then check out


The Author

Fiona Erskine

Engineer by day, writer by night.

Fiona was born in Edinburgh, and grew up playing guitar, riding motorbikes and jumping into cold water. After studying Chemical Engineering at University she leaned to weld, cast and machine with apprentices in Paisley. She is now based in Teesside and travels internationally as a professional engineer.

Her debut novel The Chemical Detective, the first in a series, was published in April 2019.















Book review – Poisoned at the Priory by Antony M. Brown @ccjury @TheMirrorBooks @MelandJedi #PoisonedAtThePriory #ColdCaseJury

Thank you to Mel Sambells at Mirror Books for sending me a copy of Poisoned at the Priory by Antony M. Brown to read and review. Before I give you my thoughts, here’s the blurb.


The Blurb

Cold Case Jury presents its most confounding crime yet: Poisoned at the Priory.
1876. When the newlywed barrister Charles Bravo ingests a rare poison, all evidence suggests suicide. But in one of the most infamous inquests of all time, a coroner finds it to be an unlawful murder. So, we must ask, what is the truth?

The fourth book in Antony M. Brown’s popular Cold Case Jury series picks apart this notorious case that gripped Victorian Britain – and continues to spark debate to this day. Why did Bravo refuse any help, even when going through agonising pain? Was his wife, with her scandalous past, to blame? Or perhaps it was her former lover, eager to remove his usurper for good… or another sinister hand, moving silently?

In Poisoned at the Priory, Brown compiles the evidence and creates dramatic reconstructions of four main theories of how Charles Bravo may have died – including Agatha Christie’s solution, in her own words, for the very first time.

But was Christie correct? What’s your verdict in this spellbinding case?

Poisoned at the Priory


My Review

I’ve read a couple of other books in the Cold Case Jury series and they’ve all been very intriguing. But this one has definitely been the hardest to decide on and I’m still out deliberating this one!

Charles Bravo, a newlywed, dies from ingesting poison. Was it self-administered or were there darker forces at work? The first, rather hurried, inquest ruled suicide. But too many people thought differently and a much, much longer inquest took place over three weeks. Obviously Brown hasn’t transcribed the whole inquest but has given us the relevant information. I don’t want to tell you too much as it’s important to discover the evidence for yourself and make up your own mind.

This isn’t the first time this cold case has been looked at and Brown refers to other authors who wrote their own books. Even Agatha Christie had her own view on it and Brown shares her thoughts with us. He also gives his own verdict and his sum ups are very useful in this baffling case.

So have I decided yet? I’m still unsure but once I’m ready to deliver my verdict, I can head over to Cold Case Jury and present my decision. I really like the interactive part of the book. I’m not a mere spectator, I’m a member of the jury. I look forward to reading more cold cases from Antony M. Brown.

You can buy Poisoned at the Priory here for Amazon or if you want to support an independent bookshop then click here for Hive.


The Author


Antony M. Brown is an award-winning essayist, former magazine editor-in-chief and member of the Crime Writers’ Association. He appears regularly on radio and TV, most recently in the BBC documentary “The Porthole Mystery”. He published several Cold Case Jury e-books – true crime mysteries in which the reader is invited to deliver the verdict on what most likely happened – before signing with Mirror Books in January 2017. See

Blog Tour – Deep Dark Night by Steph Broadribb @crimethrillgirl @OrendaBooks @annecater #DeepDarkNight #TeamLoriVIP #LoriAnderson

Deep Dark Night BT Poster

Thrilled to be taking part in the blog tour for Deep Dark Night by Steph Broadribb. Lori Anderson is one of my favourite characters in the crime genre. Thank you to Karen Sullivan and Anne Cater for inviting me to take part.


The Blurb

Fearless Florida bounty-hunter Lori Anderson travels to Chicago to trap the head of a notorious crime family, in a high-stakes, nail-biting mission that sees her trapped in one of the city’s tallest buildings during a blackout…

A city in darkness. A building in lockdown. A score that can only be settled in blood…

Working off the books for FBI Special Agent Alex Monroe, Florida bounty-hunter Lori Anderson and her partner, JT, head to Chicago. Their mission: to entrap the head of the Cabressa crime family. The bait: a priceless chess set that Cabressa is determined to add to his collection.

An exclusive high-stakes poker game is arranged in the penthouse suite of one of the city’s tallest buildings, with Lori holding the cards in an agreed arrangement to hand over the pieces, one by one. But, as night falls and the game plays out, stakes rise and tempers flare.

When a power failure plunges the city into darkness, the building goes into lockdown. But this isn’t an ordinary blackout, and the men around the poker table aren’t all who they say they are. Hostages are taken, old scores resurface and the players start to die.

And that’s just the beginning…

Deep Dark Night final cover

My Review

I’ve been eagerly awaiting this book since the end of Deep Blue Trouble (no.2 in the series) when Lori was given the gold chess piece. Steph Broadribb has kept me on tenterhooks but it’s been worth the wait.

This is quite a different book from the rest. Instead of the action being spread over a few days, most of this takes place in one night. And what a night! This is one of the best locked room mysteries I’ve ever read. It touches on many different fears – complete darkness, claustrophobia and a lack of air. And that’s before we add in knives, tasers and guns! Not once does the tension drop. Just as Lori gets over one obstacle, there’s another right behind it.

The story flicks between Lori and JT and I loved having JT’s perspective on the situation. This novel really cements them as a couple and their love and concern for each other and their daughter, Dakota, comes across well. Lori is no longer alone.

I don’t want to tell you any more about the plot because the blurb sums it up beautifully and I have no intention of giving spoilers. I thought Steph Broadribb’s last book, Deep Dirty Truth, was her best so far but Deep Dark Night eclipses it. A rollercoaster thriller played out in the shadows, not knowing where the next threat will come from. Truly magnificent.

You can buy Deep Dark Night here or look out for it in your local Asda or Tesco.


The Author

Steph Broadribb Author Pic

Steph Broadribb was born in Birmingham and grew up in Buckinghamshire.
Most of her working life has been spent between the UK and USA. As her alter ego – Crime Thriller Girl – she indulges in her love of all things crime fiction by blogging at, where she interviews authors and reviews the latest releases. She is also a member of the crime-themed girl band The Splice Girls. Steph is an alumni of the MA Creative Writing (Crime Fiction) at City University London, and she trained as a bounty hunter in California, which inspired her Lori Anderson thrillers, She lives in Buckinghamshire surrounded by horses, cows and chickens. Her debut thriller, Deep Down Dead, was shortlisted for the Dead Good Reader Awards in two categories, and hit number one on the UK and AU kindle charts. My Little Eye, her first novel under her pseudonym, Stephanie Marland was published by Trapeze Books in April 2018.

Blog tour – #Mine by @ClareEmpson2 @Tr4cyF3nt0n @orionbooks

MINE blog tour part one v2

I’m thrilled to be taking part in the tour for Mine. I loved Clare Empson’s debut, Him, so I jumped at the chance to read her latest. Thank you to Tracy Fenton and Orion for inviting me. My blog buddy today is my good friend, Jacob Collins, so feel free to check out his review on Hooked From Page One.

MINE blog tour part two

The Blurb

‘Who am I? Why am I here? Why did my mother give me away?’

On the surface, Luke and his girlfriend Hannah seem to have a perfect life. He’s an A&R man, she’s an arts correspondent and they are devoted to their new-born son Samuel.

But beneath the gloss Luke has always felt like an outsider. So when he finds his birth mother Alice, the instant connection with her is a little like falling in love.

When Hannah goes back to work, Luke asks Alice to look after their son. But Alice – fuelled with grief from when her baby was taken from her 27 years ago – starts to fall in love with Samuel. And Luke won’t settle for his mother pushing him aside once again…

MINE blog tour part three

My Review

Sometimes with a book, you want a sweeping story. Other times you want to be connected with the emotional turmoil that the characters are going through. And then there are times when you learn things that you might never have learnt. With Mine, you get all three.

The novel comprises of two entwinned stories – Now (in 2000) with Luke and Then (early 1970s) with Alice. I wrote on Twitter when I was half-way through reading that this book is ‘splendidly intense’. Having now finished it, I completely stand by that statement. There’s something about Clare Empson’s writing, and it’s hard to put a finger on it, that draws you in right from the very beginning. In the opening chapter, we’re confronted with the very awkward first meeting between Luke and his birth mother, Alice. From then on Luke’s story is about reconnecting with Alice (or trying to) whereas hers describes the passionate love affair that brought Luke into being. I was totally caught up by both. And that’s where the emotional turmoil comes in. Luke struggles to make sense of all the emotions and memories rising up in him. Alice, aged 19, embarks on the most passionate love affair of her life. It made me wonder if this kind of love only lives in books or TV or films but I think not. At least, I hope not. Both stories are exquisitely and intensely written.

But I also learnt things from this book. Clare Empson goes into great detail about art and techniques and there are a few chapters set in Florence. It reminded me of some of the paintings I saw (or tried to see over the hordes) at the Uffizi. Luke is an A&R man. I have to confess I had to Google it. I’ve heard of it but didn’t know that A&R stands for Artists and Repertoire. In a sense, it’s almost the equivalent of a literary agent but not quite. The A&R person works for the record label and it’s his/her’s job to find new talent and sign them. So Luke has to keep his wits about him if he’s going to get in ahead of the rest to sign the latest big thing. Probably not the best time to be having issues with his birth mother.

However, what really set this book apart for me, were the ‘quotes’ about adoption at the beginning of Luke’s chapters. I thought this was a real book but in fact, Clare Empson has made them up based on research she did on adoption. Each ‘quote’ was utterly convincing and set the tone for Luke for that part of the story.

The intensity of Mine meant there were times when I had to put it down, even though I wanted to continue reading. But I had to give myself a bit of space to absorb all the raw emotions spilling out of the characters. A heart-breaking and compelling read.

You can buy Mine here.


The Author

Clare Empson

Clare Empson is a journalist with a background in national newspapers and has worked as a small business editor, finance correspondent and fashion at the Mail on Sunday and the Daily Express. Clare freelances for The Sunday Telegraph, The Sunday Times, the Evening Standard and Tatler amongst others. She currently works as editor/founder of experiential lifestyle website Him is her debut novel. Her second novel Mine is an exploration of the fraught relationship between a birth mother and her adopted son set against a backdrop of a passionate love affair in the 70s. Mine will be available August 2019.

Book Review – Black River by Will Dean @willrdean @PtBlankBks @margotbookpr @OneworldNews #BlackRiver

Happy publication day to Will Dean for Black River, the third book in his Tuva Moodyson series set in Sweden. A big thank you to Margot Weale at Oneworld for sending me a proof copy to read.


The Blurb


Tuva’s been living clean in southern Sweden for four months when she receives horrifying news. Her best friend Tammy Yamnim has gone missing.


Racing back to Gavrik at the height of Midsommar, Tuva fears for Tammy’s life. Who has taken her, and why? And who is sabotaging the small-town search efforts?


Surrounded by dark pine forest, the sinister residents of Snake River are suspicious of outsiders. Unfortunately, they also hold all the answers. On the shortest night of the year, Tuva must fight to save her friend. The only question is who will be there to save Tuva?

Black River9781786077110

My Review

At the end of Red Snow, I was cheering a little bit for Tuva. She was finally going to escape the clutches of Gavrik and its very creepy inhabitants. She even managed four months away from the place before it lured her back. But her best friend, Tammy, has gone missing. Tuva has to find her. But the locals aren’t all that keen to help. Tuva wonders if it’s because Tammy’s of Thai origin even though she’s Swedish or because no one wants to disrupt the Midsommar festival.

Finally, after the freezing temperatures and thick snow, summer has come with its almost endless days. Great. This sounds like the kind of Sweden I’d like. Except summer brings its own tribulations in the form of insects, especially mosquitoes and ticks, and there are snakes. Hmm, beginning to lose its appeal. And then there are the people that Tuva meets. A small community at Snake River Salvage who appear even weirder than the troll-carving sisters. But Tammy has a connection with someone who lives there. Tuva has no choice but to head in.

The great thing about Will Dean’s writing is that you don’t actually have to go to Sweden to experience the snow or Midsommar. You can enjoy it all in the comfort of your own home as Dean’s wonderful descriptions transport you to the fictional town of Gavrik. I read Black River over Christmas/New Year and despite the cold darkness outside, my imagination was flooded with sunshine, warmth and, yes, insects.  But more than that, we’re back with Tuva whom I adore. She’s grown a lot since Dark Pines and I love seeing a more settled and assured Tuva. There’s the old adage of write what you know. Certainly, Will Dean knows about living in a Swedish forest but a female, deaf, bisexual journalist? Dean blasts that myth out of the water with his creation of Tuva Moodyson. She’s gutsy but vulnerable. A truth-seeker who won’t let anyone get in her way, despite the danger. For me, she’s one of the best female characters in crime books currently. And the good news, there’s more to come.

Black River is out today and you can buy it here.




The Author

Will Dean

Will Dean grew up in the East Midlands and lived in nine different villages before the age of eighteen. After studying law at the LSE, and working in London, he settled in rural Sweden, where he built a house in a boggy clearing at the centre of a vast elk forest. His debut novel, Dark Pines, was selected for Zoe Ball’s Book Club, shortlisted for the Guardian Not the Booker Prize and named a Telegraph book of the year. The second book in the series, Red Snow, is available in paperback with Black River out in hardback in March 2020.

Book Review – The Lost Lights of St Kilda by Elisabeth Gifford @elisabeth04liz @theotherkirsty @CorvusBooks #TheLostLightsofStKilda

A huge thank you to Elisabeth Gifford and Kirsty Doole at Corvus for sending me a copy of The Lost Lights of St. Kilda. This is Elisabeth’s fourth book and is published today. So happy publication day! Before I give you my thoughts, here’s the blurb.


The Blurb

1927: When Fred Lawson takes a summer job on St Kilda, little does he realise that he has joined the last community to ever live on that beautiful, isolated island. Only three years later, St Kilda will be evacuated, the islanders near-dead from starvation. But for Fred, that summer – and the island woman, Chrissie, whom he falls in love with – becomes the very thing that sustains him in the years ahead.

1940: Fred has been captured behind enemy lines in France and finds himself in a prisoner-of-war camp. Beaten and exhausted, his thoughts return to the island of his youth and the woman he loved and lost. When Fred makes his daring escape, prompting a desperate journey across occupied territory, he is sustained by one thought only: finding his way back to Chrissie.

The Lost Lights of St Kilda is a sweeping love story that will cross oceans and decades. It is a moving and deeply vivid portrait of two lovers, a desolate island, and the extraordinary power of hope in the face of darkness.

The Lost Lights of St Kilda


My Review

Oh. My. This is stunning. If you’re a regular reader of my blog then you’ll know that Elisabeth’s previous book, The Good Doctor of Warsaw, was my book of the year in 2018. It was a wonderful retelling of the true story of Dr Janusz Korczak. It was beautifully written but Elisabeth was bound by the constructs of truth.

Although huge research has clearly gone into The Lost Lights of St. Kilda, the story itself is fictional, allowing Elisabeth’s imagination to run wild. I’ve read all of her books and this is, by far, her best novel to date.

As I’m used to fast-paced crime books, it took me a little while to settle into the gentler pace of this love story. It soon became one of those novels I deliberately read slower so I could stay in the magical place of St. Kilda for longer. I’ve never been to Scotland let alone the Scottish Isles (disgraceful, I know, and needs to be rectified) but I feel as though I’ve been to St. Kilda through Elisabeth’s wondrous descriptions. The lyrical quality of Elisabeth’s words brings the story alive. I wrote a tweet when I was halfway through the book saying I wanted to ‘shout from the rooftops about it. Or rather sing because it’s beautifully lyrical and hauntingly descriptive.’

The story is told through the eyes of the two main characters, Chrissie and Fred, and switches between 1927/8 and WW2. I loved the drama of Fred’s escape and attempting to get back to Scotland and find Chrissie. But the emotional heart of the story lies in St. Kilda and the burgeoning love between the two lovers.

I don’t read a lot of romance but I think this is the best love story I have ever read. It’s evocative, atmospheric and emotional. Top Ten Reads of the Year material? Oh yes. Most definitely.

The Lost Lights of St. Kilda can be bought here.


I’ve been blessed with two copies of The Lost Lights of St Kilda as I have a proof and a HB. I’ve decided that I want as many people as possible to read this wonderful book so I’m going to donate my HB to my local library – West Barnes Library. So the lucky residents of Merton will get an opportunity to borrow it. This seems particularly apt as Elisabeth came to the library last March to talk about The Good Doctor of Warsaw.


The Author

Elisabeth Gifford

Elisabeth Gifford grew up in a vicarage in the industrial Midlands. She studied French literature and world religions at Leeds University. She has a Diploma in Creative Writing from Oxford OUDCE and an MA in Creative Writing from Royal Holloway College. She is married with three children, and lives in Kingston upon Thames. She is the author of Secrets of the Sea House, Return to Fourwinds and The Good Doctor of Warsaw. She has also written the non-fiction book, The House of Hope. The Lost Lights of St. Kilda is published in March 2020.

Blog tour – The Liar’s Daughter by Claire Allan @ClaireAllan @AvonBooksUK @SanjanaCunniah #TheLiarsDaughter


I’m delighted to be finishing the tour for The Liar’s Daughter by Claire Allan. Thank you to Sanjana Cunniah at Avon for inviting me to take part. Before I give you my review, here’s the blurb.

The Blurb

No one deserves to be taken before their time. Do they?

Joe McKee – pillar of the Derry community – is dead. As arrangements are made for the traditional Irish wake, friends and family are left reeling at how cancer could have taken this much-loved man so soon.

But grief is the last thing that Joe’s daughter Ciara and step-daughter Heidi feel. For they knew the real Joe – the man who was supposed to protect them and did anything but.

As the mourners gather, the police do too, with doubt being cast over whether Joe’s death was due to natural causes. Because the lies that Joe told won’t be taken to the grave after all – and the truth gives his daughters the best possible motive for killing him…


My Review

This is the first book I’ve read by Claire Allan but it definitely won’t be the last. Caring for a relative with a terminal illness is never easy. For Heidi, it’s doubly so as she’s never really got on with her stepfather, Joe. She’s not on friendly terms with her step-sister, Ciara, either and the feeling’s mutual. Ciara has never forgiven her father for leaving her and her mother. It’s a powder keg of hostility just waiting to explode.

This is written in different points of view and in the past as well as the present. I didn’t find it confusing to read and really enjoyed seeing the story through different characters’ eyes. I’m writing this review the day after Storm Ciara and I have to say that Ciara in The Liar’s Daughter is pretty stormy herself! Heidi on the other hand is a complete mouse in comparison but there’s a lot going on below the surface. When Heidi finally took a stand to defend herself I wanted to cheer.

As the book is set in Derry, Northern Ireland, it was interesting to see the Irish Catholic tradition of wakes and having the body at home for people to pay their respects. The community expectation of this adds to the tension when Joe’s body isn’t allowed back straight away. We may not hear directly from the locals but we’re aware of the ripple effect of gossip spreading throughout the town.

There are some distressing issues in The Liar’s Daughter but Claire Allan has handled them in a very sensitive manner. Despite the darkness that Ciara and Heidi have to face, there’s a sense of freedom and hope as well.

I was completely drawn into the lives of these two very different women as they battled their demons. The Liar’s Daughter is going to stay with me for quite some time. An emotional, heart-breaking read.

You can buy the book here.


About the Author

Claire Allan

Claire Allan is a Northern Irish author who lives in Derry~Londonderry.
She worked as a staff reporter for the Derry Journal for 17 years, covering a wide array of stories from court sessions, to the Saville Inquiry into the events of Bloody Sunday, health and education and human interest features.
She wrote her first novel in 2006, to mark her 30th birthday and it (Rainy Days and Tuesdays) was subsequently published and became an instant bestseller in 2007.
Claire wrote seven further women’s fiction novels between 2007 and 2015. In 2016 (when she turned 40) she decided to change genre and try her had at domestic noir. Her first domestic noir novel, Her Name Was Rose was published by Avon/ HarperCollins in 2018 and became a bestseller in the UK, Canada, Australia and was a USA Today bestseller.
It was subsequently nominated in the Dead Good Reader Awards in 2019.
Claire has followed up on the success of Her Name Was Rose with Apple of My Eye and Forget Me Not.
Her next novel, The Liar’s Daughter, will be published in 2020.

She is working on a fifth psychological thriller at present.

Claire still lives in Derry with her husband, two children, two cats and a very spoiled puppy.