Review – The Birdwatcher by William Shaw

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I’ve got to be honest with you – bird watching is up there with train spotting, golf and snooker for me. Not my thing at all. So a book called The Birdwatcher isn’t necessarily going to grab my attention. But when the opening paragraph is this:

‘There were two reasons why William South did not want to be on the murder team. The first was that it was October. The migrating birds had begun arriving on the coast. The second was that, though nobody knew, he was a murderer himself.’

then, you have me hooked!

Alternating between his life now in Dungeness, and as a child growing up in Northern Ireland, we learn a great deal about William South. He just wants a quiet life, watching birds and being a Neighbourhood police officer. But then he’s asked to help the new DS in town (Alexandra Cupidi) with a murder case. She’s hoping that his local knowledge will come in use. William South has more to offer than just his knowledge; he can identify the victim as his friend and neighbour, Bob Rayner.

Back in the 70s in Northern Ireland, Billy McGowan’s father is dead, shot in his own home. The Troubles have claimed another victim. Or have they?

Reading The Birdwatcher is a bit like actual bird watching. William Shaw releases the plot slowly but gives you enough each time to keep you going, like seeing some of the more common birds first before waiting longer for the rarer ones to add to your list. But what comes across so well in the book, is the setting – stark, desolate and very flat, with the nuclear power plant lit up day and night. It adds to the sense that William South is more than just a quiet man; he’s a man in hiding, his past haunting him.

It’s not often that you can say that a crime book is beautiful but The Birdwatcher is just that. There is a pervading sense of calm and patience that emanates from the pages – two qualities essential for bird watching. This may seem contradictory in a crime novel but the pace and tension is there throughout and is racked up brilliantly at the end. Although this is a standalone novel, William South is a character I could so easily read more about. And if an author has left you wanting more, then it’s a job well done! Five stars.


So, do you fancy adding it to your summer reading list? Well, I have one copy to give away! All you have to do is either pop over to my Facebook author page or my Twitter account (look for the pinned tweet of this review) and tell me what county Dungeness is in. The competition will end at 8pm (BST) on Wednesday 27th July and is only open to UK residents this time (sorry!).

FB –

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Summer reads

Today, it seems as though summer is finally here! Want some ideas for books for your holidays? Here are some criminal reviews.


Tastes Like Fear by Sarah Hilary

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At the end of this week, Harrogate Crime Festival will begin and last year, Sarah Hilary won The Theakstons Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year with Someone Else’s Skin. That particular book was the first in the DI Marnie Rome series and Tastes Like Fear is the third one.

Homeless girls have been disappearing off the streets. But they’re not going to the hostels. They’re with a man who promises them shelter, food and safety. But how safe are they with a man called Harm?

DI Marnie Rome and DS Noah Jake become involved with a car accident investigation when one of the drivers claims a girl caused the accident. Could it be missing school girl May Beswick?

I don’t want to give too much away because this book is packed full of twists and turns, some of which made me gasp out loud. Sarah Hilary never shies away from traumatic themes and her ability to have several authentic narrators is breath taking. Although DI Marnie Rome is still the main protagonist, this felt to me, more like Noah’s book. We found out more about him and his life, as well as him growing in confidence as a detective.

There are a few unanswered questions which may or may not be dealt with in book 4 but as Marnie Rome as been optioned by the BBC, this is a series that is set to run and run. Simply brilliant!


The Accident by C L Taylor

As I’ve mentioned before, I have a habit of reading authors’ books out of order. I read The Lie earlier this year and that was C L Taylor’s second psychological thriller – The Accident was her first.

Susan Jackson is by the hospital bedside of her daughter, Charlotte, aged 15. Charlotte has been in a coma since being hit by a bus. Her father, Brian, a local MP, believes it was an accident. Susan isn’t so sure though. She’s found Charlotte’s diary and an entry that hints at a secret that was too difficult to bear. And Susan knows all about diaries and secrets; she kept a diary 20 years before…

C L Taylor is another writer who doesn’t shy away from difficult and traumatic themes – in this instance, domestic abuse. All too often people say, “Just leave, just walk away” but as this book shows so incredibly well, it’s not that easy. Susan is an unreliable narrator but she’s written with unrelenting insight. The tension in her diary entries builds to a crescendo and it had my heart in my mouth. I struggled to put this book down, even reading it in the middle of the night and during the day when I was supposed to be writing myself. A gripping read, perfect for sunbathing on the beach.

Five stars for both books.


I probably won’t have much time over the summer to write many blog posts (three children to entertain!) but I’ll do my best to do a couple. I’ve just started reading The Birdwatcher by William Shaw and I’m planning a giveaway to accompany that review so keeps your eyes peeled for that one! But I’ll be back in September with First Monday Crime and I’ve seen the list of authors – you definitely don’t want to miss it!


If you want to know more about Sarah Hilary and C L Taylor, then you can follow them on Twitter



First Monday Crime – July

L-R Claire McGowan, Anna Mazzola, Beth Lewis, Andrew Taylor, Stephen Booth and William Ryan

The 4th of July served up a box of delights – 2 debut authors and 2 very established ones; 2 historical books, 1 Dystopian and 1 police crime series set in the Peak District. It was great to see how crime genre is being stretched across sub genres – but more about that later!

Our authors were Andrew Taylor, Stephen Booth, Anna Mazzola and Beth Lewis. Claire McGowan, author and lecturer at City University for the MA in Crime & Thriller Writing, chaired.

Claire’s first question was where has the inspiration for your book come from.

Anna Mazzola’s debut novel is The Unseeing and is based on a real case from Victorian times. She discovered it in The Suspicions of Mr Whicher and as it took place in the area she lives in, she wanted to find out more. In particular, she wanted to know why the woman, Sarah Gale, who was accused of aiding and abetting a murderer, lied and didn’t challenge the accusation.

For Beth Lewis, our second debut author, her inspiration for The Wolf Road came originally from a scene in a TV programme but she wouldn’t tell us which one! Elka lives in the wilderness of post-apocalyptic Canada. Life is hard enough as it is but when she finds out that her adopted father is wanted for murder, she sets out to find her real parents.

Andrew Taylor finds that ideas come from almost anywhere but it’s setting that really gets him going. A picture in a book of London in the aftermath of the Great Fire of London kick-started his idea for The Ashes of London –  a devastated London with a crumbling medieval St Paul’s Cathedral and a body in the ruins.

Stephen Booth is also inspired by setting and the Peak District has plenty of locations to fire his imagination. His latest book, Secrets of Death, pays homage to the beauty spots of Derbyshire but not in the way you think it would. A spate of suicides at well known tourist areas has DI Ben Cooper and his team wondering what’s going on and begs the question – are they all suicides? [I’m going to Derbyshire for my holiday. I’m trying to decide if this is a good book to read while I’m there or not?!]

Claire then asked about genre. Did the authors have a particular genre in mind when they started writing?

Anna’s short answer was ‘no’. She was just fascinated by the case but quickly realised that she loves to read crime and as a criminal justice lawyer, crime genre made perfect sense.

Beth didn’t set out to write crime either as there is a strong dystopian/sci-fi element to her book. She did think about writing historical but didn’t wanted to be hindered by facts and gender roles. Also she didn’t want to do huge amounts of research!

Andrew just wanted to tell stories but he was influenced by Patricia Highsmith novels. Soon he had an idea for a title and a main character who would find a body and just went from there.

Stephen wrote his first novel aged 12 and he dreamt of being a writer from that time on. He worked as a journalist for 25 years and has now been writing novels full time for 16. He enjoyed reading crime so wrote the kind of book that he would like to read. It became his first novel – Black Dog.

And is there one top tip that they would give for aspiring writers?

Stephen – there’s no such thing as writer’s block! It’s your job – just do it.

Andrew – write at least one line a day. Writers write.

Beth – you need discipline – finish that book!

Anna – think about your book at night just before you go to sleep. It allows your subconscious mind to work out any problems overnight.


First Monday Crime is taking a break over the summer but should be back in September!

If you want to follow any of the authors on Twitter then

Anna Mazzola – @Anna_Mazz

Beth Lewis – @bethklewis

Andrew Taylor – @AndrewJRTaylor

Stephen Booth – @stephenbooth

First Monday Crime – @1stMondayCrime

If hearing about all these crime writers is making you think about writing your own crime novel but not sure where to start, then you may want to check out City’s MA course

Three reviews for the price of one blog post

Ok, I have to admit that I’ve got a bit behind on my reviewing. So I hope the authors won’t mind but I have three reviews for you today.

Before It’s Too Late by Jane Isaac

First up, the very lovely Jane Isaac with Before It’s Too Late. This is the second book of Jane’s that I’ve read and it features DI Will Jackman. Unlike her DCI Helen Lavery series that’s set in a fictional town, this book is set in Stratford upon Avon and I love the little touches that she includes to add authenticity – you can tell she’s done her research.

A young female Chinese student has gone missing. To begin with it looks as though this might be related to two recent murders.  Jackman is brought in to investigate the young woman’s disappearance. But when a male Chinese student goes missing too, it’s clear to Jackman that this case isn’t as straightforward as he thought. Jackman is an unusual officer. You realise quite early on in the book that something has happened to his wife but it’s later you discover what it is and that tension plays well throughout the story. Add to that the haunting voice of Min Li as she endures her confinement and Before It’s Too Late makes for a fabulous read. I look forward to the next instalment of DI Will Jackman – Beneath The Ashes.

Nightblind by Ragnar Jonasson

I don’t think any of us could have failed to see the excitement of the Icelandic people during Euro 2016. TV reports from Reykjavik showed fans dancing and cheering in the streets – even when they lost! But most striking was the light. Even though it was late at night, the land of the midnight sun was still bathed in sunshine. Conversely, darkness is abundant during winter, especially in Siglufjordur, in the north of Iceland, where the surrounding mountains hide what little light the sun might bring. And then there’s the snow and ice and biting cold wind. Just reading Nightblind made me want to shiver. As I so often do, I’ve read the books out of order and this is the second in the Ari Thor series (Snowblind is the first and Blackout has just been released as an eBook). However, I don’t think this matters too much.

Ari Thor is sick. Properly sick. He has flu. He can’t possibly go back to work tonight. He needs another day at least. So his boss, Herjolfur, has no choice but to do another night shift. He just hopes that Ari remembers that he’s got time off very soon and Ari needs to be back at work. Although Herjolfur is the senior police officer, he still feels a little nervous when he’s called to an abandoned house on the edge of town. And so he should be. It’s the last call he ever takes.

Ari Thor is reunited with his old boss, Tomas and together they investigate Herjolfur’s death. The murder of a police officer is an unlikely occurrence in Iceland and so the pressure is on. As darkness sweeps across and envelopes Siglufjordur, can the murderer be found?

This is my first foray into Icelandic noir and it definitely won’t be my last. Jonasson interweaves his story with great atmosphere, tension and pace. On the one hand I loved Ari Thor and then on the other, I wanted to give him a good slap and tell him to sort out his personal life! It’s not surprising that the TV rights have been sold. This will make an excellent TV series.

Vanishing Point by Daniel Pembrey

And to finish, a short read. Perfect for reading on a journey or on the beach. But maybe not if you’re at a yoga retreat…

Jenny wanted to get away from it all. The Mexican yoga retreat recommended to her by her yoga teacher sounded perfect. Time to unwind, meditate, make decisions about her future – starting with her husband, John. But Jenny never returned. A year on, John travels to Mexico to discover what happened to his wife.

Daniel Pembrey is fast making the novella his own, with other titles The Candidate and The Lion Hunter. He manages to pack in a lot of plot, characterization and atmosphere. I would say a short and sweet read but it’s more of a short and slightly disturbing one!


Five stars for all three books!

If you want to follow any of the authors on Twitter

Jane Isaac @JaneIsaacAuthor

Ragnar Jonasson @ragnarjo

Daniel Pembrey @DPemb



Epiphany Jones Book Launch and Review


Last night, I went along to the book launch for Epiphany Jones by Michael Grothaus at Waterstones Piccadilly. Michael is American but has spent the last ten years living in London. As well as writing fiction, he’s also a journalist and has previously worked in the film industry and for Apple. Epiphany Jones is essentially about pornography and sex trafficking and the role that celebrity plays in all of it. It’s published by the fantastic Orenda Books and Karen Sullivan described it as ‘harrowing, heartbraking, hilarious’. Ayo Onatade from Shots Mag ( asked Michael a few questions.


Why write this and what was difficult about it? Working in the film industry involved going to film festivals, in particular, Cannes. There were amazing after parties but then there were the after, after parties for the select few where Michael witnessed questionable things happening that made him think. This led him to do research, initially by looking at reports but then trying to actually talk to some of the women involved – that bit didn’t go quite so well!

Where do ideas for characters come from? Jerry (the male protagonist) is loosely based on someone Michael knows but only from the perspective of addiction and how others judge that. Jerry is the personification of sex and celebrity. He has lots of psychological problems and is addicted to porn. Initially, he’s not very likeable but Michael wanted Jerry to be loved by the reader by the end so he made him funny. [This is definitely achieved!]

I asked Michael if he thinks anyone in Hollywood would be brave enough to turn his book into a film and would he want them to? Definitely yes to the latter. He thinks that Hollywood is changing and stars are beginning to speak out about it e.g. Elijah Wood (who wasn’t abused) recently said, “Clearly something major was going on in Hollywood. It was all organised. There are a lot of vipers in this industry, people who only have their own interests in mind. There is a darkness in the underbelly — if you can imagine it, it’s probably happened.”

Someone else asked if Michael thought his book would change anything? No, it’s too big a problem. But shedding light is good.



Jerry sees people; he calls them figments – they’re not real. Epiphany hears voices in her head that she thinks are from God. Jerry has the audacity to think she’s nuts. But Epiphany needs Jerry to believe her and join her on her quest for the truth. Is she unbalanced or an avenging angel?

The book with the obligatory Orenda cupcake – gorgeous as ever!


I love reading. Always have done. And the vast majority of books I’ve read have been very good; a lot of them excellent. But it’s rare that I call a book extraordinary. It’s rare that I’m so flummoxed by a novel that I almost don’t know how to explain it. Epiphany Jones doesn’t easily sit in one particular type of genre. So how do I describe it? Michael Grothaus has not shied away from dealing with some incredibly difficult topics – pornography, sex-trafficking of children and the poison of celebrity. Instead of just skimming around the edges, Grothaus faces these head on. There are uncompromising  scenes that are brutal, distressing and discomforting. There are other chapters that are deeply romantic before brutality breaks in and smashes it all to pieces. The reader goes through the whole gamut of emotions with this book.

This novel may not be to everyone’s taste. There’s swearing, violence and a lot of sex – not necessarily loving and consensual. If you can get past the first chapter then you can get through anything else that follows. But there’s also love, loyalty and humour. All I know is that I was crying by the end of it. We may be only half way through 2016 but I’m going to stick my neck out and say that Epiphany Jones is my book of the year. It’s going to take a hell of a lot to surpass it. Extraordinary.