All The Wicked Girls by Chris Whitaker

All the wicked girls


Raine sometimes complains that nothing exciting is ever gonna happen in Grace again. Daddy told her careful what you wish for.

Everyone loves Summer Ryan. A model student and musical prodigy, she’s a ray of light in the struggling small town of Grace, Alabama – especially compared to her troubled sister, Raine.

Then Summer goes missing.

Grace is already simmering, and with this new tragedy the police have their hands full keeping the peace. Only Raine throws herself into the search, supported by a most unlikely ally.

But perhaps there was always more to Summer than met the eye…


My review

I read Chris Whitaker’s debut novel, Tall Oaks, earlier this year. You can read my review here . I couldn’t praise it highly enough. But now I see that Tall Oaks was just the support act to All The Wicked Girls. I had wondered where Chris Whitaker could go with his next novel – how could he possibly improve? The result is incredible.

The writing is sublime. As I have a proof copy I’m not allowed to quote but oh, how I wish I could! (The first two sentences of chapter 3 are just divine).  The American South inflection is there throughout, constant and true. The lyrics ‘Killing me softly with his words’ has taken on a whole new meaning for me with this story. Without humour to fall back on, Chris Whitaker’s writing is laid bare and is not found wanting. Utterly beautiful.

The characterisation in Tall Oaks was fabulous but Whitaker takes it to a whole new level with All The Wicked Girls. In the end it was more about the characters for me than the plot (and it’s normally the opposite). I’m always impressed by anyone who writes with multiple viewpoints but to do so with such clarity for each character is remarkable.

The setting of Grace, a small town in Alabama, with a giant storm cloud that blacks out the sun, added to the intensity of the storyline and the characters. And when all those three ingredients are pretty darn perfect, then you have an awesome book with hidden depths.

So how much did I love this book? I actually slowed down my reading. Normally when a book grabs me, I race through it. Not this time. This was a novel that I chose to savour, like a good wine. By the end, I was undone and I’m ruined for the next book I read. It’s no good. I have to use ‘the word’, the one that I so rarely use and was only employed once last year – extraordinary.

Brave and fierce, Chris. Brave and fierce.


I’d like to thank Emily Burns at Bonnier Zaffre for my proof copy.


All The Wicked Girls will be published on 24th August. To find out more about Chris and to pre order, click here

CrimeFest 2017

I’ve almost recovered from CrimeFest. It was an amazing four days of going to panels, meeting lots of friends, making new friends (Jen, Katherine and Sharon, in particular) and eating all the food I shouldn’t be eating at the moment. I’d like to be able to tell you that I wrote copious pages of notes but I didn’t write any! Instead, I live tweeted and you can tell how much sleep I’d had by their quality. Day 1 – lots of coherent tweets. Day 2 – quite a few tweets but often with mistakes so I had to delete them and write them again. Day 3 – pictures of the panels and nothing else. Day 4 – there were panels?!! So that was the only downfall – hardly any sleep. But a fabulous time otherwise in reasonably sunny Bristol. If you want a really good write-up to read, then check out Katherine Sunderland’s superb blog posts here . A massive thank you to Vicki Goldman who held my hand on my first residential festival (especially as I was so sleep deprived). We had a few scrapes together and you can read more about them on Vicki’s blog here.

But here are a few photos, just to prove that I actually did go!

Day 1

42 cookies taken to CrimeFest. They were very popular. One author (who shall remain nameless) had at least 6!
CF panel 1
Debut authors – (L- R) Mary Torjussen, Steph Broadribb, David Coubrough, Lucy V. Hay & Karen Robinson moderating
CF Panel 2
Think Andrea Carter is demonstrating to Rod Reynolds how one of her characters dies. Julia Crouch & Lucy Dawson also on the panel for Keeping Secrets and Telling Lies. Moderator (on left) Valentina Giambanco.
CF panel 3
The Dark Side of Nature. (L-R) Stanley Trollip (moderator), Luke McCallin, Johana Gustawsson, Doug Johnstone & Jorn Lier Horst.

At the end of day 1, I went on a lovely walk with Vicki Goldman and we discovered Harbourside.

CF harbourside

Day 2

CF day 2 panel 1
Partners in Crime: Male/Female duos. (L-R) Sarah Ward (moderator), Luca Veste, Sarah Hilary, Anne Randall Stav Sherez.
CF Sam Carrington
Sam Carrington who did a talk about her former occupation, working with prisoners.
CF Day 2 panel 3
Giving your protagonist family & friends. (L-R) Cally Taylor, Thomas Enger, Gunnar Staalesen, Louise Beech & Lucy V. Hay (moderator)
CF day 2 panel 4
Journalists: Characters who tell stories for a living. (L-R) Rod Reynolds (moderator), Anne Coates, Matt Wesolowski, Antti Tuomainen & Walter Lucius.

The weather was glorious on day 2 and I had lunch in Bristol Cathedral Café, in their beautiful garden.

CF Bristol cathedral garden

And in the Marriott hotel, I found this gem with classic books

Jilly Cooper at Marriott

Day 3

CF day 3 panel 1
Modern Police Procedural: Are we really the good guys and girls? (L-R) Elizabeth Haynes, Fergus McNeil, Alison Bruce (moderator),Valentina Giambanco & Sharon Bolton
CF Anthony sign
Anthony Horowitz gave a revealing interview to Barry Forshaw



CF day 3 panel 2
When Your Protagonist Can’t Forget. (L-R) Thomas Enger, Katerina Diamond, Simon Toyne, Ragnar Jonasson & Elizabeth Haynes (moderator)


Day 4 – as I said earlier, I didn’t make it to any panels. But here’s a final photo.

CF 2 cookies
The last 2 cookies for the journey home. I think Vicki and I deserved them!

Block 46 Blog Tour – Johana Gustawsson


FINAL block 46 blog tour poster

Honoured to be part of this epic blog tour. Thank you Karen & Anne for including me. It’s my turn today along with the fabulous Swirl & Thread so feel free to check out Mairead’s blog post too.


Evil remembers…

Falkenberg, Sweden. The mutilated body of talented young jewellery designer, Linnea Blix, is found in a snow-swept marina.

Hampstead Heath, London. The body of a young boy is discovered with similar wounds to Linnea’s.

Buchenwald Concentration Camp, 1944. In the midst of the hell of the Holocaust, Erich Ebner will do anything to see himself as a human again.

Are the two murders the work of a serial killer, and how are they connected to shocking events at Buchenwald?

Emily Roy, a profiler on loan to Scotland Yard from the Canadian Royal Mounted Police, joins up with Linnea’s friend, French truecrime writer Alexis Castells, to investigate the puzzling case. They travel between Sweden and London, and then deep into the past, as a startling and terrifying connection comes to light.

Plumbing the darkness and the horrific evidence of the nature of evil, Block 46 is a multi-layered, sweeping and evocative thriller that heralds a stunning new voice in French Noir.


My review


There is always a worry that translated fiction may not work. Not so in this case. Although this is deemed French Noir as Johana Gustawsson is French, the action takes place in London and Sweden, with a time lapse back to the concentration camp at Buchenwald in 1944-45.

Block 46 was an infamous building for the prisoners at Buchenwald. No one quite knew what happened in there but they knew it wasn’t good. When Erich Ebner was forced to go there, none of his fellow inmates expected to see him again. Johana’s writing for this section is superb. Deeply moving, she doesn’t shy away from the terror and horror of the camp. As difficult as it was to read, these were the parts that captured me the most.

However, this isn’t the main part of the story. Alexis Castells (French) is a true crime writer. When her friend, Linnea, is murdered in Sweden, she doesn’t hesitate to go and help. Initially dealing with the Swedish police, there are many things that don’t quite make sense to Alexis. When Linnea’s death is linked with murders in London, nothing makes sense at all. Emily Roy, a Canadian profiler working with Scotland Yard, is brought in to help catch the killer.

This is a novel with multiple viewpoints so it’s almost like reading a book in IMAX format. As well as hearing from Alexis, Emily and the Swedish police officers, we also hear from the killer. Chilling doesn’t even begin to describe it. Steadily, the two main plotlines weave together, with a few twists thrown in for good measure, leading to a climatic ‘don’t go in there’ moment.

Johana Gutawsson’s debut thriller is impressive. Of all her characters, Emily Roy is the one who intrigued me the most, not least because so little is given away about her. Hopefully we’ll get a chance to find out more as, thankfully, a sequel is on its way.


To buy click here


About the author

Johana Photo

Born in 1978 in Marseille and with a degree in political science, Johana Gustawsson has worked as a journalist for the French press and television. She married a Swede and now lives in London. She was the co-author of a bestseller, On se retrouvera, published by Fayard Noir in France, whose television adaptation drew over 7 million viewers in June 2015. She is now working on the next book in the Roy & Castells series.




First Monday Crime – May 2017

FM May2
While the panel were waiting to start, Mark Hill decided to take a photo of the audience.


Yay! After missing last month (pesky family birthdays), I was back at First Monday (technically Second Monday) for another great event. The crime authors were debut novelists – Michelle Adams and Mark Hill, along with two very experienced authors – Jane Casey and Chris Brookmyre. Heading up proceedings was Joe Haddow from Radio 2.

So first up – those all important books!

FM May3

My Sister is the debut novel from Michelle Adams. Michelle is a part-time scientist, currently living in Cyprus. The book is about two sisters who have a very toxic relationship. One of them attempts to find out the truth while the other tries to hide it.

Want You Gone is the third book in the Jack Parlabane series by Chris Brookmyre. Essentially, the book is about hacking and online blackmail. Chris was keen to point out that some of the word games played on social media aren’t always wise – name of your first pet teamed with your mother’s maiden name to make your porn star name – gives away two pieces of important security information. So don’t do it!

Jane Casey’s Let The Dead Speak is the seventh book in the Maeve Kerrigan series. A teenage girl comes home to find the family house covered in blood and her mother missing. As so many books and television series often focus on the body and what clues can be gleaned from it, Jane wanted to explore what would happen if you didn’t have a body.

Mark Hill’s debut is Two O’Clock Boy (you can read my review here) and is the first in the DI Ray Drake series. Written in two timelines, the story is told with multiple viewpoints. DI Ray Drake is investigating a series of murders but finds himself up to his ears in trouble.

One of Joe’s questions was the importance of location and whether you needed to know a place well to be able to write about it.

For Chris Brookmyre, knowing a location is important but often first impressions are best. Although Chris’ novels are often coined as Tartan Noir, he likes to set books where they need to be. Want You Gone is set in London. He once set a book in LA and his next one is set in space!

Place is important for Jane Casey too and the house in her story is almost like one of the characters. Being from Ireland means that she can write about London with a bit of distance. She thinks she’s too sentimental about Dublin to write about it.

Mark Hill was actually on holiday in Manhattan when he started writing Two O’Clock Boy. It was snowing, he could see Central Park from the window and he was writing about Wood Green Bus Station.

What about writing routines? Strict or fluid?

FM May1

As Michelle is working during the day, her writing hours tend to be 5-11pm. However, she’s learnt to work wherever she is and finds herself often thinking about her story.

Chris’ work hours tend to be office hours, although when his children were younger, it was nursery/school hours. He finds that manual tasks help to free up creativity as does walking. It’s easier to dictate into a phone now without looking stupid, as long as no one hears you talking about how to dispose of a body.

Jane is of the belief that everyone in London has at least one murderous thought a day – on public transport or the monotony of pushing a swing for an hour in the park. So her thoughts are always focused, not least because her husband is a criminal barrister and a volunteer police officer. They’ve been known to clear restaurants with their dinner talk.

Mark tends to write in short bursts – intensive fifteen minutes or so. Some of his book *may* have been written when he was meant to be working on the Alan Carr radio show.

To finish off – a question from the audience. Current favourite reads.

Michelle – Little Sister by Isabel Ashdown

Chris – Mick Herron’s Jackson Lamb books

Jane – He Said, She Said by Erin Kelly

Mark – Die Of Shame by Mark Billingham


There are so many other things I could tell you but you all have lives to lead. But I will leave you with some very wise words from Chris Brookmyre – Don’t make yourself a target for hackers!

Michelle Adams – to find out more and buy My Sister, click here

Chris Brookmyre – to find out more and buy Want You Gone, click here

Jane Casey – to find out more and buy Let The Dead Speak, click here

Mark Hill – to find out more and buy Two O’Clock Boy, click here

Of course, other booksellers are available!


So, First Monday will be back on Monday 5th June, and just look at who’s coming! James Oswald will also be there, along with Barry Forshaw to lead the evening.

IMPORTANT INFORMATION: It will be 7- 8pm rather than the usual 6.30pm start. Tickets for £7 can be bought here from Goldsboro Books.

FM May5

The Lies Within Blog Tour

The Lies Within Blog Tour Banner

I’m thrilled to be part of the blog tour for The Lies Within by Jane Isaac.

The blurb

Be under no illusions by her kind face and eloquent manner… This woman is guilty of murder.

Grace Daniels is distraught after her daughter’s body is found in a Leicestershire country lane. With her family falling apart and the investigation going nowhere, Grace’s only solace is the re-emergence of Faye, an old friend who seems to understand her loss.

DI Will Jackman delves into the case, until a family tragedy and a figure from his past threaten to derail him.

When the police discover another victim, the spotlight falls on Grace. Can Jackman find the killer, before she is convicted of a crime she didn’t commit?


My review

The Lies Within

Jo Lambourne, a young woman, is found brutally murdered in her home town of Market Harborough. DI Will Jackman is on secondment from Warwickshire Police to the Leicestershire force and becomes the SIO for the case. Grace, Jo’s mother, is in a dreadful state. Having lost her first husband a few years before, she is swamped by grief yet again. With the help of her friend, Faye, Grace manages to pull herself together and starts to search for the truth behind Jo’s murder, unaware of the danger she faces.

I’ve met Jane Isaac a few times now and you wouldn’t think that a devious mind existed in such a lovely woman. But somehow, she manages to come up with intriguing twists and turns. DI Will Jackman is fast becoming one of my favourite police detectives (not least because I picture Rufus Sewell playing him – I think I’ve mentioned this before and I probably will again). Thrown into a new team, Jackman revels in the challenging role of acting DCI. The only hiccup is Carmela Hanson, acting Superintendent. Jackman has to juggle his feelings for her along with loyalty to his critically ill wife, Alice, who has locked in syndrome.

Jane Isaac writes the story of Grace, the mother of the dead woman, with great sensitivity. There are plenty of ‘don’t do it’ moments as Grace tries to uncover the truth of Jo’s murder. Although the first 48-72 hours of an investigation are crucial, this is a case that isn’t easily solved and drags on for months. Isaac shows the cost of this both with Grace and her family and the police officers involved.

There is so much more I want to tell you about this book but daren’t for fear of giving away spoilers. But what I will say is that Jane Isaac has a writing style that makes it so easy to just keep reading The Lies Within. And in my humble opinion, this is her best novel to date.

Click here to buy The Lies Within.


About the author


Jane Isaac lives with her husband, daughter and dog, Bollo, in rural Northamptonshire, UK. Her debut novel, An Unfamiliar Murder, introduces DCI Helen Lavery and was nominated as best mystery in the ‘eFestival of Words Best of the Independent eBook awards 2013.’

The Truth Will Out, the second in the DCI Helen Lavery series, was nominated as ‘Thriller of the Month – April 2014’ by and winner of ‘Noveltunity book club selection – May 2014’.

In 2015 Jane embarked on a new series, featuring DI Will Jackman and set in Stratford upon Avon, with Before It’s Too Late. The second in the series, Beneath The Ashes, will be published by Legend Press on 1st November 2016 with the 3rd, The Lies Within, to follow on 2nd May 2017.

Both DI Jackman and DCI Lavery will return again in the near future. Sign up to Jane’s newsletter on her website at for details of new releases, events and giveaways.



Night Market Blog Tour

night market blog tour poster

I’m honoured to be hosting for the Night Market blog tour. I have written a review, which is below, but also thought it would be fun to hear from the author himself, Daniel Pembrey. Rather than telling us about his writing, I suggested to Daniel that maybe he could tell us a bit more about Amsterdam, in particular, shopping! So if you’re likely to visit Amsterdam, here are a few places that Daniel thinks you should check out.


Seven shops in Amsterdam – all very central!


  1. Bloemenstal ‘t Lievertje

Who can resist beautiful, fresh bouquets of flowers? And you’re pretty much at the source here. (A large share of the cut flowers sold in Britain comes from Holland.) Spui 7, 1012 WX Amsterdam +31 20 627 9062


  1. ABC

The American Book Center claims to be the largest independent source of English language books in mainland Europe; certainly it has an English crime fiction section second-to-none on the Continent, in which you might just find a certain Amsterdam detective series … Spui 12, 1012 XA Amsterdam: +31 20 625 5537


  1. Droog

No one does design quite like the Dutch, and the home products here have been specially designed to enhance daily life. There are limited edition pieces, each with a story to tell, as well as fashion, books, music and more. Staalstraat 7B, 1011 JJ Amsterdam 31 20 217 0100


  1. The Maritime Museum shop

Here you’ll find an array of maritime-themed gifts. You don’t need a museum ticket to get in, though you may want to check out the museum itself; its glass ceiling rivals the British Museum’s. Kattenburgerplein 1, 1018 KK Amsterdam 31 20 523 2222


  1. C&A

Yes, you can still find C&A here in Amsterdam – in fact you can find several. The flagship is at Damrak 70, 1012 LM Amsterdam. It recently reopened after extensive refurbishment, and is evidently quite the crowd pleaser …


  1. De Bijenkorf

‘The Beehive’ dates back to the nineteenth century, but is now owned by the company behind Selfridges. Still an Amsterdam institution, in Dam Square, it offers a distinctly Dutch experience. Go see … Dam 1, 1012 JS Amsterdam 31 800 0818


7. In de Olofspoort

Now this is as much a bar as a shop, but you can buy bottles of gin here, and if you’ve made it this far, you deserve a drink. Nieuwebrugsteeg 13, 1012 AG Amsterdam, 31 20 624 3918



Thank you, Daniel, especially for checking if C&A still exists. Takes me back to my ‘yoof’.


But what about the book, I hear you cry? Well, ok then…

Night Market

Night Market

The blurb

When Henk van der Pol is asked by the Justice Minister to infiltrate a team investigating an online child exploitation network, he can hardly say no – he’s at the mercy of prominent government figures in The Hague. But he soon realises the case is far more complex than he was led to believe… Picking up from where The Harbour Master ended, this new investigation sees Detective Van der Pol once again put his life on the line as he wades the murky waters between right and wrong in his search for justice.

Sometimes, to catch the bad guys, you have to think like one. . .



My review

At the end of The Harbour Master, Henk van der Pol was in limbo. Going back to his old police job didn’t look likely but there was an offer of a new undefined role. In Night Market, we find out that role.

Night Market is a very intriguing title. I assumed that maybe there was an actual night market in Amsterdam. Maybe there is but this title refers to a much more sinister and selective market found on the Dark Web – child exploitation. Although Henk has covered many different crimes in his career, he had avoided child abuse. But this time, he isn’t joining a team to investigate the suspects but to investigate the investigators. And in order to do so, he has to move to Driebergen. Pembrey’s description of the small town surrounded by forest, is less fairy tale and more claustrophobic. Finding himself shut out of the new team by suspicious officers, Henk does what he always does best and goes rogue. Switching between Norway, the Netherlands and London, van der Pol discovers a tangled web of lies. And in amongst it all, there’s something niggling Henk, something that he can’t quite remember.

There is a general sense of unease and underlying tension for Henk in the first part of the book. Not only is he stuck in a place he dislikes, spying on fellow officers, his marriage is also suffering. Without Petra at his side, Henk flounders and takes more risks than normal. When he returns to Amsterdam, it feels as though we are all back on solid ground. Of course, it doesn’t stay that way for long with new lines of enquiry to follow and ghosts turning up unexpectedly. Add to that, van der Pol gives up smoking and we have one very jittery police officer.

As each part of the book was originally a novella, there’s plenty of plot and the pace is fast throughout. The atmosphere is aided and abetted by Pembrey’s rich descriptions (I loved ‘jelly-pink’ sky). As much as I love Henk van der Pol as a character, Petra is the real unsung hero for me. Maybe she could have a little spin-off?

Although Henk finds some of the answers he was looking for, the story is by no means complete by the end. Van der Pol will return. But will it be Henk or Petra?

Night Market is already available as an e-book and it comes out in paperback tomorrow. Please click here to buy/pre-order.

Daniel Pembrey author photo_new


About the author

Daniel Pembrey grew up in Nottinghamshire beside Sherwood Forest. He studied history at Edinburgh University and received an MBA from INSEAD business school in France. Daniel then spent over a decade working in America and more recently Luxembourg, coming to rest in Amsterdam and London — dividing his time now between these two great maritime cities.
He is the author of the Henk van der Pol detective series and several short thriller stories, and he contributes articles to publications including The Financial Times, The Times and The Field. In order to write The Harbour Master, he spent several months living in the docklands area of East Amsterdam, counting De Druif bar as his local.




Review – Tall Oaks by Chris Whitaker

Tall Oaks


When three-year-old Harry goes missing, the whole of America turns its attention to one small town.

Everyone is eager to help. Everyone is a suspect.

Desperate mother Jess, whose grief is driving her to extreme measures.

Teenage Manny, whose absent father has left him with strange ideas of how to make his mark.

Photographer Jerry, who’s determined to break away from his controlling mother once and for all.

And investigating them all, a police chief with a hidden obsession of his own…


My review

I think Michael Grothaus would be glad that I didn’t read Tall Oaks last year when it was published. Chris Whitaker’s debut would definitely have given Epiphany Jones a run for its money. Tall Oaks didn’t make me cry though so Epiphany Jones still would have been my number 1. But Tall Oaks made me laugh like no other crime book.

Crime is obviously not funny. And the abduction of a 3 year old is every family’s worst nightmare. Add to that an abductor who wears a clown mask and you’re toppling into horror. Yet, Chris Whitaker manages to write a bitter sweet novel, with a cast worthy of Charles Dickens.

The main plot line is weaved in and out of the colourful characters, their lives interlinking in the American small town of Tall Oaks. There are many suspects and many secrets to discover before we find out the truth. Harry Monroe, the missing 3 year old, is always there at the back of our minds, but it’s the characters whose lives continue that capture our imagination. Jerry, a gentle giant with a voice that never broke, who works in a photo shop. Jared, the car salesman who never stays too long in one place. Elena, a single mum who works with French John – a cake maker of extraordinary skill. Elena has two children – Thalia (aged 3 and friend of Harry) and Manny (18). When I read other reviews of this book, Manny’s name was repeated over and over again. And now that I’ve read it, I understand why. Do you remember Shia LaBeouf’s character, Louis Stevens from Even Stevens? The kid that was always getting into trouble? Imagine him with a lot of swearing and you have Manny. An 18 year old who’s still a kid trying to please his dad, even though his dad had left a couple of years before. Sometimes a writer creates a character that is just genius. Manny is that character in Tall Oaks.

This novel was a delight to read and I found it difficult to put it down. But equally, I didn’t want to finish it. I wanted Tall Oaks to continue. This is a book just begging to be made into a television series.

So what do I do? Am I allowed to put a book published last year into my top ten reads at the end of 2017? Of course I am. My list, my rules.


To buy Tall Oaks, click here.