A perfect childhood You were the golden girl. The apple of your parents’ eyes. My beautiful, clever wife. A perfect marriage I would do anything for you. But some things about me must stay hidden. A perfect liar One summer afternoon, it all begins to unravel. Because I’m not the only one with terrible secrets to hide. And when the truth comes out, it seems we both have blood on our hands…
I received a copy of this book from Harper Collins UK – Harper Fiction via NetGalley in return for an honest review.
The beginning concentrates the mind wonderfully. The reader knows something bad has happened, but not what. The remainder of the novel charts events up to that point. About three-quarters of the way through, I knew the outcome, but this just increased the menace and poignancy of the last part of the story.
The characters are multi-layered. Told from multi-points of view, in the past and present. There are two distinct plot threads, seemingly unconnected, but integral. Persevere, with the seemingly unconnected beginning, all will become clear.
Powerful, poignant psychological suspense, merged with family drama, it’s believable and intense. There is a deeply ingrained sadness to this story, as well as the disturbing compelling elements. Whilst the ending isn’t a surprise, its inevitability does resonate.
I received a copy of this book from Aria Fiction via NetGalley in return for an honest review.
From the blurb, the reader knows that this is not the idyllic holiday you’d expect, but nothing prepares you for the twists and turns that appear with increasing alacrity as the story progresses.
Cora and Jonathan are on a dream holiday, Cora seems unsure whether she wants to be there. Jonathan is full of surprises, and it seems that life is on track. Until, their exclusive holiday retreat becomes crowded, with another couple, and they can’t fail to see the resemblance to themselves.
The story has a strong technological theme, which adds depth and complexity to the plot.
Progressing, through Cora’s point of view, things start to spiral in an increasingly uncomfortable way. The characters are believable and complex. They are not what they appear to be on the surface.
Cora is an unreliable narrator, and as the story progresses, she presents a hidden side to her character. Flashbacks to incidents in her past illuminate and reinforce her present actions. The last part of the story is an adrenaline rush, and at times full of confusion.
Even at the end, I still wasn’t sure I’d understood everything, but that’s what you want from a psychological thriller.
An absorbing, addictive read.
Guest Post : Smiling assassins By Pat Black
The psychopathic, murderous villains in my new novel The Beach House drew inspiration from a lovely couple we met on holiday.
When I’m on holiday I tend to stick to my own pen. I wouldn’t say I was unfriendly, but I am guarded. I realise this doesn’t reflect well on me, but bitter experience has taught me to be wary.
I remember one couple I got to know on holiday years ago who passed out business cards and tried to flog their home renovation business at every opportunity. This was odd enough – before the boorish male in that pairing then made some utterly jaw-dropping comments about the looks of a woman as part of a third couple who joined the group. I was astounded at the cheek, and the fact the woman just smiled and laughed at these comments, instead of absolutely battering him. “People like that actually exist! In the real world!”
Another couple on an overnight boat trip didn’t realise I was joking when I was… making jokes. It’s not like any of the daft comments and dad-on-holiday patter were certificate X, either. It was a bit like explaining that, you know, it doesn’t really matter why the chicken wanted to cross the road, or what might have awaited it on the other side. Now imagine that sort of scrutiny after every utterance. “It’s your accent,” the woman explained later, as if that explained anything.
So, I’ve learned. I’m happy enough drinking cocktails in our own group of two, reading a stack of books on my tod, worrying about sharks while we go for a swim in a pair, and forming our own pub quiz team.
Then one night (a while ago now, mind you; pre-kids anyway), we were approached by this cracking couple from the South West. The shutters went up immediately, but then something strange happened: I lightened up, and we… Well. We made friends. They were loads of fun. They didn’t want anything from us. They got my jokes, and I got theirs. Importantly, they also knew not to crowd us – I looked forward to having a drink with them at night back at the hotel, and was genuinely sorry to see them go home, a couple of days before we did.
Hey – maybe for them, we were the weirdos?
It was a nice, human experience. So of course my imagination twisted this into something unpleasant for The Beach House.
I wondered what would happen if you had genuinely evil people try to befriend you on holiday – evil people with an evil purpose. And you couldn’t easily extricate yourself from the situation. When your own sense of manners and social skills over-ride your instincts, which might have to scream at you in order for you to protect yourself and your partner.
One of my favourite parts of any modern thriller is in The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, when Mikael Blomkvist confronts the novel’s villain. He has a chance to get away, but he refuses, because of good manners. The villain reflects on this with some astonishment. “All I had to do was offer you a cup of coffee.”
All my baddies had to do was order my heroine a pina colada. And it could happen to you. Of course it could. They’re out there. They walk among us. They go on holiday. They sit beside you on a train. They seem nice. They know exactly what to say to people. They see a person or a situation, and their minds instantly move onto how they can strip it to the bone.
Have you seen my business card, incidentally? Maybe we could swap? Hey, networking is networking, after all. No sense in ignoring the business angle, hey? We’ve all got to eat. Fancy a cocktail? Maybe we could go to the pub quiz…
Author and journalist PR Black lives in Yorkshire, although he was born and brought up in Glasgow. When he’s not driving his wife and two children to distraction with all the typing, he enjoys hillwalking, fresh air and the natural world, and can often be found asking the way to the nearest pub in the Lake District. His short stories have been published in several books including the Daily Telegraph’s Ghost Stories and the Northern Crime One anthology. His Glasgow detective, Inspector Lomond, is appearing in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine. He took the runner-up spot in the 2014 Bloody Scotland crime-writing competition with “Ghostie Men”. His work has also been performed on stage in London by Liars’ League. He has also been shortlisted for the Red Cross International Prize, the William Hazlitt essay prize and the Bridport Prize.
Kate used to be good at recognising people. So good, she worked for the police, identifying criminals in crowds of thousands. But six months ago, a devastating car accident led to a brain injury. Now the woman who never forgot a face can barely recognise herself in the mirror.
At least she has Rob. Young, rich, handsome and successful, Rob runs a tech company on the idyllic Cornish coast. Kate met him just after her accident, and he nursed her back to health. When she’s with him, in his luxury modernist house, the nightmares of the accident fade, and she feels safe and loved.
Until, one day, she looks at Rob anew. And knows, with absolute certainty, that the man before her has been replaced by an impostor.
Is Rob who he says he is? Or is it all in Kate’s damaged mind?
I received a copy of this book from Head of Zeus via NetGalley in return for an honest review.
This is a chilling, complex and curious thriller, with psychological and technological themes. Told from three points of view. The reader lives the complete story. Whilst, it keeps you turning the pages, it starts your mind thinking too, what if?
The story has many strands. The unusual skill of the female protagonist, as a superrecogniser, which now lost, has left her unsure and vulnerable. The secret world of the new man in her life, and his attitude towards her that makes their interactions often claustrophobic. The themes of doppelgangers, and his apparent obsession with his.
The story is full of underlying detail, which sets the scene convincingly, and evidences the author’s copious research. There are many twists, and the ending is memorable.
If you’ve read this author’s psychological thrillers before, you may be waiting for something to happen that you don’t expect. It does, but its impact is more powerful than you may imagine.
Clever writing, intense suspense, and originality make this a must-read for those who like to explore the darkness and vastness of the human mind.
Guest Post – Super recognisers, by J.S.Monroe
There are some unlucky people in this world who cannot remember a face. Try as they might, they can’t recognise the most familiar people in their lives: relatives, friends, even their own reflection. The condition is known as facial blindness, or prosopagnosia, and it’s estimated that about two per cent of us are sufferers. In 2009, Richard Russell, a Harvard psychologist, wondered if these people were on a spectrum and, if they were, what happened at the other end? Were there those who cannot forget a face? Enter the “super recognisers”, a term coined by Russell for the one per cent of us who indeed have a preternatural gift for remembering the human face. A super recogniser might only have seen someone for a split second at a bus stop five years ago, but if he walked passed them again tomorrow, he would remember them.
In my new thriller, The Other You, my main female character, Kate, is a former super recogniser. She used to work as a civilian for the police, studying mug shots and then identifying criminals on CCTV footage, or working in the field at large public events, spotting known troublemakers in crowds. I spent a lot of time reading up on the subject, as I found it increasingly fascinating. The part of the brain where human faces are processed, for example, is called the fusiform gyrus and it appears to be a lot more active in super recognisers than the rest of us.
My research eventually took me to Essex, where I met a super recogniser called Emma. She only discovered her ability in her thirties, but she’d always had a good memory for faces, recognising someone in the swimming pool who had served her in Tesco’s years earlier, or spotting extras who kept on cropping up in different films. “It’s a bit embarrassing when you go up to someone familiar and smile and they look at you blankly because they don’t remember your face,” she says. Emma used to be in the Metropolitan Police but she now works a super recogniser for a private security firm. After a shift of spotting people, she’s mentally drained. “Your brain’s working overtime, taking screenshots all the time, scanning faces like a robot.”
Talking of robots, super recognisers are proving more than a match for facial recognition software, which is currently experiencing a global boom. The artificial intelligence algorithms deployed to identify faces, matching people in live situations to databases of criminals, are getting better, but it remains a far from exact science. When South Wales Police deployed facial recognition software at the Champions League Final in Cardiff in 2017, more than 2,000 people were wrongly identified as criminals – a failure rate of 92%.
Compare that with the success of super recognisers working for the Metropolitan Police. After the London riots in 2011, the Met amassed 200,000 hours of CCTV footage, but software managed to identify one criminal. One! The Met’s team of super recognisers, by contrast, identified more than 600. One extraordinary individual, PC Gary Collins, identified 180 alone, including a man who had concealed his face with a bandana and beanie. Collins recognised him from just his eyes – he’d last seen him two years ago.
“Algorithms will get better, but people change appearance and we as humans are primed to see through those changes,” says Josh Davis, professor of Applied Psychology at the University of Greenwich, who works closely with super recognisers and police forces around the world.
There’s something about the human face, it seems, that can’t be analysed solely by metrics. When we see someone, we imbue their face with meaning. He reminds me of my father; she looks like my old English teacher. The distance between our ears, or our mouth and nose, only tells half the story. Faces are uniquely human and humans – the super recognisers – remain, for the time being, the best at identifying them.
J.S. Monroe read English at Cambridge, worked as a foreign correspondent in Delhi, and was Weekend editor of the Daily Telegraph in London before becoming a full-time writer. Monroe is the author of eight novels, including the international bestseller, Find Me.
The grieving widow. The other woman. Which one is which?
When Cameron Swift is shot and killed outside his family home, DC Beth Chamberlain is appointed Family Liaison Officer. Her role is to support the family – and investigate them.
Monika, Cameron’s partner and mother of two sons, had to be prised off his lifeless body after she discovered him. She has no idea why anyone would target Cameron.
Beth can understand Monika’s confusion. To everyone in their affluent community, Monika and her family seemed just like any other. But then Beth gets a call.
Sara is on holiday with her daughters when she sees the news. She calls the police in the UK, outraged that no one has contacted her to let her know or offer support. After all, she and Cameron had been together for the last seven years…
Until Cameron died, Monika and Sara had no idea each other existed.
As the case unfolds, Beth discovers that nothing is quite as it appears and everyone, it seems, has secrets. Especially the dead…
I received a copy of this book from Aria via NetGalley in return for an honest review.
The beginning is intense and shocking. It raises questions, when did this happen? Before the story yet to unfold? After? During?
It sets the scene for an intricately woven plot of danger, deceit and desire.
The characters play out their roles in an authentic way, the knowledge of police procedures is evident and makes that part of the story realistic and readable. The main theme of the story is the web of lies that one man lived, only revealed after his demise. The two families, the anger, anguish and anonymity they feel. Are they as ignorant as they seem? Do they know more? Are they in danger too?
Beth Chamberlain, as a new family liaison officer, brings a fresh perspective. She has her problems, some of which impinge on the investigation, but her empathy and intelligence make her role pivotal.
The suspense builds well, the plot has enough twists to make it page-turning, but plausible. An engaging story with significant psychological suspense played out against a well-written police procedural setting.
Guest Post – Jane Isaacs – Embracing the New
Thank you so much for hosting me on your blog, Jane. I’m delighted to be here!
I originally wrote the DC Beth Chamberlain series as a self-publishing project, and the first two titles, After He’s Gone and Presumed Guilty, were released under the banner of police procedurals, with a third waiting in the wings. As a traditionally published author of five books, I did find it extremely helpful to learn more about the other side of the publishing business. I employed editors and cover artists and took the books through all the same processes as my traditional novels and was pleased when the reviews started to roll in. However, while I enjoyed the process immensely, I also gained a greater appreciation how much work actually goes into getting the books we write out there!
Needless to say, all these additional tasks took me away from writing new material, which will always be my first love. So, I was delighted to sign the series over to Aria Fiction to take it forward and re-launch it, along with a brand-new title in 2020.
I’m very excited about this new partnership, not least because Aria feel these books are more domestic noir/psychological thriller than police procedurals – a new area for me – and will be marketing as such. They’ve done a great job with the first novel, changing it from After He’s Gone to The Other Woman and I’m thrilled at the cover they’ve come up with!
Jane Isaac is married to a serving detective and they live in rural Northamptonshire UK with their daughter, and dog, Bollo. Jane loves to hear from readers and writers.
Sign up to her book club at http://eepurl.com/1a2uT for book recommendations and details of new releases, events and giveaways.
A dark secret and a deadly score to settle… In 1997 teenager Sophie White and her three girlfriends decide they want to lose their innocence before summer is over. Roping in her childhood buddy Gareth and his mates, Sophie holds a party to get ‘the deed’ over and done with, but the night doesn’t end as planned. Twenty years later, the group are brought back together when Gareth is killed in a car accident and Sophie begins receiving threatening messages. It seems the party wasn’t as innocent as everyone thought and now someone wants payback.
A gripping, highly addictive game of cat and mouse where the past comes back with vengeance.
I received a copy of this book from Boldwood Books via NetGalley in return for an honest review.
A teenage party starts to have repercussions, over twenty years later, with fatal, and sinister results. There is a steady build-up of drama, plenty of psychological suspense and an underlying ethos of menace, as Sophie’s life disintegrates, even though she tries to carry on as normal.
A dark. pacy thriller, with complex characters, who harbour lies and secrets, from their past. The seemingly innocent event that happened in their teenage life, has sinister echoes. Someone wants revenge, but for what?
The story is told from Sophie’s point of view, as a teenager in the past, and a present-day adult. A plot, full of twists reveals just enough clues, to the mystery and antagonist, as it progresses. The characters are authentic and relatable, and the ending packs a punch and doesn’t disappoint.
Gemma Rogers was inspired to write gritty thrillers by a traumatic event in her own life nearly twenty years ago. Stalker is her debut novel which Boldwood will publish in September 2019 and marks the beginning of a new writing career. Gemma lives in West Sussex with her husband, two daughters and bulldog Buster.
Two little girls were out playing. One dared the other to knock on a neighbour’s front door and run away. But this was a game that had deadly consequences – only one girl returned home that evening. The ten-year-old told police what she saw: a man, village loner Bill ‘Creepy’ Cawley, dragged her friend into an old red pick-up truck and disappeared. No body was found, but her testimony sent him to prison for murder. An open and shut case, the right man behind bars. A village that could sleep safe once again.
Anna thought she had left Mapledon and her nightmares behind, but a distraught phone call brings her back to face her past. Thirty years ago, someone lied. Thirty years ago, the man convicted wasn’t the only guilty party… And now he’s out, he is looking for revenge. The question is, who will he start with?
I received a copy of this book from Avon Books UK via NetGalley in return for an honest review.
A twisty plot, an emotive subject, and so many lies and secrets in this village, some of which are dark and dangerous. The disappearance of a village girl in 1989, motivates the village against the one reclusive person, who the children love to taunt. He is the character of urban myths and an easy scapegoat for the murder of the girl, even though the evidence is more circumstantial than factual. Thirty years ago forensic science was far less sophisticated, than now, and all this contributed to Billy’s conviction.
The suspense builds with every chapter, the clues are there, but there is never quite enough before you’re cleverly moved onto another point of view or timeline. The characters are complex but believable, and the plot is slow to give up its secrets but rewarding when it does.
A poignant, tense thriller that draws you into this noir tale, full of suspense and sinister secrets.
Two years ago, Ben Fenton went camping with his brother Leo. It was the last time they ever saw each other. By the end of that fateful trip, Leo had disappeared, and Ben had been arrested for his murder.
Ben’s wife Ana has always protested his innocence. Now, on the hottest day of 2018’s sweltering heatwave, she receives a phone call from the police. Leo’s body has been found, in a freshly dug grave in her own local churchyard. How did it get there? Who really killed him?
St Albans police, led by DCI Jansen, are soon unpicking a web of lies that shimmers beneath the surface of Ana’s well-kept village. But as tensions mount, and the tight-knit community begins to unravel, Ana realises that if she wants to absolve her husband, she must unearth the truth alone.
I received a copy of this book from Head of Zeus Books via NetGalley in return for an honest review.
The second book featuring Dutch detective DCI Jansen, who finds himself mystified by the close-knit English village community. It seems no one believes in plain-speaking, preferring closing ranks, and relying on innuendos.
The story is a sad one. Two brothers take a camping trip two years earlier. One is presumed dead, the other convicted of murder, but is it that simple. Ana, the accused brother’s partner. believes not. She has no chance of proving this until the missing brother’s body is found buried in the village. Now, his brother can’t be the murderer. DCI Jansen has to find the real killer, but although gossip is rife in the village, there is nothing of substance, and everyone is keeping secrets.
DCI Jansensuffers a personal tragedy, which he has to conquer, to stop his emotional state having a detrimental effect on the case. Ana wants to help her partner but doesn’t want to reveal what she knows. She feels threatened, and the suspense and menacing ethos surrounding her are well-written.
There is a strong psychological element to this story, particularly from Ana’s perspective, as events from her past invade her present situation. Events are revealed, from Leo’s point of view, in the past, and Ana, Ben and DCI Jansen’s points of view, in the present. The two timelines create dramatic irony, the reader knowing things the characters don’t at that time.
Scene setting and character dynamics form the first part of the book, this slows the pace, but the short chapters and active voice, keep the story moving satisfactorily, ensuring reader engagement.There are several viable suspects, and even though you may guess who did it, early on in the story, there are plenty of smoke and mirrors. to make you doubt it.
Clever twists and a final reveal, make this a good story, with its solid police procedural theme tempered with psychological suspense.
Rachael Blok grew up in Durham and studied Literature at Warwick University. She taught English at a London Comprehensive and is now a full-time writer living in Hertfordshire with her husband and children.
Guest Post- Rachael Blok – ‘The Scorched Earth’, and Ana: where she came from.
The Scorched Earth has a number of different voices, but my protagonist is Ana, a woman struggling with grief as her partner is in jail, and then ghosts from her past emerge: she begins to hear footsteps behind her in a car park late and night; she begins to look over her shoulder… Ana’s experiences are both ideas I’ve wanted to write about for a while. It was a pleasure to see her come to life on paper.
Women are told to shout ‘fire’ instead of ‘rape’ if they’re being attacked…
As a woman, I’ve felt on more than one occasion a burst of fear walking home in the dark, or walking into a car park late a night. My mum, my sister and I all took a self-defence course years ago, and we were told to shout ‘fire’ instead of ‘rape’ if we’re attacked – people respond more if their property is threatened! I have no answer for this, but I find it terrifying. This fear resonates in the novel and I think, it’s fear men and women should both be aware of. I always tell my husband that if he’s walking behind a woman on her own, late at night, he should drop back – make sure she doesn’t have to look over her shoulder or be concerned about a threat. And the very real issue of stalking is taken more seriously now than it has been in the past, but there is still some way to go. When relationships break down and men find it hard to let women go, it can be a very scary time, and women find it difficult to get concerns taken seriously, often until after an attack.
They locked him up, but they locked her up, too…
Whilst researching the novel, I spent some time in prison,
which is not at all like I imagined! My main experience had been from movies
and the TV. I found the reality much scarier. I saw homemade weapons; I heard
stories of attacks on officers and other prisoners; I spoke to many different
people from all aspects of prison life, and it was such an eye-opener. I think
as a society we lock people away in all respects – there’s a sense of being
forgotten, completely. Women whose partners are in jail spoke of the shame, and
also the halted grief – they miss their partners, but can’t grieve for them,
they can’t move on. This grief is something Ana wrestles with, and I hope I’ve
done it justice.
The prison scenes almost wrote themselves after I’d visited. Even the smell is distinct. My prison officer guides me into the contraband room, where they keep the confiscated drugs. Spice is the drug they have the most problems with at the moment, which is synthetic cannabis. It’s smuggled into the prisons in all sorts of ways. One of the ways is through books and magazines. The pages are soaked in the spice, and so prisons have to scan all books now. So many ideas for plots!
It’s been a pleasure to write the guest blog and thanks to Jane Hunt for giving me the opportunity to mull over the ideas for the novel. I hope you enjoy The Scorched Earth!