For Sara Keane, it was supposed to be a second chance. A new country. A new house. A new beginning with her husband Damien.
Then came the knock on the door.
Elderly Mary Jackson can’t understand why Sara and her husband are living in her home. She remembers the fire, and the house burning down. But she also remembers the children. The children who need her, whom she must protect.
‘The children will find you,’ she tells Sara, because Mary knows she needs help too. Sara soon becomes obsessed with what happened in that house nearly sixty years ago – the tragic, bloody night her husband never intended for her to discover. And Mary – silent for six decades – is finally ready to tell her story . .
With thanks to the publisher for the copy received. The House of Ashes is probably the book that I have been gripped by most this year. I felt dread, sadness and admiration throughout most of it. It is a dual time frame novel with a handful of narrators whose only real obvious connection was that they were all female and who were all facing abuse from people they lived with. By a long way, it was Mary’s narrative I found easiest to read. Only a child, she was the only one who could see innocence in what she experienced. I loved reading about her dreams of being able to see across the sea to other countries. But when she started to understand what danger her and her mummies faced I could also see how loyal and determined she was despite her age.
The author does an incredible job of making all his narrators convincing. Switching from a young girl who has never experienced freedom in one chapter to a terrified but determined to escape new arrival and then decades later to a controlled and damaged young woman.
It is one of those books that could cover more than one genre. Obviously crime but also historical with the brief description the conflicts in the ‘North of Ireland’ as it is described in the book and also gothic with the children who were in the shadows and who a handful of the characters could see.
I read this novel very quickly, finding it impossible to put down.
Stuart Neville will be appearing at First Monday Crime alongside Janice Hallett, Catherine Ryan Howard and Robert Gold. You can watch via the Facebook page on Monday 7th March at 7.30pm.
For fans of Jane Harper’s The Dry comes a powerful novel about the lengths we will go to keep our family safe. This is a story about good and evil and how life is lived somewhere in between.
Thirty years ago, Vincent King became a killer.
Now, he’s been released from prison and is back in his hometown of Cape Haven, California. Not everyone is pleased to see him. Like Star Radley, his ex-girlfriend, and sister of the girl he killed.
Duchess Radley, Star’s thirteen-year-old daughter, is part-carer, part-protector to her younger brother, Robin – and to her deeply troubled mother. But in trying to protect Star, Duchess inadvertently sets off a chain of events that will have tragic consequences not only for her family, but also the whole town.
Murder, revenge, retribution.
‘You can’t save someone that doesn’t want to be saved . . .’
With thanks to the publisher for the copy received. This is one of the hardest books I’ve ever had to review. You need to read this the way I did, with knowing little about what happens.
I read a lot of books, in particular crime fiction. I can honestly say that I have never read a book quite like this before. It is crime fiction, but it’s crime fiction that shows the effect that crime has on those who are connected. Especially a young teenage girl called Duchess and her six year old brother Robin.
The story switches between Duchess and Walk, police officer and friend of Vincent who has recently been released from prison. Walk has some major health concerns to deal with, which are not revealed until the end but I did have some idea of what they could be. It was the only part of this novel that I did work out. Everything else I did not see coming until the moment. Whilst I did like his story it was Duchess who captivated me. Practically every scene she appeared in. Her devotion to Star and Robin, her warming to her grandfather and friend Thomas and her insistence that she was an outlaw.
I often see the phrase ‘book hangover’ but have never experienced it myself until I read this book. I was left gazing into space, trying to come to terms with what I had just read knowing that my task of choosing the next book to read would be tough.
The author would have been appearing at First Monday Crime on 7th May but that has unfortunately had to be postponed due to the undoing situation. I read an ecopy arc of the book but chose to buy a hard back copy from an independent bookshop.
London, 1754. Six years after leaving her illegitimate daughter Clara at London’s Foundling Hospital, Bess Bright returns to reclaim the child she has never known. Dreading the worst – that Clara has died in care – the last thing she expects to hear is that her daughter has already been reclaimed – by her. Her life is turned upside down as she tries to find out who has taken her little girl – and why.
Less than a mile from Bess’ lodgings in the city, in a quiet, gloomy townhouse on the edge of London, a young widow has not left the house in a decade. When her close friend – an ambitious young doctor at the Foundling Hospital – persuades her to hire a nursemaid for her daughter, she is hesitant to welcome someone new into her home and her life. But her past is threatening to catch up with her and tear her carefully constructed world apart.
With thanks to the publisher for the copy received via Pigeonhole. The Foundling is the first book I have read by Stacey Halls and after finishing it I need to read her debut The Familiars very soon. I read quite a lot of historical fiction but never anything like this, I had no idea that there was such a thing as a Foundling Hospital. It made me wonder how many children were reclaimed when life improved for their parents.
The relationship between Bess, Alexandra and Charlotte was extraordinary. You would expect to see hatred but despite a little resentment from Charlotte there was none. I also expected to dislike either of the women but I couldn’t. Instead all I felt was pity for both of them. If anything I had more sympathy for Alexandra because she was isolated. Proof that wealth and privilege didn’t mean that much if you were alone.
It’s different to many other historical fiction book because it doesn’t concentrate on the poverty experienced by Bess and her family. Yes, Ned, Bess’s brother does have a hard time but it was purely his life choice. Probably the same as many at the time but neither Bess or Lyle let it beat them.
Because I read this novel on Pigeonhole I had to read it over ten days, I could easily have read it in one sitting, it was absolutely wonderful.
A secret buried for two thousand years. The rise of an ancient evil. An invisible killer who will stop at nothing.
When a brutal serial killer defies all known methods, the police call in prolific lawyer and former homicide detective, Charlie Priest, to assist the hunt.
Tangled in a dark world of fanaticism, chaos and deadly secrets, Priest comes up against a nemesis more formidable and deranged than any he has previously encountered.
Working together they soon discover a link to a lost scripture that contains a secret so devastating that its custodians are prepared to die to keep it.
There is no Judgement Day. There is something far worse.
The defamation of the snake
Of all the members of the animal kingdom, the snake is a PR disaster.
Cast as the antagonist is just about every book and film you care to mention – from Disney’s Robin Hood to Anaconda – snakes are the bad guys. Deceptive, treacherous, devious and cunning, our fear of the snake has been drilled into us from a young age.
But while pop culture has done its best to defame this humble and (generally) calm and non-aggressive creature, the most egregious libel is embroidered in the pages of the Book of Genesis, wherein the snake is depicted as one of the greatest villains of all time.
The story is as notorious as it is ludicrous. God creates Adam and Eve and places them in the Garden of Eden. There, the first humans are told that they can eat anything they want, except the forbidden fruit from the tree of knowledge.
Keen to shake things up a little, a serpent tempts Eve into eating some of the fruit and sharing it with Adam. God is displeased with this and banishes the transgressors from Eden in perpetuity and, at the same time, catastrophically damages the snakes’ reputation beyond repair.
Nonetheless, let it not be said that the Bible treats the snake with complete disdain. For one thing, it’s the only animal that is attributed with the anthropomorphic power of speech (admittedly, there’s a talking donkey in chapter 22 of Numbers but it only mutters a few Delphic words – let’s ignore that for now).
Then there’s the brazen serpent: the bronze snake on a pole erected by Moses in order to protect the Israelites from – oh, wait – snakebites.
But it hasn’t always been like this. In ancient cultures – from the Sumerians to the Egyptians to the Tibetans – snakes were worshipped as deities. They symbolised fertility, procreation, wisdom, death, and resurrection.
And rightly so. The snake casting its skin is a form of rebirth and many ancient people associated the snake with healing. Snakes were often used in healing rituals in ancient Greece in honour of Asclepius, the mortal brutally murdered by Zeus for very nearly discovering the secret of immortality by observing snakes.
For this reason, the modern symbol of medicine – the rod of Asclepius – comprises a serpent entwined around a pole or staff. It remains the symbol of the British Medical Association to this day.
There’s a great deal of speculation about who the snake in the Garden of Eden actually was. Perhaps it was Lilith, the female demon who is said to steal babies in the night and the possible origin of the word ‘lullaby’ – the songs sung by nervous mothers to protect their children from her evil clutches.
Perhaps the snake was Samyaza, the leader of the Watchers – a band of rebellious angels who fell from grace to fornicate with human women thereby producing a race of hybrid offspring known as the Nephilim.
Perhaps the snake was Satan himself.
Whoever the Eden snake was supposed to be, its species deserves an apology. History has treated it poorly, and it’s about time we recognised that.
Emma woke in the early hours of the morning with a pounding head and a pain in her left side she didn’t recall falling asleep with. She must have gone to bed and left the skylight shutter open because the room was bathed in moonlight. She lay still for a moment with her eyes open. It was oppressively hot; she couldn’t hear the air-conditioning unit, although she was sure she had set it to automatic yesterday. Perhaps it was the heat that had roused her.
Her dressing gown was slung over a chair in the corner. It was a dull blue colour with an ugly design of roses weaving their way around each other up both sides, their heads finishing gracelessly below the breast. A present from Harry last year. She hated it. She had been with Harry for two years now–a new record–but, at thirty-three, she regarded herself as too old to call Harry her boyfriend and too uninterested to call him her partner.She was terrified that he was going to propose soon, although thankfully his work meant he was abroad a lot.
Emma closed her eyes. The pain in her side subsided – she must have just slept awkwardly. She should turn on the air- conditioning but she knew as soon as she got out of bed she wouldn’t go back to sleep. She turned over. The full moon shimmered through the skylight. In the morning, she would ditch Harry by text and burn that fucking dressing gown.
There was a noise. Her eyes shot open. A definite thud, from downstairs. She held her breath for a moment. Had she imagined it?
There it was again. Like a heavy object falling off the shelf and hitting the floor.
Emma was used to living alone; she had been doing it since she was sixteen. Harry rarely stayed for more than a few nights at a time before gallivanting off to the next conference. Everyone else was kept at a distance. Did she mind? Not really. She liked living alone; never having to compromise or accommodate other people’s little habits and rituals. But she didn’t like noises in the night.
Thud. This time louder.
Emma felt her heart rate quicken. The sheets were clammy, the heat suddenly unbearable. What the hell was that noise? Her apartment had two bedrooms on a mezzanine floor overlooking the living room. Her room had its own balcony. Downstairs, there was a separate kitchen, along with a bathroom and study. The noise could only be coming from inside her apartment.
She cursed under her breath. She was wide awake now. Was someone. . .? No, she couldn’t bring herself to complete the thought. It was ridiculous. She was alone, as always. Nobody could get into the apartment block without a key, let alone her flat. She closed her eyes. If she heard the noise again she would get up and investigate; if not, then she could put it down to the boiler playing up. Moments passed. A longer interval than before. Her head began to spin.
Emma threw back the covers and stood up, swaying naked in the room for a minute. She felt dizzy and nauseous. Her chest fluttered with unease. She pulled the dressing gown around her and stopped to try and clear her head. What if someone was in the apartment? What if there was a gang of men carrying her electrical goods away right now? Wouldn’t it be better to stay up here?
She threw the thought from her mind and stared over the glass railing. The living room had taken on the same ghostly feel as the moonlit bedroom. She couldn’t see anything out of place, but there it was again.Thud.
The staircase arched around one side of the cavernous space below. Emma descended slowly. The wall leading down was plastered with Emma’s award-winning work. The photographs were varied, a mixture of black and white, sepia and colour: a regiment of elephants wading knee-high in water in front of the Savannah’s setting sun; children no older than ten crowded around a UN convoy, braying excitedly at the arrival of a tank; a woman wailing at the foot of a crumbled ruin, pawing at her blood-stained clothes. Emma had an eye for capturing the soul of human suffering through a lens. The thought steeled her resolve.She had lived in war zones; she wasn’t going to be scared in her own damn house.
Nonetheless, when it came again, the thud still made her jump and she hurried down the stairs.
Everything was still in the living room so she opened the double doors into the kitchen underneath the bedrooms. She fiddled with a cluster of switches near the door; everything was instantly illuminated with splashes of mellow blue light from the LEDs peppering the ceiling. She was met with an array of sleek appliances built into a black range that dominated the far wall behind an island of gleaming white units. There was no noise, except the gentle hum of the giant American-style fridge. Green digits glowed like cat’s eyes from all sides. Everything was spotless.
She left the light on and checked the bathroom, which was as she had left it. Same with the study. She took one last look at the living room. The walls were high on one side, spanning both floors: white-washed brick adorned with abstract artwork. It was sparsely furnished with odd shaped chairs. A hammock was slung between two iron pegs in the corner. The main feature was three enormous black-framed arched windows to Emma’s left. At twenty-five storeys up, it seemed as though most of London was laid out like a blanket below her.
There was nothing wrong, nothing out of place and nobody here but her. Emma felt her body relax, her breathing slow. Her disquiet was replaced with annoyance; precious sleep had been lost.
She turned all the lights off and went back upstairs. Removed the dressing gown and threw it in the corner of the room. It didn’t even deserve a place on the chair. She slumped back into bed, half pulling the cover over her naked body.
Emma closed her eyes.
She started to write the text message to Harry in her mind.
But she didn’t get very far.
She realised, far too late, that the thud had been intended to lure her downstairs ,giving whoever it was in the room with her now the chance to sneak in and hide. Emma tried to scream, but a pair of strong hands were already wrapping around her mouth. She felt the weight of a man straddling her, crushing down on her chest. His knees pinned the tops of her arms. She tried to kick, thrash around, but he was too strong.
The last thing she remembered seeing was the moon through the skylight, igniting the cloudless sky with pale light. Then a strange sensation of floating as her assailant took a hammer and, with one life ending strike, drove an eight-inch galvanised nail into her skull.
‘Sara! Remember! Victoria and Albert. All I can say. They’re here. They’re-‘
These are the last words Sara Prior will ever hear from her husband.
As DS Nathan Cody struggles to make sense of the enigmatic message and solve the brutal murder, it soon becomes clear that Sara is no ordinary bereaved wife. Taking the investigation into her own hands, Sara is drawn into a world of violence that will lead her in a direction she would never have suspected.
For Cody, meanwhile, things are about to get personal in the darkest and most twisted ways imaginable . . .
With thanks to the publisher for the copy received. I have read three out of the four books in the Nathan Cody series and I recommend that you at least read the first book before reading this one.
This book is slightly different to the others that I have read. The opening murder scene is more gruesome than many and Cody is advised by his superior to stay away from the crime scene. His team are investigating the murder but unusually most of the investigation is carried out by the victim’s widow, Sara.
Sara is more than capable of looking after herself. She is ex-military, afraid of nobody and determined to find out why her husband was murdered. I liked her a lot, even though I did find her a little scary. Despite the often violent scenes hers are the easiest to read. Cody’s problems could have given me sleepless nights.
Cody’s role in the novel is more about his demons, the clowns. It is this part of the novel where you need to be aware of what happened to him previously. I wasn’t sure at first if it was all in his imagination but as the story progressed I realised it was actually happening. It made me dislike clowns more than I already did and it will be a while before I can be in the vicinity of Rodney Street without seeing them.
With reading a lot of crime fiction I sometimes identify a murderer, or see the reasons for the killing. I didn’t this time, it was complicated and a little bit sinister. At times, it felt like closure. I hope it isn’t.