#BlogTour | #GuestPost: Hell is Empty by Conrad Williams (@Salavaria) @TitanBooks

hell-is-empty-1“Private Investigator Joel Sorrell is exhausted and drinking hard, sustained only by a hopeful yet baffling note from his estranged daughter, Sarah.

An SOS from an old flame whose child has been kidnapped gives him welcomed distraction, but the investigation raises more questions than answers.

Then comes the news that his greatest enemy has escaped from prison with a score to settle.

With Joel’s life and the remnants of his family at stake, any chance of peace depends on the silencing of his nemesis once and for all. But an unexpected obstacle stands in his way…”

I am delighted to welcome you to my stop on the Hell is Empty blog tour.  Hell is Empty is book three in the excellent PI Joel Sorrell series, written by Conrad Williams.  And it’s publication day today so a very happy book birthday to Conrad Williams and all at Titan Books!

Now I have a confession to make, I’ve only read the first book in this series (that’s Dust and Desire if you haven’t come across Joel Sorrell before).  But I do have Sonata of the Dead and Hell is Empty on my TBR and I can’t wait to read them.  Dust and Desire is such a fabulous book and you can read my review by clicking here.  Dust and Desire also features on my recent top 20 all time favourite crime books post for #TBConFB.  You can see my other nineteen choices by clicking here.  Anyway, enough of my waffling!  I’m delighted to have a guest post from author Conrad Williams to share with you today, the topic of which is anti-heroes.  Over to Conrad…

The anti-hero

We all do and say things that are sometimes cruel and hurtful, perhaps even damaging, even though we perceive ourselves as essentially being good. That means our heroes and villains in literature should too. I don’t believe in evil. Evil acts, sure. But not evil people. I like a knotty, chewy protagonist with layers. Joel Sorrell is vulnerable but also capable. He’s someone who can be pushed only too far before he cracks. He doesn’t react well to stress. And, of course, he’s a potty-mouthed individual who relies on drink a little more than is good for him. In his first outing, Dust and Desire, I wanted to pit him against a ‘baddie’ who is also vulnerable. This person – the Four Year Old (aka Wire) – is driven to find the person who ruined his mother’s life (ironically, by doing what he thought was the right thing). But he is young and wet behind the ears. He has trained his body to look like that of a man much older, but his brain and his behaviour are undernourished things. He has committed violent acts that have also damaged him. No person can kill or maim and not be affected by it, certainly not a teenager. When Joel and the Four Year Old finally meet, I wanted their confrontation flavoured with tragedy. I was very pleased when Publishers Weekly recognised this in their review: ‘The suspenseful face-off between Sorrell and Wire carries an unexpected charge of pathos.’

In Sonata of the Dead I introduced Joel to an amoral writers’ group called the Accelerants who have never really gained any kind of experience. Perhaps they travelled a bit in their gap year. Perhaps they had a summer job. But that’s about it. A cossetted, privileged type who nevertheless recognises their own failings as people who want to write what they know… but know nothing. And so they force experience. They steal cars. They shoplift. They play chicken on the motorway. Idiots, basically, trying to justify their so-called lives and their so-called fiction. When they start getting picked off, one by one, by an unseen and unknown killer they quickly go to pieces despite this obviously being quality grist for the mill. You wonder if a writer from an earlier time –  Graham Greene, Ernest Hemingway, Harper Lee – might have turned such an experience into gripping material. But not the Accelerants. This kind of pressure can only have one outcome.

In Hell is Empty, Joel finds himself up against a person who he thought was a friend, but is in fact a gun for hire. Joel is also digging into a cold case from the 1980s, concerning a killer who pushed construction workers to their deaths as the skyscrapers they built scratched at the London sky and blocked out the light for those living below. It was interesting to press Joel into situations such as this to see how he reacted, but also for him to have to deal with the fallout of besting people who – but for a moment of greed or bad judgment or desperation – find themselves doing questionable acts with deadly consequences. Capering in the background of the three novels is someone much worse than all of these characters, the kind of cartoon villain readers perhaps feel more comfortable with. He has no redeeming features whatsoever. He commits atrocities. I felt the narrative arc needed this, at the end – a classic good versus bad scrap – white versus black, after so many pages of what I hope is seen as subtle grey shading.


Thanks for such a great post, Conrad.  I’m even more excited about reading Sonata of the Dead and Hell is Empty now.  Sounds like Joel is getting in even more trouble than he did in the first book of the series!  Keep an eye out for reviews of both books coming your way soon.

Hell is Empty was published in the UK by Titan Books on 29th November 2016 and is available in paperback and eBook formats | amazon.co.uk | amazon.com | Goodreads | Titan Books |


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Conrad Williams was born in 1969. He is the author of seven novels (HEAD INJURIES, LONDON REVENANT, THE UNBLEMISHED, ONE, DECAY INEVITABLE, LOSS OF SEPARATION and DUST AND DESIRE), four novellas (NEARLY PEOPLE, GAME, THE SCALDING ROOMS and RAIN) and two collections of short stories (USE ONCE THEN DESTROY and BORN WITH TEETH). He has won two major prizes for his novels. ONE was the winner of the August Derleth award for Best Novel, (British Fantasy Awards 2010), while THE UNBLEMISHED won the International Horror Guild Award for Best Novel in 2007 (he beat the shortlisted Stephen King on both occasions). He won the British Fantasy Award for Best Newcomer in 1993. He won another British Fantasy Award, for Best Novella (THE SCALDING ROOMS) in 2008. In 2009 he was Guest of Honour at the World Horror Convention. He edited the anthologies GUTSHOT, which was shortlisted for both the British Fantasy and World Fantasy Awards, and DEAD LETTERS (forthcoming from Titan Books). He is an associate lecturer at Edge Hill University.

He lives in Manchester, UK, with his wife, three sons and a monster Maine Coon.

Author Links:Website | Twitter |


#BookReview: His First Lie by Mark Hill (@markhillwriter) @TheCrimeVault #HisFirstLie

his first lie.jpg“One night changed their lives

Thirty years ago, the Longacre Children’s Home stood on a London street where once-grand Victorian homes lay derelict. There its children lived in terror of Gordon Tallis, the home’s manager.

Cries in the fire and smoke

Then Connor Laird arrived: a frighteningly intense boy who quickly became Tallis’ favourite criminal helper. Soon after, destruction befell the Longacre, and the facts of that night have lain buried . . . until today.

A truth both must hide

Now, a mysterious figure, the Two O’Clock Boy, is killing all who grew up there, one by one. DI Ray Drake will do whatever it take to stop the murders – but he will go even further to cover up the truth.”

When I first heard about this book, I knew that I had to read it.  Not only is the author, Mark Hill, a brilliant book blogger (well, once upon a time before he wrote a cracking novel!) but oh my gosh, THAT blurb!  That blurb feels like it was written for me.  There was also a fabulous .gif doing the rounds, which caught my eye too (I do love a .gif).  I felt this book was destined for my TBR.

DI Ray Drake’s past is coming back to haunt him.  People he knew as a child are being horrifically killed along with their partners and children.  It can’t be something to do with Ray though, can it?  Whilst investigating the murder of ex-associate, Kenny, it comes to light that he was in the process of writing his memoirs, an exposé of his time at the ill fated Longacre children’s home.  DI Drake is only supervising the case though, newly promoted DS Flick Crowley is in charge and Ray is determined that his secret will never see the light of day.  And he’s prepared to do whatever it takes…

From the opening chapters you feel that there is something….amiss about DI Ray Drake. There is no reason to dislike this man but you can feel he has deeply buried secrets and boy, you want to know what they are!  He gets under your skin.  Then he starts to behave inappropriately for a DI and your brain goes into overdrive; ‘what is going on with this fella?’ you find yourself asking.  He is a brilliantly written character and I take my hat off to Mark Hill.  I became quite obsessed with trying to work out what was going on with Ray, what his thing was and maybe even a little obsessed with Ray, himself!

DS Flick Crowley didn’t have the same draw as DI Drake did for me.  I liked her, and I can see her being a favourite of many other readers, but I think I was so totally smitten with DI Drake that Flick wasn’t really on my radar.  I hope there is a second book as she may be one of those characters that, for me, needs time to grow and develop.  There were two other characters in His First Lie who won my heart; Elliot and Connor.  Connor is a complete enigma, the cool kid at the home who beats up the bullies but stands up and says I was wrong when the moment requires.  And the bully turned family man, Elliot.  How I absolutely loved Elliot.

The plot is very clever.  This book felt fresh to me; something different that I haven’t encountered before.  There’s not a lot else I can say about the plot without giving away spoilers but just let me say that it’s quite an intricate storyline.  I’m afraid I managed to work out who the killer was but it’s a habit of mine now to look for the killer (I really need to stop doing this and just enjoy the book!).  It didn’t spoil my enjoyment of the rest of the book and to be honest, there are much bigger twists than the reveal of the killer for the reader to concentrate on.

Would I recommend this book?  I most definitely would.  In fact, this is a book that all crime fiction fans should read as it’s quite different to other detective novels.  Not only do you have a cracking whodunit story but you also have a cast of brilliantly written characters that make reading this book a joy.  I was so captivated with what Ray’s secret could be and oh my, it’s a corker!  And to think this a debut – I can’t wait to see what else Mark Hill has in store for us.

Four and a half stars out of five.

I chose to read and review an ARC of His First Lie.

His First Lie by Mark Hill was published in the UK by Sphere on 22nd September 2016 and is available in paperback, eBook and audio formats | amazon.co.uk | amazon.com | Waterstones | Goodreads | Sphere Books |

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Mark Hill is a London-based full-time writer of novels and scripts. Formerly he was a journalist and a producer at BBC Radio 2 across a range of major daytime shows and projects. He has won two Sony Gold Awards.

Author Links: Website | Twitter | Facebook |



#BlogTour | #BookReview: Frailty by Betsy Reavley (@BetsyReavley) @BloodhoundBook

51uuj5m9qcl-_sx358_bo1204203200_How far would you go to protect your family?

Danny and Libby are about to face every parent’s worst nightmare.

When eight-year-old Hope Bird disappears without a trace, from the idyllic village where she lives, life for her family will never be the same again. Her parents know she would never have gone off alone and the police have no idea where she is. Then a child’s shoe is discovered and the case takes an unexpected turn. Soon a suspect is identified but this is only the beginning.

Will they ever find Hope?”

I am absolutely delighted to welcome you to my stop on Betsy Reavley’s Frailty blog tour.  I was thrilled to be one of the first readers to experience Betsy’s phenomenal last book, The Optician’s Wife in it’s early days.  You can read my review of TOW by clicking here.  Easily one of my books of the year!  Like The Optician’s Wife, Frailty is a standalone psychological thriller and the fifth novel from the pen of Ms Reavley.  I am over the moon to have both Carrion and The Quiet Ones on the #terrifyingTBR which I can’t wait to read as I am such a fan of Betsy’s writing (Frailty has only increased my level of ‘fangirling’).

The Bird family are your average, everyday, normal family.  That is until 8 year old Hope is kidnapped on her way back from the shops one summer’s day.  Her parents, Libby and Danny, are devastated, their lives turned upside down and younger sister, Gracie is left heartbroken and confused.  There are no ransom demands, no clues, nothing for the police to investigate.  That is until one of Hope’s shoes turns up in a bin.  The shoe leads the police to a suspect, someone they’ve had on their radar but no concrete evidence to go on before now.  But is he Hope’s kidnapper?  Danny certainly thinks so and he’ll do whatever it takes to protect his family and get his daughter home…

Betsy Reavley says in the acknowledgements of Frailty that it was the hardest book to write.  I can understand what she means.  As a mother of two, this for me was a difficult book to read.  The subject matter is a tough one.  You can’t help but think, no matter how fleetingly, how you would feel if it was your child that had gone missing.  It’s heartbreaking stuff, particularly as every so often you reach a chapter written from Hope’s point of view.  It will pull on your heartstrings and turn you to mush!  You have been warned.

I found it hard to warm to Danny but I liked and could easily relate to Libby.  Libby and Danny’s search for their daughter was a difficult read and I felt a little bogged down by the emotionally intense chapters.  Had the book only been about their search for Hope then I’m not sure I would have made it to the end.  But I knew with Betsy Reavley at the helm, there would be an almighty twist coming.  And there was!

The last half of this book made it for me.  The decision Danny makes, the completely unexpected outcome….absolutely brilliant.  The book picked up a great pace and I was completely absorbed.  I will say, however, by the time I was two thirds through, I had worked out who had taken Hope (I’m putting this down to my overly suspicious nature and the fact that I live and breathe crime novels; Frailty is not an obvious story and the reveal is quite astounding).

Would I recommend this book?  I would but prepare yourself for a tough read.  My heart ached for Hope. But I felt particularly sad and sorry for her sister Gracie, who seemed to be pushed to one side throughout (I have a Gracie myself, that may be the reason!).  Great twists and I loved the way the story built to that massive ‘Reavley twist’.  Looking forward to reading more from this author soon.

Four out of five stars.

Frailty by Betsy Reavley was published in the UK by Bloodhound Books on 15th November 2016 and is available in paperback and eBook formats | amazon.co.uk | amazon.com | Waterstones | Goodreads | Bloodhound Books |


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7730760Author of  The Quiet Ones, The Optician’s WifeCarrionBeneath the Watery Moon and the poetry collection The Worm in the Bottle. Betsy was born in Hammersmith, London.

As a child she moved around frequently with her family, spending time in London, Provence, Tuscany, Gloucestershire and Cambridgeshire.

She showed a flair for literature and writing from a young age and had a particular interest in poetry, of which she was a prolific consumer and producer.

In her early twenties she moved to Oxford, where she would eventually meet her husband. During her time in Oxford her interests turned from poetry to novels and she began to develop her own unique style of psychological thriller.

Betsy says “I believe people are at their most fascinating when they are faced by the dark side of life. This is what I like to write about.”

Betsy Reavley currently lives in London, with her husband, 2 children, dog, cat and chickens.

Author Links: Twitter | Facebook | Goodreads | Website |

#TBConFB 20/20 Bloggers Event

This week has been quite a biggie for some of us book bloggers who are also members of the Facebook book group, THE Book Club (aka #TBConFB).  #TBConFB admin invited book bloggers to present their all time favourite 20 books over the course of 4 days.  I’m rubbish at maths but as a result (scratching my head, using my fingers to count…) 20 bloggers, times 20 books equals 400 book recommendations!  That’s quite a feat, even if I do say so myself.  I (thankfully) ended up in the crime category but, as I was a last minute stand-in, I felt I could veer away from my genre a little to include psychological thrillers.  If there was a crime committed, then in my opinion, it counted!

So, here we go!  These are my all time favourite ‘crime’ books to date.  They are in no particular order and I have decided that, as we’re all intelligent people and are able to use amazon, that I won’t include the purchase links this time around.  If however you would like to look at one of my books in more detail but can’t find it, then please let me know.

lMessiah by Boris Starling
Crime, Mystery
Wealthy men are being brutally murdered and left with a silver spoon in place of their tongue.  Tortured DCI, Red Metcalfe in on the case.  Will Red be able to fight his own demons whilst facing the most evil killer he has ever encountered.

I love a serial killer thriller and this is a spectacular one!  The bodies are posed in a macabre and gory fashion.  There’s so much blood, it’s a brilliant page-turner from start to finish.  If it sounds familiar, that’s because it was made into a serial television drama series a number of years ago.  My very favourite book.


mLove You to Death (DS Ruby Preston #1) by Caroline Mitchell
Police Procedural, Crime thriller
Woman are being taken from their homes, only to turn up a few days later very dead and posed in strange positions.  The lead detective DS Ruby Preston starts to receive emails from the killer who calls herself Lucy.  Why is Lucy contacting Ruby, and why is she claiming to be her long lost daughter?

There are quite a few of us readers who are already very smitten with Caroline Mitchell’s latest creation, myself included!  There’s something about Caroline’s writing, about the characters and their relationships in this book that is highly addictive.  More DS Preston please!


oOne by One (Robert Hunter #5) by Chris Carter
Crime thriller
Detective Robert Hunter of the LAPD Homicide division is invited to watch a special show online.  One where he needs to make the decisions.  Whatever decision he makes, someone is going to be brutally tortured and killed.  Before long, the viewing public get to have their say as well.

This is another book that fulfils my need to read about dark twisted serial killers.  This is the first of the Robert Hunter series that I read, but I have since gone back to the start and read them all (and those that came after book 5).  Chris Carter’s books are sublime.  I always smile when someone asks for crime or thriller recommendations on TBC.  Chris Carter is ALWAYS mentioned.  Normally more than once.


pWhite Bones (Katie Maguire 1#) by Graham Masterton
Mystery, Police Procedural
In an Irish field, in deepest darkest November 11 bodies are discovered.  All female, all remains bearing the marks of an expert butcher.  Before long it’s discovered the remains date from the early 1900s.  But then a young woman goes missing and her remains are found stripped of flesh and arranged on the same burial site.  DS Katie Maguire is on the case trying to solve a decades old murder investigation, in order to stop a killer from striking again.

This book is seriously gory (which I love!).  Graham Masterton is primarily a horror writer who has expertly turned his hand to crime fiction.  I adore his lead protagonist in this series.  Katie Maguire is the kind of detective I would want to be.


nAnd Then There Were None by Agatha Christie
A group of 10 strangers are lured to an island off the Devon coast by Mr. U. N. Owen.  Over dinner a recording of their host’s voice is played, each dinner guest is accused of hiding a guilty secret.  That evening one of the guests is found murdered.  Suspicion runs high as realisation hits home, the killer is amongst them and they’re ready to kill again.  There is no escape…

You can’t have a list of 20 favourite crime titles without including the Queen of Crime, surely!  This is by far my favourite of her novels.  You can feel the fear and the isolation as the island guests are killed off, one by one.  Who will be next?  And who is the killer?  Brilliantly tense, just love it!


aAlex by Pierre Lematire (Brigade Criminelle Series #2)
Crime Mystery Thriller
Commandant Camille Verhoeven and his detectives have nothing to go on: no suspect, no lead, rapidly diminishing hope. All they know is that a girl was snatched off the streets of Paris and bundled into a white van. The enigma that is the fate of Alex will keep Verhoeven guessing until the bitter, bitter end. And before long, saving her life will be the least of his worries.

Full of twists and turns, and incredibly clever.  This is another of my choices that’s a little on the violent side but it’s oh so good!  I walked past a bookshop and they had a quote from this book on the blackboard outside.  There was no way I was going to walk past that shop without finding out what the book was.  Hooked before I even knew what the title was!


41lslkcpql-_sx324_bo1204203200_.jpgA Suitable Lie by Michael J. Malone
Crime, psychological thriller, domestic noir
Andy Boyd thinks he is the luckiest man alive. Widowed with a young child, after his wife dies in childbirth, he is certain that he will never again experience true love. Then he meets Anna. Feisty, fun and beautiful, she’s his perfect match… And she loves his son, too. When Andy ends up in the hospital on his wedding night, he receives his first clue that Anna is not all that she seems. He ignores it; a dangerous mistake that could cost him everything.

This is my book of 2016!  If you buy one book after reading all 400 reviews then please, please, please make it this one.  You will experience every emotion under the sun whilst reading about Andy and Anna.  How Michael Malone has managed such a feat I don’t know but it’s a sublime read and one that you cannot miss out on!


cThe Tokyo Zodiac Murders by Soji Shimada
Crime, Mystery
Japan, 1936. An old eccentric artist living with seven women has been found dead- in a room locked from the inside. His diaries reveal alchemy, astrology and a complicated plan to kill all seven women. Shortly afterwards, the plan is carried out: the women are found dismembered and buried across rural Japan. By 1979, these Tokyo Zodiac Murders have been obsessing a nation for decades, but remain unsolved. A mystery-obsessed illustrator and a talented astrologer set off around the country carrying the enigma of the Zodiac murderer through madness, missed leads and magic tricks. You have all the clues, but can you solve the mystery before they do?

If you love a good crime mystery, then read this book.  A locked room with a dead body; how did the killer get in, commit the crime and get away without being seen or leaving footprints in the snow?  You have all the clues, can you solve it before the reveal?  I have a real soft spot for Japanese crime fiction and this is a good example of why I love it so much.


dThe Girl in the Ice by Robert Bryndza (Detective Erika Foster #1)
Crime, Police Procedural
The body of a young woman is found trapped beneath a thick sheet of ice in a London park.  Detective Erika Foster is tasked with finding the killer.  Could the death of this young socialite be linked to the deaths of three prostitutes?

This for me is the perfect crime thriller.  I adore Erika Foster (total girl crush) and Robert’s writing is exemplary.  I was hooked from the opening chapter to the very end.  An outstanding start to a brilliant new series; not to be missed!


eThe Kind Worth Killing by Peter Swanson
Crime, Thriller
A chance encounter at the airport leads two strangers to plotting another’s death.  But they’re not serious, are they?  Maybe they are…and maybe they’re not the only ones!

This one may not fit as snuggly into the crime genre as my other choices but hey, I had to include it!  I love the twists and turns of this book.  There’s an almighty twist somewhere within (won’t say where) that left me breathless.  A sublime piece of suspenseful writing.



1Flowers for the Dead by Barbara Copperthwaite
Crime, Thriller
Adam will do anything to make you happy, even if it kills you.  Adam is a serial killer who wants to be your knight in shining armour.  But things don’t always go so well and he ends up killing his new beau and cutting off her lips.

This book should be renamed ‘How to fall in love with a serial killer’.  The amount of empathy you end up feeling for Adam is quite astounding.  You know you shouldn’t but you do.  An absolutely brilliant read and the book I would want to write (if I were talented enough to write a book) #TeamAdam


2A Tapping at my Door by David Jackson (DS Nathan Cody #1)
Police Procedural, Crime thriller
A woman at home on her own late one evening is disturbed by a persistent tapping at the back door.  She tries to ignore it but can’t.  Discovering the culprit is a raven only adds to her unease.  She opens the back door to shoo the bird away, only for her killer to strike.  There are no helpful clues, only the body of the bird and the victim’s eyes.

Quite possibly the creepiest opening to a crime novel that I have ever read.  It feels like a horror film, you don’t want to look, but you do anyway.  DS Cody is a fantastic character and the unusual twist to the plot had me hooked.


3Melody Bittersweet and the Girls ‘ Ghostbusting Agency by Kitty French
Cosy Crime Mystery
When Melody “I-See-Dead-People” Bittersweet wakes up jobless and alone on her twenty-seventh birthday, she realises she can’t leave her life in the hands of her magic eight ball any longer. She starts her very own ghostbusting agency with best friend Marina, geeky, keen Arthur, and, of course, a one-eared pug called Lestat.  But the team’s very first job at the vast, gothic Scarborough House puts them in direct competition with Melody’s ex, the rakish, despicable Leo Dark.  The house is haunted by three eccentric brothers.  Whoever solves the crime and gets rid of the ghosts gets paid.

OK, so if you’ve read my other recommendations then you’ll realise that this is a little different to the rest.  It’s almost chick-lit cosy crime but it’s so good and was the perfect read for me at the right time.  I was laughing aloud at Melody’s crazy antics with her hapless but lovable friends.  Brilliant comedy writing.  Oh, and the blurb mentions the word ‘murder’ so I’m allowed to include it (and love it!)


4Dust and Desire by Conrad Williams (Joel Sorrell #1)
Crime thriller
Whilst working a missing persons case, an attempt is made on PI Joel Sorrell’s life.  There’s a sadistic serial killer on the loose and it’s down to Joel to find them.  Could there be a connection to Joel’s own hellish past?

I loved that the protagonist of this book was a PI rather than the usual detectives I read about.  And it’s funny, in a dark humour kind of way!  Different to my usual reads but I was an instant fan of Joel Sorrell.  Books 2 and 3 in the series have been published and I can’t WAIT to read them!


5Pop Goes the Weasel by M. J. Arlidge (DI Helen Grace #2)
Crime thriller
A man’s body is found in an empty house. His heart has been cut out and delivered to his wife and children.  The media call it Jack the Ripper in reverse: a serial killer preying on family men who lead hidden double lives.  Helen can sense the fury behind the murders. But what she cannot possibly predict is how volatile this killer is – or what is waiting for her at the end of the chase…

I just LOVE Helen Grace.  I’m such a fan of the damaged, emotionally scarred detective and Helen Grace is queen of them all.  This is my favourite read in the series so far, but they are all as equally good as each other.


iiThe Killing Game by J.S. Carol
Crime thriller
Imagine you are having lunch at an exclusive restaurant, filled with Hollywood’s hottest stars.  And a masked gunman walks in and takes everyone hostage.  You must bargain for your life against a twisted individual who knows everything about you. He also has a bomb set to detonate if his heart rate changes.  If he dies. You die.  You have four hours to stay alive.  What would you do?

This is such an exciting read, real edge of your seat stuff.  I was so completely immersed in the story that normal life was put on hold around me.  Once again, it’s a little on the violent side but that’s probably why I love it as much as I do.  I’m a huge fan of J.S. Carol’s books but this is my absolute favourite.


iStalkers by Paul Finch (DS Mark Heckenburg #1)
Crime thriller, police procedural
Desperate to find her missing sister, Lauren Wraxford seeks out Heck’s help. Together they enter a seedy underworld of gangsters and organised crime.  But when they hear rumours about the so-called ‘Nice Guys Club’ they it a brick wall. They’re the gang that no one will talk about. Because the Nice Guys can arrange anything you want. Provided you pay the price…

An absolutely brilliant, if somewhat disturbing, original plot.  Brilliantly written characters, particularly lead protagonist Mark ‘Heck’ Heckenburg.  I read this a few years ago and can remember the book like it was only yesterday!


iiiThe Optician’s Wife by Betsy Reavley
Crime, Psychological thriller
When Deborah, an unpopular seventeen-year-old, meets the charming and handsome Larry, he sweeps her off her feet. The trouble is Larry has a secret.  Then a series of grisly murders cast a shadow over everything.  As Deborah’s world starts to fall apart she begins to suspect the man she loves of a terrible betrayal. And to keep their marriage alive, sacrifices must be made.

I was completely blown away by Betsy Reavley’s writing in this book.  Seriously scary stuff and a little on the gory side too (which isn’t a bad thing in my book!).  A brilliant read with a killer twist.  Can’t say too much about this one, otherwise I’ll end up dishing out spoilers and no one wants that!


ivThe Sister by Louise Jensen
Crime, psychological thriller
Grace hasn’t been the same since the death of her best friend Charlie. She is haunted by Charlie’s last words, and in a bid for answers, opens an old memory box of Charlie’s. It soon becomes clear there was a lot she didn’t know about her best friend.  When Grace starts a campaign to find Charlie’s father, Anna, a girl claiming to be Charlie’s sister steps forward. For Grace, finding Anna is like finding a new family, and soon Anna has made herself very comfortable in Grace and boyfriend Dan’s home.  But something isn’t right. Things disappear, Dan’s acting strangely and Grace is sure that someone is following her. Is it all in Grace’s mind? Or as she gets closer to discovering the truth about both Charlie and Anna, is Grace in terrible danger?

A truly stunning debut!  Edge of your seat stuff with a brilliant twist that I didn’t see coming.  Louise Jensen’s writing sucked me into the story and as a result this one rides high on my ATF list.


vValentina by S.E. Lynes
Crime, psychological thriller
When Glasgow journalist Shona McGilvery moves with her partner Mikey and their baby to an idyllic cottage in rural Scotland, they believe that all that lies ahead of them is happiness.  But with Mikey working offshore, the frightening isolation of the Aberdeenshire countryside begins to drive her insane…That is, until she is rescued by a new friendship with the enchanting Valentina.  She has the perfect home, the perfect man, and a charismatic new best friend – or does she?  As her fairytale life begins to unravel, the deep dark wood becomes the least of her fears…

An absolutely exquisite read which sent chills down my spine.  This is another debut that completely blew me away!  I can’t wait to see what else Susie Lynes has in store for us.  Sublime!


So there we have it, my 20 all time favourite books.  Some recent, some not so recent (can I just add that it’s very hard to remember why you loved a book which you read 8+ years ago and waaaaay before you started reviewing/blogging!).

What do you think?  Do you agree?  Do you disagree?  Have any of the above books made you shudder by my mentioning them?  I’d love to know!

If you’re a book addict and would like to join #TBConFB then find Charlie Fenton on Facebook (you’ll recognise him, he’s yellow!) and add him as a friend.  He’ll then add you to the group.

@michaelJmalone1’s Turning Tables feature with @damppebbles

I am honoured to be the latest blogger to feature on author Michael J. Malone’s Turning Tables blogger Q&A. To read my interview please click here.

Michael’s latest release A Suitable Lie is my book of 2016. To read my five star review (and for the purchase links), please click here.

My thanks to Michael for inviting me to be a part of this feature (and an extra big thank you for being one of the very few people to get the name of my blog right! 😉)

#BookReview: HEX by Thomas Olde Heuvelt (@Thomas_Novelist) trs Nancy Forest-Flier @hodderscape

Hex-by-Thomas-Olde-Heuvelt-CoverThe greats of fiction Stephen King and George R. R. Martin lead the fanfare for HEX, so be assured that Thomas Olde Heuvelt’s debut English novel is both terrifying and unputdownable in equal measure.

“Whoever is born here, is doomed to stay until death. Whoever comes to stay, never leaves.

Welcome to Black Spring, the seemingly picturesque Hudson Valley town haunted by the Black Rock Witch, a seventeenth-century woman whose eyes and mouth are sewn shut. Blind and silenced, she walks the streets and enters homes at will. She stands next to children’s beds for nights on end. So accustomed to her have the townsfolk become that they often forget she’s there. Or what a threat she poses. Because if the stitches are ever cut open, the story goes, the whole town will die.

The curse must not be allowed to spread. The elders of Black Spring have used high-tech surveillance to quarantine the town. Frustrated with being kept in lockdown, the town’s teenagers decide to break the strict regulations and go viral with the haunting. But, in so doing, they send the town spiraling into a dark nightmare.”

OK, I’ll admit it, I was starting to feel in need of a bookish change.  As regular visitors to the blog will know, I am an avid crime fiction reader with quite a few psychological thrillers thrown in there for good measure.  The books I have read recently have all been brilliant, but I needed something …different.  It doesn’t happen often but when it does, I tend turn my attention to horror novels.  I had completely forgotten I had this on the TBR!  When it was first published in April 2016 I was so excited about it but wasn’t lucky enough to get a copy then.  Thankfully the lovely Hodderscape people didn’t leave me waiting too long but by that point, I was deeply immersed in my Summer blog tour reading.  Only now am I starting to choose what to read again and this one lept out at my from my Kindle screen.

Just to prove how excited I was about this book when it first came out, I downloaded the first 10 chapters from NetGalley and reviewed them on the blog back in February.  If you click here you can read that review.  See?  I was really keen!  (In my defence, it was only my second month as a book blogger, I was still refining my art!).  As so much time had passed between those first 10 chapters and now I decided to start reading at the very beginning.  I was amazed at how easily I remembered the characters and what was going to happen next, testament to a good book.

I flew through those first chapters and eagerly anticipated the arrival of chapter 11.  So I guess the question is, was it worth the wait?  It was.  This book somehow managed to garner a strange hold over me.  I wasn’t as blown away by the witches antics as I expected to be but that didn’t stop this book being in my thoughts constantly, from the moment I woke up to the moment I fell asleep (thankfully it didn’t make it into my dreams!).  It has a certain pull.  There are some very shocking moments but they are well paced making the build of tension and the imminent sense of foreboding quite exquisite.

I read this one slowly, savouring the pictures being painted by the author and enjoying every moment.  It’s so very emotional, something I didn’t expect at all.  Now that I’ve finished the book and taken a few moments to compose myself, it’s become blatantly clear this is book isn’t really about a witch.  It’s about a small community that has to stare death in the face every moment of every day.  How they struggle to keep the madness of their predicament at bay and how when the times comes, they turn their backs on everyone else, even their loved ones.

I heartily recommend this book.  I think it will stay with me for some time and may even be one of the few that I revisit again in the future.

Five out of five stars

I chose to read and review an ARC of HEX.

HEX by Thomas Olde Heuvelt was published in the UK by HodderScape in April 2016 and is available in hardcover, paperback, eBook and audiobook formats | amazon.co.uk | Waterstones | Goodreads | hodderscape |

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thomas-oldeDutch novelist Thomas Olde Heuvelt is the author of five novels and many short stories of the fantastic. His short fiction has appeared in English, Dutch and Chinese, among other languages. He has been awarded the Harland Award (for best Dutch fantasy) on three occasions, and was nominated for both the Hugo Award and the World Fantasy Award.

Olde Heuvelt wrote his debut novel at the age of sixteen. He studied English Language and American Literature in his hometown of Nijmegen and at the University of Ottawa in Canada. Since then, he has become a bestselling author in The Netherlands and Belgium. He calls Roald Dahl and Stephen King the literary heroes of his childhood, who created in him a love for dark fiction.

HEX is Olde Heuvelt’s worldwide debut. Warner Bros. is currently developing a TV series based on the book.

Author Links: | Twitter | Website |


#BookReview: My Husband’s Son by Deborah O’Connor (@deboc77) @BonnierZaffre

6159lmdigml-_sx323_bo1204203200_You’d always recognise your own son. Wouldn’t you?

Heidi and Jason aren’t like other couples.

Six years ago, Heidi’s daughter was murdered. A year later, Jason’s son Barney disappeared. Their shared loss brought them together.

By chance, Heidi meets a boy she’s certain is Barney.

But Jason is equally convinced it’s not him.

Is Heidi mad? Or is Jason hiding something? And can their fragile marriage survive Heidi’s newfound quest for the truth . . “

Back in June 2016 I was thrilled to join the blog tour for this fabulous book.  At the time I was a little snowed under with reviews (erm…OK, I still am!) so featured an incredible guest post from author, Deborah O’Connor.  That guest post, to this day, is the most visited page on damppebbles.  If you would like a reminder of how brilliant it is, or if you missed it the first time round, please click here.

Heidi and Jason are a couple brought together by grief and by the loss of their children. Heidi’s daughter, Lauren was snatched from outside their holiday home and brutally murdered.  One year later, Jason’s son, Barney is taken whilst out with his mum.  Lauren’s body was discovered, Barney has never been found.  Five years later, Heidi sees a child who she is convinced is Barney.  She’s so sure that she takes Jason to the place where she saw him so he can see for himself.  But he’s not so sure.  Surely he would know his own son, get some sort of…’feeling’.  But he doesn’t.  The child is not Barney.  Heidi however is convinced, making it her mission to find out the truth.  But even with the best intentions, will she be able to cope with everything she discovers…?


I’ve been so busy reading for blog tours over the last few months that I’m afraid this book, despite my strong desire to read it, was put to one side.  Everytime I opened my Kindle, there it was, begging me to read it.  So by the time I found a spare 10 hours (I’m a slow reader) to read My Husband’s Son my expectations were unusually high.  But I wasn’t the slightest bit disappointed.  It’s a brilliantly written, eerie psychological thriller that I thoroughly enjoyed!

Jason and Heidi have a strange relationship which made me feel a little uncomfortable.  It felt at times more of a marriage of convenience than one built on love.  A case of ‘Oh, this person understands what I’m going through, they’ll do!’.  I found it hard to warm to both characters, although I will say that I loved Heidi’s determination towards her cause.  Despite being told countless times that she was wrong there was no way she was going to stop looking for Barney.

The other predominant relationship in the book was the one between Tommy and Heidi and boy, did it made my skin crawl!  I was repulsed by Tommy and the invisible hold he seemed to have over Heidi.  I wanted her to run as far away from him as possible and his revolting lecherous ways.  Brilliant writing from Ms O’Connor, it’s not often that this level of disgust is raised within me by one character!

You may have read other reviews that mention a big twist as you approach the end of the book.  You may have also seen reviewers say that they had to go back and read the final chapters a second time.  Well, I can tell you, it’s a corker of a twist and testament once again to the incredible writing and storytelling prowess of Deborah O’Connor.  I was struggling to see how the book was going to end so the reveal knocked my socks off!

Would I recommend this book?  If you’re in the mood for an eerie, heart pounding psychological thriller then make a beeline for My Husband’s Son.  I really enjoyed it and would read more from Ms O’Connor in a heartbeat.  And can you really bear to miss out on THAT twist…?

Four out of five stars.

I chose to read and review an ARC of My Husband’s Son.

My Husband’s Son by Deborah O’Connor was published in the UK by Twenty7 on 6th October 2016 and is available in paperback and eBook formats | amazon.co.uk | amazon.com | Waterstones | Goodreads | Twenty7Books |

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Deborah O’Connor is a writer and TV producer. Born and bred in the North-East of England, in 2010 she completed the Faber Academy novel writing course. She lives in London with her husband and daughter.

Author Links:Twitter | Website | Goodreads | Facebook |


#BookReview: Dead in the Water by Matt Costello (@katonahprod) & Neil Richards (@neilmustard)

The Cherringham Mystery Novels (Book #1)

5174oyx4bl“On the night of the school prom, a young teacher is found dead in the Thames in a drug-related accident. It seems – at first – to be another sign that Cherringham High is spiralling out of control. The new head however is convinced that the teacher’s death is suspicious and quietly calls in Sarah Edwards.

With her one-time detective partner, Jack Brennan, back in America, Sarah is at first reluctant to take on the case. But when she does get involved, it soon becomes clear that the tragic accident might really be a case of murder – and even Sarah herself could be in danger …

“Dead in the Water” is the first full-length novel set in the sleepy English village of Cherringham, featuring the unlikely sleuthing duo Sarah, an English web designer, and Jack, American ex-cop. Thrilling and deadly – but with a spot of tea – it’s like Rosamunde Pilcher meets Inspector Barnaby.”

Now some of you may be wondering whether you’ve arrived at the right blog. Damppebbles and cosy mysteries…?!  Surely not!  Regular visitors will know that I am a fan of blood, guts and gore, and lots of it.  So to find me reviewing a cosy mystery may come as a surprise.  I think those of us that stick mainly to the one genre (in my case, crime and thriller) should explore as many of the sub-genres within as possible.  I’ve mentioned before how, every so often, I like to read historical crime novels as a treat.  Well, from now on, I’m going to treat myself to the odd cosy mystery too as I very much enjoyed the adventures of Sarah and Jack.

The end of the school year is a time for celebration.  A prom maybe?  Followed by a rather loud and lively night in the local pub, present are a mix of teachers and senior students.  All making the most of the time they have together.  But for one teacher, that time is shorter than he thinks.  Full of drink and drugs, Josh Owen’s body is found later that night following a tumble from Cherringham’s idyllic stone bridge, into the freezing Thames.  Was it an accident?  Did Josh commit suicide?  Or was it something more sinister?  Amateur sleuth, Sarah Edwards, a local web designer with a history of solving difficult criminal cases with her ex-cop partner, Jack Brennan, is called in to investigate.  But Sarah is on her own this time.  Jack returned to the US a year ago and Sarah hasn’t heard from him recently.  Can she use her detective skills to work out what happened to Josh?  Is the school’s drug problem bigger than she originally thought?  Has Sarah managed to get herself in too deep…?

I’ll openly admit to being a huge fan of the TV show Midsomer Murders.  I cried a little when John Nettles left but soon fell completely in love with Neil Dudgeon’s Barnaby.  Being such a fan of the series, I have tried to read Caroline Graham’s original novels but strangely, I didn’t really enjoy them as much as I expected.  Midsomer Murders is one series (and please forgive me for saying this booky people) where the tv adaptation, in my eyes, is far superior.  Anyway, get to the point Emma!  The point being, that you cannot move for comparisons between Midsomer and Cherringham on the web.  But Cherringham stands alone (and stands strong!) and I really enjoyed it.  What I’m trying to say in a very round-about way is that this book (or rather this series) feels like the perfect read for fans of that cosy style of village crime series.  And having read Dead in the Water I would always recommend Cherringham above others.

For those not familiar with the series, co-authors Matthew Costello and Neil Richards have written 24 short eBook novellas featuring Sarah Edwards and Jack Brennan.  Dead in the Water is their first full length novel and I thoroughly enjoyed it.  I’m adding all 24 eBooks to my wishlist as there was something so wonderfully endearing and engaging about these characters that I need to read more.  The plot wasn’t the usual thrill a minute I crave in my other reads but it was very well written and to be honest, I went in expecting a cosy mystery and that was what I got…I just enjoyed it more than I expected too!

I enjoyed the plot; the search for what really happened to Josh Owens and the sub plot of the drugs epidemic at the local school.  I did realise fairly early on ‘whodunit’ with regards to Josh’s demise but that certainly didn’t spoil my enjoyment of the rest of the novel as I was caught up in the hunt for the drugs lord.

Would I recommend this book?  I would!  It has a wonderful gentleness about it that I know will appeal to many people.  If you don’t normally read crime but would like to start, this would be a good series to start with.  Very enjoyable, wonderful characters with lots of heart and a beautiful Cotswold setting (just down the road from me!).

Four out of five stars.

I chose to read and review an ARC of Dead in the Water.  Many thanks to Sophie Goodfellow at edpr.

Dead in the Water by Matthew Costello and Neil Richards was published in the UK by BAstei Entertainment on 10th October 2016 and is available in eBook format | amazon.co.uk | amazon.com | Goodreads |

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matt-and-neil-1Co-authors Neil Richards (based in the UK) and Matthew Costello (based in the US) have been writing together since the mid 90’s, creating content and working on projects for the BBC, Disney Channel, Sony, ABC, Eidos and Nintendo to name but a few. Their transatlantic collaboration has underpinned scores of TV drama scripts, computer games, radio shows, and – most recently – the successful crime fiction series Cherringham. After 24 novellas, Cherringham is popular around the world, and has been adapted into a series of audiobooks read by Neil Dudgeon, of Midsomer Murder fame.

Author Links:Neil on Twitter | Matthew on Twitter |

#BookReview: Death Note by Caroline Mitchell (@Caroline_writes) @bookouture

death note.jpg“Twenty years ago you were forced to give your daughter up. Now she’s back. Or is she?

Women who’ve had to give up children for adoption are being killed. A knock at their front door begins a nightmare from which they will never wake up.

East London Detective Ruby Preston and her team must hunt down a disturbed individual before someone else is taken. But when bodies start turning up, staged in perfect, domestic scenes, it carries the echo of a memory in Ruby’s mind. The tinkling of a music box. A mother and child reunion…

Then just as Ruby thinks they’ve made a breakthrough, she receives a sinister email, and the case takes a terrifying personal twist. 

Can Ruby catch the killer before they strike again? Or will her troubled past catch up with her first?”

What a corker of a book!  I’ll be honest, I wasn’t sure what to expect before I started reading…but I loved this book!  I came to Caroline Mitchell’s writing a little later than most.  I read Caroline’s The Silent Twin, which is book three in the Detective Jennifer Knight series, earlier this year (you can read my review by clicking here).  The Silent Twin was one of the first crime books I read with a paranormal twist to it, something I normally stay quite clear of.  The reviews were outstanding though and my FOMO (or, if you are my husband, my Fear Of Missing Out) kicked in.  I’m very glad it did as I loved The Silent Twin and wanted more Jennifer Knight.  So imagine my disappointment when I heard Ms Mitchell was putting Knight to one side and starting on a new series with a detective called Ruby.  I’ll admit it…I was a little disappointed.  Would it still have that paranormal aspect that I’d enjoyed so much?  Well, no, there are no ghosts assisting Ruby from the beyond. But oh my, DS Ruby Preston is SUPERB.  I absolutely loved this book!

Woman are being abducted from their homes only to turn up a few days later in an empty house, very dead and deliberately posed.  All of the women have one thing in common, they gave their daughter up for adoption 20 years ago.  Just like DS Ruby Preston did.  As the number of bodies rises, Ruby starts to receive correspondence from the killer who calls herself Lucy.  Lucy is the name Ruby gave her daughter…and the killer knows things that only the holder of Lucy’s birth certificate would know.  But surely Ruby’s daughter isn’t the killer, is she?  And is this some sort of sick revenge for giving her away all those years ago?  One thing is for sure, Lucy is on the hunt for her mummy and nothing will make her stop killing.  NOTHING! Not even finding her real mum…

DS Ruby Preston has the illustrious honour of being added to my girl crush list (other members of this elite group include Robert Bryndza’s DCI Erika Foster and M.J. Arlidge’s D.I. Helen Grace).  I loved her and I loved her relationship with gangster ex-boyfriend, Nathan. A brilliant addition to the story which leaves you wondering will they or won’t they.  It wasn’t a silly soppy romance that I find so stomach churning in other crime novels.  I could feel the character’s pain, their wanting to be together but knowing it just couldn’t happen.  Brilliant, clever writing as I’m not one for love affairs in my crime fiction but I couldn’t get enough of this one (or rather, these two!).

Lucy is one of those memorable serial killers; the kind that come back to haunt you in your dreams, the kind where you see a picture of a slightly malevolent looking child and you go, “yep, that’s Lucy!”.  She’s a chilling character and not knowing who (or at times, what!) she is makes the feeling of unease grow. By the time the reveal came I was completely clueless and not sure what to expect (and if you had made me put a bet on, I would have lost my life savings).  Fantastically eerie, chock full of suspense and wonderfully disorientating in the best way possible.

I was hooked from the opening lines all the way through the nail biting conclusion.  The one moan I do have about the book is that it was too short!  Now you may think 314 pages is sufficient.  Normally I would agree, but not this time.  I didn’t want it to end, I wanted LOTS more.  I hope Caroline Mitchell has already made a start on book two in the series, I’m not sure I can wait much longer!

NOT REALLY A SPOILER ALERT:  For those that have read the book, I can somewhat dubiously confirm that nutscaping is a real thing.  I was too scared to look for myself so approached Caroline Mitchell on Twitter.  She MADE ME look, my eyes will never be the same again!  Thanks Caroline…

Would I recommend this book?  If you love crime thrillers and don’t buy this book, there has to be something wrong with you.  It’s superb.  I loved the characters, I loved the relationships and I loved Lucy!  Don’t miss out on the start of a breathtakingly brilliant new series.  You have been warned!  Chilling, twisted and disturbing – exactly what I want in my serial killer thrillers! #HereComesLucy

Five out of five stars.

I chose to read and review an ARC of Death Note.

Death Note by Caroline Mitchell was published in the UK by Bookouture on 11th November 2016 and is available in paperback, eBook and audio formats | amazon.co.uk | amazon.com | Goodreads | Bookouture |

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A former police detective, Caroline has worked in CID and specialised in roles dealing with vulnerable victims, high risk victims of domestic abuse, and serious sexual offences. She now writes full time.
Published by Bookouture, her DC Knight crime thriller series reached the number one position in the Amazon crime charts and sold over a quarter of a million copies in the first year and a half of publication. The first in her new series, Love You To Death, features DS Ruby Preston is due for publication 11th November 2016.

Her new psychological thriller, Witness, is published with Thomas & Mercer and due for publication 20th December 2016.

Originally from Ireland, Caroline lives with her family in a pretty village on the coast of Essex.

Author Links:Website | Twitter | Facebook | amazon.co.uk | Goodreads |


@NerdishMum’s ‘Getting to know…’ feature is all about @damppebbles today!

I am delighted to be appearing on Helen’s brilliant ‘Getting to know…’ feature over at Life of a Nerdish Mum today. ‘Getting to know…’ is a regular piece on Helen’s blog where she asks authors and bloggers a number of very specific questions. She’s had many great authors and bloggers appear so I’m in good company. To see my interview, please click here.

Many thanks to Helen Giles for hosting and for her brilliant questions.