#BookReview: The Thirty-One Doors by Kate Hulme @CoronetBooks #TheThirtyOneDoors #damppebbles

“If these walls could talk . . .

Scarpside House is famed for its beauty, its isolation, and its legendary parties.

Tonight, it hosts the Penny Club soiree. An annual gathering of lucky men and women from all walks of life, coming together to celebrate their survival against the odds.

But this year their luck is running thin.

Accidents do happen, after all . .

And some are long overdue . . .”

Hello and welcome to damppebbles. Today I am delighted to share my review of The Thirty-One Doors by Kate Hulme. The Thirty-One Doors was published by Coronet Books in hardcover, audio and digital formats on 20th October 2022. I chose to read and review a free eARC of The Thirty-One Doors but that has in no way influenced my review.

When Detective Sergeant Frank Glover receives a strange call for help from Scarpside House just as he’s clocking off for the night, he feels it’s his duty to check it out. Bidding a goodnight to his colleague, he grabs his bike and starts a slow trek to the secluded manor house on the edge of a cliff. As the snowstorm worsens, Frank begins to doubt how sensible his decision was. Even more so when he realises the house cannot be reached without the use of a funicular, delaying his journey even more. On arrival Frank is greeted by Dottie, the Lady’s Maid, who informs him a party was in full swing but all of the guests, along with the butler, have vanished. Searching the house for answers, Frank and Dottie make some unnerving discoveries, including what looks like a large puddle of blood. Something is amiss at Scarpside House and it’s down to Frank to discover what…

The Thirty-One Doors is an interesting historical murder mystery novel with well-drawn gothic aspects and a beautifully written sense of claustrophobia which pulls the reader into the story. As the snowstorm worsens and all methods of communication, along with any chance of escape from the house are removed, Frank and Dottie begin to realise that they’re trapped with a killer. Someone who seems intent on picking off the members of the Penny Club one by one. There is a large cast of characters in the novel. Many are unlikeable, oozing privilege and power. Disrespecting one another and making the reader question exactly who could be behind the dastardly dealings at Scarpside House. Well, let’s face it, any of them could be the killer! They’re all pretty loathsome people, all hiding secrets they’d do anything to keep. But to counteract the nastiness of the family and the guests, the author has created two great characters in the form of DS Glover and Dottie. I found myself cheering them on. I wanted them to succeed in their quest. They both really made the story for me. However, I did feel that there were unanswered questions about Frank’s past which were referred to often but not really explained. Perhaps DS Frank Glover is set to make a return in the future and the gaps will be plugged then.

Would I recommend this book? If you’re looking for a slow burn mystery and you’re a fan of the golden age of crime fiction then yes, I feel you will enjoy The Thirty-One Doors. The characters are interesting and the setting is vividly drawn. I found the plot a little too predictable at points and was able to spot one aspect from very early on. But I try to not let things like that pull me out of the story, so I was pleased when my suspicions were confirmed. I also found the plot a little too slow at times and I would have liked those gaps I mentioned above covered in a little more detail but otherwise, I did enjoy The Thirty-One Doors and will be on the lookout for more from this author in the future. Recommended.

I chose to read and review a free eARC of The Thirty-One Doors. The above review is my own unbiased opinion.

The Thirty-One Doors by Kate Hulme was published in the UK by Coronet Books on 20th October 2022 and is available in hardcover, audio and digital formats (please note, the following links are affiliate links which means I receive a small percentage of the purchase price at no extra cost to you): | amazon.co.ukWaterstonesFoylesBook Depositorybookshop.orgGoodreadsdamppebbles bookshop.org shopdamppebbles amazon.co.uk shopdamppebbles amazon.com shop |

Kate Hulme studied history and history of art at university and works as a cultural consultant for museums and heritage organisations. The bizarre stories, strange objects, hidden passages and secret doors in Britain’s historic buildings proved rich pickings for fiction ideas and prompted her to try her hand at writing a book. She lives in rural Suffolk with her eight-year-old son and her elderly spaniel. The Thirty-One Doors is her first novel.

#BookReview: True Crime Story by Joseph Knox #TrueCrimeStory #damppebbles #20booksofsummer22

‘What happens to those girls who go missing? What happens to the Zoe Nolans of the world?’

In the early hours of Saturday 17 December 2011, Zoe Nolan, a nineteen-year-old Manchester University student, walked out of a party taking place in the shared accommodation where she had been living for three months.

She was never seen again.

Seven years after her disappearance, struggling writer Evelyn Mitchell finds herself drawn into the mystery. Through interviews with Zoe’s closest friends and family, she begins piecing together what really happened in 2011. But where some versions of events overlap, aligning perfectly with one another, others stand in stark contrast, giving rise to troubling inconsistencies.

Shaken by revelations of Zoe’s secret life, and stalked by a figure from the shadows, Evelyn turns to crime writer Joseph Knox to help make sense of a case where everyone has something to hide.

Zoe Nolan may be missing presumed dead, but her story is only just beginning”

Hello and welcome to damppebbles. Today I am delighted to share my review of True Crime Story by Joseph Knox. True Crime Story was published by Penguin on 17th March 2022 and is available in hardcover, paperback, audio and digital formats.

I have been wanting to read a book by Joseph Knox for a number of years now. I’ve heard only good things about his Aidan Waits novels, a gritty Manchester based thriller series which sounds just my cup of tea! But then True Crime Story hit the shelves and the book world (the book world I inhabit anyway!) went bonkers for it. So, to celebrate the opening of a brand-new shiny Waterstones near where I live, I decided to treat myself to a new book – I picked True Crime Story. Well, that was over a year ago now, but I finally managed to find a gap in my reading schedule to squeeze it in. And what a treat it was!

Zoe Nolan, new to Manchester University alongside her twin sister Kim, disappears one December evening in 2011 without a trace. Seven years later aspiring author Evelyn Mitchell decides to write a book about Zoe’s disappearance, turning to bestselling author Joseph Knox (yes, THAT Joseph Knox – the guy with his name on the cover!) for help and advice. Evelyn manages to interview most of Zoe’s friends and family, slowly piecing together the mystery surrounding Zoe’s disappearance. What she is told from those who knew Zoe best rings true. Their stories, their points of view are the same. But Evelyn can’t ignore the startling differences she also discovers. Will Evelyn, with the help of Joseph, be able to solve the mystery of Zoe’s disappearance before it’s too late…

In True Crime Story the author strives to give the reader the feeling that this is an actual true crime story. And he does. In spades. I finished reading this book several weeks ago and despite knowing this is 100% fiction, I still can’t shake the belief that it’s not in some way real. When I was a few chapters into the novel, I found myself googling Zoe Nolan, just in case someone by that name had ever gone missing. I’ve read other novels with a fictional true crime angle before but in my mind they’ve been just that, fictional. There was something about the way the author has written this story, perhaps immersing himself in the narrative in such a strong way, that totally worked for me. I know it’s not real but oh my gosh, it felt so true to life. The way the characters behave and act, their flaws and their idiosyncrasies, their relationships. I believed every single word.

The story is told using written and verbal transcripts collected by Evelyn Mitchell and sent to Joseph Knox for his thoughts, feelings and input. There are quite a few characters involved in the story – Zoe’s sister, her parents, her university friends, teaching staff and those investigating what happened in an official capacity. They all get to share their observations of Zoe (and each other!) in the lead up to the night of her disappearance. The book is presented in quite a different way that I can’t recall seeing before. There’s very little spoken dialogue as each character’s account is delivered to the reader as it was put to Evelyn. There’s no discussion, no sharing of ideas. She doesn’t ask questions or interrupt their memories. I know many readers don’t like a lot of dialogue between characters in their novels, that there can be a point where there’s too much and it detracts from the story, but I think I need that interaction. So much so that I did on occasion find myself drifting away from the story a little.

Would I recommend this book? I would, yes. If you enjoy well-written mysteries and you’re looking for something very different to the norm then True Crime Story is a must read. It’s a highly original, intelligent story delivered in such a way that it’s hard to forget. I would LOVE to listen to the audiobook version as I think that could be a slightly different experience, in a strange, inexplicable way. The author has done a masterful job in making his plot, his characters and the Manchester of the book totally believable, which I take my hat off to. I can only imagine the amount of work which went into plotting and planning Zoe’s story. What I do know for sure is that I am excited to read more by Knox and my copy of ‘Sirens’ will be moving to the top of the terrifying TBR as soon as possible. Recommended.

True Crime Story by Joseph Knox was published in the UK by Penguin Books on 17th March 2022 and is available in hardcover, paperback, audio and digital formats (please note, the following links are affiliate links which means I receive a small percentage of the purchase price at no extra cost to you): | amazon.co.uk | Waterstones | Foyles | Book Depository | bookshop.org | Goodreads | damppebbles bookshop.org shop | damppebbles amazon.co.uk shop | damppebbles amazon.com shop |

Joseph Knox

Joseph Knox was born and raised in and around Stoke-On-Trent and Manchester, where he worked in bars and bookshops before moving to London. He runs, writes and reads compulsively.

Sirens, his debut novel, was a Sunday Times bestseller, and his work has now been translated into 18 languages.

The Sleepwalker, his third novel, was released in July, 2019.

#BookReview: Until the Debt Is Paid by Alexander Hartung (translated by Steve Anderson) #UntilTheDebtIsPaid #damppebbles #20booksofsummer22

“Berlin detective Jan Tommen expected to wake up with a hangover—not a murder charge. But a well-known judge has been brutally killed and hard evidence places Jan at the crime scene. When disturbing gaps in Jan’s memory make finding an alibi impossible, the case against him looks open and shut.

Faced with life on the inside, Jan flees police custody to take refuge with an old friend deeply enmeshed in the capital’s seedy underworld. Hampered by a citywide manhunt, Jan soon finds that investigating leads while eluding capture isn’t easy. Before long, he’s relying on a team of misfits for help, including an icy blonde medical examiner and a brilliant but reclusive computer whiz.

When a lucky break leads Jan to connect the murders to a heinous trafficking ring, the team risks it all to find answers. Meanwhile, the body count continues to rise and the police department starts to close in. Desperate to prove his innocence, Jan must identify the true killer—before his time finally runs out.”

Hello and welcome to damppebbles. Today I am delighted to share my review of Until the Debt Is Paid by Alexander Hartung (translated by Steve Anderson). Until the Debt Is Paid was published on 4th November 2014 and is available in paperback, audio and digital formats. I’m a fan of translated crime fiction and I particularly enjoy German crime fiction (along with Japanese novels) which is how a copy of Until the Debt Is Paid found its way to damppebbles HQ. It’s been sat on my shelf for a wee while now so I decided to include it in my 20 books of summer list. And yes, I should have reviewed this book before the challenge ended on 1st September but there was no way that was going to happen 😂

After a boozy night out, Detective Jan Tommen wakes to find he’s the prime suspect in a grisly murder investigation. The evidence that puts the detective in the frame for the Judge’s murder is pretty conclusive. The only problem is Jan has no memory of what happened the previous night. Sure, he knew the victim, and yes, perhaps he did despise the Judge, but would he commit murder? Realising that he’s about to be arrested for a crime he’s not sure he committed Jan decides to go into hiding, calling on the help of a friend with less than salubrious contacts. Together Jan, Chandu and the small, quirky team at their disposal must discover the killer’s real identity before Jan is imprisoned for life, or the killer strikes again…

Until the Debt Is Paid is a well-written police procedural with a slightly different edge to it in that Detective Jan Tommen is the both the hunter and the hunted. He’s fairly sure he didn’t kill the Judge but due to his loss of memory, he can’t be 100% sure. So whilst he chases down any lead he can find to find what he believes to be the truth, the entire Berlin Criminal Investigations Division are frantically trying to locate him, lead by Jan’s least favourite colleague, Patrick Stein. I like a detective with something to prove and that’s definitely what Tommen is in this book. His colleagues have made their minds up, there’s no other option and Jan is their man. But with the help of a group of acquaintances – a member of the Berlin underworld, the medical examiner and a teenager with all the computer skills they could ever need – they follow the leads ruling out most options until they get lucky. I was a little disappointed with the stereotypes used by the author to create Tommen’s team. They felt a little tired, a little too easy perhaps, but they all played their part and helped move the story along. It was just a little predictable.

Would I recommend this book? I would, yes. I found Until the Debt Is Paid to be an interesting, entertaining crime novel which held my attention from start to finish. I liked Jan Tommen, and despite the use of clichés throughout, thought the other characters contributed well to the story. I wasn’t able to predict in what direction the author was going to take the story and was very surprised when the denouement was made. Until the Debt Is Paid is a gritty, compelling story which I enjoyed. I would be keen to read the second book in this series but was disappointed to see that’s where the Jan Tommen Investigates series ends for now. Fingers crossed for more in the future. Recommended.

Until the Debt Is Paid by Alexander Hartung (translated by Steve Anderson) was published in the UK by Amazon Crossing on 4th November 2014 and is available in paperback, audio and digital formats (please note, the following links are affiliate links which means I receive a small percentage of the purchase price at no extra cost to you): | amazon.co.uk | Waterstones | Foyles | Book Depository | bookshop.org | Goodreads | damppebbles bookshop.org shop |

Alexander Hartung

Alexander Hartung lives in his hometown of Mannheim, Germany, with his wife and young son. He discovered his love of thrillers and historical fiction while studying economics. Until the Debt is Paid and Grave Intent follows hard-partying detective Jan Tommen through Berlin, a city the author previously called home.

His second series follows Nik Pohl through the city of Munich. Until today the first two books – Broken glass and Blood ties – are translated into English.

#BookReview: The Sound of Her Voice by Nathan Blackwell @orionbooks #TheSoundofHerVoice #damppebbles #20booksofsummer22

Detective Buchanan remembers every victim. But this one he can’t forget.

The body of a woman has been found on a pristine New Zealand beach – over a decade after she was murdered.

Detective Matt Buchanan of the Auckland Police is certain it carries all the hallmarks of an unsolved crime he investigated 12 years ago: when Samantha Coates walked out one day and never came home.

Re-opening the case, Buchanan begins to piece the terrible crimes together, setting into motion a chain of events that will force him to the darkest corners of society – and back into his deepest obsession…

Shortlisted for the Ngaio Marsh Best Crime Novel of the Year award, The Sound of Her Voice is a brilliantly gripping crime thriller for fans of Sirens by Joseph Knox, Streets of Darkness by A.A. Dhand, Stuart Macbride and Ian Rankin.”

Hello and welcome to damppebbles. Today I am delighted to share my review of The Sound of Her Voice by Nathan Blackwell. The Sound of Her Voice was published in the UK by Orion Books on 28th November 2019 and is available in paperback format. I chose to read and review a free ARC of The Sound of Her Voice but that has in no way influenced my review.

The Sound of Her Voice follows Detective Matt Buchanan over the course of his twenty year (or thereabouts) police career. From his days as a rookie cop being called to a shooting, only to discover the victim is his best friend from police training, bleeding out on the asphalt, to the case which still haunts him to this day – the disappearance of a teenage girl twelve years earlier. Buchanan torments himself with his failure to solve Samantha’s disappearance and reunite her, one way or another, with her grieving family. He remembers every case he’s been involved in, but Samantha’s case is the one that hits the hardest. So when Buchanan spots similarities between a new case and Samantha’s disappearance, it leads him on a path he never expected and fuels an obsession which will consume him…

The Sound of Her Voice is a dark, gritty slice of New Zealand noir which I found both gripping and very unsettling. The book is set out quite differently to other detective novels with the story starting fairly early on in Buchanan’s career. The disappearance of Samantha doesn’t feature strongly until much later in the novel, which made me feel as though I was reading a collection of interconnected short stories featuring the same cast. Matt is assigned a case, he does the leg work and brings the investigation to a close. Then the process starts again. Matt Buchanan is a complex character and the reader gets to see the different facets of his personality throughout the novel. He’s clearly a troubled man with the weight of the world on his shoulders but I loved how edgy, how driven and how reckless he could be at times.

The different format of the book means the pace of the novel doesn’t really let up at any point, keeping the reader fully immersed in Buchanan’s dangerous world. I very much enjoyed the setting, being a fan of Aussie crime fiction (yes, I’m aware they’re quite different countries but they’re neighbours and that counts for something 😂). I’ve read crime novels set in New Zealand before but this felt quite different, in a good way.

Would I recommend this book? I would, yes. The Sound of Her Voice is a dark and gritty read which I enjoyed. It felt incredibly authentic and true to life, nothing was sugar coated and I loved the honesty of the author, an ex-detective himself. The themes within the book are dark and won’t be for everyone. There were moments I had to put the book down and take a breather because it was tough going but I did enjoy the book and would read more by this author. Recommended.

I chose to read and review a free ARC of The Sound of Her Voice. The above review is my own unbiased opinion.

The Sound of Her Voice by Nathan Blackwell was published in the UK by Orion Books on 28th November 2019 and is available in paperback format (please note, the following links are affiliate links which means I receive a small percentage of the purchase price at no extra cost to you): | amazon.co.ukWaterstonesFoylesBook DepositoryBook DepositoryGoodreadsdamppebbles bookshop.org shop |

Nathan BlackwellNathan Blackwell was raised on Auckland’s North Shore and attended Westlake Boys’ High School before commencing a ten-year career in the New Zealand Police. Seven of those years were spent as a Detective in the Criminal Investigation Branch, where he was exposed to human nature at its strongest and bravest, but also at its most depraved and horrific. He investigated a wide range of cases including drug manufacture, child abuse, corruption, serious violence, rape and murder. Because some of his work was conducted covertly, Nathan chooses to hide his true identity.

#BookReview: The Trial by S.R. Masters @0neMoreChapter_ #TheTrial #damppebbles #20booksofsummer22

“Would you sign up to a medical trial if you didn’t know the possible side effects?

18-40? PAID CLINICAL TRIAL IN THE CANARY ISLANDS – UP TO £20,000 TAX FREE

It seems like the opportunity of a lifetime. An all-inclusive luxury trip abroad, all you need to do is take a pill every day and keep a diary.

Except you don’t know anything about the drug or what its side effects might be.

The headaches start, a dull ache at first. Every day worse than the last.

Then a body is found.

Everyone is a suspect. Anyone could be a killer. Even you . . .

2022’s biggest summer thriller, for fans of Alex Michaelides, T. M. Logan and JP Delaney”

Hello and welcome to damppebbles. Today I am delighted to share my review of The Trial by S.R. Masters. The Trial was published by One More Chapter last week (that’s Thursday 7th July 2022) and is available in paperback, audio and digital formats. I chose to read and review a free eARC of The Trial but that has in no way influenced my review.

So the question is, would you? Would you sign up for a clinical trial without knowing what the drug you were going to be ingesting was? Or the possible side effects? No, nor me. But oh my goodness, that blurb had my attention immediately! The blurb combined with the striking cover, the fact that I read and enjoyed the author’s debut and once again, THAT BLURB ensured that I couldn’t let The Trial pass me by. I had to read this book and I’m so glad I did!

Elle really needs a holiday! Following a frightening experience at work she decides to book a well-deserved break. But her plans fall through when her holiday money is needed elsewhere. So whilst in a bad mood one evening, most of the way down a bottle of wine, Elle sees a Facebook advert for a clinical trial. The ad promises four relaxing weeks at a luxurious resort in the Canary Islands, plus £20,000 tax free on completion of the trial. Elle can’t see the harm in signing up. She knows they’re bound to be inundated with applications so it’s unlikely she’ll be chosen. So when a confirmation email arrives, Elle can’t believe her luck. As she boards the private plane she begins to wonder what she’s let herself in for. What drug are they being given? What are the side effects? And will all twelve subjects make it out alive…?

The Trial is an intriguing thriller with a different yet highly compelling edge to it which kept me turning the pages late into the night. The author has expertly created a cast of mostly unlikeable characters who the reader can’t help but doubt the integrity of. This is particularly so after the discovery of a body. Elle is clearly out of her depth and the only member of the group who seems to realise that things in paradise aren’t as perfect as they were made out to be. As the situation worsens and things really start to spiral out of control, she and Benji (who is employed by the trial organisers to oversee the health and well-being of the participants 24/7) realise that they very much need to watch their own backs.

The plot is well-written throughout and introduces the reader to the many different personalities on the island. The first two thirds of the book are a slow build setting the scene, allowing the reader to see what makes each trial participant tick, along with finding out a little more about the support staff. The last third of the story is where the author really ramps the tension up and I found myself holding my breath on several occasions. I have to confess that this book was one of my holiday reads – we went to Gran Canaria in the Canary Islands (the location of the book although not the same island!) for a week – and at times I perhaps did regret choosing it. I won’t say anymore for fear of spoilers but events were maybe a little too close to home.

Would I recommend this book? I would, yes. The Trial is a well-written, intriguing story which I enjoyed. I do wish I hadn’t read it on holiday but that’s my fault, no one else’s. I was able to predict what the drug they were testing was for but there were still several twists and turns along the way I didn’t see coming. I would happily read another book by this author and look forward to seeing what Masters delivers next. Recommended.

I chose to read and review a free eARC of The Trial. The above review is my own unbiased opinion.

The Trial by S.R. Masters was published in the UK by One More Chapter on 7th July 2022 and is available in paperback, audio and digital formats (please note, the following links are affiliate links which means I receive a small percentage of the purchase price at no extra cost to you): | amazon.co.ukWaterstonesFoylesBook Depositorybookshop.orgGoodreadsdamppebbles bookshop.org shop |

S R Masters grew up around Birmingham in the UK. After studying Philosophy at Cambridge University, he worked in public health. He currently lives in Oxford with his wife and children.

His short fiction and novels have been published internationally. Labelled as “a writer to watch” by Publishers Weekly, his books include THE KILLER YOU KNOW (Sphere) and the forthcoming THE TRIAL (HarperCollins).

#BookReview: The Echo Man by Sam Holland @HarperCollinsUK #TheEchoMan #damppebbles

“The murders have begun…
Across England, a string of murders is taking place. Each different in method, but each horrifying and brutal.

But the killer is just getting started…
Jess Ambrose is plunged into the investigation when her house is set ablaze. With her husband dead and the police pointing at her, she runs. Her only hope is disgraced detective Nate Griffin, who is convinced Jess is innocent.

And he’s going to shock the world…
Soon, Jess and Griffin discover the unthinkable; this murderer is copying the world’s most notorious serial killers. And now, imitation isn’t enough. The killer dubbed The Echo Man is ready to create his own masterpiece, and it will be more terrifying than anything that has come before…”

Hello and welcome to damppebbles. Today I am delighted to share my review of The Echo Man by Sam Holland. The Echo Man is published by HarperCollins next week (that’s Thursday 14th April 2022) and will be available in hardcover, audio and digital formats with the paperback to follow later this year. I chose to read and review a free eARC of The Echo Man but that has in no way influenced my review.

There was no way on earth I was going to be able to resist this book! Serial killer thrillers are my absolute go-to sub genre and I would happily read nothing but serial killer thrillers all year long if I had the chance. The Echo Man absolutely screamed my name so as soon as I got hold of a copy, I got stuck in. I couldn’t resist!

Jess Ambrose is thrown from her seemingly perfect yet boring life into a terrifying situation when her house burns down. Her husband was trapped in the blaze and didn’t survive but thankfully, Jess was able to rescue her young daughter. With her daughter in intensive care, Jess immediately realises that she is the prime suspect for setting the fire so she makes a run for it. What Jess doesn’t realise is that the fire was set by a serial killer who is carrying out multiple murders, all inspired by some of the worst killers of our time. With the help of disgraced ex-police detective, Nate Griffin, can they work out the twisted killers next move? And stop him before he creates his own deadly masterpiece…?

The Echo Man is one helluva debut which serial killer thriller fans will devour with glee. It’s dark, it’s definitely disturbing and it’s going to fly off the shelves, without a doubt. The concept of this book ticks so many boxes for me. As I mentioned before, I’m a huge fan of the serial killer thriller but bringing real life cases into the story really escalates the plot into something I don’t think I’ve experienced before. I was turning the pages at a rate of knots, keen to discover what dastardly deed would befall the helpless victim next. Which real life case would inspire our killer and would I manage to keep my lunch down for a bit longer! And I don’t jest there, there are some pretty tummy turning scenes in this book so if you’re not of a strong disposition, this may not be the book for you.

The characters are well written and kept me on the edge of my seat. I didn’t particularly warm to any of them but being a dark and edgy crime thriller, I don’t believe relatable characters are always a necessary requirement. I want my crime fiction characters to shock and surprise me with their actions, be unpredictable yet driven – be it catching a killer or fulfilling their dastardly MO. After all, they’re treading a dangerous line which I, in real life, don’t want to be a part of. Warm and fluffy is NOT an option in crime fiction. I found Nate Griffin the most interesting and compelling of the cast. Following a frenzied attack the previous year which left his wife dead and him badly injured, Nate is now addicted to painkillers and his supply steadily runs out over the course of the book. But that doesn’t stop Nate from wanting to catch the killer, alongside his former colleagues in the force – DCI Cara Elliot and DS Noah Deakin. All of the characters play their part well and make this debut quite the page turner!

Would I recommend this book? I would, yes. The Echo Man is a very readable novel which I enjoyed immersing myself in. The writing is excellent, the storyline is well plotted and very compelling. However, I did have a couple of tiny bug bears which interrupted the flow for me a little. The female characters in the book are referred to by their first names. The male characters tend to be referred to by their surnames. It was most noticeable with DCI Cara Elliot, compared with DS Nate Griffin and DS Noah Deakin. She was Cara, they were Griffin and Deakin. The ending also felt a little sudden, almost as though the story wasn’t quite done. It may be there is more to come and if that is the case, that makes sense. But for me, as it stands, I was a little disappointed by the ending. But they are teeny tiny personal quibbles and don’t take away from the fact this is a cracking debut which crime thriller fans should make a point of reading. I truly believe this book is going to be HUGE. Recommended.

I chose to read and review a free eARC of The Echo Man. The above review is my own unbiased opinion.

The Echo Man by Sam Holland was published in the UK by HarperCollins on 14th March 2022 and is available in hardcover, audio and digital formats (please note, the following links are affiliate links which means I receive a small percentage of the purchase price at no extra cost to you): | amazon.co.uk | Waterstones | Foyles | Book Depository | bookshop.org | Goodreads | damppebbles bookshop.org shop |

Sam HollandHaving always been fascinated with the dark and macabre, Sam Holland’s love of reading was forged in the library through Stephen King, Dean Koontz and James Herbert. A self-confessed serial killer nerd, Holland studied psychology at university then spent the next few years working in HR, before quitting for a full-time career in writing. The Echo Man is the result.

#BookReview: A Spoonful of Murder by J.M. Hall #ASpoonfulofMurder #damppebbles

“Introducing the three unlikeliest sleuths you’ll ever meet…

Every Thursday, three retired school teachers have their ‘coffee o’clock’ sessions at the Thirsk Garden Centre café.

But one fateful week, as they are catching up with a slice of cake, they bump into their ex-colleague, Topsy.

By the next Thursday, Topsy’s dead.

The last thing Liz, Thelma and Pat imagined was that they would become involved in a murder.

But they know there’s more to Topsy’s death than meets the eye – and it’s down to them to prove it…

Sit down with a cup of tea and this perfectly witty, page-turning cosy crime novel. Fans of Agatha Christie, Death in Paradise and Midsomer Murders will be hooked from the very first page.”

Hello and welcome to damppebbles. Today I am delighted to share my review of A Spoonful of Murder by J.M. Hall. A Spoonful of Murder was published by Avon Books last week (that’s Thursday 17th March 2022) and is available in paperback, audio and digital formats. I chose to read and review a free ARC of A Spoonful of Murder but that has in no way influenced my review. My grateful thanks to the team at Avon for sending me a proof copy.

Thelma, Pat and Liz are three retired primary school teachers who meet weekly for coffee and cake at their local garden centre. On one of their Thursday catch-ups they bump into ex-colleague, Topsy Joy, and her daughter, KellyAnne. It’s immediately clear to the trio that Topsy is no longer the formidable nursery nurse she once was, showing early signs of dementia. A week later and Topsy is found dead in front of the telly. The three women are shocked by the news, particularly as they feel something is amiss. Who were those strange men hanging around Topsy’s house? And why has Topsy’s bank account been cleared out? It doesn’t take long for the three intrepid investigators to start digging into what happened to their friend. Someone killed Topsy Joy and it’s down to three retired schoolteachers to prove it…

I have to be completely honest here and say I don’t read a lot of cosy crime. I prefer my crime fiction with a darker edge, a dash more menace and a chill in the air. Saying that, I did enjoy the warmth and cosiness of A Spoonful of Murder, with it’s gentle pace and trio of unwitting sleuths. Warm and witty throughout, I enjoyed getting to know Pat, Thelma and Liz and watching as they put their community under the microscope. Trying to work out if Topsy’s sad demise was helped along by a nefarious hand. Heart breaking in parts, this well-written debut will be a sure fire winner with fans of the genre.

Would I recommend this book? I would, yes. A Spoonful of Murder is a gently paced, slow burn mystery with a cast of interesting amateur sleuths and lots of charm. I did find the multiple characters a little confusing at times, even with regards to the three leads, and was able to spot whodunit from very early on but that didn’t spoil my enjoyment of this entertaining novel. I’m afraid I couldn’t help but draw similarities between this book and another book published a couple of years ago. I wonder if that’s because that particular book was the last cosy crime I read so, in a way, it’s still quite fresh in my mind. At times, I found I was constantly on the lookout for the similarities rather than just going with the flow and submersing myself in the story. All in all I enjoyed this novel, found it be an easy read and would recommend it to fans of the genre who enjoy a gentler pace.

I chose to read and review a free ARC of A Spoonful of Murder. The above review is my own unbiased opinion.

A Spoonful of Murder by J.M. Hall was published in the UK by Avon Books on 17th March 2022 and is available in paperback, audio and digital formats (please note, the following links are affiliate links which means I receive a small percentage of the purchase price at no extra cost to you): | amazon.co.uk | Waterstones | Foyles | Book Depository | bookshop.org | Goodreads | damppebbles bookshop.org shop |

J.M. Hall is an author, playwright and deputy head of a primary school. His plays have been produced in theatres across the UK as well as for radio, the most recent being Trust, starring Julie Hesmondhalgh on BBC Radio 4. His first novel, A Spoonful of Murder, is about retired primary school teachers who turn to sleuthing.

#BlogTour | #BookReview: To the Lake by Yana Vagner (translated by Maria Wiltshire) @_SwiftPress #ToTheLake #ToTheLakeBlogTour #damppebbles

Are you ready for the journey to the edge?

A deadly flu epidemic sweeps through Moscow, killing hundreds of thousands. Anya and her husband Sergey decide they have no choice but to flee to a lake in the far north of Russia.

Joining them on their journey are her son and father-in-law; Sergey’s ex-wife and son; and their garish neighbours. But then some friends of Sergey show up to complete Anya’s list of people she’d least like to be left with at the end of the civilised world.

As the wave of infection expands from the capital, their food and fuel start to run low. Menaced both by the harsh Russian winter and by the desperate people they encounter, they must put their hatreds behind them if they’re to have a chance of reaching safety…

Inspired by a real-life flu epidemic in Moscow, To the Lake was a number one bestseller in Russia, and has now appeared in a dozen languages and been adapted into a Netflix TV series.”

Hello and welcome to damppebbles. Today I am delighted to be joining the blog tour for To The Lake by Yana Vagner (translated from it’s original Russian by Maria Wiltshire). To the Lake was published in hardcover by Swift Press on 4th November 2021 and is also available in digital format. I chose to read and review a free ARC of To The Lake but that has in no way influenced my review. My grateful thanks to Rachel at Swift Press for sending me a proof copy.

A viral pandemic isn’t so much fiction these days as cold, hard fact. And as a result, my interest in books featuring a pandemic has somewhat waned recently. Until I saw To The Lake mentioned on social media. I am a huge fan of translated fiction but for some reason, I’m not reading as much as I used to. So this book, originally written in Russian, with it’s unforgiving, icy setting and end of the world feel, really appealed.

Anya and Sergey, along with Anya’s teenage son Mishka, live a quiet life in their nice, modern house on the outskirts of Moscow. Until the news breaks that a new virus is slowly shutting down the city. Before long, Moscow is closed. The virus is spreading and there’s no cure. Friends, family and neighbours are dying all around them so they decide, following a particularly nasty incident with a group of vigilantes and encouragement from Sergey’s father, to flee to a lake house miles away from civilisation and start a new life. Joining them are their neighbours, Sergey’s ex-wife and young son. But the road ahead is fraught with danger. Will they make it to the lake alive and well, or will the journey be the death of them…?

To The Lake is a very vivid, atmospheric read full of tension. I loved the Russian setting with it’s sub-zero temperatures, frozen landscape and ice crusted roads. The extreme weather added another threat to the travellers’ already dangerous journey and I really enjoyed how the descriptions of the landscape made me feel as though I was squashed into one of the cars alongside the characters, gazing out of the window at the passing scene, not knowing what was on the horizon.

The impending sense of doom throughout the novel is handled brilliantly. I was on the edge of my seat as the group heard the rumble of tyres approach in the distance. Would the new arrivals be friend or foe? Would they have succumbed to the virus and be unconcerned about infecting others? Was this the end for the group? I enjoyed the initial apprehension and build-up sometimes more than discovering who was actually approaching. Sometimes, and this is probably just me and my dark heart, I wanted a little more from the meetings. I felt the tension build, only to discover that the threat wasn’t really a threat at all. Or, in situations where there was a real weapon-wielding threat, the action was over very quickly and the group were moving on. I would have liked a little more.

Would I recommend this book? I would, yes. To The Lake is a well-written novel which transported me to the harsh frozen lands of Russia. The plot is all too plausible in this day and age but written years before the COVID pandemic hit, this bleak, character-driven race-to-survive novel will add an extra chill to those winter nights. I will admit that I found the book a touch hard going at times but perhaps that is due to it all being a little too close to home. Obviously, it is different. Very different. But still… All in all, a very interesting, frightening tale which I enjoyed. Recommended.

I chose to read and review a free ARC of To The Lake. The above review is my own unbiased opinion.

To The Lake by Yana Vagner (translated by Maria Wiltshire) was published in the UK by Swift Press on 4th November 2021 and is available in hardcover and digital formats (please note, the following links are affiliate links which means I receive a small percentage of the purchase price at no extra cost to you): | amazon.co.uk | Waterstones | Foyles | Book Depository | bookshop.org | Goodreads | damppebbles bookshop.org shop |

Яна ВагнерYana Vagner was born in Moscow in 1973 into a bilingual family. Her Czech mother came to Moscow in the 60s to study Russian language and literature. Yana graduated from Russian State Humanitarian University with a major in management and has worked as an interpreter, an anchorperson on radio, and a logistics manager, which allowed her to travel to Africa, Europe and Latin America. Yana Vagner lives with her husband and two dogs in their country house on the outskirts of Moscow.

#BookReview: The Sanatorium by Sarah Pearse @TransworldBooks #TheSanatorium #damppebbles

EVERYONE’S IN DANGER. ANYONE COULD BE NEXT.

An imposing, isolated hotel, high up in the Swiss Alps, is the last place Elin Warner wants to be. But she’s taken time off from her job as a detective, so when she receives an invitation out of the blue to celebrate her estranged brother’s recent engagement, she has no choice but to accept.

Arriving in the midst of a threatening storm, Elin immediately feels on edge. Though it’s beautiful, something about the hotel, recently converted from an abandoned sanatorium, makes her nervous – as does her brother, Isaac.

And when they wake the following morning to discover his fiancée Laure has vanished without a trace, Elin’s unease grows. With the storm cutting off access to and from the hotel, the longer Laure stays missing, the more the remaining guests start to panic.

But no-one has realized yet that another woman has gone missing. And she’s the only one who could have warned them just how much danger they’re all in . . .”

Hello and welcome to damppebbles. Today I am delighted to be sharing my review of The Sanatorium by Sarah Pearse. The Sanatorium is published in the UK today (that’s Thursday 18th February 2021) by Bantam Press and is available in hardcover, audio and digital formats. I chose to read and review an eARC of The Sanatorium but that has in no way influenced my review.

The Sanatorium was impossible to resist! That intriguing title, the striking, atmospheric cover, the enticing blurb. It screamed my name so I had to read it. This is the second book I’ve read set in the Alps in the space of a month but it gave me a whole different set of chills.

Detective Elin Warner and her boyfriend are staying at an isolated boutique hotel in the Swiss Alps. The hotel itself has an unnerving history, having started its life as a sanatorium for tuberculosis patients. Her estranged brother has surprisingly invited Elin to his engagement party. He’s marrying a childhood friend of hers, the glamorous Laure. Elin is happy to leave the UK for a while as, following her last case, something happened which made her doubt her future in the police force. But on arrival, nervous Elin is instantly put on edge even more by the imposing setting. The pressing snow storm doesn’t help her feel any safer. The relationship between Elin and her brother, Isaac, is tense and a missed dinner invitation causes more upset. But the following morning, Isaac reports Laure missing. The snow storm and the risk of avalanches cuts off all access to the hotel as the search for Laure continues. They’re on their own. Elin needs to step up and take control of the situation. Which, despite feeling hesitant, she feels ready to do. Until they discover the body…

Poor Elin. From the start of The Sanatorium she’s on the edge and that doesn’t really change very much as the story progresses. She’s a troubled woman who carries the tragic death of her brother at the age of 8 in her heart and her mind. The real reason for her decision to reconnect with her estranged other brother becomes very clear to the reader. She wants the truth and the only person who can give it to her is Isaac. Her grief has moulded and shaped her into the woman she is today. Elin is an interesting character who at times I really liked and admired, at other times I wanted to sit her down and ask her what the fluff she was doing!

The mystery aspect of The Sanatorium was interesting and it kept me turning the pages. I think the time has come to admit that perhaps I’ve read too many crime books as I could guess a couple of plot points which, disappointingly, turned out to be accurate. There weren’t any big surprises for me in this novel but that’s my own personal experience and I wouldn’t let that put you off.

I adored the setting. I love isolated, claustrophobic settings in novels and this one is done particularly well. The snowy mountains feel as though they’re pressing in on the hotel and the unpredictability of the avalanches was really wonderful. Picturing the icy scenes in my mind gave me goosebumps! Marvellous stuff.

Would I recommend this book? I would, yes. I would recommend The Sanatorium to anyone who enjoys a locked-room mystery with a bit of an icy twist. The plot moves at a steady pace and keeps the reader turning the pages. There was something about the ending which didn’t quite work for me. I can’t really go into any detail as I would be revealing too much and that wouldn’t be fair but I did enjoy reading The Sanatorium and I would gladly read more from this author. It’s a chilling, atmospheric mystery which I was happy to lose myself in. Recommended.

I chose to read and review an eARC of The Sanatorium. The above review is my own unbiased opinion.

The Sanatorium by Sarah Pearse was published in the UK by Bantam Press on Thursday 18th February 2021 and is available in hardcover, audio and digital formats (please note, the following links are affiliate links which means I receive a small percentage of the purchase price at no extra cost to you): | amazon.co.uk | Waterstones | Foyles | Book Depository | bookshop.org | Goodreads | the damppebbles bookshop.org shop |

Sarah Pearse lives by the sea in South Devon with her husband and two daughters. She studied English and Creative Writing at the University of Warwick and worked in Brand PR for a variety of household brands. After moving to Switzerland in her twenties, she spent every spare moment exploring the mountains in the Swiss Alpine town of Crans Montana, the dramatic setting that inspired her novel. Sarah has always been drawn to the dark and creepy – remote spaces and abandoned places – so when she read an article in a local Swiss magazine about the history of sanatoriums in the area, she knew she’d found the spark of the idea for her debut novel, The Sanatorium. Her short fiction has been published in a wide variety of magazines and has been shortlisted for several prizes.

#BookReview: The Last by Hanna Jameson #TheLast #damppebbles

the last“THE WORLD AS WE KNOW IT HAS ENDED

You and nineteen other survivors hole up in an isolated Swiss hotel.

You wait, you survive.

Then you find the body.

One of your number has blood on their hands.

The race is on to find the killer…BEFORE THE KILLER FINDS YOU.”

Hello and a very warm welcome to damppebbles. Today I am delighted to share my review of The Last by Hanna Jameson with you. The Last was published by Penguin Books on 1st August 2019 and is available in all formats. I received a free ARC of The Last but that has in no way influenced my review.

I do love me a post-apocalyptic thriller! But I know what I like and conversely, what I don’t like. I read a book earlier this year which claimed to be a dystopian thriller. It was a whole lot of thriller and not a lot of dystopian. I wanted to find out how the characters coped with their ‘new normal’. I wanted to see conflict, fear and adjustment to the setting and the new ways of life. So I was a little apprehensive starting The Last. Would this book be much of the same? I’m delighted to confirm that The Last is far superior to the book I read earlier this year as Jameson puts her characters, their experience and their adjustment to the new ways, front and centre.

Historian Jon Keller is at a conference in a Swiss hotel when the bombs hit. It’s everyone’s worst nightmare come terrifyingly true. The nuclear bombs wipe out large proportions of the US, where Jon calls home, along with a large proportion of Europe. Thankfully Switzerland seems largely unaffected but who knows what kind of state the world is outside the hotel doors. The original number staying at the hotel has dwindled leaving twenty guests to come to terms with what has happened to them and forge a new life within the walls of L’Hotel Sixième. Roles have been redefined, the work is tough and everyone has to adjust to the new way of living. While investigating a problem with the water supply, Jon discovers a body in the water tank. The stark truth of the matter becomes worryingly clear. Within this small community, where they’ve come to depend on each other so much, one of them is a killer….

Now I know I referred to The Last as a post-apocalyptic thriller earlier in this review but it’s not really a thriller. It’s a well-written, slow build character study of people put in the worst scenario imaginable. The reader gets to watch as they struggle to survive, let alone cope with their new world from the comfort of their armchair. But, it’s a little too close to the knuckle in some respects and feels plausibly real. The mystery aspect of the story isn’t really the main crux of the book either but it’s an interesting storyline which gives Jon something to obsess over. And obsess over it he does. The mystery into who killed the girl almost completely consumes him.

I found Jameson’s characters really interesting to read about. Although I struggled to like any of them. But I’m not sure that’s necessarily what the author wants her readers to feel anyway. They’re all individuals coping the best way they can. Yes, they’re selfish, suspicious and on edge but that just added to my enjoyment of the book. The claustrophobic feel of the situation was absolutely marvellous and I thoroughly enjoyed the group’s plight (turns out I’m a horrible person taking enjoyment in others misfortune, good job they’re fictional characters really!).

The ending of this book threw me a little. I was expecting something big and bold but I didn’t get it. I felt the ending let the book down a little. The reader travels so far with these characters, you get to know them even if you don’t like them, and then…well – I won’t say anymore because I don’t want to spoil the book for other readers but I was a little disappointed.

Would I recommend this book? I would, yes. If you like your novels character-driven then absolutely, The Last is a book you should read. I enjoyed the post-apocalyptic elements. I wanted them to go out exploring what was left of Switzerland and they did exactly that, with trepidation and caution. Some of their encounters were nail-biting and I loved the unease and tension in these sections away from the hotel. As I said previously, there was just enough of this strange new world to satisfy me. All in all, an intriguing premise that hooked me from the start. Recommended.

I chose to read and review a free ARC of The Last. The above review is my own unbiased opinion.

The Last by Hanna Jameson was published in the UK by Penguin Books on 1st August 2019 and is available in hardcover, paperback, audio and digital formats (please note, the following links are affiliate links which means I receive a small percentage of the purchase price at no extra cost to you): | amazon.co.uk | Waterstones | Foyles | Book Depository | Goodreads |

Hanna Jameson’s fourth novel, part murder mystery and part post-apocalyptic thriller – THE LAST – is out now with Viking in the UK and Simon & Schuster-Atria Books in the US. The Last is the story of an American academic searching for the truth about a girl who has been murdered in his Swiss hotel in the aftermath of a nuclear war that has destroyed most of the Western world.

Jameson had written the first draft of her debut, award-nominated novel – SOMETHING YOU ARE – at just seventeen. Something You Are and two further novels in the series – GIRL SEVEN and ROAD KILL – are available now in the UK, Germany, Japan, and the Netherlands.

She lives in London currently, working on screenwriting projects. She likes whiskey, history, and emotionally taxing TV shows.