#BookReview: The Axe Woman by Håkan Nesser (translated by Sarah Death) @MantleBooks #TheAxeWoman #damppebbles

“Sweden 2012. When Inspector Gunnar Barbarotti returns to work after a terrible personal tragedy his boss asks him to investigate a cold case, hoping to ease him back gently into his police duties.

Five years previously a shy electrician, Arnold Morinder, disappeared from the face of the earth, the only clue his blue moped abandoned in a nearby swamp. At the time his partner, Ellen Bjarnebo, claimed that Arnold had probably travelled to Norway never to return. But Ellen is one of Sweden’s most notorious killers, having served eleven years in prison after killing her abusive first husband and dismembering his body with an axe. And when Barbarotti seeks to interview Ellen in relation to Arnold’s disappearance she is nowhere to be found . . .

But without a body and no chance of interviewing his prime suspect Barbarotti must use all the ingenuity at his disposal to make headway in the case. Still struggling with his personal demons, Barbarotti seeks solace from God, and the support of his colleague, Eva Backman. And as he finally begins to track down his suspect and the cold case begins to thaw, Barbarotti realizes that nothing about Ellen Bjarnebo can be taken for granted . . .

The Axe Woman is the fifth and final Inspector Barbarotti novel from bestselling author Håkan Nesser.”

Hello and welcome to damppebbles. Today I am delighted to share my review of The Axe Woman by Håkan Nesser (translated by Sarah Death). The Axe Woman was published by Mantle Books on 1st September 2022 and is available in hardcover, audio and digital formats. I chose to read and review a free ARC of The Axe Woman but that has in no way influenced my review. My grateful thanks to Chloe at Mantle Books for sending me a finished copy.

As a fairly avid reader of crime fiction I have a number of rules when choosing a book. The biggest one being (and this is a lesson learnt through time and experience) when reading serialised detective fiction always, ALWAYS start at the beginning with the first book. Never, NEVER go into a series part-way through. But there are occasions when the look and the sound of the book are just too tempting, and it becomes almost impossible to resist. Which is what happened when The Axe Woman by Håkan Nesser landed on my radar. Despite being the fifth (and final!) book in the series, I couldn’t let this one pass me by, so I shoved the rules to one side and got stuck into this excellent novel as soon as it arrived at damppebbles HQ.

Inspector Gunnar Barbarotti returns to work following a personal tragedy only for his senior officer to ask him to investigate a five-year-old cold case. It feels to Barbarotti as though he’s been given ‘busy work’. Something to test whether he’s fit to return to the force, a task to gently ease him back in before being given a more challenging case. But he can’t be sure of Asunander’s motives so decides to investigate the disappearance of Arnold Morinder to the best of his ability. Morinder disappeared from the town of Kymlinge, Sweden without a trace in August 2007. Reported missing three days later by his partner Ellen Bjarnebo, no trace of Morinder (apart from his discarded blue moped) was ever found. But the name Ellen Bjarnebo is well known to the local police. Ellen Bjarnebo, or Helgesson as she was previously known, is the notorious Axe Woman of Little Burma. A woman who twenty years ago killed her husband and took an axe to his body to hide the evidence. Barbarotti is determined to track the elusive Axe Woman of Little Burma down and get to the bottom of what happened to Morinder. Who really is Ellen Bjarnebo, why did she kill her first husband in such a brutal manner and what does she know about the disappearance of Arnold Morinder…?

The Axe Woman is a masterfully written and very compelling piece of crime fiction which I thoroughly enjoyed. I was initially a little concerned about reading the fifth book in a series, despite being strongly drawn to this one, but at the very start of the novel a tragedy befalls Barbarotti and, despite having never read any of the previous books, I could feel the character had been signigicantly altered. This isn’t perhaps the version of Barbarotti those more familiar with the series know. I must say I absolutely adored the characters in this book. For me, the characters can make or break a novel, but in this instance they only added to the overall appeal of the book. They felt real and believable, I became invested in them. So much so that I will be going back to the first book in the series so I can get to know the regulars better.

Told in the past and present, and from a number of different points of view, this beautifully written slow-burn mystery delivers on every count. The suspense is handled extremely well keeping the reader immersed in the story. On the odd occasion when I did have to put the book down, I was always excited to return to the novel and be reunited with Barbarotti and DI Eva Backman. At times I thought I knew where the storyline was heading, but I was wrong. The reveal is delivered in such a way that it’s really quite shocking, which I appreciated.

Would I recommend this book? I would, yes. The Axe Woman is an expertly written mystery which had me glued to the pages and immersed in a world I didn’t want to leave. It’s very clear to me why Håkan Nesser is so well thought of in the crime fiction world; his writing, his characters and his settings are superbly constructed, and I cannot wait to read more by this author. The Axe Woman is an intelligent, heartfelt, somewhat emotional novel which can easily be read as a standalone, despite being the fifth and final book in the series. Yes, you do miss out on some of the history between the characters, the odd reference to an earlier case, but The Axe Woman is written in such a way that as you progress through the book, you learn everything you need to know. If I didn’t know better and I just picked this book up off the shelf, I would have assumed it was a standalone mystery. I’m certainly not qualified to say this having only read one book but this felt a fitting end to the series. Everything is tied off neatly and with understated style. No big, showy fireworks but with a decision that could lead to something…or nothing at all. A superb character-driven novel which I thoroughly enjoyed losing myself in. Recommended.

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

The Axe Woman by Håkan Nesser (translated by Sarah Death) was published in the UK by Mantle Books on 1st September 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 | damppebbles amazon.co.uk shop | damppebbles amazon.com shop |

Håkan Nesser

Håkan Nesser is a Swedish author and teacher who has written a number of successful crime fiction novels. He has won Best Swedish Crime Novel Award three times, and his novel Carambole won the Glass Key award in 2000. His books have been translated from Swedish into numerous languages.

Håkan Nesser was born and grew up in Kumla, and has lived most of his adult life in Uppsala. His first novel was published in 1988, but he worked as a teacher until 1998 when he became a full-time author. In August, 2006, Håkan Nesser and his wife Elke moved to Greenwich Village in New York.

Sarah DeathSarah Death is a translator, literary scholar, and editor of the UK-based journal Swedish Book Review. Her translations from the Swedish include Ellen Mattson’s Snow, for which she won the Bernard Shaw Translation Prize. She lives and works in Kent, England.

#BookReview: Dirt Town by Hayley Scrivenor @panmacmillan #DirtTown #damppebbles

Durton. Dirt town. Dirt and hurt – that’s what others would remember about our town . . .

When twelve-year-old Esther Bianchi disappears on her way home from school in the small town of Durton in rural Australia, the local community is thrown into a state of grief and suspicion.


As Detective Sergeant Sarah Michaels begins her investigation, she questions those who knew the girl, attempting to unpick the secrets which bind them together.


The girl’s mother, Constance, believes that her daughter going missing is the worst thing that can happen to her. But as the search for Esther develops, she learns that things can always get worse.


Ronnie is Esther’s best friend and is determined to bring her home. So when her classmate Lewis tells her that he saw Esther with a strange man at the creek the afternoon she went missing, Ronnie feels she is one step closer to finding her. But why is Lewis refusing to speak to the police?

And who else is keeping quiet about what happened to Esther?

Dirt Town by Hayley Scrivenor is an atmospheric crime novel set in rural Australia, for fans of Jane Harper’s The Dry and Chris Whitaker’s We Begin at the End.”

Hello and welcome to damppebbles. Today I am delighted to share my review of Dirt Town by Hayley Scrivenor. Dirt Town is published by Macmillan later this week (that’s Thursday 23rd June 2022) and will be available in hardcover, audio and digital formats with the paperback to follow. I chose to read and review a free eARC of Dirt Town but that has in no way influenced my review.

I am a HUGE fan of Australian crime fiction. I want to read it all, and there are lots of really exciting, interesting writers making their mark on the genre at the moment. So when I saw Scrivenor’s debut was being published, I jumped at the chance to read it. And oh my goodness, what a riveting, emotional ride it was. Definitely an author to watch!

Twelve-year-old Esther Bianchi and Ronnie Thompson are best friends. They live in Durton – or Dirt Town or Dirt and Hurt to the locals – which is a bit boring but OK. One day after school Esther goes missing. The whole town turns out to look for her but they’re all aware that their neighbour, their friend could have been the one to abduct the girl. Detective Sergeant Sarah Michaels is tasked with finding Esther but the investigation falters at every turn. Someone in Durton knows what’s happened to Esther. Someone in the small, close-knit community knows the truth…

Gorgeously dark, evocative and utterly compelling, I thoroughly enjoyed this superb slow burn mystery with its true to life characters, bleak setting and intriguing plot. I adored the voices the author gave the younger characters. They felt so true and real to me that my heart broke for these poor kids whose friend was missing. The emotion, the naivety was all conveyed so beautifully. The other character I adored was Detective Sergeant Sarah Michaels who is guilt-ridden following the end of her recent relationship. Her actions play on her mind constantly and I loved how that made the character more human. Sarah is very well-written and I do secretly hope that this is only the start for her and we get to see her feature in future books.

The plot is an intriguing slow burn of a read which I savoured every moment of. I didn’t feel the need to sprint my way through Dirt Town at all. I wanted to enjoy every word, every description of this dead end rural Australian town and savour the interactions between the characters as the mystery slowly but steadily unfurled. I wasn’t able to predict whodunit but it was a very satisfying, very surprising reveal.

Would I recommend this book? I would, yes. Dirt Town is a very atmospheric, incredibly readable tale which I enjoyed every dark and desolate moment of. The setting is exactly the kind of setting I want in my crime fiction novels – a small town on its last legs. I loved the vivid descriptions the author uses to set the scene, putting the reader right there in the middle of things. But the characters were EVERYTHING. Multi-layered, completely believable and totally unforgettable. It’s hard to believe Dirt Town is a debut and I’m excited to see what Scrivenor delivers next. Highly recommended.

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

Dirt Town by Hayley Scrivenor was published in the UK by Macmillan on 23rd June 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 shop |

Hayley ScrivenorHayley Scrivenor is a former Director of Wollongong Writers Festival. DIRT CREEK is her first novel (published as DIRT TOWN in Europe and Australia). An earlier version of the book was shortlisted for the Penguin Literary Prize and won The Kill Your Darlings Unpublished Manuscript Award. Originally from a small country town, Hayley now lives and writes on Dharawal country and has a PhD in creative writing from the University of Wollongong on the south coast of Australia.

#BookReview: When I Was Ten by Fiona Cummins @panmacmillan #WhenIWasTen #damppebbles

“Twenty-one years ago, Dr Richard Carter and his wife Pamela were killed in what has become the most infamous double murder of the modern age.

Their ten year-old daughter – nicknamed the Angel of Death – spent eight years in a children’s secure unit and is living quietly under an assumed name with a family of her own.

Now, on the anniversary of the trial, a documentary team has tracked down her older sister, compelling her to break two decades of silence.

Her explosive interview sparks national headlines and journalist Brinley Booth, a childhood friend of the Carter sisters, is tasked with covering the news story.

For the first time, the three women are forced to confront what really happened that night – with devastating consequences for them all.”

Hello and welcome to damppebbles. Today I am delighted to share my review of When I Was Ten by Fiona Cummins. When I Was Ten was published by Pan Macmillan in paperback format on 30th December 2021 and is also available in hardcover, audio and digital formats.

I have been wanting to read When I Was Ten since it first landed on my radar last year. Having finished one book, I was in a strange ‘nothing really appeals…’ mood and was looking for something a little dark and a little uncomfortable to get my teeth into. Which is when this book suddenly sprang to mind! Without a second thought, I downloaded a copy and made a start straight away. And what a devastating and utterly compelling story When I Was Ten is. I absolutely loved it!

Twenty-one years ago Richard and Pamela Carter were viciously murdered in their beds. The case became infamous, partly due to the respect held by the local community for Dr Carter – the local GP – but mainly because the killer was their youngest daughter. After spending time in a secure unit for children, the daughter assumed a new identity and started a new life. But now a documentary crew have found the older of the two sisters and questions are being asked. The Angel of Death is back in the spotlight, the last place she ever wanted to be, and her new life is about to come crashing down around her…

Oh my goodness, When I Was Ten is SO GOOD! This is, I’m ashamed to admit, the first book I’ve read by this author despite being told repeatedly by fellow readers for years that I would love her books. They were right.  I loved the story, the characters and Cummins’ writing. So much so, I plan to download the author’s entire back catalogue as soon as I’m physically able to.

When I Was Ten centres around the Carter sisters and their friend and neighbour from 21 years ago, Brinley Booth. Told in the past and the present, we get to hear from journalist Brinley as she decides whether to reveal her connection to the biggest story of the year to her boss. In doing so, she knows it’ll give her failing career a real boost. But does she really want to dredge up difficult memories from that time again? Particularly as Brinley knows more than she’s letting on. We also get to hear from Catherine as her carefully created life crumbles around her. As her daughter and husband realise who has actually been head of their family for the last twelve years. How well do we really know those we’re closest to? There are also deeply unsettling flashbacks to the past which show the reader how the Carter sisters were treated by their supposedly perfect parents in their nice big house. It makes for difficult reading at times but I couldn’t tear myself away!

Would I recommend this book? I would, yes. When I Was Ten is dark and twisty and absolutely everything I love about crime fiction. There were a number of brilliantly written surprises along the way, some which left me with my jaw on the floor. I thought the characters were very well-written and really pulled the reader into the story. The book is paced beautifully, encouraging ‘just one more chapter’ before turning out the light. But before you know it, half of the night has passed and you know you’ll be living on coffee and fumes come the morning *true story* (it was so worth it though 😉)! When I Was Ten is undoubtedly one of my favourite reads of 2022 and fans of family centred crime thrillers should put this one top of their wish list. You’ll be missing out on something quite special if you don’t! Hugely compelling, immensely readable, heart breaking and unexpectedly emotional, and impossible to put down. Loved it. Highly recommended.

When I Was Ten by Fiona Cummins was published in the UK by Pan Macmillan on 30th December 2021 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.ukWaterstonesFoylesBook Depositorybookshop.orgGoodreadsdamppebbles bookshop.org shop |

Fiona CumminsFiona Cummins is an award-winning former Daily Mirror showbusiness journalist and a graduate of the Faber Academy, where she now teaches her own Writing Crime course. She is the bestselling author of five crime thriller novels, all of which have received widespread critical acclaim from household names including Val McDermid, Lee Child, David Baldacci, Martina Cole and Ian Rankin. Three of her novels have been optioned for television.

Rattle, her debut, has been translated into several languages and Marcel Berlins wrote in The Times: ‘Amid the outpouring of crime novels, Rattle is up there with the best of them.’ Fiona was selected for McDermid’s prestigious New Blood panel at the 2017 Theakston Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival, where her novel was nominated for a Dead Good Reader Award for Most Exceptional Debut. A sequel, The Collector, was published in February 2018 and David Baldacci described it as ‘A crime novel of the very first order’.

Her third novel – standalone thriller The Neighbour – was published in April 2019. Ian Rankin called it ‘creepy as hell’. Her fourth novel When I Was Ten, an Irish Times bestseller, was published in April 2021. Into The Dark, Fiona’s fifth novel, will be published in April 2022 and was described by Sarah Vaughan, author of Netflix smash-hit Anatomy of A Scandal, as ‘Complex. Inventive. Twisty. Unsettling.’

When Fiona is not writing, she can be found on Twitter, eating biscuits or walking her dogs. She lives in Essex with her family.

#BookReview: Out of Her Depth by Lizzy Barber @panmacmillan @ed_pr #OutofHerDepth #damppebbles

There are summers that could change your life.
There are summers that could end it.

Meet Rachel.
An unassuming young woman from a quiet London suburb.

Picture the scene:
A summer job at the beautiful Villa Medici in the Tuscan hills.
A group of glamorous teenagers, used to a life of privilege.
Lavish parties, heady sun-soaked days, backstabbing and bedhopping.

Until someone goes too far.
And nothing will ever be the same.”

Hello and welcome to damppebbles. Today I am delighted to share my review of Out of Her Depth by Lizzy Barber. Out of Her Depth will be published by Pan later this week (Thursday 28th April 2022) and will be available in paperback, audio and digital formats. I chose to read and review a free ARC of Out of Her Depth but that has in no way influenced my review. My grateful thanks to Emma at EDPR for sending me a proof copy.

Rachel is a gifted student who has earned a spot at Cambridge to study languages. Her Italian is a little rusty though so her tutor encourages her to take a Summer placement working in an exclusive Villa for wealthy guests at the foot of the Tuscan Hills. It’s a dream come true for Rachel; the luxury, the extravagance is unlike anything she’s experienced before. And then she meets Diana. Beautiful, charming and entitled, Rachel is immediately swept up in the magnificence of her new friend. Rachel is living a life so far removed from her own, basking in Diana’s glow. Drink, drugs and sex aplenty, the girls have it all. Until someone goes too far. Until the night when everything changes…

I LOVED THIS BOOK! Love, love, loved it! Completely absorbing, utterly addictive and truly sublime in every sense. The characters felt real, the setting was vividly drawn, hypnotising in its beauty and decadence, and the plot had me turning the pages at a rate of knots, keen to find out how things were going to end. And oh my gosh, what a perfect ending the author has created. Absolutely gripping and deliciously uncomfortable. Marvellous!

Told in the past and the present, the reader meets Rachel twenty-one years after her fateful Summer in Florence. She’s a changed woman having failed to reach the heady heights she set her sights on in her teenage years. Rachel is a university dropout, working as a language teacher in an exclusive girls school. Her life is mundane, her desire to live a more perfect life eats away at her and the past is impossible to forget. And that’s when a face from Villa Medici, a face she’s tried so hard to forget, makes a shocking reappearance. Old feelings surface, resentment builds and fear drives her forward. I sympathised so much with the present day Rachel and adored the way the author has written her. She’s frustrating, she’s obsessive and she’s haunted by a past she can’t escape. I found I was hanging on Rachel’s every word, her every action. Compelled to see what she would do next and how far things would go. I loved it.

The author builds the suspense incredibly well putting the reader on edge from the moment Rachel and Diana meet in the Villa. I enjoyed the fact that the author brings wealthy, entitled Diana down to the same level as Rachel by making her a maid/waitress at the Villa. And that’s where the similarities end between the two characters. Their friendship starts out as you would expect, two young women left to their own devices in stunning surroundings having the time of their lives. One a leader – used to being the centre of attention. One a smitten follower. But as the Summer months progress, facades slip. The author writes her characters so subtly that it still comes as a huge shock to the reader with one act in particular making me gasp out loud.

Would I recommend this book? I would, yes. I loved Out of Her Depth and can see it featuring on my top books of the year list. It’s a highly addictive, sophisticated and atmospheric thriller that has left its mark on me. Everything worked. The characters felt real, their interactions were very convincing, the setting – well, I’m booking my holiday to Florence this year! – and the plot drew me into the story, and kept me within the pages even when I should have probably been cooking dinner for the kids (don’t worry, they were fed 😂). I loved this book and will be recommending it to everyone, starting with YOU! If you enjoy psychological thrillers featuring toxic friendships then you need this book in your life. It was a thrilling, uncomfortable, unnerving, tense joy to read and I highly recommend it.

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

Out of Her Depth by Lizzy Barber was published in the UK by Pan on 28th April 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 |

Lizzy BarberLizzy Barber studied English at Corpus Christ College, Cambridge University. After ‘previous lives’ acting and working in film development, she is now the Head of Brand and Marketing for a restaurant group, working with her brother, a restaurateur.

Her debut novel, MY NAME IS ANNA / A GIRL NAMED ANNA (US), is the winner of the Daily Mail First Novel Competition, and was published by Penguin Random House in 2019. OUT OF HER DEPTH will be published in April 2022.

Lizzy lives in London with her husband, George, food writer and strategy consultant, and their son, Marlowe, born January 2019.