Lost King (The Omar Zagouri Thrillers #2) by Heather Moore

Lost King

I am a sucker for historical fiction and thrillers, as well as being fascinated by all things Ancient Egypt so when I read this blurb, I just knew I had to dive in…

So what’s it about?

Undercover agent Omar Zagouri has been ordered to Giza. A prominent Egyptologist was murdered, and a priceless artefact—the only complete version of the Book of the Dead—is missing. Omar is still reeling from the recent disappearance of his girlfriend, Mia Golding, but he puts his quest to find her on hold to track down the lost piece of history.

Omar’s mission is not just to locate the sacred book; he must also rescue the two archaeologists kidnapped and forced to translate its hieroglyphics under threat of death. Their kidnapper is determined to discover the text’s rumoured explosive revelation: that Moses did not receive the Ten Commandments from God but instead copied them from the Egyptians. Though Omar’s need to find Mia grows more urgent, he must focus on finding the enemy who will stop at nothing to ignite a controversy that will change history, and the world, forever.

This is the second of the Omar Zagouri series but it worked perfectly as a standalone novel and I didn’t feel at a disadvantage not having read the first one.

The story is fast paced and action-packed, with a triple narrative – two of which are happening in the modern day and the third telling the story of the female Pharaoh Hatshepsut –generally regarded by Egyptologists as one of the most successful pharaohs, reigning longer than any other woman of an indigenous Egyptian dynasty.

Hatshepsut

And wow, what a compelling story it is. I couldn’t put it down. The whole novel is extremely tightly plotted with well developed, likeable characters (you can’t NOT like Omar!) but it’s the story of Hatshepsut that made is fascinating for me. She is the ultimate Ancient Feminist and I found myself inwardly cheering her on as well as going off and googling obscure facts about her and her life.

The modern day stories work well too, combining action, intrigue, espionage and a bit of romance for good measure. What more could you want?

I enjoyed it so much I’ve asked the author for a copy of the first in the series… watch this space!

(Image of Hatshepsut by Postdlf from w, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=895004)

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The Venus Trap by Louise Voss

The Venus Trap by Louise Voss

‘I love you, Jo, and I want you to love me. I want to have a future with you’.

I’ve read a lot of thrillers this year. And I really do mean A LOT. Many of them were really good but this one completely and utterly creeped me out. I’ve been trying to work out exactly why and I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s probably because I found the premise so terrifyingly plausible. There are no super-intelligent detectives in this story and no heart-racing pursuit and capture. There’s just one woman in her own home, with one man.

So what’s it about?

Jo Atkins’ sixteenth year was disastrous: she lost her dad, was assaulted by a stranger, and then had her heart broken. For the last twenty-five years, she’s believed that nothing could ever be as bad again.

She was wrong.

Now, still smarting from her recent divorce, pretty, self-effacing Jo finally gathers the courage to enter the dating scene. She meets Claudio, whom she vaguely remembers from her youth, but after a few dates decides he’s creepy and politely tells him ‘thanks but no thanks’.

But Claudio has no intention of letting her go.

Instead of never seeing him again, Jo wakes up sick and terrified, handcuffed to her own bed. She is given a week to prove her love for Claudio—or he will kill her.

Claudio, it turns out, is a man with nothing left to lose.

Jo is kidnapped by Claudio with the help of a healthy dose of Rohypnol. She is kept as a prisoner in her own home by a man who became obsessed with her years before her marriage, and whose obsession has never dwindled. Jo remembers him as someone who’d ‘always kind of given me the creeps’ – it turns out with very good reason. When she comes around from her drug-induced state, she realises that he has screwed her windows shut and removed anything from her flat with which she could do herself, or him, any harm.

In the course of searching for anything that could help her in her plight, Jo comes across her old diary. Claudio is delighted: ‘This will give us a perfect talking point. I want to know everything about you, everything. We have so many years to catch up on, to find out where we went wrong – and we have all the time in the world to do it’. From this point on, the narrative splits. On the one hand we witness Jo’s terrifying reality and on the other, her flashbacks to 1986 – the year she met Claudio – and the events that have helped to shape her future.

We are with Jo as she starts to blame herself for her situation: ‘If I had different instincts, I’d never have walked down that alley’ and when she considers her best route to survival: ‘Surely it’s better to sit passively and mentally practise how to convince him of my ‘love’, than risk disaster by provoking him?’

Somehow, Voss manages to pack a little bit of everything into this story without ever making it feel as though it’s been shoe-horned in. As well as her divorce, we learn of Jo’s infidelity, of her struggle to conceive, of her friendships and her grief: ‘The pain that sweeps over me at this realisation makes me truly believe I could die from grief’.

I’m not going to talk about the ending as I don’t want to give anything away. Suffice it to say that his novel is an all-rounder that packs a real punch. I couldn’t put it down. Huge thanks to the publisher for sending me a copy in exchange for a review.

‘I think he has broken me, not just my heart. I feel broken’.

The Venus Trap is only £3.98 on kindle right now: The Venus Trap

Silent Scream by Angela Marsons

Silent Scream

Meet DI Kim Stone; independent, dedicated and coldly efficient as a Police Officer but somewhat dispassionate and damaged in her private life. Here is a woman in a man’s world, quietly battling her own personal demons and not letting anyone stand in the way of her success: ‘Her last performance review had highlighted only one area of improvement; playing nice with others’.

So what’s it about?

Even the darkest secrets can’t stay buried forever… Five figures gather round a shallow grave. They had all taken turns to dig. An adult-sized hole would have taken longer. An innocent life had been taken but the pact had been made. Their secrets would be buried, bound in blood…

Years later, a headmistress is found brutally strangled, the first in a spate of gruesome murders which shock the Black Country. But when human remains are discovered at a former children’s home, disturbing secrets are also unearthed. DI Kim Stone fast realises she’s on the hunt for a twisted individual whose killing spree spans decades. As the body count rises, Kim needs to stop the murderer before they strike again. But to catch the killer, can Kim confront the demons of her own past before it’s too late?

The start of the novel flashes back to 2004 where five people are burying a body. Flash forwards to the present day and we learn of the murder of Teresa Wyatt – highly respected Headteacher. Human bones are then found on the site of an old children’s home. As the body count rises, it turns out that all these events are linked and it’s up to DI Stone and her team to uncover the truth.

What follows is an absolutely captivating roller coaster of a ride. Superbly plotted, full of suspense and the most amazing twists and turns, all of the elements combine to create a completely mind-blowing conclusion. Yep. I devoured this book in 24 hours and was sad to have finished it. All of the clichés are just true – I couldn’t put it down – along with everyone else. For a debut novel only published six months ago, nearly 2000 five star reviews on Amazon is an incredible achievement and one that is so very well deserved.

Another favourite author to add to the list and the start of what I very much hope will be a long series of books. It’ll be a crime if we don’t see DI Kim Stone on our TV screens one day…

Silent Scream is available on Kindle at the moment for only 99p – an absolute bargain: Silent Scream: An edge of your seat serial killer thriller (Detective Kim Stone crime thriller series Book 1)

Dead Time – A DC Max Wolfe Short Story – by Tony Parsons

Dead Time

I’m so, so, SO pleased Tony Parsons took a punt and tried his hand at crime fiction. DC Max Wolfe is a fabulous new fictional detective and these are soooo my kind of stories. I thoroughly enjoyed The Murder Bag, the first in the series – you can see my review here.

Dead Time is number 1.5 in the series – a short story to whet our appetites before #2 in the series is published on 21st May.

So what’s it about?

One am, Boxing Day. Snow falls, the city sleeps.

Not DC Max Wolfe. He is looking out of his loft apartment at the deserted streets below.

A van has just drawn up. Two men get out. Dressed in black and wearing ski-masks, they are dragging something.

It’s a man. Half-naked. Half-dead. But still alive.

Not for much longer.

Soon Max Wolfe is hunting a gang of killers who decapitate their victims.

And this time it’s personal …

Is there anything better than the combination of a peaceful, wintery, snow scene to offset against a grisly murder? Not much! I won’t go into too much detail – it’s a short story after all, and I don’t want to give anything away but I will say that like The Murder Bag, this story ends so satisfyingly whilst having just enough deliciously gruesome details to keep the tension. The narrative is completely fearless and unflinching.

‘A cleanly decapitated human does not die instantly’.

If you enjoyed The Murder Bag, do read this before The Slaughter Man comes out next month.

The Murder Bag is available on kindle for only £3.66 at the moment: The Murder Bag

Dead Time is only 99p: Dead Time: A DC Max Wolfe Short Story

And The Slaughter Man can be pre-ordered: The Slaughter Man

The Doll’s House by M. J Arlidge

Dolls House

Having pretty much inhaled the previous two books in this series in three days flat, I couldn’t wait to get my hands on the third instalment of M J Arlidge’s DI Helen Grace series. I absolutely loved Eeeny Meeny (#1) and Pop Goes the Weasel (#2). If you enjoy fast-paced thrillers and haven’t given these a go yet, you really must. You can check out my review of the second one here.

So what’s part three about?

A young woman wakes up in a cold, dark cellar, with no idea how she got there or who her kidnapper is. So begins her terrible nightmare.

Nearby, the body of another young woman is discovered buried on a remote beach. But the dead girl was never reported missing – her estranged family having received regular texts from her over the years. Someone has been keeping her alive from beyond the grave.

For Detective Inspector Helen Grace it’s chilling evidence that she’s searching for a monster who is not just twisted but also clever and resourceful – a predator who’s killed before.

And as Helen struggles to understand the killer’s motivation, she begins to realize that she’s in a desperate race against time . . .

In a somewhat familiar opening scene, we meet Ruby waking up in disorienting circumstances: ‘She had gone to sleep in her nice, cosy bed. But had woken up in a cold, dark cellar’. In other news, the body of a young woman with a distinctive tattoo is found on a beach and it soon becomes clear that her killer starved her to death: ‘Her stomach has shrunk to the size of an orange, bone strength has been compromised…’ Pretty gruesome, huh? Unfortunately, Ruby Sprackling’s disappearance fits the profile and DI Helen Grace is required to come to the rescue and solve the case.

The characters we’ve come to know from the previous two books all have more of their story to tell here. Emilia, Jake, Charlie and Helen Grace herself are all developed further and as we’ve come to expect from Arlidge, the short, sharp chapters and roller-coaster pace ensure you really will resent every moment you don’t have your nose buried in it. It’s chillingly visual – the author’s TV background is again apparent and I’ll eat my paperback copy if we don’t see Helen Grace on our screens in one way or another in the reasonably near future.

All in all, this is another gem from one of my newest favourite authors. And the best news? Liar, Liar (#4) is expected to be published in September. I literally can’t wait!

‘At times like this Helen had no thoughts for her own safety – she would die doing this job, she knew that – and she longed for that…’

Eeny Meeny – #1 is available on kindle for only 95p at the moment:Eeny Meeny: DI Helen Grace 1 (A DI Helen Grace Thriller) or paperback for only £3.85: Eeny Meeny: DI Helen Grace 1

Pop Goes the Weasel – #2 is available on kindle: Pop Goes the Weasel: DI Helen Grace 2 (A DI Helen Grace Thriller) or paperback for only £3.85: Pop Goes the Weasel: DI Helen Grace 2

The Doll’s House – #3 is available on kindle:The Doll’s House: DI Helen Grace 3 (A DI Helen Grace Thriller) or paperback for only £3.85:The Doll’s House: DI Helen Grace 3 (Detective Inspector Helen Grace)

If you’re feeling particularly keen, you can also pre-order Liar, Liar – #4 on kindle for only £3.99: Liar Liar: DI Helen Grace 4 (A DI Helen Grace Thriller) or paperback for £7.99: Liar Liar: DI Helen Grace 4 (Detective Inspector Helen Grace)

The Shut Eye by Belinda Bauer

The Shut Eye

OK, so I am utterly at a loss to understand why I’ve waited so long to read Belinda Bauer. This is her latest novel and, I’m now ashamed to admit, the first I’ve read. I will be rectifying this almost immediately; I’ve just bought Rubbernecker and have added her complete backlist to my wishlist. Thank you so much to the publisher for providing me with a copy of The Shut Eye in exchange for a review – I’ve found a new favourite author as a result.

What the blurb says:

Five footprints are the only sign that Daniel Buck was ever here.

And now they are all his mother has left.

Every day, Anna Buck guards the little prints in the cement. Polishing them to a shine. Keeping them safe. Spiralling towards insanity.

When a psychic offers hope, Anna grasps it. Who wouldn’t? Maybe he can tell her what happened to her son…
But is this man what he claims to be? Is he a visionary? A shut eye? Or a cruel fake, preying on the vulnerable?

Or is he something far, far worse?

Yep. My heart thumped a little bit harder just reading the blurb again! I finished this novel some time ago now, but Anna’s story has stayed with me. I could feel her pain so acutely that I literally raced through the book, reading it in 24 hours flat. I just HAD to know what had happened to little Daniel. Was the story more powerful as I am a mother reading it? Maybe. But it is also without doubt one of the most intricately plotted novels I’ve read this year.

‘One hundred and twenty days ago, the door had been left open…’

How many parents pay to have their children’s footprints or handprints immortalised in plaster in one way or another? Most of us have done it. Perhaps that’s why the image of Daniel’s footprints in the cement is so poignant from the word go: ‘Five footprints in the cement. Five little footprints leading away from the sooty houses to who-knew-where…’ It’s a parent’s worst nightmare. You can’t help but walk in Anna’s shoes from the very start and of course, it’s an uncomfortable walk: ‘She knew she was going mad, but she didn’t know how to stop it any more than she knew how to stop crying or breathing’. As the reader, your heart breaks with her: ‘If [she] was crazy, she was crazy for all her own reasons. And they were reasons that were wholly understandable and unbearably sad’.

In contrast, I just loved the light relief (ironic in a policeman) provided by the character of DCI John Marvel. What a great name, and what a breath of fresh air as far as fictional detectives go: ‘The longer [he] worked in homicide, the more he disliked people. He’d never met one he didn’t hate – or despise… Along with fresh air and roughage, Marvel thought that children were overrated’. Having said which, nobody could possibly work harder to solve neither the Daniel Buck case nor that of Edie Evans – the other missing child case he’s working on when we meet him.

As well as the heartache surrounding the lost children, the reader watches as Anna and her husband James cling to the remains of their marriage: ‘With every beer he could do a better impression of a young man whose wife still loved him, and who hadn’t lost his son’. Because, unforgivably as far as either of them are concerned, it was James that left the front door open on that fateful day, four months previously.

Anna’s grief manifests itself in obsessive behaviour, which serves to worry her husband even more: ‘[She] could hear germs breeding on counter tops and under sofa cushions. They filled her mouth when she yawned and gritted her lids when she blinked…When Daniel came home, he would be so safe. Nothing would ever harm him again’. In light of later events (which I won’t go into here – this review is spoiler free), this obsessive behaviour only serves to discredit her further: ‘They all stood and watched her, stunned by the depth of her madness’.

No matter how tragic this story is in so many different ways, as the reader you are never left without hope and it is this hope that is addictive. It keeps you reading – in my case, in an obsessive manner reminiscent of Anna Buck herself. Interspersed with the more tragic elements of the story we also meet a whole host of other colourful characters from the is-he/isn’t-he Psychic, Richard Latham to Mitzi the poodle, to James’ work mates from the garage near his home.

There are so many seemingly inconsequential threads to this story – you only realise how they all weave together at the very end. Belinda Bauer is so incredibly clever – this novel completely captured me from the start and wouldn’t let go. It’s undoubtedly one of my top reads of 2015 so far and I urge you to buy it, read it and see what all the fuss is about for yourself.

‘Thinking about him keeps him alive for me… gives me hope, and hope keeps me alive for him’.

The Shut Eye was published on 12th March and is available in hardcover: The Shut Eye

Or kindle: The Shut Eye

I Let You Go by Clare Mackintosh

I Let You Go

As soon as I finished this book, I tweeted: ‘Wow. Now I have to find the words to review this in more than that one word’. I’ve left it a few days and the story is still firmly with me.

What the blurb says:

A tragic accident. It all happened so quickly. She couldn’t have prevented it. Could she?

In a split second, Jenna Gray’s world is shattered. Her only hope of moving on is to walk away from everything she knows to start afresh. Desperate to escape her past, Jenna moves to a remote cottage on the Welsh coast, but she is haunted by her fears, her grief and her memories of the cruel November night that changed her life for ever.

DI Ray Stevens is tasked with seeking justice for a mother who is living every parent’s worst nightmare. Determined to get to the bottom of the case, it begins to consume him as he puts both his professional and personal life on the line.

As Ray and his team seek to uncover the truth, Jenna, slowly, begins to glimpse the potential for happiness in her future. But her past is about to catch up with her and the consequences will be devastating . . .

Which rather cleverly (and from the perspective of someone who has now finished it), actually tells you everything and nothing all at once. At more than one point in this novel I thought I knew what I was reading and what was coming; each time I was wrong.

This novel just breaks all the rules – brilliantly and over and over again! I couldn’t put it down, despite the fact (and probably partly because) it is an intensely uncomfortable read for a variety of reasons. The first of which becomes clear very early on in the story and which I am therefore going to tell you about; I promise it will be the ONLY spoiler in this review.

The story opens with the tragic accident referred to in the blurb: ‘hit-and-run in Fishponds, guv. Five-year-old boy killed’. If, like me, you routinely avoid novels that might make you feel sad, I promise you won’t regret giving this one a go. Although the accident is the catalyst for the novel, there are SO many layers to this story: ‘I’ve told him more than I ever intended to, but I can’t tell him everything. If I do, he’ll leave, and I’ll have no one to stop me from falling’. Sooooo many questions!

Initially, the story moves between that of DI Stevens and his team investigating the accident, and that of those involved with Jacob (the five year old boy) himself. The police sections (ironically) serve as a palate cleanser in-between the faster-paced, higher-tension parts of the story. Don’t get me wrong, there are tensions there too:”‘Ray, you said no work!’ Ray was confused. ‘But the kids are in bed.’ ‘Yes, but I’m –‘Mags stopped…”. But without this part of the story, the reader would quite probably be holding their breath continually…

I honestly can’t remember the last novel I read that was comparable in terms of emotional experience. I felt all the same emotions as Jenna, deeply and compellingly. From grief: ‘Such a small impact on the world, yet the very centre of my own… The grief I feel is so physical it seems impossible that I am still living’; to anger and disgust: ‘You can’t do anything by yourself, Jennifer’; to guilt: ‘Each time a wave of fear hits me, I remind myself what I did, and that I have no right to be frightened’; and finally, complete and utter fear: ‘I will find you… Wherever you’ve gone to, I’ll find you. And then I will come for you’. Just imagine welcoming the idea of Prison, simply for the security and safety it provides. Chilling.

Later on in the story, the narrative is split further between Jenna and Ian, her husband. I would love to ask Clare Mackintosh whether writing Ian’s parts in the first person were as difficult to imagine and write as they are for the reader to read? Just incredible – infuriating, jarring and brutally honest.

I can’t talk in specifics about themes and events without spoiling the story, so I won’t. Suffice it to say, this novel will NOT let you go. Just read it.

‘You must remember that he was a boy. That he had a mother. And that her heart is breaking’.

I Let You Go on Kindle: I Let You Go