The Sentence is Death by Anthony Horowitz

5*

Random House UK Cornerstone|1 November 2018|384 pages|Review copy

Last year when I read The Word is Murder I thought it was a very clever and different type of murder mystery. It features Daniel Hawthorne, an ex-policeman, now a private investigator, who the police call in to help when they have a case they call a ‘sticker’. What I found particularly interesting was the way that Anthony Horowitz inserted himself into the fiction, recruited by Hawthorne to write a book about him and the cases he investigates.

In The Sentence is Death, Anthony appears again as a character, reluctantly, as he had agreed to a three-book contract with Hawthorne. At the start of the book Anthony, who wrote the script for the TV series of Foyles War, is on the set as the opening scenes in the seventh series were being shot. The rehearsal was disastrous, but it came to an abrupt end when Hawthorne interrupted the scenes by driving straight into the middle of the set to tell Anthony there had been another murder and that the police had asked for his help.

Divorce lawyer Richard Pryce was found dead in his home, having been hit on the head by a wine bottle, a 1982 Chateau Lafite worth £3,000, and then stabbed to death with the broken bottle. There are several clues – there’s the number 182 written in green paint on the wall, the incredibly expensive bottle of wine when Pryce was a teetotaller, a public threat from a well known feminist writer, an unknown visitor the evening he was killed and plenty of other enemies as suspects.  There’s no doubt that Daniel is a brilliant detective, but Anthony finds him trying as he’s uncommunicative, keeping Anthony in the dark most of the time, he swears and he calls him ‘Tony’.

I found it all most entertaining and perplexing, completely foxed by all the red herrings and twists and turns in the plot. But, mainly because I’d read the first book, I loved the interaction between Anthony and Daniel and had no difficulty with the mix of fact and fiction, enjoying the details about Anthony’s life as a scriptwriter as much as the mystery about the murder. I don’t think, however that you need to read The Word is Murder first because as a murder mystery The Sentence is Death works well as a standalone. But to  see how their relationship began and develops it would help to read the books in order.

I loved this book as much or maybe even more than the first one and am delighted that I received a copy of this book from the publisher, via NetGalley, for review.

In a Dark, Dark Wood by Ruth Ware

In a Dark, Dark Wood

Nora hasn’t seen Clare for ten years. Not since the day Nora walked out of her old life and never looked back.

Until, out of the blue, an invitation to Clare’s hen party arrives. A weekend in a remote cottage – the perfect opportunity for Nora to reconnect with her best friend, to put the past behind her.

But something goes wrong.

Very wrong.

And as secrets and lies unravel, out in the dark, dark wood the past will finally catch up with Nora.

I featured In a Dark, Dark Wood by Ruth Ware in this Friday Post on book Beginnings and said that I wasn’t sure I wanted to read it having been disappointed  by the only other book by her that I’ve read, The Woman in Cabin 10.  But as some people commented that they had enjoyed it and as it has good reviews on Amazon and Goodreads I decided to read on. It promises to be a psychological thriller – a scary book – but maybe I’ve read too many psychological thrillers as I didn’t find it thrilling or scary. It’s mystery novel that slowly reveals why Leonora, known either as Lee or Nora or Leo, and Clare haven’t seen  or even spoken to each other since they were 16, ten years ago. That was also when Nora’s heart was broken when her relationship with James came to an abrupt end. She had never come to terms with their break up.

I thought the setting was good – the hen party is held in a glass house in the middle of a wood in Northumberland. The mobile phone signal is practically nonexistent and they are cut off from the outside world and isolated when the snow sets, in cutting off the landline. But the characters are stereotypes – a new mother pining for her baby back home, a gay male actor, a gay female doctor (who is in my opinion the most sensible of the group), the dippy devoted friend of the bride who has organised this terrible hen party, the bride, self-obsessed, selfish and manipulative as well as Nora, who can’t move on from her past. The outcome is predictable when footprints appear in the snow, the backdoor that was supposed to be locked is found open and the hen party keep arguing and antagonising each other. It’s obvious from the start that something terrible had happened when Nora wakes up in a hospital bed and realises that she can’t remember what had happened … or what she had done.

In a Dark, Dark Wood is Ruth Ware’s debut novel and the film rights have been optioned  by New Line Cinema.  I can imagine that a film would be much more terrifying than the book – it should be, the potential is there. I don’t like being critical of a book, but I can’t recommend this book.

 

Absolute Proof by Peter James

3.5*

Pan Macmillan|4 October 2018|570 pages|Review copy

Investigative reporter Ross Hunter nearly didn’t answer the phone call that would change his life – and possibly the world – for ever. ‘I’d just like to assure you I’m not a nutcase, Mr Hunter. My name is Dr Harry F. Cook. I know this is going to sound strange, but I’ve recently been given absolute proof of God’s existence – and I’ve been advised there is a writer, a respected journalist called Ross Hunter, who could help me to get taken seriously.’

What would it take to prove the existence of God? And what would be the consequences?

This question and its answer lie at the heart of Absolute Proof, an international thriller from bestselling author Peter James.

The false faith of a billionaire evangelist, the life’s work of a famous atheist, and the credibility of each of the world’s major religions are all under threat. If Ross Hunter can survive long enough to present the evidence . . .

Absolute Proof is a long book and at times I struggled to carry on reading as, although for the most part it is fast-paced, it is slow going in parts. And it certainly tested my ability to suspend my disbelief several times. I’ve only read two of Peter James’ books previously, both crime fiction set in Brighton featuring Detective Superintendent Roy Grace. Absolute Proof is a standalone thriller and is very different from the Roy Grace books. It has similarities to Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code, as the search is on for proof of  God’s existence.

Ross Hunter is married to Imogen and they are expecting their first child – however he has serious doubts about his marriage and suspects Imogen of cheating on him. The story of their marriage unfolds, underlying the main plotline.  Dr Harry  F Cook, a former RAF officer and  retired history of art professor, contacts Ross and drip feeds him information that Cook claims proves that God exists.

The grid references Cook gives Hunter takes him to various places including Glastonbury, where he visits the Chalice Well in search of the Holy Grail, and Egypt in search of Queen Hatshepsut’s Temple. All the time he is in danger of death as he is pursued by those who do not want Cook’s claims to be made public. It’s a dramatic and hair-raising story that made me want to know what happened next at the same time as it made me question its credibility. It is certainly thought provoking and entertaining.

One of the things that intrigued me was that in his Acknowledgements Peter James explains that the book began with a phone call he received in 1989 from someone who did indeed claim that he had been given absolute proof of God’s existence and that he had been given Peter James’s name as an author who would help him to get taken seriously. This started James’s ‘journey of exploration into what might be considered absolute proof – and just what the consequences might be.’ During the intervening years he has talked to many people from different faiths and had discussions with scientists, academics, theologians and clerics. He has certainly done his research and gives a long list of the people who have helped him, plus a list of his sources of reference, giving me yet more details of books I’d like to read.

Thanks to Pan Macmillan and NetGalley for provided a review copy of this book.

Down to the Woods by M J Arlidge

If you go down to the woods today, you’d better not go alone …

Down to the Woods (Helen Grace #8)

Penguin UK – Michael Joseph|20 September 2018|480 pages|Review copy

Synopsis – Amazon UK:

There is a sickness in the forest. First, it was the wild horses. Now it’s innocent men and women, hunted down and murdered by a faceless figure. Lost in the darkness, they try to flee, they try to hide. In desperation, they call out for help. But there is no-one to hear their cries here…

DI Helen Grace must face down a new nightmare. The arrow-ridden victims hang from the New Forest’s ancient oaks, like pieces of strange fruit. Why are helpless holidaymakers being targeted in peak camping season? And what do their murders signify? Is a psychopath stalking the forest? Is there an occult element to the killings? Could the murders even be an offering to the Forest itself? Helen must walk into the darkness to discover the truth behind her most challenging, most macabre case yet.

My thoughts:

Down to the Woods is the 8th DI Helen Grace thriller by M J Arlidge. I haven’t read any of the earlier books and it’s obvious that Helen has a particularly dramatic and traumatic backstory, but enough explanation is given for me to read this book as a stand-alone. It’s tense and dark with several twists and turns and red herrings, that seemed obviously so to me. It’s on the grisly side of gruesome with graphic descriptions of violence and death and details of information on the dark web, all of which I find off-putting.

I don’t intend to retell the plot as I think the synopsis gives as much detail as you need to know to begin the book. It’s fast-paced in parts, but in others it’s slowed down considerably by the amount of description of the location and characters. Having said that I did like the description of the New Forest, with its ancient woodland, beautiful glades and of course the New Forest ponies.

However, I think the characters aren’t very credible, with maybe the exception of DS Charlie Brooke who has her own problems at home. DS Joseph Hudson is a new character to the series and there are several questions to be answered about his background that seemed rather dubious to me. The reporter Emilia Garanita is the stereotypical journalist with all the unlikable journalistic traits rolled into her character and you’re meant to dislike her. I expected Helen to be the main character but for most of the book she on the sidelines until the final section when she ends up close to death. The chapters are very short with cliff-hanger endings, designed to keep you turning the pages. I did want to know the outcome, but I got rather tired of all the violence and chase scenes throughout the book and was relieved to finish it.

2.5 stars rounded up to 3 stars on Goodreads. Other people liked it more than me – there are many 5 and 4 star reviews on Goodreads.

Thank you to Penguin UK – Michael Joseph and NetGalley for my copy of this book for review.

The Clockmaker’s Daughter by Kate Morton

Mantle|20 September 2018|592 pages|Review copy|3*

Synopsis:

My real name, no one remembers.
The truth about that summer, no one else knows.

In the summer of 1862, a group of young artists led by the passionate and talented Edward Radcliffe descends upon Birchwood Manor in rural Berkshire. Their plan: to spend a secluded summer month in a haze of inspiration and creativity. But by the time their stay is over, one woman has been shot dead while another has disappeared; a priceless heirloom is missing; and Edward Radcliffe’s life is in ruins.

Over one hundred and fifty years later, Elodie Winslow, a young archivist in London, uncovers a leather satchel containing two seemingly unrelated items: a sepia photograph of an arresting-looking woman in Victorian clothing, and an artist’s sketchbook containing a drawing of a twin-gabled house on the bend of a river.

Why does Birchwood Manor feel so familiar to Elodie? And who is the beautiful woman in the photograph? Will she ever give up her secrets?

Told by multiple voices across time, The Clockmaker’s Daughter is a story of murder, mystery and thievery, of art, love and loss. And flowing through its pages like a river, is the voice of a woman who stands outside time, whose name has been forgotten by history, but who has watched it all unfold: Birdie Bell, the clockmaker’s daughter.

My thoughts:

I was looking forward to reading The Clockmaker’s Daughter as Kate Morton’s The House at Riverton and The Secret Keeper are two of my favourite books, but I’m in two minds about it. Whilst I loved parts of it I struggled to read other parts, bogged down by the many changes of time, places and characters, even though I like complicated plots and dual time-lines. It could easily have been made into several books.

I found it difficult to separate the various strands and to create a coherent whole – and it is so long and drawn out. And then there is the supernatural element, which intrigued and delighted me. So, all in all, my reaction is confused and mixed, so much so that at times I wanted to give it 5 stars and then plummeted right down to 2 stars – hence the 3 stars!

It’s richly descriptive and I loved the descriptions of the locations, and of Birchwood Manor, the house on the bend of the river and the story of how Elodie searches to find the history and connections between the satchel, the photograph of a beautiful Victorian woman and an artist’s sketchbook certainly caught my imagination. I also loved the story of Birdie, the clockmaker’s daughter, who is the catalyst for the disaster that befell Edward’s life.

There are multiple narrators very gradually building up a history of Birchwood Manor and the people who lived there over the years up to 2016. But it’s hard to keep track of them all as the narrative jumps backwards and forwards so disjointedly. The connections between what seem to be separate stories eventually become clear – but you have to keep all the separate strands in your head and remember who is related and how their paths meet and diverge.

As the synopsis says it is a story of murder, mystery and thievery, of art, love and loss – all of which appeals to me. And I’m sure plenty of other readers will love this book. It’s a book that I really needed to concentrate on, which is not a bad thing, but for most of its 592 pages it moves at a snail’s pace and I found it an effort. But once you have got to the end and can see the whole picture it really is a good story; very cleverly plotted, maybe too cleverly for me.

Thank you to Mantle and NetGalley for my copy of this book for review.

Top Ten Tuesday: Top Ten Books On My Fall 2018 TBR

Top Ten Tuesday new

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme created by The Broke and the Bookish and now hosted by Jana at That Artsy Reader Girl. This is the first time I’m taking part.

The rules are simple:

  • Each Tuesday, Jana assigns a new topic. Create your own Top Ten list that fits that topic – putting your unique spin on it if you want.
  • Everyone is welcome to join but please link back to The Artsy Reader Girl in your own Top Ten Tuesday post.
  • Add your name to the Linky widget on that day’s post so that everyone can check out other bloggers’ lists.
  • Or if you don’t have a blog, just post your answers as a comment.

This week’s topic is Top Ten Books On My Fall 2018 TBR.  Autumn (Fall) begins on 23 September and I have so many books to choose from – new releases, review copies,  and library books. Here are just some of the books that I’m hoping to read before winter sets in. I’m not sure these are my top ten – only time will tell:

New Releases coming in October

In a House of Lies (Inspector Rebus, #22)Tombland (Matthew Shardlake, #7)The Reckoning

  • In a House of Lies by Ian Rankin – the 22nd Rebus book. I’ve read all the previous books, so this is a must for me.
  • Tombland by C J Sansom – the 7th Shardlake book, historical fiction – also a must read, having read the previous 6 books.
  • The Reckoning by John Grisham – not too sure about this one. Years ago I read loads of his books and then stopped as I felt they became rather formulaic.

Review copies (some are new releases)

  • Now We Shall Be Entirely Free by Andrew Miller – historical fiction set in 1809 during the Napoleonic Wars. A new-to-me author, but an award winning author.
  • Down to the Woods by M J Arlidge – the 8th DI Helen Grace thriller – another new-to-me author, with good reviews for his books.

  • Absolute Truth by Peter James – a standalone thriller. One of my favourite authors.
  • Timekeepers by Simon Garfield – non-fiction about our obsession with time,  promises to be fascinating.

Library books

In a Dark, Dark WoodHag-Seed (Hogarth Shakespeare)Destroying Angel (Damian Seeker #3)

  • In a Dark Dark Wood by Ruth Ware – a psychological thriller – I’m hoping I’ll enjoy it more than The Woman in Cabin 10.
  • Hag-Seed by Margaret Atwood – The Tempest retold, one of the Hogarth Shakespeare Project novels.
  • Destroying Angel by S G MacLean – the third Damian Seeker book, historical crime fiction. I loved the previous two books.

Macbeth by Jo Nesbo

William Shakespeare’s Macbeth retold

5*

He’s the best cop they’ve got. 

When a drug bust turns into a bloodbath it’s up to Inspector Macbeth and his team to clean up the mess.

He’s also an ex-drug addict with a troubled past. 

He’s rewarded for his success. Power. Money. Respect. They’re all within reach. 

But a man like him won’t get to the top.

Plagued by hallucinations and paranoia, Macbeth starts to unravel. He’s convinced he won’t get what is rightfully his.

Unless he kills for it.

I haven’t read any of Jo Nesbo’s books so I wasn’t sure what to expect from his version of Macbeth, translated from the Norwegian by Don Bartlett. And it’s been a long time since I read or saw a performance of Macbeth, one of my favourite plays, but it seems to me that Jo Nesbo’s retelling of Shakespeare’s Macbeth sticks well to Shakespeare’s version (which itself wasn’t original!) – it has the same themes and plot lines.

I loved the opening of Nesbo’s version describing the rain falling on an industrial town, the second largest after Capitol. The setting is rather vague – it is somewhere in the 1970s in a fictional Scotland in a lawless town full of drug addicts, where there is a titanic struggle for control between the police force, corrupt politicians, motorbike gangs and  drug dealers.

All the characters are here, including Duncan, the new police Chief Commissioner after Kenneth was killed, Malcolm his deputy, Banquo, Macbeth’s friend and his son, Fleance, Inspector Duff (Shakespeare’s Macduff, Thane of Fife), head of the Narcotics Unit, Caithness, the three witches, Lennox and so on. And watch out for Nesbo’s version of Great Birnam Wood – I don’t want to give any spoilers here!

It’s a tragedy, like Shakespeare’s, a tale of political ambition and the destructive power it wields, a tale of love and guilt, and of enormous greed of all kinds. Inspector Macbeth, an ex-drug addict is the head of the SWAT team, ruled by his passions, violent and paranoid. He is manipulated by Hecate, Shakespeare’s chief witch, here one of the drug lords, a man with a friendly smile and cold eyes, called by some the Invisible Hand; his ‘brew’ has made him one of the town’s richest men. Macbeth is corrupted by his renewed dependency on brew and fuelled by his passion for his wife, Lady, a tall, beautiful woman with flame-red hair who whispers seductively to Macbeth that he has to kill Duncan. And there’s a mole in their midst.

This is a dark, gritty and violent tale that had me completely enthralled and I loved it. It is the first book by Jo Nesbo that I’ve read – but it won’t be the last.

Thank you to Random UK/Vintage and NetGalley for my copy of this book for review.

  • Paperback: 624 pages (also available on Kindle and in Hardcover)
  • Publisher: Vintage (20 Sept. 2018)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 009959806X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0099598060
  • Review Copy
Note: Macbeth was first published  March 15th 2018 by Hogarth as part of  the Hogarth Shakespeare project that sees Shakespeare’s works retold by acclaimed and bestselling novelists of today. The series launched in October 2015 and to date will be published in twenty countries.