On My Life by Angela Clarke

A gripping, eye opening thriller, not only packed with bags of tension, but which shines a spotlight on a prison system not fit for purpose.


On My Life opens with Jenna being sent to prison to await trial for the murder of her beloved stepdaughter – the murder she insists she didn’t commit – and of her fiancé. Terrified, grieving and confused, her panic is only exacerbated when she discovers that she’s pregnant.


Abandoned by her friends and constantly on edge that her fellow inmates might discover she’s a child-murderer, Jenna keeps her head down and tries to fit in whilst also going through that last fateful day, when she came home to discover Emily brutally murdered, to work out who could be responsible. And the more she thinks about it, the more a likely-looking bunch of suspects appears in front of her.


Angela Clarke really taps into the terror of being locked up for a crime you didn’t commit, knowing that however much you insist you didn’t do it, to lawyers, family members, other inmates, no one believes you. Angela’s spoken about her time volunteering in prisons, and speaking to inmates, and you sense that in the writing of the other inmates and even the most vicious of prison guards, she blames the system rather than the individual. (And we’re talking vicious here!) The completely broken system where prison guards are resigning or retiring at a rate of knots after years and years of budget cuts is what comes in for criticism, let alone the horrifying treatment of pregnant inmates – which should bring a lump to the throat of even the most hardened reader.


Highly recommend this excellent, thought-provoking thriller, which ends on a gut punch of reveal that made my breath catch in my throat.

On My Life by Angela Clarke is out now, published by Mulholland.

Blog tour: Two O’Clock Boy by Mark Hill

Full disclaimer. I think of Mark Hill as a good friend, so although my first instinct when I heard he had a book deal was joy and excitement, I was a little apprehensive about reading it. What if I didn’t enjoy it? I would have to avoid Mark for the rest of my life, concocting elaborate stalking schemes to work out his whereabouts, coming up with ever more implausible excuses to not go the events I knew he was attending! (I probably wouldn’t have had to do these things, but sometimes my imagination runs away with itself.) But, as I’m sure the reader will have guessed (does this blog have readers? Or is it my own personal bookish echo-chamber?) I needn’t have worried.

High res TTOCB
DI Ray Drake is one of the best coppers at Tottenham Police Station. But thirty years ago, he witnessed terrible events at the Longacre Children’s Home, when it was burned to the ground, leaving two dead. Now, a sinister killer calling himself ‘The Two O’Clock Boy’ is brutally hunting down and murdering all those who grew up there, along with their families. Ray is determined to stop the murderer, but more importantly, he will do anything to prevent the secrets of that night coming out. For Ray has a checkered past, which he has gone to extraordinary lengths to cover up.

Unfortunately for him, newly promoted DS Flick Crowley is determined to make her mark with this case. Aware that she has a reputation for hiding behind procedure, she’s sure that there is more to these murders than it seems, and she’s dismayed that her boss who she trusts completely isn’t backing her up. It’s almost as though he has something to hide…

Meanwhile, Elliot Juniper, one of the former Longacre boys, determined to go straight for the sake of his family, finds himself dragged back into the life of crime he was sure he had escaped.

From the get-go, The Two O’Clock Boy is an extraordinary roller coaster of a read, captivating and with an unstoppable pace. The narrative jumps back and forth from the present day, to what happened thirty years previously, at Longacre Children’s Home, a hopeless place, where corruption and drug-dealing are rife. As those events come back to haunt him, Ray Drake heads further and further down a path from which there is no return, whilst Flick, the emotional heart of the story, grows tantalisingly close to solving the case. Twists and turns are thrown from all sides – just as I thought I had guessed the end, a whole load more curveballs were thrown my way. After finishing this hugely accomplished and remorselessly gripping thriller, it took a good couple of hours for my heart rate to return to normal.

Congratulations Mark – and curse you for ending it on such a monumental cliffhanger! You better be working on Book 2 is all I can say…

Two O’Clock Boy by Mark Hill is published 6th April by Sphere

Little Deaths by Emma Flint

Little Deaths is inspired by the case of Alice Crimmins, whose two children went missing, and were later found brutally murdered. The detectives took one look at Alice Crimmins, who was wearing tight fitting clothes and large amounts of make up and disliked her on sight. So certain was the leading detective of her guilt that he didn’t bother to have the scene of the crime photographed or even take notes. It took two years to bring her to trial, during which the police harassed her and had her phone tapped, but Alice Crimmins had been found guilty in the press, by the public, and in the minds of the detectives long before then. 

Emma Flint’s very impressive literary crime debut follows the case very closely. In the summer of 1965, Ruth Malone awakens one morning to find her children have gone missing. Very soon later, the body of her daughter Cindy is found, and a few days later, her son Frankie is also found dead. Sergeant Devlin, who is leading the enquiry is convinced of her guilt, so much so that he barely considers any other suspect, and when no evidence can be found to justify an arrest, begins a campaign of harassment against Ruth, sabotaging her job prospects, tapping her phone, and having her followed. 

Half the story is narrated from Ruth Malone’s perspective, even though the third person narrator keeps us at arm’s length. Trying to cope with her grief, and the tragic loss of her children, she watches aghast as the police misinterpret everything she does, when she does not fit how a grieving mother ought to act. The rest is narrated by Pete Wonicke, a junior reporter who sees this as his big break. He too initially convicts Ruth in his mind, but becomes increasingly uneasy watching Devlin pursue his vendetta against Ruth, tampering and destroying evidence to make his story fit. His interest turns into obsession, and in a discomfiting mirror image of Devlin, he too becomes obsessed with Ruth, following her more than journalist would need to.

Emma Flint effectively racks up the tension, as the net closes around Ruth, with even the men apparently on her side harbouring ulterior motives. And whilst the deaths of Alice Crimmins’ children were never solved, Little Deaths is given an interesting conclusion which hammers home the collusion of men against women. 

Little Deaths is a book about Ruth Malone, about the effect she has on men: irrational hatred from Devlin to obsessive desire from her estranged husband and Wonicke, lust from countless others – and Ruth herself, caught in the middle, coping with the tragedy as best she can, and trying – not quite managing – to live her life to the full. 

Little Deaths by Emma Flint is out now, published by Mantle.

Snowblind by Ragnar Jonasson

If you enjoy books, and you enjoy crime, and you’re on Twitter, and you follow people who also enjoy books/crime, you’ll have heard of Snowblind. In fact, if you’re part of that group, you’ll know that really, I was pretty bloody late to the Snowblind game! I met Ragnar earlier this year at CrimeFest, and slightly fell in love with him; the turning point was when he assured me that he had never hunted puffins (my spirit animal). The lovely Karen took pity on my girlish gigglings, and gave me a copy. It made it onto my South of France holiday reading list – so yes, this is a very late review!

Ari Thor Arason is a rookie cop, who’s sent to the quiet and idyllic fishing village of Siglufjorour, where the top crime he might come across is speeding. He leaves behind his girlfriend and a troubled past. Although nothing ever happens, Ari Thor is feeling claustrophobic in such a tiny village where everyone knows each other, yet no one seems to trust him. 

And shortly afterwards, an elderly and well-known writer falls to his death. Was it an accident, or was did someone resent his over-interference in the local amateur dramatics production? Ari Thor would like to look into it further, but is quickly slapped down by his superiors. And then shortly after, when a local woman is found unconscious and bleeding in the snow, it becomes clear there’s more to this story. 

What I loved so much about Snowblind is the way it so effortlessly merges Agatha Christie-style ‘Golden Age’ mysteries with a dazzlingly dark Scandinavia-noir feel. There’s the ‘closed room’ feel to it, as we’re introduced to a variety of characters, all of whom have something to hide. Each one of them is well-drawn, utterly convincing, and totally suspicious. Given that Ragnar Jonasson has translated a number of Agatha Christie novels, this exquisite attention to detail is not surprising.  

Chilling, subtle, beautifully written, and convincingly claustrophobic, Snowblind is a crime thriller not to be missed, which delivers a couple of extraordinary twists. 

Snowblind by Ragnar Jonasson is out now, published by Orenda Books

The Darkest Secret by Alex Marwood

I picked up The Darkest Secret after seeing Alex Marwood speak at a Deadly in Dulwich event at the ever-wonderful Dulwich Books. She was a great speaker – very funny and opinionated – and she also read out the first chapter of her book, which was captivating. I finally got round to reading the book on holiday and was not disappointed.

The Darkest Secret opens with a mass email sent from Maria Gavila, an expert publicist, to her entire address book alerting them that her goddaughter Coco Jackson has been taken in the night and asking them to look out for her. From the very next chapter however, eagle-eyed readers will spot clues that the story Maria is telling is not what really happened. 

Sean Jackson, an arrogant and philandering property developer, plans to celebrate his fiftieth birthday in style, and has invited a some of his wealthy and influential friends for a wild weekend-long party in one of his properties. Unfortunately, his second wife Claire has just fired the nanny in a fit of jealousy, so the group will need to take the childcare into their own hands…with devastating consequences. The book switches back and forth from from Sean’s birthday weekend, to his funeral twelve years later. He is on his fourth marriage, and has been found handcuffed to a bed in a hotel, having clearly died in less than honourable circumstances. His older daughter Camilla, from his first marriage, must collect Ruby, Coco’s twin sister, and her half sister, the few relatives who want to attend his funeral. 

The unlikely friendship that Ruby and Mila create over the weekend is the emotional heart of the book, touchingly normal amidst the rest of their dysfunctional family. Meanwhile, the plotting, scheming and general loathsomeness from the rest of the cast brings a whole new meaning to the phrase ‘love to hate.’ Almost everyone at Sean’s birthday weekend is equally unpleasant and selfish, from almost the almost caricaturishly vile conservative MP and his wife, to the unethical doctor who, echoing recent headlines, hands out drugs to his celebrity clientele like sweets. Everyone present knows that Sean is planning to finish with his wife Claire for his designer Linda, and all subtly shift their loyalties. It’s possible to sympathise in some way with Claire herself who is bitterly aware of the mistake she made in marrying Sean, and who will end up losing the most that weekend.

I virtually read the last few pages between my fingers, unable to put it down, hopelessly wanting it to take a different direction, until the final, sickening twist – the ultimate darkest secret. 

The Darkest Secret by Alex Marwood is out now, published by Sphere. 

Summer House with Swimming Pool by Herman Koch

What made The Dinner, the first book of Herman Koch’s to be published in English, and the first I read, such an engaging read? Reminiscent of the work of Pascal Garnier, it opens on a fairly innocuous scene, two brothers and their wives eating at a fancy restaurant, and appears to be a withering critique of ‘fashionable, fancy, fussy’ food and middle class pretentions, but reveals itself slowly and cruelly to show the extent to which parents will go to protect their children. Whilst the gradually revealed horror at the heart of Summer House with Swimming Pool might appear predictable, Koch’s ability to ratchet up the tension is in no way undermined by this, as the book is driven more by character than by plot. 

And that character is Marc Schlosser, GP to the rich and famous. Despite the money and glory this brings him, he obviously loathes his celebrity clients, and his disturbing musings as he examines his patients taps into the reassurances we give ourselves whilst visiting the doctor: ‘they’ve seen it all before, this is just routine…’ Schlosser fantasises gleefully about hurting his patients, and deliberately gives his patients advice he knows they want to hear, so that they continue to come to him. When his most famous patient, actor Ralph Meier invites him and his family on holiday, Marc finds – for his own reasons – that he cannot refuse, despite the fact that Meier is a lecherous chauvinist who makes his designs on Marc’s wife quite obvious. But the following year, Ralph is dead. Is Marc to blame? And was it a mistake? Or murder? The events of the holiday are revealed bit by bit, as we hurtle towards the inevitable crescendo of violence, which unlike The Dinner, doesn’t really lead to moral questions and shades of grey, but vengeance. 

Despite Marc’s contempt for humanity in general – his misanthropic commentary does not stop at his patients – and his utter amorality, he gets emotional in front of animals, going to extraordinary lengths to care for a stray cat. He loves his family – yet is prepared to ignore, or tolerate their pain for his own ends. A disturbing yet dry narrator, he tells the story with a detached calm, even when his anger spills over. And yet he manages not to be the most objectionable character by quite a long shot.

I found the resolution a little disappointing, but Koch isn’t going for a realistic denouement here. Read this for the gripping pace, the scalpel-sharp writing (helpfully illustrated on the jacket) and the grim and warped humour, and like me, wait for more of his books to be brought over to the UK! A must read for fans of Pascal Garnier or Christos Tsiolkas. 

Summer House with Swimming Pool by Herman Koch is out now, published by Atlantic Books. 

In Her Wake by Amanda Jennings

The words ‘domestic thriller of the year’ are bandied around all too often these days. A bit like ‘the next Gone Girl.‘ Which In Her Wake obviously isn’t, the premise being entirely different. But ‘psychological thriller of the year’? Quite probably.

It’s quite hard to review In Her Wake without revealing some fairly major spoilers. When Bella Campbell returns home to her childhood home for her mother’s funeral, she discovers that her life is not what she thought. The revelations lead her to Cornwall, where she discovers the truth about herself and her family but also her very identity. 

Growing up, Bella’s mother was controlling, whilst her father was distant, and Bella herself has grown up to be a fearful person, who prefers to relinquish control. She has found this in her older husband David, her former lecturer, whose dedicated care reveals a stiflingly controlling undertone, from making sure her seatbelt is done up, to reminding her to wear a sweater, and above all, to hammer home that she can’t cope without him. Discovering more about her her past allows Bella to reassess how she allows people to treat her.

This very brief summary doesn’t even vaguely do this wonderful book justice, which I hope won’t be off-putting. It’s a beautifully told story, just as emotionally compelling as it is a gripping page-turner. Though the twists and turns come thick and fast, the heart of the story remains Bella’s own journey of personal discovery and the shocks feel realistically woven in, rather than gratuitous. The pace veers from pulse-racing to a gentler one, and it is these warm, emotionally affecting moments which draw the book above your average psychological thriller. One scene involving risotto has particularly stayed with me. 

The story comes full circle as developments in Bella’s life help her find some form of empathy to those who hurt her, bringing a satisfying resolution to a book which puts the reader through the wringer just as much as it does the protagonist. This is a haunting, gripping and completely unputdownable thriller, with just as much heart as it has pace. 

In Her Wake by Amanda Jennings is out now, published by Orenda Books

Easy Motion Tourist by Leye Adenle

I met the ever so lovely Leye Adenle at the first First Monday Crime a couple of weeks ago, and was enthralled by the way he spoke about Lagos – a city which is exciting, dangerous, fun and full of energy all at once. I was also very intrigued by his main character Amaka, who he described as being like most of the women he knows and I’m a sucker for a strong female character. So I purchased a copy and enthusiastically dived headfirst into a thrilling story of murder, corruption and vice.

Signed copy. Oh yeah.

Easy Motion Tourist is narrated by Guy Collins, a journalist from London sent to Lagos ostensibly to cover the general election. Deciding to get into the swing of things, he ill-advisedly (and sheepishly, to his credit) visits a pick-up bar, when a mutilated woman’s body is discovered outside, sending the joint into a panic. Hoping for a story, Guy foolishly dashes outside – and is immediately arrested along with everyone else in the vicinity. Enter his saviour Amaka, a charity worker, who on hearing that a journalist has been taken into custody, sweet-talks the police station chief into letting Guy out. She works directly with sex workers, keeping a database of men who use prostitutes, and advising women whether or not they’re safe to go with. But more of her girls are disappearing – apparently for use in black magic rituals – and believing Guy to be a BBC journalist, she wants him to expose this. But though Amaka has her own ways of dealing with high-powered men who abuse women, she is about to find herself in more danger than she’s ever been in before.

Where to begin with Easy Motion Tourist? First off, the writing fizzes with the atmosphere of Lagos, skilfully juxtaposing the staggering poverty that leaves Nigerians with few choices in life other than crime and prostitution, with the unbelievable wealth of the upper echelons of society. This is a world in which richer families bring suitcases of money to parties to throw in the air as a display of wealth; where in a community meeting, residents make it quite clear that they have no interest in police investigating the murder of a young woman, but simply want security increased; where the police are in the pockets of the wealthy, but the poor are arrested simply for being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Leye Adenle also captures character incredibly well – writing as convincingly about merciless gangsters as about Amaka herself, one of the best female characters written by a man I’ve ever read. When Amaka wasn’t there, I missed her – she’s endlessly compelling to read about, and characters like her make me feel like there is still hope for the world. Guy is a terrific character to witness the events through. Both excited by and wary of Lagos, he is initially motivated by a search for a story, personal glory, and an infatuation with the entrancing Amaka but finally convinced by her passion, and a heartbreaking meeting with a former sex worker.

Pleasingly, the sex-workers are written about with respect and without judgement. They’re not simply portrayed as victims, but as women with agency, personalities, lives and ambitions, having to make the best of the hand life has dealt them.

Easy Motion Tourist is thought-provoking, clever and informative without ever being preachy, but it’s also pacey, hugely funny, and a very satisfying page-turner. I shan’t spoil the end, but it certainly left me in hope that this isn’t the last we’ll see of Amaka…

Easy Motion Tourist by Leye Adenle is published by Cassava Republic Press.

I’m Travelling Alone

A bestseller in six countries being published in the UK with a cover like this:

I'm travelling alone.jpg

Safe to say I jumped at the chance of reading a copy and I can officially say I’ve already found one of my top 10 of 2016  and it’s only been a week – it is one of the best books I’ve ever read. With perfect pace, tension and a brilliant cast of characters I can’t wait to see more of, it’s the perfect crime thriller. It’s just out – 31st December and is written by Samuel Bjork. And again – the cover. I would leave it in various rooms of the house over Christmas before I got round to reading it, and every family and friend who visited would pick it up and ask about it.

‘When a six-year-old girl is found dead, hanging from a tree, the only clue the Oslo Police have to work with is an airline tag around her neck. It reads ‘I’m travelling alone’.

Holger Munch, veteran police investigator, is immediately charged with re-assembling his homicide unit. But to complete the team, he must convince his erstwhile partner, Mia Krüger – a brilliant but troubled investigator – to return from the solitary island where she has retreated with plans to take her own life.

Reviewing the evidence, Mia identifies something no one else has noticed – a thin line carved into the dead girl’s fingernail: the number 1. Instinctively, she knows that this is only the beginning. To save other children from the same fate, she must find a way to cast aside her own demons and confront the most terrifying, cold-hearted serial killer of her career…’

It’s classic crime and police procedural, full with haunting characters from the past, some brilliantly unexpected twists and two great leads in Holger Munch and Mia Krueger. Creating a pseudo father-daughter relationship, they’re the pair who don’t always follow the rules, let their emotions run free and follow their hunches. They have their own personal problems which weave into the narrative of the investigation superbly.

It’s the pace of this book which makes it so gripping. At first, you’re confused, faced with these different characters and names you need to remember, not knowing which are important and which you can leave be for a little while. The novel builds slowly, dropping clues and you’re sucked in. We’re working alongside the Violent Crimes team to figure out what is going on and who is to blame, learning as they do which is so captivating. I started figuring out some of the clues just as Mia did, which is always a great feeling (the feeling that makes me consider quitting life as a publicist and going to become a detective), but Bjork’s plot isn’t that simple and a few new twists had me sitting shouting ‘NO’ and ‘IT CAN’T BE’ at the book as my family stared at me worryingly.

I read it in one sitting, slowly at first, before holding the hardback so close to my eyes I was nearly in the book. Page-turning isn’t a good enough word, I just had to know what was going to happen and it’s a book which you’re constantly trying to work out if you ever have to take a break from it. With layers upon layers of sub-plots, subtle hints and personal entanglement, it’s got everything you’d want in a crime novel but certainly stands out from the crowd. It’s unique in it’s characters, the expertly crafted plot and writing and the fresh and interesting setting of Norway.

I’m thrilled it’s the first of a series. I’m not sure how it will be topped, or what comes next for this great duo but I know I’ll be first in line to find out. I can’t wait to find out more about the rest of the team, another aspect of the book that I think is fantastic, with a very TV-crime-team feel to it (I’m a particular fan of Gabriel, the tech-genius). Brilliantly written with a fantastic plot – I’ll eat my hat if it’s not a bestseller here too.

Thanks again to Ben at Transworld for sending me this!

And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie

Despite having read almost every Poirot books as a teenager, I never really delved into Agatha Christie’s other novels, so the Boxing Day BBC adaptation seemed like an excellent excuse to read it, and revisit an old favourite author.

It was not what I expected! I’d assumed from the adverts that the BBC adaptation would make it a little darker, as the recent episodes of Poirot have been (seriously – what the hell was going on with Appointment With Death?! What the hell was that evil nun doing there? And the child abuse plot point – that was both horrible and unnecessary. One of my favourite books was slaughtered horribly…just like Mrs Boynton. Except that her own sticky end was a deserved one.) I’m used to what the lovely Louise Wykes described on Twitter as the ‘gentle peril’ of Poirot. I was not prepared for a genuinely chilling crime novel that I couldn’t put down until 2.30am in the morning, after which I couldn’t sleep until about 6.00. As I’m currently judging the CWA Short Story Daggers Award, I hadn’t brought much with me to the in-laws that was especially comforting either…

Eight men and women receive letters from a mysterious UN Owen, inviting them to Soldier Island for various different reasons, from whether mutual friends will also be attending or to work as a secretary. After dinner, a disembodied voice addresses each of them, accusing them, and the married couple serving them, of specific murders. All of them but one denies the charges, arguing that it was an accident, and not something they can be held responsible for – from the judge who sentenced a possibly innocent man to death, to the governess whose charge drowned, the reckless driver who knocked down and killed two children or the surgeon whose patient died on the operating table. Only Philip Lombard openly and remorselessly admits to causing the deaths of 21 natives in East Africa, by abandoning them with no food.

And then one of them dies… It could have been an accident, but then more and more of them are picked off – and each death follows the events of the poem ‘Ten Little Soldiers,’ of which a copy is found hanging in every room. And it becomes increasingly clear that no one is coming to the island to save them.

It’s spinetingling stuff. With each increasingly suspicious death, the tension raises and by the end you could cut it with a knife. The survivors react in the same way you would expect any Agatha Christie characters to react – by making more tea and trying not to lose it. Twists and red herrings are thrown our way, and the final reveal utterly knocked me for six.

I really enjoyed the adaptation – and did my usual explaining to my captivated fellow watchers exactly how it differed from the book (I’m very popular in such situations). Some of the murders and crimes that the characters were indicted for were subtly changed but on the whole, it was a faithful and fantastically cast adaptation. The presence of Aidan Turner as Lombard wearing what appeared to be a handkerchief-sized towel (an actual occurrence, more or less, in the book, though the size of the towel was not specified) was always going to add to the proceedings. Props also go to Charles Dance as a Judge Wargrave and Burn Gorman as William Blore, who despite committing a far worse crime in the adaptation than in the book, delivered a surprisingly moving speech about who would tend his allotment after his death. Never have I felt more emotional about radishes. (It caused my other half to think ‘Oooh, I could go for a good radish right now…’)

Either way, radishes or no radishes, And Then There Were None, with the new and improved title, is Agatha Christie at her best, and the adaptation is definitely worth watching.

Ehem. You’re welcome.

‘Careful…You’ll take someone’s eye out.’