He Said She Said by Erin Kelly

He Said She Said opens in 2015 with Laura saying goodbye to her devoted husband Kit, as he sets off for the Faroe Islands. They are eclipse chasers, who travel great distances to witness the perfect moment of totality, but Laura, heavily pregnant, is staying home on this occasion. Both are fretful to be away from each other, but Kit eventually departs, leaving Laura to worry and reflect on the events of fifteen years ago.

In 1999, shortly after meeting, Kit and Laura travelled to Cornwall to see an eclipse, and in the hushed aftermath, witnessed a brutal sexual assault on a young woman. The pair of them called the police, and later presented evidence in court. Caught on the stand, Laura became flustered by the aggressive defence questioning, and found herself telling a little white lie. She knew what she saw, so she did the right thing, surely? But fifteen years later, they are in hiding, living in fear of Beth finding them… 

It’s hard to go much further, as the story builds to a shocking reveal that will make you completely question everything you think you know. It’s an astonishing thriller about the lengths a person will go to cover their tracks, the painful effects of guilt, which are almost anxiety-inducing to read about, as well as a heartrending and searing indictment of the way that rape victims are treated. 

Erin Kelly is a master storyteller, but this is by far her best book yet. It’s a magnificently complex, twisty and completely unputdownable thriller, which I cannot recommend enough. 

He Said She Said by Erin Kelly is out now, published by Hodder. 

The Marsh King’s Daughter by Karen Dionne

‘My mother was famous, though she never wanted to be. Hers wasn’t the kind of fame anyone would wish for. Jaycee Dugard, Amanda Berry, Elizabeth Smart – that kind of thing, though my mother was none of them…’ This is the enticing opening of The Marsh King’s Daughter, both an enthralling, eerie and gut-wrenching thriller, and a stunning, poetic homage to the great outdoors.

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Helena is the grown-up daughter of a woman who was kidnapped as a teenager, and kept captive. Similarly to that other great novel Room, she was ensnared by a man asking for help finding his dog, but rather than being kept in a purpose-built ‘room’ she was then taken to his isolated cabin in Michigan to be his ‘wife’, keep his home and bear him children, before she had even turned 16. The family lived as Ojibwe, a Native American tribe, even though, as Helena notes wryly, ‘imagine my surprise when I discovered the mother of the man I’d always thought of as Ojibwa was blonde and white.’

At the age of twelve, having had no contact with the outside world, Helena was eventually able to flee with her mother, and after a two year manhunt, her father was jailed for life. But now, he has escaped, and Helena knows that he’ll be coming for her. Now married with two children, having successfully kept her past hidden until now, she plans to capture him first. No one knows the great outdoors like Jacob Holbrook. No one will be best placed to evade capture, leaving misleading trails for the police. No one will be able to keep up with him – except possibly Helena. As she sets off after him, the story cuts back and forth between Helena tracking her father, and the story of her childhood, how she and her mother eventually escaped, and how she was thrust, painfully unprepared, into a totally unfamiliar new world.

As a child, Helena idolised her father, who taught her how to kill, how to survive and how to move around unseen and unheard. In many ways, the way Helena tells it, hers was an idyllic, outdoorsy upbringing for someone who knew no better. But even then, although she evidently idolised her father, darkness flashes through. His harsh discipline extends to smashing down on a bruised hand to teach her not to be so clumsy, and locking her in a well for days on end. Reflecting on the aftermath, Helena rationally knows that everything her father did was wrong, but reader is justifiably unconvinced that she’ll be able to go through with capturing him. On the kidnap and rape of her mother, she reasons, ‘He wanted a wife. No woman in her right mind would have joined him on that ridge. When you look at the situation from that point of view, what else was he supposed to do?

Denied even a name, her mother gets fairly short shrift in Helena’s tale. Helena sympathises with her mother, who died shortly before the book opened, having never been able get over her years of captivity, and often regrets not having been more understanding of her plight, but whilst her father features vividly in her story, her mother feels like a sad mouse of a character, unable to help her daughter, or defend herself from the horrifying situation in which she’s found herself. Helena often questions her mother’s version of events, asserting that she even was happy in spite of herself on occasion.

All suitably depressing stuff, but what lifts the story from a great thriller to an exceptional novel are the stunning details of the outdoors that Helena loves, from crunching through snow, to stalking deer, and even just watching crows blend in with the trees. The natural world is both uplifting, and terrifying, for although Helena loves it, and can use it her advantage, we know her father can too. Who will triumph in the inevitable reckoning?

A completely breathtaking thriller, both terrifyingly suspenseful, and beautifully atmospheric, which, oddly, really made me want to go camping… Many thanks the utterly fabulous Ella Bowman, for urgently pressing this memorable and original book into my hands!

The Marsh King’s Daughter by Karen Dionne is published 29th June by Sphere.

Her Husband’s Lover by Julia Crouch

I feel like we’ve had such a wait since Julia Crouch’s last book – though that may be simply because I gulped down all her books in one go. Julia Crouch specialises in psychological thrillers populated with not especially likeable, yet compulsively readable, characters who hold you to them as they spiral through bad decisions, bad luck, madness, and sometimes, just plain badness. And Her Husband’s Lover is no exception.


Lou Turner is finally free from her abusive husband, who died in a car accident chasing her and her two children Poppy and Leon as they made their escape. But that accident also tragically killed the children. After recovering from her injuries, all Lou wants to do is make a fresh start, moving to London to pick up the design career she had loved so much before she got married. But unfortunately for her, Sophie, the eponymous ‘lover’ of the title, is enraged at the loss of her boyfriend, and at what she sees as the smears against his good character. She’s also determined that her baby daughter should inherit some of Sam’s considerable wealth and sets off on a vendetta to clear his name, secure her daughter’s future, and exact her revenge on Lou.

This is a tricky one to review without spoilers, but let it simply be said that this story is not the one you expect. I was riveted by this addictive and often disturbing story of obsession, delusion, paranoia and the unravelling of a marriage. As Lou starts a new life, and a new relationship with a handsome young activist, Sophie, facing eviction and battling the horrors of her own troubled youth, will go to ever greater lengths for revenge.

I came for the insanely good thriller, I stayed for…well, still the insanely good thriller, but also the heartfelt rage against the social cleansing of London which comes in the form of Adam, Lou’s delightfully earnest new boyfriend. A filmmaker, housing activist, and generally lovely person, who looks out for everyone around him – from the beautiful broken woman who has just come into his life, to the homeless man on the street, to Lou’s single mother neighbour. He sees the best in everyone, and is the shining light in this story of revenge and hatred. Some readers may find him too perfect. I am not one of those readers.

Another white-knuckle thriller from Julia Crouch, with a twist that will floor those who confidently assume that they can see where this is all going.

Her Husband’s Lover by Julia Crouch is out now, published by Headline

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.

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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

Eyes Like Mine by Sheena Kamal

The story of how I came across Eyes Like Mine by Sheena Kamal is one that regular readers of this blog (are there any?!) or just people who know me will be familiar with. I saw Sheena Kamal speak at First Monday Crime, thought she seemed pretty cool, and by the end of the night (the bit in the pub) was completely smitten, and shortly after, dived straight into Eyes Like Mine, which sounded like a thoroughly original thriller with a fascinating premise.

Nora Watts works for a private investigation firm. A recovering alcoholic battling self-loathing, betrayals and violations aplenty, she avoids other people preferring the companionship of her dog Whisper, for who she remains sober. Then one morning, at 5am she receives a phone call. A 15 year old girl has gone missing – thought to have run away, but has not returned. And this girl is the baby she gave up for adoption fifteen years ago. Nora would rather not get involved, but this girl has eyes just like hers, ‘so dark that pupil and iris are virtually indistinguishable, fringed by long lashes that might make them pretty until you take a closer look, and then you will see that they absorb all the light around them and refuse to budge an inch. When looking into them, if you ever do, you will suddenly remember appointments that you should be making and previous engagements that you’ve forgotten to put in your calendar.’ How can she stay away?

But as she sets off on her daughter Bonnie’s trail, Nora will uncover a deathly dangerous web of corruption, and have to face traumas from her past she’s been desperately trying to escape.

Nora is prickly, and not always likeable. She is suspicious of any offer of help or sympathy, and is reluctant to see the good in any one, admittedly an instinct which usually serves her well in this misadventure. But she is a survivor, with a broken family and unbearable traumas behind her. Though she keeps an emotional barrier between herself and anyone else, including us, the reader, she occasionally displays flashes of a soft side, from her regular offerings to homeless people, to her refusal to bring in an intimidated witness fearful for his family. You wouldn’t necessarily want to spend too much time with her, but she’s a captivating character, who you can’t help but feel for and empathise with. And she’s put through the wringer – as are those who care for her, especially Whisper.

I rooted desperately for Nora – her story is furiously compelling, not just in the breathlessly pacey plot, which encompasses medical fraud, and the environmental horrors of mining, but from her voice, which is wryly witty, cynical, and yet vulnerable. It’s a terrific debut, from an exciting new author, and I can’t wait to see what Nora does next.

Eyes Like Mine by Sheena Kamal is out now, published by Zaffre

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.

The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead

It’s funny the number of people I’ve spoken to about this book who have immediately said that growing up, they always assumed that the Underground Railroad was a literal Underground Railroad. And then, usually at an embarrassingly older age, they realised that no, the slaves did not escape on the Tube. It’s this idea that Colson Whitehead plays with in his extraordinary novel. 


Cora is a slave on a terrible plantation in Georgia, shunned even by the other slaves. When her fellow slave Caesar asks her to run away with him, Cora is initially reluctant, but three weeks later she agrees, thinking of her mother, the only runaway slave who was never caught. And from the moment when Cora and Caesar flee the plantation, boarding the Underground Railroad, to the final poignant chapters, we barely draw breath. The pair emerge in South Carolina, initially a paradise until a sinister scheme for controlling the black population is revealed. Cora keeps on, finding herself in North Carolina, where Negroes have been banned altogether, and where she must hide, Anne Frank-like. And on it goes. Cora keeps on, occasionally finding happiness, finding love, finding refuge, but with the terrifying slave hunter Ridgeway always on her heels, determined to catch her as he failed to catch her mother. 

Throughout the book, even the bit-players are fleshed out, from Ridgeway and how he became the most successful and feared slave hunter in the South; to Stevens, the Doctor and bodysnatcher; to Ajarry, Cora’s grandmother who was transported from her village in West Africa; to Mabel, the runaway who is both Cora’s driving force and the object of her burning resentment for abandoning her as a baby. The far reach of slavery, and how it interlinks in all their lives, and the lives of everyone in the United States, is thus sharply highlighted. 

The Underground Railroad does not spare us a detail of the horror endured by the slaves on the plantation, the runaways, the free blacks, or even the white people who assist them, however reluctantly or self-servingly. The stark, pared-back prose never lets us forget that Cora’s ‘freedom’ hangs on a knife edge, or that violence, murder and lynchings can be found around every corner. 

With a breathtaking pace which would put a traditional thriller to shame, at once playfully inventive and almost unbearably poignant, The Underground Railroad is easily one of the best books I’ve read this year. 
The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead is out now, published by Fleet.