All The Wicked Girls by Chris Whitaker 

Chris Whitaker is one of those authors I’ve been wanting to read for at least a year now, partially to get Liz Barnsley (book influencer extraordinaire of Liz Loves Books fame) off my back, but partially because it sounds like he’s quite good. So when my colleague received a copy the other week, it seemed appropriate, nay, essential, to steal it.  


Summer Ryan is the shining light of Grace, Alabama. Unlike her troubled twin sister Raine (clever weather-related wordplay there), she’s a devout churchgoer, and a musical prodigy whose cello performances have moved the town to tears. But now she’s gone missing. Could she have run away? Or is she one of the so-called Briar Girls, teenaged-girls living in Briar County who have been abducted by the mysterious being known as the Bird?  

Unconvinced that the alcoholic police chief Black will succeed in bringing Summer home, or even that he believes she’s really in trouble, Raine enlists the deep-hearted teenage wannabe police officer Noah and his loyal friend Purv to help her investigate. Meanwhile, an angry black cloud hovers over the town, promising a storm, and exacerbating the already-heightened tensions. The whole town is teeming with secrets, and with everyone on high alert, they’re likely to rise to the surface. And between chapters, Summer tells us her own version of events that led to her disappearance. 

All The Wicked Girls is a gripping thriller, but also a deeply emotional story with a big heart and characters you’ll cry over. It’s a portrayal of a town left behind in an America which has apparently never been so prosperous, set in the late 80s’ but equally relevant to today. Although the town is meant to pull together as a community, an undercurrent of violence simmers constantly. And yet, we also have astonishing scenes of kindness and love, such Noah waiting in Purv’s back garden to await a sign that his friend has survived a beating from his father. It’s a thriller that explores the worst excesses of organised religion, but also the positives aspects of faith. I definitely sensed a Twin Peaks influence (but the bits from the first series I could get on board with rather than more recent episodes… “What’s going on? Are they miners?! WHAT’S GOING ON?!”) in the idea that not everything can be explained away, and sometimes things just happen. 

I’ll be stealing (more theft… Maybe Chris is a bad influence on me?) the copy of Tall Oaks I gave my father for Christmas, and look forward to reading whatever Chris Whitaker has to offer. Highly highly recommended! 

All The Wicked Girls by Chris Whitaker is out now, published by Zaffre. 

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Ngaio Marsh blog tour: In Dark Places by Michael Bennett

I was asked to review In Dark Places as part of a blog tour for the Ngaio Marsh Awards, and, I won’t lie, true crime is not really my thing. Nevertheless, I agreed, and ploughed on. 


In 1992, Susan Burdett was raped and murdered in her own home. About a year later, a 17 year old car thief named Teina Pora confessed to the police, and was jailed for life. Over the years, his lawyer pointed out the various holes in the case but a jury couldn’t get past the fact that Teina confessed. Why would he confess, unless he did it? Even though there was, like, actually, NO EVIDENCE! Years later, Tim McKinnel, an ex-cop turned private investigator, decides to look into a case which never quite sat right with him. 

It’s hard to explain quite what makes this book so good. You’re devastated by Teina Pora’s life, who despite everything, is a sweet, if law-breaking, family-man teenager. As any evidence that was brought against the teenager is demolished, the fact that his confession might have been false is the one thing that a jury will struggle to accept. And whilst Michael Bennett convincingly, and heartbreakingly talks us through the horrific miscarriage of justice that convicted Teina, he never loses sight of the main victim, Susan herself. 

I defy readers to get through In Dark Places and not feel the need to go around telling everyone they meet about the shocking miscarriage of justice. Pity the poor Kiwi woman I met in my running group last week… (‘Wait, you don’t know about Teina Pora?! Well…’) And honestly, even if you don’t read true crime, read this true crime. It’s truly something special, and a story that needs to be told. 

In Dark Places: The Confessions of Teina Pora and an Ex-Cop’s Fight for Justice by Michael Bennett is out now, and is shortlisted for a Ngaio Marsh Award 

Sweet Little Lies by Caz Frear

In 1998, Catrina was on holiday in Mulderrin, Ireland with her family, when the beautiful 17 year old Maryanne Doyle vanished. Catrina had seen the effect Maryanne had on the boys and the men in the area, including her own father. But then after she went missing, her father told a lie to the police about whether or not he knew her. To eight-year-old Catrina, this could only mean one thing, and her perception of her brilliant, funny, generous father who she idolised changes permanently. 


Years later, Cat is now a Detective Constable in the Metropolitan police, determined to escape the shadow of her petty-criminal father, and still convinced that he was responsible for the disappearance of Maryanne Doyle. Then one night, in the run-up to Christmas, the body of a woman is found near her dad’s pub in Spitalfields, and Cat fears the worst. Whilst she passionately wants justice for the dead women, she’s equally desperate to avoid her father being brought in, and having her family exposed. If this sounds straightforward, I assure you it isn’t. What follows is a killer crime debut – an already gripping premise that turns into an even more thrilling tale, packed with twists and turns, which you won’t be able to put down. Every time you think you’re on solid ground, another revelation is thrown into the mix, building up to a clever and devastating climax I wouldn’t have ever imagined. 

One thing I sometimes find a bit difficult about police procedures is that often the ‘team’ scenes slow down the action. This was not an issue in Sweet Little Lies. The team of officers are well-drawn and enthralling in their own right – from DS Luigi Parnell, who Cat knowingly clings to as a surrogate father, to the fearsome DCI Steele, whose maternal instincts towards Cat are somewhat less appreciated. In fact, whenever we left the station, I found myself missing them. Cat too is a terrifically compelling character who I rooted for, gunning for her to do the right thing. She’s both manipulative and vulnerable, often told off for over-empathising with victims, and impossible not to sympathise with. 

I’d definitely recommend this complex, convincing and deeply satisfying thriller about family bonds, and how far we would go to protect the ones we love, in spite of everything. 

Huge thanks to the endlessly super Katherine Armstrong for pushing this into my greedy little hands.

Sweet Little Lies by Caz Frear is published by Zaffre.

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