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.

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

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. 

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 Martian by Andy Weir

The story of The Martian was published is a dream for any self-published author. After being rejected by a number of mainstream publishers, Andy Weir self-published his novel on his website chapter by chapter, eventually releasing a Kindle edition, which rocketed to the top of the Amazon charts and attracted the attention of a publisher. It was then made into an Academy-nominated film starring Matt Damon. I have been lucky enough this year to work with Blake Crouch, author of the extraordinary Dark Matter, who whilst putting together a ‘Top Five Books’ list for me, chose The Martian. I then went on to spot it in the library and decided to give it a go. 


It is 2035 and Mark Watney, a NASA botanist and mechanical engineer, has been accidentally stranded on Mars after a terrible dust storm forced his crew mates to abandon their mission. In the storm, Watney was impaled by an antenna, and believed dead. However, his injuries turn out to be relatively minor, and he recovers consciousness to find that he’s alone on Mars, luckily with all the abandoned equipment, and must rely on his own resourcefulness to survive until the next planned Mars mission in four years time. Eventually, back on Earth, NASA realises that he is alive and well, and rescue attempts begin.

Given then success of The Martian, I expected a thrilling, exciting and futuristic read, but what I did not expect was for it to be so extraordinarily funny. Mark is an engaging hero, whose deadpan acceptance of his situation (other than the fact that the only music he has available to him is disco) and endless recourse to humour make you root for him. Best quotes include:

Maybe I’ll post a consumer review. “Brought product to surface of Mars. It stopped working. 0/10.” 

I can’t wait till I have grandchildren. When I was younger, I had to walk to the rim of a crater. Uphill! In an EVA suit! On Mars, ya little shit! Ya hear me? Mars!

If ruining the only religious icon I have leaves me vulnerable to Martian vampires, I’ll have to risk it.

The science seems wholly convincing, unsurprisingly, given Weir’s scientific background, and I felt as though I was reading about the moon landings. Periodically, I actually forgot that man has yet to land on Mars. Though a fair amount of the science went over my head, that really didn’t matter. 

Finally, The Martian is also a deeply touching and emotionally compelling story. In one of his less flippant monologues, Mark reflects on the human instinct to rescue or help others – which is borne out in the story by the number of people who come together to help Mark. From the astrodynamicist who helps design a rescue route, to the Chinese-US deal, it’s an uplifting sentiment that gives the story emotional heart. 

I can’t recommend The Martian highly enough. Just the right mix of accessible and geeky, with plenty of laugh out loud humour, it’ll definitely be one of my favourite books this year. 

The Martian by Andy Weir is out now, published by Del Rey.