Auld Acquaintance by Sofia Slater

EXCERPT: It wasn’t Nick sitting with a magazine on the shabby tartan sofa in the next room. My heart, which had been fluttering with expectation, began pounding with dread. I took a step back, hoping to get away, though I knew I couldn’t. Nestled innocently between the sofa cushions, gently illuminated by the firelight, was someone I didn’t want to see at all. Someone I’d been avoiding for a year. Someone I’d hoped never to see again.

ABOUT ‘AULD ACQUAINTANCE’: Millie Partridge desperately needs a party. So, when her (handsome and charming) ex-colleague Nick invites her to a Hebridean Island for New Year’s Eve, she books her ticket North.

But things go wrong the moment the ferry drops her off. The stately home is more down at heel than Downton Abbey. Nick hasn’t arrived yet. And the other revellers? Politely, they aren’t exactly who she would have pictured Nick would be friends with.

Worse still, an old acquaintance from Millie’s past has been invited, too. Penny Maybury. Millie and Nick’s old colleague. Somebody Millie would rather have forgotten about. Somebody, in fact, that Millie has been trying very hard to forget.

Waking up on New Year’s Eve, Penny is missing. A tragic accident? Or something more sinister? With a storm washing in from the Atlantic, nobody will be able reach the group before they find out.

One thing is for sure – they’re going to see in the new year with a bang.

MY THOUGHTS: I loved this tense, atmospheric page turner of a ‘locked room mystery’; or, in this case, an isolated Hebridean island. Using the same format as the reknowned Christie novel ‘And Then There Were None’, which I must admit is not one of my favourites, Slater had me eagerly flipping the pages in this short – a little less than 300 pages – but riveting story. And yes, I have rated Auld Acquaintance higher than the Christie. I enjoyed it more.

The setting is a remote and isolated island; ‘a resentful rock’ easily cut off from the world in bad weather, just as they are having this New Year. It is a character in its own right.

Millie has been invited to the Island party by an ex-boyfriend she is hopeful of resuming her relationship with. But when she arrives on the Island, Nick is not there. Cut off by a storm, two other guests dead en-route, Millie becomes uneasy. Winston, one of the other guests, a lawyer scares her and she doesn’t trust him. She is shocked to find Penny, a quiet, mousey ex-work colleague is also among the guests, along with a glamorous but prickly influencer Bella, and her handsome but somewhat profligate partner, Ravi. Then there’s James, who doesn’t really seem to fit in anywhere, and their hostess Mrs Flyte, a rather peculiar woman not inclined to answer the questions of her guests – particularly the questions about the source of this booking. They were all invited – but by whom? And why?

I honestly didn’t know who to suspect. The author ramps up the tension in a creepy old house in an isolated location with a mixed bag of guests who initially seem to have no connection, nothing in common. Throughout the story, I had no idea who was behind the killings, or why, no matter how much I wracked my brain.

Cleverly written and a fun read.

⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

#AuldAcquiantance #NetGalley

I: @_swiftpress

T: @_SwiftPress

#contemporaryfiction #murdermystery #scottishnoir

THE AUTHOR: Sofia Slater was raised in the American West, and lived in France, Scotland and Oxford before settling in London. As well as writing fiction, she translates from French and Spanish. Auld Acquaintance is her debut novel.

DISCLOSURE: Thank you to Swift Press via Netgalley for providing a digital ARC of Auld Acquaintance by Sofia Slater for review. All opinions expressed in this review are entirely my own personal opinions.

For an explanation of my rating system please refer to my Goodreads.com profile page or the about page on sandysbookaday.wordpress.com.

This review is also published on Twitter, Amazon, Instagram and Goodreads.com

Dead Man’s Grave (Max Craigie #1) by Neil Lancaster

EXCERPT: His attention shifted as his eyes moved to a gravestone that stood proudly erect a few metres ahead of him, it’s inscription still fairly clear. Quickening his pace, he missed his footing and his boot caught the corner of something hard and flat that was almost entirely covered by weeds and thick moss. ‘Shite,’ he hissed as he fell to the damp earth in a painful heap, cracking his knee on the edge of a flat, partially concealed gravestone. Still muttering suppressed oaths, feeling suddenly a little guilty about blaspheming on consecrated ground, he looked at the memorial with renewed interest. Unlike the other more exposed and upright stones, the word ‘Grave’ was still clearly and crisply edged, almost as if the mason had only recently finished with his hammer and chisel.

With rising excitement, he got to his feet and began to scrape the thick moss from the large, flat granite surface. He pulled his old clasp knife from his Barbour pocket, extended the worn blade and began hacking away at the vegetation.

After a couple of minutes of furious scraping and chopping, his work was done. Tam Hardie stood, a mix of apprehension and excitement beginning to take hold as he saw the six words that his grandfather had assured him would be there.

This Grave Never to be Opened

There were no names, no dates, nothing beyond that foreboding statement. His breathing quickened painfully as he tried to suck in the damp air. This was the place. Without a doubt, this was it.

ABOUT ‘DEAD MAN’S GRAVE’: This grave can never be opened.
The head of Scotland’s most powerful crime family is brutally murdered, his body dumped inside an ancient grave in a remote cemetery.

This murder can never be forgotten.
Detectives Max Craigie and Janie Calder arrive at the scene, a small town where everyone has secrets to hide. They soon realise this murder is part of a blood feud between two Scottish families that stretches back to the 1800s. One thing’s for certain: it might be the latest killing, but it won’t be the last…

This killer can never be caught.
As the body count rises, the investigation uncovers large-scale corruption at the heart of the Scottish Police Service. Now Max and Janie must turn against their closest colleagues – to solve a case that could cost them far more than just their lives…

MY THOUGHTS: Neil Lancaster is one of those authors who grab me from the get go, and don’t let me go until I close the cover on the very last page.

Dead Man’s Grave is the first in the DS Max Craigie series, and what an introduction to Max! He’s a bit like a bull terrier – once he gets his teeth into something, he just doesn’t let go.

Max has always wanted to be one of the ‘good guys’ – that’s why he joined the police force in the first place. He has a strong personal moral code and is not afraid to stand up against higher authorities for what he believes in. He has a sly sense of humour, and can take, as well as give, a good ribbing.

Ross Fraser, Max’s boss, and Max have a strong relationship, having served together in the Armed Forces. Their camaraderie doesn’t, however, prevent Ross from giving Max a good bawling out when he thinks he deserves it.

Janie Calder is Max’s offsider. She’s a highly intelligent and intuitive woman on the fast track program, which earns her a lot of stick, not always well-intentioned, from her colleagues. She’s loyal to Max and an interesting character in her own right.

I’m not usually a fan of novels based around organised crime and gangs, but Dead Man’s Grave is so much more than that. Yes, it’s a tense, taut and gritty thriller, but it’s also a character study of a man who serves his country with every fibre of his being, and continues to do so in the face of every obstacle.

Angus King does a superb job of the narration, and I will certainly be looking out for other audiobooks he narrates.

⭐⭐⭐⭐.5

#DeadMansGrave #NetGalley

I: @neil_lancaster_crime @harpercollinsuk

T: @neillancaster66 @HarperCollinsUK

#contemporaryfiction #crime #detectivefiction #policeprocedural #scottishnoir #thriller

THE AUTHOR: Neil was born in Liverpool in the 1960s. He recently left the Metropolitan Police where he served for over twenty-five years, predominantly as a detective, leading and conducting investigations into some of the most serious criminals across the UK and beyond.

Neil acted as a surveillance and covert policing specialist, using all types of techniques to arrest and prosecute drug dealers, human traffickers, fraudsters, and murderers. During his career, he successfully prosecuted several wealthy and corrupt members of the legal profession who were involved in organised immigration crime. These prosecutions led to jail sentences, multi-million pound asset confiscations and disbarments.

Since retiring from the Metropolitan Police, Neil has relocated to the Scottish Highlands with his wife and son, where he mixes freelance investigations with writing.

DISCLOSURE: Thank you to Harper Collins UK Audio via Netgalley for providing an audio ARC of Dead Man’s Grave by Neil Lancaster for review. All opinions expressed in this review are entirely my own personal opinions.

For an explanation of my rating system please refer to my Goodreads.com profile page or the about page on sandysbookaday.wordpress.com

This review is also published on Twitter, Amazon, Instagram and Goodreads.com

The Night Watch (DS Max Craigie #3) by Neil Lancaster

EXCERPT: There was a faint cackle of laughter behind him. The snap of a twig under a boot. Paterson froze. He turned slowly, looking into the undergrowth for the source of the noise. Something moved, came out of the dense trees, a slow-moving shadow, only just visible. He gasped, sucked in a lungful of air.

The shape approached, one arm outstretched, clutching something.

Scott Paterson cried out in terror and turned to sprint into the darkness.

He ran for his life.

ABOUT ‘THE NIGHT WATCH’: He’ll watch you.
A lawyer is found dead at sunrise on a lonely clifftop at Dunnet Head on the northernmost tip of Scotland. It was supposed to be his honeymoon, but now his wife will never see him again.

He’ll hunt you.
The case is linked to several mysterious deaths, including the murder of the lawyer’s last client – Scotland’s most notorious criminal… who had just walked free. DS Max Craigie knows this can only mean one thing: they have a vigilante serial killer on their hands.

He’ll leave you to die.
But this time the killer isn’t on the run; he’s on the investigation team. And the rules are different when the murderer is this close to home.

He knows their weaknesses, knows how to stay hidden, and he thinks he’s above the law.

MY THOUGHTS: Gritty and absorbing, Lancaster had me hooked from the outset. The Night Watch is a police procedural that doesn’t stint on the suspense.

Max Craigie, Ross Fraser and Janie Calder are a tight knit team and this is reflected in their understanding of one another and the light relaxed banter between them. They are ably assisted in this case by Norma, and by Niall, an old friend of Max’s from the Met, and who he brings in to work undercover.

I raced through this in a little more than twenty four hours, desperate to discover just who the vigilante was. The answer was surprising, the final expose even more so.

Neil Lancaster has written a tense, twisty addition to an already excellent Scottish crime thriller series. I can’t wait for the next installment.

⭐⭐⭐⭐.3

#TheNightWatch #NetGalley

I: @neil_lancaster_crime @hqstories

T: @neillancaster66 @HQStories

#contemporaryfiction #crime #detectivefiction #policeprocedural #scottishnoir #thriller

THE AUTHOR: Neil was born in Liverpool in the 1960s. He recently left the Metropolitan Police where he served for over twenty-five years, predominantly as a detective, leading and conducting investigations into some of the most serious criminals across the UK and beyond.

Neil acted as a surveillance and covert policing specialist, using all types of techniques to arrest and prosecute drug dealers, human traffickers, fraudsters, and murderers. During his career, he successfully prosecuted several wealthy and corrupt members of the legal profession who were involved in organised immigration crime. These prosecutions led to jail sentences, multi-million pound asset confiscations and disbarments.

Since retiring from the Metropolitan Police, Neil has relocated to the Scottish Highlands with his wife and son, where he mixes freelance investigations with writing.

DISCLOSURE: Thank you to HQ, HQ Digital via Netgalley for providing a digital ARC of The Night Watch by Neil Lancaster for review. All opinions expressed in this review are entirely my own personal opinions.

For an explanation of my rating system please refer to my Goodreads.com profile page or the about page on sandysbookaday.wordpress.com

This review is also published on Twitter, Amazon, Instagram and Goodreads.com

The Blackhouse by Carole Johnstone

EXCERPT: I remember, even before I fumble for the bedside lamp switch. I’m in a clifftop Blackhouse on the edge of the world. And the sound – the sound that has raised the hairs on my skin and scalp; that has set my heart beating so hard I can feel its pulse in my fingers and toes – is not nurses on night rounds or the swish of fire doors. It is here.

I hear it again close to the window. Quick, light taps against the glass. And then muffled, louder taps getting closer. I listen to their progress along the wall towards the fireplace, and I draw my knees up against my chest. I think of the narrow-paved path that circles the cottage. Could it be sheep? But those taps don’t sound like hooves. They sound like steps. Light and fast. As though someone is on tiptoe.

I almost scream when something scrapes too loud, too close, against the kitchen wall. It pauses, and I spin round in the bed, ears rushing with white noise as I strain to listen. When it starts up again – a scratching like something pressed against and dragged along the stone outside – I lurch out of bed, my hand over my mouth. The door to the mudroom is open, and I nearly scream again when they reach the door, start tapping on the small inset window. Another longer scrape of stone, and then the bathroom window. I think of bócain and thin places. I think of dead crows with empty oval eye sockets. I think of someone watching from the dark. Worst of all, I think of Robert Reid.

ABOUT ‘THE BLACKHOUSE’: Maggie Mackay has been haunted her entire life. No matter what she does, she can’t shake the sense that something is wrong with her. And maybe something is…

When she was five years old, without proof, Maggie announced that someone in the remote village of Blairmore in the Outer Hebrides had murdered a local man, sparking a media storm.

Now, Maggie is determined to discover what really happened and what the villagers are hiding. But everyone has secrets, and some are deadly. As she gets closer to the horrifying truth, Maggie’s own life is in danger…

MY THOUGHTS: The remote Hebridean Island of Kilmeray is like a magnet to Maggie Mackay. Her mother had taken her there as a five-year-old child, and she announced that she was Andrew Macneil and she had been murdered there.

After her mother’s death and her own psychotic episode, Maggie returns, determined to uncover the truth, sure that is the key to quitening her own restless spirit.

But on an island like Kilmeray, and in an insular village like Blairmore, the locals all live and work together. That’s how they survive. So it’s not unexpected that they would stand together against someone coming in and asking questions, making accusations.

Carole Johnstone is great at creating atmosphere. Her chosen location of a small wind and storm swept island that is more often than not cut off from the rest of the world by the weather is ideal for this storyline. But the seas are not all that is menacing. There are the villagers, who seem to be playing a game of cat and mouse with Maggie. One minute they are turning their backs on her, warning her off; the next tempting her with some tidbit of information. Maggie’s journey to uncover what they are hiding is a tense and twisty one; the final reveal unexpected and satisfying.

There is a sprinkling of Norse mythology, and romance; a hint of the supernatural. This is a story about grief and revenge; a story of mental illness and justice; a story of one woman trying to find her own peace.

On reflection, I wish I had listened to the audiobook of The Blackhouse. It could only have added to the atmosphere and my enjoyment.

⭐⭐⭐.8

#theblackhouse #NetGalley

I: @carole_l_johnstone @harpercollins

T: @C_L_Johnstone @HarperCollins

#contemporaryfiction #crime #mentalhealth #mystery #scottishnoir #smalltownfiction

THE AUTHOR: Carole Johnstone is from Lanarkshire, Scotland though she spent much of her life in north Essex. Award winning short story writer and lover of islands and wine. She now writes full-time and lives on the Scottish coast in Argyll & Bute.

DISCLOSURE: Thank you to Harper Collins, Harper Fiction via Netgalley for providing a digital ARC of The Blackhouse by Carole Johnstone for review. All opinions expressed in this review are entirely my own personal opinions.

For an explanation of my rating system please refer to my Goodreads.com profile page or the about page on sandysbookaday.wordpress.com

This review is also published on Twitter, Amazon, Instagram and Goodreads.com

Watching what I’m reading . . .

The Blackhouse by Carole Johnstone is what I am currently reading. This author really knows how to create an atmosphere!

I am listening to The Sun Down Motel by Simone St James, an author I have been wanting to read for some time, but I am never approved for her ARCs on Netgalley. It’s definitely another atmospheric and suspenseful read.

I have only managed to complete two of my seven scheduled reads for the week, so I am carrying them over into this week where I only have one other read for review scheduled. It is Solace and Other Stories by M. Syaipul Nasrullah. Thank you to the author for kindly providing me with a copy for review.

As he stared at the corpse’s face, he realized an endless dark cavity beneath the dead skin. There’s no one there. Even if he shouted with all his might, it was not the echo that would greet him but the silence that engulfed his voice.

– SOLACE

In “Good Friends,” a little girl collects dolls her family can’t afford from the neighbor’s trash bin. But who is the ghostly figure sharing them with her? A mysterious married woman reaches out to an ojek driver in “Confide,” and a young man’s attempt to kill himself goes awry in “Zombie.” In “The Crains” a new wife discovers her in-laws’ dangerous forays into black magic, and “Solace” follows a young man with a terrifying secret in his bedroom… These are just some of the spine-tingling stories of Solace and Other Stories, a surreal collection sure to keep you up at night! 

I have received five new Netgalley ARCs this week. They are: Mothered by Zoje Stage. I don’t know about you, but I find that cover chilling! The possibilities . . .

This is Us by Helen McGinn

The Santa Killer by Ross Greenwood (my nod to Christmas)

A Fearsome Moonlight Black by David Putnam

A Trace to Poison by Colleen Cambridge

My post is short and sweet today as I have to prepare some entrees for a friend’s birthday this afternoon.

It’s been another busy week workwise, but I am trying not to slip back into my old work habits and made sure to take some time for myself. I went swimming on Tuesday afternoon. Hilarious! My spirit was willing but my muscle memory was not cooperating. Floundering might be a more apt description of what I actually did. Thursday morning I went to aquarobics with my cousin which was not only a great workout but lots of fun. I have convinced another friend to come with us this coming week.

Have a wonderful week everyone, and happy reading. ❤📚

No Less the Devil by Stuart MacBride

EXCERPT: Lucy stopped.

That feeling of being watched had returned, even stronger than before.

She spun around.

There – standing on the corner, twenty feet away, where the road played host to another row of crumbling warehouses. It was the man in the corduroy jacket. The one who’d been outside the cottage this morning. The one who’d got away.

Not this time.

ABOUT ‘NO LESS THE DEVIL’: It’s been seventeen months since the Bloodsmith butchered his first victim and Operation Maypole is still no nearer to catching him. The media is whipping up a storm, the top brass are demanding results, but the investigation is sinking fast.

Now isn’t the time to get distracted with other cases, but Detective Sergeant Lucy McVeigh doesn’t have much choice. When Benedict Strachan was just eleven, he hunted down and killed a homeless man. No one’s ever figured out why Benedict did it, but now, after sixteen years, he’s back on the streets again – battered, frightened, convinced a shadowy ‘They’ are out to get him, and begging Lucy for help.

It sounds like paranoia, but what if he’s right? What if he really is caught up in something bigger and darker than Lucy’s ever dealt with before? What if the Bloodsmith isn’t the only monster out there? And what’s going to happen when Lucy goes after them?

MY THOUGHTS: ‘We are each our own devil, and we make this world our hell.’

If you don’t believe that the human mind is the most dangerous place on earth, you are probably not going to get the most out of this book. Stuart MacBride delves into the deepest recesses of the mind: PTSD, paranoia, delusions, hallucinations and psychopathy. Delicious stuff for me!

Set in the fictional Scottish town of Oldcastle, MacBride treats us to a new protagonist, DS Lucy McVeigh and her sidekick, the very out of condition DC ‘the Dunc’ Fraser, a bit of a whinger, but a good hearted one. Lucy has, of course, a traumatic past, but it turns out to be a bit more traumatic than we first think. Which is part of the problem. If it is a problem. It may be her salvation.

I couldn’t help thinking, as I got to the end, that Lucy may have made a deal with the Devil, and we all know the Devil likes to come out on top. He just might have met his match in Lucy. This is definitely going to be an interesting series.

Now for those of you readers who don’t have a great deal of psychiatric knowledge/background, there comes a point a little over 3/4 of the way through the book when you’re going to be thinking ‘wtf?’ I thought that. I thought ‘Has Stuart MacBride lost his marbles?’ The short answer is no, he hasn’t. Stick with it. Go with the flow. It will all become clear. Or clear enough . . .

MacBride goes in hard and fast with No Less the Devil. There’s no fannying about. No sitting around drinking cups of tea and eating scones. It’s breathtaking.

Lead on, Mr MacBride. I’m following.

⭐⭐⭐⭐.5

#NoLesstheDevil #NetGalley

I: @stuart.macbride @randomhouse

T: @StuartMacBride @randomhouse

#contemporaryfiction #crime #detectivefiction #mentalhealth #murdermystery #scottishnoir #thriller

THE AUTHOR: Stuart MacBride lives in the northeast of Scotland with his wife Fiona, cats Gherkin, Onion and Beetroot, some hens, some horses and an impressive collection of assorted weeds.

DISCLOSURE: Thank you to Random House UK, Transworld Publishers via Netgalley for providing a digital ARC of No Less the Devil by Stuart MacBride for review. All opinions expressed in this review are entirely my own personal opinions.

For an explanation of my rating system please refer to my Goodreads.com profile page or the about page on sandysbookaday.wordpress.com

This review is also published on Twitter, Amazon, Instagram and Goodreads.com

Mirrorland by Carole Johnstone

EXCERPT: ‘Will we be all right, El?’

We looked out across the Firth, past the small green islet of Inchkeith and that far away tanker. Shivering, still holding hands, close enough to feel each other’s heartbeat as that red sky moved in from the North Sea, spreading like a bruise. El didn’t look at me again until we could see it creeping over the breakwater.

And then she smiled. The wide, terrible smile that I knew she’d wanted to smile even along all those endless empty streets. She didn’t stop, even when we heard the first engine, the first siren. Or when the warehouse door creaked open and slammed shut again.

She smiled, smiled, smiled. ‘We will not leave each other. Say it.’

Footsteps crunching towards us. Another, louder curse. Enough lights to blind us so that we could no longer see the Firth at all. Only each other.

‘We will not leave each other,’ I whispered.

She gripped my hand even tighter and I swallowed, watched her smile get sharper, darker, watched it disappear. ‘Never so long as we live.’

‘You’ll be okay,’ a man who wasn’t the Old Salty Dog said.

And a woman with kind eyes and softer torchlight stepped between us, held out her other hand. ‘Everything will be all right now.’

And that was the day our second life began.

ABOUT ‘MIRRORLAND’: Cat lives in Los Angeles, far away from 36 Westeryk Road, the imposing gothic house in Edinburgh where she and her estranged twin sister, El, grew up. As girls, they invented Mirrorland, a dark, imaginary place under the pantry stairs full of pirates, witches, and clowns. These days Cat rarely thinks about their childhood home, or the fact that El now lives there with her husband Ross.

But when El mysteriously disappears after going out on her sailboat, Cat is forced to return to 36 Westeryk Road, which has scarcely changed in twenty years. The grand old house is still full of shadowy corners, and at every turn Cat finds herself stumbling on long-held secrets and terrifying ghosts from the past. Because someone—El?—has left Cat clues in almost every room: a treasure hunt that leads right back to Mirrorland, where she knows the truth lies crouched and waiting…

MY THOUGHTS: Delicious. Just absolutely delicious. A twisty, dark, thrilling story where the fantasies and terrors of childhood meet the reality of adult relationships.

I couldn’t stop listening to Mirrorland. When I wasn’t listening to it, I was thinking about it. My heart raced and pounded. My mind was looping the loop. This is a cleverly crafted novel about familial abuse, love, jealousy, betrayal, revenge and redemption. It is the story of mirror-twin sisters El and Kat. El, the elder by four minutes, is charged by their mother with being ‘the poison taster’, Kat’s protector. Kat is told by her mother to be fearless and brave. El and Kat make a childhood pact that ‘we will not leave each other’. But, of course . . . And beyond that, you’re getting nothing. Because this is a book best gone into with no information other than this is the best audiobook that I have listened to in probably forever. Narrator Katie Leung is unbelievably magnificent.

Mirrorland has been described by Stephen King as “dark and devious…beautifully written and plotted with a watchmaker’s precision.” I am not about to argue with him.

My intention to rush out and buy copies of everything ever written by this author has been scuppered by the fact that this is a debut novel.

I sincerely hope that someone is optioning the movie rights for Mirrorland.

Unreservedly recommended.

⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

#Mirrorland #NetGalley

I: @carole_l_johnstone @boroughpress

T: @C_L_Johnstone @BoroughPress

#fivestarread #audiobook #contemporaryfiction #domesticdrama #mystery #psychologicalthriller #suspense #scottishnoir

THE AUTHOR: Carole Johnstone is from Lanarkshire, Scotland though she spent much of her life in north Essex. Award winning short story writer and lover of islands and wine. She now writes full-time and lives on the Scottish coast in Argyll & Bute.

DISCLOSURE: Thank you, thank you, thank you to Harper Collins Audio, The Borough Press via Netgalley for providing an audio ARC of Mirrorland by Carole Johnstone for review. All opinions expressed in this review are entirely my own personal opinions.

For an explanation of my rating system please refer to my Goodreads.com profile page or the about page on sandysbookaday.wordpress.com

This review is also published on Twitter, Amazon, Instagram and Goodreads.com

Still Life by Val McDermid

Another title crossed off my backlist!

EXCERPT: ‘Good morning, DCI Pirie. This is Sergeant Pollock from Barrack Street in Perth. We’ve got a walk-in this morning that I think is more up your street than mine. Any chance you could come up and help us reach a decision?

Karen felt a familiar prickle of interest and turned away from Hamish. ‘Could you give me a wee bit more to go on?’

‘Well, it’s like this.’ He spoke slowly, keen to make sure he got his point across. ‘A member of the public came in and made a report at the bar. Her sister died in a RTA a few weeks ago and she’s just getting round to sorting out the deceased’s house. There was a camper van in the garage that the woman says definitely didn’t belong to her sister. She took a look inside and there’s skeletonised human remains in the back of the van. Now, the fact that they’re skeletonised says cold case to me and my boss. So we thought we’d cut to the chase and get you involved from the start.’

ABOUT ‘STILL LIFE’: When a lobster fisherman discovers a dead body in Scotland’s Firth of Forth, Karen is called into investigate. She quickly discovers that the case will require untangling a complicated web—including a historic disappearance, art forgery, and secret identities—that seems to orbit around a painting copyist who can mimic anyone from Holbein to Hockney. Meanwhile, a traffic crash leads to the discovery of a skeleton in a suburban garage. Needless to say, Karen has her plate full. Meanwhile, the man responsible for the death of the love of her life is being released from prison, reopening old wounds just as she was getting back on her feet.

MY THOUGHTS: Val McDermid certainly knows how to grab my attention and hold it. She knows how to strike that fine balance between the characters personal and professional lives, providing just the right amount of each. She gives technical information where it’s warranted, but never overwhelms. And . . . she keeps us updated on the office gossip.

McDermid knows how to tell a story, how to take all the different threads and weave them into one glorious picture that never could be imagined from the outset.

I enjoyed the introduction of a new character, DS Daisy Mortimer, seconded to Pirie’s team. She is bright and clever, a great foil for ‘The Mint’, DC Jason Murray who, while not the brightest bulb in the pack, is starting to gain confidence and come into his own.

This investigation takes place in the last weeks of February 2020, just as the Covid-19 pandemic kicks off, and ends on the eve of lockdown. It’s mentioned, but doesn’t play a large part in the story.

Still Life is classic McDermid with several threads to the plot which is well paced and keeps throwing up surprises. The central characters continue to develop individually and as a team, the only exception being ‘the dog biscuit’, the thorn in Pirie’s side and her boss.

I hope that this is not going to be the end of the DC Pirie series. I have developed a strong admiration for Karen’s character, though she still has a few life lessons to learn, and hope that the introduction of Daisy bodes well for more to come in this series.

A cracking great read.

⭐⭐⭐⭐.5

#StillLife #NetGalley

I: @valmcdermid @groveatlantic

T: @valmcdermid @GroveAtlantic

#contemporaryfiction #crime #detectivefiction #familydrama #murdermystery #mystery #policeprocedural #scottishnoir #thriller

THE AUTHOR: Val McDermid is a popular Scottish author who was born on June 04, 1955 in Fife, Scotland, United Kingdom. She is particularly famous for writing all her novels in the Mystery, crime and Thriller genres.

McDermid has been writing as a full time author since the success of her initial novels and she spends equal amounts of time in her homes in Edinburgh and Cheshire. She hails from the Kirkcaldy town of Fife in Scotland and completed her college studies from the St. Hilda’s College in Oxford.

McDermid lives along with three cats in Northumberland and Stockport and supports the Raith Rovers team. She also has a border terrier dog and considers the Northumberland coast as one of the relaxing places in the world.

DISCLOSURE: Thank you to Grove Atlantic via Netgalley for providing a digital ARC of Still Life by Val McDermid for review. All opinions expressed in this review are entirely my own personal opinions.

For an explanation of my rating system please refer to my Goodreads.com profile page or the about page on sandysbookaday.wordpress.com

This review is also published on Twitter, Amazon, Instagram and Goodreads.com

The Blood Tide (DS Max Craigie Scottish Crime Thrillers #2) by Neil Lancaster

EXCERPT: ‘We need to get in there,’ Janie said.

Max rattled the door, his stomach beginning to tighten.

Janie went to the decking. She picked up a length of plastic packing strap that had been securing the decking slats together. Within a few seconds she had fashioned a flexible hook. She reached through the cat-flap and passed the loop over the bunch of keys and tugged sharply. The keys fell to the floor.

‘Nice,’ said Max.

‘It’s from working with you and your cockney burglar techniques.’

Within seconds Max was inside the spotless kitchen, sniffing the air once more.

It was faint, but unmistakable. Every cop knew this smell. It started off faint, a mere suggestion of something, just like Max was detecting now. His stomach tightened, his heart began to pound. Max knew. He knew right away.

Death.

ABOUT ‘THE BLOOD TIDE’: You get away with murder.
In a remote sea loch on the west coast of Scotland, a fisherman disappears without trace. His remains are never found.

You make people disappear.
A young man jumps from a bridge in Glasgow and falls to his death in the water below. D. S. Max Craigie uncovers evidence that links both victims. But if he can’t find out what cost them their lives, it won’t be long before more bodies turn up at the morgue…

You come back for revenge.
Soon cracks start to appear in the investigation, and Max’s past hurtles back to haunt him. When his loved ones are threatened, he faces a terrifying choice: let the only man he ever feared walk free, or watch his closest friend die…

MY THOUGHTS: I haven’t yet read the first book in this series, Dead Man’s Grave, but I intend to remedy that. The Blood Tide has me hooked!

Normally I shy away from books about drug running, crime barons, etc., but I kept hearing what a great read The Blood Tide is, and so I caved. And I’m glad I did. Neil Lancaster has another follower.

The plot is driven and intense, the characters a great mix of those who you will love and admire (Max and his team) and the others – variously the drug runners, the crime bosses and those at the very top of the pile in positions of trust, influence and power who are orchestrating the whole despicable operation.

Lancaster sets the scenes well. From his atmospheric descriptions of the Scottish landscape to the minutiae of the crime scenes, he gives just the right amount of detail, neither swamping the reader nor leaving them wanting more. His background in police work shines through making this crime thriller/police procedural a riveting read. The ending is spectacular – I loved it.

The Blood Tide worked well for me as a stand-alone, but I am going back to read the first book in this series because I enjoyed this one so much. I do recommend that if you intend to read The Blood Tide, read Dead Man’s Grave first so that you have all the background to the relationships and because you’ll probably want to go back and read it anyway, so you may as well read them in order from the start.

⭐⭐⭐⭐.4

#TheBloodTide #NetGalley

I: @neil_lancaster_crime @hqstories

T: @neillancaster66 @HQStories

#contemporaryfiction #crime #detectivefiction #policeprocedural #scottishnoir #thriller

THE AUTHOR: Neil was born in Liverpool in the 1960s. He recently left the Metropolitan Police where he served for over twenty-five years, predominantly as a detective, leading and conducting investigations into some of the most serious criminals across the UK and beyond.

Neil acted as a surveillance and covert policing specialist, using all types of techniques to arrest and prosecute drug dealers, human traffickers, fraudsters, and murderers. During his career, he successfully prosecuted several wealthy and corrupt members of the legal profession who were involved in organised immigration crime. These prosecutions led to jail sentences, multi-million pound asset confiscations and disbarments.

Since retiring from the Metropolitan Police, Neil has relocated to the Scottish Highlands with his wife and son, where he mixes freelance investigations with writing.

DISCLOSURE: Thank you to HQ, HQ Digital via Netgalley for providing a digital ARC of The Blood Tide by Neil Lancaster for review. All opinions expressed in this review are entirely my own personal opinions.

For an explanation of my rating system please refer to my Goodreads.com profile page or the about page on sandysbookaday.wordpress.com

This review is also published on Twitter, Amazon, Instagram and Goodreads.com

Out of Bounds (DCI Karen Pirie #4) by Val McDermid

EXCERPT: ‘DCI Pirie, Historic Cases Unit.’

The voice at the other end had the unmistakable vowels of Dundee. ‘Aye, this is Sergeant Torrance from Tayside. Traffic Division.’ He stopped abruptly, as if he’d given her enough information to be going on with.

‘Hello, Sergeant. How can I help you?’

‘Well, I think it might be me who can help you.’

More silence. Clearly she was going to have to work at extracting information from Sergeant Torrance. ‘An offer of help always gets my day off to a good start. What is it you think you’ve got?’

‘You maybe saw the news we had a bad crash at the weekend?’

‘Sorry, that one passed me by. What happened?’

‘Ach, a stupid boy showing off to his pals, more than likely. They lifted a Land Rover Defender and somersaulted it over a roundabout on the Perth road in the wee small hours. All three passengers smashed to bits, dead on arrival at Ninewells.’

Karen sucked her breath over her teeth in an expression of sympathy. She’d seen enough road accidents in her time to know the level of carnage they could produce. ‘That’d piss on your chips and no mistake.’

‘Aye. One of the officers attending, it was his first fatal RTA. I doubt he’ll get much sleep for a wee while. Anyway, the thing is, the driver’s still alive. He’s in a coma, like, but he’s still hanging in there.’

Karen made an encouraging noise. ‘And you took a sample to check his blood alcohol.’

‘Correct. Which was, by the way, five times over the limit.’

‘Ouch. And I’m presuming you got the lab to run DNA?’

‘Well, it’s routine now.’ Sergeant Torrance didn’t sound like a man who thought that was a good use of Police Scotland’s budget.

‘I’m guessing that’s why you’re calling me.’

‘Aye. We got a hit on the DNA database. I don’t pretend to understand these things, but it wasn’t a direct hit. Well, it couldn’t have been, because it ties in with a twenty-year-old murder and this laddies only seventeen.’ The rustle of paper. ‘Apparently it’s what they call a familial hit. Whoever left his semen all over a rape murder victim in Glasgow twenty years ago was a close male relative of a wee Dundee gobshite called Ross Garvie.’

ABOUT ‘OUT OF BOUNDS’: When a teenage joyrider crashes a stolen car and ends up in a coma, a routine DNA test reveals a connection to an unsolved murder from twenty-two years before. Finding the answer to the cold case should be straightforward. But it’s as twisted as the DNA helix itself.

Meanwhile, Karen finds herself irresistibly drawn to another mystery that she has no business investigating, a mystery that has its roots in a terrorist bombing two decades ago. And again, she finds that nothing is as it seems.

MY THOUGHTS: There aren’t many crime writers who can write like Val McDermid, who grab me on the first page and keeps me enthralled until the last. I hear her characters speak, they are so real. I know I can rely on McDermid for the perfect read.

McDermid writes with a barely suppressed energy and an eye for detail that is unsurpassed. The plot is complex, but not hard to follow. She has thrown in buckets of red herrings, and surprising plot twists. There are things that happen in the beginning of the book that seem to be irrelevant and forgotten about as the story progresses, but which are nicely tied in at the end.

There are only two people who make up the Historic Crimes Unit, DCI Karen Pirie and DC Jason ‘the Mint’ Murray, not the sharpest knife in the block, but incredibly loyal. Karen infuriates her boss, ACC Simon Lees who thought he had got rid of her when he moved to Edinburgh. But then she was moved from Fife to run the HCU.

Karen is very good at what she does. She never shies away from a difficult question or a seemingly impossible case.
Her methods are largely unorthodox, but more often than not result in success. She has no more time for her ACC than he has for her, treating him with bland condescension, occasionally bordering on insolence, but never quite crossing that very fine line into insubordination. She is a character I plan to spend more time with. There are six books in this series and I have so far only read two. I have another on my nightstand ready to start.

Although this is book #4 of a series, it is able to be read as a stand-alone. References are made to past occurrences, but enough information is given for the reader to get the general gist of what had happened. However, to get a full understanding of the relationships and backstories, I do recommend you read this series in order.

A totally engaging crime thriller which addresses the ethical dilemmas of advances in forensic science.

⭐⭐⭐⭐.8

#OutofBounds #NetGalley

I: #valmcdermid @groveatlantic

T: @valmcdermid @GroveAtlantic

#contemporaryfiction #crime #detectivefiction #murdermystery #policeprocedural #scottishnoir #psychologicalthriller

THE AUTHOR: Val McDermid is a popular Scottish author who was born on June 04, 1955 in Fife, Scotland, United Kingdom. She is particularly famous for writing all her novels in the Mystery, crime and Thriller genres.

McDermid has been writing as a full time author since the success of her initial novels and she spends equal amounts of time in her homes in Edinburgh and Cheshire. She hails from the Kirkcaldy town of Fife in Scotland and completed her college studies from the St. Hilda’s College in Oxford.

McDermid lives along with three cats in Northumberland and Stockport and supports the Raith Rovers team. She also has a border terrier dog and considers the Northumberland coast as one of the relaxing places in the world.

DISCLOSURE: Thank you to Grove Atlantic via Netgalley for providing a digital ARC of Out of Bounds by Val McDermid for review. All opinions expressed in this review are entirely my own personal opinions.

For an explanation of my rating system please refer to my Goodreads.com profile page or the about page on sandysbookaday.wordpress.com

This review is also published on Twitter, Amazon, Instagram and Goodreads.com