Secret ServiceSurely the best spy novel I have read in years.

How can Kate Henderson take the intel seriously that the British Prime Minister has cancer, and that one of the contenders to replace him has Russian connections? And that there is a mole in British Intelligence. Of course she suspects Russian devious misinformation, but, as a senior MI6 officer, she needs to act because the ensuing political race to replace the PM becomes a reality when the incumbent shockingly announces his retirement. Who can she trust? Her boss, best-school friends with the Foreign Secretary who leads the race? The antagonistic Russian head-of-department?

Kate juggles her exacting job with family life which includes her two sulky teenage children and her busy husband who works for the attractive Minister of Education who is also a runner in the PM replacement race.

The clock ticks. She has to investigate the contenders without upsetting the political sensitivities or her superiors who are also under suspicion, whereas she herself is also not only under surveillance as the possible mole, but a target for elimination by the Russians as she edges closer to the truth.

Tom Bradby

Tom Bradby – author

The backstory to the characters is convincing, the tension is drum-tight and the plot is embedded in today’s news. The suspects all remain valid until the last twist. Excellent, indeed.

Thank you to Penguin Random House, South Africa for this Bantam Press Imprint ARC for which I tender this honest review.

ISBN: 9781787630499.

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BIG SKY – Kate Atkinson

Big Sky.jpgIt is Kate Atkinson’s brilliant writing that makes this almost thriller. Her characters are excellently individual, although, for the purist there may be too many of them. And Jackson Brodie, private detective, ex-policeman, whom Atkinson fans will have fondly met before, is almost not the main character. His bumps into, rather than meets or even investigates, the main players.

My favourite is Nathan, teenaged son of Tommy, one of three golfing pals who are in business together. Bad business, actually. Nathan has two jobs; gofer for eccentric gay comedy showmen, and helping at a House of Horrors routine. He is both clever and modest, sensitive and kind.

Another great one is Tommy’s wife Chrystal. Rough diamond with a dodgy past and a canny sense of survival and a she-wolf defence of her little daughter by Tommy, and her step-son, Nathan.

Jackson’s current case is a simple one of is-my partner-having-an-affair? Which has nothing to do with the dark deeds of sex-trafficking which lurk in the shadows of the seaside villages and towns of North-East Yorkshire. He only becomes involved on the periphery when he meets a potential suicide on the clifftops of Flamborough Heads.

Kate Atkinson

Kate Atkinson – author

I say almost thriller, because it is more chatty than thrilling, but is it readable? Yes, definitely. And splattered with humour and wonderful characters.

Thanks to Penguin Random House, South Africa, for this Doubleday Imprint ARC.

ISBN 9780857526113

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Beyond Reasonable DoubtA huge, involved fraud case suggests that Elliot Rook, QC, a barrister with Miller & Stubbs, needs some help as he gets further and further mired down in the paperwork, Sheer audacity gets young, hungry, mixed-race Zara Barnes the job. And she is from the same challenging social environment and ex-mining town that he is from, although he is at pains to hide the fact that he did not, in fact, join the bar via Eton, as most of his esteemed colleagues have done. His childhood’s best friend’s unsavoury brother, who knows his background, demands that he defend him from a charge of murder, but Billy Barber has been no help, saying no comment throughout his interrogations. A middle-eastern sixteen-year-old – naked and broken – has been found on the old tracks, and Billy was seen following her…

Enough of the story. If this is no. 1 in a series, bring it on!

Rook is real; he’s rough and brilliant, but overweight, drinks and smokes too much. He’s lost his wife to another man through not being home enough, and his work consumes him. Now, it’s all he has left. Zara is real; she’s bright and quirky and determined. The supporting cast is real; from arrogant establishment to brutal racist and everything in between, the characters are expertly and warmly drawn.

Gary Bell QC

Gary Bell QC – author

Scott Kershaw

Scott Kershaw – author

The legal picture is coloured by someone who has the tee-shirt.

The tension mounts even in the simple concealment of Rook’s humble background from the snobbery of the Establishment, all the way through the Old Bailey dramas to the violently unexpected twists that bring the curtain down.

I can’t recommend this new series highly enough.

Thankyou to Jonathan Ball, Publishers, SA, for this Raven Books Imprint from Bloomsbury Publishers Plc, London for this ARC.

ISBN 9781526606136

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NEON PREY – John Sandford

Lucas Davenport # 27.

Neon PreyIt is jaw-droppingly surprising, when the US Marshalls begin to search Clayton Deese’s home and yard, to find not one body buried there, but several. Deese, a contract killer, takes his targets home and fillets them for a barbeque before he buries them. No, he is not the small-time gun for hire that the law first thought, so when he goes on the run, the Marshalls need the expertise of their outside-the-box Marshal and his two regular side-kicks, Bob and Rae, to track him down.

But Deese is no fool, and ruthless as he is, no sacrifice is too great. He is incapable of any regret, as both the law on his tail and his new gang of home-invader fellows will find out.

Davenport does not get away unscathed. But, after weeks of recuperation, he doggedly returns to the chase as the canny antagonist keeps slipping through his grasp.

John Sandford’s unbelievably long list of Davenport thrillers keeps getting longer with no sign of flagging. I enjoyed GOLDEN PREY which BOOK POSTMORTEM reviewed a few months back, and NEON PREY is no less thrilling.

Yes, there is a thread of cheerful humour woven in, but it mostly falls short of flippant, thank goodness, which can be a trap that some long-running series writers slip into, seemingly without being aware of it. Perhaps it is the churn-‘em-out syndrome?

John Sandford

John Sandford – author

Sandford is up there with the best there is.

Thanks to Jonathan Ball, Publishers for this Simon & Schuster UK Imprint ARC.

ISBN 9781471184390

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UNDER THE ICE – Rachael Blok

JBPub_0002.jpgJenny is a new mother; exhausted, tearful, brittle. She finds herself sleep-walking, barefooted in the snow, down to the nearby lake which seems to have a hold on her. Her visions include shadowy figures and threatening whispers. Inexplicably, barely remembered childhood memories of her late mother surface.

A young girl’s body is found under the ice there. Jenny hands a phone that she finds there to the police, but how to explain that, when searchers had already covered the ground?

DCI Maarten Jansen heads up the police team. With Christmas only a week away the pressure is on to solve the case, then another girl goes missing.

And once again, Jenny is so involved as to become a suspect, but Jansen keeps faith in believing that she somehow holds a vital key. However, the gap between Jenny and her mystified husband continues to widen as her involvement increases.

Rachael Blok

Rachael Blok – author

Most of the time, I loved the author’s staccato sentences and flash images, although sometimes they got a little overdone. Nonetheless, her characters are beautifully sketched and warmly real. The whodunnit factor is great and the answers and twists are convincing.

Thank you to Jonathan Ball Publishers, South Africa, who are distributing this Head of Zeus Imprint, for an ARC. ISBN 9781788548014.

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DOMINO ISLAND – Desmond Bagley

JBPub_0001.jpgA gem of a thriller from a long-dead author’s stored archives, and it is a cracker. Desmond Bagley’s tight adventure novels were sometimes spoiled for me by his inclusion of Land Rovers cc the sixties where his gaffs about them used to steal from their fluidity. (…wound down the window; they slid aside. …tracking device hidden inside the rear bumper; they had bent pipes on either side, no bumper in which to secrete anything, etc. ) Which is rather petty, I know, but there it is.

No Landys on Domino Island, luckily. The plot is a whodunnit situation when a rich businessman/politician, David Salton’s body is found too decomposed, after four days in an open boat in the Caribbean sea, to really establish the cause of death. Two Insurance Assessors are sent from London to clear up the mystery surrounding the circumstances and give the go-ahead to release the funds.

Campanilla is an island republic with an unhappy poor class, a corrupt government, a tax haven banking elite and a tourist-flooded casino. So politics, riots, police, power and economics all have some sort of stake in, or are influenced by, the death. Not least his widow and his mistress.

Ex-military, exceedingly stubborn, with an instinct for irregularities, Bill Kemp is at the top of his game, and although he sends word that the death is as the coroner described, death by natural causes, he has to dig deeper when his associate is beaten up and dies from his injuries.

A great three-sixty twist rounds off a great read.

Desmond Bagley

Desmond Bagley – thriller author

Desmond Bagley died in 1983 with not only a long list of thrillers to his name, but several unpublished works, some of which have since seen light of day. This story went from the archives into the hands of Curator, Michael Davies, and Bagley fans can be very grateful that it did.

Thank you to Jonathan Ball Publishers, South Africa, distributing for Harper Collins, for this ARC for honest review.  ISBN 9780008334642

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ONE MORE LIE – Amy Lloyd

If one had to sum up this chilling tale of psychological suspense, I would use the word uncomfortable.

One More LieWith a new name and an ankle monitor, Charlotte, the adult, is released back into the world. Try as she might, she can’t forget prison or the fearful interrogation for supposed past deeds which put her there as a child. She and her only friend, Sean, were found guilty of murdering a disabled child, but much as she would like to forget what transpired afterwards, she cannot remember what actually happened. The police suspected the weird Mr Sampson for awhile, for who would think two young children could be capable of such a heartless act? Then, despite her denials, her fingerprints were found on the toy the boy dropped. And the lies begat more lies…

The public is outraged when it is discovered that, on release from prison, the taxpayers’ money is squandered on new identities and relocation, not to speak of the lady psychologist, Dr Isherwood, who plays a part in the story far beyond the call of duty.

Sean’s story of then and now also segments her story, then and now. Neither are endearing persons which robs the reader of empathy, although Sean’s battle between his prison-built anger and a remnant of decency make his character an interesting contrast to Charlotte’s timid loneliness.

Certainly, the curiosity about the final denouement will keep some readers ploughing on to the final twist, but I fear others might succumb to frustration and give up. However, the writing is excellent and the depth of the characters is well plumbed.

My thanks to Penguin Random House, South Africa for this Century Imprint ARC.

ISBN 978178089826.

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THE POTENTIAL – David A. Davies

The PotentialLook no further if you are after a thriller of character depth, plot twists and factual settings.

In Bonn, Chris Morehouse, a UK citizen working as a chauffeur for the CIA, is driving the US Ambassador when an attack is made to either kidnap or assassinate him. Natural defensive instinct and excellent judgement enables Chris to save the man’s life and causes the CIA to take another look at him for further training.

Dare Chris hope for a life of excitement beyond that of a security driver? Although a fit ex-special forces soldier, he is also fallible and screws up from time to time. But the action follows him like a dog on a leash. The terrorists don’t know what, or who, he saw during the attack. Who is behind the attackers; what is their agenda and is Chris in danger from them as well?

Yes. A whole set of deadly pieces lie embedded in the puzzle.

The action lunges from Germany to the USA, to the Middle East in a series of linked threads where most of the players have their own intriguing, convincing back-stories. The telling is fluid and engaging, even with a large amount of figures in the tapestry, but the only fault I find is the flip from one Point-of-View to the next and back in the same sequence. Sometimes the same paragraph.

Safely a good start to a potentially great series; thank you to for this free copy which I selected to review. Assuredly, we will accept further ARCs from David A. Davies if he cares to send them over.

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WINTER SISTERS – Robin Oliveira

Mary Sutter #2.

When the 1879 blizzard that devastates Albany, New York, finally releases its killer grip, close family friends, husband and wife, of Dr Mary Sutter and her physician husband, have both lost their lives. But more troubling is the fact that their two daughters of ten and six are missing.

The two doctors and their friends search for weeks, to no avail, until they are unexpectedly found and taken to the home of the doctors. The elder girl has been savagely misused; the younger untouched.

The story is one of family compassion, of defending the weak, of righting wrongs in the face of prejudice and bigotry. It is at once a who-dunnit as well as a look at historical women’s rights and the power of courageous family love attempting to heal the damage caused by arrogant and powerful men.

Robin Oliveira

This is a compelling mystery, at once exciting, shocking and heartwarming. Easy reading as well as gripping, the characters are well fleshed. Going on from the story of Mary Sutter, the midwife who became a Civil War surgeon, it features possibly too many characters, initially confusing, who might not be there if not for the previous book, MY NAME IS MARY SUTTER.

Herewith an honest review. Thank you for this Penguin imprint ARC to PENGUIN RANDOM HOUSE, South Africa.

ISBN 9780399564260.

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RUN AWAY – Harlan Coben

Run AwayYour eldest daughter has run away; she does not want to be found. Then you see her in a park, busking. You hardly recognise her, so wasted, so shrunken and filthy is she; but you can’t help yourself reaching out to beg her to come home. Her boyfriend tries to stop you. You punch him, and the crowd turns on you as your daughter flees.

So begins a father’s nightmare search.

Simon Greene is not persuaded by his wife, to leave their daughter alone to the drugged existence she has chosen. After all, they have tried the rehab route before to no avail. But, seeing his determination, she reluctantly comes along to help find her. Gunfire in a filthy tenement block erupts. That’s when his world shatters into even smaller pieces.

Secrets. Just how shocked is he to find who is keeping secrets from him, and how far will he go to keep secrets from even his own nearest and dearest?


Harlan Coben – author

More importantly, would he kill to protect them?

And who is murdering young men all over the USA and what connection do they have to an isolated cult known as The Truth? And to Simon’s daughter?

This is another top-notch Coben twister I could not put down.

Herewith an honest review. Thank you for this Century imprint ARC to PENGUIN RANDOM HOUSE, South Africa.

ISBN 9781780894263

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