Book Review: The Long Call by Ann Cleeves 

What’s it about?

In North Devon, where two rivers converge and run into the sea, Detective Matthew Venn stands outside the church as his estranged father’s funeral takes place. On the day Matthew left the strict evangelical community he grew up in, he lost his family too.

Now, as he turns and walks away again, he receives a call from one of his team. A body has been found on the beach nearby: a man with a tattoo of an albatross on his neck, stabbed to death.

The case calls Matthew back to the people and places of his past, as deadly secrets hidden at their hearts are revealed, and his new life is forced into a collision course with the world he thought he’d left behind.



My thoughts

Having not read any of Ann Cleeves’ novels before but very much enjoying the Vera TV series I was delighted to be sent 10 advanced copies of The Long Call to share with my book group.

I found it quite an easy book to get into although there are a lot of diverse characters to follow and being the first in a series there’s also a lot of back story to take in.

As you’d expect from such an accomplished author her writing is excellent; she certainly knows how to weave her plot and conjure a setting.  The book is a police procedural and I am a fan of this style as I like to know the mechanics of an investigation and in that respect this book doesn’t disappoint, however it does feel a little sluggish in places with the pace not really picking up until the last few chapters.

Although I enjoyed the book and will look forward to watching the tv adaptation I do think that the plot could have been written for any of Ann Cleeves’ characters; the plot would have worked just as well with either Shetland or Vera as lead detective which makes me wonder if this manuscript was just hanging around in a drawer waiting for a new main character to emerge from the depths of Ann Cleeves’ mind.

Overall the group felt it to be an okay and enjoyable read although not without flaws.  Whilst I wouldn’t want to dwell on those too much I feel it only fair to pass on some of their thoughts:

“Read The Long Call and felt it was OK. It didn’t really grip me and felt main character, Matthew Venn was quite dull. No idea why he had to be gay – felt it was a ploy to meet ‘inclusion’ policies to attract a TV adaptation (which it obviously was)! Especially with the addition of ‘learning disabled’ characters. I just hope the TV series actually casts these characters from the gay and learning disabled communities.”

“As a whole I felt that the book was setting the scene for a series as it didn’t feel like a standalone thriller with a beginning, a middle and an end. The first fifty pages contained descriptions of a gay couple, suicide, homelessness, disabled adults, domestic violence, a hippy, a born again Christian plus a vicar. Every single person is a problem waiting to be figured out. Perhaps it would have been better to leave some description to books 2 or 3? The ending was also quite abrupt and a bit flat.”

Book links: Goodreads | Amazon

Author Links: Website | Twitter

Small print for info
Source: Publisher – ARC
No of pages: 384
Publisher: Macmillan

Book Review: The Various Haunts of Men by Susan Hill

What’s it about?

A woman vanishes in the fog up on ‘the Hill’, an area locally known for its tranquillity and peace. The police are not alarmed; people usually disappear for their own reasons. But when a young girl, an old man and even a dog disappear no one can deny that something untoward is happening in this quiet cathedral town. Young policewoman Freya Graffham is assigned to the case, she’s new to the job, compassionate, inquisitive, dedicated and needs to know – perhaps too much. 

She and the enigmatic detective Chief Inspector Simon Serrailler have the task of unravelling the mystery behind this gruesome sequence of events. From the passages revealing the killer’s mind to the final heart-stopping twist.

My thoughts

I’m always drawn to a good murder mystery and having read, and enjoyed, The Woman in Black, I was expecting eerie atmosphere overload and wasn’t disappointed there.

I initially thought with it being a chunkster of a book at over 500 pages that I’d take me a while to read, but I read it in a week which is good-going for me.  I thought the book was well structured with a good balance of description and conversation, I didn’t feel anything was out of place or overdone.

We are introduced to many characters, some of which won’t make it into book 2, but they’re all given sufficient plot time that you get to know them and care about them, even the fleeting visitors.  Having said that, DCI Serrailler plays quite a small part in this opening book – considering it’s his series!  There’s also plenty of conversation and good old fashioned investigation which does make for a gripping read.

I liked the mix of chapters told from the killer’s point of view in “The Tape” so as a reader we find ourselves knowing more than the police and being that one step ahead.  With this extra detail, I did manage to put it together and figure out who the murderer was – highly unusual for me!

I’ve just discovered that there are now a further 8 books in this series with another due later this year.  Did I enjoy this book, yes very much, will I read anymore, mmm probably not.  Realistically, I think I’m too far behind and as I already try to follow and keep up with 2 other crime/murder mysteries series, this may just be one too many, nevertheless thoroughly recommended!

Book links: Goodreads | Amazon | Book Depository

Author links: Twitter | Website

Small print for info
Source: Borrowed
No of pages: 549
Publisher: Vintage

Book Review: Cold Blood by Robert Bryndza

What’s it about?

She fell in love with a killer, now she’s one too.

The suitcase was badly rusted, and took Erika several attempts, but it yielded and sagged open as she unzipped it. Nothing could prepare her for what she would find inside…

When a battered suitcase containing the dismembered body of a young man washes up on the shore of the river Thames, Detective Erika Foster is shocked. She’s worked on some terrifying cases but never seen anything like this before. 

As Erika and her team set to work, she makes the link with another victim – the body of a young woman dumped in an identical suitcase two weeks ago. 

Erika quickly realises she’s on the trail of a serial killer who’s already made their next move. Yet just as Erika starts to make headway with the investigation, she is the victim of a brutal attack. 

But nothing will stop Erika. As the body count rises, the twin daughters of her colleague Commander Marsh are abducted, and the stakes are higher than ever before. Can Erika save the lives of two innocent children before it’s too late? She’s running out of time and about to make a disturbing discovery…there’s more than one killer.

My thoughts

I do really enjoy this series so shame on me for leaving it so long to read it because when I did I read it in a few days! The pace of the books in this series is just relentless.

Again, this one can be read as a standalone as the author gives us sufficient information which isn’t re-hashed from the previous, but honestly, it’s so much better to start from the beginning as you’ll get so much more insight into Erika.

You can’t fault the author’s attention to detail with the police procedural either – nothing is spared and because of this you feel totally wrapped up in the investigation and it all feels totally realistic.  I still find Erika somewhat manipulative but she does seem to have calmed down a bit this time even though, in my opinion, she still drinks too much!

I liked the alternating chapters between the investigation and the killer.  I like understanding what motivates ordinary people to do these horrific things, however I don’t like knowing too early who it is.  For me, it then drags a little and becomes a question of time before they’re caught.  You know with Columbo, you know from the first few minutes who’s getting it and who’s doing it, and then it’s all about the little mind games Columbo plays.  I think I prefer knowing straight away or a huge reveal at the very end – imho!! 😉

But this one was the best one so far for me (I think I said that last time too!), just as gritty and perverse as the others and I’m eager to crack on to number 6!  Hopefully Peterson will be back to full duty in the next book and back with Erica and Moss as they make a cracking team and I’d love to see them on the telly! 🙂

Book Links: Goodreads | Amazon | Book Depository

Author links: Website | Twitter

Small print for info
Source: ARC – many thanks!
No of pages: 356
Publisher: Bookouture

My thoughts on A Treachery of Spies by Manda Scott #audible #bookreview

What’s it about?

An elderly woman of striking beauty is found murdered in Orleans, France. Her identity has been cleverly erased, but the method of her death is very specific: she has been killed in the manner of traitors to the Resistance in World War Two. 

Tracking down her murderer leads police inspector Inès Picaut back to 1940s France, where the men and women of the Resistance were engaged in a desperate fight for survival against the Nazi invaders. 

To find answers in the present, Picaut must discover what really happened in the past, untangling a web of treachery and intrigue that stretches back to the murder victim’s youth: a time when unholy alliances were forged between occupiers and occupied, deals were done and promises broken. The past has been buried for decades, but, as Picaut discovers, there are those in the present whose futures depend on it staying that way – and who will kill to keep their secrets safe…. 

My thoughts

After hearing Manda Scott on Simon Mayo’s Books of the Year podcast I downloaded this book straight away using a free Audible credit.

At nearly 19 hours long it is a huge investment of time and despite the many weeks it took me to listen to it, the vast amount of characters and dual time line it is a fascinating listen!

When Sophie Destivelle is murdered in modern day France her death is linked back to her time as a WWII Special Operations Executive.  The time we spend back in WW2 is incredibly gripping and tense but not without, of course, the horror.  There are some vicious scenes but it is as you’d expect from a spy novel of this time.  Sophie’s character is awesome; she’s kick-ass and hardcore which I really liked!

I’m not gonna lie I couldn’t put the time into this Audible book as much as I’d have liked which is why it’s taken me around 6 weeks to complete it.  There are also so many characters in the present day and the past that trying to remember who they were and how they played a part in the past I found difficult.  This was entirely down to me and my listening habits.  As much as I do enjoy an Audible book and I liked the narrators in this, I think I would have had a much better experience had I read a physical copy.  I found I was trying to deciphering the names and I would have preferred to see them written down.

Since finishing I’ve since discovered this is the second in a series but wholeheartedly recommend as a standalone as it has such a superb plot.  In all honesty, it’s a book that I’d actually like to re-read.  I think I missed quite a bit and didn’t follow everything and recollect so didn’t really stand a chance of piecing it together.  This is a real treat for fans of historical fiction especially if you’re interested in roles women played as SOEs.

Book links: Goodreads | Amazon | Book Depository

Author links: Twitter | Website

Small print for info
Source: Purchased – Audible
No of pages: 480
Publisher: Bantum Press

What are your thoughts on audio books?

Book Review: The Golden Orphans by @GaryRaymond_ #blogtour @damppebbles #damppebblesblogtours

Welcome to my stop on The Golden Orphans blog tour! Thanks to Damp Pebbles for the invite, I’m delighted to be taking part!

What’s it about?

Within the dark heart of an abandoned city, on an island once torn by betrayal and war, lies a terrible secret…

Francis Benthem is a successful artist; he’s created a new life on an island in the sun. He works all night, painting the dreams of his mysterious Russian benefactor, Illy Prostakov. He writes letters to old friends and students back in cold, far away London. But now Francis Benthem is found dead. The funeral is planned and his old friend from art school arrives to finish what Benthem had started. The painting of dreams on a faraway island. But you can also paint nightmares and Illy has secrets of his own that are not ready for the light. Of promises made and broken, betrayal and murder…

The Golden Orphans offers a new twist on the literary thriller.



My thoughts

This book wasn’t at all what I expected; I genuinely thought I was going to get a murder mystery whodunnit novel…oops.  What I did get was a dramatic, intense, darker tale set in one of the most beautiful locations.

Our unnamed narrator is an ordinary chap who finds himself in extraordinary circumstances; commissioned to paint dreams, mixing with Russian gangsters (I think) and all sorts of other unsavoury characters.  I didn’t really get Illie’s desire to have his dreams painted, and I do appreciate sometimes you don’t have to get it but I do think with his contacts and financial resources he could have achieved the same result in an alternative way (but hey ho there’s the plot!).  I’m also not sure why our main character isn’t named.  But to be honest, I felt the same with Rebecca – someone please give me an idea why.  I don’t know if this added anything to the story or detracted.

Having visited Cyprus many years ago, I enjoyed the historical aspects surrounding Famagusta and the Turkish invasion.  I would have liked some more of this as I really enjoyed the parts that were set here.

This book is described as a “literary thriller” and I can see why.  This doesn’t feel like or read like a run of the mill suspense novel, it says to me I’m influenced by the likes of Daphne du Maurier and Patricia Highsmith.  Whereby, it makes me as a reader feel like I don’t always understand or ‘get’ what I’m reading, but it doesn’t mean I’ve not liked what I’ve read.  It’s a different kind of clever read, often poetic.

For a relatively short book I don’t think you’ll come away feeling short-changed but maybe, as I did, a feeling that some parts could have been explored a little deeper.  Overall, a slow and descriptive build-up to a dramatic and climatic end!

Book links: Goodreads | Amazon | Book Depository | Waterstones

About the author Gary Raymond

Gary Raymond is a novelist, critic, editor and broadcaster. He is the presenter of BBC Radio Wales’, The Review Show, and is one of the founding editors of Wales Arts Review. He is the author of two novels, The Golden Orphans (Parthian, 2018) and For Those Who Come After (Parthian, 2015). He is a widely published critic and cultural commentator.

Author links: Twitter | Facebook

Small print for info
Source: Publisher via Blog Tour
Publisher: Parthian Books