The Girl on The Bus by N.M. Brown – Review

Book Review:

I’m not gonna lie I read the title to this book and went into the reading of it with little enthusiasm. Not another faded copy of a copy, trying to jump on a bandwagon.

The prologue disabused me of any notion that this fine novel lacked originality within two pages. The prologue, which is exceptional, is strong in emotions and embraces a deep sense of unease. Brown conveys the rising panic of losing a child vividly.  As a result, the reader’s concern is genuine and deep. Very skilfully done.

Written in third-person, past tense throughout, Brown’s novel steps on every expectation you may have from its title. Strong writing unveils unflinching acts of violence that take place in confined settings which should be safe for the characters but aren’t, building the menace the book practically seeps. Descriptive, without being overly-flowery, details of settings and people elevate this work above its peers. Brown has succeeded in writing a wholly immersive plot that punches you in the gut whilst drawing concern, fear and very real emotion from his readers.

Anything but formulaic, the story is well planned and imaginative in its execution. It’s also riddled with believable characters whose actions are in keeping with the challenges and their personalities.  

As is common in the genre, a little too much exposition at times for my tastes, but this is a minor complaint amongst an accomplished piece of fiction.

The finale was very good, but I particularly enjoyed the prologue which was first-rate.

Cheeky, humorous and displaying some superb foreshadowing all in one go, it was an unexpected nod to the readers and a high point in a book that whilst tightly plotted, did not take itself too seriously.

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Book Description:

A retired detective and a young woman are about to face their worst fears. 

Vicki Reiner is emotionally isolated and craves the fleeting happiness she experienced in the years prior to her college graduation. In an attempt to recapture this, she invites her former friend and room-mate, Laurie,  for a break at her deserted beachside home. However, despite booking an online bus ticket, her friend never shows up and seems to have vanished. 

Unable to accept the bizarre circumstances of the disappearance, Vicki approaches the police who dismiss her concerns before enlisting the reluctant help of Leighton Jones – a newly retired detective who is haunted by the death of his teenage daughter. Despite trying to remain detached from the case, Leighton is drawn to Vicki and her search for justice. 

The unlikely pair face numerous obstacles but using a combination of methods he and Vicki track the killers who are working across the dusty freeways of North America. 

Soon Vicki and Leighton find themselves nervously waiting at a remote bus stop expecting the arrival of the bus. 

Will they ever discover what happened to Laurie? 

And can they both escape with their lives? 

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Author Bio:

Norman M. Brown is an author living and working in Scotland.

Having experimented with poetry, scripts and short stories over the years, he finally decided to write sit down and write the type of fiction he would like to read. The result was his crime thriller -The Girl on the Bus. As result, Norman was delighted to be signed to Bloodhound Books at the start of this year. The Girl in the Bus, is his first published novel. He is currently writing a second novel based on its protagonist – detective Leighton Jones.    

Links:

Twitter: @normthewriter

Blog:http://nmbrownfiction.blogspot.co.uk/

The Girl on The Bus is available at Amazon and from Bloodhound Books now

Kill or Die by Ann Evans – Review

This book has been my surprise of the year so far.

A first in the genre from Evans, Kill or Die is nonetheless a fine display of skill and confidence from a seasoned writer who makes smart choices in her prose and choice of narrative. Evans’ immersive and descriptive prose excels in engaging the reader and in stimulating a cascade of very vivid images of the setting and her characters.

Well-crafted, and natural-feeling dialogue, utilising a mixture of long and short sentence structure, augment the already good characterisation. Combined with Evans use of Body language to covey intent and emotion, this elevates the characterisation to another level and places it amongst the most skilled I’ve read in a while.

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A third-person, past-tense narrative throughout suits the plot and propels the characters and their deeds along at a fair old clip. Kill or Die is seeped in suspense, eliciting a deep sense of unease and conflict throughout. The novel is permeated with a measured tension that I really enjoyed. With her choice to place Julia and her daughter front and centre, Evans appears to effortlessly tap into the subconscious fears all parents harbour and suppress and asks her readers to explore their own unease.

How far would you go to protect your child? Answer: As far as you had to.

A great new addition to the publisher’s catalogue and yet another declaration of Bloodhound’s intent to continue to develop quality books and writers.

 

You can find Ann and her books at Bloodhound Books and a Amazon

The Crying Boy by Jane E James – Review

The Crying Boy is an excellent myth on which to base a novel and one that Jane James clearly has some in depth knowledge on. The opening section of the book – in first-person from the painting’s POV- really jolted me, hard. This was an excellent section, wholly immersive, tantalisingly creepy and pitch-perfect in the narrative choice. It also demonstrated a particular strong grasp and use of dialogue by James. All in, The Crying Boy has one of the strongest openings to any book I’ve read. Ever.

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With such an accomplished opening, I had high expectations going into the rest of the book, which for the most part were met.

Utilising a third-person, present-tense throughout, Jane’s prose is accomplished and very descriptive, skilfully immersing the reader in the musty, opaque corridors of the world James exposes them to. I was slightly disappointed by the lack of dialogue present in parts of the book, mostly because the writer demonstrated a high degree of skill in writing the spoken word in the earliest scenes of the book, making me want more… a lot more. As a result of this reduction in dialogue, the prose felt a little exposition-heavy at times for my tastes, but perhaps, where dialogue is concerned, others will find that less is more in this case.

For me personally I’d like to have seen more interactions between the characters similar to those that took place in the prologue. Similarly, I’d have liked to have seen the painting’s ‘character’ pushed to the fore. This was a skilful use of characterisation, and an adept use of alternative viewpoint. For me, the novel would have benefited from a greater presence of this ‘character’. Perhaps even as the main protagonist throughout.

Despite a few minor quibbles, most of which are wholly subjective, I really enjoyed The Crying Boy. James’ novel is a fine example of an eerie, insular, tightly-cornered beast of a story; all threatening corners and complex emotions and characters. To read, it felt like watching an early John Carpenter movie, like The Thing. Seeped in intrigue and threatening presence.  It’s a book I know that I’ll revisit several times, as it is one of those reads in which the reader finds something new to love or fear or recoil from on each visit.

A very accomplished story from a skilled author.

 

You can find Jane E James at Bloodhound Books

Anglesey Blue by Dylan H Jones – Review

Anglesey Blue is a pleasant surprise in a genre I rarely read. Written in 3rd-person, past-tense (again, uncommon in the genre), Jones’ narrative flows well and engages the reader effectively. Despite being a little exposition-heavy at times (for my taste) Jones’ excellent dialogue offsets what could’ve been a minor quibble in the chunks of exposition.

The dialogue feels ‘current’ in a way that many crime writer’s don’t always manage and always has purpose, whether in moving the plot forward or in slowly peeling away to reveal more depth to the characters than one might expect. For me this displayed an impressive technique in showing rather than telling in the dialogue sections, and clearly a strength for this writer.

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The plotting is tight, and mostly pacey, but where it lacks pace, I sensed important groundwork and character development being laid down for future stories, which is always welcome.

 A very solid start to a series. I will definitely pick up the next book.

You can find Dylan H Jones at Bloodhound Books and Amazon.

Alice – Tequila Mockingbird Blog Excerpt

The following excerpt is taken from Mark Wilson’s (under the pseudonym CP Wilson) upcoming psychological thriller ‘Alice’ due for publication via Paddy’s Daddy Publishing in Winter, 2016.

The primary character, Alice, is a serial killer who targets abusive spouses. After each kill she posts a blog entry. The following excerpt contains one such entry. Happy reading:

Alice-favourite copy

Tequila Mockingbird

Blog

Kill 17

Michael McKenna died tonight in his home in Edinburgh. His life was brought to a relatively peaceful end. A more serene exit than he deserved, and certainly more humane than the manner in which he treated his family for seventeen years.

A habitual abuser of his wife, Mike employed very few, but expertly-effective methods of torturing his children and spouse. Mike enjoyed his family’s fear. He thrived on their dread, gleefully and ruthlessly taking every minute scrap of independence or self-esteem from them.  A long-term gambler and adulterer, Mike McKenna created a domain in which he ruled supremely over his dependents. A child-man, Mike demanded and expected his every need and whim to be not only catered for, but anticipated. Mental and physical abuse his preferred tools; vindictive domineering and manipulation his most cherished entertainment.

Across fifteen years, Mike beat his wife on thirty seven occasions that I am aware of. During his tenure, Sadie McKenna suffered six broken ribs, a ruptured kidney and numerous arm breaks as a result of displeasing her husband, or failing to foresee one of his many and unpredictable needs. Most recently, Sadie was hospitalised due to a ruptured kidney, a vicious blow delivered with gusto by a coward, relieved her of an organ. Good thing you have two ay thum, Mike had sing-songed to her upon her return home. The damage to her internal organ was convincingly blamed on a fictional mugging in the park.

Sadie endured her husband, absorbed his blows, wilted under his deeply personal criticism of her body, her mind, her spirit.

She forced herself to survive, to remain in order to shield her children. Her eldest, also Michael, intervened more than once. A fractured cheek bone and a broken finger did not ultimately prevent the laddie from placing himself in front of his mother time and again. Mike’s control of the twins hadn’t graduated to physical yet, emotional blackmail and fear served him fine.

Sadie and her children played no role in his death. I acted alone. 

I know these things about Michael McKenna because I watched him for a long time. I saw how he controlled and victimised those he should have loved and cherished. 

Mike will never harm Sadie, or anyone else again. I opened his carotid artery and removed his eye. I looked into the remaining window to his rotten soul and watched the vindictiveness, his rage that Sadie had escaped his world colour his last moments.

Sadie and her children are safe. Never again will they flinch from a step on the floorboards or the voice of their jailer. 

Press In,

Tequila

End of Excerpt

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Mark is the author of ten works of fiction. You can find Mark and his books at Amazon.

Alice – Chapter One Preview

The following excerpt is from my upcoming novel, ‘Alice’, due for release in autumn, 2016. The book is being released under the pseudonym C.P. Wilson:

Copyright, Mark Wilson and Paddy’s Daddy Publishing.

Alice-favourite copy

1

 “It’s about time you got your arse in gear,” he growls from his chair. Remaining silent. I bow my head, chin to my chest. Chopping carrots, I have my back to him. The chair screeches across the tiles as he rises to his feet. Fists thumping the table top, he demands, “How long is that gonnae be. Fuckin’ starving here.”

“Not long now, Mike,” I tell him quietly.

I can feel him regard me for a few moments. Lighting a cigarette, he blows the smoke out forcefully.

“You sound funny, you’d better not have a cold coming on.”

“Just allergies,” I reply.

“Good,” he barks, “Can’t be doing with you being off your game just now.” He returns to his chair. “Your hair looks different,” he accuses. “Who you trying to impress?”

I force cheer into my voice, “No-one, Mike. Would you like a beer?”

He snorts his derision at me, “Took you long enough to ask.”

Placing the chopping knife onto the counter-top, I keep my back to him as I reach into the freezer.

“Beer’s in the fridge,” he cuts in. “Idiot.”

“Oh, I put one in here a little while before you came home, love. Get it nice and cold for you.”

“Good.”

Keeping my chin tucked in low to my chest, my face obscured by my red hair, I hand him the beer without opening it.

Mike stares at the can in my hand, incredulous. “What am I supposed to do with that?” he asks. I let the can slip from my fingers. His eyes follow it to the tiles, widening as the can splits upon impact, sending a spray of beer scooshing around the kitchen.

When he looks back up at me, I watch his face through strands of my hair. Morphing from surprise to a grotesque anger tinged with joy, he stands, pulling his belt from his waist.

“Dearie me. That was unfortunate.” He sing-songs the words. The bastard is delighted to be given an excuse to punish me. Before he strikes, I lift my chin, showing him my face for the first time since he arrived home. My right hand is already in motion.  Our eyes meet and the shock breaks his glazed predatory leer. “Who the fu…”

Sliding six inches of ice-blade into his neck, I shove him back into his seat, turning the blade in his neck to widen the gash in his carotid artery as he flumps onto his rump.

Mike’s eyes are fixed on mine as I clamber to sit astride him, in his lap, a leg at each side, pinning his jerking legs. His belt has fallen to the tiles, his hands claw at his own slick neck. “You’re not…” he coughs blood-mucus.

Withdrawing my weapon from his neck, my eyes flick to the edge for a second. The arterial spray redecorates the walls. Noting that the edge is still intact, I plunge the tip into his right eye.

He screams. The Sclera of his eye slides down a few millimetres on my knife tip.

“No I’m not Sadie,” I say quietly. Sadie is gone. Despite the mortal wound in his neck, the mad woman on his lap and the ice-blade in his eye, hatefulness flickers once more in Mike. He can’t stand that she’s out of his reach.

“She’s not coming back, Michael,” I tell him. Don’t bother with the tantrum, you don’t have the strength anyway. I nod across at the blood-splattered fridge.”

My words are wasted, he’s already slipping deep into shock. The arterial spray from his neck has died to a throbbing squirt in time with the slowing beat of his heart.

Disappointed at the speed of his death, I pull the weapon from his eye which flops onto his upper cheek; a thick mishmash of cords and vessels snaking into the socket. Most of the ice-blade is wet now, its structure is beginning to disappear. Unwrapping the leather straps from around the handle, I stand and place the now-slippery weapon onto his lap.

Clawing irritably at an itch under the wig, I remove Sadie’s clothes and stuff them into a carrier bag. Stood in only black leggings and long sleeve T, I shiver upon opening the front door. The cool darkness rushes into the heated room as I leave, stirring the iron blood smell around the room then sucking it out into the darkening night. Suddenly, I wish I hadn’t left my jacket on the bike. Never mind.

“Bye, Mike.”

Stepping out into the Edinburgh dusk, I briskly walk the five miles to where I left my bike in the shadows of a Sycamore, on Grosvenor Crescent. A few minutes later I’m on St John’s road, headed for the M8.

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 The warmth of my Hamilton apartment embraces me. Headed directly to the living room, I make a quick check that my blinds are closed, and that the fire I lit earlier is of sufficient size and intensity. Absent-mindedly singing to myself, I retrieve the leather strapping from the ice-blade’s handle and drop it into the fire. Hand over hand I roll Sadie’s clothes into a tight cylinder and lay them onto the fire.  There they join the leather strap, followed by, the wig which crinkles and melts as it lands in the heat. Left wearing a simple plastic bodysuit, I watch the flames devour the last of Sadie, only a faint sense of loss tugs at me. The flames swell and dance around as I unzip the plastic suit, leaving myself naked. Kicking the plastic suit into the fire along with the rest I head to the bathroom.

Almost a full half hour later- skin reddened from the long immersion in the heat and smelling strongly of carbolic soap- I step carefully from the cubicle. Catching myself in the mirror, I toss a wink then pad, wet-footed into the bedroom. The white tiles underfoot throughout my little apartment, feel cool and clean against my skin. The clinical detachment of the day- washed from my body as surely as any traces of Mike and Sadie’s home- is replaced by the glow of expectation.

Once dried, perfumed and dressed, I leave my little apartment at the Racecourse. My Ducati seems to grin at me from the garage as I step inside. Come on, let’s fly.

Like I need any more exhilaration tonight.

   ∞∞∞

 The lock slips open. Silently I slide into the hallway, closing the door gently behind me. My phone screen tells me that it’s two am. Choosing my stairs carefully on the ascent, I use the sides of each stair, feet in against the wall where they’re less likely to creak the boards beneath. I’m good at this, the sneaky stuff. Before I reach the topmost stair, the sound of his snoring reaches my ears. Unwilled, a smile tugs at the corner of my mouth. In a few paces, I’m through the bedroom door, peeling clothes as I pad silently towards the bed. Stealth matters more than neatness, so I leave my clothes crumpled on the landing floor.

Abruptly his voice breaks my stride,” Hey, hon. How did the research go?”

I enter the room and grin broadly at him. “Sorry, love. Was trying not to wake you.”

Jimmy sits, two pillows propping him. God, he looks tired.

“S’okay. Was only dozing anyway,” he smiles at me. “How’d it go? Get what you need?”

“I did, thanks, love,” I say, truthfully.

The moonlight coming in through the window cools the room, giving it a waxy look. He never draws the bloody curtains. Fussing at the tie-backs I speak over my shoulder, “Well, get back to sleep,” I admonish. “You’ve on an early shift in the morning.”

Jim nods, “Aye, I will, but c’mon.” He pats my side of the bed, “Spoon time.”

“Just let me brush my teeth, love. Won’t be long.”

“No shower?” he asks. “Had one at the gym,” I tell him as he slips under the covers, his back to the vacant space in the bed.

“Mmhmm,” good,” he drowses.

A few minutes later, I curve my cool body around his, absorbing his heat.

“G’night, Alice,” he mumbles.

“G’night, love.”

 

You can find Mark and his books at Amazon UK and US

 

 

 

Undercover by Gerard Brennan – Review

Undercover by Gerard Brennan.

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I’m not a crime-thriller sort of reader and find them to be generally fairly formulaic; but having devoured Gerard Brennan’s ‘Wee Rockets’ and ‘Wee Danny’ back to back, I picked up Undercover, confident that Brennan’s writing would see me through.

Pacey, smart and entirely driven by Brennan’s skilful narrative style and insightful characterisation, Undercover has more heart than a butcher’s window and the makings of a great series of novels in its main Character, Cormac Kelly.

Harbouring none of the clichéd mannerisms, foibles or ghosts of his pulp-noir peers, Kelly (whilst engaging and very much the focus of the story) is used (wisely) sparingly at times by Brenan, who carefully switches narrative perspective and allows his story’s ‘victims’ to come to the fore. This allows the potentially minor characters to show all their own strengths and weaknesses and truly affect the outcome of the relentless tale. Each is given time to develop and show their courage and cowardice, fears and strengths; and drive Kelly through the narrative.

Lydia, Rory, and young Mattie are all given central roles in the story and fully-fleshed characters. The ‘supporting cast’ are very much driving Kelly through their world, rather than being utilized as mechanisms for placing Kelly in various perils. I found this refreshing.

I’m a convert to Brennan’s style of crime novel and can’t recommend this book highly enough.

You can find Gerard Brennan and his books at Amazon, US and UK.

Undercover is published by Blasted Heath.