Peter May: The Blackhouse

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Finlay MacLeod was born and bred on the Isle of Lewis but after leaving as a teenager he has made a career in the police force in Edinburgh. Shortly after a family tragedy Fin is asked to go back to Lewis as a body has been found in similar circumstances to that in a murder he has been investigating. Is this the work of serial killer or is it more than that? In returning to Lewis, Fin is asked to confront a series of demons from his past.

I actually read the second in the series (The Lewis Man) before reading this book. Whilst I enjoyed that novel, I loved this one. The insular nature of the community on Lewis is very well-described, families who have lived in the same area for generations, their customs and habits and the fact that everyone knows everyone. Fin is an interesting character and his backstory is revealed slowly, ending in a revelation kept buried for many years. May has obviously researched well as his descriptions of the lives and the traditions of Lewis are clear and believable, and that makes the plot work so well.

Michel Bussi: After The Crash

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In 1980 an airliner crashes in the French Alps, the only survivor is a small baby girl but there were two baby girls on the plane. Both families claim the child as theirs and the courts award custody to one set of grandparents, the other set must wait and hope that the truth comes out. On Lylie’s 18th birthday the private investigator hired by one family gives her his case notes which she passes on to Marc, the man who may or may not be her brother. Marc sets out to find the truth as discovered by the investigator and uncovers eighteen years of lies and deceptions.

I had seen a review of this book in one of the papers and it described it as being ‘like reading Stieg Larsson for the first time’. I don’t necessarily agree with that description but this is an incredibly clever book. Set mainly in the days before DNA testing, it seems like a fairly standard thriller with a novel premise but then the twists start. A collection of characters with issues of their own, the unveiling of clues and blind-alleyways throughout and the innocence of Marc holding it together, this really is an excellent book and I look forward to more from this author.

Paula Hawkins: The Girl on the Train

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Rachel is a mess, she is an alcoholic and has lost her husband. Maintaining the pretence to all around her that she still has a job she commutes to London daily, always on the same train, the train that passes behind her old marital home. On the same street, just where the train pauses at a signal, live a young couple and Rachel fantasises about their life together. One day she sees the woman kiss another man and is upset, that weekend the woman disappears. Rachel is concerned about what happened and this is compounded by the fact that Rachel saw the woman on the night she disappeared. Unfortunately Rachel was drunk at the time and can only see a few flashbacks in her memory. What happened to Megan and can Rachel put the pieces together in time.

I started this book with complete scepticism, comparisons with ‘Gone Girl’ abound and I like my books to have an original twist. Up till halfway through the book I felt it dragging a little. Then something changed, I’m not sure what, and this became a nail-biting thriller. There are twists aplenty and whilst the ending is neat, it leaves a little bit more. Rachel is not a sympathetic character, there isn’t a single one in the book, and that’s why it works. In the end this draws on the originality of Gone Girl but takes it to a new place and Hawkins has written with restraint. A deserved popular read.

Liz Nugent: Unravelling Oliver

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Oliver Ryan is a best-selling author of children’s books, affluent and living with his devoted wife, Alice, in comfort in Dublin. One evening Oliver attacks Alice so severely that she is left in a coma. Why did he do it?

This is the premise of Unravelling Oliver, not a whodunnit? But a whydunnit? Oliver is a man driven by the secrets and lack of love in his childhood, by poverty in his youth. How did Oliver get to the position he is in now, the life he craved, what did he do to get here?

This is a sparse, short book with a collection of narrators each giving their perspective on Oliver and the events of his life. As the layers peel away like an onion the reader sees more and the final acts show just how far Oliver was prepared to go and the awful price he has had to pay.

The writing is clean and the plot is very clever. In fact my only criticism is that I feel there was one plot device too far and that stands out massively. Yes, it has impact on some motivations but it almost feels like an unnecessary extra. Other than that, this is a superb debut novel.

Laura HcHugh: The Weight of Blood

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Deep in the Ozark mountains of Missouri is the ‘city’ of Henbane. A community that is insular and riven with small town issues such as drugs and crime. Into this community comes Lila, a beautiful orphan who has signed an indenture to work for a local farmer and shop-owner, but Lila is shunned by many of the locals who call her a witch and she is unaware of the real reason that she has been brought to Henbane – a trafficking of young women who are used for profit and then discarded, girls who no-one will miss. Lila discovers the truth about the underbelly of Henbane but marries steady Carl and gives birth to a daughter, Lucy; one year after the birth Lila disappears. Sixteen years later another local girls disappears but her body is found a year later. She was a friend to Lucy and as Lucy starts to look into her death she finds links to the disappearance of her mother and she is forced to face truths about how blood is very important.

The plot is narrated across the years by the voices of Lila and Lucy with some input from other characters as need be. This makes it disjointed, but also shows how the two plots are drawn together and how the motivation of the characters in Lucy’s story are driven by the events in Lila’s. The portrait of the claustrophobic nature of this remote area is beautifully drawn and the mountains become another character. The plot is unpleasant but not unbelievable and that is what makes it so scary. A really excellent book.

Bill Bryson: One Summer America 1927

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The Summer of 1927 was much like any other summer in terms of events happening however this summer there were a lot of events that had repercussions around the world. Bill Bryson takes a look at the summer of 1927 and explores how these few months were a microcosm of world events and influences past and future. Tied around the landmark event of Lindbergh’s flight across the Atlantic from the USA to Paris, Bryson looks at anarchists, industry, sports, politics, show business and natural disasters with a sardonic but loving eye.

I’ve never really ‘got’ Bill Bryson until this book but I loved the seeming randomness of the vignettes that still linked together and gave a hugely detailed exploration of life in America in 1927. The level of research is phenomenal and the writing is deft of touch. OK, not all the events were at their height in 1927 but they had an influence and the stories fit together to make a fascinating and entertaining jigsaw.

Simon Goddard: Simply Thrilled

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In the late 1970s a disparate group of young souls came together, bonded by their love of music. A record label was formed and the resulting releases defined ‘the sound of young Scotland’ for a few glorious months. Some individuals went on to greater success, others fell by the wayside but the influence of Postcard Records is widespread. This book tells the story of the creative talent and the man who brought it all together, Alan Horne.

Pinning my heart on my sleeve, this book was always going to appeal to me as I was an original fan of Postcard Records and, at age eighteen, I was beside myself when I managed to obtain a copy of ‘Falling and Laughing’ by Orange Juice, the debut release. Therefore I absolutely loved the stories about Glasgow and Edinburgh youth, recognising individuals and bands from the times but also the stereotypes of the people around the fringes. My only quibble with the book is the style of writing. It makes sense to write in an anecdotal, almost comedy-fiction style and Goddard does explain that this is because he got disparate versions of events from many protagonists. However I feel that at times it goes over the top with florid description. Nevertheless I was singing snatches of songs as they were mentioned as I went back to my 1980s indie-past.