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Sunday, January 31, 2021

The Scribe (Kramer and Carver Book One) by A.A. Chaudhuri (Audio Book)


The Scribe (Audio Book) by A.A. Chaudhuri.

Released 1st January 2021 by Isis Publishing Ltd.

Narrated by David Thorpe.

From the cover:

Making it as a lawyer has always been a cutthroat business.

A killer is targeting former students of The Bloomsbury Academy of Law. The victims – all female – are gruesomely butchered according to a pattern corresponding with the legal syllabus. Even more disconcerting are riddles sent by the killer to investigating officer, Chief Inspector Jake Carver, offering clues as to who is next and where they will die.

Up-and-coming lawyer Madeline Kramer, a former classmate of a number of the slain, soon finds her life turned upside down by the savagery. And when she decides to help Carver track down the killer, she places herself in mortal danger. Can Maddy and Carver unscramble the complex riddles and save the lives of those destined to die?

A. A. Chaudhuri’s Ripper-like mystery, The Scribe, throws down a challenge even hardened crime thriller fans will be unable to resist. It's perfect for those who love Lee Child and Ian Rankin.


The Scribe offers an entertaining mix of legal thriller. police procedural and serial killer mystery, with a nice bit of the menacing macabre and a few steamy scenes to keep things interesting all the way through.

It opens with a bang that will hook you from the word go, as a young lawyer is horribly butchered when working after hours in her central London office, leaving very little for the police to go on except the enigmatic message that has been carved into her chest - the single word 'Contract'. Before long, more bodies start to pile up, each one a young female linked to The Bloomsbury Academy of Law, and with a different legal term carved into their chest, which inspires the media to start referring to the mystery murderer as 'The Scribe'.

Chief Inspector Jake Carver and his team are desperate to track down the killer and put a stop to his grisly campaign, but with so little to go on they are at a loss. It's not until the smart young lawyer Madeleine Kramer, herself a former friend and classmate of some of the victims, comes up with a theory that Carver begins to make any headway at all - and so begins a beautiful partnership! 

I really enjoyed the underlying premise of this thriller, with the legal theme running slickly through the whole piece and tying all the imaginatively staged murders together nicely, and it was really rather interesting delving into the wide variety of different areas of the law. Chaudhuri also works in some interesting threads about the abuse of power, sexual politics and the legacy of difficult childhoods that are very thought provoking too.

There are red herrings and twists aplenty that will stop you in your tracks, and just enough subtle hints to keep you questioning if the clues really are pointing towards the culprit or not - a nice bit of Christie like plotting that always goes down well - and for the most part the tension builds steadily, apart from the odd scene here and there, where you felt you were ahead of the game and wanted the characters to catch up a bit.

The central players of Carver and Kramer complement each other perfectly, each taking a nice slice of the credit for tracking down their serial killer foe, and the 'will-they-won't-they' sexual tension builds in a charming frisson to their relationship which, when added to their realistic character flaws, brings them alive off the page.

Bearing in mind that this is an audio book review, I should add that David Thorpe, as the narrator, carries the story very well, keeping the pacing at the right pitch and handling the various voices with style, which keeps you completely focussed on the action and the twisty plot at all times - always important in a good audio book - but I have also read big chunks of this one in e-book too and can tell you it works just as well in both formats.

I thoroughly enjoyed this one and I cannot wait to see what sort of twisty mystery our author has in store for Kramer and Carver in their next adventure, The Abduction (which I will be reviewing in March, so keep your eyes peeled!) - especially what happens next on the personal front!

The Scribe is available to buy now in paperback e-book and audio formats.

Thank you to A.A. Chaudhuri and Isis Publishing for providing me with an audio version of this publication in return for an honest review.

About the author:

A. A. Chaudhuri is a former City lawyer. Once a highly ranked British junior tennis player, she went on to gain a degree in History at University College London, then trained as a solicitor and worked for several major London law firms before leaving law to pursue her passion for writing. 

In addition to books featuring the feisty Maddy Kramer, she has written four stand-alone novels, including racy thriller, Illicit Retainers, and political thriller, The Darker Side of White, yet to be published. She lives in Surrey with her family.

Saturday, January 30, 2021

Asylum Road by Olivia Sudjic


Asylum Road by Olivia Sudjic.

Published 21st January 2021 by Bloomsbury.

From the cover of the book:

A couple drive from London to coastal Provence. Anya is preoccupied with what she feels is a relationship on the verge; unequal, precarious. 

Luke, reserved, stoic, gives away nothing. As the sun sets one evening, he proposes, and they return to London engaged.

But planning a wedding does little to settle Anya's unease. As a child, she escaped from Sarajevo, and the idea of security is as alien now as it was then. When social convention forces Anya to return, she begins to change. The past she sought to contain for as long as she can remember resurfaces, and the hot summer builds to a startling climax.

Lean, sly and unsettling, Asylum Road is about the many borders governing our lives: between men and women, assimilation and otherness, nations, families, order and chaos.

What happens, and who do we become, when they break down?


Asylum Road is a book with hidden depths, much like its main character Anya, belied by the pointed starkness of the language Olivia Sudjic uses to tell this story of identity and home.

The beginning of the book finds Anya and her boyfriend Luke driving from London to France to take a holiday, where he unexpectedly asks her to marry him, despite the precarious state of their relationship. Instead of cementing their future together, the process of planning their wedding causes Anya's carefully constructed reality to fracture, with shocking consequences, especially when Luke insists that they travel to Sarajevo to visit her parents - the very place from which she escaped the battleground of the Balkan Wars as a child, and has no wish to return to.

The story is told through the eyes of Anya herself, and right from the outset we can feel her wariness about the nature of her relationship with the boorish Luke. She is constantly second guessing his every look, word, and even silence, to try to work out exactly how she should feel and act to be the woman she thinks he wants her to be. The uncomfortable atmosphere between them is palpable, and every moment she is sure Luke is about to end their relationship, but then he actually asks her to marry him, which gives us a pretty big clue to the fact that Luke really does not know anything about the woman he has become engaged to - until it becomes clear that he is more in love with the idea of Anya, rather than the woman herself.

As the story progresses in a series of staccato scenes that expose the trigger points that lead to the unravelling of Anya, we come to learn that her idea of security has been so warped by her experiences that she can never feel safe anywhere or with anyone. Although she has tried so hard to create an identity which forms a protective shell for herself, and has tried to distance herself from her childhood as much as she can, in essence she is still that little girl sheltering from snipers and bombs in the basement of her family's beleaguered apartment building in war-torn Sarajevo.

Olivia Sudjic manages to convey so much emotion in the powerfully uncomfortable scenes in this book, that they will stay with me for quite some time. This is especially true of the excruciating visit to Sarajevo, where Anya introduces Luke to her broken family and things start to really come apart at the seams, and later when Anya finds herself clutching ever more desperately at something or someone to anchor herself to.

There are some really interesting threads that come up in the telling of this tale. I was intrigued by the way Olivia Sudjic conjures up the notion that Anya's experience somehow mirrors that of her homeland - both fractured, disconnected from their past, struggling with their identity and trying to convey an image that shows little of what still lies beneath the surface. She also tosses out a fascinating line about the issues surrounding immigration and those branded as outsiders with the views of Luke's parents, and rather cleverly, the characters from other nations that Anya meets later in the story.

This is an incredible book, with one of the most nuanced titles I have read for a long time - raw and bleak, but beautifully atmospheric and with the kind of ending that will have you going back and rereading the last chapter more than once just to be certain you have read it right. It's one that is both discomfiting and will elicit discomfort, which might not seem to make much sense, but believe me, it will once you have read it - and read it you really should.

Asylum Road is available to buy now from your favourite book retailer and via HERE.

Thank you to Laura Meyer at Bloomsbury books for sending me a proof copy of this book in return for an honest review. and to the wonderful author Heidi James and stellar member of my blogging squad Ellie Hawkes for putting this one on my radar.

About the author:

Olivia Sudjic is a writer living in London. Her work has appeared in publications including the New York Times, Financial Times, Guardian and the Paris Review.

She is the author of Exposure, a personal essay, and Sympathy, her debut novel, which was a finalist for the Salerno European Book Award, the Collyer Bristow Prize and has been translated into five languages.

Friday, January 29, 2021

A Remedy In Time by Jennifer Macaire


A Remedy In Time (Tempus U Book 2) by Jennifer Macaire.

Published 7th January 2021 by Headline Accent.

From the cover of the book:

To save the future, she must turn to the past . . .

San Francisco, Year 3377. A deadly virus has taken the world by storm. Scientists are desperately working to develop a vaccine. And Robin Johnson - genius, high-functioning, and perhaps a little bit single-minded - is delighted. Because, to cure the disease, she's given the chance to travel back in time.

But when Robin arrives at the last Ice Age hoping to stop the virus at its source, she finds more there than she bargained for. 
And just as her own chilly exterior is beginning to thaw, she realises it's not only sabre-toothed tigers that are in danger of extinction . . .


A Remedy in Time is the second book in the time travelling Tempus U series, but is is very different from the first book, A Crown in Time, which was for the most part a historical fiction novel based in Middle Ages France (A Crown in Time review here). This time around, Jennifer Macaire takes us on an action adventure mission going back thousands of years to the Ice Age.

Robin Johnson, scientist from the year 3377, is sent back in time to try to get some clues to help her discover a cure for a deadly virus that is killing thousands of humans and animals in her own time - one which bears a striking resemblance to a disease that seems to have existed twelve thousand years ago. However, once she travels into the past, she unexpectedly finds she has more on her hands than collecting samples and trying to stay alive in a hostile environment - it is going to be up to her to use all her many skills to the max, not just her scientific knowledge, to get through her ordeal and back to her own time.

This was such a fun book, with a protagonist you can unquestionably get behind and I found myself racing through the pages. Robin is a woman with a troubled past, focussed and labelled as a sociopath in her own time, but she turns out to be the perfect candidate for the varied tasks she is called on to perform when her mission is turned on its head - and while saving the future, she discovers she can save herself as well!

There are some great characters in this book, of both the hero and villain variety - and not all of them are human. Jennifer Macaire recreates a very realistic pre-historic environment for them to inhabit too, with terrain, flora and fauna all beautifully described, and you feel the menace of the dangerous environment throughout. If you are looking for tales of sabre-toothed tigers (smilodons), dire wolves, huge bears and even giant beavers, then you are in for a treat here. I became very fond of Yah, Robin's unexpected pre-historic ally, and I defy you not to fall in love with the adorable lonely glyptodon!

There's loads of action and suspense, and an intriguing underlying thread of the importance of Robin being able to find a cure for the deadly disease causing havoc in her time, which allows our author to bring in some thrilling elements of dastardly deeds and corruption that serve to raise the plot more than a few notches above your average time travel adventure - and the way she uses 'future' technology here is really very clever. In many ways, it reminded me of Michael Crichton's books, which is always a good thing.

The final part of the book is rather thought-provoking, bringing in some intriguing dystopian touches, and the ingenious ending has a few delightful surprises which round the story off beautifully. I thoroughly enjoyed this one and cannot wait to see where Jennifer Macaire goes next in her time-travelling series.

A Remedy in Time is available to buy now from your favourite book retailer, or via the links below:

Thank you to Jennifer Macaire and Headline Accent for providing me with a copy of this book in return for an honest review and to Rachel Gilby of Rachels's Random Resources Tours for inviting me to be part of this blog tour.

About the author:

Jennifer Macaire lives in France with her husband, three children, & various dogs &horses. She loves chocolate, biking, & reading. She grew up in upstate New York, Samoa, and the Virgin Islands. She graduated from St. Peter and Paul high school in St. Thomas and moved to NYC where she modelled for five years for Elite. She went to France and met her husband at the polo club.

All that is true. But she mostly likes to make up stories.

Find out more about Jennifer Macaire here:

Thursday, January 28, 2021

Keeper by Jessica Moor


Keeper by Jessica Moor.

Published in paperback 21st January 2021 by Viking/Penguin UK.

From the cover of the book:

He's been looking in the windows again. 
Messing with cameras. 
Leaving notes. 

Supposed to be a refuge. But death got inside.

When Katie Straw's body is pulled from the waters of the local suicide spot, the police decide it's an open-and-shut case. A standard-issue female suicide.

But the residents of Widringham women's refuge where Katie worked don't agree. They say it's murder.
Will you listen to them?

An addictive literary page-turner about a crime as shocking as it is commonplace, Keeper will leave you reeling long after the final page is turned.


I think Keeper may be easily the best novel I have read that explores domestic violence and coercive control, while rolling it up in a thriller/police procedural that keeps you guessing the whole way through.

It starts with the apparent suicide of a young woman called Katie Straw, who seems to have thrown herself off a bridge into the river, in the picturesque village of Widringham. It looks like an open and shut case to the police, but the residents of Widringham's women's refuge, where she worked, are convinced that she would never have taken her own life.

The book plays out in two time lines - 'Then', which delves into Katie's past, and 'Now' from the moment Katie's body is found, swapping back and forth in each chapter to slowly build the picture behind why Katie was in Widringham in the first place and the police investigation into her death.

Interestingly, both time lines give us plenty to get our teeth into as Jessica Moor uses her characters to take a good hard look at the reality of domestic abuse and how it affects the women who have been targeted. The 'Then' parts form a chilling 101 guide to coercive control, as we are treated to the history of Katie's relationship with her boyfriend Jamie, and the 'Now' parts give us a glimpse into the experiences of the women who have found themselves at the refuge, those that work with them, the police and even, in part, the men who have abused them.

Big chunks of this novel are going to make you feel sad and angry about the state of the world, and the unfairness of the legal system, but this is not a vehicle for a feminist "I hate men" rant. Instead Jessica Moor pulls apart the emotional complexities of the situations these women have found themselves in - there is plenty of awful detail about violence and insidious control, but she also looks at the reasons why women find it so hard to leave abusive relationships, and even why some women go back time and time again. In addition, she shines a spotlight on the fact that it is not always partners perpetrating the violence... and abuse does not always mean physical actions.

There are plenty of scenes here that are going to be triggering for some, but there is so much to take away from the stories of these women, and the parts about how terrifyingly easy the insidious creep of coercive control can take over your life should be a must read for all.

This book is a great read. It will open your eyes, as well as entertain you with a thrilling story, which makes it a brilliant and accessible way to look at the subject of domestic abuse, and the ending makes for a unsettling cliff-hanger that will leave you wanting more. I need to know what happens next here in Widringham, as there are ghosts that need to be laid to rest, so I really hope Jessica Moor writes a sequel!

Keeper is available to buy now from your favourite book retailer, or from HERE.

Thank you to Georgia Taylor at Viking/Penguin UK for sending me a copy of this book in return for an honest review and for inviting me to be part of this blog tour.

About the author:

Jessica Moor studied English at Cambridge before completing a Creative Writing MA at Manchester University. Prior to this, she spent a year working in the violence against women and girls sector and this experience inspired her first novel Keeper.

Wednesday, January 27, 2021

Cover Reveal: Patience by Victoria Scott

 Cover Reveal


By Victoria Scott

Published 5th August 2021 
by Aria Fiction/Head of Zeus

From the cover of the book:

If you were offered the chance to be 'normal', would you take it? 
Do we even know what 'normal' is?

The Willow family have been through a lot together. Louise has devoted her life to her family and
raising her disabled daughter, Patience. Pete now works abroad, determined to provide more, even
if it means seeing less of those he loves. And Eliza, in the shadow of her sister, has a 'perfect' life in
London, striving to live up to her mother's high standards.

Meanwhile, Patience lives her life quietly, watching and judging the world while she's trapped in
her own body. She laughs, she cries, she knows what she wants, but she can't ever communicate this
to those who make the decisions for her. Patience only wants a voice, but this is impossible.

When the opportunity to put Patience into a new gene therapy trial to cure her Rett syndrome
becomes available, opinions are divided, and the family is torn.

The stakes are high, and they face tough decisions in the hunt for a normal life. 
But is normal worth it? 
What do we even consider normal? 

Is Patience about to find out...?

Buy links:

Amazon UK     Kobo     Google Play     Waterstones

About the author:

Victoria Scott has been a journalist for more than two decades, working for a wide variety of outlets
including the BBC, Al Jazeera, Time Out, Doha News and the Telegraph. Alongside her love of
telling real-life stories, she has also always written fiction, penning plays, stories and poems ever
since she first worked out how to use her parents' electric typewriter.

When she's not writing, Victoria enjoys running incredibly slowly, singing loudly, baking badly and
travelling the world extensively.

Victoria is a Faber Academy graduate. She has a degree in English from King's College, London
and a Postgraduate Diploma in Broadcast Journalism from City University, London. She lives near
London with her husband and two children, and works as a freelance journalist, media trainer and
journalism tutor.

Find out more about Victoria at:

Twitter: @Toryscott

Follow Aria:

Twitter: @aria_fiction
Facebook: @ariafiction
Instagram: @ariafiction

In Darkness, Shadows Breathe by Catherine Cavendish


In Darkness, Shadows Breathe by Catherine Cavendish.

Published 19th January 2021 by Flame Tree Press.

From the cover of the book:

You’re next...

Carol and Nessa are strangers but not for much longer.

In a luxury apartment and in the walls of a modern hospital, the evil that was done continues to thrive. 

They are in the hands of an entity that knows no boundaries and crosses dimensions - bending and twisting time itself - and where danger waits in every shadow. The battle is on for their bodies and souls and the line between reality and nightmare is hard to define. 

Through it all, the words of Lydia Warren Carmody haunt them. But who was she? And why have Carol and Nessa been chosen? The answer lies deep in the darkness...


Having read and enjoyed two of Catherine Cavendish's previous books - The Garden of Bewitchment, which was heavily Victorian Gothic, and The Malan Witch, which was a contemporary horror novel -  I was really keen to see what she had to offer with her latest book, In Darkness, Shadows Breathe. 

Interestingly, this book combines elements of both of these books by telling a twisty tale that moves through time, with heavy Victorian Gothic working alongside a frightening modern scenario - and she does this by setting her creepy story against the backdrop of a hospital and luxury housing complex built on the grounds of a former workhouse and asylum. 

The story is in two parts, introducing us first to the damaged Carol, who is flat sitting for a couple who own one of the new luxury apartments on the site of the old workhouse/asylum complex. There are some seriously weird goings on in this apartment that introduce Carol not only to the history of where she is living, but also to the story of one one the former asylum inmates, Lydia Warren Carmody - and Lydia's seriously menacing poem, which sets the scene for the story as a whole. Suffice to say, the bumps in the night, poltergeist like happenings and a scary face at the window are enough test Carol beyond the limits of her sanity. 

The second part of the story, brings in Nessa, an in-patient undergoing complex life-saving surgery in the modern hospital. Nessa finds herself experiencing similar weird goings on to those that have affected Carol, and she is also somehow linked to the tragic tale of Lydia Warren Carmody - with the poem again putting in a chilling appearance. 

It seems that Carol and Nessa are in danger from an age-old entity that wants them both for its own evil ends, one that keeps drawing them into places in the hospital that should not exist in the modern age... places that no one wants to be... and their fates are inextricably linked.

"In darkness, shadows breathe
Though the earth be still, with graves,
The mourning yearn for solace
And the dead shall hear their cry,
Sending spirits on winged flight,
To comfort and console,
But one among them bides behind,
Her soul of ebony and granite,
The fires of life long since quenched,
Replaced with voids of emptiness.
In darkness, shadows breathe,
And death their only reward."

Lydia Warren Carmody, 1856-1891


The set-up in this novel is quite complex, and relies heavily on the premise that "time is not linear", which allows the characters to move back and forth between dimensions - so the modern day players find themselves frequently in settings that exist in another time, but the same place. This does mess with your head, just as it messes with the heads of Carol and Nessa, and it is also, quite frankly, terrifying. No one from the modern age wants to suddenly find themselves in a creepy Victorian asylum, especially one in which the staff indulge in some particularly doubtful practices, and an asylum setting is always wonderful for a horror tale. 

There were times when I lost the thread of the story a bit, and it was tricky to keep a handle on the various characters moving between different dimensions - especially the moments when they seemed to be existing in the bodies of others. This did slow the action down somewhat, making the pacing a bit erratic, and I felt that perhaps a bit less back and forth and some combining of characters who did not really advance the plot much would have helped the story to flow better.

However, there are certainly thrills and spills galore, with some full on nightmare scenes you will find it hard to get out of your head, and the permeating sense of danger stoked by an oft repeated message of "You're next!" was really very scary indeed. The setting is absolutely perfect and it allows Catherine Cavendish to let her imagination run riot, mixing Gothic chills with modern terrors in a way that works devilishly well. It may not be one full of buckets of blood and gallons of gore, but the psychological tension does enough to keep even the keenest horror fan on their toes - and in typical Cavendish style, the ending certainly hits that unsettling spot! 

In Darkness, Shadows Breathe is available to buy now from your favourite book retailer, or from HERE.

About the author:

Following a varied career in sales, advertising and career guidance, Cat is now the full-time author of a number of paranormal, ghostly and Gothic horror novels and novellas. 

She lives with her long-suffering husband and black cat in a 260 year old haunted apartment in North Wales.

When not slaving over a hot computer, Cat enjoys rambling around stately homes, circles of standing stones and travelling to favourite haunts such as Vienna and Orkney.

Sunday, January 24, 2021

The Shape Of Darkness by Laura Purcell


The Shape Of Darkness by Laura Purcell.

Published 21st January 2021 by Raven Books.

From the cover of the book:

As the age of the photograph dawns in Victorian Bath, silhouette artist Agnes is struggling to keep her business afloat. 

Still recovering from a serious illness herself, making enough money to support her elderly mother and her orphaned nephew Cedric has never been easy, but then one of her clients is murdered shortly after sitting for Agnes, and then another, and another... Why is the killer seemingly targeting her business?

Desperately seeking an answer, Agnes approaches Pearl, a child spirit medium lodging in Bath with her older half-sister and her ailing father, hoping that if Pearl can make contact with those who died, they might reveal who killed them.

But Agnes and Pearl quickly discover that instead they may have opened the door to something that they can never put back...


Laura Purcell is one of my favourite authors, and her books are always auto-buys for me, so I was in a state of high excitement when this little beauty was announced last year. I was finally able to cradle a hardback copy of The Shape of Darkness in my hot little hands a couple of days ago, and once I had admired the breath-taking beauty of its cover, the reading began in earnest. I ended up devouring the whole deliciously dark novel in only two sittings, enrapt by another winner from the pen of Purcell and now have to attempt to write a review trying to do it justice.... without giving anything away about the wonderfully twisty plot!

This time, Purcell takes us to the city of Bath. No longer the haunt of the Georgian dandy, Bath is a somewhat faded, grimy version of its former self - at least when is comes to the parts of the city our characters inhabit.

Here we meet Agnes Darken, disappointed in love and struggling to support her aged mother and young nephew Cedric, the son of her wicked, late sister Constance, on the living she can scrape together from her talents as a silhouette artist. Times are hard, because the age of the photograph is here and her old fashioned portraits are being eschewed in favour of the more fashionable daguerreotype - not to mention that Agnes' health is not what it once was. But she has little choice other than to do the best she can if she is to continue to support her loved ones and maintain any sort of independence.

When Agnes' few clients start to suffer untimely ends shortly after sitting for her, she is compelled to seek out the aid of the other-worldly Pearl, a child medium, and her older half-sister Myrtle, in order to find out who is behind the murders. In doing so, Agnes fears they have unleashed something dark from beyond the veil on the unsuspecting citizens of Bath, but she has to pursue her mission to the bitter end, whatever the cost to herself and Pearl.

What follows is the most chilling of tales that delves into the world the mesmerist, the medium and the developing Victorian fascination with spiritualism and plays with our minds in that special way Laura Purcell is so good at. She has such a talent for blurring the lines between the real world and the imagination - bringing in just enough of a supernatural undercurrent to have you questioning what is really happening. Interestingly, Purcell brings in an intriguing theme of the uneasy peace between the medical profession and the world of the spiritualist too, which adds an extra dimension to the weird goings on.

As is par for the course in her writing, she also manages to work in elements of jealousy, betrayal, revenge, control, and coercive behaviour - especially nicely done here with the parallel sisterly relationships of Agnes/Constance and Pearl/Myrtle - social history, and the powerlessness of women in a world controlled by men, that always makes her books so rich and multi-layered.

This is terrifying stuff, conjuring up scenes that will have you hiding under the duvet at the slightest bump in the night and every suspicious shadow on the wall. It's seriously creepy, more than a little gruesome and has a couple of tricks in its tail that will leave you reeling, with the kind of 'kick-you into-touch' ending that she always pulls off with aplomb. I loved it!

The Shape of Darkness is available to buy now from your favourite book retailer or from HERE.

Thank you to Anne Cater of Random Things Tours for inviting me to be part of this blog tour.

About the author:

Laura Purcell is a former bookseller and lives in Colchester with her husband and pet guinea pigs.

 Her first novel for Raven Books, The Silent Companions, was a Radio 2 and Zoe Ball ITV Book Club pick and was the winner of the WHSmith Thumping Good Read Award, while her subsequent books – The Corset and Bone China – established Laura as the queen of the sophisticated, and spooky, page-turner.

Saturday, January 23, 2021

Our Little Cruelties by Liz Nugent


Our Little Cruelties by Liz Nugent.

Published 21st January 2021 by Viking Books/Penguin Paperback.

From the cover of the book:

Three brothers. One in a coffin. Which brother put him there? And why?

Three brothers are at the funeral. One lies in the coffin.

Will, Brian and Luke grow up competing for their mother's unequal love. As men, the competition continues - for status, money, fame, women...

They each betray each other, over and over, until one of them is dead.

But which brother killed him?


I cannot tell you how much I enjoyed this many layered novel, which is ostensibly a psychological thriller, but with a great big dollop of domestic drama mixed in.

Welcome to the world of the Drumm brothers, for ever caught up in a cycle of one-upmanship that, over the years, has far reaching consequences for them and the other family members caught in their crossfire. 

At the very start of the novel, we know that one of the Drumm brothers lies in his coffin, apparently the victim of some misadventure at the hands of one of his siblings. But whose funeral is it, and what happened to cause his death? I was hooked!

From the captivating beginning, Liz Nugent lays out this twisting story of sibling rivalry in the form of separate narratives from each of the brothers that jump backwards and forwards in time, relating episodes of their family history from their different perspectives. We start with William the eldest brother, who lays the foundations for the events we come to understand through the eyes of each of them. His narrative is followed by the point of view of the youngest, most troubled brother Luke, and then finally by that of the middle brother Brian. The denouement then comes as a quick-fire round, back and forth between the three brothers in the very recent past, leading up to the deed that is the undoing of one of the trio.

The whole thing is so beautifully choreographed. From the beginning, with William's side of the story, we think we know about what has gone on in this dysfunctional family to bring about the alienation between the brothers. But of course, we don't, because there is always more than one side to a story. With Luke's account, we begin to see that things are in fact more much complex and nuanced that we thought from William's way of looking at things, and the situation becomes increasingly more tangled when Brian's voice is added to the mix. Our understanding of the difficult and disturbing relationships in the Drumm family builds gradually, with each separative narrative adding another layer, filling in the gaps as we go along. I particularly enjoyed that we do not always see each and every episode directly through the accounts of the three, and sometimes we have to infer the truth of an event obliquely, which was a great storytelling device.

For a novel in which the three main players come to be so very unlikeable, with their antagonistic narratives full of jealousy and spite, it keeps you engrossed from start to finish. It has to be said, that none of the brothers come out of this tale well, and your allegiance swaps back and forth between them constantly as the book progresses, which keeps it all very interesting. It is impossible to tell until the very moment it happens who the victim of misdirected brotherly attention actually is, which I loved.

This tale throws up so much for you to pick over. The themes of difficult family relationships, unresolved trauma and mental health issues are ones which touch all our lives in some way and I think there is something that those of us with siblings can all relate to here in some small part, though I hope not in the same way as the Drumm brothers! 

A cosy family tale this is not, but my word, it is compelling, and I thoroughly enjoyed every delicious morsel!

Our Little Cruelties is available to buy now from your favourite book retailer.

Thank you to Ellie Hudson at Viking/Penguin for sending me a copy of this book in return for an honest review, and for inviting me to be part of this blog tour.

About the author:

Before becoming a full-time writer, Liz Nugent worked in Irish film, theatre and television. Her three novels - Unravelling Oliver, Lying in Wait and Skin Deep have each been Number One bestsellers in Ireland and she has won four Irish Book Awards (two for Skin Deep). She lives in Dublin with her husband.

Wednesday, January 20, 2021

Cockfight by Maria Fernanda Ampuero


Cockfight by Maria Fernanda Ampuero.

Translated from the Spanish by Frances Riddle.

Published in paperback 21st January 2021 by Influx Press.

From the cover of the book:

Named one of the ten best fiction books of 2018 by the New York Times en Espanol, Cockfight is the debut work by Ecuadorian writer and journalist Maria Fernanda Ampuero. 

In lucid and compelling prose, Ampuero sheds light on the hidden aspects of home: the grotesque realities of family, coming of age, religion, and class struggle.

 A family's maids witness a horrible cycle of abuse, a girl is auctioned off by a gang of criminals, and two sisters find themselves at the mercy of their spiteful brother. With violence masquerading as love, characters spend their lives trapped re-enacting their past traumas. 

Heralding a brutal and singular new voice, Cockfight explores the power of the home to both create and destroy those within it.


I am always fascinated by translated fiction, especially something with a feminist slant - and Cockfight certainly ticks both of these boxes.

Before we begin, I sometimes add a proviso that a book is not for the fainthearted, and this is not only one of those books, but something that goes way beyond this by quite some margin - you have been warned.

I like an unsettling read, but don't think I have read anything quite as challenging as this for a long while - it is filled with violent and disturbing stories of dysfunctional families, harsh realities, religion, class and twisted love that has the power to both nurture and destroy, and it certainly gives you an emotional pummelling. It is something to be taken in small bites rather than devoured as a whole and, I suggest, interspersed with big gulps of something more wholesome and heart-warming for the sake of your peace of mind (and the contents of your stomach).

Much of what lies within these pages will fill you with horror, revulsion and indignant rage, with imagery so vivid that is likely to haunt your nightmares for some considerable time after reading. The raw and detailed descriptions of abuse are very difficult to read, and for the most part they follow a similar distressing theme of violence under the guise of misplaced love.

Ampuero's narrative pulls no punches, and she is unflinching and unapologetic in her choices of subject matter and language, as she ensures her message is driven home to the hilt. And yet, there is something so compelling about the characters she gives voice to here and the secrets that are so often hidden behind closed doors. Many of these tales expose an underlying essence of strength and survival under the most horrendous of circumstances that is like a thread of gold in a mire of filth, and this is what makes the emotional toll bearable. 

My favourite story of the collection is Passion, which stands out for me as the most intriguing of them all with is apocryphal biblical feel and reflection of the subversion of the power of women, but there is plenty to get your teeth into and pull apart in every single story.

This is not going to be an anthology for everyone, but sometimes a book which gives you a gut-wrenching, visceral experience can let you know you are alive and kicking, and as a translation it is impressive that the weight and import of these stories is so powerful even though they are not in their native language - this displays fine work from the translator, Frances Riddle. It certainly gives you a lot to think about, so if you like a walk on the wild side, and are not afraid to push your boundaries, then this is definitely going to give you an interesting time!

Cockfight is available to buy from your preferred retailer from 21st January 2021, of direct from Influx Press HERE.

Thank you to Jordan Taylor-Jones and Influx Press for sending me a copy of this book in return for an honest review.

About the author:

María Fernanda Ampuero is a writer and journalist, born in Guayaquil, Ecuador, in 1976. She has published articles in newspapers and magazines around the world, as well as two nonfiction books: Lo que aprendí en la peluquería y Permiso de residencia. Cockfight is her first short story collection, and her first book to be translated into English.

About the translator:

Frances Riddle is a writer and translator based in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Her recent book-length translations include Not One Less by María Pía López (forthcoming, Polity Press); Plebeian Prose by Néstor Perlongher (Polity Press 2019); The German Room by Carla Maliandi (Charco Press 2018). Her short story translations, essays, and reviews have been published in the White Review, Electric Literature, the Short Story Project, and Words Without Borders, among others.

Tuesday, January 19, 2021

The Burning Girls by C.J. Tudor


The Burning Girls by C.J. Tudor.

Published 21st January 2021 by Penguin Michael Joseph.

From the cover of the book:

500 years ago: eight martyrs were burnt to death
30 years ago: two teenagers vanished without trace
Two months ago: the vicar committed suicide

Welcome to Chapel Croft.

For Rev Jack Brooks and teenage daughter Flo it's supposed to be a fresh start. New job, new home. But, as Jack knows, the past isn't easily forgotten.

And in a close-knit community where the residents seem as proud as they are haunted by Chapel Croft's history, Jack must tread carefully. Ancient superstitions as well as a mistrust of outsiders will be hard to overcome.

Yet right away Jack has more frightening concerns.

Why is Flo plagued by visions of burning girls?
Who's sending them sinister, threatening messages?
And why did no one mention that the last vicar killed himself?

Chapel Croft's secrets lie deep and dark as the tomb. Jack wouldn't touch them if not for Flo - anything to protect Flo.

But the past is catching up with Chapel Croft - and with Jack. For old ghosts with scores to settle will never rest . . .


C.J. Tudor is an author that has been on my reading wish list for a while now, especially after reading her creepy short story in After Sundown the Flame Tree Press horror anthology last year, so when The Burning Girls appeared on my bookish radar I was pretty excited... and I am happy to report that this excitement was completely justified as it was everything I was hoping for. In fact, I totally loved every dark, creepy, suspenseful moment!

Welcome to Chapel Croft, where history tells that eight martyrs were burned to death 500 years ago - a sacrifice that is commemorated with a ritual burning of creepy wooden effigies in the years that have followed, and one which still bestows a certain amount of prestige today on the families that can claim one of the eight among their ancestors. 

Fresh to the village and under a cloud due to 'unfortunate' goings in in her previous parish in Nottingham, Reverend Jack Brooks has arrived with her teenage daughter Flo to take temporary charge of the Chapel Croft flock. Armed with the knowledge of the Burning Girls ritual and the suspicion that trying to fit into the close knit rural community will be far from easy, Jack has little choice but to face up to the challenge and make the best of it for them both. However, before long, it becomes apparent to Jack that something 'feels off' about Chapel Croft - something connected to the mysterious disappearance of two teenage girls 30 years ago, and the tragic fate of the previous vicar - and trying to unearth the truth looks likely to bring danger to their door.

I don't often read a book that has me turning the final page and uttering a "wow", but this is one of those rare and glorious beasts. There's bags full of menace, nightmarish happenings, and heart stopping moments, as the exposure of both long-held dirty little secrets and more recent crimes unleash their bloody fallout on the inhabitants of Chapel Croft, and it will keep you on tenterhooks all the way through as you put each little piece of the puzzle together, until the twisty strands play out to their shocking endings. By the way, the manner in which the threads pull together in this book is simply outstanding and will leave you breathless - probably in need of a lie down too.

One of my favourite things about the whole deliciously dark thing is the way our author incorporates into the story the film, book and popular culture references that spring to mind as you read. It's almost like you are sharing some kind of 'in' joke, which I found very entertaining in a grisly sort of way - but I can tell you now that you will not be prepared for what follows... no matter how much you may think you are.

I absolutely loved this book and it rates way up there with some of my all time favourite chilling thrillers like The Silence of the Lambs by Thomas Harris (which I was reminded of at a certain point). I cannot wait to indulge myself with C.J. Tudor's entire back catalogue now - oh, and everything she writes in the future too!

The Burning Girls is available to order from your favourite book retailer in hardcover, e-book and audio formats.

Thank you to Gaby Young at Michael Joseph Books for sending me a copy of this book in return forn an honest review, and for inviting me to be part of this blog tour.

About the author:

C. J. Tudor lives with her partner and young daughter. Her love of writing, especially the dark and macabre, started young. When her peers were reading Judy Blume, she was devouring Stephen King and James Herbert.

Over the years she has had a variety of jobs, including trainee reporter, radio scriptwriter, dog walker, voiceover artist, television presenter, copywriter and, now, author.

Her first novel, The Chalk Man, was a Sunday Times bestseller and sold in thirty-nine territories.

Monday, January 18, 2021

Winterkill by Ragnar Jonasson


Winterkill (Dark Iceland Book Six) by Ragnar Jonasson.

Published in e-book and hardback 10th December 2020 and  paperback 21st January 2021 by Orenda Books.

Translated by David Warriner.

From the cover of the book: 

Easter weekend is approaching, and snow is gently falling in Siglufjörður, the northernmost town in Iceland, as crowds of tourists arrive to visit the majestic ski slopes.

Ari Thór Arason is now a police inspector, but he’s separated from his girlfriend, who lives in Sweden with their three-year-old son. A family reunion is planned for the holiday, but a violent blizzard is threatening and there is an unsettling chill in the air.

Three days before Easter, a nineteen-year-old local girl falls to her death from the balcony of a house on the main street. A perplexing entry in her diary suggests that this may not be an accident, and when an old man in a local nursing home writes ‘She was murdered’ again and again on the wall of his room, there is every suggestion that something more sinister lies at the heart of her death...

As the extreme weather closes in, cutting the power and access to Siglufjörður, Ari Thór must piece together the puzzle to reveal a horrible truth... one that will leave no one unscathed.

Chilling, claustrophobic and disturbing, Winterkill marks the startling conclusion to the million-copy bestselling Dark Iceland series and cements Ragnar Jónasson as one of the most exciting authors in crime fiction.


Winter is the season for snowy thrillers, and lovely bit of Nordic noir from the pen of Ragnar Jonasson always fits the bill nicely. Winterkill is the last book in the fabulously successful Dark Iceland series and, dear reader, it does not disappoint. 

Welcome back to the quiet little town of Siglufjörður, in northern Iceland, where Ari Thór Arason has risen to the dizzy heights of police inspector, in charge of maintaining law and order with the help of a less than impressive staff of one inexperienced junior officer.

Ari Thór is looking forward to a quiet Easter weekend, and some quality time with his ex-partner and three year old son, who are visiting from Sweden for the holiday. He is not expecting much excitement on the horizon, except in the form of the snow storm that is forecast to hit sometime in the next few days, but his peace is shattered when the body of a young woman is found on the main street, the victim of a fall from a building, and he is called upon to investigate the circumstances behind the apparent tragic accident.

As Ari Thór begins to look closer at the life of the young victim, he has a nagging suspicion that something is not quite right here and not everyone is telling the truth about what they know. Why was this young woman in a strange house in the middle of the night? Did she fall or was she pushed? And why has an old man in a local nursing home scrawled a message about murder on the wall of his room? So much for Ari Thór's quiet weekend...

The suspense builds as the investigation proceeds and the impending blizzard approaches, reaching an explosive climax when the disturbing truth is finally uncovered, at the same time as the storm breaks and creates havoc in the little town. It's so beautifully done, especially since this is a translation - well done David Warriner.

Ragnar Jonasson always has the ability to create the most delicious of claustrophobic atmospheres in his books and Winterkill is no exception. Right from the first page, you can feel the chill from the desolate landscape seeping into your bones and this colours your view of the residents of Siglufjörður.  Bizarrely, at no point does this come across as a bustling little town despite the fact that this is a small community on the way up, and one which is full of tourists for the holiday weekend. Everything is so tense and vivid between the main players, with the focus is so completely on them and their movements, that even though you know the town is full of people they almost seem to be walking around against a backdrop of ghostly figures that blend into the frozen background and take no part in the story. It's creepy.

This makes a really interesting end to the Dark Iceland series, encompassing so much about the fierce beauty of the Icelandic landscape and the history of its people, alongside a cracking crime story. Don't worry if you have not read the previous books, because this works well as a standalone - in fact, I only know bits and pieces about the books before this one and I still found it unputdownable (I will however, be taking the time to absorb them in detail in the very near future). You really can't go wrong with a Ragnar Jonasson book!

Winterkill is available to buy in e-book and hardback formats from your favourite book retailer now, and paperback from 21st January 2021, or from HERE.

Thank you to Orenda Books for sending me an e-copy of this book in return for and honest review and to Anne Cater of Random Things Tours for inviting me to be part of this blog tour.

About the author:

Icelandic crime writer Ragnar Jónasson was born in Reykjavík, and currently works as a lawyer, while teacher copyright law at the Reykjavík University Law School. In the past, he’s worked in TV and radio, including as a news reporter for the Icelandic National Broadcasting Service. 

Before embarking on a writing career, Ragnar translated fourteen Agatha Christie novels into Icelandic, and has had several short stories published in German, English and Icelandic literary magazines. Ragnar set up the first overseas chapter of the CWA (Crime Writers’ Association) in Reykjavík, and is co-founder of the International crime-writing festival Iceland Noir. 

Ragnar’s debut thriller, Snowblind became an almost instant bestseller when it was published in June 2015 with Nightblind (winner of the Dead Good Reads Most Captivating Crime in Translation Award) and then Blackout, Rupture and Whiteout following soon after. To date, Ragnar Jónasson has written five novels in the Dark Iceland series, which has been optioned for TV by On the Corner. 

He lives in Reykjavík with his wife and two daughters.

Wednesday, January 13, 2021

When The Children Come by Barry Kirwan


When The Children Come by Barry Kirwan.

Published 2nd December 2020.

From the cover of the book:

Nathan, emotionally scarred after three tours in Afghanistan, lives alone in Manhattan until New Year’s Eve, when he meets Lara. 

The next morning, he notices something strange is going on–a terrified kid is being pursued by his father, and a girl, Sally, pleads with Nathan to hide her from her parents. There is no internet, no television, no phone coverage.

Nathan, Lara and Sally flee along the East Coast, encountering madmen, terrorists, the armed forces, and other children frightened for their lives. The only thing Nathan knows for sure is that he must not fall asleep...

“A fantastic and original premise...flashes of Stephen King and MR Carey.”
Tom Witcomb

“A nicely taut thriller, with a Lee Child feel to its staccato writing and strong action sequences, and a high concept stretching the novel into true science fiction territory.”
Amanda Rutter

“Not just a page-turner–all in all a fabulous novel, which I was sad to finish.”
Loulou Brown


When The Children Come, the first in a new series by Barry Kirwan, was a bit of a departure from my usual kind of sci-fi read, which normally comprises something about time travel, a full on space opera, a post-apocalyptic Dystopian nightmare, or a Black Mirror type mindbender. 

There is a space element, as you can tell from the cover, but this is more of drop you in at the beginning of a terrifying apocalyptic scenario - and what a scenario it is! I am not ashamed to say that this is just the kind of plot I find particularly disturbing actually, so there was an extra big dollop of the chills for me in this book.

It's pretty difficult to talk much about this one without giving away spoilers. Suffice to say, things get pretty bad for Nathan, Lara and Earth's children, along with the mixed bag of helpmates they pick up along the way, as they unexpectedly find themselves having to take on the role of saviours of humanity. 

There is action aplenty here, a nice bit of science and speculation, and a great theme of "the enemy of my enemy is my friend", which I really enjoyed. It was also very pleasing to have a bevy of smart female characters in this book, rather than consigning them to the 'weak and wishy-washy/always needing to be rescued category', which sometimes happens in a sci-fi adventure - good work Mr Kirwan! The story is nicely paced with lots of suspense, and it kept my interest all the way through to the very end - with an intriguing hook into the next book too.

For me, there was a real feel of Scott Sigler about this one, and there are definite echoes of some well received sci-fi books and action films/TV series in these pages too, with an intriguing underlying premise that is very thought provoking. I can't wait to see what happens next!

When The Children Come is available to buy now using the following links:

Amazon UK          Amazon US

About the author:

Barry Kirwan was born in Farnborough and grew up watching the Red Arrow jet fighters paint the sky at air shows. 

He didn't get into writing until years later when he arrived in Paris, where he penned The Eden Paradox series (four books) over a period of ten years. 

His SF influences are Isaac Asimov, Arthur C. Clarke, Frank Herbert, and Orson Scott Card, but also David Brin who writes about smart aliens. Iain Banks and Alistair Reynolds remain major influences, as well as Neal Asher, Peter F. Hamilton and Jack McDevitt. 

His main SF premise is that if we do ever meet aliens, they'll probably be far more intelligent than we are, and with very different values and ideas of how the galaxy works. As a psychologist by training, that interests him in terms of how to think outside our own (human) frame of reference.

When he is not writing, he's either working (his day job), which is preventing mid-air collisions, reading, or doing yoga or tai chi. When he's on holiday he's usually diving, looking for sharks. Most times he finds them, or rather, they find him.

Find out more about Barry Kirwan at:

Author's website                    Author's Facebook Page                    Author's Twitter

Tuesday, January 12, 2021

The Art Of Dying (Raven, Fisher and Simpson Book Two) by Ambrose Parry


The Art of Dying by Ambrose Parry.

Published in paperback 7th January 2021 by Black Thorn.

From the cover of the book:

A gripping historical novel of medicine and murder from bestselling author Chris Brookmyre and consultant anaesthetist Dr Marisa Haetzman, set in nineteenth-century Edinburgh.

Edinburgh, 1849: Hordes of patients are dying all across the city, with doctors finding their remedies powerless. And a campaign seeks to paint Dr James Simpson, pioneer of medical chloroform, as a murderer.

Determined to clear Simpson’s name, his protégé Will Raven and former housemaid Sarah Fisher must plunge into Edinburgh’s deadliest streets and find out who or what is behind the deaths. 

Soon they discover that the cause of the deaths has evaded detection purely because it is so unthinkable.


The Art of Dying is the second book in the medicine and murder themed Raven, Fisher and Simpson series, set in mid-nineteenth century Edinburgh.

These are the days of the pioneers of modern medicine, on the cutting edge (pardon the pun) of experimental practice, laying the foundations for the medical profession that we know today - and this is not an easy task in a city still rife with old fashioned 'quacks' who view the new procedures with suspicion and contempt. It doesn't help that many of the new breed of doctors are also competing against each other to make their name in the new age of medicine, encouraging division in their ranks.

Dr Simpson, is one such doctor on the cusp of the new age, and in fact a real life one too who was a pioneer in the use of chloroform, and through him our authors introduce the fascinating medical advances being made at the time - and show us much of the controversy that went hand in hand with them.

But Edinburgh is also a city of many faces, and a good number of these are dark and sinister. There is a terrifying 'Angel of Death' plying her trade here and someone needs to do something about it. This task falls to our fictional characters - the young Doctor Raven and his erstwhile lover Sarah Fisher, who are both assisting Dr Simpson in his endeavours. Through them we follow a twisty and dangerous path to the truth of the mysterious deaths in the city and the identity of the murderess herself - they also help out Dr Simpson with some of his difficulties and have their own medical adventures along the way too.

I really enjoyed the way our authors entwine historical fact and fiction in this book, combining them together to produce a slick murder mystery tale filled with fascinating medical details. Dr Simpson is our real life anchor of the piece, helping to drag medicine into the modern age, with his assistants at his side. Dr Raven takes the part of the romantic hero daring to go beyond the bounds of acceptable behaviour, both professionally and personally, in the pursuit of good, even if he considers himself to be dark at heart - and Sarah Fisher holds her own as the ambitious young women keen to take up the banner for women's rights and carve a path through the rigid societal strictures laid out for the female sex.

The mystery serial killer in this book is inspired by 19th-century nurse and ‘Angel of Death’ Jane Toppan, which makes it all the more fascinating and I love the fact that Sarah Fisher's part here represents the growth of the women’s movement which led to the formation of the Edinburgh Seven: the first women to enrol in university in the UK. 

I did find it hard to get into the story and the rhythm of the writing at first, mainly because I had not read the first book in the series, The Way Of All Flesh, but there is such a gloriously gritty Gothic horror feel to the whole piece that it soon pulled me in. There are some holes in the back story of the characters that I do still need to fill, but since I now have a copy of book one this will soon be remedied (sorry for another medicinal pun, dear reader!).

If you like your historical crime darkly delicious, with a nice mix of fact and fiction - and with a feel of the dawning of a new age  - then this is going to be the book for you. It's creepy and compelling in equal measure, with great characters, a vivid setting, and a plot that will keep you turning the pages all the way to the end. What more do you need?

The Art Of Dying is available to buy now from your favourite book retailer, or from HERE.

Thank you to Black Thorn/Canongate for sending me a copy of this book in return for an honest review, and to Anne Cater of Random Things Tours for inviting me to be part of this blog tour.

About the authors:

Ambrose Parry is a pseudonym for a collaboration between Chris Brookmyre and Marisa Haetzman. The couple are married and live in Scotland. Chris Brookmyre is the international bestselling and multi-award-winning author of over twenty novels. Dr Marisa Haetzman is a consultant anaesthetist of twenty years’ experience, whose research for her Master’s degree in the History of Medicine uncovered the material upon which this series, which began with The Way of All Flesh, is based.
The Way of All Flesh was shortlisted for the McIlvanney Prize for Scottish Crime Book of the Year and longlisted for the Theakston Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year Award.

The Art of Dying is the second book in the series.

The series has been optioned by Benedict Cumberpatch’s production company SunnyMarch for a Sky TV series.

The Alex Cohen Series: Books 1-3 Combined Edition by Leopold Borstinski


The Alex Cohen Series: Books 1-3 Combined Edition by Leopold Borstinski.

Published November 2020 by Sobriety Press. Previously published as separate editions - see below for details.

From the cover of the book:

Three decades in the life of Jewish gangster, Alex Cohen, as he arrives in the US and forges a life for himself and his family using the blood, sweat and tears of those who stand in his way.

This digital box set contains the first three books in the saga of Alex Cohen's life.


The Alex Cohen series is one I have been following from the start. I have now read the first four books - the last one, Casino Chiseler, in November last year - and I am looking forward with relish to book Five, Cuban Heel, which is coming very soon. 
If you like a gangster tale, especially one that takes you on a saga through the changing times, then this is a great series to get stuck into.

To help you get a flavour of the series, I have given the blurbs from each book and reproduced my reviews of the first three books, which are included in this boxed set, for your reading pleasure. Enjoy!

Book One: The Bowery Slugger. First published September 2019.

From the cover of the book:

When Alex Cohen arrives in 1915 America, he seizes the land of opportunity with both hands and grabs it by the throat. But success breeds distrust and Alex must choose between controlling his gang and keeping his friend alive. 

What would you do if the person you trusted most is setting you up to die at your enemies' hands?


The Bowery Slugger introduces us to the seedy side of the Jewish Ghetto of New York, at a time when war is waging across Europe.

Removed from the constant threat of violence that Alex and his family have left behind in the Ukraine, their minds turn to ways in which they can make America their new home. How do you support yourself when you step foot in a new country when practically all you have is the clothes you stand up in? It soon becomes clear that this is not going to be easy, especially when you cannot even speak the language.

Leopold Borstinski cleverly transports us to the heart of the Bowery, New York, where Jewish immigrants have made their home. You can almost feel yourself on the same streets as Alex, as he searches for a way to bring some money home for his family - the noise, the hustle and bustle, and the sound of Yiddish voices all around. 

It is almost too easy for Alex to find himself on the wrong side of the law, drawn by the pull of an easy buck in the land where the streets are said to be paved with gold. He soon makes a name for himself with the local Jewish gangs as someone trustworthy and good with his fists, earning himself both the nickname "Slugger" and promotion within the criminal fraternity. But Alex's choices are complicated by the fact that he has fallen in love with innocent fellow immigrant Rebecca, and she wants no part of the life he is now embroiled in.  How can he balance the pull of easy money against that of true love?

This book has such an evocative feel for the struggle of immigrants first arriving in New York at the beginning of the 20th Century (think Mario Puzo's The Godfather, when Vito Corleone arrives in America with his family). What makes this book so unusual to read is that this time our new companions are Jewish, rather than Italian. I found this really interesting, as I have read a lot about the early Irish, Black and Italian gangs in New York, but very little about the gangs established by the Jewish settlers to the city. It was fascinating to read about the involvement of the Jewish gangs with the Union movement and the early days of their collaboration with the Italian mob, and the contrast of the new settlers to their second generation compatriots was very cleverly done.

It is true to say that the characters are a little stereotypical - for example, we have the troubled poor boy making a name for himself; the best friend who contemplates betrayal; the beautiful, innocent maiden with dreams, who catches the eye of our boy; and "the tart with a heart" who falls for our lovelorn boy and offers him comfort, but this did spoil my overall enjoyment of the story. I really became caught up in Alex's life and was very keen to find out where his choices would lead him.

The story builds nicely and the closing pages of this first volume in Alex Cohen's story are very exciting. I am looking forward to seeing where the story goes in the second instalment, as our writer seems to be taking Alex down a very different path at the end of the book.

This book is completely plot driven and a great story it is too - gritty and violent, it will keep you turning the pages until the thrilling climax!

Book Two: East Side Hustler. First published March 2020.

From the cover of the book:

Alex returns from the Great War almost destroyed by the horrors he has experienced. When he is plucked from certain death by an old friend, he commits to making so much money he'll never know that agony again. 

But the route to the top is filled with danger and every time he helps one of his powerful friends like Al Capone, he acquires more enemies who want to see him dead. The turmoil caused by the death of organised crime financier, Arnold Rothstein means Alex must once more fight for his life.

 How far would you go to seize the American dream? And could you protect your family along the way from the fellas who want to see you dead?


After reading Alex Cohen's first outing in The Bowery Slugger and being introduced to the story of New York's Jewish gangs last year, I was looking forward to meeting up with Alex again in East Side Hustler.

This second book, takes us right back to the criminal heart of the Lower East Side, where Alex is on his downers and trying to recover from his war-time experiences, without the support of his blood family, who believe that he died on the battlefield.

However, it is not long before we find Alex back in the bosom of his criminal "family". and this is where the fun starts - especially once Prohibition gets a grip on the liquor and gaming enterprises that have now become Alex's forte.

East Side Hustler takes us on a very different journey to The Bowery Slugger, although it is, in fact, a much more familiar gangster scenario this time around. The world that Leopold Borstinski describes in these pages has much less to do with the cultural make-up of the gangs involved, but is rather more of a text-book lesson in the booze running, speakeasy life and territory battles that went on during the Prohibition years. For the most part, this inevitably makes the action a bit cliched, and it is easy to see where things are headed, although there is a nice little twist of a nod towards Alex's past sins that I was not expecting. I should add that it is best not to get your hopes up for fully-formed female characters here, where the female roles are primarily those of moll or mother..

What I found most enjoyable about this book is the way Leopold Borstinski manages to drop in some of the very big players of the mobster heyday, and I mean some very big names indeed. We are treated to meetings with the likes of Lucky Luciano, Bugsy Siegel, and even the dizzy heights of Alphonse Capone himself, which really made me smile (lots of the also-rans also make an appearance here, so I recommend some googling of names if you have not come across them before).

There is a lot to enjoy in this book, albeit with not many surprises plot-wise, and the male characters are a lot of fun. You can tell the author has worked really hard to create that authentic grown-up gangster noir feel here, and he has pulled it off with some savoir faire, so well done Mr Borstinski, I can tell you are warming to your subject.

I, for one, am looking forward to seeing where Alex's adventures take him next in his forthcoming outing, Midtown Huckster.

Book Three: Midtown Huckster. First published July 2020.

From the cover of the book:

Alex runs Murder Inc for Lucky Luciano. After the death of Prohibition he must find a new way to make money, just as the cops are baying at his heels. 

When Luciano goes down for racketeering, Alex loses his protection and is arrested for tax evasion-he must decide between saving his skin and ratting out his friends. If he chooses prison time then his gang will fall apart and he will end up with nothing. If he squeals then he will have to flee the city he loves and the family he once adored. 

What would you do in a world where nobody can be trusted and you have everything to lose?


Welcome to the third adventure in the historical noir Alex Cohen series, Midtown Huckster.

When we last met Alex, he had become a great success in organised crime circles, rubbing shoulders with some very big names, running booze during Prohibition, and heading up the Murder Inc. operation for Lucky Luciano. However, his marriage had fallen victim to the amount of time and attention he spent on his nefarious work undertakings, his penchant for "skirt", and the lies he told - not to mention the danger he put his family in.

The end of Prohibition marks a big change for Alex. Although he is still flavour of the month with his boss Luciano, and continuing to run a slick hit man operation, organised crime is going through some big changes. With the loss of income from illegal booze sales, crime bosses are now looking at drugs to fill the gap - namely heroin. Although reluctant, at first, to get on board with this new direction, Alex recognises that there is big money to be made, and he is soon up to the gills in the drug venture and reaping the substantial monetary rewards. His marriage is still on the rocks though, even though he seems less enamoured by the attention of other females as time goes by.

But this is also a time of uncomfortable attention from the Feds, buoyed as they are from their success in bringing down Capone, and they are now making trouble in New York that will soon make Alex's life very difficult, and this all adds gloriously to the seedy gangster scene.

I take my hat off to Leopold Borstinski at the way he has manged to find ever more interesting storylines for Alex Cohen as this series progresses. He really seems to have found his niche in the noir historical crime genre, and this adventure is absolutely packed with glorious mob detail that gives the reader a real feel for the era.

In this book, we are in the middle of the 1930s organised crime world and can fully experience the way New York crime lords are organising themselves along syndicate lines, with gangs working closer together and sanctioning each other's operations in a more corporate way - although this doesn't mean they always agree and are not trying to out manoeuvre each other all the time behind the scenes! We also get to see how and why drugs become a big focus for organised crime, which was really interesting.

This is also the era of Eliot Ness and company, with the Feds getting a taste of how they could bring down some of the big criminal fraternity, such as Al Capone and Lucky Luciano. Although everyone surely knows the name of Capone, and is aware of how he met his downfall, I found it fascinating the way Leopold Borstinski shows us how the the attention of the Feds was also focused on the gangs in New York, and that they also had success in making a dent in organised crime there too - gone were the days when you could payoff a few cops and judges, or threaten jurors and witnesses; this is the age of The Untouchables.

Interestingly, this also brings home how organised crime gangs were starting to think seriously about how they needed to create legitimate fronts for their operations that could provide a way to hide the sources of their ill-gotten gains and launder the huge amounts of money their were making.

Leopold Borstinski is really warming to his task in this episode of Alex's life. There is a tantalising feel of The Godfather and a touch of Goodfellas that makes it all very enjoyable - in fact, I think this is the best one yet - and I look forward to much more of this is Alex's next outing, Casino Chiseler.


I hope that my reviews have given your a taste of these gangster noir books and will encourage you to take the plunge into the Alex Cohen Series - which will eventually number seven books in all. The characters are gritty and the stories compelling, and you will find yourself getting quite attached to Alex Cohen despite the fact that he is and out and out bad boy - and I am pleased to report that there is much more female involvement in the future books too, reflecting the changing times.

The Alex Cohen Boxed Set: Books 1-3 is available to buy now in paperback and e-book formats from your favourite book retailer, or via the links below:

Amazon UK          Amazon US

About the author:

Leopold Borstinski is an independent author whose past careers have included financial journalism, business management of financial software companies, consulting and product sales and marketing, as well as teaching.

There is nothing he likes better so he does as much nothing as he possibly can. He has travelled extensively in Europe and the US and has visited Asia on several occasions. Leopold holds a Philosophy degree and tries not to drop it too often. 

He lives near London and is married with one wife, one child and no pets.