Blog Tours · Extracts

BLOG TOUR!!! An EXCLUSIVE EXTRACT from Something in the Water by Catherine Steadman

Something in the Water CoverErin is a documentary filmmaker on the brink of a professional breakthrough; Mark is a handsome investment banker with a bright future. 

They seem to have it all, until Mark loses his job and cracks start to appear in their perfect life. But they’re determined to make it work. 

They book their dream honeymoon and trust that things will work out – after all, they have each other. 

On the tropical island of Bora Bora, Mark takes Erin scuba diving.  

Mark is with her – she knows he’ll keep her safe. 

Everything will be fine. 

Until they find something in the water… Erin and Mark decide to keep their discovery a secret – after all, if no one else knows, who would be hurt? 

Their decision will trigger a devastating chain of events which will endanger everything they hold dear. 

Something in the Water is the debut thriller from actress and writer Catherine Steadman. Selected for the Reese Witherspoon Book Club in July 2019, the novel has been praised for the complex moral dilemma that it poses, and its gripping pace.

Already optioned for adaptation by Twentieth Century Fox, I’m delighted to be able to offer an extract from Something in the Water on The Shelf today.


Have you ever wondered how long it takes to dig a grave? Wonder no longer. It takes an age. However long you think it takes, double that.

I’m sure you’ve seen it in movies: the hero, gun to his head perhaps, as he sweats and grunts his way deeper and deeper into the earth until he’s standing six feet down in his own grave. Or the two hapless crooks who argue and quip in the hilarious madcap chaos as they shovel frantically, dirt flying skyward with cartoonish ease.

It’s not like that. It’s hard. Nothing about it is easy. The ground is solid and heavy and slow. It’s so damn hard.

And it’s boring. And long. And it has to be done.

The stress, the adrenaline, the desperate animal need to do it, sustains you for about twenty minutes. Then you crash.

Your muscles yawn against the bones in your arms and legs. Skin to bone, bone to skin. Your heart aches from the aftermath of the adrenal shock, your blood sugar drops, you hit the wall. A full-body hit. But you know, you know with crystal clarity, that high or low, exhausted or not, that hole’s getting dug.

Then you kick into another gear. It’s that halfway point in a marathon when the novelty has worn off and you’ve just got to finish the joyless bloody thing. You’ve invested; you’re all in. You’ve told all your friends you’d do it, you made them pledge donations to some charity or other, one you have only a vague passing connection to. They guiltily promised more money than they really wanted to give, feeling obligated because of some bike ride or other they might have done at university, the details of which they bore you with every time they get drunk. I’m still talking about the marathon, stick with me. And then you went out every evening, on your own, shins throbbing, headphones in, building up miles, for this. So that you can fight yourself, fight with your body, right there, in that moment, in that stark moment, and see who wins. And no one but you is watching. And no one but you really cares. It’s just you and yourself trying to survive. That is what digging a grave feels like, like the music has stopped but you can’t stop dancing. Because if you stop dancing, you die.

So you keep digging. You do it, because the alternative is far worse than digging a never-ending god-awful hole in the hard compacted soil with a shovel you found in some old man’s shed.

As you dig you see colours drift across your eyes: phosphenes caused by metabolic stimulation of neurons in the visual cortex due to low oxygenation and low glucose. Your ears roar with blood: low blood pressure caused by dehydration and overexertion. But your thoughts? Your thoughts skim across the still pool of your consciousness, only occasionally glancing the surface. Gone before you can grasp them. Your mind is completely blank. The central nervous system treats this overexertion as a fight-or-flight situation; exercise-induced neurogenesis, along with that ever-popular sports mag favorite, “exercise-induced endorphin release,” acts to both inhibit your brain and protect it from the sustained pain and stress of what you are doing.

Exhaustion is a fantastic emotional leveler. Running or digging.

Around the forty-five- minute mark I decide six feet is an unrealistic depth for this grave. I will not manage to dig down to six feet. I’m five foot six. How would I even climb out? I would literally have dug myself into a hole.

According to a 2014 YouGov survey, five foot six is the ideal height for a British woman. Apparently that is the height that the average British man would prefer his partner to be. So, lucky me. Lucky Mark. God, I wish Mark were here.

So if I’m not digging six feet under, how far under? How deep is deep enough?

Bodies tend to get found because of poor burial. I don’t want that to happen. I really don’t. That would definitely not be the outcome I’m after. And a poor burial, like a poor anything else really, comes down to three things:

  1. Lack of time
  2. Lack of initiative
  3. Lack of care

In terms of time: I have three to six hours to do this. Three hours is my conservative estimate. Six hours is the daylight I have left. I have time.

I believe I have initiative; two brains are better than one. I hope. I just need to work through this step by step.

And number three: care? God, do I care. I care. More than I have ever cared in my entire life.


Something in the Water by Catherine Steadman is published by Simon & Schuster and is available now in paperback and ebook from all good booksellers and online retailers, including Hive, Waterstones, Book Depository and Amazon.

My thanks go to the publisher for providing this extract, and a copy of the book, in return for an honest and unbiased feature. Thanks also to Anne Cater from Random Things Tours for organising and inviting me to take part in this tour. The blog tour continues until the 22 May so do check out the other stops along the way for reviews, features, and more! 

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Blog Tours · Reviews

BLOG TOUR!!! The Den by Abi Maxwell

The Den CoverJanuary 19, 1852. 

Cold Friday.

The day when the temperature dropped to an impossible 31 degrees below in a matter of hours and the mercury froze in its gauge and a violent, piercing wind blew across the field and through the woods, breaking the family’s windows in…

———————————————-

Henrietta and Jane are growing up in a farmhouse on the outskirts of town, their mother a remote artist, their father in thrall to the folklore and legend of their corner of New England. When Henrietta falls under the spell of Kaus, an outsider and petty criminal, Jane takes to trailing the couple, spying on their trysts, until one night, Henrietta vanishes into the woods. 

Elspeth and Claire are sisters separated by an ocean. Elspeth’s pregnancy at seventeen meant she was quickly married and sent away from her Scottish village to make a new life in America. When she comes to the attention of the local mill owner, a series of wrenching and violent events unfolds, culminating in her disappearance.

As Jane and Claire search in their own times for their missing sisters, each uncovers the strange legend of Cold Friday, and of a family apparently transformed into coyotes. But what does this myth really mean? Are their sisters dead, destroyed by the men who desired them? Or have they made new lives, elsewhere, beyond the watchful eyes of the community they longed to escape?

Myths seem to be everywhere in fiction at the moment. From feminist re-tellings of classical mythology such as Madeline Miller’s Circe and Pat Barker’s The Silence of the Girls to poetic explorations of folklore in Daisy Johnson’s Everything Under and Kerry Andrew’s Swansong. They are testaments to the stories that we tell ourselves, something that Abi Maxwell both explores and subverts in The Den, a lyrical coming-of-age story that plays with ideas of both myth and memory.

Set across two timelines, The Den explores the lives of two sets of sisters living in rural New Hampshire one and a half centuries apart. As the girls navigate the societal expectations of their roles and behaviour, they are forced to confront difficult truths about themselves and the world around them. And when two of the women disappear, their remaining sisters struggle to make sense of what has been left behind. As myth blends into reality, finding the truth behind the women’s disappearances becomes a search for peace the impacts the adult lives of both of the remaining girls.

The Den is a haunting, lyrical novel that moves glacially. Yet from the outset, there is a momentum to the book that is bought by the magnetic portraits of sisters, Jane and Henrietta. Once close, the girls have begun to drift apart as Henrietta grows into adulthood and starts a relationship with a neighbourhood boy. In her reluctance to let her sister go, watchful, restive Jane makes a fatal mistake that will have far-reaching consequences for both girls.

Almost a century and a half earlier, Claire becomes worried when the regular letters from her sister Elspeth, an ocean away in New England, cease. Elspeth had been making a new life for herself but now it seems that both she and her family have vanished leaving nothing but ghosts in the shape of coyotes behind. As Claire sets out for America to find out the truth behind her sister’s disappearance, she is confronted with strange tales and a fiction written in Elspeth’s own hand.

All four of the women in The Den are fascinating characters but it is the missing women, Elspeth and Henrietta, who command the attention of both the reader and of the sisters that they leave behind. Both girls are women out of their own time, pushing against the boundaries of a society that cannot contain them. As such, they have a hypnotic quality reminiscent of the Lisbon girls in Jeffrey Eugenides’ The Virgin Suicides. More conventional in their beliefs, Claire and Jane struggle to understand their respective sister’s dissatisfaction, and it is this struggle for comprehension and understanding that powers the novel.

As I mentioned earlier, the novel is slow in pace, especially at the start so it won’t be for everyone. Stick with The Den, however, and Maxwell’s gorgeous prose, lush landscapes and sharply drawn characters will weave their spell. Meditating on love, loss, escape, and sisterhood, The Den is a haunting novel written with great skill and precision that will richly reward patient readers and is perfect for fans of Marilynne Robinson, or those who enjoyed Emma Kline’s The Girls.

The Den by Abi Maxwell is published by Tinder Press on 16 May 2019 and is available from all good bookstores and online retailers including Hive, Waterstones, Book Depository and Amazon. My thanks go to the publisher for a copy of the book in return for an honest and unbiased review. 

The blog tour continues until 24 May 2019 so do check out other stops on the way for more reviews and content about the book. Thanks to Anne Cater from Random Things Tours for organising and inviting me to take part in the tour.

The Den Blog Tour Poster

Blog Tours · Reviews

BLOG TOUR!!! The Way of All Flesh by Ambrose Parry

Way of All Flesh CoverEdinburgh, 1847.

Will Raven is a medical student, apprenticing for the brilliant and renowned Dr Simpson. Sarah Fisher is Simpson’s housemaid, and has all of Raven’s intelligence but none of his privileges.

As bodies begin to appear across the Old Town, Raven and Sarah find themselves propelled headlong into the darkest shadows of Edinburgh’s underworld. And if either of them are to make it out alive, they will have to work together to find out who’s responsible for the gruesome deaths. 

Regular readers of The Shelf will know that I love crime fiction, especially a well-turned murder mystery of the classic variety. I also love evocative historical fiction capable of whisking me off to another time and place. So a book that brilliantly combines the two, such as The Way of All Flesh, was bound to be a winner for me!

This is the first novel by Ambrose Parry, a pseudonym for a collaboration between husband and wife team Chris Brookmyre (who’s latest standalone, Fallen Angel, I reviewed a couple of weeks ago) and Marisa Haetzman.

The Way of All Flesh is quite a different kettle of fish to Brookmyre’s usual fare, being a historical murder mystery set in 1840s Edinburgh and filled to brimming with the sights, sounds and smells of the bustling city. This historical touch has been provided by Haetzman who, in addition to being a consultant anaesthetist, uncovered much of the material upon which the novel is based when researching her Master’s degree in the History of Medicine.

The result is a taut historical mystery set in a fully-realised Victorian Edinburgh that features a fantastic cast of both fictional and historical characters. I love historical novels that teach me something about the period whilst also telling a fantastic story and, on this score, The Way of All Flesh, succeeds brilliantly.

The household of the real-life Dr James Simpson, the doctor who pioneered the use of chloroform, is brilliantly bought to life and I was fascinated to learn about the early history of obstetrics and the way in which the first anaesthesias were used to ease the pain and suffering of childbirth. Simpson is a fascinating character, treating rich and poor alike and pioneering the use of both new medicines and new social attitudes, with his open-minded approach to both social status and gender.

Fictional additions to Simpson’s household come in the form of Will Raven; a young medical apprentice with a hidden past and secrets it is vital that he keeps, and Sarah Fisher; a housemaid with a passion for knowledge and ambitions above both her gender and her station. Although the two initially dislike each other, they must soon learn to work together to prevent an unscrupulous medical practitioner whose underhand practices and back-street concoctions are killing desperate young women across Edinburgh’s Old Town.

The world of 1840s Edinburgh is vividly bought to life in the novel. I almost felt I was walking down the streets alongside Will and Sarah, visiting the bedsides of the sick with Dr Simpson, and sitting in the crowded lecture hall alongside the medical students. The contrast between the worlds of the rich and poor are extremely well-drawn, embodied in the character of Will who straddles both worlds without feeling entirely comfortable in either.

You can probably already tell that I loved this novel. It’s a cracking mystery, set in a fully-realised and thoroughly-researched historical setting and packed with realistic characters that you’ll soon begin to care for. Fans of C.J Sansom or Anne Perry are sure to love this series and, as the first book in a series, it’s a great jumping off point for crime fans seeking to move into historical fiction (or historical fiction fans who want to try a bit of crime in their reading life!). Thoroughly recommended, I’m so pleased that Raven and Fisher will return in a sequel later this year, as I cannot wait to read about their next misadventures!

The Way of All Flesh by Ambrose Parry is published by Canongate and is available now in paperback and ebook from all good booksellers including Hive, Waterstones (where it’s Thriller of the Month for May 2019) and Amazon.

My thanks go to the publisher for providing a copy of the book in return for an honest and unbiased review, and to Anne Cater of Random Things Tours for organising and inviting me to this blog tour. Do check out other tour stops for more reviews, exclusive content, and more! 

Way of All Flesh Poster

 

 

Blog Tours · Reviews

BLOG TOUR!!! Fallen Angel by Chris Brookmyre

Fallen AngelOne family, two holidays, one devastation secret.

To new nanny Amanda, the Temple family seems to have it all: the former actress; the famous professor; their three successful grown-up children. But like any family, beneath the smiles and hugs there lurks darker emotions.

Sixteen years earlier, little Niamh Temple died while they were on holiday in Portugal. Now, as Amanda joins the family for a reunion at their seaside villa, she begins to suspect one of them might be hiding something terrible…

And suspicion is a dangerous thing.

A dead body slumped over a desk. A tiny needle mark. An unrepentant observer. From the very first page, Chris Brookmyre’s latest standalone novel, Fallen Angel, creates an unsettling tension. Clearly, there has been a murder but discovering the identity of both victim and killer, and the reasons behind this sinister opening scene will take the rest of the book to discover.

Fallen Angel is the perfect thriller for packing in your suitcase and taking away with you to sunnier shores this year. The seaside villas inhabited by the Temple family epitomise the flawless luxury of their world. But beneath the apparently still waters of the Temple family, the ripples of a sixteen-year-old tragedy are about to break into turbulent waves. It gave me all the vibes of Helen Walsh’s The Lemon Grove, with a similarly heady mix of sun, sea, and secrets.

Given that none of the characters in Fallen Angel are particularly likeable, Brookmyre has done an excellent job of keeping the reader engaged with them. Watching the Temple family, in both their 2002 and their 2018 incarnations, is a little like watching a car crash in slow motion. As the reader, you’re unable to look away even as their lives spiral out of control. And, at the heart of it all, is a dark and terrible family secret and the tragic death of a little girl. Once all the threads are unravelled, there’s a chilling twist in this tale and plenty of scenes that pack an emotional punch along the way.

Combining a dark humour with gradual increases in tension, Brookmyre uses multiple viewpoints and dual timelines to provide a hazy picture, ensuring the reader is only ever able to gradually piece together the mystery that lies at the heart of Niamh Temple’s disappearance. Excerpts from patriarch Max Temple’s book on conspiracy theories are scattered throughout the book, providing tantalising glimpses of the larger narrative without ever giving the game away. It’s assured and accomplished writing that makes for easy and enjoyable reading.

Packed with intrigue and dark secrets, Fallen Angel is a complex and sophisticated thriller that will keep you guessing right up until the closing act. Cleverly weaving together the two timelines, this is a compelling narrative. And with some deliciously dark characterisation, Fallen Angel is a perfect read for ensuring that you keep the pages turning by the pool this summer!

Fallen Angel by Chris Brookmyre is published by Little Brown and is available now in hardback and ebook from all good booksellers and online retailers, including Hive, Waterstones, Book Depository, and Amazon. My thanks go to the publisher for providing a copy of the book in return for an honest and unbiased review, and for inviting me to take part in this blog tour. 

Blog Tours · Reviews

BLOG TOUR!!! Death at the Plague Museum by Lesley Kelly

Death at the Plague Museum CoverThe pandemic is spreading.

On Friday, three civil servants leading Virus policy hold a secret meeting at the Museum of Plagues and Pandemics.

By Monday, two are dead and one is missing.

It’s up to Mona and Bernard of the Health Enforcement Team to find the missing official before panic hits the streets.

When I was offered a spot on the blog tour for Lesley Kelly’s Death at the Plague Museum, the latest book in her Health of Strangers series, it was the premise that really struck me. Set in a world where a deadly flu virus has left Edinburgh in a bureaucratic nightmare, it seemed such a unique and intriguing setting for a crime thriller. And I wasn’t wrong!

Although Death at the Plague Museum is the third full book in the series (there is also a short story), the plot, which revolves around the sinister disappearance of a leading Virus policy expert, is largely self-contained.

That said, I do feel that I lost something by not having read the other books in the series. Kelly has done a great job of bringing new readers up to speed; explaining key characters and events from the past books whilst, for the most part, avoiding spoilers for those who want to go back and discover the series’ beginnings. But the relationships between the main characters are so well-established by this point that I felt at times like I’d walked into the middle of a conversation and couldn’t quite pick up the full thread. It didn’t stop me enjoying the book by any means but I’d probably recommend that new readers start with the first book in the series, The Health of Strangers, to fully appreciate the character arcs and intricate interpersonal relationships.

Laced with dark humour, the plot of Death at the Plague Museum roars along at a fantastic pace – this is a very quick read and Kelly is fantastic at leaving each chapter on a mini-cliffhanger, leaving you turning the pages for more! The world of post-viral Edinburgh is fascinating, with an increasingly sinister and controlling state eager to prevent panic and civil unrest by any means necessary. I dare say that civil servants have never been quite so interesting! At times, the book reminded me of classic spy thrillers, with the Machiavellian machinations of unseen higher powers having a chaotic and sometimes devastating impact on those characters working at the coal-face.

Those at the coal-face aren’t going to take it lying down, however, with Health Enforcement Team officers Mona and Bernard determined to uncover the truth. With snappy dialogue throughout, you do get a real sense of each character in Death at the Plague Museum – which is good because there are rather a lot of them and, with this being the third book in the series, quite a bit of water under the bridge in their interpersonal relationships.

If I had one issue with the book, it’s that at times some of the characters were just too abrasive for my taste. There’s one relatively major character in particular who expresses some horrible sentiments towards another character near the beginning of the book that seemed totally uncalled for in the context. I don’t expect all characters in a book to be nice by any means – difficult and downright nasty characters can be great to read. The waspish Mona is a fantastic example of this, balancing a serious attitude problem with fierce determination and a deep sense of justice. But without knowledge of prior events in the series, it was difficult to understand why certain characters have such an intense hatred of each other and this meant that, for me, some characters occasionally came across as just cruel.

Overall, however, Death at the Plague Museum is a well constructed and entertaining crime thriller set in a brilliantly realised dystopic world of sinister governmental agencies and bureaucratic red tape.

For the reasons mentioned above, I definitely think starting at the beginning of the series would be preferable for new readers as, whilst it’s possible to start with Plague Museum, I think you’d get so much more out of the characters and context, both of which have so much depth and development, by going back to the beginning. I’ve already downloaded The Health of Strangers and am very much looking forward to reading my way forwards to join all the dots!

Death at the Plague Museum by Lesley Kelly is published by Sandstone Press and is available now as a paperback and ebook from all good booksellers and online retailers including Hive, Waterstones, Book Depository and Amazon.

My thanks go to the publisher, Sandstone Press, for organising this tour and providing a copy of the book in return for an honest and unbiased review. The tour continues until 30 April 2019 so do check out the other stops for more reviews!

Death at the Plague Museum Poster

 

Blog Tours · Extracts

BLOG TOUR!!! An EXCLUSIVE EXTRACT from Call Me Star Girl by Louise Beech

Tonight is the night for secretsCall Me Star Girl Cover

Pregnant Victoria Valbon was brutally murdered in an alley three weeks ago – and her killer hasn’t been caught.

Tonight is Stella McKeever’s final radio show. The theme is secrets. You tell her yours, and she’ll share some of hers.

Stella might tell you about Tom, a boyfriend who likes to play games, about the mother who abandoned her, now back after twelve years. She might tell you about the perfume bottle with the star-shaped stopper, or about her father …

What Stella really wants to know is more about the mysterious man calling the station … who says he knows who killed Victoria, and has proof.

Tonight is the night for secrets, and Stella wants to know everything…

I am delighted to be able to offer an exclusive extract from Louise Beech’s taut and emotive psychological thriller Call Me Star Girl today. Read on and find out why everyone is talking about this book!


STELLA
THEN

Before they found the girl in the alley, I found a book in the foyer at work.

The girl would be found dead, her neck bloody, her body covered with a red coat, and with no obvious clues as to who had left her that way. The book was brand new, unopened, wrapped in brown paper, and had a single clue as to who had left it there.

A note inside the first page: Stella, this will tell you everything.

After I had picked up the package, unwrapped it carefully and read those words, I looked around the silent radio station, nervous. I’d been about to leave after my show; about to turn off the last light. The nights can be lonely there with just you and the music, and an audience you can’t see. Between songs and commercials, every sound seems to echo along the empty corridors. Every shadow flickers under the cheap fluorescent lights. I don’t scare easily – if anything I love the isolation, the thrill of doing things no one can see – but the book being on that foyer table, where it hadn’t been an hour ago, unnerved me.

Because no one had been in the building since the start of my show.

I looked at the front cover, all smoke greys and silvers; intriguing. The man’s face – half in shadow, half in light – was an interesting one. The eye that was visible was intense – its eyebrow arched, villain-like; and the damp hair was slicked back. The title said Harland: The Man, The Movie, The Madness.

It was Harland Grey. I vaguely remembered the name from news stories. A murderer. Hadn’t he killed a girl on camera, in a movie? Yes. When she disappeared, no one even realised the last scene she filmed had been her death, at the hands of Grey in a cameo as her killer.

I read the blurb, standing alone in the foyer, but it told me little more than I already knew.

What did it mean? Who the hell had left it there?~

Why?

Stella, this will tell you everything.

Presenters often receive weird things in the post, but someone had been in the building and delivered this by hand. Tonight. How had they got in? I hadn’t heard the door slam. You need a code to enter the building. Maybe it was just one of the other presenters messing around? But why would they?

The lights buzzed and flickered. I held my breath. Exhaled when they settled. I would not be spooked by a trickster.

Stella, this will tell you everything.

How did they know what I wanted to know? What was everything?

I opened the main door, book held tight to my hammering chest. The carpark was empty, a weed-logged expanse edged with dying trees. It’s always quiet at this hour of the night. I waited, not sure what I expected to happen – maybe some stranger loitering, hunched over and menacing. They would not scare me.

‘I’m not afraid,’ I said aloud.

Who was I trying to convince?

I set off for home. I usually walk, enjoying the night air after a stuffy studio. I’m not sure why – though now it seems profound – but I paused at the alley that separates the allotment from the Fortune Bingo hall. Bramble bushes tangle there like sweet barbed wire. It’s a long but narrow cut-through that kids ride their bikes too fast along and drunks stagger down when the pub shuts. I rarely walk down there, even though it would make my journey home quicker. The place disturbs me, so I always hurry past, take the long way around, without glancing into the shadows.

I did that night too.

But I looked back. Just once, the strange book pressed against my chest.

It was two weeks before they found the girl there.

Two weeks before I started getting the phone calls.

I didn’t know any of that then. If I had, I might have walked a little faster.



If you can’t wait to read the rest of Stella’s story, Call Me Star Girl by Louise Beech, published by Orenda Books, is now available in both paperback and ebook from all good bookshops and online retailers, including Hive, Waterstones, Book Depository, and Amazon

Thank you so much to Louise and to Orenda Books for letting me host this extract, and to Anne Cater from Random Things Tours for inviting me to take part in the blog tour. The blog tour continues until the end of the month so check out the other your stops for further extracts, reviews and more! 

Call Me Star Girl Poster

Blog Tours · Reviews

BLOG TOUR!!! The Ringmaster by Vanda Symon

The Ringmaster Final CoverMarginalised by her previous antics, Sam Shephard is on the bottom rung of detective training in Dunedin, and her boss makes sure she knows it.

However, when a university student is murdered in the Botanic Gardens, Sam finds herself on her first homicide investigation.

Sam soon discovers that the student’s murder is not an isolated incident. There is a chilling prospect of a predator loose in Dunedin, and a very strong possibility that the deaths are linked to a visiting circus…

Determined to find out who’s running the show, and to prove herself, Sam throws herself into an investigation that can have only one ending…

I had the pleasure of reviewing Overkill, the first book in Vanda Symon’s antipodean-set Sam Shepherd series, last year and said at the end of the review that I hoped we’d see more from Sam Shepherd and Vanda Symon. Well, my wishes have been granted because the second book in the series, The Ringmaster, has now been published in the UK by Orenda Books!

Although following on almost directly from the first book, The Ringmaster can definitely be read as a standalone. The events of the first novel inform Sam’s backstory and some of her relationships with supporting characters, but all of the important information is re-capped here and the central plot, which revolves around the brutal murder of a Dunedin university student, is self-contained within this book.

Sam’s character is nicely developed from book one. As I mentioned in my review of Overkill, Sam is feisty without being cliche. Clever, determined and aware of her own failings, she’s a refreshingly realistic voice. In The Ringmaster, we get to find out a little more about some of Sam’s personal relationships and are privy to some of the fiery exchanges that she has with her difficult and somewhat overbearing mother. We also see her tentative first steps into a new relationship with a fellow officer.

These insights into the personal add a new dimension to Sam’s character, and helped me to understand some of the more difficult aspects of her personality, like her fiery temper, her self-deprecating humour, and her doubts about her life and career choices. It also helps The Ringmaster to feel like a development from Overkill, a chance for readers who have experienced the first book of the series to enhance their relationship with the central character – always one of the joys of reading a series.

By moving the setting from the small town of Mataura to the larger community of Dunedin, Symon has taken away the small-town focus of Overkill but the transition is, I feel, a successful one. Sam is no longer a lone-wolf, the sole officer dealing with a case. Instead, she is part of a larger team of detectives and has to overcome the challenges posed by not having immediate access to all the information. She also has to overcome an obstructive and bullying boss, a man Sam crossed in her previous investigation and who is determined that she won’t be allowed to forget it. This makes the plot more complex, as Sam has to unpick the various strands of the investigation and re-knit them to get at the whole picture. It makes The Ringmaster more of a police procedural than a thriller, without sacrificing the fast-pace and page-turning quality that made Overkill such an enjoyable read!

Overall The Ringmaster is a satisfyingly meaty police procedural, a taut and atmospheric page-turner with a fantastic female lead. Perfect for fans of Jane Harper, this is a brilliant addition to an already accomplished series and I cannot wait for Vanda’s next book so that I can see what Sam gets embroiled in next!

The Ringmaster by Vanda Symon is published by Orenda Books and is available now as an ebook and on 25 April 2019 in paperback. It is available from all good bookshops and online retailers including Hive, Waterstones, Book Depository, and Amazon.

My thanks go to the publisher for providing a copy of the book in return for an honest and unbiased review, and to Anne Cater of Random Things Tours for inviting me to take part in this blog tour. The tour continues until the end of the month so do check out the other stops for reviews, extracts and more! 

The Ringmaster Poster