Blog Tours · Reviews

BLOG TOUR REVIEW!!! The Butcher and the Wren by Alaina Urquhart

The cover of The Butcher and the Wren is black with a design of pale blue feathers superimposed on the backdrop. The title and tag line are in a vivid yellow.
Image Description: The cover of The Butcher and the Wren is black with a design of pale blue feathers superimposed on the backdrop. The title and tag line are in a vivid yellow.

Something dark is lurking in the Louisiana bayou. A methodical killer with a taste for medical experimentation is hard at work completing his most harrowing crime yet, while the authorities desperately try to catch up.

Forensic pathologist Dr. Wren Muller is the best there is. Armed with an encyclopaedic knowledge of historical crimes, and years of experience working in the Medical Examiner’s office, she’s never encountered a case she couldn’t solve.

Until now.

As case after case is piles up on Wren’s examination table, she is sucked into an all-consuming cat-and-mouse chase – led by a brutal murderer, who is getting more brazen by the day…

Whilst I’ve never listened to Morbid, the true crime podcast co-hosted by Alaina Urquhart, I was intrigued by the concept of her debut novel, The Butcher and the Wren, featuring forensic pathologist Dr. Wren Muller.

When not hosting Morbid, Urquhart’s day job is as an autopsy technician so, at the very least, I figured there would be a high degree of technical accuracy in her descriptions of Wren’s day job. And indeed, The Butcher and the Wren shines brightest when it is drawing upon Urquhart’s extensive experience in the autopsy suite.

This isn’t to say that the rest of the novel isn’t convincing, however. The plot – which revolves around an increasingly sinister cat-and-mouse game between New Orleans medical examiner Wren and the macabre serial killer christened the Bayou Butcher – is tightly constructed and genuinely twisty, with a particularly startling revelation emerging from left-field about two-thirds of the way in that wholly changed my perspective on the narrative.

Wren’s chapters are, undoubtedly, the novel’s high point however, as she brings empathy, compassion, and a fierce intelligence to her attempts to discover any clues left by the Butcher whist restoring humanity to his victims. Alternate chapters, narrated by the Bayou Butcher himself, were, for me, less successful. Although Urquhart does an impressive job of getting into the head of a serial killer, they were just a little too creepy and sadistic for me and, at times, I found myself flicking over some of the more gruesome descriptions.

Despite giving an insight into the mindset and actions of the killer, The Butcher and the Wren does an excellent job of keeping the suspense high, the twists coming, and the pace page-turning. That said, I did find one of the final revelations stretching my suspension of disbelief somewhat and, without giving any spoilers, I will say that this is not going to provide those who like a neat and tidy resolution with a satisfying conclusion to the tale. Here’s hoping there’s more to come for Dr Wren Muller so that the loose ends can be tidied up.

Urquhart also does an excellent job of describing setting in this novel. From the grim confines of the Butcher’s basement to the swamps of the bayou and the clinical harshness of Wren’s autopsy suite, I was wholly transported to New Orleans and its surroundings whilst I was reading. I also really enjoyed the largely supportive relationships between Wren, her family, and her colleagues in the New Orleans PD and hope that, in future novels, we might get to find out more about some of these characters.

Overall, The Butcher and the Wren is the perfect read for fans of Kathy Reichs and Tess Gerritson and shows such as CSI and Silent Witness. If you don’t mind your crime fiction with a side order of gruesome, the realistic details and page-turning plot is sure to draw you in, whilst Urquhart’s work on Morbid has allowed her to realise a terrifying sinister serial killer who will leave you with a serious case of the chills.

The Butcher and the Wren by Alaina Urquhart is published by Michael Joseph and is available now from all good booksellers and online retailers including Hive, Bookshop.org, Waterstones, and Wordery.

If you can, please support a local indie bookshop by ordering from them either in person or online! Some of my favourites include Booka Bookshop, The Big Green BookshopSam Read BooksellersBook-ishScarthin Books, and Berts Books

My thanks go to the publisher for providing a copy of the book in return for an honest and unbiased review and Sriya Varadharajan from Penguin Random House UK for organising and inviting me onto this blog tour. The tour continues until 31 October 2022 so please do check out the other stops for more reviews and content!

Reviews on The Shelf are free, honest, and unbiased and I don’t use affiliate links on my posts. However, if you enjoy the blog, please consider buying me a coffee on Ko-Fi!

Blog Tours · Reviews

BLOG TOUR REVIEW!!! The Last Party by Clare Mackintosh

The cover of The Last Party features the silhouette of a house on a lake, decorated with party lights. The house is set against a backdrop of hills and a pink-red sky. In the lighted window of the upper floor, here is the silhouette of a person.
Image Description: The cover of The Last Party features the silhouette of a house on a lake, decorated with party lights. The house is set against a backdrop of hills and a pink-red sky. In the lighted window of the upper floor, here is the silhouette of a person.

At midnight, one of them is dead.
By morning, all of them are suspects.

It’s a party to end all parties, but not everyone is here to celebrate.

On New Year’s Eve, Rhys Lloyd has a house full of guests. His vacation homes on Mirror Lake are a success, and he’s generously invited the village to drink champagne with their wealthy new neighbours.

But by midnight, Rhys will be floating dead in the freezing waters of the lake.

On New Year’s Day, Ffion Morgan has a village full of suspects. The tiny community is her home, so the suspects are her neighbors, friends and family—and Ffion has her own secrets to protect.

With a lie uncovered at every turn, soon the question isn’t who wanted Rhys dead…but who finally killed him.

In a village with this many secrets, murder is just the beginning.

Having written a number of successful thrillers (the most recent of which, Hostage was featured on the blog), former police officer turned multi-award-winning author Clare Mackintosh is moving more firmly into mystery territory with her latest novel, The Last Party, which introduces readers to DC Ffion Morgan of North Wales Police, her colleague from Cheshire constabulary DC Leo Brady, and the small Welsh border community of Cwm Coed.

Nestled in the shadow of Pen y Draig, right on the border between England and Wales is Llyn Drych: Mirror Lake. On the lake’s Welsh side sits the small village of Cwm Coed, home to newly separated Ffion, her mam Elen, her younger sister Seren, her ex Huw, and a host of neighbours who’ve known Ffion since she was knee-high to a a grasshopper. It’s a small, close-knit, and primarily Welsh-speaking community with deep roots, old traditions, and even older secrets.

Over on the English side of the lake lies The Shore: a new development of luxury lakeside lodges that’s the brainchild of Cwm Coed’s local-boy-made-good, Rhys Lloyd and his business partner Jonty Charlton. Marketed to wealthy out-of-towners, The Shore hasn’t exactly made Rhys the most popular man in Cwm Coed but surely nobody hates the development so much that they’d kill the man behind it?

But when Rhys is found floating on the Welsh side of Llyn Drych following a New Year’s Eve party at The Shore that near-enough everyone in Cwm Coed attended, it certainly looks that way. Drawn into a cross-border investigation and partnered with a man she soon discovers she knows just a little too well, it’s going to take all of Ffion’s professional skill and ingenuity to crack this case – especially given that she has her own secrets to keep.

Having lived for several years in and around Mid Wales and the border counties of England, I thought Clare Mackintosh really captured the feel of life in cross-border communities, complete with the inevitable tensions that sometimes arise from that! I loved that Cwm Coed, although proudly Welsh, isn’t portrayed as clichéd, and the ways in which that both Mackintosh and Ffion play with lazy stereotypes (often in a dryly humorous way) to counteract expectations.

Ffion is a great character, although it rapidly becomes apparent that she has some significant secrets to hide that have a major bearing upon her investigation. Her colleague Leo – separated from his wife, increasingly estranged from his young son, and bullied by his horrific boss – is equally complex, and the two of them have a great rapport on the page which keeps the story progressing when the plot slows in places.

Readers used to Mackintosh’s thrillers might find The Last Party a little on the slow side at first. Although the chapters are generally quite short, the narrative weaves about quite a bit, moving between the viewpoints of several characters as well as between the past and the present in order to build tension and gradually reveal the various reasons behind Rhys Lloyd’s death. That isn’t to say that The Last Party is a slow book by any means – there’s still plenty of red herrings, as well as twist after twist to be had here – but it is firmly in the territory of a police procedural/mystery.

Because this is the first in a new series, there’s also quite a bit of time spent away from the central storyline, developing the characters and the community that they live in, as well as their interpersonal relationships. I really loved this aspect – and I’m looking forward to seeing Ffion and Leo’s relationship develop in future books in the series, as well as to revisiting other denizens of Cwm Coed following the fallout from the events of this novel.

The Last Party is a fantastic addition to the police procedural/mystery genre, combining the unpredictable twists and emotional turns of Clare Mackintosh’s previous work with a brilliantly evocative new setting and strong characterisation. Fans of Elly Griffith’s Ruth Galloway series and Sarah Ward’s Connie Childs series will find much to enjoy here – and, like me, will turn the final page eager to see what happens next for Ffion and her colleagues.

The Last Party by Clare Mackintosh is published by Sphere and is available now from all good booksellers and online retailers including Hive, Bookshop.org, Waterstones, and Wordery.

If you can, please support a local indie bookshop by ordering from them either in person or online! Some of my favourites include Booka Bookshop, The Big Green BookshopSam Read BooksellersBook-ishScarthin Books, and Berts Books

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 from Random Things Tours for organising and inviting me onto this blog tour. The tour continues until 19 August 2022 so please do check out the other stops for more reviews and content!

Reviews on The Shelf are free, honest, and unbiased and I don’t use affiliate links on my posts. However if you enjoy the blog please consider buying me a coffee on Ko-Fi!

Blog Tours · Reviews

BLOG TOUR REVIEW!!! Night Shadows by Eva Björg Ægisdóttir

Image Description: The cover of Night Shadows features the image of a house on fire. A figure stares at the flames.
Image Description: The cover of Night Shadows features the image of a house on fire. A figure stares at the flames.

The small community of Akranes is devastated when a young man dies in a mysterious house fire, and when Detective Elma and her colleagues from West Iceland CID discover the fire was arson, they become embroiled in an increasingly perplexing case involving multiple suspects.

What’s more, the dead man’s final online search raises fears that they could be investigating not one murder, but two. A few months before the fire, a young Dutch woman takes a job as an au pair in Iceland, desperate to make a new life for herself after the death of her father.

But the seemingly perfect family who employs her turns out to have problems of its own and she soon discovers she is running out of people to turn to. As the police begin to home in on the truth, Elma, already struggling to come to terms with a life-changing event, finds herself in mortal danger as it becomes clear that someone has secrets they’ll do anything to hide…

Night Shadows is the third book in Eva Björg Ægisdóttir’s excellent ‘Forbidden Iceland’ series, following on from The Creak on the Stairs and Girls Who Lie, and I have to say I think it might be her best yet!

Picking up a few months after the events of Girls Who Lie, Night Shadows sees Detective Elma and her colleagues from West Iceland CID investigating the death of a young man in a house fire. What looks like a tragic accident soon turns into a murder investigation when it becomes apparent that Marinó Finnsson was not killed by the fire. But who would want to murder a seemingly popular young man from the suburbs? And, if the Finnsson family are the only people with keys to the property, how did Marinó end up locked inside a burning building?

A case already filled with questions only gets more complicated when online searches made by Marinó in the days before his death suggest that Elma and her team might be looking at not one murder, but two. As the investigation into Marinó’s death progresses, Elma finds herself tracing the fate of a young Dutch au pair whilst also coming to terms with her own life-changing news.

As with previous entries in the series, Night Shadows works perfectly well as a standalone mystery (although I’d urge new readers to go back and read both The Creak on the Stairs and Girls Who Lie as they’re excellent!), featuring a self-contained investigation. Some developments in the personal lives of Elma, her colleagues Sævar and Hörður, and their respective families do develop over the course of the series – and probably more so in this novel than in previous entries – but significant interpersonal connections and the historical developments in those are explained clearly and concisely, allowing new readers to catch up without bogging down the narrative for readers already familiar with the team at West Iceland CID.

I don’t want to give away any story spoilers but I will say that I really enjoyed Elma’s personal story in Night Shadows. Elma is already one of my favourite detectives – smart, dedicated, and hard-working – but in this novel we see a little more of her home life and some of her vulnerabilities as she confronts a major life change. I also love that we are getting to know her colleagues Sævar and Hörður a little more and, for a returning reader, it was nice to see some returning characters from the rest of Akranes too. Getting an insight into the community is one of my favourite aspects of this series.

That said, the focus of Night Shadows does remain on the police investigation. Alternating between the perspective of the police investigation and that of various people connected with the crime, Eva Björg Ægisdóttir deftly weaves together a number of complex narratives strands into a compelling and page-turning mystery thriller. As in the previous novel in the series, Girls Who Lie, there’s also a chilling and atmospheric psychological thriller element amidst the twists of the police procedural narrative, with occasional flashbacks to events before the fire as well as glimpses into the mind of Marinó’s killer.

Although never gory or overtly violent, Night Shadows doesn’t shy away from touching upon darker themes or difficult topics so content warnings for arson, descriptions of fire/fire injury, infidelity, pregnancy, alcohol/drug use and, of course, murder.

Victoria Cribb’s skilful translation is smooth and effective. The emotions and linguistic inflections of the characters are really well conveyed and I really appreciated the pronunciation guide of names and place that was included at the start of the book. I prefer character names not to be anglicised as part of a translation because it evokes a greater sense of character and place – but I also appreciate getting the pronunciation right, even if that’s only in my head!

As with previous novels in the series, Night Shadows is sure to appeal to existing fans of Icelandic/Scandi/Nordic noir. However, with its taut plotting, attention to detail, and chilling psychological undertones, it’s also the perfect read for fans of police procedurals and psychological thrillers. If you love TV shows such as Broadchurch, Hinterland and Vigil, or books such as Ann Cleve’s Vera Stanhope books or Lin Anderson’s Rhona Macleod series, I’d urge you to venture into Forbidden Iceland and give Eva Björg Ægisdóttir a try!

Night Shadows by Eva Björg Ægisdóttir (translated by Victoria Cribb) is published by Orenda Books and is available now from all good booksellers and online retailers including HiveBookshop.orgWaterstones, and Wordery, as well as direct from the Orenda Books online store.

If you can, please support a local indie bookshop by ordering from them either in person or online! Some of my favourites include Booka Bookshop, The Big Green BookshopSam Read BooksellersBook-ishScarthin Books, and Berts Books

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 from Random Things Tours for organising and inviting me onto this blog tour. The tour continues until 29 July 2022 so do check out the other stops for more reviews and content.

Reviews on The Shelf are free, honest, and unbiased and I don’t use affiliate links on my posts. However if you enjoy the blog please consider buying me a coffee on Ko-Fi!

Blog Tours · Reviews

BLOG TOUR REVIEW!!! We Know You Remember by Tove Alsterdal

Image Description: The cover of We Know You Remember features a desolate countryside scene with sparse fields in the foreground and a single house against a backdrop of thick fir trees.

Where were you the night Lina Stavred went missing?

The case was closed.
Everyone in Ådalen remembers the summer Lina Stavred went missing. At first, the investigation seemed like a dead end: there was no body, no crime scene, no murder weapon.

The records were sealed.
Then a local boy confessed to Lina’s murder. The case opened a wound – one the whole community has spent over two decades trying to heal.

But we know you remember.
Now Lina’s murderer has reappeared, and detective Eira Sjödin must face the spectre of his brutal crime. This is her chance to untangle years of well-kept secrets – but the truth is something Ådalen would rather forget.

It’s been a while since I’ve read any Scandinavian crime fiction. Amidst the slew of psychological thrillers and dark domestic dramas, ‘scandi noir’ seems to have faded somewhat from bookshop shelves. Tove Alsterdal’s We Know You Remember, translated into English by Alice Menzies, reminded me of just how compelling this particular subgenre of crime can be though – and introduces and exciting new voice to English language readers.

By Stockholm standards, the vast and remote region of Ådalen is a remote and sleepy backwater. Outside of the major towns, everyone knows everyone – and collective community memories are long ones. So everyone knows where they were when Lina Stavred went missing. And everyone remembers that fourteen-year-old Olof Hagström confessed to her murder. Even though he was never formally convicted – and the case was officially closed long ago – everyone knows why Olof left town.

But now Olof Hagström is back. His father is dead, apparently killed by an unknown assailant – and the ghost of Lina Stavred is, despite the best efforts of the small community, starting to wander in people’s memories once again. For detective and Ådalen-native Eira Sjödin, the case is an uncomfortable one. The claustrophobic communities of Ådalen are her home – and unsettling their still waters may bring uncomfortable truths back to the surface.

With an atmospheric and menacing small town setting and a likeably flawed central protagonist, We Know You Remember swept me away into the Swedish countryside. Although a little slow to start, the central mystery soon turned into a compelling one, with the present investigation into Sven Hagström’s apparent murder soon colliding with the cold case of Lina Stavred’s disappearance.

With the gritty realism one expects of the genre, We Know You Remember makes for a dark read – particularly once some uncomfortable home truths begin to surface – but I never found it too gory or bleak. This was, in large part, due to the witty voice of central protagonist Eira: young, ambitious, but working the relative backwaters of Ådalen because she needs to care for her mother, who is in the early stages of dementia.

Although certainly flawed as a character, I immediately liked Eira, and I enjoyed reading her interactions with her mother and, later, with her troubled and partially-estranged brother. I also enjoyed her relationships with her colleague, August Engelhart, and her senior officer Georg Georgsson (known as GG), and hope that these might develop in later books in the series. Indeed, the overall likeability of the characters made a nice change for me as it certainly isn’t always a given in this particular sub-genre!

We Know You Remember appears to have been smoothly translated from the Swedish by Alice Menzies. Key spellings, terms, and phrases have been retained which gives a real sense of the original language, without overwhelming English language readers. In tone, the novel reminded me of both The Creak on the Stairs by Eva Björg Ægisdóttir and The Dry by Jane Harper, with their atmospheric small town settings and slow-build but compelling pace. Certainly fans of Scandinavian crime fiction will find much to enjoy in We Know You Remember – as will anyone who enjoys a well-written and compelling police procedural.

We Know You Remember by Tove Alsterdal (translated by Alice Menzies) is published by Faber & Faber and is available now from all good booksellers and online retailers, including Hive, Bookshop.org, Waterstones, and Wordery.

If you can, please support a local indie bookshop by ordering from them either in person or online! Some of my favourites include Booka Bookshop, The Big Green BookshopSam Read BooksellersBook-ishScarthin Books, and Berts Books

My thanks go to the publisher for providing a copy of the book in return for an honest and unbiased review, and for organising and inviting me onto this blog tour. The tour finishes today but you can go back and check out the other stops for more reviews and content!

Reviews on The Shelf are free, honest, and unbiased and I don’t use affiliate links on my posts. However if you enjoy the blog please consider buying me a coffee on Ko-Fi!

Blog Tours · Reviews

BLOG TOUR!!! The Killing Tide by Lin Anderson

After a fierce storm hits Scotland, a mysterious cargo ship is swept ashore in the Orkney Isles. Boarding the vessel uncovers three bodies, recently deceased and in violent circumstances. Forensic scientist Dr Rhona MacLeod’s study of the crime scene suggests that a sinister game was being played on board, but who were the hunters? And who the hunted?

Meanwhile in Glasgow DS Michael McNab is called to a horrific incident where a young woman has been set on fire. Or did she spark the flames herself?

As evidence arises that connects the two cases, the team grow increasingly concerned that the truth of what happened on the ship and in Glasgow hints at a wider conspiracy that stretches down to London and beyond to a global stage. Orcadian Ava Clouston, renowned investigative journalist believes so, and sets out to prove it, putting herself in grave danger.

When the Met Police challenge Police Scotland’s jurisdiction, it becomes obvious that there are ruthless individuals who are willing to do whatever it takes to protect government interests. Which could lead to even more deaths on Scottish soil . . .

Long-time followers of The Shelf will know that I enjoy a good police procedural, especially if there’s an element of forensic mystery. So quite how I’ve managed to miss Lin Anderson’s Rhona MacLeod series is beyond me!

The Killing Tide is the sixteenth outing for Glasgow-based forensic scientist Rhona MacLeod and sees her called to a possible incident of self-immolation in a Glasgow tenement, followed swiftly by a trip to Orkney to identify three bodies washed up on a seemingly deserted former cargo ship. At first glance the two cases could not be more different but, as Rhona and her colleague DS Michael McNab investigate, it becomes apparent that a shadowy company, operating on the Dark Web and providing a deadly playground for the rich and powerful, may connect the deaths.

As Orcadian investigative journalist Ava Clouston begins investigating the shadowy organisation, and evidence in the police investigation grows, it becomes clear that these four deaths may hint at a wider conspiracy – one that spreads to London, and the global stage beyond. And when the Met Police send up a detective to challenge Police Scotland’s jurisdiction on the case, Rhona, DS McNab and Ava begin to question if the conspiracy could lead into the corridors of power justice itself. One thing is certain – there are ruthless individuals who will stop at nothing to conceal their secrets. And that will lead Rhona and her colleagues into terrible danger – and to even more deaths on Scottish soil.

Jumping into an established series at the sixteenth book is always a slightly nerve-wracking experience but The Killing Tide works perfectly well as a standalone. Whilst there are plenty of references to the established relationships between characters who are clearly series regulars – and to some of the previous cases they’ve worked on together – these are made clear for new readers in a way that neither spoils previous books nor bores existing fans with unnecessary exposition.

The plot rattles along – aided by short, sharp chapters that switch between multiple perspectives and often end on tantalising cliff-hangers that leave you racing to find out what happens next! Combined with the multi-stranded investigations across Orkney, Glasgow and London, this made The Killing Tide a compelling and compulsive read that takes in illegal fight clubs, people trafficking, undercover police operations, and corruption before its end – and that will put more than one of our protagonists in life-threatening circumstances.

As such, trigger warnings for several graphic scenes of physical violence, plenty of choice language, detailed descriptions of crime scenes, references to sexual violence, and drug abuse. Although never gratuitous, Lin Anderson does not shy away from depicting the darker and more dangerous side of police investigations – and DS McNab is a detective who doesn’t always play entirely by the rules!

That said, I really did like the main characters in The Killing Tide. DS McNab might be no angel but despite making some questionable choices (primarily in his personal life), he is definitely one of the good guys – and puts his heart and soul into getting the job done and bringing the perpetrators of these dreadful crimes to justice. Rhona MacLeod is smart and intelligent – both academically and emotionally – and her chatty and flamboyant assistant Chrissy makes for a perfect pairing! Investigative journalist Ava also makes for an interesting viewpoint character, being torn between her undoubtedly dangerous – but rewarding – career and her young brother’s wish for her to come home to Orkney and help him keep control over the family farm following the tragic deaths of their parents. Lin Anderson does a fantastic job of balancing such personal struggles with the investigation of the ongoing cases and, by the end of the book, I was keen to spend more time with these characters – and to go back and discover what I’d missed in earlier books!

Fans of the Rhona MacLeod series will probably be well aware of Anderson’s ability to combine a gripping narrative with some wonderfully evocative and atmospheric writing – and are unlikely to be disappointed by The Killing Tide. For readers new to the series, The Killing Tide offers a perfect place to jump into a satisfying slice of some of the best modern ‘tartan noir’ that I’ve read. The Killing Tide may be the first Rhona MacLeod thriller I’ve had the pleasure of reading – but it certainly won’t be my last!

The Killing Tide by Lin Anderson is published by Macmillan and is available now from all good booksellers and online retailers including Hive, Bookshop.org, Waterstones, and Wordery.

If you can, please support a local indie bookshop by ordering from them either in person or online! Some of my favourites include Booka Bookshop, The Big Green BookshopSam Read BooksellersBook-ishScarthin Books, and Berts Books

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 from Random Things Tours for organising and inviting me onto this blog tour. The tour continues until 18 August 2021 so do check out the other stops for more reviews and content.

Reviews on The Shelf are free, honest, and unbiased and I don’t use affiliate links on my posts. However if you enjoy the blog please consider buying me a coffee on Ko-Fi!

Blog Tours · Reviews

BLOG TOUR!!! Girls Who Lie by Eva Björg Ægisdóttir

Image description: the cover of Girls Who Lie has title, author and pull quote text in black and purple on a white background. Below the text is a grayscale image of a female figure standing on a bridge over a desolate river. In the distance is what appears to be a volcanic mountain.

When single mother Marianna disappears from her home, leaving an apologetic note on the kitchen table, everyone assumes that she’s taken her own life … until her body is found on the Grabrok lava fields seven months later, clearly the victim of murder. Her neglected fifteen-year-old daughter Hekla has been placed in foster care, but is her perfect new life hiding something sinister?

Fifteen years earlier, a desperate new mother lies in a maternity ward, unable to look at her own child, the start of an odd and broken relationship that leads to a shocking tragedy.

Police officer Elma and her colleagues take on the case, which becomes increasingly complex, as the number of suspects grows and new light is shed on Marianna’s past – and the childhood of a girl who never was like the others…

Having read and reviewed Eva Björg Ægisdóttir’s confident and compelling debut The Creak on the Stairs last year, I was keen to read the next instalment in the Forbidden Iceland saga and discover what small town secrets Chief Investigating Officer Elma and her colleagues in Akranes found themselves investigating next. As it turns out, the dust has barely settled on Elma’s first case when the body of a missing woman is found.

Everyone has assumed troubled single mother Marianna had taken her own life but it soon becomes clear from the body that Marianna was the victim of a brutal crime. As Elma and her colleagues Sævar and Hörður investigate, they quickly find themselves embroiled in a dark and twisted saga of abuse and scandal, rooted several decades before.

While A Creak on the Stairs was most definitely Nordic noir, Girls Who Lie adds an additional layer of psychological tension to the gloomy atmosphere of Akranes. Whilst not overtly violent or gory in its tone, it therefore pays to mention trigger warnings for sexual abuse, rape, discussion of false allegations, psychological trauma, child neglect, psychological manipulation, post-natal depression, and suicide. As with its predecessor though, these harrowing topics are handled with sensitivity however and the novel ably interrogates the relationship between personal trauma and wider societal issues.

Getting back into the shoes of Chief Investigating Officer Elma was a delight. Sharp, perceptive, and hard-working, Elma retains all the dogged commitment from The Creak on the Stairs but has, finally, begun to recover from the personal trauma that led to her returning to Akranes. As such, she is a slightly softer character in Girls Who Lie and whilst this doesn’t exactly remove all of her sharp edges, it does allow us to see her work on her relationships with her sister Dagny and colleague Sævar, both subplots that I enjoyed immensely.

As with her previous novel, Eva Björg Ægisdóttir has also brilliantly captured the rhythms and patterns of small town life, from the respectability and comfort of the suburbs, to the grim reality of life on the poverty line. She’s also brilliantly evoked Iceland in all its harsh and wintery glory.

Written with subtly and nuance, Girls Who Lie also provides a compelling psychological portrait of a desperate new mother. In intermittent first-person chapters, we are transported into the mind of a troubled young woman and her daughter. These chapters make for some of the most harrowing in the novel as their unknown narrator grapples with her own complex, conflicting – and occasionally very dark – feelings towards her little girl. Working out who this unknown mother is – and what relationship she and her daughter might have to Marianna’s murder – makes for a compelling addition and, running alongside chapters focusing on the police investigation, makes for plenty of twists and turns before the novel’s end!

As with its predecessor, Girls Who Lie is a chilling, absorbing slow-burn of a book that combines a sophisticated police procedural with a subtle and emotive psychological portrait into a compelling and atmospheric package. Skilfully translated by Victoria Cribb, this is a complex, twisty novel with a compelling central protagonist and it cements the Forbidden Iceland series as amongst the finest of Nordic and Scandinavian noir.

Girls Who Lie by Eva Björg Ægisdóttir (translated by Victoria Cribb) is published by Orenda Books and is available now from all good booksellers and online retailers including Hive, Bookshop.org, Waterstones, and Wordery.

If you can, please support a local indie bookshop by ordering from them either in person or online! Some of my favourites include Booka Bookshop, The Big Green BookshopSam Read BooksellersBook-ishScarthin Books, and Berts Books

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 from Random Things Tours for organising and inviting me onto this blog tour. The tour continues until 30 July 2021 so do check out the other stops for more reviews and content.

Reviews on The Shelf are free, honest, and unbiased and I don’t use affiliate links on my posts. However if you enjoy the blog please consider buying me a coffee on Ko-Fi!

Image description: blog tour banner for the Girls Who Lie blog tour showing the book cover (described above), tour dates/stops, and publisher information. Tour dates run from 1-30 July with 2-3 bloggers posting per day. Tour posts can be found and followed using the #GirlsWhoLie, or by following @RandomTTours and @OrendaBooks.

Blog Tours · Reviews

BLOG TOUR!!! A Public Murder by Antoinette Moses

‘My mother was a very difficult person, Inspector, and not always a very nice one. I can think of any number of people who would want her dead.’

For DI Pam Gregory, unravelling the murder of archaeologist Stephanie Michaels was always going to be hard, but she had no idea it would change her life.

In this remarkable crime debut, award-winning author Antoinette Moses takes the reader on a gripping journey from Cambridge to Crete to find a story that has been hidden for decades.

If you’ve been following the blog for a while, you’ll know that I love a good police procedural – Sarah Ward’s Connie Child series is a favourite of mine, and earlier this year I really enjoyed the first of A J Cross’s forensic mysteries, Dark Truths. And now, thanks to Antoinette Moses and A Public Murder, I have another series to look out for when I head for the bookshop!

A Public Murder introduces the reader to DI Pam Gregory. Smart, compassionate, and resilient, Pam has worked through both professional challenges and personal hardships to become the head of the East Anglian Special Operations Unit (EASOU). Although her boss would rather she spent more time on the paperwork and less time in the field, the unit is producing results, and the book opens with Pam and her team successfully wrapping up a long-running County Lines case.

Rather than celebrating their success however, Pam and her team are thrown straight into their next case when renowned archaeologist Stephanie Michaels is found dead – brutally stabbed and then ceremonially displayed on the horns of the Cretan bull at the centre of her new exhibition. Initial investigations show that there are many people who might have wanted to kill Stephanie but, as the investigation continues, the clues increasingly point towards Crete – and to a Cretan vendetta that may threaten Stephanie’s daughter, Jen.

With both the media and the political spotlight upon her, Pam is in a race against time both to find Stephanie’s killer and protect the future of her team. But as she lands in sunny Crete and begins to learn about the real Stephanie, Pam is forced to re-evaluate the priorities in her own life – and her own hopes and dreams for the future.

I have to admit that, when I started A Public Murder, I wasn’t 100% sure I’d get on with it. The book opens with the brutal killing of a cat, and the murder of Stephanie is also fairly gory. Animal death and gore are usually two of my bookish no-no’s but, in this instance, they really are the hardest hitting sections of the book – get past the first couple of chapters, and you’re in more gentle procedural territory, albeit with some mentions of or allusions to marital/domestic violence, drug use, alcohol abuse, racism, sexism, gaslighting, torture and violent crime. In all fairness, the violence is not excessive either – the way Stephanie and Skimbles (the cat) are killed does end up being very relevant to the story, so its essential not gratuitous.

I instantly warmed to DI Pam Gregory. She’s a fantastic lead character – smart but compassionate, she combines being a tough, resilient, and professional detective with a more in-secure and uncertain personal core. As such she felt well-rounded and fully realised, and I found myself as interested in the personal journey that she undertakes as the professional one.

The supporting characters are, for the most part, also well realised. I really like Josh, Pam’s second-in-command at EASOU, as well as Stavros, her liaison in Crete. Nikos Leotakis, the Cretan billionaire pulling the strings behind the scenes, was also a great character, and his involvement added an element of both glamour and danger to the case. I did, however, feel there were slightly too many named characters at times. Pam’s EASOU team, for example, are fairly large and I kept expecting some of them to make more of an appearance than they did. There were also a few subplots – mostly involving interpersonal relationships within the EASOU team – that felt somewhat redundant to the overall story, as well as some head-hopping from character to character that, often occurring without notice, took a little while to get used to.

This did not, however, detract from my enjoyment of that story. The central mystery of who killed Stephanie Michaels is a compelling one and I really enjoyed following Pam and her team as they carefully eliminated suspects and motives. I did feel that the Cretan part of the book would have benefitted from a little more space – without wanting to spoil anything, the killer and their motives are introduced a little late and I felt that the last 30 pages raced a little too quickly, with some rather sudden changes in tone and character, especially in the case of Stavros.

I also really enjoyed the depictions of both Cambridge and Crete. You can tell that the author is familiar with both locations and, especially in the case of Crete, the scenery and lifestyle were both vividly evoked on the page. I could practically imagine myself sat in the heat and eating all the delicious Greek food that is described! And I was fascinated to discover not only Stephanie’s life in Greece – which includes an important involvement in some little known Greek history – but also to follow Pam’s own journey of self-realisation on the island.

A Public Murder is a thrilling and accomplished police procedural that is sure to appeal to fans of the genre. With an intriguing and original main character, a compelling plot, and some fabulously realised locations, it’s the perfect summer read for crime fans – and I’m really looking forward to finding out what happens to DI Pam Gregory and her team next!

A Public Murder by Antoinette Moses is published by Black Crane Press and is available now from all good booksellers and online retailers including Hive, Waterstones, Bookshop.org, and Wordery.

If you can, please support a local indie bookshop by ordering from them either in person or online! Some of my favourites include Booka Bookshop, The Big Green BookshopSam Read BooksellersBook-ishScarthin Books, and Berts Books

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 from Random Things Tours for organising and inviting me onto this blog tour. The tour continues until 04 June 2021 so do check out the other stops for more reviews and content.

Reviews on The Shelf are free, honest, and unbiased and I don’t use affiliate links on my posts. However if you enjoy the blog please consider buying me a coffee on Ko-Fi!

Blog Tours · Reviews

BLOG TOUR!!! Dark Truths by A. J. Cross

When a headless body is discovered on a popular jogging trail, Detective Inspector Bernard Watts and his team are plunged headlong into a baffling murder investigation. Why would someone stab to death a young woman on her daily run – and take her head?

When a close examination of the crime scene results in a shocking discovery linking the present murder to a past crime, criminologist Will Traynor is brought in to assist the police. Aware of Traynor’s troubled past and already having to deal with inexperienced rookie PC Chloe Judd on his team, Watts is sceptical that Traynor will bring anything useful to the investigation.

He’s about to be proved very wrong …

Dark Truths – billed as a ‘forensic mystery’ – is the first in a new series featuring criminologist Dr Will Traynor. Those familiar with A. J. Cross’s previous Kate Hanson series will encounter some familiar faces – despite being a Will Traynor mystery, the majority of Dark Truths is told from the perspective of DI Bernard Watts, formerly of the same Cold Case unit as Hanson – but, for those (like me) new to Cross’s writing, Dark Truths provides a perfect jumping off point in the form of a solidly crafted police procedural with an interesting focus upon the forensic aspects of police work.

Opening with the disturbing murder of a young woman on a popular Birmingham jogging trail, DI Watts and his team are plunged into the investigation of a possible serial killer when further body parts are found nearby. Suddenly finding themselves with a recently killed headless corpse and a killing field of historic skulls, Watts reluctantly seeks the assistance of forensic psychologist Dr Will Traynor. Traynor has a well-deserved reputation for brilliance – but the tragic murder of his wife ten years prior has also left him lacking in focus, difficult to work with and, on occasion, entirely unfocused on the matter at hand. Adding to Watt’s problems is rookie PC Chloe Judd. Keen, clever and overly quick to jump to conclusions, Judd’s constant questions and outspoken personality make her a challenging partner for the observational and somewhat stoic Watts. Aiding Watts and his team are pathologist Dr Connie Chong, head of forensics Adam Jenner and geoscientist Jake Petrie – supporting characters that, along with Traynor, help add the forensic element to this forensic mystery.

Cross combines a largely likeable and interesting mix of personalities with a skilfully plotted drama that offers plenty of revelations and twists. I enjoyed the focus on the day-to-day aspects of police work, from the manning of tip lines and organising of public appeals to the painstaking fingertip searches of fields and hedgerows. It was refreshing to read a book in which an investigation is depicted in real-time – forensic evidence can take days, even weeks to process, and the post-mortem results are not instantaneously available to the investigating team – as well as one where the pressures of man-power, office politics, and budgetary constraints limit the action that can be taken at any one time. This realism is well-handled however and is never allowed to slow the plot down – instead it gives characters an opportunity to interview key witnesses, or allows a moment during which their backstories or personal interactions can be developed.

I did have one minor niggle with Dark Truths – PC Chloe Judd was, for me anyway, an annoyance every time she stepped onto the page, especially at the beginning of the book. Whilst she mellowed by the end, it was frustrating to see a determined and career-focused female character somewhat stereotypically depicted as abrasive, difficult and, at times, downright unprofessional. She also seemed somewhat inconsistent – veering between making some good analytical points and jumping to increasingly rapid and wild conclusions – and it wasn’t until about halfway through the book that I began to feel as if her character was there to be anything more than either a sparring partner for Watts or a way of integrating exposition of the finer points of forensic police investigation. I hasten to add that Judd’s portrayal by the end of the book is much better – she mellows as a character and develops as an investigator to the extent that I’d like to see her return in future books in the series – but I’d be lying if I said that her initial characterisation did make getting into the initial chapters of Dark Truths more difficult for me.

The forensic aspects of Dark Truth might not be for everyone – those who enjoy their crime with a heavy thriller twist might find the action a tad slow in places – but personally I found the depiction of these aspects one of the most fascinating aspects of the book. A. J. Cross is an experienced forensic psychologist herself and her experience in the field really comes across in this novel – although, crucially, she never lets the story become bogged down in detail, instead adding just enough to add depth whilst also moving the plot along. I also really enjoyed the ‘cold case’ aspects of the book and the way the present-day murder added to the discovery of more historic crimes – and increased the complexity of the case that Watts and his team are handling. Having read Dark Truths, I’m keen to go back and read Cross’s earlier mysteries which, I believe, focus more on this cold case aspect.

Overall Dark Truths is a solidly constructed and skilfully written police procedural with an interesting focus on the forensic aspect of police work. It introduces a largely likeable team of investigators who, by the end of the novel, have begun to work together in a way that bodes well for future instalments in the series – and with one of two mysteries within the character’s personal backstories remaining tantalisingly unsolved. Fans of Val McDermid’s Tony Hill and Carol Jordan series, Ellie Griffith’s Ruth Galloway books – and of TV shows such as Criminal Minds – will find much to enjoy in Dark Truth‘s intelligent blend of forensic mystery, psychology, and police procedural, and I for one am looking forward to seeing what the future holds for Will Traynor, DI Watts, and their colleagues.

Dark Truths by A. J. Cross is published by Blackthorn Books and is available now from all good booksellers and online retailers including Hive, Bookshop.org, Waterstones, and Wordery.

If you can, please support a local indie bookshop by ordering from them either in person or online! Some of my favourites include Booka Bookshop, The Big Green BookshopSam Read BooksellersBook-ishScarthin Books, and Berts Books

My thanks go to the publisher for providing a copy of the book in return for an honest and unbiased review and to Emma Welton from Damppebbles Tours for organising and inviting me onto this blog tour. The tour continues until 27 February 2021 so do check out the other stops for more reviews and content.

Reviews on The Shelf are free, honest, and unbiased and I don’t use affiliate links on my posts. However if you enjoy the blog please consider buying me a coffee on Ko-Fi!