Monday 18 February 2019

Book Review: THE BOY IN THE HEADLIGHTS by Samuel Bjørk

Author: Samuel Bjørk
Publisher: Random House UK, Transworld Publishers
Read: February 2019
Expected publication: 21 March 2019
My Rating: 🌟🌟🌟1/2

Book Description:

Munch and Krüger. An unexpected pairing. A brilliant team.

Winter 1999. An old man is driving home when his headlights catch an animal on the empty road up ahead. He stamps hard on the brakes. But it is not an animal at all. It is a young boy, frightened and alone, with a set of deer antlers strapped firmly to his head.

Fourteen years later, a body is found in a mountain lake. Within weeks, three people have died. Each time, the killer has left a clue, inviting Special Investigations Detectives Munch and Krüger to play a deadly game – a game they cannot possibly win. Against the most dangerous and terrifying kind of serial killer. One who chooses their victims completely at random.

To find the killer they must look deep within their own dark pasts, but how can you stop a murderer when you cannot begin to predict their next move?

My musings:

One of my favourite things about Scandi crime is the atmospheric setting, which normally includes a bleak winter landscape. True to the genre, Bjørk manages to set the stage of The Boy in the Headlights very quickly and immediately drew me into the chilling scene of a lonely, wintry country road, where an old man is driving through the night. Suddenly his headlights illuminate a creature he thinks is an animal crossing the road. But when he gets closer, he realises it’s a small boy running through the night with deer antlers strapped to his head. My interest was immediately piqued, even though it wasn’t until the very end that this particular thread came full circle and I managed to slot the piece of the puzzle into its rightful place.

The rest of the story follows more traditional guidelines of a Scandinavian murder mystery. There appears to be a serial killer on the loose, seemingly picking his victims at random and staging them in different locations in the Norwegian countryside. With no pattern or apparent motive to go on, this type of “thrill killer” is a detective’s worst nightmare. Investigative team Holger Munch and Mia Krüger, officers of the elite homicide squad, are pitching their brilliant minds against the devious plans of the murderer, racing against time to catch him before he can strike again – which will challenge even these two brilliant minds.

When I started reading The Boy in the Headlights, I didn’t realise that it was the third in a series featuring the two main investigators Munch and Krüger, and I wished immediately that I had read the other two books first before tackling this one. Whilst it can easily be read as a stand-alone, both Munch and Krüger are complex and interesting characters with a rich backstory. Munch, whose daughter is still recovering from injuries sustained in an attack that was somehow related to one of his investigations, still harbours regrets about his involvement and his recent marriage breakdown. Krüger, who has lost a sister to a drug overdose, is also still struggling with her own personal demons. With a brilliant mind but also very highly strung and prone to anxiety and depression, Mia makes a very clever but also volatile investigator. Her impulsive nature often sends her off on different tangents not obvious to the clue-by-clue detective, and I found her thought processes fascinating.

Bjørk makes good use of all the elements that make Scandi crime so enjoyable for me: an atmospheric setting, a brutal and yet imaginative and clever killer and an investigative team whose own personal stories will leave you wanting to see them in many more books to come.

I admit that the final reveal didn’t totally work for me, as I found aspects of it slightly baffling and far-fetched. I am wondering, however, if reading the earlier novels in the series would have filled in those gaps for me and am keen to start the series from the beginning to see what I have missed. 


All in all, I really enjoyed this original police procedural and think it will appeal to readers who like interesting, complex detectives that don’t quite fit the mould of your average investigator.

Thank you to Netgalley and Random House UK, Transworld Publishers, for the free electronic copy of this novel and for giving me the opportunity to provide an honest review.

Friday 15 February 2019

Book Review: MY LOVELY WIFE by Samantha Downing


Author: Samantha Downing
Publisher: Berkley Books
Read: February 2019
Expected publication: 26 March 2019
My Rating: 🌟🌟🌟🌟1/2

Book Description:

Dexter meets Mr. and Mrs. Smith in this wildly compulsive debut thriller about a couple whose fifteen-year marriage has finally gotten too interesting...

Our love story is simple. I met a gorgeous woman. We fell in love. We had kids. We moved to the suburbs. We told each other our biggest dreams, and our darkest secrets. And then we got bored.

We look like a normal couple. We're your neighbors, the parents of your kid's friend, the acquaintances you keep meaning to get dinner with.

We all have secrets to keeping a marriage alive.

Ours just happens to be getting away with murder.

My musings:

Wow – what a hell of a ride this book was! It was also so much fun to read. Which makes me a little bit concerned about my own sanity, seeing how there were some pretty dark themes at play here: murder, torture, sexual predators, lies and infidelity. But, oh so very entertaining!

On the surface, Millicent and her husband are just an ordinary suburban married couple. Millicent sells real estate, whilst her husband gives tennis lessons to the rich bored housewives in the area. They come home at night, cook dinner, help the kids with their homework and ferry them around to their various sporting activities. They have strict rules in their household. Their children are well behaved and respect their parents. But at night when the kids are asleep, the couple meet for “date nights” in the garage where they pursue their own interests. Pretty normal, huh? Except that this is not stamp collecting, gardening or tinkering in the shed. Because Millicent and her husband are the sort of couple who like a thrill, and nothing makes them more excited than ....

STOP! No, I cannot give their delicious little secrets away here. Go into this book blindly and let it sweep you away in its murky current of WTH!!! You can thank me later ....

I loved every crazy minute of this unusual story. What made it even better was the lively discussion that ensued in our buddy read group. I think that every single one of us was blown away how entertaining and unique this book was. In a market oversaturated with psychological thrillers, Downing still managed to carve out a special niche for herself. Plus, she still manages to sneak in a damn good twist *applause*! 


Macabre, shocking, twisted but unputdownable are the words that instantly spring to mind. Despite its dark themes, I think that this books will also appeal to readers who like a lighter mystery, as it doesn’t dwell on the serious and the gory. I cannot go into the story for fear of spoilers, even though I am itching to tell you my favourite parts of it! So all I will say is: do yourself a favour and pick up this book today. Or, even better, read it with a friend or a group, because you will want to SMS someone in the middle of the night as the crazy things unfold in front of your eyes. By far one of the more original books I have read in a long time, and one that I can highly recommend to all lovers of the genre! A great binge read – lock your doors, make sure you are stocked up on food and bevies and just enjoy the ride.

Thank you to Edelweiss and Berkley Books for the free electronic copy of this novel and for giving me the opportunity to provide an honest review.

Sunday 10 February 2019

Book Review: THE END OF LONELINESS by Benedict Wells

Author: Benedict Wells
Publisher: Penguin Books
Read: January 2019
Expected publication: out now
My Rating: 🌟🌟🌟

Book Description:

Jules Moreau’s childhood is shattered after the sudden death of his parents. Enrolled in boarding school where he and his siblings, Marty and Liz, are forced to live apart, the once vivacious and fearless Jules retreats inward, preferring to live within his memories--until he meets Alva, a kindred soul caught in her own grief. Fifteen years pass and the siblings remain strangers to one another, bound by tragedy and struggling to recover the family they once were. Jules, still adrift, is anchored only by his desires to be a writer and to reunite with Alva, who turned her back on their friendship on the precipice of it becoming more, but just as it seems they can make amends for time wasted, invisible forces--whether fate or chance--intervene.

A kaleidoscopic family saga told through the fractured lives of the three Moreau siblings alongside a faltering, recovering love story, The End of Loneliness is a stunning meditation on the power of our memories, of what can be lost and what can never be let go. With inimitable compassion and luminous, affecting prose, Benedict Wells contends with what it means to find a way through life, while never giving up hope you will find someone to go with you.

My musings:

Every now and then I like to step away from reading crime novels, and The End of Loneliness sounded just like the introspective, reflective novel I was craving at the time.

We meet a young Jules as his innocent childhood is shattered by the tragic death of his parents in a car accident, resulting in Jules and his three siblings getting sent off to boarding school. Each of the siblings deals with the tragedy in their own way. Liz, the eldest, adopts an air of confidence and a self-destructive streak that has an almost manic quality to it at times. Marty, the middle child, retreats into a world of logic that grounds him, early on meeting and marrying his soulmate. Jules, the youngest, is a dreamer who is saved from loneliness by his friendship with Alva, another child with a tragic family background. As the years go by, we get to follow the three siblings and their journey as seen through Jules’ eyes – there is tragedy and triumph, great love and great loss, and the ever present bond between them that ties them together as a family.

I also lost a parent as a child and spent a brief stint in a boarding school (the memories still make me shudder), so this book pressed quite a few emotional buttons for me. One line really stood out for me, which was when Liz remarks that the three are “the loneliest siblings in the world”. Wells describes the isolation that grief and despair brings so well, and I remember feeling exactly like this after the death of my mother. Whilst it was painful to relive those memories, it was also strangely cathartic, and it’s a rare book that can worm its way so deeply under my skin.

The End of Loneliness is a slow, character driven novel that follows one man’s journey from childhood tragedy to adulthood. Being used to fast-paced crime novels I found that the story lacked a bit of action for me at times, and I read it in a few instalments to be able to sit with it and absorb its atmosphere rather than rushing to the finish line as I would with my crime novels. There were some bleak moments, and some that really touched my heart. Wells does a great job in bringing out the emotional baggage of his characters and exploring the effects of their childhood trauma on their lives.

I was especially taken by the character of Liz, who really touched me. Despite her seemingly ebullient and outgoing nature, there is a self-destructive streak to her that was as fascinating as it was well observed, and my heart really broke for her. I would have loved to be able to read some chapters from the POVs of the other two siblings, Marty and Liz, to get a deeper feeling for their choices rather than seeing them solely through Jules’ eyes, but perhaps that would have taken some of the introspective character away that made this novel so powerful.


All in all, the End of Loneliness is a melancholy, haunting tale about the effects of childhood trauma and loss on our lives and future choices. It is also a story of love, hope and redemption, and one that will tug on your heartstrings. Wells’ insightful observations drove this story for me and touched me deeply in ways that made me think about the characters long after I had turned the last page. 

Thank you to Edelweiss and Penguin Books for the free electronic copy of this novel and for giving me the opportunity to provide an honest review.

Saturday 9 February 2019


Author: Stuart Turton
Read: February 2019
My Rating: 🌟🌟🌟🌟

Book Description:

The Rules of Blackheath

Evelyn Hardcastle will be murdered at 11:00 p.m.
There are eight days, and eight witnesses for you to inhabit.
We will only let you escape once you tell us the name of the killer.
Understood? Then let's begin...

Evelyn Hardcastle will die. Every day until Aiden Bishop can identify her killer and break the cycle. But every time the day begins again, Aiden wakes up in the body of a different guest. And some of his hosts are more helpful than others...

My musings:

To be honest, I don’t know where to even start reviewing this one! What a head spin this book was. I found it both one of the most fascinating and also most frustrating books I have ever read in equal measure – meaning that in a good way, even if I felt at times that it was doing my head in.

Do you ever wonder where authors get their ideas from? To me, the novel had the feel of a sophisticated weekend of a murder-mystery getaway that has gone terribly wrong, where you no longer play out the role of your character but have to live it.

Turton may have chosen a classical 1920’s setting in an old English mansion and started his novel like a classical locked-room whodunit Agatha Christie style, but this is where the similarity ends. If you like your crime novels linear and with a nice little breadcrumb trail that allows you to solve it before the big reveal, then turn back now, because there is no hope of ever winning with this one! Of course, the real die-hard armchair detective may take on the challenge, but be prepared to give away your life to a sea of sticky notes to keep track of the crazy timelines. I am sure that everyone has heard that Turton uses a groundhog day type of scenario in his mystery, where the MC Aiden Bishop returns to the same day eight times in the bodies of different hosts to solve the murder of Evelyn Hardcastle. But the author is not satisfied with that. He also surmises that Aiden inhabits all of his eight characters at once, only ever seeing the day through his current day’s host. Yes, I know, it didn’t make much sense to me either, and still totally flummoxes my minds, but the story still managed to sweep me up in its dark current and trap me for hours in the nightmarish scenario until the mystery was solved. Could I have predicted the outcome? Never!

I will not go into the story here, and if you want the bare bones you can easily get that from the blurb. This book was such a headspin that I will concentrate on a few points, with the general premise that I thoroughly enjoyed reading it. Well, listening to it, because I chose the audio version, which I regretted at times, when trying to recall the 100 different characters and timelines whilst commuting to and from work. One of my favourite aspects of the book was the premise that Aiden wakes each morning in the body of a different host, reliving the same day over and over again until he can solve the imminent murder of Evelyn Hardcastle, the daughter of the house. Whilst Aiden retains part of his own personality, he must also find a way to work with his hosts’ personalities and abilities, a task that sounds easier than it is, because not all of his characters are very nice people, or very smart. This was such a clever aspect of the story that made the reading journey a real adventure for me. Somehow Turton also manages to convey enough of Aiden himself so that the reader can “bond” with him, ensuring the emotional involvement that I find so vital for my enjoyment of a book.

I freely admit that there are some aspects of the story which still don’t make much sense to me. My limited intellect obviously doesn’t stretch far enough to comprehend the whole concept of time travel and being split into various characters, so forgive me if I concede defeat on that front. What I can say however is that this was one of the most entertaining books I have read in a long time, and definitely one of the most original mysteries ever to come on the market. If you are a fan of the traditional whodunit but also like something totally outside the box, then this is definitely for you!

Monday 4 February 2019

Book Review: THE WYCH ELM by Tana French

Author: Tana French
Read: January 2019
Expected publication: out now
My Rating: 🌟🌟🌟🌟

Book Description:

One night changes everything for Toby. A brutal attack leaves him traumatised, unsure even of the person he used to be. He seeks refuge at the family's ancestral home, the Ivy House, filled with cherished memories of wild-strawberry summers and teenage parties with his cousins.

But not long after Toby's arrival, a discovery is made. A skull, tucked neatly inside the old wych elm in the garden.

As detectives begin to close in, Toby is forced to examine everything he thought he knew about his family, his past, and himself.

A spellbinding standalone from a literary writer who turns the crime genre inside out, The Wych Elm asks what we become, and what we're capable of, if we no longer know who we are.

My musings:

It’s no secret that Tana French, creator of the Dublin Murder Squad series, is one of my all-time favourite authors. So I was really excited to finally get my hands on her latest, stand-alone novel THE WYCH ELM. And I’m happy to say that it fully delivered all I have come to expect from this talented author!

The Wych Elm is a very different book from French’s police procedurals, even though it contains some of the same elements I have loved in all her previous books: true-to life characters, vivid dialogue, an atmospheric setting and just a touch of a creepy vibe that creates an air of menace and danger that adds spice to the story. This time, the main protagonist is not a detective, but one of life’s “golden haired children”. Toby has always been one of the lucky ones: an only child, adored by his parents, respected by his peers for his good looks and easy charm, growing up in a well-to-do area surrounded by family and friends. There is nothing nasty in Toby’s reality, and he has always considered himself to be one of the “good guys”. Until the day someone breaks into his flat, leaving him badly beaten within an inch of his life. After regaining consciousness, Toby is still battling with the effects of a traumatic brain injury that has robbed him of much of his memory and life as he knew it. With this premise, French sets the scene for things to come – because Toby, with his shoddy memory, his slow though processes and volatile emotions, now makes the perfect unreliable narrator. If Toby cannot trust his own memories any longer, how can we, the readers, trust him? How do we know if he is telling the truth?

When a skeleton is found in the hollow trunk of a witch elm in the garden of Toby’s dying uncle, suspicion immediately falls on the family, who were the only ones with easy access to the garden. And here we have the second great premise of the novel – the skeletons in the family closet (quite literally). Who doesn’t love a mystery full of dark secrets and family dynamics?

Even though I initially thought that the book was off to a bit of a slow start, it soon became obvious why: French was setting the scene. By the time things start happening, I was well versed in the dynamics of the family and thoroughly intrigued. I loved the way French challenged the perception of reality in her novel. As Toby remembers his childhood and teenage years, he finds that his memories are very different to those of his cousins, and they accuse him of having filtered out all the stuff he didn’t like facing up to, instead creating his own reality. I thought this was an interesting concept. I have noticed how memories differ between people who have lived through the same event, which has always struck me as strange. So what exactly is reality? How do our own experiences shape the way we perceive the world around us? Seeing that all the characters (maybe apart from Hugo) seemed to be slightly unlikable to me, I was forever questioning whose story I could trust.

If this was not intriguing enough, French backs up her cast with a deliciously atmospheric setting, the Ivy House. The old house has been in the family since Toby’s grandparents bought it as a young couple, and most of Toby’s childhood memories feature the house and its enchanted garden. I love mysteries that feature interesting houses, so I could picture this one vividly. And once the skeleton turns up in the witch elm, my goosebumps were well and truly up!

Be prepared that The Wych Elm is a slow, character driven story rather than a fast paced whodunit. There is a long lead-up, which sets the scene and where not much happens, and throughout the book Toby spends a lot of time lamenting his situation and navel-gazing. However, the family dynamics and all characters’ interactions beautifully throw doubt on everything we take for granted, like the concept of reality and the differences of how we see ourselves compared to how others see us. There is of course a murder to solve, but this took a back step for me, as I enjoyed the dark family secrets much more than the actual resolution of the mystery. The one quibble I had with the book was the long drawn out resolution. At one point, there was a lot of explaining where a shorter version would have sufficed for me.


All in all, French has again delivered a book full of all the things that have put her on my favourite authors list: an atmospheric setting, dark family secrets, interesting characters and vivid dialogue that drew me deeply into the story. So even though I (like many others) am still hoping to see further instalments of the Dublin Murder Squad series in future, I thoroughly enjoyed her latest stand-alone novel.