Hunting A Portrait By An Artist By A Young Man and Woman

‘Lady in Red’ Tessa Buckley

Pursuing the truth can be a dangerous game…

School’s out for the summer, and Eye Spy Investigations have a new case – looking for Lady in Red, a lost masterpiece by Victorian painter, Gabriel Pascoe.

The clock is ticking for Alex and Donna, because the artist’s house, Acacia Villa, where their friend Jake lives, is due to be demolished, and vital clues may be destroyed. And Alex has an additional problem: he is terrified of snakes, and Jake has a pet snake called Queenie…

As the twins pursue their enquiries, they come up against the man who wants to demolish Acacia Villa. But Mr Mortimer is the godfather of their baby half-sister, Sophie, and criticising him could open up family rifts, which have only just healed.

Then Queenie goes missing, setting in motion a disastrous train of events that will turn the search for Lady in Red into the twins’ most dangerous case yet.

The cover for Tessa Buckley’s third novel in the Eye Spy series, ‘The Lady in Red’

The third in the series of Eye Spy novels for “middle grade” readers aged between 8-12 sees intrepid investigation twins, Alex and Donna, on the trail of a lost Pre-Raphaelite painting.

I really enjoyed ‘Lady in Red’. What I’m going to say next might not sound like praise but it is: this novel is old fashioned, in the best sense of the word, and has all the hallmarks of the vintage Secret Seven or Famous Five, but updated for the modern age. 

This is a world where adults are caring, but suitably hands off to let children go play and fall down coalholes. Where the children might be reckless, but they try to be respectful and really just want to help.

Investigations grind to a halt for family barbecues and time together with friends. Yes, there are the trappings of modern life – mobile phones, their eccentric, inventor father is on a second marriage and they have a half sister – but none of these things so often used for melodrama in heavier novels slows the plot down – find the old man’s painting and save his house from a dark suit wearing, boo hiss villain. Love it!

Buckley is clearly a talented writer. Her prose nips along like skipping children in a field of wheat and, as an author, she is clearly on the side of her adventurous protagonists. 

Author Tessa Buckley

She has really captured that blunt, nonsense, brutality of younger children. To whit, as Alex says:

“Although I felt sorry for Billie, I don’t like whiney kids, and she was beginning to get on my nerves.”

Or later, at his half-sister’s christening:

When I pointed to what look like a pile of frogs’ eggs on little biscuits, Lucy laughed. “That’s caviar. You can try it, but you won’t like it.” She was right. I didn’t.”

I jut love that. You can hear Buckley relishing the little victories of these often overlooked voices and she’s clearly a skilled practitioner of the genre.

This is not a criticism at all, but an observation. There won’t be many 8 year olds who will find this an easy read and so it does present an excellent extension task for capable younger readers and a rip roaring, rollicking read for the lower secondary pupils.

However, this is wholesome family fun and a rip roaring adventure tale which parents could enjoy with their children.

Purchase Links 

‘Lady in Red’    Amazon.co.uk  paperback

‘Lady in Red’    Amazon.co.uk  ebook

‘Lady in Red’    Amazon.com ebook

‘Lady in Red’    Ibooks

‘Lady in Red’    Matador bookstore

https://www.troubador.co.uk/bookshop/young-adult/lady-in-red/

Author Bio – 

Tessa Buckley was an inveterate scribbler as a child, and spent much of her time writing and illustrating stories. After studying Interior Design, she spent fifteen years working for architects and designers. 

She took up writing again after her young daughter complained that she couldn’t find enough adventure stories to read. This led, in 2016, to the publication of Eye Spy, the first in a series for 9-12 year olds about two teen detectives. 

There are now two more books in the series: Haunted, which was a finalist in the Wishing Shelf Book Awards 201, and Lady in Red.

She lives by the sea in Essex and recently completed an Open University arts degree.

Social Media Links –  

Website:        https://tessabuckleyauthor.com

Facebook:     https://www.facebook.com/Tessa-Buckley-Author-

Trailer Reveal!

Trailer Link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rfVtbrJZY2o&feature=youtu.be

Everything is Beautiful‘ by Eleanor Ray

Sometimes it’s impossible to part with the things we love the most…

Published on February 4th, this novel is billed as “Perfect for fans of Eleanor Oliphant and The Keeper of Lost Things, this exquisitely told, uplifting novel shows us that however hopeless things might feel, beauty can be found in the most unexpected of places.”

Personally, I can’t wait.

When Amy Ashton’s world came crashing down eleven years ago, she started a collection. Just a little collection, just a few keepsakes of happier times: some honeysuckle to remind herself of the boy she loved, a chipped china bird, an old terracotta pot . . . Things that others might throw away, but to Amy, represent a life that could have been.  

Now her house is overflowing with the objects she loves – soon there’ll be no room for Amy at all. But when a family move in next door, a chance discovery unearths a mystery long buried, and Amy’s carefully curated life begins to unravel. If she can find the courage to face her past, might the future she thought she’d lost still be hers for the taking? 

Pre-order Links:

UK – https://www.amazon.co.uk/Everything-Beautiful-Eleanor-Ray/dp/0349427437

US – https://www.amazon.com/Everything-Beautiful-Eleanor-Ray-ebook/dp/B087ZDNZM8/

Publication Date: 4th February 2021

Author Bio –  Eleanor Ray has an MA in English Literature from Edinburgh University and works in marketing. She lives in London with her husband and two young children.


Eleanor was inspired to write Everything is Beautiful by the objects her toddler collects and treasures – twigs, empty water bottles and wilting daisies. She is currently working on her next novel.

Social Media Links – 

Twitter: @EleanorRayBooks
Facebook: @
EleanorRayBooks
Instagram: @
EleanorRayBooks

PTSD in the land of the Villains

Detective Constable Bailey Morgan is back doing what she does best – working undercover.

This time she has to infiltrate the inner circle of a notorious underworld family. Posing as a fellow villain, she is on a one-woman mission to bring the family to their knees.

But things are never that simple. Bailey finds that she is forced to confront shadowy wraiths from her past and will come face-to-face with a set of devastating revelations that will shatter her world and threaten her very existence.

With only herself to trust, Bailey is on her own and the stakes are higher than ever.

Heart-stopping and gripping. Perfect for the fans of hit TV shows such as Line of Duty and Gangs of London.

The cover of Caro Savage’s second novel, ‘Villain’

Caro Savage is a new writer to me. I had missed her debut, Jailbird published in October 2019, but I liked the sound of her latest effort, Villain.

The fact that she has the best name for a crime writer since Karen Slaughter, only interested me further!

The atmospheric author portrait of the mysterious Caro Savage

I am happy to report that she lives up to her name: this novel is top notch. Savage manages to sprinkle the consequences of her protagonist’s previous undercover exploits through the novel with a light touch as well create a plucky, highly skilled detective who you want to go on the ride with.

It is not often that we see the far reaching results of exposure to violence and the effect that has on those that undergo it. Here, Bailey is on beta-blockers after a diagnosis of PTSD courtesy of the horrors she has previous undergone. 

Dainty Dialogue

A bugbear of mine in crime fiction is that convincing, flowing dialogue can often be the casualty of action but Savage manages the trick of making her characters distinct, recognisable and also realistic.

The other thing that Savage manages to do is ramp up the tension. Bailey’s interactions whilst undercover make your palms sweat as the threat of violence and trauma hangs over every encounter and keeps you hooked from first to last.

Black Humour

I have to be honest, the seam of black humour which runs through the novel – a severed arm torn asunder by a car bomb landing with a splat in front of a homeless man in the opening pages is a particular treat – keeps this novel from the potential of all thrillers to topple towards melodrama and is like a palate cleanser from the tension and thrills.

Caro Savage has announced her arrival as a writer to take note of with this thrilling follow up to her debut and I can’t wait to come across Bailey again.

Purchase Link

https://amzn.to/2V9uUKH

Author Bio

Caro Savage knows all about bestselling thrillers having worked as a Waterstones bookseller for 12 years in a previous life. Now taking up the challenge personally and turning to hard-hitting crime thriller writing, Jailbird was published by Boldwood in October 2019.

Social Media Links

Twitter Profile: https://twitter.com/CaroSavageStory

https://www.instagram.com/carosavage/

Newsletter sign up: http://bit.ly/CaroSavageNewsletter

The blog tour banner celebrating the publication of Caro Savage’s new novel, ‘Villain’

‘The Lie She Told’ – Exclusive Extract for PAJNewman

Courtesy of Catherine Yaffe, PAJNewman is delighted to be able to bring you an exclusive extract of The Lie She Told – You can read a review of the novel here

All Kate wanted was a peaceful life.

All Ryan wanted to do was destroy it.

Kate and her son Joe have created a new life for themselves in the Highlands of Scotland and she couldn’t be happier. That is until she picks a stranger up from the side of the road that turns out to be a figure from her past. Will all her secrets be revealed?

“Ryan?” She asked, risking a glance sideways

“Haha, I wondered when it would dawn on you”

“What the hell..how..” Kate was speechless. She’d last seen Ryan on the final day of the court hearing, hanging around outside on the court steps. As memories slowly clicked into place she went through a series of emotions. Her hands started to shake, heart pounding she moved from recognition to anger in a split second.

She swerved violently and pulled haphazardly onto the side of the road.

“What the actual? What are you doing here?” she removed her seatbelt and despite the lashing rain opened the car door and got out.

“Get out of my car now!” she yelled above the cacophony noise that swirled around the hills of the Highlands.

Ryan leaned over into the driver seat and shouted something, but Kate could only see red as rage, shock and fear took over.  

“I want you out of my car now!” she screamed again, shaking with anger.

Reluctantly Ryan did as she demanded and stepped into the monsoon,

“Kate, come on, don’t be like that”, he headed around the front of the car towards her.

She backed away,

“Oh no you don’t, stay away from me Ryan”

Ryan carried on forward, relentless, “Kate, what’s wrong with you?”

“Stop it Ryan, I don’t have to listen to anyone, anymore. I am not the same naive victim that you knew back then, and I will not listen to your bullshit”

Purchase Links 

UK –https://www.amazon.co.uk/Lie-She-Told-peaceful-destroy-ebook/dp/B08BPJCV77

US – https://www.amazon.com/Lie-She-Told-peaceful-destroy-ebook/dp/B08BPJCV77

Author Bio – 

Catherine Yaffe is a former freelance journalist, magazine editor and digital marketing agency owner. Catherine has previously written non-fiction books on Digital Marketing before following her passion for writing crime novels full time.

The Lie She Told is the first in a series of books that challenge the status quo of relationships and makes the reader question how well you know those around you.

Catherine lives in West Yorkshire with her husband Mark and their 2 cats Jenson & Button (she’s also a F1 fan!)

Social Media Links – 

@catherineyaffe (Twitter)

https://www.facebook.com/CatherineYaffeAuthor

Instagram cat_yaffe_author

www.catherineyaffe.co.uk

Missing For Good by Alex Coombs

Is she alive, or is she missing for good…?

When the estranged daughter of Scotland’s premier art dealer goes missing, Private Investigator Hanlon is hired to find out where Aurora is.

But what she thinks will be a relatively straightforward job, soon turns dangerous. The missing girl has a troubled past but what made Aurora suddenly pack her bags and disappear?

Hanlon has her work cut out for her. The stakes are rising and she needs to get to the bottom of the case before someone else is attacked.

And is Aurora still alive, or is she missing for good?

A former detective in the Met, Hanlon now finds herself living in splendid isolation in the wilds of Argyll with just her knackered Vauxhall Corsa and her trusty hound Weymss to keep her company. 

I wasn’t familiar with the work of Alex Coombs but the setting of Scotland was the thing which tickled my fancy. I live locally to the setting, I like a good Tartan Noir: colour me intrigued.

And Coombs did intrigue. Hanlon is a smashing character: damaged and haunted; loving her dog, her only emotional attachment; adjusting to her new rural life.

The University of Edinburgh alumni renders some parts of Scotland well – he’s good on the capital and its various sub-districts, as well as describing those single track roads which wind their way down towards the hamlets and villages on the road to Campbelltown.

There are some odd lapses – Loch Lomand in the Highlands? – but actually that’s the sort of mistake which seems to fit with the characters’ perspectives which is nice.

Coombs also has a mind for engaging characters – coke-addicted, psychotic Glaswegian hard men aren’t exactly original, but his is a memorable specimen of the species.

His gay hitmen are refreshingly rendered also and he has a lovely turn of descriptive phrase. “‘One person, they get in the van with the girl. Two people…’ He shook his head irritably. He was tired of this. There could be endless permutations – what if she arrived riding a camel? ‘Fuck it, if there’s two or more with her, we dinnae do anything.’”

He is no less comfortable skewering the pretentions of the Edinburgh students Hanlon encounters. “Morag was studying Creative Writing; if anyone was likely to make a mountain out of a molehill it was probably an aspiring writer with an overactive imagination.” 

And this equally applies to the lecturers, “‘Look, I am an Artist!’ his dress proclaimed. Hanlon thought it also proclaimed, ‘Look, I’m an arsehole’ but for now she would keep that to herself.”

There are some false notes in the dialogue, occasionally it sounds a little generic and not specific to individual characters and there can be that flaw of the crime novel – a lot of recapping of plot while the detective muses to herself. Hanlon is a loner – having only a dog does limit her opportunity for natural sounding exposition.

However, ‘Missing for Good’ is a rattling good read, sprinting along with enjoyable gusto and building to a satisfying crescendo. All in all, thoroughly recommended – I’ll have to go back and read Mr Coomb’s other stuff now.

Purchase Link – https://amzn.to/3hbLh1x

Author Bio – 
Alex Coombs studied Arabic at Oxford and Edinburgh Universities and went on to work in adult education before retraining to be a chef. He has written four well-reviewed crime novels as Alex Howard.

Social Media Links – 
Newsletter sign up: http://bit.ly/AlexCoombsNewsletter
Website – http://www.alexhowardcrime.com/
Twitter – @AlexHowardCrime
Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/AlexCoombsCrime/  

Rude Awakenings…

The Awakening Of Claudia Faraday by Patsy Trench

‘It got better, in time, though to be truthful it always felt more of a duty than a pleasure: a little like homework, satisfying when over, and done well, but never exactly enjoyable. But then nobody had ever suggested it could be otherwise.’

This was the view of Claudia Faraday, 1920s respectable wife and mother of three, on the subject of sex. That is until an unexpected turn of events shakes her out of her torpor and propels her back into the world revitalised and reawakened, where she discovers, as Marie Stopes might have said: Approached in the right way, even homework can be fun.

The cover of The Awakening of Claudia Faraday by Patsy Trench

The Awakening of Claudia Faraday is a delightful little novel which consistently confounds expectations. The cover, with its silhouetted protagonist could be for a new spy series, the pink writing could signal traditional “chick lit” (urgh – what a bind of a brand that is), the “Roaring Twenties” strap line makes it sound like a PG Wodehouse romp and the blurb description could be anything from a Jilly Cooper bonkbuster to a serious and measured study of the sexual awakening of upper middle class women in the early part of last century.

And, in the end, this rather sad, rather charming novel is a little of all of these things, (although spy thriller is a stretch. The only revelations here are of the human heart and mind, it is a little lacking in unmasked super villains to be fair.

Penetrating Pathos

It is sad. This is a quite and understated sadness of withering dreams and slipping youth. Claudia is a lovely protagonist. A gentle and well intentioned woman who, in her sixth decade, is only beginning to question her wants and desires.

Trench writes with such a penetrating pathos of the boredom of a newly empty nest that the reader’s heart aches for our heroine, so used is she to being of service to others that she is not even the lead character in her own story.

“And so the weeks passed, September into October, and no omnipotent author stepped in to liven up the shapeless plot that was Claudia’s life. She was back to counting the creaks as she ascended the stairs on her way to her bedroom.”

I spent a huge amount of time in the novel feeling desperately sad for Claudia. The Twenties were in distinct danger of not only failing to roar for her but also to go out with barely so much as a whimper.

It was clear that not only sex, but also any agency had been ground out of the character: by society; by men; by her friends; by her mother. This fundamentally sweet woman hadn’t noticed the hypocrisy of everyone else and so was facing the outgoing sands of time in baffled and barely articulated sorrow.

Charming Oddities

This gentle gloom is alleviated by the light touch, page turning writing skill and the assortment of charming oddities which surround her.

The loyal housemaid Lily – fairly consistently having to let her hand fly to her mouth after yet another misplaced observation of her mistress – is a cutie, old friend and occasional sparring partner Prue, seems to be made up of equal parts scandalous affairs in hot climates and terrible driving.

The absentee husband Gerald sounds what used to be called a perfect pill. Having ruined sex for her, then impregnated her three times scooting off overseas for archaeological digs, he could only make it to one of their children’s weddings.

The children themselves add colour and charm to the rather drab world of their mother. Jessica has a horsey laugh, a disordered house and is a flapper with a jolly husband with an alliterative name; Harriet is a Bohemian with a penchant for interior design and a wayward husband while the youngest daughter, Flora is all horse breeding and country air.

It is not a difficulty to spend time in the world of these delightful characters. It is especially easy when Claudia is making her slightly waspish observations such as:

“It was invariably the revolutionaries who managed to consume most of other people’s wine, and their food, while looking down on them from some lofty moral plinth upon which they had placed themselves.”

In conclusion, The Awakening of Claudia Faraday is a nice little novel filled with excellent characters, charming locations and the quiet desperation of some of our fellow citizens. I can’t wait to meet up with them again.

Purchase Link – https://mybook.to/ClaudiaF

Author Bio –

Author Patsy Trench

Patsy Trench lives a quiet and largely respectable life in north London. Claudia’s story shows a side of her normally shy and reserved nature that is little known, even to her friends and acquaintances. Her previous books, about her family’s history in Australia, are entertaining and informative accounts of that country’s early colonial beginnings. She began writing late, and in a previous life she was an actress, scriptwriter, playscout, founder of The Children’s Musical Theatre of London and lyricist. When not writing books she emerges from her shell to teach theatre and organise theatre trips for overseas students. She is the grateful mother of two clever and grown-up children, and she is addicted to rag rugging and, when current circumstances permit, fossicking on the Thames foreshore for ancient treasure.

Social Media Links –

Website: www.patsytrench.com

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/PatsyTrenchWriting/

Twitter:  @PatsyTrench

Instagram: claudiafaraday1920

Just Like You. And, probably, me…

I have always loved Nick Hornby. I fell in love with his prose when Fever Pitch came out and was suitably skewered by his analysis of insecure, introspective young men with High Fidelity. I was, of course, charmed by About a Boy.

And, although I feel like these are going to the three books on his tombstone, even his less well known/popular books are, at worst, always readable.

The cover of ‘Just Like You’ by Nick Hornby

Love Across the Brexit Barricades

I can’t quite decide if this book is going to get him in trouble or not. It certainly tap dances into some pretty heated areas: this is a novel of love across Brexit barricades, splintering society, race. Not too many hot button issues for a white, middle class writer of a certain age to try and tackle.

Except it isn’t really. Because it’s Hornby and he’s just so good at what he does. In Joseph and Lucy he seems to have the only two people in the world prepared to admit that they don’t understand issues and don’t have all, or indeed any, of the answers.

Plot Summary

Lucy is a divorcee in her early 40s with two kids. Head of English at a not particularly good north London comprehensive, she juggles a trying-to-reform alcoholic ex, a good group of friends and some fairly shambolic blind dates with good humour and a resignation that this might be what life has left in store for her.

Into this fairly acceptable world comes Joseph. A 22-year-old man who dreams of a making music while paying for himself through football coaching, a part time job in a leisure centre, a bit of babysitting and tutoring and a Saturday job in the butchers of Lucy’s gentrified area.

With the Brexit referendum looming in the background, these two magnetically attracted people must decide where they stand and whether their race, their income, their education and their very different worlds can be surmounted by love.

Fragmentation

What the novel definitely does do is a fantastic job of demonstrating the divisions within which our society works now.

Joseph and Lucy inhabit different worlds, by dint of race, age and income but – crucially – the flow of information is literally different. 

Joseph gets his information from Instagram, chasing rabbit holes of information inaccessible to Lucy.

However, her white, middle class privilege means that both characters are ensconced in their own unintentionally echo chambers. If not comfortably then at least unquestioningly for a big chunk of the novel.

Hornby’s description of Lucy’s awareness of the difference between her generation is very well done and, frankly, scalpel sharp:

“Lucy was beginning to suspect that he might be what the girls at her school would refer to as a ‘fuckboy’, a word she discouraged them from using because of its first four letters but which in all other ways seemed an entirely welcome neologism. There had always been tarts and slags and sluts, and now there were fuckboys, and the contempt with which the girls spat the word out gladdened her heart.”

Astonishing Achievements

And yet, possibly its most astonishing achievements as a piece of work devoted to the present is that this is a novel from which anger is absent for the most part.

In fact, possibly the weakest aspect for the reader is that Hornby chooses not to show the arguments even when they do happen. They are reported but we don’t hear the words, we are merely told the fall out and left to decide for ourselves.

For a novel in which race is an enormous factor and at this moment in history, that’s a phenomenal achievement.

Hornby is still the best and most accessible of modern observers. He is razor sharp on the gentrified areas of north London where one normally encounters his characters. 

There’s a definite lineage between High Fidelity’s Rob and his DJ ambitions and 22-year-old Jospeh and his tracks. Of course, whereas Rob ran a slightly dilapidated record shop which his partner was a corporate lawyer, here we have a partner who is Head of English at a bog standard comprehensive and a young man with a portfolio career, scratching a living working multiple jobs.

The fact that this makes him better off than his peers at university is one of the quieter and depressing twists of Hornby’s knife.


Witness Joseph’s musical mentor and school friend. Zech.

“Americans used the dollar sign to look flash, but PoundMan sounded cheap, like Poundland. Zech meant it to sound cheap, too. It was, he said, a celebration of Haringey consumer culture.”

A Tale of Simple Things

Yet, at heart this is a novel of simple things. In a complicated world in which both characters come with baggage, make mistakes, there is a simple message.

“If you’d asked him…what made him happy, he wouldn’t really have understood the relevance of the question. Now he knew the answer: sleeping with Lucy, eating with Lucy, watching T.V. with Lucy. And maybe there was no future in it, but there was a present, and that’s what life consists of.”

Maybe that is something we can all, in this most heated and divided of times, get behind.

ISBN9780241338551
PRICE£16.99 (GBP)

Charming Crime and Supernatural Guinea Pigs

Who Killed Patrick? By Syl Waters

Confession

The cover of Syl Waters' book Who Killed Patrick? is shown.

Okay, full disclosure – I thought this book was going to give me a dilemma. I like to keep things positive (there’s enough bad stuff in the real world, without moaning online.) 

And I wasn’t absolutely certain I was going to like Who Killed Patrick by Syl Waters.

So, why review it?

Well, it was marketed to me as being about Tarah, a young woman with a life is going nowhere. Not disinteresting.

At the drop of a hat, she decides to junk the UK and head to Fuerteventura to start a new adventure. 

She soon starts a job managing a hotel complex. However, a dead guest threatens to pull apart her hoped-for dream life.

So: I like a bit of a crime, I like of bit of sun and it sounded OK. 

There was some bit about Tarah’s pet guinea pig, Mr Bob, who apparently has a knack for sniffing out trouble and suspects foul play. 

Not really keen on supernatural talking animals but I thought, what’s to lose?

Rapture!

I am pleased to say my misgivings were dispelled on the second page. 

Any book where the frustrated protagonist can respond to a patronising boss asking her how to open an email attachment with, ‘I can open it as well if you want?’ I asked in my most pleasant would-you-like-me-to-suck-your-cock-while-doing-the-splits personal assistant voice,’ is  a winner in my book.

Any book where the frustrated protagonist can respond to a patronising boss asking her how to open an email attachment with, ‘I can open it as well if you want?’ I asked in my most pleasant would-you-like-me-to-suck-your-cock-while-doing-the-splits personal assistant voice,’ is  a winner in my book

Who Killed Patrick? continues in the same vein. It is a charming read with a delightful, well-intentioned central character wholly and realistically out of her depth.

Who among us can’t relate to a lead character who feels like there is, ‘Always too much month and not enough money’? 

I also like the dashes of crudity which make Tarah a realistic heroine. When she meets one character she says, ‘‘Coochi cooo, who are yoooooo?’ He says in a I’m-talking-to-a-little-baby-in-a-very-silly-but-very-cute-voice-which-makes-women’s-hearts-melt-and-them-feel-slightly-moist-between-their-legs,’ which is just splendid. 

Unconventional Detective

Likewise, one tires of amateur detectives wandering thorugh murder mysteries blithely immune to the stress and strains it would take on you. Not our Tarah.

I struggle to imagine Hercule Poirot in his climactic final get together of the suspects saying, ‘If I wasn’t going to have to go out and be the ring leader, I’d be laughing at this crazy scene. But as I have to be a part of this, I’m not. I’m shitting it. My stomach curls and I feel like my insides are about to explode into my pants. My intestines are twisting and cramping like they’re trying to perform a Trucker’s Hitch knot.’

I also appreciate Waters’ description of Fuerteventura, a place she makes sound like a sun soaked volcanic paradise – dead holiday maker and permanently sozzled ex-pat “locals” aside.

Mr Bob

I was prepared to dislike a talking guinea pig with a nose for trouble. But, again, I had misjudged the quality of the writing and the story telling.

For those who are concerned – worry not. 

Mr Bob is a charmer and I look forward to encountering him again in future adventures. Or so I hope!

Pleasingly, you can see Mr Bob here: @mrbob.guineapig

Conclusion

Rarely have I been more pleased to be wrong about a book. Who Killed Patrick? by Syl Waters is a delightful read which zips by with charm and highly skilled writing. I can not wait for a sequel (please, please, please) and to read more of Waters’ work.

Highly recommended!

Purchase Links 
UK –https://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/B08BJ4RPTS/
US –  https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B08BJ4RPTS/

Sign up to Syl Waters newsletter receive a free copy of The Little Book Of Curiously Fascinating Facts about Guinea Pigs – http://www.sylwaters.com/

Author Bio – Most people know crazy cat ladies are a ‘thing’, but I’m a proud crazy guinea pig lady! I love fun in the sun and plenty of cocktails. My happy place is flip flops. I write stories to keep me company – my characters ensure I’m never lonely and always smiling (when I’m not tearing my hair out!)

Social Media Links – 

www.sylwaters.com

Twitter: @waters_syl

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/syl.waters.54

Author Simon Conway set to triumph with ‘The Stranger’

Scottish author Simon Conway’s fifth novel looks poised to position him as one of the best authors working in the thriller genre today c

Full confession: I’d heard of Simon Conway but this is the first novel of his that I have read. Frankly, after this, my ignorance shames me and, I mean this sincerely, this piece should propel Conway into the very first rank of thriller writer’s working today. 

A world of smoke and mirrors

The Stranger centres on Jude Lyon, an SIS officer, dispatched by his duplicitous Head of Service, Queen Bee, to track down a legendary terrorist who was taken to Syria back when we didn’t do that sort of thing. Honest. 

But this terrorist is not all that he seems. And neither is anyone else in this novel.

As well as Lyon, a lead character with a love life complicated enough to make George Smiley blush, and Queen Bee, the smoke and mirrors head of the security services, the novel is populated with a fascinating cacophony of characters, including a squirming semi-alcoholic former Foreign Secretary, a Scottish journalist with a professional and personal interest in Lyon and a Russian diplomat and his wife who may or may not be luring Jude towards the rocks of disaster. 

Conway’s plots are onion layered: peeling back one skin at a time. He manages that neat trick so often missing in this type of novel which makes plot reveals seem inevitable and surprising rather outlandish or tediously predictable. 

His storytelling remind me of the best of Charles Cumming or Jeremy Duns – engaging, jigsaw tight, satisfying at the end but with potential for expansion in a future work. 

Descriptive passages Martin Amis would be proud of

He writes well too. “Jude’s immigrant provenance is equally exotic and fragmentary, shot through with competing veins of conformity and criminality, from a cigar-chomping bank robber for a grandfather to a general given to eccentricity and dark moods for a father,” is the sort of descriptive passage that Martin Amis at his most interesting would have been proud of. 

And, while it is true, Conway’s novel doesn’t – of necessity – have the same laugh out loud quality of some of Mick Herron’s novels, “Jonno Butcher, one of Cathy’s seemingly inexhaustible supply of meat-faced nephews,” is a description of which even the Slough House author would be proud.

I will be surprised if it emerges that Conway is not a fan of Le Carré. In fact, I’m not sure if it’s an affectionate nod to Le Carré, or merely to do with the abundance of such names in the region, but all the characters from the Caucuses we encounter in the book have names from Le Carré’s novels, especially ‘Our Game’.

Perhaps the most impressive area is that of the terrorists. He makes them well-rounded, whole characters who you don’t mind spending time with. Terrifying, yes, but nuanced and engaging too.

A crash, bang, wallop conclusion done with joie de vivre 

The ending of The Stranger may be slightly crash, bang, wallop for some people’s tastes but even this is done with enjoyable joie de vivre and edge of the seat inducing tension as well as some final plot twists which make me hope that this is not a standalone novel but the first in a series.

Overall, a triumph of a novel that makes me long for the opportunity to encounter Jude Lyon and his world again. 

Just need to go back and read Simon Conway’s back catalogue now. Whole-heartedly recommended.

The Best Sports Documentaries for Lockdown

Yes: sport is back. Well, some sport. For football fans in Europe that means tinny sounds of piped fake “crowd” noise and watching Bayern Munich sleep walk to another title like a schoolboy bully crowd surfing over cowed spectators.

At least in New Zealand they had full crowds for the rugby. Scant consolation to former Wales coach Warren Gatland who had the full backyard horror of being beaten by his son played out in the full glare of the media. Gatland Senior’s Chiefs were playing the Highlanders in Super Rugby and leading by two points as the clock wound down. However, baby Bryn – who hadn’t originally even been in the squad and was a late injury call up – popped over a drop goal with 90 seconds left to leave Daddy in disarray.

Basketball:

The Last Dance. I wrote about it here last week. The 97 Chicago Bulls; Michael Jordan – a sneaker-selling monster; Scottie Pippen the unsung hero with the best voice since James Earl Jones; Dennis Rodman the lunatic dating Carmen Electra and swanning off to Vegas to die his hair a luminous green patchwork and turning up to practice in a wedding dress. A 10-part tour de force, which teaches us about what it takes to win and how lonely it is at the top. Netflix

In this promotional poster for the 'The Last Dance', Jordan (centre), Pippen (left) and Rodman are seen walking  in their kits with Steve Kerr (far left) and a suited Phil Jackson (far right)
Jordan (centre), Pippen (left) and Rodman lead the charge in Netflix’s The Last Dance

Hoop Dreams – Before the winning comes the work. This 1994 movie follows two African American high school students from Chicago at the same time as the city’s Bulls are tearing up the professional game. This epic movie shows what you have to do to move from an underfunded public school system to the professional game and the institutional barriers put in the way of young people. Moving, inspirational and frustrating all at the same time.

The DVD cover of 'Hoop Dreams' is shown with a basketball player in a yellow top raises his arms aloft in celebration and ecstasy.
Hoop Dreams – a moving documentary examining what it takes to get on in basketball

Rugby:

Living with the Lions 97 – The first rugby documentary: Rugby Union had only been professional for two years. A British and Irish Lions team headed to South Africa, then world champions and at their peak. But the Lions had a returning set of players from Rugby League looking to show what full time rugby looks like, pace and guile in a young Brian O’Driscoll, a leader etched from stone and broken bones in Martin Johnson and a coaching pair in Ian McGeechan and Jim Telfer who knew what it took to make a Lions squad gel. Living with the Lions is by turns jaw dropping, hilarious, thought provoking and gloriously uncensored. Amazon Prime

A young Brian O'Driscoll offloads while playing for the British and Irish Lions
A young Brian O’Driscoll offloads while playing for the British and Irish Lions

All or Nothing – The All Blacks – A modern day Living with the Lions, this series got exclusive access to the dressing room of the mighty All Blacks for the first time in their history. The footage and the match play are second to none – every bone snapping tackle is seen and heard in high def – and the characters within the team are fascinating. It’s well worth watching, highly polished series, if a little sanitised and “official” in what is actually shown. Amazon Prime

Football:

An Impossible Job – Fancy watching an England manager screw up qualification for a World Cup, get compared to a root vegetable and upset that nice bloke off Match of the Day by substituting him for a doughy poor imitation called Smudger? Of course you do. Channel 4’s 1994 Cutting Edge documentary saw Graham Taylor’ career go the way of all things and is why so many documentaries now control access so tightly. YouTube

England manager Graham Taylor is seen open mouthed and pointing towards the camera with two fingers alongside an England football "Three Lions" crest.
England manager Graham Taylor who’s reputation was not enhanced by a documentary

All or Nothing – Manchester City – In the same series as the All Blacks documentary, Amazon Prime were welcomed into the whole world of Manchester City’s locker room, their match day experience and behind the scenes of the Pep Guardiola briefings as the team steamroller their way through the Premier League in 2071/18. A bit soulless and corporate, but hugely enlivened by Benjamin Mendy who is a “lively” member of the team, some brilliant match day footage and Guardiola’s chicken dance dressing room motivational speech. Amazon Prime

A poster advertising the Prime Original show 'All or Nothing Manchester City' shows Pep Guardiola looking towards the heavens with the quote from one of his half time team talks "Sit down... Nobody Talk!" is written out in block capitals.
Pep Guardiola who’s every movement is followed in the All or Nothing series from Amazon

Sunderland Till I Die – What does it do to a person to support a club like Sunderland? According to this, some sort of mental disorder. A town based on football where bishops pray for the club and people name their kids after the last time the team weren’t dross. Honestly has to be seen to be believed. Characterful. Netflix

An advert for the second season of 'Sunderland Till I Die' shows a group of Sunderland players celebrating the scoring of a goal as the crowd celebrate in the background
Sunderland players celebrate

Cricket:

The Test – I know cricket makes a lot of people roll their eyes. But Australia were at their lowest ebb – a coach, a captain and a vice-captain (who happened to be tow of their only world class players) are banned for heinous cheating. The Australian Prime Minister weighs in and suddenly, squeaky clean batting legend Justin Langer is thrown into the job needing to create a squad who can win matches and restore civic pride during a year featuring a one-day World Cup and an Ashes series. This is another Amazon behind the scenes, unprecedented access series but here the focus on institutional culture and what it takes to make a team tick transcends sport. Come for the bouncers and the blazing batting, stay for the quiet dignity of captain Tim Payne and the bromance between the coffee boys which would not have been allowed in previous cricketing eras. Amazon Prime

This poster from Amazon Prime Video shows new Australian skipper Tim Payne with a batting helmet on. He must help his side restore their reputation after a cheating scandal decimated the national side.
New skipper Tim Payne must help his side restore their reputation after a cheating scandal

Fire in Babylon – Before The Test, before Black Lives Matters, before the Windrush scandal there was “Grovel”. 2010’s Fire in Babylon is the story of the most successful team in cricket and, arguably, all sport. If you have ever seen the West Indies pace attack of Michael Holding, Joel Garner, Colin Croft and, later, Malcolm Marshall then you know what a cricket ball can do to a human body when propelled at speed. What many people may be less aware of is the racism and barriers encountered by this team under the leadership of legend Clive Lloyd and gum chewing Black Consciousness figurehead Viv Richards. Fire in Babylon is the real deal. DVD

The poster for 'Fire in Babylon' shows five cricketers in shadows walking together as a golden light shines from behind them

Boxing:

When We Were Kings – Lots of people know the story of the Rumble in the Jungle; or at least think they do. 1996’s Oscar winning When We Were Kings explains the politics behind the sport, the brutality of Zaire’s dictator President Mobutu contrasting with the brutality within the ring. George Foreman is all at sea; Muhammad Ali connecting with the people in a spiritual way. A towering achievement of a documentary which explains the boxing in as captivating a way as the politics behind the sporting spectacle. DVD

The DVD cover of Oscar winning documentary 'When We Were Kings' shows Muhammad Ali drenched in sweat and looking very serious