Book Review: The Night Brother, by Rosie Garland

Publisher:  The Borough Press

Publication date:  1st June 2017

After previously spending time in A Palace of Curiosities and travelling back to the 14th century with Vixen, I was over the moon to discover the same staggeringly talented author of these two books has a new one on the horizon – The Night Brother.

Once again I find myself lost in the reverie of Rosie Garland’s exquisite writing. Extraordinarily enchanting, The Night Brother’s emotional bounty caresses each page to boldly pursue the trials that can divide and conquer.

Sharing a parallel existence, so one leads by day and the other by night, we see life through the eyes of Edie and Gnome (Herbert). These unique siblings occupy one body in a challenging world, where gender equality is a ludicrous notion and many battles are fought, both publicly and in private.

Edie’s and Gnome’s personalities mature from mischievous children into adults eager spread their wings and take it in reluctant turns to dominate or deny each other’s presence. As happiness beckons they are hounded by confusion and insecurity. Although they are two sides of the same coin acceptance, rather than rejection, could be the difference between being their lives being fulfilled or tormented.

This is an imaginative and affecting tale where the entire cast of this historical-fantasy-romance stage are performers each worthy of an Oscar. Their aspirations and chosen paths of personal contentment are inspired (particularly in the case of Edie’s / Gnome’s Nana – that was an excellent move!)

Embracing the intimacies and complexities of the heart and soul The Night Brother doesn’t feel like a story, but a delectable gift.  All that remains is for me to offer a thunderous round of applause for what is simply an expressive, breath-taking wonder.

Perhaps love is measured not by how much radiance is keeps to itself, but by how much it shines upon the world.

Rating:   5/5

Please note: the above quotation was taken from a proof copy of this book.

(I received a copy of this title from the publisher via Netgalley and welcomed it with open arms. It is my absolute pleasure to not only read this book but to provide and unbiased review.)

(Courtesy of Amazon UK)

From the author of The Palace of Curiosities and Vixen comes a dazzling and provocative new novel of adventure, mystery and belonging. The Night Brother shifts tantalisingly between day and night, exploring questions of identity, sexual equality and how well we know ourselves. Perfect for fans of Angela Carter, Sarah Waters and Erin Morgenstern.

Rich are the delights of late nineteenth-century Manchester for young siblings Edie and Gnome. They bicker, banter, shout and scream their way through the city’s streets, embracing its charms and dangers. But as the pair mature, it is Gnome who revels in the night-time, while Edie is confined to the day. She wakes exhausted each morning, unable to quell a sickening sense of unease, and confused at living a half-life.

Reaching the cusp of adulthood, Edie’s confusion turns to resentment and she is determined to distance herself from Gnome once and for all. But can she ever be free from someone who knows her better than she knows herself?

Exploring the furthest limits of sexual and gender fluidity, this is a story about the vital importance of being honest with yourself. Every part of yourself. After all, no-one likes to be kept in the dark.

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(Courtesy of Amazon UK)

Rosie Garland is a novelist, poet, performer and singer with post-punk band The March Violets. An eclectic writer, she started out in spoken word, going on to garner praise as a performance poet. Her award-winning short stories, poems and essays have been widely anthologised, and her sixth poetry collection, As In Judy, is out now with Flapjack Press. She is the author of Vixen, a Green Carnation Prize nominee. Her debut novel, The Palace of Curiosities, won Book of the Year in the Co-op Respect Awards 2013 and was nominated for both The Desmond Elliott and the Polari First Book Prize. She lives in Manchester and is currently developing a new musical project, Time-Travelling Suffragettes.

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Book Review: Defectors, by Joseph Kanon #Defectors

Publisher:  Simon and Schuster UK

Publication date: 1st June 2017

Dangerous games with perilous consequences are played to perfection in Defectors. This story of an American CIA agent’s defection during the 1960s is both fascinating and engrossing.

In Moscow, the life Frank Weeks leads with his wife and Russian bodyguard Boris is not what I’d expected at all. There are unwritten rules that are never broken and he’s careful not to abuse these publicly, but as he wrote most of them for ‘The Service’ he knows how to shape them to his advantage on occasion.

What I found interesting was his sense of purpose within ‘The Service’, the difference he expects to make regardless of the cost of his own country. When he voluntarily defected he left his brother behind with people asking questions he couldn’t answer. Even though Frank and his wife are officially held captive by his values, they have adopted a stoic performance for anyone who may be watching, listening and reporting their movements.

Frank is a curious character. On one hand you’d think him cold-hearted, in fact learning some of his problem solving techniques you’d better believe he is, but when the strains of a personal tragedy affect his wife he is motivated to take extreme action, offering a small glimpse of his personality other than being stamped as nothing more than a traitor.

Cue an invitation for Simon, his publicist brother, to join him in Moscow to discuss the draft manuscript of Frank’s memoirs which will set the record straight once and for all. Given the nature of Frank’s position, being a notorious spy, I would have thought that more intimidating powers were likely to object, but he has permission to go public providing he preserve the identities any ‘active’ agents.

But even as we follow Frank and a suspicious Simon (complete with the very loyal Boris) around on their meticulously planned sightseeing excursions while something even greater than the memoir is brewing, you never truly get a vivid picture of Frank’s train of thought. There’s always that feeling that he’s keeping something back that will never be shared until the end.

Adapting to changing circumstances and knowing the shadow of a Russian agent is never far away becomes natural, like breathing. Although it does takes Simon a little longer to adjust during his short stay. Simon’s principles may differ from his brother but a bond remains, where threats and complications are tackled with unflinching spontaneity.

Defectors emphasises the human perspective in a story of spies, lies, and family ties, where even the best laid plans can buckle under the weight of the wrong decision and the element of surprise is always two steps ahead. I was impressed by the speed at which the narrative hurtled along while a veiled authority determined the outcome of people’s lives with frightening unpredictability. 

Rating:   4/5

(I’m grateful to Emma Finnigan and the publishers for providing a copy of this title and it’s my pleasure to provide an unbiased review.)

(Courtesy of Amazon UK)

Some secrets should never be told.

Moscow, 1961: With the launch of Sputnik, the Soviet Union’s international prestige is at an all-time high. And the most notorious of the defectors to the Soviet Union, former CIA agent Frank Weeks, is about to publish his memoirs. What he reveals will send shock waves through the West. Weeks’ defection in the early 1950s shook Washington to its core – and forced the resignation of his brother, Simon, from the State Department.

Simon, now a publisher in New York, is given the opportunity to read and publish his brother’s memoir. He knows the US government will never approve the publication of what is clearly intended as KGB propaganda. Yet the offer is irresistible: it will finally give him the chance to learn why his brother chose to betray his country.

But what he discovers in Moscow is far more shocking than he ever imagined …

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(Courtesy of Author’s website)

Joseph Kanon is the internationally bestselling author of eight novels, which have been published in twenty-four languages: Los Alamos, which won the Edgar Award for best first novel; The Good German, which was made into a film starring George Clooney and Cate Blanchett; The Prodigal Spy, Alibi, which earned Kanon the Hammett Award of the International Association of Crime Writers; Istanbul Passage, and Leaving Berlin. He is also a recipient of The Anne Frank Human Writers Award for his writings on the aftermath of the Holocaust. Before becoming a full-time writer, he was a book publishing executive. He lives in New York City with his wife, literary agent Robin Straus. They have two sons.

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Book Review: Greatest Hits, by Laura Barnett #GreatestHits

Publisher:  W & N Books (Orion)

Publication date: 15th June 2017 (UK)

my-review

greatest-hits-by-laura-barnett-coverIt’s confirmed. Laura Barnett is a storytelling virtuoso, and I feel blessed to have Greatest Hits sitting on my bookshelf. This glorious melody of words and lyrics will take you by the heart and walk you through a sublime pilgrimage to heal a soul. 

The guests will be arriving soon, a network of cogs in the Cass Wheeler machine. Before she opens the doors of her home to them it is her task to make a selection of her Greatest Hits, an ensemble of the vivid memories fashioned by the years. Their individual association to Cass is explored with an introduction of a song, its poignant verse and chorus presented in a familiar format for you to absorb.

As Cass is a natural conductor of emotions channelling her experiences into music it’s wonderful not only to see the origins of her music but how it evolved. Including the year of release and crediting the supporting artists gave a genuine sense of who had walked into onto the stage at a given time and where they fit into the story. Those she remembers with fondness like her friend and assistant, Kim, who can pluck a solution out of thin air. Then there are those who manufactured the problems, perhaps not always with intent, but still.

During the course of an early morning until the evening falls, the bright spark of talent in a young naive songwriter builds to a crescendo of the icon who stepped back from the bright lights. A veteran of life whose playlist of her past is taking shape: a musician’s spirit, a daughter’s memories, a mother’s anguish. It’s an intensely personal and therapeutic process inviting heart breaking reservations to surface after they’d been long buried. And as Cass Wheeler says:

                …Like meeting myself again. Or the person I used to be, anyway.

Greatest Hits is a memoir where the writer allows us to read between the lines. It’s all purely fictional of course, and yet these people are anything but two-dimensional characters on a page. They are expressive and unique, afflicted by passion, envy and sorrow.  

It’s truly, truly wonderful in every way imaginable and I can’t recommend it highly enough. This book is a keeper for sure.

Rating:    5/5

(A massive thank you to Rebecca Gray and W&N Books for the advanced copy of this book. It gives me great pleasure to provide this unbiased review.)

greatest-hits-by-laura-barnett-with-headphones

book-summary

(Courtesy of Amazon UK)

Cass Wheeler – a British singer-songwriter, hugely successful since the early 70s, whose sudden disappearance from the music world three decades later has been the subject of intense speculation among her fans – is in the studio that adjoins her home, taking a journey back into her past. Her task is to choose sixteen songs from among the hundreds she has written since her early teens, for a uniquely personal Greatest Hits record, describing the arc of her life through song.

It has been over a decade since Cass last put out an album; ten years since a tragedy catapulted her into a breakdown. In the course of this one day – both ordinary and extraordinary – each song Cass plays sets off a chain of memories, leading us deep into her past, and into the creative impulse that has underpinned her work.

This is the story of a life – the highs and lows, love and separation, success and failure. Of what it is to live a fulfilled life, and how to make peace with our mistakes.

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author-profile

(Courtesy of Goodreads)

Laura Barnett is a writer, journalist and theatre critic. She has been on staff at the Guardian and the Daily Telegraph, and is now a freelance arts journalist and features writer, working for the Guardian, the Observer and Time Out, as well as several other national newspapers and magazines.

Laura was born in 1982 in south London, where she now lives with her husband. She studied Spanish and Italian at Cambridge University, and newspaper journalism at City University, London. Her first non-fiction book, Advice from the Players – a compendium of advice for actors – is published by Nick Hern Books.

Laura has previously published short stories, for which she has won several awards. The Versions of Us is her first novel.

[I was humbled when Laura Barnett visited the blog way back in 2015. You can find that Q&A here.]

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Book Review: From the Shadows (Dan Grant Book 1), by Neil White

Publisher:  Bonnier Zaffre

Publication date:  Kindle – 9th March 2017 / Paperback – 10th August 2017

All hail the first in a new British legal thriller starring Dan Grant, and what a firecracker it is!

If someone would have said I’d have enjoyed reading anything about courtrooms I’d have said, “no, you’re alright thanks.” Except for the occasional Perry Mason episode it wouldn’t be my first choice of entertainment. So it’s a damned good job I was familiar with Neil White’s writing from reading his crime thriller “The Domino Killer” or I probably would have passed on this one, and THAT would have been a huge mistake!

I was mightily impressed by just how much the aspects of case preparation and court procedure intrigued me – the truth chasing, deciphering the witness testimony, the late additions of ‘forgetful’ interviewees, alongside lawyers’ etiquette and conduct both in and out of the court room.

Forget pages of endless paperwork and lengthy ‘lawyer talk’, the time just flew by as I was reading. From the Shadows excels when representing the demands placed on a defence lawyer with integrity and it genuinely kept me on the edge of my seat. What makes you suspect someone isn’t telling you the whole truth and everything but the truth? What if your appraisal of the evidence is off the mark and your case fell apart along with your client’s life? More importantly, what have you actually achieved if you succeed and the guilty go free? So many questions, so little time face Dan Grant, a lawyer with a moral compass directing him to places he may regret visiting.

Grant is the last hope for some and has earned a reputation for providing legal assistance with a conscience, both inside and outside the courtroom. Occasionally his work is shrouded in a mystery that is impossible to unravel, like this case involving a ‘creepy’ bloke accused of murdering a young woman in her bedroom was literally thrown to him like a hot potato after a rival law firm stated ‘conflict of interest’, plus there was only two weeks to the trial date.

With the help of his freelance assistant, a previous client he defended after she killed her abusive boyfriend in self-defence, they uncover witnesses who are too reluctant to talk to the police because of their personal ‘experience’ of them or for a gut feeling that Dan and his assistant cannot pin down, until it steps out From the Shadows.

Conflicting facts and maintaining chameleon-like social skills to adapt to people from all walks of life is emotionally and physically demanding, especially when the only thing you can believe is that your client is holding something back. But that doesn’t mean they are not entitled to have representation to convey their version of events before a jury. After all, what if ‘the whole truth’ hasn’t been revealed yet?

This story shows anything can be waiting in the shadows. Tremendous work, Mr White – I loved it!

Rating:   5/5

(My thanks to the publisher for offering me the opportunity to read a digital copy of this title for which it is my pleasure to provide an unbiased review.)

(Courtesy of Amazon UK)

Mary Kendricks, a smart, pretty, twenty-four-year-old teacher, has been brutally murdered.

Robert Carter stands accused of killing her.

According to Mary’s friends, Robert watched her, harassed her, stalked her.

But did he kill her?

Dan Grant is Robert’s lawyer. He and his investigator Jayne Brett have two weeks before Robert Carter goes to trial. Two weeks to prove whether or not he killed Mary.

Together they will get to the truth – whatever the cost . . .

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(Currently £0.98 at the time of publishing this review!)

(Courtesy of Author’s own website)

I’m a criminal lawyer and I’m a crime fiction writer. I have published nine books so far, and my new series is now out in ebook, the first called From The Shadows, published by Bonnier Zaffre, involving defence lawyer Dan Grant and private detective Jayne Brett. The paperback will follow on 10th August 2017.

My previous books include the Jack Garrett series, published by HarperCollins, four of which were top twenty ebook bestsellers, with Cold Kill spending a month at number one and becoming one of the biggest selling UK ebooks of 2011. The books in the Parker brothers trilogy were published by Sphere from 2013, with the last in the series, The Domino Killer, was released in paperback on 1st December 2016.

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Book Review: Little Gold, by Allie Rogers #LITTLEGOLD #blogtour #bookreview

Publisher:  Legend Press

Publication date:  2nd May 2017

I took refuge from the world to indulge in the intense and emotive time travel of Little GoldIts ups and downs chiselled into my soul, as the fallout from the car crash adolescence and its passengers’ ongoing recovery is unquestionably raw.  

It encompasses the nostalgic awkwardness of 1980s life when ‘twelve’ should allow you a free ticket to a carefree happy place, even though you feel your life is being scrutinised under an invisible microscope and the whole world is passing judgement. As clarity becomes clouded by self-consciousness, the subtle signs of neglect creep into a family bubble which is already close to bursting.

Between the life wrestling there is also time for reflection, as this story shows becoming acquainted with unfamiliar and trying situations  has no age barrier. It revolves around an unlikely partnership formed between the dungaree clad, tree climbing ‘Golden One’ from number 167 and a retired, nicotine loving neighbour, Peggy Baxter, who has her own thoughts to put in order and a journey to share, which stray across the erratic path of Little Gold to give her direction when all seems lost.

The manner in which Little Gold looks out for her asthmatic brother, and her elder sister involuntarily adopts the role of parent to her two younger siblings, is just astoundingly written; nothing is obvious, just the gradual hint of an everyday routine taking the wrong turn down a road where money is directed away from the essentials, like food and washing powder.

Little Gold captures the spirit of an era where Wagon Wheels and Woolworths will be familiar to many. Where a cruel person nowadays has the benefit of social media to chuck anonymous insults at another, previously any offensiveness was shouted across the public spaces for all to hear – different platform, same effect, and all because of differences or ignorance.

There are times this book almost broke me. From the rippling apathy towards affecting circumstances, to the surge of something wicked that preys on innocence, growing up and growing older has never been more heartrending. 

Rating:  4/5

(My thanks to the publisher for providing a copy of this title. It is my pleasure to provide an unbiased review.)

(Courtesy of Amazon UK)

‘Life affirming and triumphant’ Mark A. Radcliffe

‘Wonderfully moving and atmospheric’ Catherine Hall

‘Vivid and touching… this book left me haunted long after I put it down’ Umi Sinha

‘Brilliantly handled… a great first novel’ Bethan Roberts

‘I found myself engrossed… a vibrant, moving tale’ Alison Smith

The heat is oppressive and storms are brewing in Brighton in the summer of 1982. Little Gold, a boyish girl on the brink of adolescence, is struggling with the reality of her broken family and a home descending into chaos. Her only refuge is the tree at the end of her garden.

Into her fractured life steps elderly neighbour, Peggy Baxter. The connection between the two is instant, but just when it seems that Little Gold has found solace, outsiders appear who seek to take advantage of her frail family in the worst way possible. In an era when so much is hard to speak aloud, can Little Gold share enough of her life to avert disaster? And can Peggy Baxter, a woman running out of time and with her own secrets to bear, recognise the danger before it’s too late?

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(Courtesy of Amazon UK)

Allie Rogers was born and raised in Brighton.

Allie’s short fiction has been published in several magazines and anthologies including Bare Fiction, Queer in Brighton and The Salt Anthology of New Writing. She has performed at local live literature events including the Charleston Small Wonder Flash Fiction Slam, which she won in 2014.

Little Gold, Allie’s first novel, will be published by Legend Press in 2017. Drawing a great deal on her memories of the Brighton of her childhood, the book is a story of survival and the power of love that comes up through the cracks.

Allie enjoys story in all forms, the magic of a surprising sentence and books that defy categorisation. She is a great believer in hot coffee, listening to waves on a pebble beach and talking to birds.

Allie is a librarian at the University of Brighton and wrote much of Little Gold in computer rooms surrounded by students eating crisps rather too noisily.

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You can catch up with the rest of the blog tour here:


By the way, Allie Rogers is running a wonderful giveaway for a poster and a signed copy of her book with a lucky winner to be drawn on 13th May – click here for her pinned Tweet to enter!


Book Review: The Secret Library, by Oliver Tearle

Publisher:  Michael O’Mara

Publication date:  29th September 2016

the-secret-library-my-review

the-secret-library-by-oliver-tearle-hardcover

This fascinating little journal navigates its way through a compilation of interesting bookish facts, starting with a Trojan Horse in The Classical World and ending with a T-Rex in Jurassic Park in The Modern World.

Nine easy to read ‘chapters’ are segmented into literary works of note to make up chronological periods of history. Each is punctuated with memorable witticisms from the author, who is the perfect tour guide to the curiosities found between the pages of some of both the more remarkable and lesser known titles.

I’d never have attributed the origin of certain words and phrases we’re all familiar with as being coined by writers for the first time in their own novels. The influence they’ve had on our most technological advancements to date gave way to a few “wow, I didn’t know that!” moments.

It’s pretty comprehensive considering it’s just over 250 pages long and there’s an index in the back enabling you to look up a particular author on a whim. During every spare moment I’ve dipped in and out of The Secret Library – I didn’t know that ‘book evolution’ could be quite so addictive!

I’m not generally a huge fan of non-fiction but this entertaining, inquisitive and frankly rather gorgeous hardback is a perfect addition to any bookshelf. And I am utterly in love with this cover. It even has a cut-out in the sleeve in the shape of a keyhole, allowing you spy the hardcover beneath which is printed with bookshelves – need I say more?!!

Rating:      4/5

Source: My own purchased copy. I. Could. Not. Resist. 

Here’s the ‘naked’ book after I’ve coaxed its jacket off:

the-secret-library-naked-or-at-least-without-its-jacket

the-secret-library-book-summary

(Courtesy of Amazon)

As well as leafing through the well-known titles that have helped shape the world in which we live, Oliver Tearle also dusts off some of the more neglected items to be found hidden among the bookshelves of the past.

You’ll learn about the forgotten Victorian novelist who outsold Dickens, the woman who became the first published poet in America and the eccentric traveller who introduced the table-fork to England. Through exploring a variety of books – novels, plays, travel books, science books, cookbooks, joke books and sports almanacs – The Secret Library highlights some of the most fascinating aspects of our history. It also reveals the surprising connections between various works and historical figures. What links Homer’s Iliad to Aesop’s Fables? Or Wisden Cricketers’ Almanac to the creator of Sherlock Holmes?

The Secret Library brings these little-known stories to light, exploring the intersections between books of all kinds and the history of the Western world over 3,000 years.

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the-secret-library-author-profile

(Courtesy of Amazon UK)

Oliver Tearle is Lecturer in English at Loughborough University, UK. His academic books include ‘Bewilderments of Vision’ (2013) and ‘T. E. Hulme and Modernism’ (2013). He also runs the site Interesting Literature: A Library of Literary Interestingness and writes a literature blog for the Huffington Post. A book aimed at the general reader, ‘The Secret Library’, will be published in September 2016.

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Book Review: Don’t Let Go, By Michel Bussi

Publisher:   W & N

Publication date:  27th April 2017

It’s such a pleasure to kick back and settle down with a book from an author who is reliably brilliant; other than knowing you’re in for a treat you have no idea what to expect, as every story has been utterly unique in their presentation, plot, and finale.

Don’t Let Go exceeded my expectations as it’s a cracker of a cunning mystery, nurtured to perfection.

A missing wife, an anxious husband, and their blood-splattered hotel room all point to a grave outcome, but statements from witnesses conflict with the facts. Despite the carnage no body is found, yet no one saw her leave their room after she went inside. The details that emerge suggest premeditated murder but without the evidence of a physical corpse the fate of Liane Bellion cannot be determined, only that she has vanished into thin air.

Ooh, I do love a book like this! The sharp hook of suspense caught me right away!  I was trying to work out scenarios as to why Liane’s husband would casually leave his daughter swimming in the hotel pool after excusing himself to check on his wife, then call the police to report her missing and successfully draw attention to himself as a pattern of erratic behaviour is revealed.

The chronological time stamps included within each chapter were similar to following a live bulletin, while maintaining a flowing story format. This additional level of reality it impresses just how dangerous lost time can be to an investigation of this nature as every what, why, where, and how take a step closer to the husband’s guilt. The police authorities grow restless and overworked, and the prime suspect makes so many illogical moves I was wondering what he could possibly be trying to achieve. Of course it all becomes quite clear. Until then, the island’s residents are speculating, backed up by sources of gossip and details not exchanged with police during interviews. 

Don’t Let Go is a title you can’t fully appreciate until you near the end of a holiday in this vivid Indian Ocean setting, where some of the characters are wishing they most definitely weren’t there. While the frantic race is on to solve a vengeful riddle before the ultimate sacrifice must be made, the diverse heritage of Réunion Island allows its cultural history to blend into the story at just the right intervals. 

Simply superb

Rating: 4.5/5

(I requested a copy of this title from the publisher, via Netgalley. Huge thanks to them for obliging as it is my absolute pleasure to provide an unbiased review for this cracking book.)

(Courtesy of Amazon UK)

Picture the scene – an idyllic resort on the island of Réunion. Martial and Liane Bellion are enjoying the perfect moment with their six-year-old daughter. Turquoise skies, clear water, palm trees, a warm breeze…

Then Liane Bellion disappears. She went up to her hotel room between 3 and 4pm and never came back. When the room is opened, it is empty, but there is blood everywhere. An employee of the hotel claims to have seen Martial in the corridor during that crucial hour.

Then Martial also disappears, along with his daughter. An all-out manhunt is declared across the island. But is Martial really his wife’s killer? And if he isn’t, why does he appear to be so guilty?

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(Courtesy of Publisher’s website)

Michel Bussi is the author of the bestsellers After the Crash and Black Water Lilies, both of which were Waterstones Thriller of the Month. In France, where he has published ten novels, he is the second bestselling author overall, with over a million novels sold in 2016 alone, and he has won over sixteen literary awards. When not writing fiction, he is a Professor of Geography at the University of Rouen.

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My Reviews for this author’s other standalone books:

After The Crash

Black Water Lilies