Book review: A Very Mersey Murder by Brian L. Porter

I am delighted to share my review of A Very Mersey Murder (Mersey Murder Mysteries Book 5) by Brian L. Porter

Brian L. Porter

About A Very Mersey Murder

1966. England wins the soccer World Cup. Same night, the body of a barmaid is discovered close to an abandoned lighthouse. Two more murders follow; all remain unsolved.

2005. D.I. Andy Ross is called in when a disturbingly similar series of murders begins in the same location.

If their estimates are correct, Ross and his team have one week to solve the case before the next Lighthouse Murder takes place.

In A Very Mersey Murder, D.I. Ross and Sergeant Izzie Drake return in a race against time, as they seek to identify and apprehend the vicious killer who seems to leave no clues, and no evidence.

The price of failure is death.

This is a standalone novel, and can be enjoyed even if you haven’t read other books in the series.

My thoughts

It can be a tricky task reviewing Book Five in a series, but I am new to Brian L. Porter’s writing and dived straight into his latest release. A Very Mersey Murder really is a stand alone, the author providing a useful catch up which is brief enough not to drag on the present story, while giving plenty of context. A tricky task for any author and Porter does it well, although I now feel compelled to start back at Book One!

The novel opens with a chilling scene of a murder that took place back in 1966. What unfolds is a gripping murder mystery set in the present as D.I. Andy Ross and his team try to prevent the murder of one of their own, which, if their predictions are correct, will take place in just one week. It is a set up that cannot fail to hit the mark for crime fiction fans!

Porter’s plotting and pacing are excellent. There are plenty of twists and turns. Just when you think you have it all figured out, you are thrown back into doubt. The author knows when to hold back and when to dish it when it comes to the gory details and he evokes a strong setting that puts the reader in amongst the action.

All of Porter’s characters are well-rounded and believable. A Very Mersey Murder has plenty of texture, too, as the various relationships between the police team play out, as well as the stories of the lives of those affected by the murders. I especially enjoyed the inclusion of excerpts from the killer’s own journal.

All good crime tackles pithy social issues, and Porter is no exception. In A Very Mersey Murder, the reader will confront themes of illegitimate children and adoption, and gender identity, alongside tensions in friendships and a dash of romantic love.

Porter keeps his readers guessing right to the very end, in what amounts to a complex, intense and highly intriguing whodunnit. I suspect this whole series would make for good television, something to rival Vera!

 

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Book review: Graveyard Girls edited by Gerri R Gray

Graveyard Girls is a gripping anthology of short stories edited by Gerry R Gray

Graveyard Girls

About Graveyard Girls

A delicious collection of horrific tales and darkest poetry in one big, fat horror anthology from the cream of the crop; all lovingly compiled by the incomparable Gerri R. Gray! Nestling between the covers of this formidable tome are twenty-five of the very best lady authors writing on the horror scene today!

These tales of terror are guaranteed to chill your very soul and awaken you in the dead of the night with fear-sweat clinging to your every pore and your heart pounding hard and heavy in your labored breast…

Featuring stories from: Xtina Marie, MW Brown, Rebecca Kolodziej, Anya Lee, Barbara Jacobson, Gerri R. Gray, Christina Bergling, Julia Benally, Olga Werby, Kelly Glover, Lee Franklin, Linda M. Crate, Vanessa Hawkins, P. Alanna Roethle, J. Snow, Evelyn Eve, Serena Daniels, S.E. Davis, Sam Hill, J.C. Raye, Donna J.W. Munro, R.J. Murray, C. Bailey-Bacchus, Varonica Chaney and Marian Finch.

 

My thoughts:

Graveyard Girls opens with lusciously dark poetry from Xtina Marie, which serves as an apt point of entry into this collection of diverse and horrifying reads. The anthology then kicks off with ‘Deadlines’ by M.W. Brown, and I couldn’t help sympathising with the tough yet lovable Esther “Polar Bear” Jones who has a intruder and finds herself negotiating with this assassin. Brown has penned a thriller of a tale that never misses a beat, with satisfying and unexpected twists. ‘Demons Opus’ by Rebecca Kolodziej is well-crafted and original with good characterisation and a haunting musical theme. Then there’s the gritty ‘Hong’ by Anya Lee, featuring  fourteen-year-old Victoria, a girl with quite an attitude, vulnerable, rebellious, troubled; and the horror she is forced to endure all too real. But she is no victim…

Later there’s Gerri R Gray’s ‘Of Black Butterflies she Dreamt’ which opens with exquisite prose and does not disappoint. Breathtaking!

The arresting Christina Bergling’s ‘After the Screaming’ is also worth a mention, not only for the masterful writing. The story is an intense, in-depth study of the mental torture of early motherhood. Bergling puts the reader right inside the main character. Only a woman could have written this story!

There are so many excellent stories here, too many to mention. The anthology ends on the blood curdling selection of poems by Marian Finch, the perfect way to round off the horror.

Graveyard Girls is a chilling and vivid read, and the writing is top notch. Suspenseful, confronting, imaginative and at times innovative, Graveyard Girls is a terrific example of the talent and vision of women writers of horror, writers who explore taboos and experiment with tropes.

You can find Graveyard Girls on Amazon 

Book review: The Hangman’s Hitch by Donna Maria McCarthy

I am delighted to share my review of The Hangman’s Hitch by Donna Maria McCarthy, a dark and brooding gothic novel from the mistress of 18th century horror. 

The Hangman's Hitch

About The Hangman’s Hitch

If on some cold dark despairing eve, you found yourself far from hope and far from salvation – would you take the hand of the Devil if he offered it?
Would you know it was his?
Frederick Abbotsby Feltsham has just this quandary, yet the path he chooses is one of depravity, devilment and debauchery
Will he survive the immutable Joseph Black?
Or will he find himself despairing, like so many of his past conquests did ?
One heaven, one Hell – each as judgemental as the other
You must choose…

My thoughts

After reading Biddy Trott I have come to anticipate a certain style and wit from Donna Maria McCarthy and I was not disappointed. The Hangman’s Hitch is as dark and ribald and gruesome a novel there ever was.

Meet Freddy, or Frederick Abbotsby Feltsham, a fool, an ignoramus and a coward through and through, whose verbosity and quite ridiculous idiocy is a source of much of the humour in this novel. The antagonist, Joseph, is as despicable as they come, and enjoys nothing more than to apportion scorn and derision upon the sycophantic Freddy, luring him, tricking him, grooming him. Feeling he has no choice but to side with Joseph after being banished from the word of normalcy for his impropriety and cowardice, Freddy condones Joseph’s incessant jibes.

There is no morality at The Hangman’s Hitch. Patrons of this obscure hostelry hang their scruples on a hook outside. Inside, it is no holds barred as Joseph and his cronies enact one brutal scam after another. Just when you think the depravity cannot get any worse, it does.

I thoroughly enjoyed the author’s cutting wit, her characters exuding sarcasm in every utterance. The Hangman’s Hitch is written in old-school prose in keeping with the era, prose that is dense and heavy in dialogue, but don’t be put off! A dialogue-driven composition is not easy to pull off, but McCarthy has, and she has done so with aplomb. I thoroughly recommend this read to those after something different, a story that delves into the darkest corners of the human psyche, one that tests the sympathies of even the most hardened reader.

Book review: The Villagers by A.J. Griffiths-Jones

I’m delighted to share my review of A. J. Griffith-Jone’s The Villagers.

The Villagers A.J. Griffiths-Jones

About The Villagers

Olive & Geoffrey are happier than ever. After moving to the countryside to bring up their three young children, they are welcomed with open arms by the friendly and helpful residents of the chocolate box village.

But beyond the veil of rhododendrons and net curtains, there is something more. Just as Olive is settling in and starting to integrate with the community, she finds out that all is not as it first seemed.

As her discoveries become more and more sinister, Olive begins to fear for her own sanity. With her husband doubting her, Olive is faced with choices that will decide the fate of her family.

The Villagers paints an intriguing picture of a 1950s English country village, where not everyone is who they first appear to be.

My thoughts

What a treat it is to pick up a novel and be catapulted back to a time when fiction was fiction and didn’t have to bow to the dictates of genre. The Villagers is, as the title suggests, a portrait of a small village, or rather a series of portraits of the characters in it.

The novel opens on a feel-good scene as out-of-towners Olive and Geoff and their three young children settle into their new home in a quaint village in Shropshire. But there will be no doubt in the reader’s mind that all is not as it seems as Olive is introduced to all those smiling, welcoming faces. Everyone, she soon discovers, has a secret. What unfolds, chapter by chapter, are the true stories of a set of characters in 1950s rural England.

Initially The Villagers is highly descriptive with echoes of old-fashioned, almost childhood storytelling, but that should by no means put off those used to modern prose, for here we have something charming and intriguing, drawing us back to a bygone era both in the story and the manner in which it is told.

Each chapter is a character study and what colourful and quirky characters the villagers all turn out to be! The plotting and pacing are good. Griffiths-Jones peppers her prose with humour, yet she remains sympathetic to all of her creations.

Well-written with subtle and gentle irony, reminiscent of the very era she writes, Griffiths-Jones has penned a novel that will warm the hearts of her readers. The Villagers is based on true testimony, too, which makes it all the more delicious to read.

Book review: Mud and Glass by Laura E. Goodin

What a delight it is to share my review of Mud and Glass by Laura E. Goodin!

Mud and Glass by Laura E Goodin

About Mud and Glass

Life is fairly workaday for Dr Celeste Carlucci, a professor at Krasnia’s finest university, until her best friend and colleague Pace involves Celeste in her research.

Before long, Celeste is being shot at from a hovering helicopter, attacked on a moonlit mountain path, and followed by shadowy minions – on the trail of the Littoral Codex, an ancient and indecipherable book.

The race is on to figure out its secrets. On one side are Celeste and her colleagues, armed with nothing but enthusiasm, brilliant minds, and the principles of geography. Against them are the repressive university governors and their jackbooted campus security guards; the rich and power-hungry Praxicopolis family; and a renegade group of researchers, the Littoral League.
Will this ragtag bunch outwit their foes before it’s too late?

My thoughts:

As the cover suggests, Mud and Glass is a quirky adventure story brimming with both action and comedy. Goodin takes her readers straight into the action as her protagonist, geography academic Celeste, helps her two colleagues recover a strange and awfully heavy box. From there, Celeste is thrust into a world of intrigue. She is not sure who she can trust as she encounters an array of characters and groups all with vested interests in the Littoral Codex. The plot pivots on the desire of these various disparate groups to lay their hands on the glass filters that will enable them to decipher this strange book. The race is most definitely on!

Mud and Glass is on one level a fantasy novel, in that the protagonist finds herself, somewhat reluctantly, on a quest in an imaginary world not quite but awfully similar to our own. Fantasy or fanciful – it really doesn’t matter, as ultimately Mud and Glass is a work of satire. Perhaps the novel belongs beside Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, and it is certainly reminiscent of both Umberto Eco’s Foucault’s Pendulum and AS Byatt’s Possession, in terms of the themes and ideas that motivate the plot. Yet Goodin’s novel is nothing like those two much heavier works of fiction. Mud and Glass is at once riveting and lighthearted, and at times a romantic read.

Goodin’s plotting is excellent, as is her characterisation, many of the minor characters vividly and convincingly portrayed. The pace is fast, the story enormously entertaining. I especially love the way Goodin portrays Celeste as an impoverished, half-starved and perpetually ravenous academic craving tenure. Mud and Glass is probably not a book to be read if you are feeling hungry, unless you have a ready supply of sustenance!

A light read Mud and Glass is, but it is not without depth. Quite the contrary, I found the novel insightful and thought-provoking. Through the lens of her protagonist, Goodin provides a powerful allegory for all the ‘have-nots’ the world over, pitting their wits against the corporate ‘haves’ who hold all the power. In Mud and Glass this latter group is represented by the university governors, but above all by the Praxicopolis dynasty. Now there is a word worth unpacking!

Unpretentious, punchy and upbeat, and filled with wit, Mud and Glass is an absorbing and compelling read, truly a novel to devour.

Purchase your copy of Mud and Glass on Amazon

Find Laura E. Goodin here

 

Book review: Her Name is Mercie by Chris Roy

The joy of writing book reviews is stumbling on good stories, well told. When the stories take your breath away, all the better! Here is my review of one Her Name is Mercie, a collection of short stories by Chris Roy.

“Mercie Hillbrook lives a simple, quiet life working as a gas station attendant. Then her parents are killed. Her home is taken. The people responsible are excused for just doing their job. When an attempt to get justice her way lands her in trouble with the law, Mercie realizes she still has something to lose: her own life.

Then she finds reason to believe her parents were murdered… and she doesn’t care anymore.”

My thoughts:

As the cover suggests, Her Name is Mercie is a dark and thrilling ride, the lead story, almost novella length, an edge of seat experience that demands to be read in one sitting. Roy does not let his readers stray from his pages. He has you right there with the action, living it, feeling it. Mercie and her sidekick are likeable characters, and through their eyes, from the initial story set up to the dramatic ending, Roy explores the theme of injustice. Hard and racy and thoroughly entertaining, ‘Her Name is Mercie’ contains a perfect story arc. The writing is vivid and controlled, Roy demonstrating poise and restraint even as he delivers the gruesome details.

All the elements of a good short story are present throughout the collection; with writing that is taut and punchy, sparse and edgy, and with plenty of twists and turns and unexpected and satisfying endings. There are moments of visceral horror yet the horror element is never overplayed. A good craftsman, Roy sets his scenes with acute observations and a minimum of detail and a healthy measure of wit.

The second story, ‘Re-Pete’ is a gem. Told from the perspective of a young child with OCD, the result of a ghastly and recent trauma, the tale is funny and absurd, and packs a delightfully wicked punch, if ‘delightful’ can be used in the context. Roy enters the mind of young Pete with sensitivity and compassion. Pete, like the other protagonists in the collection, deserves better than the life he has been given.

Themes of justice and corruption and revenge against wrongdoers dominate the collection. In Her Name is Mercie, Roy’s protagonists, the victims of bad deeds, step into their own power.

Roy clearly has a gift, invoking in his readers immediate and deep engagement. With this collection he has thrown down the gauntlet, meeting the challenge of originality and displaying prowess across multiple styles – spooky, sinister, surreal, brutal and ironic – each story is distinct. I look forward to reading more from this author.

Book review: The Torcian Chronicles: Defiance by P.J. Reed

I very rarely dip into dark fantasy, so it was a treat to read P. J. Reed’s debut.

“Mesham sits dejectedly in a tiny garret above an inn, as the lands of Torcia fall to the magically-enhanced army of the infamous Mivirian Horde. One of the last surviving ancient warlocks of Torcia, Mesham knows he is marked for death.

The Torcian king knocks on Mesham’s door later that evening and offers him the chance of rejuvenation in return for a seemingly impossible mission into the heart of Mivir. Mesham reluctantly agrees, only to realise the evil of Mivir has spread to the very top of the Torcian government.

As Mesham undertakes his quest to complete the mission, he finds himself hunted by his king, by the mighty Torcian warbands, and by the Horde.

But he cannot fail, for the fate of Mesham’s beloved Torcia rests in his hands.”

 

My thoughts:

The novel opens with a battle scene, more a massacre, providing the reader with a good sense of what is to come as a party of Mirivian Outriders descend on Sicam and his men. Realising the danger of complete annihilation, the Torcian king rejuvenates a decrepit warlock and sends him on a mission to save the kingdom. Mesham gathers around him a motley crew who are forced to defend themselves against all manner of monsters. Nowhere is safe. Even the trees are alive and menacing.

Reed writes well, building her world with the minimum of fuss, drawing in her readers with all the elements of a good dark fantasy novel, not least evocative descriptions of decaying cities and carnage, the horror unrelenting. Reed has created characters that are convincing and vividly portrayed, with enough betrayal, treachery and intrigue to hold the attention, and oodles of action and adventure right to the very end. Reed takes her readers on a frenzied ride through a kind of hell, terrifying, disturbing and jaw-dropping by turns. The magic in the story works well. Imaginative and gripping, with strong writing overall, I would recommend this book to appreciators of the dark fantasy genre. I enjoyed finding the spell list at the end.

 

You can grab your copy here.