A Beautiful Breed of Evil by Andy Maslen

From the blurb:

He’ll never speak of the evil they did…

A former Swedish ambassador lies dead in his swanky Mayfair flat. With his tongue torn out and placed on a Bible. Competing theories swirl. A religious maniac? A psychopath? The truth is far darker than either. DCI Stella Cole’s search for the killer takes her to Sweden. There, she discovers a horrific chapter in the country’s history that throws the case into turmoil. And then more people start dying.

Teaming up with Swedish cops Oskar Norgrim and Johanna Carlsson, Stella pieces together Ambassador Brömly’s shocking past. And discovers the killer’s motive.

Meanwhile, Stella’s personal life is about to take a significant turn as her boyfriend, Jamie, suggests a change in their relationship. But as Stella tries to process what it means, she makes a fateful decision.

Why won’t the dead stay buried?

A Beautiful Breed of Evil is the fifth in the Stella Cole series and the first I have read. I was a little intrepid at first having no former knowledge of the character or indeed the author and worried it might be difficult to get a hold of the premise of the series. I needn’t have been concerned though. I motored through it and did not feel any sense of discombobulation. Quite simply put I really enjoyed it.

Stella is a cop with a difference. She believes in her job and bringing criminals to justice but she goes above and beyond the legalities restricting her. A stand out motif is one of strong, independent women who know what they want and go after their goals – both in unity and enmity – all centred around themes of retribution and revenge. A particular issue I found interesting was that of the seeking of atonement for the afterlife and the idea that this brings comfort and solace in the face of death. It is difficult to reconcile this with the pain and anguish of the victims left behind whose life choices and experiences have been snatched away from them. Stella herself embodies the victim, with horrific changes being forced upon her but can the actions she takes ever be justified? Exploring such questions and themes gives the novel depth and texture and has made me want to explore more of Andy Maslen’s work. I highly recommend you give this book a go – especially if like me you’re new to the series.

Thank you to @damppebbles #damppebblesblogtours for the opportunity to read this book and for the ebook.

For more informationabout this book and about the author see:

Twitter: https://twitter.com/Andy_Maslen

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/groups/AndyMaslenWolfePack/

Website: www.andymaslen.com

And for other stops on this blog tour see:

The Beijing Conspiracy by Shamini Flint

What the blurb says:-

Ex-Delta Force solder Jack Ford is trying to put the past behind him. But when he receives a letter from someone he has hasn’t spoken to in thirty years, claiming he has a daughter, he is compelled to find out the truth.

Soon he’s on a plane to China, a country he hasn’t returned to since witnessing the atrocities of the Tiananmen Square massacre. But on his search he stumbles upon a document which both the Chinese and American governments are desperately chasing. Now Jack is trapped in an impossible dilemma: save his daughter or prevent a new world war where thousands will lose their lives.

I really don’t know where to start with this except that I loved it and as much as I wanted to find out the ending I also didn’t want it to be over. It’s one of those books you can imagine as an action film; a dark and somewhat troubled central character haunted by his past who unwittingly gets catapulted back into the world of spies and espionage while trying to navigate issues in his personal life. Jack is the stereotypical tough guy -slightly aging but still with the power and cognitive agility to protect himself and others when required. But setting the movie like quality aside and my imaginings of who would play ex-soldier Jack Ford, more seriously the book dissects the sobering reality of the fragility of world security and the battle for dominance between east and west.

The student uprising at Tiananmen Square provides the backbone of the richly layered plot with the ‘Tank Man’ trope providing a powerful contrast between oppression and freedom. There is a littering of twists and turns assisted by well thought out characters all trying to out play each other with both external and internal power struggles. The representation of the unnamed incompetent and ignorant ‘POTUS’ is a delight, spot on and relevant. The name of the self aware and astute female Vice President is a wonderful sardonic co-incidence. While the USA and China conspire against each other Jack is battling his own demons coming to terms with secrets he discovers in his own personal sphere involving the existence of a grown up daughter he never knew he had,

The story switches between China and the USA and races along at a cracking pace yet it really captures the tension between two superpowers. It is helped along by examining the individual players lower down the pecking order with their own ambitions and self serving motivations, even those purportedly on the same side. The scattering of quotes from Hamlet and Macbeth remind us that these battles for the upper hand are ages old and are more about personal advancement than the the good of society. As the characters compete and conspire events converge and overlap with unexpected results putting the world on the brink of disaster and bringing the book to a nail biting and unexpected ending.

This for me is what reading is all about, skilful plotting and complex characterisation set against real life events that keeps you wanting more. I really hope that we haven’t seen the last of Jack Ford.

Thank you to @damppebbles for allowing me to be part of this (my first!) blog tour and thank you also to @blackthornbks for my copy of Shamini Flint’s The Beijing Conspiracy.

Contacts by Mark Watson

Contacts it is a thoughtful and powerful mix of humour and sadness depicting the fragility of mental health and the devastating affects of depression and loneliness. James is on a train from London to Edinburgh where he intends to commit suicide as soon as he arrives. As the train propels him towards his end the reader is taken on a journey through James’s life as he recounts significant episodes in his past; his father’s death, his once close relationship with his sister Sal and his broken relationship with Michaela. At the heart of the story is James’s fractured friendship with his best friend Karl. The story is peppered with other characters such as Meghan, Sal’s somewhat awkward PA and Steffi who makes it her mission to save James through the power of social media. All these characters have their own issues, even James’s mum, but Watson presents them sympathetically with a gentle humour which does not poke fun but makes them real and present. They could be your brother or your sister or your friend; they are all just trying to get through life the best way they can – just like we all are. It is also about the way we are connected to each other through the medium of modern technology – that mix of people we may or may not know well that we keep as contacts in our phonebooks; the obscure names and numbers of people we knew once perhaps through work or even just someone we’ve chatted to in the pub after discovering a common interest. We may have only met them once or twice yet we keep their number and it is these links which are examined in CONTACTS, the way in which we are all connected in some way and how small the world really is. Despite the dark subject matter it carries an optimism that people do actually care about each other; even those we don’t know well – a testament to the positive use of modern technology. There is some beautiful writing in this book some of which made me catch my breath, stop and then read again. There was only one character I couldn’t quite work out but I’m not saying who as I don’t want to spoilt it for the rest of you. I’m sure Mark Watson had reasons for the way that part of the story played out and I’m certainly not going to blame him for my obtuseness! One other thing to mention is that it was a refreshing change to read a book about a man with body issues. Focus is usually on the female when it comes to body related themes and again, Mark Watson deals with this in a no-nonsense and pragmatic way avoiding criticism and mockery. A joy of a book. Please read it.

The Snow Child – Eowyn Ivey

I came across this book in a charity shop – the title literally jumped out at me from the shelf and I’m so glad it did. I actually thought initially that it was another book with a similar title that I had heard about on Twitter. I will read that one another time (and look forward to it) but for now it is a happy mix up because this one is on my list of best reads for this year. Jack and Mabel are from fairly privileged backgrounds, Jack’s family have a successful farming business while Mabel’s father was a literature professor. The couple have dreams of a traditional family home bursting to the seams with children and noise. However their dreams are shattered when their first and only child is born sleeping. Mabel’s grief is so devastating that she persuades Jack to move far away from their family and friends to a remote part of Alaska. They discover a hard life there with Jack trying to run a farm single handedly and Mabel insisting on a solitary existence unable to deal with seeing other people and in particular families. Mabel and Jack grow more and more distant until one day they start catching sight of a young girl in the woods who seems to appear from nowhere and looks to be alone without anyone to care for her. They are captivated by the mysterious girl who arrives each year with the snow season and leaves to live alone in the mountains when spring arrives. Over the years both Mabel and Jack are able to build a relationship not just with the her and also with a neighbouring family, Esther, George and their youngest son Garret who becomes as much a part of Jack and Mabel’s family as his own. Ivey’s descriptions of Alaska are stunning and she really brings to life the reality of the hardships suffered in trying to eke out an existence in such a remote and frozen part of the world. She does not shy from the truth with descriptions of how animals are hunted for food and fur but at the same time the descriptions are respectful and compassionate and fuelled literally by survival – for the most part at least!. This is a story of loss, grief and isolation, also of hope, friendship, and belonging. It is also about letting go, embracing the here and now and allowing others to choose their own paths in life, especially the young. The novel is framed by a Russian fairytale about a snow maiden called ‘Snegurochka’ and I still haven’t decided if Ivey’s snow child is real or otherwordly; she is presented as an ethereal presence not just in terms of the imagery employed but in the subtle way in which the dialogue between her and the other characters is presented. There is however a hard edged reality to her as well which creates a tension; on the one hand she is represented as a mystical presence whereas on the other she is clearly of flesh and blood. All in all this is a beautiful story and I’m so glad into wandered into the charity shop last week or I would have missed it. trd

The Night Visitors by Jenn Ashworth and Richard V Hirst

I’ve read two of Jenn Ashworth’s books, Fell and A Kind of Intimacy. Both have a dark edge but with this one, Ashworth along with Richard V Hirst, goes much further. The characters develop through a series of emails between Alice and Orla and I’m finding it hard to review without giving any spoilers. However for a short read it had me literally pinned to my seat and how it ended was not what I expected. I’m not really sure what I was expecting but it’s not often that a book surprises me and makes me shout out ‘No!’. I couldn’t let this one go without commenting on it and I really can’t recommend it highly enough. A little late for Halloween perhaps but if you like your fiction dark I don’t think you will regret reading this one. I would love to know what others think of it so please drop me a line using the contact page if you feel the urge!

The Lost Ones – Anita Frank

I discovered this book via Twitter and I had to order a copy. I didn’t regret it. The story opens with the funeral of a young soldier killed in the Great War as the protagonist Stella reminisces on her time as a nurse on the front line in France and the horrors she has seen. We are also made aware of the great loss Stella has suffered; the death of her fiance, another victim of the atrocities of war. Stella’s grief is raw as is the way her mother and doctor treat her with their attempts to medicate her and their recommendations that she goes away for a break – the implication being that she be committed to a mental health institution. Stella does go away but it is to stay with her pregnant sister, Madeline, who she discovers has also suffered a loss and it is with her that Stella becomes involved in the history of Greyswick, her brother in law’s dark and imposing family home. What follows is a gloriously gothic ghost story which really hit the spot as an early Autumn read. As Stella, alongside her maid the ‘odd’ Annie Burrows, investigates the night time noises of a child crying she meets opposition in form of Madeline’s god fearing mother-in-law Lady Brightwell and the amateur psychologist and paranormal naysayer Tristan Sheers, both of whom are in denial of any unearthly spirits being present in the house or indeed that ghosts exist at all. Lurking in the background and not just metaphorically is the foreboding housekeeper Mrs Henge, who seems omnipresent in the intimate details of the inhabitants of the house. As well as telling a good old fashioned ghostly tale the author deftly brings in themes of class and religious prejudice, sexism and sexuality. What’s more it is all done with a subtle and sympathetic hand – or pen – and what results is a read that should not be missed. I’m looking forward to the next offering from Anita Frank.

ORFEIA by Joanne M Harris

This fairy tale is at once charming, exquisite and immensely powerful.  Its entry into my life could not have been more timely and the story could not have been more relevant.  It was a birthday gift from my husband and it arrived, like my birthday, at a time of intense grief involving the loss of another child for my lovely daughter who had only just fifteen months before suffered the same devastating loss of a much longed for baby.  At no other time in my life has the power of a story been so relevant, so calming and so affirming.  This story of grief, loss and a mother’s love for her child could not have been more apt in subject matter. 

The usual fairytale themes are present; good vs evil, love, trust, belief in oneself etc and they are portrayed through the most beautiful imagery.  The colours and vibrancy of language contrasts perfectly with the dark greys of the pencilled illustrations by Bonnie Helen Hawkins.  These beautiful drawings adorn the pages effortlessly with their dark and light shading reflecting the shadow motif and the oppressiveness of sadness and grief.  The characters jump from the page and the setting of the deserted streets of London is eerily pertinent in this time of pandemic and lockdown. Fay is a strong female, tenacious in her pursuit of truth and selfless in her final act. A stunning story of female power, energy and force. I don’t keep all the books I read but this one deserves its place on the bookshelf, to be read again.

The author is a favourite although this is the first fantasy genre of hers I have read. I am looking forward to reading more.