Review: Scarecrow by Matthew Pritchard 5*

I recently discovered the author Matthew Pritchard when I read his post WW2 novel Werewolf for review via netgalley. It ended up on my list of favourites of the year. From a staggering 242 novels I picked just 20 fiction novels as favourites. When I am this impressed by an author I immediately go & seek out their other work. This led me to Sacrecrow!

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Scarecrow by Matthew Pritchard 5/5*

The blurb:

Follow the road to murder…

Investigative reporter, Danny Sanchez, has lived eight years in Almeria, southern Spain, working for the British expat paper, Sureste News.

While working on his latest story – Kafkaesque bureaucracy leading to the demolition of an elderly couples’ home – a startling discovery is made: as the diggers begin to tear down the house, a decomposed body is revealed dangling between two walls, its head swathed in Gaffa Tape.

From this sinister beginning, Danny follows a trail of bodies that takes him back and forth between Spain and England, as he is led to revisit the first story he ever covered, the trial and conviction of the serial killer known as The Scarecrow.

But with that man behind bars, how can bodies bearing the same distinctive pattern of mutilation be turning up in Spain?

The Spanish police insist there is no connection – but then times are hard in Almeria and no one wants to admit a murderer is on the loose, and Danny finds himself struggling against corrupt bureaucracy, cowboy builders and a monstrous killer whose motives are so perverse as to defy description…

My Review:

This novel is not for the faint hearted, I repeat definitely, not for the faint hearted! The novel is of the crime genre but it is extremely dark & edgy. It reminded me in a way of The Poet by Michael Connelly but the author gives it his own unique stamp!

The novel opens & we are instantly transported to Almeria Spain; investigative journalist Danny Sanchez is covering the unjust demolition of an elderly retired ex-pat couple’s villa. I liked that the author had featured something we do hear about occurring to ex-pat’s living abroad and found this added authenticity to the story. Danny is well known in the ex-pat community & we learn how such a community exists and operates in Spain. When the dust settles from the demolition a body is discovered amongst the rubbles and not just any body this one is wearing a gimp mask! The body is clearly that of a murder victim. But how did it get there? Why has someone been murdered in such a way? When the builder of the property is attacked with a hammer, Danny & his photographer Paco decide to dig a little deeper.

The builder Hacker & his 3 sons are by no means nice people. They are nasty, violent bullies whom have been terrorising the people of Spain for some time. They’re ex-pat’s themselves but with Rottweilers named Yorkshire & Ripper have done nothing to improve the image of the British. Danny & Paco discover that Alan Reade’s (Hacker’s plumber) villa is also rumoured to have a perfuse scent of death. Cue a little unethical detective work & another body is discovered. The body is covered in perverse clown make-up and appears to have experienced torture/humiliation prior to death. Who is sealing murder victims into walls? Is this the work of a serial killer? Why are the victims being tortured & humiliated in this way? Who is stalking the local community?

This reminds Danny of a previous case he has worked in England & quickly we are brought up to speed on the ‘Scarecrow killer’. Ishmael Vertaness is incarcerated in a high secure psychiatric facility in the UK after his spate of 5 murders. The Scarecrow humiliated, tortured, raped and emasculated his victims. He is rumoured to be on the autism spectrum but due to his failing mental health and abusive childhood, no-one can know with absolute certainty what made him do it. Four of the Scarecrow’s victims were known to be heterosexual men and not linked to the gay community. The Spanish authorities refuse to link the recent victims or have any belief in a link to a UK case. They do this in part to protect the image of Spain & prevent widespread possible international hysteria in relation to the crimes. Danny continues to gather information & evidence. This novel is heavily layered and thoroughly gripping reading! Danny decides that in order to gather more information he must return to the UK and work with old contacts. Did the Scarecrow have an accomplice? Will he agree to see Danny? Is he really autistic & how did this impact his criminal behaviour? With Danny’s return to the Uk we learn a more in-depth scope of the Scarecrow murders & the cross border murders. We learn more about the victim and hear the surviving family’s story’s. As stated before this novel covers the crimes of a violent, dominant & sadist serial killer. It covers a wide-range of issues from cocaine use to rent boys & even gay men who experience self-hatred. How do wealthy boys go from privilege to charging 20 euros a trick? What makes men vulnerable to rape?

But what it also covers without really trying to, is the real life modern day media reporting of covering stories with a possibly theme of gay sex or male rape. In the UK in August 2016 a man named Nigel Wilkinson was arrested & sentenced. Nigel was a serial rapist, whom posed as a male fitness photographer to allow him the trust & access to drug and rape many male victims. What is also frightening about Nigel is he was known to specifically target straight men. Even stating he liked to ‘take their masculinity’. Nigel was able to get away with his crimes for so long, that when finally caught he had amassed far too many victims. I think this novel highlights an area where the media fail & I applaud the author for covering such a crime, despite its dark nature. The issues/themes are covered with sensitivity.

The case builds and builds, with the Scarecrow & one of Hacker’s sons making threats, Paco’s daughter being kidnapped. Danny needs to uncover the killer & fast! The novel has a huge twist, that even I didn’t spot coming! It is one that will shock most readers & also reveals a dark theme not explored earlier. I read this in 24hrs & can’t praise it enough. If you seek a crime novel that breaks the mould, then this is the one for you! Scarecrow is available free for members of Kindle unlimited or available for the bargain price of £2.99 on Kindle E-book. It will scare you……………..You have been warned! 5/5*

Review: The Iron Water by Chris Nickson #4 in the Tom Harper series 5*

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The Iron Water by Chris Nickson 5/5*

The blurb:

Two macabre discoveries in a single morning present an intriguing challenge for Detective Inspector Tom Harper

Leeds, England. July, 1893. D.I. Tom Harper is witnessing the demonstration of a devastating new naval weapon, the torpedo, at Roundhay Park. The explosion brings up a body in the lake, a rope lashed tightly around its waist.
At the same time, dredging operations in the River Aire are disrupted when a woman’s severed leg floats to the water’s surface, still clad in its stocking and boot. Could the two macabre discoveries be connected?
Harper’s investigations will lead him right to the heart of the criminal underworld that underpins the city – and into the path of a merciless killer.

My review:

The iron Water is the 4th novel in the Tom Harper series. Opening up in Victorian Leeds 1893. When I originally read the blurb for this novel, I assumed this one in the series maybe more aimed at the male reader! I was wrong, big time! With the new novel we learn that, baby Mary Grace Harper has been born. Annabelle is becoming more & more involved with the independent Labour Party and Billy reed is now an Inspector with the fire brigade.

Inspector Tom Harper is called in to represent the Leeds police as a torpedo is tested locally at Waterloo lake, as part of a war experiment. What follows is dramatic scenes where a torpedo blows a body from the water. When the local officers dredge the river, the case becomes far more complex. Before long, Tom Harper has several murder cases stacked up. Rumours of bent coppers, ex-boxers & current fighters, gangsters from the Leeds underworld and a series of violent deaths! With the home secretary threatening to bring in Scotland Yard, Tom finds himself in desperate need to solve the case and solve it quickly. Is there a vigilante on the loose or is someone attempting to take over the Leeds crime scene?

For me the real star of this series is Annabelle. With the rise of the Labour Party in this series, we really get to see her character evolve. Annabelle is hugely inspirational, the way in which she looks out for the other women locally and manages to balance motherhood, her business empire & marriage to Tom Harper. I really think she is a star of the series and I am so glad that a series centred around a male character has such a solid female equivalent. Tom Harper is equally an admirable, however it is rare in this genre an author writes such a fantastic balance of male & female characters! Huge credit to the author for this fantastic series! This novel also has many background characters that are extremely well written. They are dark, shady & majorly involved in the local crime networks. This novel delivers on so many levels and for that reason it is a 5* read!

Review/thoughts on: Last Exit To Brooklyn by Hubert Selby Jr 5*

Every so often I feel the urge to read a novel from way before my time. I think it is important to read novels from not only a different decade but an entire different era. This is exactly how I stumbled across one of my ultimate favourite novels Alone In Berlin by Hans Fallada. I picked Last Exit to Brooklyn due to its unique blurb, also discovering it had previously been banned in the UK! I like edgy, gritty reads that are not afraid to portray a darker narrative of life and there isn’t much darker than this!

Last Exit to Brooklyn (Penguin Modern Classics)

The Blurb:

Few novels have caused as much debate as Hubert Selby Jr.’s notorious masterpiece, Last Exit to Brooklyn, and this Penguin Modern Classics edition includes an introduction by Irvine Welsh, author of Trainspotting.

Described by various reviewers as hellish and obscene, Last Exit to Brooklyn tells the stories of New Yorkers who at every turn confront the worst excesses in human nature. Yet there are moments of exquisite tenderness in these troubled lives. Georgette, the transvestite who falls in love with a callous hoodlum; Tralala, the conniving prostitute who plumbs the depths of sexual degradation; and Harry, the strike leader who hides his true desires behind a boorish masculinity, are unforgettable creations. Last Exit to Brooklyn was banned by British courts in 1967, a decision that was reversed the following year with the help of a number of writers and critics including Anthony Burgess and Frank Kermode.

Hubert Selby, Jr. (1928-2004) was born in Brooklyn, New York. At the age of 15, he dropped out of school and went to sea with the merchant marines. While at sea he was diagnosed with lung disease. With no other way to make a living, he decided to try writing: ‘I knew the alphabet. Maybe I could be a writer.’ In 1964 he completed his first book, Last Exit to Brooklyn, which has since become a cult classic. In 1966, it was the subject of an obscenity trial in the UK. His other books include The Room, The Demon, Requiem for a Dream, The Willow Tree and Waiting Period. In 2000, Requiem for a Dream was adapted into a film starring Jared Leto and Ellen Burstyn, and directed by Darren Aronofsky.

My review/thoughts:

Putting aside that this novel is written in 1967 & is considered a modern classic in 2017, by the time I personally got to read it. I would definitely label this as one of those novels, where the author seeks zero validation in way of reviews/awards etc. I personally feel this is a story that has gone round & round in the authors mind and he desperately needed to get it out!

I am a baby of the 1980’s and a teenager in the 1990’s. Growing up with parents that refused to censor what I read, watched or listened to. I considered myself hard to shock & thought in some way shape or form I had seen it all! That was until this novel! I found this novel deeply traumatising, however no matter how much I tried, I simply couldn’t look away! At times I was reading the novel with one hand over my face, as if this would in some way offer a shield from myself & the story!
The personal story’s of the characters Georgette & Tralala are the first two you read. Be warned they are extremely dark and depict scenes of violence physically, sexually and mentally. This is no light & fluffy read and it contains not one single light & fluffy paragraph.
This being said that is the beauty of this novel. Not only is it a viewpoint to ‘see how the other half live’ it also tells the story from their perspectives individually. The characterisation is intense and I will admit that the plight’s that await Georgette & Tralala, had me in tears. This really is a story of violence & degradation, I feel incredibly glad I have finished the novel but yet I find myself ordering The Room by Hubert Selby Jr right now!
A dark, gritty, edgy, violent portrayal of life in the 1950’s for a bunch of (what the era dictates are) misfits. 5*

Review: Skin Like Silver by Chris Nickson 5* #3 Tom Harper Series!

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Skin Like Silver by Chris Nickson  5/5*

The blurb:

The third intriguing historical mystery to feature Detective Inspector Tom Harper

Leeds, England. October, 1891. An unclaimed parcel at the Central Post Office is discovered to contain the decomposing body of a baby boy. It’s a gruesome case for DI Tom Harper. Then a fire during the night destroys half the railway station. The next day a woman’s body is found in the rubble. But Catherine Carr didn’t die in the blaze: she’d been stabbed to death – and Harper has to find her killer.
The estranged wife of a wealthy industrialist, Catherine had been involved with the Leeds Suffragist Society, demanding votes for women, the same organization for which Harper’s wife Annabelle has just become a speaker. Were Catherine’s politics the cause of her death? Or is the husband she abandoned behind it? But when her brother escapes from the asylum and steals a shotgun, Harper has to race to find the answers.

My review:

Skin like silver is the third novel in the Tom Haper series set in Victorian Leeds. The novel opens up in 1891 with Detective inspector Tom Harper tackling a tough case of a missing woman and a dead baby. We learn that Billy Reed (Tom’s former partner) has moved on to the fire service following the aftermath of their last case. Tom harper is called out to a raging fire at the railway station, which leaves a fireman dead. In the wreckage of the fire a young woman’s body is recovered and it soon becomes apparent that neither the fire nor smoke inhalation was the cause of death. With only his constable Ash to assist, Inspector Hill insists that Billy reed be seconded back to the police service to assist Tom Harper with the case.

With Tom & Billy reunited the case makes fast progress. We learn that the victim Catherine Carr has strong links to the Suffrage & socialist causes making a stir in Leeds. This novel has strong theme of ‘votes for women’ and it is refreshing to read a novel so detailed about the early factual women whom started the movement. The novel is also littered with northern dialogue, making this novel not only authentic but a thoroughly enjoyable read. As the novel develops we met real life suffragette Isabelle Ford, a local wealthy Quaker. We also meet Catherine’s husband, known to be a drunkard and abusive to his wife.

Tom’s wife Annabelle plays a huge part in all the novels so far in the series. But in this one she really excels herself as a character. Annabelle herself has been quite taken up with the women’s votes movement. The novel also reflects on what the vote would mean to so many women in the city of Leeds. Although Leeds is a large community, we learn that it is one of great diversity and quite a divide between those who have & those who do not. A community that also knows what’s going on in each other’s lives.

The case progresses and we go on a journey through the lifestyle of the Victorian era. The struggle of the women, often having to resort to stealing or prostitution just to get by. The evidence leads the detectives all the way to the West Yorkshire Pauper & Lunatic Asylum. When working girls are attacked, Tom has to race to find the culprit for all the local unrest. With local budding MP’s desperate for power & influence keen to block the women’s vote and the sinful working girls that line the streets. This novel is packed full of characters. The plot build and build to a violent ending, one where the true evil of personal vendettas is laid bare. 5*
*If I had to pick themes for this author to write, this novel would be it. It is without a doubt my favourite by the author so far!

Q&A with the Fabulous Debut Author Emily Elgar!

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After reading If You Knew Her by Emily Elgar, I immediately contacted Emily to see if she would be willing to feature in a blog Q&A…………I was very lucky & she agreed!
This Q&A will be a part 1 of 2. As I hope to feature Emily again in the summer for the release of her debut novel in paperback. The novel is curently available as an Ebook.

I absolutley loved this novel as it was a break from the mould. It essentailly focuses on 3 central characters. It reminded me very much of Tess Gerritsen’s medical thrillers! I would hugely reccomend and rated this 5* in my review! Huge thanks to the author for being willing to trust a newbie blogger with the first Q&A! I can see this novel being a huge hit for the summer/beach reads upon it’s release in papreback on 24th August! 🙂

Q&A with Emily Elgar:

Q) Congratulations on your new debut novel & I wish you much success in your future writing career. Can you talk us your experience of the process from idea, to writing & to publication day? Is it nerve racking? Exciting?

A) Thank you so much!

In terms of ideas, one of my characters Cassie Jensen, followed me around for a few years before I realised she was a character in a book! I heard a great ethics programme on Radio 4 about a woman in her – thankfully very unusual – situation. So her story line was the first to take shape in my mind. I really wanted to tell the story from an unusual perspective, which is when Frank slowly took shape. Alice is really the person who knits their two worlds together as well as obviously occupying her own story as well. I actually wrote what is now the prologue at about 3am when I couldn’t sleep. I submitted my work to my peers on the Faber Academy and then signed with my brilliant agent Nelle Andrew at PFD a few weeks later. Nelle really cracked the whip, firing me up to write the first manuscript whilst also working full time. Nelle sent this first manuscript to a few publishers – it was rejected by all but one, Lucy Malagoni at Little, Brown who invited Nelle and I in for a meeting. She said the manuscript needed a lot of work but very happily, she made me an offer and I was delighted to accept! What followed was two years of incredibly hard work adding characters, taking them out again, adding narrative voices and rewriting the ending more times then I can remember. It was gruelling, but working with such an excellent editor who was fully committed to me as a writer and the book made a whole world of difference to the experience. I doubt I would have managed it without her.

My book won’t be widely available until the paperback publication in August. In terms of how I feel about publication, I find I pinball from wanting to hide in a tiny cupboard to wanting to shout from the hills ‘my book is being published!’ So yeah, I’m a little all over the place at present!

 

Q) One thing I loved about ‘if you knew her’ was that it was medically based as opposed to a police procedural. This made it relatable and believable to the reader. As I wrote in my review it was reminiscent of Tess Gerrisen medical thrillers. Was it your intention to offer something different & unique to the crime/thriller/psychological genre?

A) I don’t think I actively decided to write something different to a police procedural. Because Cassie was the first character to take shape in my mind, it made sense for me to have her main carer, Alice, playing the ‘investigator’ role in the novel. It was really important for me that Alice was accessible, both Frank and Cassie are in such extremely difficult and thankfully, rare situations, I wanted the reader to have someone they felt they could relate to.
Q) The Characterisation of Alice, frank & Cassie was brilliantly written and I wondered if they are inspired by real people?

A) It’s an interesting question; as my family and friends read the novel, they often say they have spotted some ‘real people’ moments. I suppose there are ‘glimmers’ of real people but they’re not inspired or based on any one real… thankfully!
Q) What are your favourite books? Authors? And genres?

A) I like to read a wide range of books. I recently read The Homemaker by Dorothea Canfield Fisher, a gentle but acutely observed and beautifully written book. I loved it. I also read The Girls by Emma Kline recently and thought it was exceptional. There are so many excellent debuts out at present… I have a huge pile in my room! I also adore – Kate Atkinson, John Steinbeck and Margaret Atwood.
Q) This is your debut novel and I for one, certainly hope to see more. What are your future writing plans?

 

A) Well I’m delighted to be working with my agent on book two… it’s shaping up rather nicely so far. I always think choosing to write a book is like entering into a long-term relationship. You know you’re going to have to live, work and sleep with it – so I’m very mindful that it has to feel right…. So far, so good!