London, With Love by Sarra Manning

London With Love by Sarra Manning

Recently, I have read a few novels with a similar premise to London, With Love where the main characters seem destined to be together, but the outcome is unknown. Not all writers manage to do this well, but here Sarra Manning has got it just right. I was interested in the story itself, and not obsessed with how it would all end.  

Jen and Nick meet  in 1986 while doing their A levels at Barnet College and become friends (though she does have a bit of a secret crush on him). Over the following nineteen years, they dip in and out of each other’s lives, never quite on the same page, though their mutual attraction is there for all to see.

The story is told entirely from Jen’s point of view, which means we only see Nick through her eyes, never get his perspective, and only find out what is going on in his life on the occasions they bump into each other. Sarra Manning weaves real historical events into the narrative, along with a soundtrack and popular culture references that help to ground the story in time and place.    

The characters are well drawn, even the minor ones, and we see Jen and Nick mature as the story progresses from insecure teenagers to fully functioning but flawed adults. The title is apt, as the author has painted a loving portrait of her home city and its transport system. I am a fan of Sarra Manning’s writing anyway, and I really enjoyed London, With Love. Thanks to Hodder and NetGalley for a digital copy to review.

Truly, Darkly, Deeply by Victoria Selman

Truly Darkly Deeply by Victoria Selman

Having previously enjoyed the Ziba MacKenzie series by Victoria Selman, I was keen to give Truly, Darkly, Deeply a try. It is a standalone thriller about a serial killer operating in North London in the early 1980s. It is told from the unusual viewpoint of Sophie, both when she was twelve years old at the time the killer was active, and twenty years later as she decides whether to visit him before he dies in prison. He has always professed his innocence, but she needs closure for the sake of her mental health.

Sophie and her mum, Amelia Rose, move from America to London for a new start. Her mum meets Matty Melgren and he becomes the closest thing to a father that Sophie has known. He is very charming and they have a lot of fun, but he is also secretive and prone to unexplained absences. The narrative alternates between the two timeframes, and the story is gradually revealed. It focuses on how the family of a serial killer is affected by what he has done, and how they are treated by others, especially the press, as if they were just as guilty and must  have known what he was up to. There are references to real life serial killers, and the extracts from blogs, websites and newspaper articles add an extra dimension to the story. There is a strong sense of time and place, with lots of popular culture, and I could imagine it being made into a film or TV series. Thanks to Quercus and NetGalley for a digital copy to review.

What His Wife Knew by Jo Jakeman

What His Wife Knew by Jo Jakeman

When the body of Oscar Lomas is found at the bottom of a remote cliff in the Peak District, it is assumed to be suicide, but Beth cannot accept that her husband took his own life. She needs to find out the truth before she can move on, and in the process discovers that Oscar was not the man she thought he was. The deeper she digs into his life, the more secrets she reveals. He was not a good man, but controlling, arrogant and selfish.

Told from the perspectives of Beth, her friend Molly, and DC Lowry Endecott, What His Wife Knew is a gripping psychological thriller, full of twists and misdirection, where everyone has something to hide. The characters are well written and believable, but it is difficult to empathise with a most of them. You keep on reading because you want to know what really happened, rather than because you care about the characters.  At first, I didn’t much care about Beth either, but her character develops throughout the story and I admired her tenacity. She goes from being a stay-at-home wife and mother to taking control of her life as she works through the stages of grief from denial to acceptance. I previously enjoyed The Safe House by this author, so was keen to read What His Wife Knew and I was not disappointed. Thanks to Random House, Vintage and NetGalley for a digital copy to review.

No Less the Devil by Stuart MacBride

No Less the Devil by Stuart MacBride

While disappointed not to have a new Logan McRae novel to read, I am always happy to read anything written by Stuart MacBride. No Less the Devil is a standalone, set in familiar fictional  Oldcastle like the Ash Henderson series, and highly unusual crime thriller.

It is a fairly long book, though you tend not to realise when reading on a kindle, and it takes a little while to get going as we are introduced to the main characters, DS Lucy McVeigh and DC Duncan Fraser. It is seventeen months since the ‘Bloodsmith’ killed his last victim, and the police are no closer to catching them. Lucy and Duncan are given the task of revisiting the crime scenes to look for anything that might have been missed the first time round. It becomes obvious that the killer was refining his technique with each victim, but it is not clear why they were chosen.

Added to the mix is Benedict Strachan, who killed a homeless man when he was eleven, and has now been released from prison. He thinks ‘they’ are after him – is it paranoia or is he right? Told entirely from Lucy’s perspective, we have no insight into the killer’s mind. The plot is complex with many dark themes running through it, and a very strange boarding school (more than usual) at the centre. It took me a while to warm to DS McVeigh, but by the end of the book I at least understood her better.

To begin with No Less the Devil seems to be a typical Stuart MacBride story, with his wonderfully descriptive writing style, amusing banter and black humour, but then there is a twist that turns the whole thing on its head and makes you doubt everything you have already read. It’s very entertaining, but won’t appeal to everyone, and the ending seems to suggest that there may be more to come. Thanks to Bantam Press and NetGalley for a digital copy to review.

The Second Cut by Louise Welsh

The Second Cut by Louise Welsh

Not having been able to visit my home country of Scotland for the last couple of years, I find myself reading a lot more books either by Scottish writers or set in Scotland. The Second Cut is the follow up to The Cutting Room, which was published over twenty years ago. They both feature the same main character, an auctioneer called Rilke, who is a gay man living in Glasgow. Because I read both books recently, it is very obvious how some things have changed for the better, but the situation is not perfect and still has a long way to go.

Rilke meets his friend Jojo at a wedding, where he passes on a tip about a house clearance in the Borders that would be financially beneficial to the firm Rilke works for, but the next day Jojo is dead. Ballantyne House proves to be a treasure trove, but all is not as it first appears.

Told in the first person from Rilke’s point of view, this story depicts a Glasgow that is so familiar and, at the same time, unknown to me; the city is almost a character in its own right. Suffused with dark humour and witty dialogue, The Second Cut is well written and expertly plotted by a writer at the top of her game. It exposes the seedy underbelly of the city – people trafficking, a new and highly dangerous drug, gay orgies, vicious gangsters – and is not for those of a sensitive disposition.

Rilke is a fascinating character and has matured in the intervening years; he is still cynical and streetwise, but not nearly so self-destructive. He is constantly walking a fine line between right and wrong, even if if gets him into trouble. The Second Cut is one of my favourite books this year so far. I have no idea if Louise Welsh is planning to write any more about Rilke, but I would definitely be up for reading it. Thanks to Canongate and NetGalley for a digital copy to review.