Motherwell by Deborah Orr

Motherwell by Deborah Orr

Motherwell is the heart-breaking, poignant story of Deborah Orr’s difficult relationship with her mother, and her home town. But this is no misery memoir. There is a lot of humour among the pathos. It feels like she is trying to make sense of her past and move on. It must have been cathartic to get it all off her chest. It is a real shame that she did not live long enough to reap the benefits.  

Having grown up in another Lanarkshire town less than ten miles north of Motherwell, and only a few years earlier than Deborah Orr, reading this book took me right back to what it was like growing up there in the 60s and 70s. She captures the place and time with such attention to detail; it reminded me of stuff I’d long forgotten.

Although set in central Scotland, there is a universality to this story. Her parents, Win and John, do not come out of this well, but you can relate to their inability to understand their clever daughter and how the world had changed. That she got out and made a successful life for herself is testament to her strength of character.

I always enjoyed reading her columns in the Guardian; she had a unique voice. Who knows what she might have gone on to accomplish next, had her life not been cut so cruelly short.

House of War by Scott Mariani

House of War

Passing through Paris on his way home to Le Val, Ben Hope is minding his own business. A young woman accidentally bumps into him in the street, and when she has gone on her way he finds her mobile phone in the gutter. He goes to her address but is too late to save her; she has been brutally murdered. He passes a man on the stairs and realises they have met before, many years ago, when Ben was in the SAS. Warning bells are ringing; this man – Nazim al-Kassar – was captured in the Iraq War, and reported dead by the Americans.

In this relentless, action-packed thriller, the twentieth novel featuring Ben Hope, a dangerous terrorist is on the loose and the clock is ticking. Ben is forced to turn to Tyler Roth, a Delta Force colleague involved in the original capture of Nazim al-Kassar, in order to track him down. He is obviously not to be trusted, and his anti-Muslim tirade is really over the top, but Ben has no choice; he must follow the only lead he has.

House of War is slightly different to the other books in this series as it does not have the usual historical element to the story. The up-to-date theme of terrorism makes Ben’s task seem much more frightening because it is rooted in reality. There is always a point in Ben Hope books where you wonder how he is going to get out alive, the tension is ramped up, and you have to keep reading feverishly to see how he does it; this is no exception.

Looking forward to Ben’s next adventure, The Pretender’s Gold, when it comes out in May. Thanks to the author, publisher and NetGalley for an ARC in exchange for an honest review.

If I Never Met You by Mhairi McFarlane

If I Never Met You by Mhairi McFarlane

Raw from a break-up she had not seen coming, Laurie gets stuck in a lift with Jamie Carter, the office Lothario, and together they hatch a plan to their mutual advantage – Laurie can make Dan jealous and stop feeling like a victim; Jamie can impress his boss and get a promotion. I’ve read quite a few ‘fake romance’ novels over the years (try Something Stupid by Victoria Corby) and this is one of the best. The plan is to put photos of their dates on social media, but, of course, these things never go to plan.

Laurie accompanies Jamie to a family party and sees him in a new light – the real person underneath the façade – and the inevitable happens. They both seem to bring out the best in each other; Laurie comes out of her shell and Jamie is much more caring than his office image.

It becomes clear with hindsight that the relationship between Laurie and Dan had not been quite as idyllic as she had believed. She had given in to what he wanted quite a lot and repressed her true self. Once she got over the pain, she would realise what a lucky escape she had had. The way he had broken up with her and his behaviour since should make her realise how selfish and despicable he was. Add in that she still had to work in the same office, a toxic den of malicious gossip, racism and sexism, and no wonder she was looking for payback.

I have read (and loved) all of Mhairi McFarlane’s books and this is no exception – dry humour, well-drawn, believable characters, witty dialogue, and Manchester setting. It would make a great rom-com. Thanks to the author, publisher and NetGalley for a copy to review.

Unknown Male by Nicolas Obregon

Unknown Male by Nicolas Obregon

After a gap of ten years, Kosuke Iwata has returned to Tokyo to investigate the murder of a young British student, Skye Mackintosh. The Olympic Games are about to begin, the eyes of the world are on Tokyo, and the Japanese authorities have to be seen to do everything by the book. DC Anthea Lynch from the Met has been sent over with Skye’s family to assist as she speaks some Japanese. Like Iwata, she has a disregard for authority but is also an excellent detective.

There is a parallel storyline about the disappearance of sex workers; there does not appear to be any connection between the two cases. The story mostly focuses on Iwata, interspersed with the thoughts of Mr Sato – an ‘invisible’ man in a suit, with a horrific secret.   

I have read all of Nicolas Obregon’s books featuring Kosuke Iwata (Blue Light Yokohama and Sins as Scarlet) and this is his best yet – a gripping thriller with just the right mix of description, action and dialogue. Even though Nicolas Obregon is not a native of Japan, his poetic descriptions of the neon-lit streets of Tokyo, and insights into Japanese culture, make Unknown Male a wonderful example of Japanese noir. It remains to be seen whether this is the last book to feature Kosuke Iwata, but I hope we catch up with him again one day. Thanks to the author, publisher and NetGalley for a copy to review.

In Too Deep by Elly Redding

In Too Deep by Elly Redding

Isy Forrester has been living and working in London for six years, ever since she fled her Devon home and her break-up with Jack Mancini. Jack is her father’s godson and had been living with them since Isy was six and Jack was eleven. Jack has a secret that he won’t not divulge to Isy about why he came to live with them all those years ago, and why he won’t go back to London.

Isy’s dad, Frank, has a heart attack and she has to come home urgently, bringing her back into contact with Jack who still lives in the family home. With her father out of danger, Isy learns that Hambledon Hall is being renovated with a view to becoming a wedding venue, otherwise they will have to sell it. Very reluctantly Isy agrees to come home for three months, and help Jack to ensure the house is ready for the first booking.

She is very uncomfortable being under the same roof as Jack as it’s obvious they both still have feelings for each other; the memories from six years before come flooding back. Told from the alternating points of view of Isy and Jack, with lots of flashbacks, Elly Redding gradually peels back the layers to reveal Jack’s secret. The tension is ramped up and what we discover is quite a shock.  

It might seem that Isy is obsessed with learning the truth about Jack’s past, but until he confronts it there will always be a barrier between them; he needs to face up to it to be able to move on, and for them to have a future together.

In Too Deep was a joy to read with its vivid descriptions of the Devon countryside, witty banter between Jack and Isy, well-drawn, believable characters and sensitive handling of some fairly distressing themes. It was interesting to note the unflattering language used to describe Tom; it suggested to me that his days were numbered. I had not read anything by Elly Redding before, but will definitely go back and read her first book, True Colours.