The Cut by Chris Brookmyre

The Cut by Chris Brookmyre

The Cut is a standalone thriller from one of my favourite Scottish crime writers. At the heart of this story is the relationship between the main characters, Millicent and Jerry. Recently released from prison, having served twenty-five years for a crime she claims she did not commit, Millicent Spark is finding it hard to adjust to the modern world. She is planning her own demise when Jerry – a film studies student at Glasgow university who is also having trouble fitting in – comes to live in the house she shares with two other elderly women.  This unlikely duo bond over their love of horror films. After Millicent sees an old photo in a hotel that makes her question the past, they join forces to try and find out what really happened all those years ago.

The flashbacks to when Millicent worked a special effects make-up artist on horror films reveal fascinating glimpses behind the scenes of a world most of us know nothing about. I am not a fan of horror movies, but this did not stop me enjoying this book immensely. Jerry is obsessed with a movie that was never released, and believed to be cursed, called Mancipium; co-incidentally, it was the last film Millicent worked on, and seems to be the source of the conspiracy behind what happened to her.

I loved the familiar Glasgow setting, and the road trip to Europe, as well as the cultural and cinematic references woven into the narrative which resulted in a lot of point-scoring and amusing dialogue. This fast-paced, tightly plotted novel featuring Chris Brookmyre’s trademark black humour was thoroughly engrossing. The characters were well-rounded and believable, and developed as the story progressed, so that they both realised, by the end, that their lives were worth living after all.

Thanks to Little, Brown Book Group and NetGalley for a digital copy to review.

The World at My Feet by Catherine Isaac

The World at my Feet by Catherine Isaac

The World at My Feet is a dual-timeline story split between the present day, and the late 1980s and early 1990s. Harriet, a foreign correspondent in the mould of Kate Adie, had travelled the world and reported on conflict and suffering, but was deeply affected on a personal level by the conditions inside the orphanages in Romania.

Ellie, an instagram influencer, posting about her garden as @EnglishCountryGardenista, is living in the granny annexe of her parent’s house, but suffers from agoraphobia and has not been outside the gate for a couple of years. Her parents are very supportive, but also worried about her mental health and her future. A new relationship makes her want to try again to overcome her fears.

Told from the alternating viewpoints of Harriet and Ellie, the past is gradually revealed, and we learn why Ellie is so troubled. The mental health issues and emotional problems are handled with great sensitivity and thoughtfulness. Ellie comes to understand that, with professional help and the love of her friends and family, she can move forward and try to lead a normal life.

I have read and enjoyed lots of other books by Catherine Isaac, and in my opinion The World at My Feet is her best yet. It is well researched, beautifully written and the characters are completely believable. I particularly liked her relationship with five-year-old Oscar, and how they were really helping each other.

Thanks to Simon & Schuster and NetGalley for a digital copy to review.

The Shadow Man by Helen Fields

The Shadow Man by Helen Fields

The Shadow Man is a chillingly dark crime novel, set in Edinburgh, that seems to be about a simple kidnapping, but turns out to be much more complicated. Elspeth Dunwoody – the daughter-in-law of a wealthy global tech company CEO – has disappeared. DI Brodie Baarda, on loan from the Met, and Dr Connie Woolwine, an American forensic psychologist, have been brought in to investigate due to the high-profile nature of the victim. Despite their different approaches, they trust each other’s instincts, and their conversations lighten the tension that would otherwise be overwhelming. Connie reminded me of Temperance Brennan in her lack of people skills; she was excellent in a professional capacity, but tended to rub people up the wrong way.

The first couple of chapters set the tone, and give us a taste of just how dangerous a protagonist we are dealing with here. It comes to light that he is suffering from a rare mental condition where he believes he is dying and therefore has nothing left to lose. The chapters from his point of view really made my skin crawl; he is obviously insane, but Helen Fields somehow manages to evoke some sympathy for him while not condoning his behaviour. However, the most upsetting parts to read were the sections revealing the claustrophobic conditions in which the victims were being held. As the story developed, I found I could not read The Shadow Man in bed at night – it was just too creepy.

Well written, with fully rounded characters, The Shadow Man is a dark and disturbing tale that makes the most of its Edinburgh setting. The main characters work well together, and I hope we see them again. I had not read any of this writer’s books before, but have since found out she is the author of the ‘Perfect’ series, also set in Edinburgh, and I look forward to reading them very soon.

Thanks to Avon and NetGalley for a digital copy to review.

The Lumbermill by Laya V Smith

The Lumbermill by Laya V Smith

The Lumbermill is an excellent debut novel that takes horrific, little-known historical events and embroiders them into a dark and sinister narrative. Unit 731, or the Epidemic Prevention and Water Purification Department, was a part of the Japanese army responsible for atrocities greater than, or on a par with, those of the Nazis, and Augy Small has first-hand experience and the scars to prove it.

Now a private investigator in Los Angeles, the former WW2 fighter pilot and Japanese prisoner of war has lost everything he cares about. One evening Katya runs in front of his car, and he is drawn back into a nightmare world that he thought he had left behind forever. She needs his help but everyone they encounter seems to be part of the conspiracy – who can they trust?

This is a well-written, fast-paced story, reminiscent in style to Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett. The setting of 1950s Los Angeles made it feel like a film noir. Laya V Smith has written some wonderful characters that you really care about, and others that totally deserve everything that’s coming to them. Augy is a deeply flawed individual, still suffering from nightmares and post traumatic stress disorder, but no matter what he encounters he doesn’t give up. Some suspension of disbelief is called for as the severity of his injuries should have incapacitated him, but this is a work of fiction after all.

The Lumbermill is an impressive debut novel that will keep you turning the pages long into the night, and I look forward to reading more from Laya V Smith in the future. Thanks to the author for a copy that I review as a member of Rosie’s Book Review Team #RBRT

The Things We Left Unsaid by Emma Kennedy

The Things We Left Unsaid by Emma Kennedy

Only six weeks after the death of her father, Rachel is left standing at the altar by fiance, Claude, with no explanation. As she lived and worked with him, she has no choice but to return home to live with her mother, Eleanor, who is a well-known artist. Their relationship is strained and awkward, with neither of them able to comfort the other through their grief.

One day, when she just has to get out of the house, Rachel does not stop to listen when her mother wants to talk about something important, thinking there will be time later. On arriving home, she finds her mother lying dead in the garden. In her grief, she realises she knew little about her mother’s early life, and becomes obsessed with finding out what it was that Eleanor had been so desperate to tell her.

Emma Kennedy makes good use of dual timelines to tell this heartbreaking story. From Rachel’s reading of old letters and diaries, we get Eleanor’s story about when she went off to art school in London in the 1960s. I especially enjoyed these chapters that revealed how she embraced the freedom of being away from her parents for the first time and met lots of interesting people.

The characters are vividly portrayed; I particularly liked Jake, who Eleanor met on her first day at art school, and Eleanor’s sister, Agnes, who brought humour to both sections of the story. I’ll leave you to discover for yourself just how despicable and mercenary Claude turns out to be. The two separate strands of the narrative gradually coalesce until we discover the big secret Eleanor has been hiding from everyone.

This is a fascinating portrayal of bohemian London in the 1960s, and my only reservation is that the ending felt a bit rushed. Caspar was an interesting character, but could perhaps have played a bigger part in the story.

Thanks to Cornerstone Digital and NetGalley for a digital copy to review.

SfEP badge Intermediate Member Social