Last Night by Mhairi McFarlane

Last Night by Mhairi McFarlane

Eve has been friends with Susie, Ed and Justin since sixth form, and most Thursdays you will find them taking part in their local pub quiz. Then one evening, as they all head home, something horrific happens which has unforeseen consequences for them all.

Set in Nottingham, Last Night is a bit darker than Mhairi McFarlane’s previous novels, with less focus on romance, but this is not a bad thing as it is a wonderful story about friendship, loss, betrayal and moving on. The characters are well written, there is humour to lighten the darkness, a road trip, interesting pop culture references, and even a lovely cat called Roger.  

Told solely from Eve’s point of view, we see the world through her eyes, so can only guess at the behaviour and motivations of the others, which adds to the mystery. The secrets of the past are slowly revealed and make her question just how well they all knew each other.

Last Night is Mhairi McFarlane at her absolute best; her witty and insightful writing just gets better with every book. Never mind what category this book fits into, it’s a great story that will take you on a journey along with Eve as she tries to make sense of the past, and build a better future for herself.

I have read and enjoyed all of Mhairi McFarlane’s books, so requesting this was a no-brainer. Thanks to HarperCollins and NetGalley for a digital copy to review #fLastNight #MhairiMcFarlane

Behind Closed Doors by Catherine Alliott

Behind Closed Doors by Catherine Alliott

On the surface Lucy Palmer seems to have it all – two lovely grown-up children, a career as a crime novelist, marriage to a well-known theatre critic and a beautiful house in the city. However, appearances can be deceptive as not all abuse is visible on the outside. For years she suffered her husband Michael’s controlling behaviour – he made it impossible for her to just walk away – but now, due to unforeseen circumstances, she can take charge of her own life.  

Meanwhile, her ageing parents, Cecily and Henry, are finding it hard to cope on their own, but are reluctant to admit it. She rents out her house and goes back to live with them, which gives her some breathing space to consider her future.

If you are familiar with Catherine Alliott’s novels, you will recognise this world. Her characters are wonderfully drawn and completely believable – I especially liked Lucy’s parents and their circle of eccentric friends, and her twin nieces, Tess and Maudie. On the other hand Michael’s sister, Amanda is truly horrible; despite this, somehow, I still had some sympathy for her. Their troubled childhood had obviously warped them both.

There is not as much focus on romance in Behind Closed Doors as there usually is in novels by this writer, but that’s fine as this is such and interesting and absorbing story. Told entirely from Lucy’s point of view, with enough humour to lighten the dark subject matter, we are with her all the way as she contemplates how (and with whom) she wants to live the rest of her life.

I have read and loved all Catherine Alliott’s books, and this is one of her best. The title is very apt, referring as it does to both Lucy’s life and that of her parents. The serious subjects dealt with in Behind Closed Doors are handled with sensitivity and empathy, and are a reminder that not all suffering can be seen with the naked eye.

Thanks to Penguin and NetGalley for a digital copy to review #BehindClosedDoors #CatherineAlliott

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 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 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