The Black Art of Killing by Matthew Hall

The Black Art of Killing by Matthew Hall

In The Black Art of Killing, Leo Black has quit the SAS to forge a new career in academia, but is finding it hard to gain acceptance at Worcester College, Oxford. When his former colleague and friend, Ryan Finn, is murdered in Paris, Leo is dragged back into a world he thought he had left behind forever. He no longer wants to kill but, unfortunately, people with his skills are often the only solution.

This intelligent thriller, with its flawed and conflicted main character, will set your pulse racing as well as make you think. Leo Black is an unusual combination of the physical and the cerebral, but this is exactly what makes him so dangerous. The Black Art of Killing is well written and fast paced, with several unexpected twists that I did not anticipate, and an impressive finale where Leo closes in on the bad guys deep in the Venezuelan jungle, though some suspension of disbelief is necessary.

I thought The Black Art of Killing had a cinematic quality, could imagine it being made into a film or TV series, and then discovered why; the author is a well-known screenwriter responsible for the likes of Keeping Faith and The Coroner. I don’t know if Matthew Hall intends to write more books featuring Leo Black, the ending is inconclusive, but I would definitely be interested in reading them if he does.

Lost Children by Willa Bergman

Lost Children by Willa Bergman

Lost Children is the story of the search for a historically important painting that disappeared from a French chateau many years before. The first section of the book is fairly slow as the author sets the scene and introduces us to the main character, Elle, who works for a well-known auction house in London. In her role as private buyer, she enjoys privileged access to works of art hidden away in private collections that she would never normally see.

The Private Sales department is restructured, to make it more profitable, and Elle is put in charge, much to her surprise and delight. A new client asks her to find Portrait of the Lost Child by Albert Polignac; she tries to put him off, but he is insistent. Judging by her extreme reaction, Elle obviously knows a lot more about this painting than she is letting on.

Lost Children is told entirely from Elle’s point of view, and we gradually learn the history of the painting, and why it went missing, as well as her own backstory. She is an obviously troubled character, ill at ease most of the time, and always seems to be looking over her shoulder. Elle travels to New York in pursuit of the painting, realises she is not the only one on its trail, and has to use her wits to get the better of her ruthless adversaries.  The pace picks up as she rushes to meet the deadline she has been given before it is too late.

Many years ago I studied art history so Lost Children was of obvious interest to me. It is well written and thoroughly researched, and I enjoyed the insights into the world of art sales and auction houses, such as how you determine the monetary value of a piece of art. Split between London, New York and a chateau in the French countryside, this unusual thriller will keep you on the edge of your seat until you get to the very last page.

Thank you to the author for a digital copy that I review as a member of Rosie’s Book Review Team #RBRT

And Now You're Back by Jill Mansell

And Now You re Back by Jill Mansell

Set in fictional Elliscombe in the Cotswolds, And Now You’re Back tells the story of Didi and Shay who were in a relationship until Shay just upped and left without saying goodbye. Thirteen years have passed and Didi is now the manager of a boutique hotel, and engaged to Aaron. Shay has come back because his father, Red, is dying and wants to spend his last days in the old family home. They were both happily getting on with their lives, but find the spark is still there between them no matter how much they try to ignore it.

The focus is not solely on the relationship between Didi and Shay. And Now You’re Back features a cast of colourful, well-rounded characters with believable backstories that add depth to the narrative. We can guess the outcome, but it’s fun reading how it comes about.

Every year, in January, a new Jill Mansell novel arrives, and we readers can look forward to spending many enjoyable hours losing ourselves in the world she has created.  I have read all of her books and they rarely disappoint. In And Now You’re Back there are secrets to uncover and misunderstandings to sort out, but it is at heart about the possibility of second chances.


Dog Rose Dirt by Jen Williams

Dog Rose Dirt by Jen Williams

Heather has come back to her childhood home following the death of her mother, Colleen, who committed suicide and left a very ambiguous note. Heather had left home at sixteen and had had little contact with her mother since then. While searching for clues about her mother’s past, she finds a bundle of letters from a convicted serial killer.

In the news, a serial killer is again at large and his methods are remarkably similar, but how is this possible? Heather takes the letters to the police and gets permission to visit Michael Reave in prison. What gradually comes to light is a horrific story involving child abuse, grooming and weird goings-on at a hippy commune in Lancashire.  

Dog Rose Dirt is well written and very disturbing, but the plot does not quite work for me. Some of the characters, especially DI Ben Parker, were not developed enough; they just seemed to be there to move the plot along. There were so many references to fairy tales, wolves, feathers and dead birds thrown in that it all became a bit confusing and cliched. Heather was quite difficult to empathise with, especially as she made some seriously stupid, reckless decisions. Just when I thought I had figured out what was going on, the ending completely took me by surprise.

I read a lot of mystery thrillers, but Dog Rose Dirt veered slightly too far into the horror genre for my liking. I had to stop reading it before I went to sleep as I found the atmosphere very creepy.

Thanks to Crooked Lane Books and NetGalley for a digital copy to review.

What Will Burn by James Oswald

What Will Burn by James Oswald

What Will Burn, the eleventh of James Oswald’s books featuring Tony McLean, sees my favourite detective back from suspension, demoted to DI, but rather pleased to be getting back to doing what he does best. There is a fly in the ointment, however, in the shape of the new Chief Superintendent, Gail Elmwood. Having intervened in Tony’s case to prevent his punishment being any more severe, she oversteps the mark in what she expects from him in return. It’s difficult to decide whether her behaviour or that of Tommy Fielding was the more disturbing.

In a cottage deep in the woods, the charred remains of Cecily Slater are found and, at first, assumed to be the result of a tragic accident. The postmortem soon puts paid to that idea; before being set on fire she had been brutally beaten. Meanwhile, Tommy Fielding QC, who habitually defends men accused of violence against women, has been holding seminars on men’s rights in an Edinburgh hotel, and preaching his particularly offensive brand of misogyny. More men die in ‘weird’ circumstances, and are handed over to Tony to investigate, but could they all be connected?

I am not normally a fan of the supernatural, but it seems perfectly plausible here, and gives the Tony McLean books a unique quality, something that makes them stand out from the crowd. In What Will Burn, James Oswald skillfully blends the historical with the contemporary, and shows how the negative attitudes of some men towards women have never really changed.

The role of women is very much at the heart of What Will Burn. James Oswald writes wonderfully convincing female characters; in fact the majority of McLean’s team are female officers, two of whom get promoted in this story, and it’s good to see Janey Harrison going from strength to strength.

Tony’s interactions with Mrs McCutcheon’s cat when he gets home late in the evening, and the scene where Cecily Slater’s cat seems to be waiting for him, bring a touch of humour that lightens the all-pervading sense of unease in What Will Burn. This series just keeps getting better, and I look forward (patiently) to reading the next one.

Thanks to Wildfire and NetGalley for a digital copy to review. #WhatWillBurn #JamesOswald

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