August 24

Short Stories and Novellas

I don’t often read short stories (though that will be changing soon…more on that later). Recently, however, I have had the opportunity to snatch some quick reading time and have targeted some short stories and novellas which had caught my eye.

 

First up is The Travelling Bag by Susan Hill

From the foggy streets of Victorian London to the eerie perfection of 1950s suburbia, the everyday is invaded by the evil otherworldly in this unforgettable collection of new ghost stories from the author of The Woman in Black.

In the title story, on a murky evening in a warmly lit club off St James, a bishop listens closely as a paranormal detective recounts his most memorable case, one whose horrifying denouement took place in that very building.

In ‘The Front Room’, a devoutly Christian mother tries to protect her children from the evil influence of their grandmother, both when she is alive and when she is dead.

A lonely boy finds a friend in ‘Boy Number 21’, but years later he is forced to question the nature of that friendship, and to ask whether ghosts can perish in fires.

This is Susan Hill at her best, telling characteristically flesh-creeping and startling tales of thwarted ambition, terrifying revenge and supernatural stirrings that will leave readers wide-awake long into the night.

 

My thanks to the team at Serpents Tail for the review copy I received through Netgalley

 

A collection of 4 ghostly tales from Susan Hill. Three stories are outlined in the description above – each took me around half an hour to read and the whole book is around 180 pages in length.  I have my favourites, Boy Number 21 and the unmentioned 4thstory (Alice Baker – a chiller set in an office) were the two which gripped me most.

The Front Room is particularly grim reading but I found it didn’t draw me in quite in the way the other stories had done.  I find that Ghost Stories are harder to pitch as a collection – while all the stories can be creepy, different people respond to different types of chills so in any collection there will be elements which impact people in different ways.

I do enjoy a creepy tale and The Travelling Bag was the welcome break from reading crime thrillers that I had hoped it would be.  The physical book looks rather nice too but its relatively short length made me think it may be more likely to be given as a gift than one a reader may seek out on their own.

Fans of Susan Hill and readers who soak up ghost stories this is one to seek out.

 

 

The Paper Cell – Louise Hutcheson

The first in a new series of distinctive, standalone crime stories, each with a literary bent. In 1950s London, a literary agent finds fame when he secretly steals a young woman’s brilliant novel manuscript and publishes it under his own name, Lewis Carson. Two days after their meeting, the woman is found strangled on Peckham Rye Common: did Lewis purloin the manuscript as an act of callous opportunism, or as the spoils of a calculated murder?

 

My thanks to Sara at Contraband for my review copy

The Paper Cell is a novella from the new Pocket Crime Selection from Contraband Books. It is a beautifully crafted tale of life in the literary circles of 1950’s London.  We begin in the modern day, an author meeting with a journalist after the author grants a rare interview. It becomes clear that there are reasons the author has been reluctant to speak with the press – once we are transported back to recollections of the author’s life as a young man in London the shocking truths start to spill out.

Of the three books covered in this post The Paper Cell was by far the one I enjoyed the most. Louise Hutcheson keeps the story slick, her characters leap off the page and you can easily imagine the smoke filled reading rooms and fussy publishers office meetings.

There is a darkness running through The Paper Cell and the reader gets a fly on the wall view of some terrible behaviours and sinister actions. Yet those dark scenes are in the background as much of the story follows young writers pursing their dreams or and young lovers enjoying their blossoming relationship.

Louise Hutcheson can tell knows how to tell a good story and this had me captivated.

 

 

A Rare Book of Cunning Device – Ben Aaronovich

Exclusive to Audio! Somewhere amongst the shadowy stacks and the many basements of the British library, something is very much amiss – and we’re not talking late returns here. Is it a ghost, or something much worse? PC Peter Grant really isn’t looking forward to finding out….

Still working my way through audiobooks and this was my introduction to PC Peter Grant – popular protagonist of the Ben Aaronovich Rivers of London series.  At 30 minutes running length this free audiobook is a must listen for fans of the series.  I can say this only from the position of a new reader as I have not read Rivers (or any of the other Grant books) but I loved A Rare Book of Cunning Device.

The narrator Kobna Holdbrook-Smith has a very listenable voice and the feedback on his performance from other readers is extremely positive as fans of the series have expressed their approval at how he handles their beloved characters.

Deep within the British Library, Peter Grant, comes up against the most formidable of opponents – a Librarian.  Oh there may also be a poltergeist but Grant knows better…doesn’t he?

 

 

 

Category: 5* Reviews, Audiobook, From The Bookshelf | Comments Off on Short Stories and Novellas
August 17

Block 46 – Johana Gustawsson – Audio

Evil remembers…

Falkenberg, Sweden. The mutilated body of talented young jewellery designer, Linnea Blix, is found in a snow-swept marina.
Hampstead Heath, London. The body of a young boy is discovered with similar wounds to Linnea’s.
Buchenwald Concentration Camp, 1944. In the midst of the hell of the Holocaust, Erich Hebner will do anything to see himself as a human again.

Are the two murders the work of a serial killer, and how are they connected to shocking events at Buchenwald?

Emily Roy, a profiler on loan to Scotland Yard from the Canadian Royal Mounted Police, joins up with Linnea’s friend, French truecrime writer Alexis Castells, to investigate the puzzling case. They travel between Sweden and London, and then deep into the past, as a startling and terrifying connection comes to light.

 

Another from my unexpected (but very enjoyable) Audiobook Season – today I get to rave about Block 46.

First the audiobook experience.  Very positive!  The narration duties are split for Block 46 – the majority of the book is delivered by Patricia Rodriguez with the “historical” elements (which I shall come to shortly) picked up by Mark Meadows. The two voices work wonderfully – both actors are to be commended for bringing the story to life around me.

Block 46 is a modern day murder mystery but it holds a link to 1944 and a concentration camp in Germany (the aforementioned Historical element of the tale). In London Alexis Castells attends the launch of a new jewellery collection designed by her friend Linnea Blix – despite the importance of the night Linnea does not appear. Alexis travels to Sweden where Linnea would often stay “on retreat” but as she arrives in snowy Falkenberg Linnea’s body is found.

While Alexis gets swept up in the investigation into Linnea’s murder – kept in the loop through a friendship with criminal profiler Emily Roy – the reader gets to slip back in time where we encounter Erich Hebner.  A German national in a German concentration camp.  Erich is doing what he can to survive but when Johana Gustawsson begins to outline some of the terrors which Erich, and the other prisoners, endure each day it becomes impossible to see how he will escape from this Hell.

Narrative swings to present day, the murder investigation reveals some unexpected connections to London. Then we are back in wartime Germany and Erich’s story moves on…he has been granted a rare opportunity to contribute to the German “war effort” but how will he feel about helping when he learns he is going to Block 46. Nobody every comes out of Block 46 alive.

I cannot praise this book enough – at times harrowing but always compelling. It threw up the classic reading dilemma – so good I want to reach the end to find out what happened. But I don’t want to reach the end as I was enjoying it so much.

 

Block 46 is published by Orenda Books and is available in paperback, digital and audiobook.  You can order a copy here: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Block-Roy-Castells-Johana-Gustawsson/dp/1910633704/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1502917618&sr=1-1

 

 

Category: 5* Reviews, Audiobook, From The Bookshelf | Comments Off on Block 46 – Johana Gustawsson – Audio
August 9

The Girl in the Ice – Robert Bryndza – Audio

Her eyes are wide open. Her lips parted as if to speak. Her dead body frozen in the ice…She is not the only one.

When a young boy discovers the body of a woman beneath a thick sheet of ice in a South London park, Detective Erika Foster is called in to lead the murder investigation.

The victim, a beautiful young socialite, appeared to have the perfect life. Yet when Erika begins to dig deeper, she starts to connect the dots between the murder and the killings of three prostitutes, all found strangled, hands bound, and dumped in water around London.

What dark secrets is the girl in the ice hiding?

As Erika inches closer to uncovering the truth, the killer is closing in on Erika.

The last investigation Erika led went badly wrong…resulting in the death of her husband. With her career hanging by a thread, Erika must now battle her own personal demons as well as a killer more deadly than any she’s faced before. But will she get to him before he strikes again?

 

My thanks to Kim at Bookouture for the opportunity to listen to this book.

 

The variable nature of my day job sprang a recent surprise…gone is my daily train journey and my hour of peaceful reading on the train. Say hello to 3 or 4 hours in the car each day. Say hello to a series of audiobook reviews here at Grab This Book.

Audiobooks live and die on one crucial element – the narrator. It really does not matter how good the underlying story is, if the narration is jarring then listening to that voice for 10+ hours is not going to be a fun or relaxing experience.

Fortunately for Robert Bryndza’s The Girl in the Ice the listener is in very good hands. Jan Cramer narrates throughout and she does a fantastic job. Erika Foster’s voice is now firmly fixed into my mind and Cramer’s narration has brought a character to life for me more vividly than would have been the case had I read a paper copy of the book.

As for the story – I loved it. A society rich girl (and seemingly an extremely shallow young woman) is found dead in the waters of London. She has been bound and brutally attacked prior to death and Erika Foster is put in charge of the investigation. Foster is taking on a new role in London, relocating from Manchester following the death of her husband (a fellow police officer) when a police operation went badly wrong.

Thrown in at the deep end – Foster must establish her authority over a new team, overcome racial prejudices when dealing with the dead girl’s parents and contend with factions within the police who are determined to undermine her investigation to keep a politically sensitive murder investigation “acceptable” in the media.

The juggle and pressure which Foster faces will take its toll and I felt myself getting frustrated that she was being thwarted at pursing the leads she felt needed tackled. Robert Bryndza presents us with a string of red herrings and a suspect pool which is sufficiently broad and unlikeable (for various reasons) that it will keep you guessing to the identity of the killer – right until the shocking endgame.

Fans of police procedurals and gripping serial killer thrillers – this is a book for you. I cannot listen as fast as I can read – but I grudged every second that I had to remove my earbuds whilst listening to The Girl in the Ice.

 

The Girl in the Ice is available as a paperback, digital book and (obviously) as an audiobook. You can order a copy here: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Girl-Ice-gripping-thriller-Detective-ebook/dp/B019G6DSDE/ref=asap_bc?ie=UTF8

Category: 5* Reviews, Audiobook, From The Bookshelf | Comments Off on The Girl in the Ice – Robert Bryndza – Audio