September 2

Waiting For Doggo – Mark Mills

Thank you to Frances Gough (and Doggo) for providing a review copy

Waiting For Doggo
Waiting For Doggo

I really enjoyed this charming wee tale (tail)?

Dan has been dumped and he has been lumbered with the new addition to his (now broken) household: a small and seemingly unattractive canine named Doggo.  Doggo and Dan have not bonded thus far but now must forge a relationship for the sake of Doggo’s gentleman parts…the Dog Home will not take him back ‘intact’.And so we begin our entertaining journey into Dan and Doggo’s strange relationship.

Dan had a successful career in Advertising until his wingman had a breakdown. Now he has a chance at a new start with an upcoming advertising agency and through Waiting For Doggo we find how Dan rebuilds his life and his career while battling rejection, navigating office politics and dealing with unexpected family revelations.

The author, Mark Mills, writes with an easy flowing style. He creates fun characters and I found it easy to get caught up in the office squabbles and be frustrated by the missed opportunities for our hero, Dan, to find his one true love.

Waiting for Doggo is not my normal type of read. No murders, no suspenseful cliff-hangers and I cannot recall any times when Dan faced mortal peril. However, I found I enjoyed Doggo a lot more than I may have expected. A fun story – if a film were made it would be considered a Rom-Com (with emphasis on the ‘Com’ as I read it with a grin on my face).

Doggo will likely be one of the shorter novels I read this year and it came to an end quicker than I expected. I was slightly surprised to find that I was disappointed by this as I would have read more. Hurrah for Dan and Doggo – good luck to you both.

Very different from my normal choice of read but lots of fun!

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September 2

Red Rising – Pierce Brown

I have to thank Bookbridgr and  Netgalley for giving me the chance to read this book.  I am happy to provide an honest review and will happily tell everyone that this book is brilliant!

Red Rising Trilogy - Part 1
Red Rising Trilogy – Part 1

I have not read a fantasy novel for several years and I forgot my golden rule…never start a fantasy saga until all the books have been written. Red Rising is the first in a trilogy and I need parts two and three NOW!!!!!

Neither are available yet, Pierce Brown has promised that book two will be out in January 2015 – it already seems a long wait!

I tried to explain to a friend what Red Rising was like…Lord of the Flies with some 1984, a bit of Running Man but set on Mars. That does not do it justice, it is all of those yet more.

Just to clarify, I loved Red Rising!

Red Rising follows the story of Darrow. He is a Red, a miner on Mars. Generations of Reds (the lowest class of society) have been mining deep below the surface of Mars to help the Golds (the Society Elite) to terraform the planet and bring them a new world to live in.  Unknown to Darrow and the Reds, the terraforming completed several generations ago and the surface of the planet houses a civilisation that live a decadent lifestyle while the Reds continue to work themselves to death below ground so the elite can party.

Darrow gets a glimpse of life above the surface of the planet and his life is turned upside down, his life is a lie. Everything he believed and worked for was a sham. He gets offered the chance to change things – can he become one of the elite? Can he become a Gold and then crush those that perpetuate the lie? Can he bring down the elite Golds and the life that they have built for themselves?

We read about Darrow as his life is rebuilt. His appearance is changed (bones smashed and flesh carved). He learns new skills, adopts a new identity and has to undergo the trials that will deem if he (and hundreds of others) can be worthy to rise to the top of the pile.

The trial process most made me draw comparisons with Lord of the Flies – teams are formed amongst the students seeking to become the best ‘Golds’. They are thrown into an artificially constructed landscape where different factions are pitted against each other to see which faction can make best use of their resources and prevail. Each faction has a will to win and it soon becomes dog-eat-dog/kill or be killed. This is gripping story telling from Pierce Brown and the depths to which some of the trialists will stoop is terrifying.  As a Doctor Who fan, my mental image of this part of the story was a battle playing out in the Death Zone on Gallifrey.

Darrow is a likeable hero. He has to become something that he hates, act in a way that is alien to his natural instinct and he does not always make the right choices. This is a hugely satisfying read but be warned – it is just the beginning of the story!

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August 21

The Drop – Dennis Lehane

The Drop follows lonely bartender Bob Saginowski through a cover scheme of

Movie Adaptation incoming
Movie Adaptation Incoming

funnelling cash to local gangsters — ‘money drops’ — in the underworld of Boston bars. Under the heavy hand of his employer and cousin Marv, Bob finds himself at the centre of a robbery gone awry and entwined in an investigation that digs deep into the neighbourhood’s past where friends, families and foes all work together to make a living — no matter the cost.

 

Thanks to Netgalley for making this book available for review.

 

Several years ago I discovered Dennis Lehane’s excellent Kenzie-Gennaro novels and at the time I thought they were one of the best collections that I owned. I persuaded friends and colleagues to read them and bought multiple copies of some of the titles as my books were not returned if I lent them out.   The fifth book Prayers for Rain came out in 1999 and then…

…Lehane moved on to new projects and didn’t return to Kenzie and Genarro until 2010 with Moonlight Mile (which I missed as I didn’t know about it until yesterday). During the intervening 11 year period he penned several other works which included Mystic River and Shutter Island both of which were adapted to film and became box office successes.

Getting the chance to read The Drop was something of a treat – by reading it I indirectly discover some of my favourite characters have retuned while I was not paying attention AND I get to enjoy a story by an author I have not read since 1999. Yup didn’t read any of the stand-alone novels – planning to go back though.

The reason I know I will go back to Lehane’s work is that The Drop was fabulous. It is a story about people. Nice people, bad people, mis-understood people, missing people and scary people but it is the author’s skill at making their lives intertwine that make this story so strong. Oh, there is a dog too!

The principle focus of The Drop is barkeeper Bob Saginowski. Through Bob we learn about the Chechen gangsters that have taken over the organised crime in his corner of Boston. They use the bar where Bob works as a ‘drop’ to pass money gained from gambling and prostitution. During the story someone robs the bar on the night a drop is to happen. This leads to some unhappy gangsters and places Bob in a predicament as he has to find a way to replace the lost money. He also has to find a way to stop his new dog fouling in his house. Both these issues seem to have equal concern for Bob such is his approach to life.

While Bob is a laid-back and uncomplicated fellow he crosses paths with an ex-convict who is borderline psychotic – their clashes are peppered through the tale and I found myself rooting for barkeep Bob to repel the bully. When a writer engages my sense of injustice I find myself more drawn to the story – naturally I want the bully to get a taste of their own medicine.

The beauty of The Drop is how the characters are developed as the story unfolds – to even allude to some of the best twists would be criminal – this is a tale you need to enjoy for yourself with little pre-conception as to what may be about to happen.

The strength of this story is the characterisation and the interchange between characters – this is not a book that ends every chapter on a dramatic cliff-hanger or rolls from set play to set play in a frenzy of adrenaline. To be clear though, this is not a boring story either – far from it. You engage with the characters and want to hear more about them, pages fly past and you get drawn into their small Bostonian corner. I loved it and was sorry to reach the last chapter all too soon.

The Drop is available from 2 September.

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August 19

Skylanders: The Kaos Trap – Bowden/Marz

The Kaos Trap
The Kaos Trap

 

The #1 kids videogame and hottest-selling toy, Skylanders, is coming to your bookshelf in all-new comic book adventures! Join fan-favorite characters Spyro, Stealth Elf, Trigger Happy, and more in these original, never-before-seen stories that tie directly into the videogames.

 

Thanks to Netgalley for the review copy of this forthcoming comic book adventure. And for making my kids ‘squee’ with excitement.

If you have not encountered Skylanders before then you have managed to avoid a videogame phenomenon. First encountered in the 2011 game Skylanders: Spyros Adventures the player guides a playable character through a series of colourful and challenging adventures seeking to beat the evil Kaos and thwart his plans to turn the lands of Skylands to darkness.

The twist in the Skylanders games is that the player has an actual toy (a physical object) which can be placed onto a ‘Portal’ that is connected to the videogame console – said toy is then transported into the game and the player controls a digital version of their character within the game. Fancy changing the hero? No problem…there were 32 inter-changeable characters in the first game and with the third sequel due this October there will be over 100 different playable characters available by Christmas.

Skylanders are a big deal in our household and the thrill of reading new adventures was evident when mini bookworm 1 and 2 (my bambino’s) crowded round my laptop to enjoy their first digital comic book experience.

Needless to say they were not disappointed. Skylanders: The Kaos Trap ticks every box you would expect. Fun, colourful artwork, familiar characters, slapstick humour and lots of Skylanders kicking butt.

Meet the Team
Meet the Team

My copy contained what seemed to be the first part of an ongoing comic book adventure and had the added pull of featuring the new characters for 2014 – the Trap Masters. Lots of cameo appearances from established Skylanders including Spyro, Stealth Elf and Pop Fizz made this a great introduction to the comic.

Kaos has a new plan to conquer Skylands yet his latest plot appears to have been thwarted by the timely intervention of a Trap Master – or has it? Colourful and crisp artwork made this a very pleasing book for me to use to introduce my younger child (4) to comic book stories. The story is not too complicated for youngsters to follow, yet still pitches a good balance to cater for all ages: both my boys enjoyed it despite the 4 year age gap between them.

Once the teaser tale for the ongoing stories was complete there was a stand-alone story featuring fan favourite Flynn, new characters Chopper and Food Fight plus the Skylander Mini’s (such as Weeruptor, Gill Runt and Thumpling). Once again many cameo appearances to please the fans and a fun story for the target audience (and this older reader too). I believe that the Skylanders comic could, and should, become a regular addition to many children’s monthly reading pile. With a vast array of characters at their disposal and the weight of the Activision videogame propelling the toys into more and more shops the target audience is primed for this one.

Skylanders: The Kaos Trap is due out early October and the latest game Skylanders: Trap Team is due in stores 10 October 2014 on all major consoles (and now tablets too).

Warning – Skylanders is addictive and expensive fun!

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August 16

Doctor Who Engines of War – George Mann

The War Doctor
The War Doctor

Between 1989 and 2005 I read a lot of Doctor Who novels. For those not familiar with those dates they represent the years that The Doctor was largely absent from our televisions. But he lived on in print and I lapped up those stories. Thanks to the excellent Target Books range I could read the stories of the adventures that had been broadcast on TV between 1963 and 1989. Then along came Virgin Publishing who released a range of books (one per month at their peak) featuring the continuing adventures of the 7th Doctor. These were joined after a couple of years by Past Doctor stories – tales designed to slip in between the stories which had been broadcast on television and featured Doctors 1-6 and their respective travelling companions.

Then in 1996 we got the 8th Doctor TV Movie. Things changed (including the Doctor). BBC Books took back ownership of the Doctor Who stories and began a lengthy run of original novels featuring the 8th Doctor and they also published their own Past Doctor stories too. I would usually buy two Doctor Who books per month – for around 14 years. I have read A LOT of Doctor Who novels.

When the show re-launched on BBC in 2005 the books continued but the addition of 1 small child to our household curtailed the book buying for me.

However, my devotion to the print adventures of our favourite Time Lord puts me in a pretty strong position to assess the latest offering: Engines of War by George Mann.

I am happy to report that it is without doubt one of the best Doctor Who novels I have read. There are lots of things contributing to this and I cannot share them all because <Spoilers>. However, the chance to join The War Doctor is a great start. Throw in a feisty new companion, trips to Gallifrey, Daleks, Timelord political machinations and the unexpected return of some forgotten personalities and there were treats galore for the fans.

The author does a great job of creating the personality of the War Doctor, you can feel the spirit of the character we are so familiar with battling the necessity of the destruction he brings in this unfamiliar guise. Clearly the War Doctor is tormented by the path that he has forced to take and this comes through in Mann’s fast paced story.

To reveal too much of the plot would rob the reader of the chance to enjoy the story unfolding. Suffice to say that I would love to read more of this battle-weary Doctor’s exploits. The new companion (Cinder) was also a great addition to the mix, she and the Doctor enjoy snappy and entertaining dialogue and it is through her eyes we see how the Doctor almost seems to relish his confrontations with those who stand in his path.

Despite this being a War Doctor story we still see a figure determined to do the right thing, protect the innocent and try to bring solutions to lost causes. With little source material available to form a clear image of how the War Doctor could be expected to behave I believe that George Mann has done an admirable job of crafting a hero we can believe in.

The sheer volume of original Doctor Who novels that are available invariably means that some will slip into obscurity. Within both the Virgin and the BBC range of books are tales that lacked any real spark. There were stories which could have featured any characters and the plots were so generic that, aside from calling the main character Doctor, you had no inkling that you were reading about our favourite Gallifreyan. That is why Engines of War stands out – you are never in any doubt of the subject matter and the importance that the story takes in the mythos of Doctor Who adventures. Excellent reading to be had – go grab a copy.

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August 12

The Secret Player – Anonymous

Secret Player available in paperback 14 Aug 14
Secret Player available in paperback 14 Aug 14

In the vein of Hotel Babylon and Confessions of a GP, The Secret Player will fascinate footballs fans with its wealth of insider knowledge and willingness to talk, albeit anonymously, about the inner workings of the game. Based on the hugely popular ‘The Player’ columns in FourFourTwo magazine, the book gives a warts-and-all insight into the daily life of professional footballers. Month by month, it chronicles the oscillating rhythms of the season, from the trudge of pre-season to the ‘squeaky-bum time’ of promotion and relegation. The player himself has played at all levels of English football – from Premier League to a season of non-League – and represented England.

 

 

Keeping the football theme going to celebrate the start of the new season….

Thanks to Bookbridgr and Headline for my review copy of The Secret Player.

If you have read any of the Babylon books then you will probably have a pretty good idea as to what to expect from The Secret Player. We get to hear first hand what it is like to grace the football pitches around the country with the Premiership elite. The fear of FA Cup 3rd round when you face the minnows out to perform a ‘giant killing’ and the tension that creeps in as relegation looms.

While no names are ever mentioned we learn about the dressing room ego battles, the rivalry on and off the pitch, the excesses of wealth and how players cope with it (or not). There are pranks, girls, drinking sessions, girls, fights, girls, indiscretions and even some girls. It seems that the scandals that leak into the papers are just the tip of the iceberg.

This book is a must read for the football fans. The Secret Player clearly has seen more than his share of eye opening situations and shares them all with the reader with an element of ‘posted without comment’. He makes no pretence that he is angelic and confesses to his share of covering injury, pranking team mates, drinking on tour – all part of the culture.

As noted in the introduction the original Secret Player articles appeared in the monthly football magazine FourFourTwo. Perfect target audience and I feel that the monthly spacing out of the articles would enhance the telling. I read The Secret Player over two sittings in a 48 hour period and found it was a little repetitive (in so far as there are only so many ways to outline opulence, excess, drunken hijinks and conflicts in a team without getting a sense of déjà vu).

The best way to enjoy this book is to pace yourself and take time to work your way through the story. The book is divided into months (as the season unfolds) and putting the book down at the end of a month may help slow down your reading so that you ultimately enjoy it longer.

For football fans and for those that like the gossip this is a cracker. For those that enjoy the Beautiful Game and don’t believe that modern footballers set a good example – best leave this one alone, it will only confirm your suspicions.

 

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August 8

Station 11 – Emily St. John Mandel

A gorgeous book
A gorgeous book

Before I started writing this post I jumped onto Twitter to check I had copied down the author’s name correctly. My search pulled nothing but fabulous reviews for Station 11. It is easy to see why, the book looks amazing with a striking cover and a monochrome meets shocking pink colour scheme. It will cry out to you from the shelf.

The premise is an instant draw too (and worryingly topical). The people of Earth have fallen foul of a virus that has wiped out the majority of humankind. The survivors are now living in a world devoid of all the comforts we take for granted and with the breakdown of society everyone fears for their life in a lawless wilderness. For those with a knowledge of video games I kept picturing Bethesda’s Fallout 3 as I read through Station 11.

Emily St. John Mandel created a post apocalypse world that I wanted to read about. She uses a travelling theatre company as the main focus in her post virus world. The troop travels back and forward over a familiar route, they find safety in numbers, have rules to keep them safe and are welcomed in towns and settlements as they bring the only entertainment that some see from year to year. The descriptive narrative is exquisite and the reader gets a real sense of how tough the survivors are finding life. I particularly enjoyed the scenes where older characters would recall events and items from before the Event and try to explain forgotten things to a younger generation.

Fallout 3 (Bethesda)
Fallout 3 (Bethesda)

The central character to the novel is an actor. During the course of Station 11 we learn of his rise from anonymity to stardom then we see him start to fade. The book opens with his death (on stage) which occurs just before the virus begins its deadly journey around the globe. The characters in Station 11 weave in and out of the story but many have crossed paths with the actor in some way and their subsequent interactions are engaging plotlines.

And here is my problem with Station 11. The key character dies before the virus wipes out almost everyone on Earth. Therefore a significant part of the book is set pre-apocalypse and does not feature the amazing ravaged world that Emily St. John Mandel creates.

So plus points: Beautiful book, great premise, the sections after the virus are compelling. The Museum of Civilisation.

But…I wanted more of the survivors and less of the actor. It was not the book I was expecting and I just could not get past that – I grudged the pre-virus sections as the post viral world was more interesting to me. I can see why there is such love for this book but it was not for me.

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August 8

Scotland ’74 A World Cup Story – Richard Gordon

With the new season less than 48 hours away it is time for a little football chat….

I am a football fan although as a follower of Motherwell Football Club this will probably leave some doubting my initial statement.Fir Park

As a boy my father would take me to matches at Fir Park Stadium where we would watch my team try their very best and sometimes even win. This was in the 1980’s and Motherwell were not the force they are today (last season’s league table shows that Motherwell finished in 2nd place in the Scottish Premier League – not too shabby).

Christmas 1983 saw my family uproot from our Lanarkshire home and relocate over 100 miles North in dreary Inverness. I say ‘dreary’ as in 1983 Inverness was not the thriving metropolis it is today. We had one cinema (with 2 screens), a John Menzies and everyone talked funny – except to them I sounded funny. What a blast.

The good news was that Inverness had three football teams. The bad news, none of them were any good and they all played in the Highland League (whatever that was). Deprived of ‘real’ football I turned to my radio. Radio Scotland 810 MW – my link to civilisation and to the excitement of the Scottish Premier League. Football on the radio is infinitely better than it is on television, the skill of the commentators in building up the excitement and describing a visual experience that you cannot see is one I could only dream of emulating. On TV a defender make a 20 yard pass to advance the ball towards the centre spot and the commentator will not say a word, on radio the same pass can sound worthy of Pele at his best.

30 years on I am still a Motherwell fan, I can see Airdrie’s stadium from my window and I have a new season ticket for Albion Rovers (because they are doing amazing things and I want to support their initiative). Yet I will always choose football on the radio over the TV or attending a match.

Scotland 74So what does any of that have to do with Scotland going to the 1974 World Cup in West Germany? It’s right at the top of the page – Richard Gordon. To me, he is the voice of Scottish Football and as I read his magnificent recounting of one of Scotland’s many attempts to conquer the footballing world I can almost hear his voice narrating every line and it made it just that little bit more special.

To turn to the actual book (which is why you are here) it is wonderfully constructed bringing together source documents from the time, player interviews describing the events both on and off the pitch (and there were some fun off the pitch events) and the social history of what it was like to be a footballer and a fan in the early 1970’s. All the material is crafted together in a very readable, almost conversational, manner and makes compelling reading.

Although I had not actually been born when the ‘74 World Cup took place I found that this did not impact upon my enjoyment of the book. The detail the author catches is staggering as we are taken through the qualification matches, the building of the team, the characters, the peripheral players and the managerial changes that took place. Names I knew well and those I did not know at all became part of a very important journey and I got to live it out through the reading of this book.

For those not in the know Scotland had to play Brazil, Yugoslavia (remember them?) and Zaire. We returned home from Germany unbeaten yet we didn’t win the cup, history proves this is a very Scottish way of doing things.

For Scotland fans this book is required reading. Football fans from further afield can enjoy re-living and sharing in the hopes and dreams of a small (but proud) country.

If football is not your thing and you have made it this far down the page – thank you! I should have some Doctor Who stuff coming soon, perhaps that will be more to your liking?

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August 7

Someone Else’s Skin – Sarah Hilary

Called to a woman’s refuge to take a routine witness statement, DI Someone Else's SkinMarnie Rome instead walks in on an attempted murder.

Trying to uncover the truth from layers of secrets, Marnie finds herself confronting her own demons.

Because she, of all people, knows that it can be those closest to us we should fear the most . . .

Thank you to Headline and Bookbridgr for providing a copy for review.

 

Someone Else’s Skin is a debut novel – I couldn’t tell. There was never a feeling that the author, Sarah Hilary, was finding her feet or that she had a great idea for a story but just could not quite make the elements come together. This is a slick, stylish thriller which tackles the disturbing reality of domestic violence with unflinching and often graphic detail.

Principle character Detective Inspector Marnie Rome is well established and I found her feisty and determined attitude suited the tone of the story well. She has her share of demons to conquer and, knowing there are sequels planned, I hope that these are visited in more detail in subsequent books.

The supporting cast were equally well developed and you find that you really will care what happens to the characters as the story unfolds. I sometimes find that too many peripheral characters can detract from a story and I lose track on how plot threads interweave. Not so here. A tightly worked tale where everyone has a part to play in getting the story to its dramatic conclusion.

Someone Else’s Skin drew me in. Domestic violence is not an easy subject matter and at times I found the accounts of how the characters had suffered quite harrowing to read. However, Sarah Hilary handled these encounters superbly. Violence is never glorified and always seemed to be recounted in such a way as you can almost hear a voice of contempt (usually that of DI Rome) as the actions of the perpetrator are detailed.

I finished Someone Else’s Skin earlier today and posted an update on Twitter which captured my feelings as I closed the book:

‘When the book you are reading turns everything

you believed onto its head and totally floors you.

THAT.’

I stand by that sentiment. I was enjoying this book (despite my qualms re the subject matter) when suddenly the plot was twisted. I didn’t see it coming and it escalated the book from ‘good’ to ‘great’. I love when that happens.

Someone Else’s Skin is available now on Kindle and will be available in paperback by the end of August. I urge you to Grab This Book, it’s a belter.

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August 1

This is the Water – Yannick Murphy

This is a novel about a woman. About a mother. About a marriage.

This is the Water
This is the Water

About a murder.

In the brightly lit public pool the killer swims and watches. Amongst the mothers cheering on their swim team daughters is Annie. Watching her two girls race, she’s thinking of other things. Her husband’s emotional distance. Her lost brother. The man she’s drawn to.

Then she learns a terrible secret. Now her everyday cares and concerns seem meaningless. Annie knows she has to act. Above all, she must protect her children.

 

 

Review copy kindly provided by Bookbridgr and Headline Review

 

This is the Water is going to split the crowd. It has a very unusual narrative style that I suspect will put a lot of potential readers off the book. If I open my copy at a random page we find:

“You’re wrong,” you say. Chris swallows hard. You can hear the swallow. You are afraid the tears will start coming down again.

Chapters frequently begin along the lines of “This is the Water”, “This is Mandy”, “This is the Killer.” I suspect that many readers will find the writing style a distraction which is a real shame as Yannick Murphy has penned a beautiful story which is dripping with detail and emotion.

The story is centred around a swim team as the (mostly) girls train for competition. We see their lessons, share the excitement when they beat their best times and feel the disappointment when they miss their targets. In the background a Killer is watching the swimmers, he has selected a victim and is waiting for the right time to pounce. Once he does we see how the loss of one of their numbers shakes up the various characters and brings some closer together.

The book takes an almost abstract narrative which I found took a little bit of getting used to; but stick with it as the rewards are there. As a reader you are afforded a view into the minds of the key characters– their hopes and dreams, neurosis and fears. Conversations can almost seem redundant at times but you don’t miss them as the author does an amazing job of building a world around you and letting you know, for example, that the spiteful lady is coming into view and we really are not meant to like her.

By the time I had reached the last third of the book I was engaging with the characters to such a degree that I found that I was getting frustrated or annoyed with what they were doing – it is not often I lose myself to a story to this extent.

As always there will be no spoilers in my review, but if you fancy a murder tale that is exquisitely told then This is the Water should make your shortlist.

As an afterthought: on finishing This is the Water I had a quick look at some other reviews and found my suspicions were right – some readers hated the writing style. I stuck with it and am glad that I did, beautiful prose, excellent characterisation and some good plot twists which threw me at the end.

Even if you don’t enjoy the story I am pretty sure that Yannick Murphy has provided so much detail that you will be a better swimmer once you have finished the book.

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