It’s winter, the nights are dark and freezing, and a series of seemingly random assaults is pulling DI Marnie Rome and DS Noah Jake out onto streets of London. When Marnie’s family home is ransacked, there are signs that the burglary can have only been committed by someone who knows her. Then a child goes missing, yet no-one has reported it. Suddenly, events seem connected, and it’s personal.
Someone out there is playing games. It is time for both Marnie and Noah to face the truth about the creeping, chilling reaches of a troubled upbringing. Keeping quiet can be a means of survival, but the effects can be as terrible as killing.
My thanks to Katie at Headline for my review copy and the chance to join the blog tour
Quieter Than Killing is the 4th book by Sarah Hilary to feature DI Marnie Rome. Each book can be read as a stand-alone novel but what you need to do is make sure you DO read all four books – they are all fantastic.
We readers are blessed with choice when it comes to police procedurals and crime thrillers, yet – for me – the Marnie Rome books stand head and shoulders above the others. Rome is a determined and focused detective who lives in the constant shadow of personal tragedy and it makes her own story utterly compelling.
In Quieter Than Killing, London is in the grip of a bitter winter and Marnie and DS Noah Jake are on the hunt for a violent offender. Someone has targeted three people for a vicious beating – disfiguring injuries have been inflicted and the only obvious link between the victims is that they have each (in the past) served time in prison for violent attacks of their own. Are Marnie and Noah looking for a vigilante? If so then how are they selecting their victims and what possible motive could they have?
Elsewhere the reader gets to see Finn. He is 10 years old and has been plucked from the street and locked into a house from which there seems no escape. His captor, dubbed Brady by Finn, has “rules” which Finn must obey…cooking and cleaning is expected and noise or disobedience are not tolerated. Finn is convinced Brady is a pervert who is planning to murder him, but Brady is keeping his distance and has been keeping Finn alive for several weeks. What does he need with the young boy and how much longer must Finn endure his captivity?
I got to enjoy Quieter Than Killing in audio and I need to give a massive thumbs-up to the narrator Imogen Church who voiced Marnie almost exactly how I had imagined her.
As with all of Sarah Hilary’s books the story is gripping, the clues well hidden and the entertainment is to the max. If you are not already reading these books you damn well should be.
This is the third Conversation guest post I have been able to share. I wish I could say that I had planned this wonderful symmetry, however, it is by sheer chance that my latest guests have both just released the third novel in their respective series.
Frequent visitors to Grab This Book will know that I am huge fan of The Girl Who series by Marnie Riches and also of Sarah Hilary’s Marnie Rome thrillers. I make no secret of the fact I enjoy the darker crime novels and Sarah and Marnie’s books have consistently scored my highest review scores as they write the books I love to read.
In my ongoing attempts to give my guests the best chance to discuss their books (away from an inflexible pre-prepared Q&A format) I was delighted when Sarah and Marnie agreed to join me to chat about their ‘kick ass’ heroines…and what-ever else that may crop up!
G: Marnie, we are starting our chat just a few days after the launch of The Girl Who Walked in the Shadows – the 3rd outing for George McKenzie. I have seen quite a few reviews suggesting that this is her darkest adventure thus far. The first two books were no gentle stroll in the park for George, so did you feel that you raised the stakes this time around?
MR: Thanks for this. My publisher had suggested I continue a theme of sexuality and traffic into this third book. I guess you don’t notice common themes emerging in your work until you’ve written more than one novel. So, it seemed appropriate to explore the subject matter of child-trafficking and paedophile rings in The Girl Who Walked in the Shadows. I felt I could do the topic justice. I still wanted the book to be a serial killer thriller, as I like to read that sort of thing myself, but I did have memories of the Madeleine McCann disappearance churning away in the back of my mind for years. It struck a chord with me as a parent – hence, a thriller with two mysteries at its heart emerged: Jack Frost with his lethal icicles, and the disappearance of the Deenen toddlers. So, yes. In a bid to avoid writing a samey, formulaic third installment in my series, I upped the ante and went darker and more complex. It seems to be going down well with readers.
What about you, Sarah? What demons did you face in coming up with a story-line for your third?
SH: Marnie, it’s interesting what you say about not noticing common themes until you’ve written a book or two. That really came home to me when I was writing book three. I knew I was affected by my family history – my mother was a child internee of the Japanese during WWII – but I hadn’t realised how strongly I felt about the twin themes of fear and captivity until I was writing Tastes Like Fear. It took a reader to point out that I often write about children who are trapped or taken, or both. Marnie’s backstory (love that you share a first name with my heroine, btw!) involves quite a lot of demon-facing, and at one level she’s trapped by her inability to let go of her past. So Tastes Like Fear works in terms of the standalone story, which is about lost teenagers thinking they’ve found a safe place, and the longer story that underpins the series.
Marnie, how far ahead do you plan in terms of George’s story? Do you know where she’s headed, or do you like to be surprised, book by book?
MR: Wow, Sarah. You have such an interesting family history. That must have been very difficult for your mother to get over, as childhood events have such an impact on adult life. In a similar vein to your Mum and Marnie Rome and George McKenzie, I endured traumatic events when I was younger (nothing like your mother’s experience, of course) where I was subject to being terrorized on a very rough council estate over a period of many years. My mother and I acted as magnets for the feral kids who roamed the estate in gangs. The petrol-bombing scene in The Girl Who Wouldn’t Die actually happened to me, so that phenomenon of the fight or flight impulse never being far beneath the surface had to be a major characteristic in George, else she wouldn’t have been mine. Over the series, George works hard to subvert these destructive impulses that are a hangover from her earlier years.
I know George will follow an arc but I don’t know until I start to write exactly what shape that will take. She is not me, but her development is influenced by my own personal development to an extent. So, as she ages, she may have more control over her extremes of emotional and may be more stoic about the treacherous behaviour of family members, for example. I have to know what the standalone story will be for the next book – I have had to submit proposed outlines for The Girl Who Broke the Rules and The Girl Who Walked in the Shadows, to get my publisher’s prior approval – but George’s long game is mine to play…
You and I both have a toughie of a female protagonist, paired with somewhat beta males in Marnie & Noah and George & Van den Bergen. What made you choose that dynamic?
SH: Marnie, I may have some dark family history but how dreadful for you to have lived through such trauma as a child. By contrast I was fortunate enough to have an extremely secure and happy childhood. Which is perhaps why I gravitated towards horror stories and crime fiction as a way of expanding my emotional arsenal, vicariously as it were. I’ve not experienced even a little of what my Marnie has, but perhaps I’m channelling some creative demons into her? Hard to say, but I am wedded to her darkness. While I would like her to find peace from time to time, I have no end game in sight that would involve a ‘happily ever after’ scenario. Some people, I think, are born into the world to carry weight on their shoulders (I do know a little about this, personally) and Marnie is one of that breed. The world needs heroes like Marnie and George.
Do you love writing Van den Bergen as much as I love writing Noah? I’m not sure what drew me to the dynamic, but I find it fascinating (and useful, in terms of plot and character) to see Marnie through Noah’s eyes. Their relationship has changed a lot since Someone Else’s Skin. Marnie trusts Noah now, and she even confides in him. Has the dynamic between Van den Bergen and George changed as you’ve been writing the three (soon to be four) books?
MR: Van den Bergen is one of those people who carries a burden. He suffers with anxiety disorder and the occasional slide into full-on depression. I enjoy writing him because he’s such a loveable, cantankerous bastard with such unimpeachable morals. I like exploring his masculinity – it’s fascinating to be able to inhabit a man’s body and a man’s take on the world through my writing.
George, on the other hand, is an optimist at heart, with an incredible capacity to love, tempered by her worldly-wise cynicism. She’s a heroine because she’s had a hard start and has had to become extremely tough and resilient to survive and flourish. She has inner steel and discipline, where her family life is chaotic to say the least.
George and Van den Bergen were always attracted to one another – they respected each others’ grit, determination and attention to detail from the word go, as well as there being bonkers sexual chemistry. Their relationship has become more antagonistic over time, simply because of Van den Bergen’s anxiety about his age – there’s a twenty-year age gap. He drops the shutters on passionate George, who trusts him with her heart so readily. She wants to beat him to a pulp for it.
My main characters both contain a healthy dose of me but are fundamentally different. George is Black and young. Noah is a gay man. Neither Black women nor gay men are particularly well represented in crime fiction. How much of you is in your characters and what made you want to write Noah as gay?
SH: I will confess to a little wish fulfilment when it comes to Marnie, but there is nothing of me in my characters. It’s pure imagination. I wish I had Marnie’s courage and her dry wit, and that I’d been a rebellious teenager, even just for a short while. But I was a very good girl; maybe I’m acting out a fantasy of a misspent youth …
When it comes to Noah, I’m not sure why I wanted to write him as gay, other than as you say, because of under-representation in the genre. I’ve written quite a lot of gay men, so I knew I could do it and I knew that I’d enjoy writing him. A half-Jamaican openly and happily gay man, who happens to also be a detective sergeant with the Met Police. The only conscious decision I made was that his race and sexuality wouldn’t define him. I didn’t want to write about a conflicted character who felt the lash of homophobia and racism every day, or struggled to find personal and professional happiness. Noah is extremely content in his own skin. He goes home to a happy, secure life. He’s armour-plated against the casual bullying in the workplace; nothing fazes him, or not for long. I love Noah.
Let’s talk about our supporting cast. Are there any characters in the standalone plots within each book which you’d like to see return in future books? Or any you’d consider for a spin-off series of their own?
MR: Similarly, it was a conscious choice for me to make George mixed race, as commercial crime fiction is a very white realm and I wanted to redress that balance somewhat in having a strong Black female lead – most importantly, a lead who isn’t a victim and whose strength does not lie in typically masculine characteristics.
As far as reprising the roles of secondary characters goes, both family members and key figures in the criminal underworld crop up repeatedly in the standalone stories. They are essential to the overarching themes that span the series – George’s relationship to her parents and an examination of the rotten heart of trafficking. But George and Van den Bergen are very much the stars. At this stage, I can’t envisage spin-offs. I would, however, like to see more of Silas Holm. In The Girl Who Broke the Rules, he is one of George’s study subjects – an amputee convicted serial murderer and award-winning anaesthetist. He’s intelligent, charming and warped as hell. I think we might see him putting in another appearance. I’ll think on it…
What about you? Do you think you’ll tire of writing about Marnie and Noah? Are there subsidiary characters who would make interesting main protagonists themselves? I’ve worked hard to keep all three of my books familiar and yet, distinctly different from one another – especially The Girl Who Walked in the Shadows. What about you? Are you concerned about your writing becoming formulaic over time, as is often the problem with longer running series?
SH: Silas Holm is a great name as well. I can see a spin-off series for Silas.
One reader did suggest that Noah’s reprobate kid brother, Sol, should have his own series, but I dunno. Someone else would have to write it, I think. I’m too busy – and happy – writing Marnie and Noah. I’m quite intrigued by the idea of some early (pre-series) stories, maybe about Marnie’s wild youth, or Noah’s adventures growing up. Although I do think most of my interest lies in unwrapping them further as the series progresses. Marnie, especially, is still keeping secrets from me (Marnie is made of secrets). In Tastes Like Fear, Noah surprised me with a big secret from his youth, so maybe he has a few tricks up his sleeve, also. As long as they can keep evolving as characters then I don’t need to worry about becoming formulaic.
What long-running crime series do you most enjoy? I’ve just discovered Mick Herron’s stupendous spy thriller series that started with Slow Horses. And I’m a sucker for Jonathan Kellerman’s Alex Delaware series.
MR: I’ve enjoyed Jo Nesbo’s Harry Hole series best, I guess. He’s been going for many, many books and the stories still work well as standalones. By Phantom, however, I did think it was time to wrap things up for Harry and I’m surprised that Police was released. Despite that, it was an enjoyable read. I read a lot of kids’ fiction too, as I used to write that. I enjoyed many of Eoin Colfer’s Artemis Fowl books and also Christopher Paolini’s Inheritance Cycle. Stieg Larsson’s Millennium Trilogy was brill but I haven’t yet read Lagercrantz’s fourth offering, so my jury is out on that.
I think the joy of a great series is knowing when to stop. Personally, I think George has a good few more stories in her, but I will have to make swingeing changes to the cast list to keep it fresh overall. As long as readers want her, I will write her. Heroines like her come once in a writer’s lifetime – she’s certainly too good to shelve after a mere handful of books. She still has plenty to say!
SH: Long live George and Marnie! Great chat, thanks for hosting, Gordon, and a big thank you to our readers who keep us motivated to write more stories with our series characters.
I would like to extend a massive ‘Thank You’ to Sarah and Marnie for giving me the opportunity to eavesdrop on their conversation. As you can see my involvement was minimal but I don’t have the words to describe how much I enjoyed seeing their chat come together.
The young girl who causes the fatal car crash disappears from the scene.
A runaway who doesn’t want to be found, she only wants to go home.
To the one man who understands her.
Gives her shelter.
Just as he gives shelter to the other lost girls who live in his house.
He’s the head of her new family.
D.I. Marnie Rome has faced many dangerous criminals but she has never come up against a man like Harm. She thinks that she knows families, their secrets and their fault lines. But as she begins investigating the girl’s disappearance nothing can prepare her for what she’s about to face.
Because when Harm’s family is threatened, everything tastes like fear…
My thanks to Elizabeth Masters at Headline for my review copy.
The third Marnie Rome thriller and another triumph for Sarah Hilary. Tastes Like Fear is a gripping read and is helping cement Sarah Hilary’s place amongst the best of the current crop of UK crime writers.
Tastes Like Fear has a focus on teenage runaways, girls who have left home and found themselves living rough on the streets of London. The girls have found that they become almost invisible, doing whatever it takes to survive. Yet for a select few there comes an offer of a place of safety – a home where food and shelter will be provided. All you have to do is live by the house rules, his rules…Harm’s rules.
Marnie Rome and DS Noah Jake have been investigating the disappearance of May Beswick a teenage girl who left home (for no apparent reason) and has been missing for several weeks. We are first reunited with Marnie and Noah when they are called to the scene of a road traffic accident – a teenage girl in a state of disarray has walked into the traffic causing a crash. The girl has left the scene, heading towards one of London’s more notorious housing schemes, yet there appears to be some doubt between the survivors of the crash as to what the girl looked like or even if she was ever there!
I enjoyed the shifting focus in Tastes Like Fear, the story follows Marnie and Noah and their investigations into May’s disappearance and the attempts to track down the girl from the crash scene. Then the narrative switches into the ‘haven’ that Harm is providing and we see how the girls who are living under his protection are dealing with day to day life under Harm’s watchful eye. There is a real feeling of unease as you read these scenes – an unpredictability – as Harm does not seem to act how you expect him to (yet you are also not quite sure how he SHOULD be acting).
However, as you may expect trouble lies ahead for the girls as rules have been broken, some girls have not behaved the way Harm expected and there will be…repercussions.
With all the twists and turns, shocks and surprises that I have come to expect from one of Sarah Hilary’s books I found that I could not put Tastes Like Fear down. The story flows brilliantly, the characters are the perfect blend of likeable, unpredictable or deeply deplorable and we get more insights into Noah and Marnie’s personal lives giving loved characters even greater depth.
There is also the added anticipation of what I am beginning to think of as ‘The Sarah Hilary Jaw-drop Moment’…one scene where everything I thought I understood about the story is crushed and I am blind-sided by a twist that I can never see coming. LOVE IT, nobody else consistently messes with my brain in their books the way Sarah Hilary can – she has the golden touch.
An easy review score for Tastes Like Fear…5/5 and a reader desperate for more.
Today I am delighted to be able to welcome Sarah Hilary back to Grab This Book. Sarah’s second Marnie Rome novel No Other Darkness has just released in paperback and today’s visit is my leg of the Blog Tour.
I know Sarah is a horror fan and I was keen to find out if this filtered through into her writing:
It’s alive! Tapping the rich vein of horror
by Sarah Hilary
If you have a sofa handy this might be the moment to duck behind it. Because I’m going to riff about how much I love horror. This will come as no surprise to readers of my Marnie Rome series. No Other Darkness starts in an underground bunker, and doesn’t really let up until the very end.
Adding a dash of horror is a worthy tradition in literature; the Brothers Grimm were writing about cannibalism a century before Thomas Harris gave us Hannibal Lector, and it’s hard to beat the Room 101 rats in Orwell’s 1984 for nail-biting nightmare potential.
Crime writers have known this trick for decades, seasoning our stories with a dash of darkness. Arthur Conan Doyle served it up in spades, from The Hound of the Baskervilles to The Creeping Man.
Contemporary crime writers use horror to great effect, too. Mo Hayder’s Tokaloshe in Ritual and its sequel, Skin, is a blood-curdling example of how a skilled writer can weave a disturbing sense of the supernatural into hard-hitting crime stories. French crime writer, Fred Vargas, has given us ghosts, werewolves, plague rats and vampires. Enough supernatural horror to satisfy any aficionado, although Vargas (like Hayder) does a neat line in explaining everything in rational terms in the end.
Horror works best when it’s used sparingly. A surfeit can force the reader to look away or worse—to laugh in order to relieve the tension. Maestros know this and will provide a little light relief so that you chuckle in the intended places (usually right before you jump a foot in the air). The very best exponent of this is George A. Romero, one of my favourite film directors. Yes, zombies can be funny — cheerleader zombies, barbershop quartet zombies, Hari Krishna zombies — but always watch out for your feet and elbows. (If I have a criticism of The Walking Dead it’s that it lacks a sense of humour.)
A glimpse of the monster under the bed (or in it) is always more effective than a lingering twelve page forensic examination. Plant a seed, refer to it on occasion to be sure the idea doesn’t die in the reader’s mind, let their imagination get to work. Then—let them have it.
No Other Darkness, I hope, lets you have it with both barrels.
There’s a little horror lurking in everyone’s head. My job is to let that little horror out to play.
Two young boys. Trapped underground in a bunker. Unable to understand why they are there. Desperate for someone to find them. Slowly realising that no-one will…
Five years later, the boys’ bodies are found and the most difficult case of DI Marnie Rome’s career begins.
Her only focus is the boys. She has to find out who they are and what happened to them.
For Marnie, there is no other darkness than this…
Thanks to Sarah Hilary and Elizabeth Masters at Headline for my review copy.
Last year Sarah Hilary introduced us to DI Marnie Rome in her debut novel Someone Else’s Skin. I was a big fan of this dark (and frequently disturbing) thriller. It also contained my standout scene of the year – read my review here:
Now Marnie Rome is back and Sarah Hilary has knocked it out of the park for us yet again. Marnie and her colleague DS Noah Jake make their return in No Other Darkness, another story that will entertain and unsettle in equal measure.
The story opens with Marnie and Noah called in to investigate a chilling discovery: the bodies of two young boys which were hidden in a bunker that was concealed under the garden of a suburban housing scheme. There are no clues within the bunker as to the identity of the boys so where does Marnie start? How could two children just disappear without anyone noticing or reporting them missing?
For this reader there was an added element of discomfort in reading the opening pages of No Other Darkness as my own children (also boys) are the same age as the boys in the bunker. It is not often I am unsettled while reading fiction yet for the second book in a row it seems Sarah Hilary has managed to mess with my head!
Marnie’s investigations progress and as she starts to draw closer to identifying the children the readers get to understand why the boys were in the bunker and, crucially, why they were not let back out again. Sarah Hilary is able to keep the story flowing at a great pace and I found that I did not want to stop reading, there was a necessity to see where the story was going.
I previously alluded to Someone Else’s Skin having a standout moment – this was a scene where my understanding of the story turned out to be completely incorrect and everything changed. In No Other Darkness a similar sucker-punch arises where a murder investigation suddenly becomes <REDACTED>. Sorry, but you will have to read for yourself to discover what lies in store.
Having tackled domestic violence in her first book and now the deaths of young children in her second novel I am almost scared to consider what may be next from Sarah Hilary. I could almost believe she has a Big Book of Horrible Things and is working her way through the nastiest of the concepts just to un-nerve her readers. She is doing a great job!
Back to No Other Darkness and outwith the investigations we get to learn a bit more about Marnie and DS Jake. For Marnie there are insights into her history when a former lover appears on the scene. He is a reporter and is offering to share information (on his own terms).
Yet I felt that within No Other Darkness there was more focus on Noah Jake and I believe that we got a better look into his background and some of the problems that he has overcome. I also noticed a greater focus on some of Marnie’s other colleagues, more so than had been present in Someone Else’s Skin. I am hoping that Sarah Hilary is planning much more from Marnie and her team.
A tricky review in that there are several key elements of the plot that I am keen not to discuss so that I can avoid revealing any spoilers. Worry not, however, as this is a brilliant crime thriller and there are twists and scares a-plenty.
For fans of Someone Else’s Skin you can rest assured that No Other Darkness is of an equally high quality. Sarah Hilary writes dark and engrossing stories – everyone needs to read them.
Review scored at 4.5 out of 5 – compelling yet unsettling.
Called to a woman’s refuge to take a routine witness statement, DI Marnie 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.
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.