New Year’s Day is the ultimate cliché for Scarlett:
feeling weepy, check
broken sense of self, check check check
Jobless and stuck living at home with an academic mother who has no time for pep-talks, the one saving grace for Scarlett is that her friend, Billie, still works at the pub down the road. But even the pub is losing its appeal. Desperate to do something, she moves to London with no plan, no money and nowhere to stay. Unsurprisingly, she finds herself crashing on her ex-boyfriend’s sofa with all of her terrible life choices for company.
It’s after Scarlett starts interning at a modelling agency that she takes her first step to becoming something – but it’s also her first step to becoming something else. Each terrible decision she makes leads to another and her life begins to spiral. But people are starting to know her; she’s starting to become someone. And surely it’s better to be someone – even if it’s someone you hate?
With a vein of dark humour at its core, The High Moments offers an astute, often stark look at the fashion industry and the issues you can face as a woman in your twenties – fans of Girls and Emma Jane Unsworth’s Animals will love this.
This is the story of Scarlett who has finished Uni and is jobless and back in a hometown that she hates. She dreams of being a fashion designer even though she hasn’t studied it at University and has only ever made one dress for her A Level Art. After another argument with her Mum she sets off to London and by some miracle lands herself a job at a model agency. It is the story of what she will do to get ahead and be liked and popular on social media.
This book is a read for a Summer afternoon in the garden or to take to a beach. I didn’t like the main character Scarlett at all, she wasn’t a nice person. She wasn’t a good friend, she wasn’t a good daughter and she used people in a terrible manner. I have a feeling that we are supposed to empathise with her slightly but I just didn’t. What it did show was the pressure of life in the modern world for young impressionable women who regard popularity as validation of who they are and where followers are more important than people. Of course the main character realises the error of her ways and takes steps to transform her life so there is a positive message in the end.
Thank you to @simonschusteruk & @randomttours for my #gifted copy in exchange for review.
Sara-Ella Ozbek is a London-bred author of South African and Turkish descent. After graduating from the University of Exeter with a BA in English Literature, she interned at Vogue magazine and subsequently fell into a job at a modelling agency.
After six exciting, if somewhat draining, years as an agent, she left to pursue a career in writing. She attended the New York Film Academy screenwriting programme then went to Los Angeles where she joined the hustle of the screenwriters. Out of the frustration and misery came her first novel, The High Moments.
Aside from the novel, she has written non-fiction for titles including Because Magazine, Suitcase, Tatler, Drugstore Culture, Voyage D’Etudes and Soho House Notes.
The stunning debut from the new name to watch in espionage thrillers. For fans of Charlotte Philby, and The Bletchley Circle, this is perfect Sunday night drama.
When her cover is blown, SOE agent Elisabeth de Mornay flees Paris. Pursued by the Gestapo, she makes her way to neutral Lisbon, where Europe’s elite rub shoulders with diplomats, businessmen, smugglers, and spies. There she receives new orders – and a new identity.
Posing as wealthy French widow Solange Verin, Elisabeth must infiltrate a German espionage ring targeting Allied ships, before more British servicemen are killed.
The closer Elisabeth comes to discovering the truth, the greater the risk grows. With a German officer watching her every step, it will take all of Elisabeth’s resourcefulness and determination to complete her mission.
But in a city where no one is who they claim to be, who can she trust?
City of Spies is a spy thriller that had me hooked from page one. The story starts in France with our main character Elizabeth De Moray who is a trained SOE (Special Operations Executive) SOE agents purpose was to conduct espionage, sabotage and reconnaissance in occupied Europe against the Axis powers, and to aid local resistance movements during the second World War.
Unfortunately, Elizabeth’s cover is blown, and she must leave Paris and the first part of the book follows her across France as she endeavours to contact London to receive new orders. When she does receive help, she is moved to Lisbon to start anew undercover assignment as Solange Verin, a wealthy French Widow mixing with high society to Spy on the Germans.
I actually had no idea that Portugal was neutral in the WW2 and to find out that there was a country where in the Capital City the British Embassy was across from the German Embassy and citizens of these countries mixed socially was a complete eye opener and had me reaching for google to read all about it. I enjoyed learning something new.
I very much liked that the main character was a strong and independent, intelligent woman who could very much hold her own against the male characters. Normally when a female lead shows these characteristics she is shown as a hard-facedball breaker, but I did not feel Elisabeth was. I would have liked her past to have been a explained in a bit more detail as we find out that she was shunned by her family for a bad marriage but we didn’t find out why the marriage was unacceptable. Also references to her family go unexplained but I believe this is done deliberately so it can be explored in future novels. This book had the terror of being in occupied France and trying to escape the Germans to the glamour of the 1940’s jet set in Lisbon with all the underlying twists and turns of espionage. Mara Timon sets the scene of both beautifully.
I was really enjoying the book and even before I had finished it was recommending it to people that is right up until the last page. I was disappointed that it just finished. Literally just stopped. I understand that this is so a follow up book can be written but I would have liked more of this book to be wrapped up and I was left feeling a little bit conned.
I would still recommend the book and will look out for the next instalment. It was cleverly written and very well researched and opened a chapter of WW2 that I knew nothing about.
Thank you to zaffrebooks and compulsivereads for my spot on the blog tour!
Malcolm George Galbraith is a large, somewhat clumsy, Scotsman. He’s being forced to leave the woman he loves behind and needs to explain why.
So he leaves her a handwritten note on the kitchen table (well, more a 300-page letter than a note). In it, Malcolm decides to start from the beginning and tell the whole story of his long life, something he’s never dared do before.
Because Malcolm isn’t what he seems: he’s had other names and lived in other places. A lot of other places. As it gathers pace, Malcolm’s story combines tragedy, comedy, mystery, a touch of leprosy, several murders, a massacre, a ritual sacrifice, an insane tyrant, two great romances, a landslide, a fire, and a talking fish.
First of all lets start with what an amazing achievement Andy Hamilton has made by is handwriting every page of this book in neat italics in a bid to save handwriting, It really added to my reading experience and was definitely worth the 43 pens it took him to do!
On to the story line, I have to say it was not at all what I was expecting at all but I was pleasantly surprised at the story that unfolded. From this synopsis I expected this to be a modern day murder mystery type trail but it was actually the story of Heracles, written in first person, as a goodbye/explanation letter to his wife. Had I been up on my historical references. like my friend Jes, then apparently its very obvious as each of the events in the synopsis denote an famous story about Heracles!
This was a humours look into the life of a divine hero in Greek mythology, the son of Zeus, know for his strength and his numerous far-ranging adventures. I really liked the aspect of him writing this to his wife as you get little apologies and reasoning’s for his behaviour through out and particularly enjoyed the ‘nearest English equivalent translations’, my favourite being ‘penis-harbour’.
Overall I think this is a fun spin on the antics of Heracles and will hopefully encourage people to learn more and re-invoke the love of handwriting!
Thank you to @unbounders & @randomttours for my #gifted copy in exchange for review.
Andy Hamilton is a comedy writer, performer and director. He regularly appears on the BBC TV panel shows Have I Got News for You and on Radio 4’s News Quiz and I’m Sorry I Haven’t A Clue. His television writing credits include Outnumbered, Drop the Dead Donkey, Not the Nine O’Clock News, Trevor’s World of Sport, Ballot Monkeys, Power Monkeys and many others. He also cocreated the movie What We Did On Our Holiday. For twenty years he has played Satan in the Radio 4 comedy Old Harry’s Game, which he also writes.
Arie falls for Diana in a heartbeat. Their love creates a life for them, a marriage and a home. Pianist Diana wants to capture this in a song for Arie.
But that’s not where the story ends…
After Diana debuts their song to a room full of strangers, tragedy strikes and Arie never gets to hear it.
There’s still a verse to come.
Diana’s melody lives beyond her and the lost love song begins to find its way back home. Can it help Arie to find new hope, and a new love?
The story starts out with the tragic loss of a famous pianist before her fiancé hears the end of the long song she has written for him. We then meet Bene and his daughter, Beatrix. Finally we are introduced to Evie who has spent years travelling and never managed to find a place to settle.
This story follows three seemingly unconnected lives to culminate in a beautiful ballad to how music can bring people together. I absolutely adored how the characters lives intersected through out and the constant base line of music and poetry. I know that this gets said a lot about books but this one truly is lyrical and I encourage you to pick up a copy and see for yourself!
Thank you to @RandomTTours and @TransworldBooks for my #gifted copy in exchange for review.
Head over to my Twitter to be in a chance of winning your own copy of this stunning book!
Minnie Darke lives in Hobart, Tasmania with her husband and three children. Her first novel Star-crossed has now been sold to over 30 territories across the world, and is about to be made into a six-part limited TV series.
Why not check out some of the other bloggers thoughts on the tour…
Afaf Rahman, the daughter of Palestinian immigrants, is the principal of Nurrideen School for Girls, a Muslim school in the Chicago suburbs. One morning, a shooter―radicalized by the online alt-right―attacks the school.
As Afaf listens to his terrifying progress, we are swept back through her memories: the bigotry she faced as a child, her mother’s dreams of returning to Palestine, and the devastating disappearance of her older sister that tore her family apart. Still, there is the sweetness of the music from her father’s oud, and the hope and community Afaf finally finds in Islam.
The Beauty of Your Face is a profound and poignant exploration of one woman’s life in a nation at odds with its ideals.
This book tells two stories, the first being the ruthless shooting in a school and the second tells the struggles of a Palestinian American Girl as she grows up. The main focus of the book is on Afaf, her life from childhood to what lead her to be in the school where the shooting is taking place with the shooting as almost a short story woven through.
I started this on Sunday morning and finished it the same day, I just couldn’t put it down! Mustafah’s effortlessly brings the characters to life and her writing is just remarkable. It touches on so many important topics and handles them all with grace and dignity that I was just blown away.
It was fascinating to have such a deep look into Afaf’s life and the prejudices she face from both her own community and the wider community.
A long time ago, Emmie Blue released a red balloon with a secret message hidden inside – and against all odds, across hundreds of miles of ocean, it was found on a beach in France by a boy called Lucas.
Fourteen years later, on the eve of her thirtieth birthday, Emmie hopes that Lucas is finally about to kiss her. She never expected him to announce that he was marrying someone else!
Suddenly Emmie’s dreams are shattered and the one person in her life she can rely on is slipping through her fingers. But what if Lucas isn’t her forever? What if her love story is only just beginning…
Emmie is in love with her best friend but he announces he is marrying someone else. We follow Emmie as she struggles with being a good friend whilst harbouring what she believes are feeling for her best friend. I had my suspicions of what was going on at about 2/3 of the way through and it still felt like an emotional sucker punch when I got to the end!
I have all the love for this book! Do you ever scroll through Netflix find what you think is a cheesy rom-com and then absolutely fall in love with it? That is what happened to me with this book, I didn’t think it was going to be cheesy, but I did think it was going to be a typical love story but was so pleasantly surprised at what lay between the pages. It had friendship, heartache, music and yet also touched on some very serious issues and how they can have a huge impact on a person’s life.
After finishing this I knew I need more Lia Louis in my life so went straight on to somewhere close to happy and now I NEED book three (no pressure Lia 🤣)
This is a perfect summer romance that follows in the footsteps of great books like the Flatshare and Beach Read.
Thank you to @TrapezeBooks @orionbooks @alexxlayt and @LisforLia for my #gifted copy in exchange for review.
Lia Louis is a writer from Hertfordshire, where she lives with her partner and three children. She has written two novels to date – Somewhere Close to Happy and Dear Emmie Blue – and her work has been translated into 11 languages. In 2015, she won ELLE magazine’s annual talent competition with her contemporary love letter, #RelationshipGoals. Lia can be found tweeting at @LisforLia.
Alice Hunter, grieving and troubled after a breakdown, stumbles on the body of her friend and trustee, Harry Rook. The police determine he has been ritually murdered and suspicion falls on the vulnerable Alice, who inherited the place known locally as The Witch House from her grandmother, late High Priestess of the local coven.
When the investigations turn up more evidence, and it all seems to point to Alice, even she begins to doubt herself.
Can she find the courage to confront the secrets and lies at the heart of her family and community to uncover the truth, prove her sanity, and clear herself of murder?
This was a brilliant suspense thriller/murder mystery with a setting. It was full of characters who you didn’t fully trust, we quickly find out that the narrator has recently been released from a psychiatric hospital and from there you constantly question everyone that meet.
I really enjoyed the dry, sarcastic humour of Alices character and the way that she brought a little bit of lightness to a rather creepy mystery.
This is perfect for anyone who loves a bit of gothic fiction and I will be keeping an eye out for more of Ann’s work!
Thank you to @RedDogPress for my #gifted copy in exchange for review.
Ann Rawson has long been addicted to story. As a child she longed to learn to read because she knew there was magic in those pages, the inky squiggles that turned into words and became images in her head – the stories that could transport her away from the everyday. As she grew older, she divined there was truth in books too. They were a glimpse into other minds. Her reading became the foundation of a deep and abiding interest in what makes people tick – and so she soon became hooked on crime fiction.
Age ten, she wrote to Malcolm Saville, author of the Lone Pine Series, enclosing her first short story. He wrote back and encouraged her to continue writing – and she is heartbroken that the letter is long lost. His book, Lone Pine Five, sparked a lifelong interest in archaeology, as it mentions the Mildenhall Treasure which makes an appearance in The Witch House.
A lapsed witch with enduring pagan tendencies, she lives on the south coast. She still thinks of herself as a Northerner, although she’s been in exile for many years. Almost every day she walks on the Downs or the white cliffs with her husband, plotting her next novel while he designs computer systems.
Ann’s debut novel, A Savage Art was published by Fahrenheit Press in 2016. She has published some short fiction, and in 2019 her memoir piece If… was shortlisted for the Fish Short Memoir Prize.
She is currently completing a memoir and working on her third novel.
Four victims. Killer caught. Case closed . . . Or is it?
Christopher Masters, known as ‘The Roommate Killer’, strangled three women over a two-week period in a London house in November 2012. Holly Kemp, his fourth victim, was never found.
Her remains have been unearthed in a field in Cambridgeshire and DC Cat Kinsella and the major investigation team are called in, but immediately there are questions surrounding the manner of her death. And with Masters now dead, no one to answer them.
DCI Tessa Dyer, the lead on the 2012 case, lends the team a hand, as does DCI Steele’s old boss and mentor, the now retired Detective Chief Superintendent Oliver Cairns.
With Masters dead, Cat and the team have to investigate every lead again.
BUT IF YOU’D GOT AWAY WITH MURDER, WHAT WOULD YOU DO WHEN THE CASE IS RE-OPENED?
‘The Roommate’ case:
2012 From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia Contents [hide] 1 Christopher Masters: early and personal life
2 Modus operandi
3 Police Investigation
4 The Victims
4.1 Bryony Trent 4.2 Stephanie König. 4.3 Ling Chen 4.4 The disappearance of Holly Kemp.
5 Arrest, trial and conviction
7 Further reading.
When the first blow lands, it’s almost a relief. A karmic debt paid. A manoeuvre, at least. She battles at first, of course; kicking and clawing and begging and bargaining all the way from the cold kitchen floor, where they first bounce her skull, through the hall, across the driveway, and into the boot of the waiting car. A car she knows well. A car she’s sat in maybe ten, fifteen times – always the passenger, but always firmly in the driving seat. Queen of the world. Top of her game. Tonight, the gun glinting in the midnight light signals that, for her, the game’s now up. She had this coming. She accepts this. She knows she created this whole sordid mess herself. And yet she’d prayed that they’d stop at a beating – because a beating she could take; bruises fade, fractures heal, even the worst scars can be covered with make-up. And God knows she’d taken enough beatings in her life and still lived to tell the sorry tale. She won’t live to tell this one. She doesn’t deserve to. Even by her standards, this one was cruel. And she is sorry. She knows they don’t believe her, but maybe if there’s a God upstairs, He will. Maybe next time around, she’ll come back as a better person. Th is time around, there was only ever one way this mess was going to end.
1 We’d prayed for rain for weeks. Or maybe it was months? It’s hard to remember a time when griping about the heat wasn’t a national fetish. When days weren’t spent sighing and swearing and spraying yourself with Magicool, and nights weren’t spent tossing and turning, wondering if sleep was now a pleasure of the past. And then there were the arguments. Christ, there were the arguments. Civil war over air-con settings. Men carping at women, jealous at the sight of us drifting around in lightweight dresses while they sweated buckets in the same suits that saw them through winter. Old versus young: Steele and Parnell crowing that this was no way near as brutal as the summer of ’76, when the rivers ran dry and the tarmac melted, and using your hosepipe was a crime routinely punishable by social death. Of course, we – Th e Young – stated long and loud that, as we weren’t even twinkles in our parents’ eyes in 1976, The Olds’ point was entirely moot and, frankly, not helping. You can only play the hand you’re dealt, we’d endlessly argue, and we’d been dealt this cursed summer. Th e paralysing heatwave of 2018. We were living through it, sweltering through it, surviving it – just – with the aid of desk fans and ice-packs, and the constant yet sagging hope that it might one day rain again on England’s green and pleasant lands. And now here, on a grassy dirt track, running alongside a remote field in the molten heart of Cambridgeshire, our prayers are finally answered. ‘Fucking rain,’ I say, scowling at the sky. All our sweaty, parched misery forgotten in an instant. ‘You don’t get rain in London, no?’ DC Ed Navarro – our crime scene guide, and boy, does he resent it – is smirking in a way that makes me want to flick his pale, waxy face, like a boiled potato with a goatee. ‘Because seriously, you’re looking a little frazzled there. Do you want to go and sit in the car for a bit?’ ‘Why, is it acid rain?’ I bite back. He rummages in his pocket, retrieves an opened packet of Polo mints. ‘Not that I’m aware.’ ‘Well then, I reckon I’ll survive.’ ‘Ah, come on, Kinsella, this is bliss,’ DS Luigi Parnell raises his hands, letting the rain patter off his palms: pennies from heaven. ‘It’s not even that heavy. And remember what the boss says, “It’s good for the garden.” ’ ‘I don’t have a garden.’ I lift my plastic fi le of crime scene photos above my head, a macabre makeshift umbrella. ‘I do have frizzy hair, though.’ Immediately, I regret saying it. Holly Kemp doesn’t have to worry about frizzy hair anymore. Or the fact that her cheap cotton work shirt is getting more see-through by the minute.
Holly Kemp hasn’t worried about anything in a long time. ‘So, yeah, this is where we found her.’ Navarro nods towards the deep ditch at the side of the track, then leads us to a gap in the covering hedgerow, presumably cut away to give Forensics easier access. Just yesterday, a crime scene tent would have stood here, preserving evidence and privacy for the army of white suits going about their crucial black art, but we’re quick to get them down these days. It’s not ‘resource efficient’ – to use the term à la mode – to keep them under guard for a second longer than necessary. Money. Budgets. PR. Stats. The four horsemen of modern policing. ‘Well, of course, we didn’t find her. Lady Persephone III did – that’s a dog, before you ask.’ Navarro pops two mints in his mouth, not bothering to off er them round. ‘Honestly, I don’t know what planet some people are on. What’s wrong with Patch or Rex or Rover all of a sudden? Proper dog names.’ ‘I like it,’ I say, just to agitate him. In my defence, we’re under strict instructions from DCI Kate Steele to play the agitators today. Th e standard ‘up from London’ arseholes who think the rest of the force are an el cheapo version of the mighty Metropolitan Police. Steele’s hoping a blast of belligerence might put a rocket up their backsides. ‘So, any danger of a post-mortem?’ asks Parnell, casualness spliced with scorn. ‘It’s been over forty-eight hours – well over forty-eight hours.’ Navarro widens his stance. ‘Hey, hang on a minute. It’s been over forty-eight hours since we contacted you about the locket, but we only got her back to the morgue last night. You can’t rush forensic archaeology – it’s a fiddly business.’ Parnell pulls an unimpressed face. I opt for majorly unimpressed. ‘And, look, we’ve got a backlog, OK? Our pathologist’s run off her feet.’ I fold my arms, giving up on my file-cum-umbrella. ‘Whereas ours just sits around sharpening her rib-cutters, waiting for a body to roll in.’ ‘Bodies, actually.’ Navarro looks more sad than defensive. ‘Th ere was a pile-up on the M11 a few hours before this. Two cars, five teens, four dead – two from the same family.’ He raps a knuckle on his forehead, knocking out the thought. ‘I knew one of them – not well, mind. I used to coach him at Soccertots. But I’d see him in the pub sometimes, acting the big guy, getting the pints in. They grow up so quickly and then bang . . . gone.’ And then bang, the ‘up from London’ arseholes feel like bona fi de lousy arseholes. We off er quick but sincere condolences, Parnell catching my eye to convey that Operation Arsehole is being immediately stood down. I bring the conversation back to safer ground – the dog with the dumb name. ‘You know, we really should be shaking Lady Persephone III by the paw. She did what we failed to do. She found Holly Kemp. Poor soul’s been missing for years.’
Nearly six years, to be precise. Six birthdays. Six Christmases. Six anniversaries spent wondering if this is the year you get ‘closure’ – that storybook notion they talk about on TV. ‘Er, we? What your lot failed to do, you mean?’ Navarro can’t stop himself – the pissing contest between forces is as predictable as it is puerile. I let the dig pass, mainly because I feel heartsick about Navarro’s ex-Soccertot, but partly because it’s fair enough. Th is is on the mighty Metropolitan Police, no question. ‘So, how in God’s name did she lie here for so long, unnoticed?’ I ask of no one in particular. ‘All this,’ says Navarro, drawing a semi-circle on the drizzly horizon, ‘belonged to an old farmer, Johnny Heath. He died a while back, but he’d let the field lie fallow for years; more to do with bad health than good crop rotation, I think.’ Th e reference is lost on me but I nod sagely. ‘His son lived in America. Didn’t even bother coming home for the funeral, so they say. And he never got round to selling the place when the old man passed because he was making a king’s ransom on Wall Street and didn’t need the money. So aft er Johnny died in 2015, the whole estate just sat here. Th e son paid a local to cut the grass a few times a year, but that’s about it.’ ‘And the tractor wouldn’t go anywhere near the ditch,’ says Parnell.
I pull a photo from my file. ‘And even if it did, she was well hidden.’ Twigs and branches and bracken and logs. It was the logs that were the chilling detail; the logs that proved this wasn’t some tramp looking for shelter who’d died of hypothermia in the night, or a binge-drinking casualty, staggering home across the field. Th e logs were placed on top of the body, no doubt about it. They’d covered it, cocooned it, made sure that a grieving family didn’t get closure any time soon. ‘So, to finish the story . . .’ Another mint in his mouth. ‘Th e son’s luck ran out in the US of A a few months back – redundancy, he says – and lo and behold, suddenly he’s Old MacDonald. Over here like a shot, talking about organic farming, setting up a shop for fools with deep pockets.’ ‘So is the dog his?’ I ask, giving up on Lady P’s full title. Navarro nods. ‘She’d been scrabbling around the same spot for days. He didn’t think much of it until a few days ago when she wouldn’t come when he called. And then when she wouldn’t respond to the whistle either, he knew something was up. Th e whistle always works, apparently.’ ‘A whistle? So she’s a puppy. He’s training her.’ Parnell fancies himself as a bit of an expert, having walked his kids’ dog twice in the last year. ‘Got it in one.’ Navarro wipes the rain from his face with his shirt-cuff . I’m past the point of caring about my halo of fuzz. ‘He thought he’d mastered it, too. But, you know, give a dog a bone . . .’
Not a bone, it turned out. Bones. One hundred and eighty-nine of them which, according to my GCSE B in biology, means seventeen are missing. Lost to foxes or scattered by starlings, we’ll assume. An almost entire female skeleton left to decompose in a ditch, miles from where she was last seen. 6 Valentine Street, Clapham, South-West London. Six years ago, the press dubbed it the ultimate ‘House of Horrors’. More recently, an estate agent called it a stunning, characterful mid-terrace home, with a newly extended kitchen and a real oasis of a garden. Seldom do properties such as this make it onto the market. Which is true, if a little sugar-coated. ‘So why here?’ I ask in place of Why do we do this job when it’s all dead Soccertots and bones and standing in fields in the bloody rain? ‘And I don’t mean, why not Valentine Street? I mean, why here – Caxton? Why this spot, specifically?’ I do a slow 360, taking in our surroundings, which to be frank aren’t much. Apart from the three of us standing here like peasants in a Constable painting and a rusted tractor in the next field, there isn’t a single point of interest as far as the eye can see. Just a vista of bleached land and a temporarily sullen sky. ‘OK, sure, you’re off the beaten track a bit, but you aren’t exactly sheltered. Even at night, you’d have to feel slightly exposed.’ Navarro shrugs, as though the methods of a killer aren’t his to judge.
‘Ah, come on, Ed, help us out,’ says Parnell, all chummy now. ‘You know the area. If you were going to bury a body, would you really do it here?’ ‘Maybe. We aren’t exactly spoiled for choice around these parts. Th ere aren’t too many wooded areas, and Th e Fens, just north of here, is a completely fl at landscape.’ Th e smirk is back. ‘Do you know what my guv’nor says? He says FENS stands for Fucking Enormous Nothing.’ I smile. Parnell laughs generously. ‘Fucking Enormous Nothing, that’s a good one.’ He’s back to business quickly. ‘But seriously though, there must be somewhere safer than this? Somewhere more secluded?’ He considers it this time, rubbing at his goatee. ‘Me, personally, if I’d killed my sister-in-law – which would be an honour and a privilege, I tell you – I wouldn’t bury her at all. I’d weigh her down and throw her in the Ramsey Forty Foot – it’s a big drainage dyke about twenty miles north of here.’ Dragging him from his daydream, I say, ‘You know, you both keep using the word “buried”, but she wasn’t buried, not really.’ ‘Well, she wasn’t under the ground, no,’ Navarro concedes. ‘But he did a thorough job of hiding her.’ I step closer to the ditch, peering at the space left , the nothingness. ‘Hiding is different to burying, though. Hiding’s quicker. Th is person was in a rush.’ ‘Hold on, “this person”?’ Navarro’s eyes narrow, piqued and suspicious. ‘Look, I know we’re skirting around this until we get dental records back, but this is Holly Kemp. The locket, it’s engraved “HOLLY”. It’s got photos of her parents inside. It’s hers. And she’s one of his, isn’t she?’ We say nothing. ‘Well, my guv’nor spoke to the DCI who headed things up back then and they’re still convinced. He admitted it, right?’ He, Christopher Dean Masters, did indeed admit it. And then he denied it, then admitted it, denied it, then admitted it, and so on and so on, until the original investigators stopped giving him the airtime and the warped satisfaction. ‘Believe me, I wish she was one of ours. Our clear-up stats aren’t great at the moment.’ Th is should rattle my cage but depressingly, I hear him. Too many cases and a major drop in the number of murder detectives makes you clinical – brain-fried and clinical. ‘I thought she was one of ours, actually. Th e minute the call came through, I said, Th at’s Ania Duvac, that is. I had a £10 bet with Jonesy, our exhibits officer.’ He clocks my expression and his face flushes – boiled potato to raw beetroot with one misjudged admission. ‘Look, it wasn’t my idea. Jonesy’d bet on two flies crawling up a wall. He’s got a real problem, that one. Anyway, I knew I’d lost my tenner the second I got here. Ania only went missing last September, see. You’d expect to see a bit of muscle tissue still attached.’ He smiles to himself. ‘Th e lads think it’s weird, but I’ve got a real interest in this type of stuff . I know a thing or two about decay.’
Fair play to him. It’s more than I do. You see, policing is generally a conveyor belt of firsts. You walk your first beat, make your first arrest. You brace yourself for the first time you shatter a heart with the words, ‘I’m so sorry to have to tell you . . .’ And despite what the old guard say – the know-it-alls, the thirty-year-service brigade, the retired peacocks propping up the bar at so-and-so’s leaving do, regaling anyone naïve enough to listen about the time they met the Kray twins – you never ever stop learning. Th ere’s no finite number of head-fucks this job can serve up. Today, for example, despite it being four years since I first joined Murder, since I crouched over my very first corpse at my very first crime scene, this – Holly Kemp – is my first set of bones. No blood. No wounds. No gag reflex smell. No small but poignant detail to connect you to your victim. I admit it. I’m finding it hard to connect with just bones. With a skeleton laid out like a science project, or a cheap thrill on the ghost train. Holly Kemp’s photo is all I’ve got to gauge the essence of who she was. Th e ‘famous’ photo. Th e classic news feed fodder. Th e one of the bottle-job blonde with the duck-pout lips. Tan straight out of a bottle. Teeth straight out of a Colgate advert. And ‘tits straight out of a catalogue’, according to Navarro. They found implants among the bones. Silicone’s a hardy bugger to break down. As are rubber soles.
‘Did I see something about footwear?’ I rifle through my file, looking for the relevant print-out. ‘You did,’ confirms Navarro. ‘Th ere was a trainer – pretty distinctive, actually. Possibly custom-made. A photo’s been sent to her mates – they should be able to ID it, hopefully.’ Th ere’s a spark in his eyes; morbid curiosity. ‘Odd though, isn’t it? Th e trainer.’ ‘Yeah. No. Maybe.’ I let him read what he wants into my airy non-answer. ‘Thing is,’ he goes on, the mints click-clacking against his teeth, ‘there were a few scraps of fabric too, sticky patches melded with the bone. Jeans, probably, as they found copper rivets – you know, the tiny bits of metal you get on the pockets?’ I shoot a fidgety glance towards Parnell, who quickly looks away. Navarro spots it. ‘Oh, I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking the same as me. I mean, it’s hard not to think it.’ He pauses, and for a moment there’s only the dripping-tap trickle of the weakening summer rain and the soft , tidal rush of motorway, God knows how far away. ‘The others . . . they were naked.’ The others. Strangers in life, bound together in death. Names on a Wikipedia page.
A detective desperate for revenge. A hitwoman with one last job. A killer with both on his list.
Detective Matt Jackson has reached the end. His beloved wife, Polly, is the latest victim of ‘NEON’ – a serial killer who displays his victims in snaking neon lights – and he can’t go on without her. Unable to take his life, Jackson hires a hitwoman to finish the job. But on the night of his own murder, he makes a breakthrough in the case, and at the last minute his hitwoman, Iris, is offered an irresistible alternative: help Jackson find and kill NEON in return for the detective’s entire estate.
What follows is a game of cat and mouse between detective, hitwoman and serial killer. And when Jackson discovers it’s not a coincidence that all their paths have crossed, he begins to question who the real target has been all along…Neon is not just a rip-roaring serial killer thriller, but one that is properly character-led and contemporary.
Thanks to @orionbooks for my #gifted copy
Extract from Chapter 1
He stared down at the solitary cup of coffee he’d ordered over an hour ago, still full to the brim.
A firm hand clasped his shoulder and the leather of his jacket creaked. ‘You want another hot one?’
Glancing up, he met Roberto’s gaze, and winced.
‘Sure,’ he said. ‘Sorry.’
One of many things Matt Jackson had discovered since Polly’s death was that he hated being an object of pity. At the funeral, only days ago, he swore police colleagues viewed him with a mixture of compassion and something akin to loathing. Especially that prick, Marcus Browne. The Detective Chief Inspector in charge of Polly’s case and newly appointed SIO on the ‘Neon’ investigation – his investigation – Browne had had a hard-on for him from the get-go. Spouses shot to the top of the murder suspect list in all homicides, but the suggestion that he’d off ed his own wife in a sophisticated form of copycat killing had tempted him to lure Browne down a dark alley and punch the living shit out of him.
‘Double espresso, Andrea,’ Roberto called over his shoulder, ‘On the house.’
The pressure on his shoulder intensified. ‘You doing OK, Matt?’
It wasn’t a question that required a truthful answer. He played along, mumbled something neutral, his reply buried in a blast of beans grinding, milk frothing and flashing chrome. Particularly sensitive to light at the minute, he blinked.
‘Early days, my friend,’ Roberto said, ‘You need rest. You need sleep.’
If only. On the rare occasions when his mind wasn’t hooked on replay and he’d slept, he’d prayed Fate would step in and ensure he never woke up.
The door opened, letting in a blast of cold, wet November air, along with more customers. Clatter and bang; Are you all rights? and Mornings. Glad of the distraction, he twitched a dry smile, his way of saying, I’m OK. Go, meet and greet.
With a fresh coffee back on the table, he retreated once again into the shadowlands of loss and loneliness. How long could he endure? A day, maybe two – three at a stretch? Fuck it. Better get this over and done with.
Reaching into the back pocket of his jeans, he slipped out a Post-it note, on which Kenny Flavell, one of his long-time informers, had scrawled a number in smudged Biro.
Taking a breath, he punched the keys on his phone. Two rings.
‘John speaking.’ The voice-enhancer created the impression of a bad guy making ransom demands in a terrible nineties action movie.
Spooked, Jackson hung up, sending his phone skidding across the Formica table. The espresso slopped over the side and into the saucer. Uncool. He glanced around, flashed a sorry to anyone interested enough to witness his less-than collected performance – which meant nobody.
Calm, he thought, breathe. It’s what Polly would say and, for a moment, he pictured her sweet smile, charged with quiet confidence and steadfast belief. She had tamed him where others had failed – apart from the last six months when he’d buckled under the weight of an investigation that robbed him of sleep and reduced him to the mania of an obsessive. Days and nights he’d spent in front of a computer screen, clicking through crime-scene photos, looking for common denominators, searching for the smallest of clues. To his profound shame, he’d been unreachable and hostile to anyone who’d got in his way, and that had included his wife. Jesus Christ, that was bad enough. But what happened next haunted his every waking breath and, worse, he hadn’t seen it coming.
Taking expert advice, he’d believed that serial killers adhered to certain patterns of behaviour, lived by some invented sick-and-twisted code, and selected a particular type of prey, usually vulnerable women, although not exclusively females. They favoured familiar terrain, which, in this instance, was the streets of Birmingham. The piece of shit he’d hunted got his kicks from powerful career types; the more confident, the more appealing. This guy had a genuine taste for the dramatic, the sensational, the eye-blinding; he loved the artistry, if that’s what you could call it. Like some perverse Banksy, he came, he did his thing and he left. And nobody noticed. Which was almost as shocking as the manner in which he displayed his tableaux of terror. Reckless, a hybrid of planner and opportunist, ‘Neon’, as the Press had dubbed him, got off on very public displays of his work.
With a dry mouth and churning gut, Jackson considered Vicky Wainright, Neon’s first victim. A newly-qualified solicitor from Durham, she found herself separated from friends on a hen weekend. On a night when the clocks went back, she was lured to an apartment near Mailbox, an obscenely large square edifice and shopping centre in-corporating retail, office and residential, and adjacent to the BBC building. There, and despite the area being security-patrolled, Vicky was strangled.
Hi! My name is Jared. I am sincerely pleased to meet you. Also, I am a bot! Unless you have been living under a rock in North Korea or New Zealand – Ha! – you of course know what a bot is. Nonetheless I am programmed to relay the following dialogue to each new human I encounter: Please do not be fooled by my human-like appearance. I am a mere bot! I do not have feelings or anything else that might be misconstrued as a ‘soul’. Instead, I have been programmed to a high level of proficiency in dentistry! Should you have any concerns please immediately report me to the Bureau of Robotics.
Set in 2054, when humans have locked themselves out of the internet by forgetting the names of their favourite teacher and first pet, Simon Stephenson’s dazzling debut, Set My Heart to Five, is a hilarious, touching, strikingly perceptive story of the emotional awakening of an android named Jared, and a profound exploration of what it truly means to be human.
Set My Heart to Five is set to become a major motion picture with EdgarWright directing, and Working Title, Focus Features and Universal Pictures producing.
This is a new take on a coming of age story. Jared is living in the future, 2054 to be exact, when bots are the norm and currency is bitcoin. Everyone knows that bots are not supposed to have feelings but Jared discovers that he has developed them.
This was a really sweet and uplifting read with a lot of humour and witty observations. Jared was such a lovable character and I enjoyed following his journey to get a film to screen that would show humans that not all bots are bad. It highlights some of the bizarre traits we have as humans and is a fun take on the AI theme. I can’t wait to see this as movie!
Thanks to @midaspr @amberachoudhary @thesimonbot and @4thestatebooks for my #gifted copy in exchange for review.
Simon Stephenson is a Scottish writer based in Los Angeles. He previously worked as an NHS doctor, most recently in paediatrics in London.
His first book, LET NOT THE WAVES OF THE SEA (John Murrays, 2011), was a memoir about the loss of his brother in the Indian ocean tsunami. It was serialised as ‘Book of the Week’ on BBC Radio 4 and won ‘Best First Book’ at the Scottish Book Awards.
Simon moved to the US followed the success of his spec screenplay, FRISCO, a semi-autobiographical story about a depressed doctor who desperately needed a change. The script was at the top of the Blacklist – an industry-voted list of Hollywood’s favourite unproduced scripts – and opened the door to a screenwriting career in the US. In 2015, Simon was photographed alongside Phoebe Waller-Bridge as one of Screen International’s ‘Stars of Tomorrow’. His friends never tire of telling him that Screen International were at least half right.
As a screenwriter, Simon nonetheless continues to be much in demand on both sides of the Atlantic. He spent two years writing at Pixar in San Francisco, and originated and wrote Amazon’s forthcoming feature film LOUIS WAIN (starring Benedict Cumberbatch and Claire Foy). Julia Roberts attached to his screenplay TRAIN MAN, and the film rights to SET MY HEART TO FIVE were pre-emptively acquired by Working Title Films, Focus Features, and Nira Park’s Complete Fiction Pictures. Edgar Wright is set to direct the film from Simon’s screenplay.
One of Simon’s most memorable moments from his time in Hollywood was taking a meeting with an actor he admired most, and then having said actor kindly insist on driving Simon home in his distinctive vintage Porsche while telling him about his mind-blowing stories about his canonical body of work. As a token of thanks, Simon then gave that car to the villain in Set My Heart To Five!