#BlogTour The Story of Our Lives by Helen Warner

Today it is my pleasure to take part in the Blog-Tour for The Story of our Lives by Helen Warner. It’s a testimony of love, loyalty and friendship between four friends throughout the good and hard times. Unconditional love and support over twenty years.

About the Author

Helen Warner is Director of Daytime for ITV where she oversees a wide range of programming from ‘This Morning’ to ‘The Chase’. Previously, she was at Channel 4 where she was responsible for shows including ‘Come Dine With Me’, ‘Coach Trip’ and ‘Deal or No Deal’.

She lives in Essex with her husband and their two children and she writes her books on the train to and from work.

Follow @HQStories

Buy The Story of Our Lives

About the book

Four friends. Twenty years. One powerful secret. Everyone remembers where they were on 31st August 1997, the day Princess Diana died.

Sophie, Emily, Amy and Melissa certainly do -– a beautiful cottage in Southwold, at the start of an annual tradition to have a weekend away together.

Every year since, the four best friends have come back together. But over time the changes in their lives have led them down very different paths. And it’s when those paths collide that the secrets they’ve been keeping come tumbling out.

One Day meets Big Little Lies in this unputdownable read about four friends, one long-buried secret and the histories we all share.

Review 

Sophie, Emily, Amy and Melissa are a close-knit group of friends. The reader follows them through their trials and tribulations over a period of two decades. They meet every year at the same time to celebrate their friendships and all the changes in their lives. Pregnancies, career changes, marriages, affairs, betrayals and life in general.

There is a fair amount of victim blaming when it comes to Amy and her situation. ‘If only she was a little tougher. If she stood up for herself it wouldn’t happen.’ This is a common reaction and misconception when it comes to domestic abuse, the assumption that it is just about the victim not being able to stand up for themselves. Even her friends are quick to place the blame on her.

It’s easy to ignore the obvious, when it comes to domestic abuse. The hard part is supporting victims, despite the fact they may go back to their abuser. It takes an incredible amount of courage to leave a situation of complete control, isolation and fear.

I have this rule of thumb when it comes to books or stories I read. If the characters or premise evoke any kind of emotion, even if it is anger or irritation, then the author has done their job. So with that said let me just have a grumble about Sophie and the way she reacts at the end. Can we all just say hypocrite. Her indignation and anger are misplaced, and ironic to say the least. Talk about selective memory and being judgemental. Okay, I feel much better now.

Warner has created a story that will resonate with a lot of readers, especially those who understand the complexities of friendships between women. Friendships that stand the test of time, relationships with people who exhibit loyalty under extreme duress and are willing to stand by you through your hardest times. It doesn’t happen often, but it does happen.

The Story of Our Lives is an ode to the special connections we make in life, about the paths we choose and the mistakes we make. It is also about the people who walk with us instead of away from us when things crumble and fall apart around us.

Buy The Story of Our Lives at Amazon Uk or go to Goodreads for any other retailer.

 

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#BlogTour Girl Targeted by Val Collins

Today is my stop on the Blog-Tour for Girl Targeted by Val Collins. It is a tale of murder with an underlying sense of darkness throughout, but not just because of the murder per se. Her main character has a nose for murder, which leads to the discovery of self and snake pit full of lies.

About the Author

“I can’t remember a time when I didn’t love to read but writing is a pretty new adventure for me.

Of course I wrote stories when I was very young and I especially loved rewriting the ends of movies but I was an impatient kid and had an unfortunate tendency towards perfectionism. When, at around the age of ten, I realised my attempts at writing dialogue were dire, my writing career came to an abrupt end. A few years ago I decided to try my hand at writing again and Girl Targeted was the eventual result.

Girl Targeted is set in Ireland where I have lived all my life. It’s set in an office, an environment I know well as my entire working life has been spent doing office work. I’ve worked for small and medium sized organisations, for multinationals and for many different business sectors. Unfortunately, I was never lucky enough to come across anything as exciting as a murder so I had to rely on my imagination to create Aoife’s world.

I really loved writing Girl Targeted and I hope you enjoy reading it. Val”

Follow @valcollinsbooks on Twitter or ValCollinsBooks on Facebook

Visit valcollinsbooks.com

Buy Girl Targeted(UK)

Buy Girl Targeted (US)

About the book

A Psychological Thriller/Suspense set in Ireland.

Office jobs can be stressful. Aoife’s may be lethal.

Aoife’s life is finally on track. She’s happily married, pregnant with her first child and has the world’s best mother-in-law. But when Aoife accepts a job as an office temp, her entire life begins to unravel. Is one of Aoife’s colleagues a murderer? Is Aoife the next target? Why is her husband unconcerned?

Can office politics lead to murder? Girl Targeted is a perfect read for fans of Behind Closed Doors, Girl on a Train and the Silent Wife.

Review

It is a tale of murder with an underlying sense of darkness throughout, but not because of the murder per se. The feeling of fear, uncertainty and confusion comes from an entirely different place.

The story pulls the reader in two directions, and if I am being completely frank, I am not sure that was intentional. I think the relationship between Aoife and Jason was supposed to be a mere distraction in the background with the murder mystery taking centre stage. Personally I found their relationship and the clear message it sends, far more compelling than Aoife playing a very young and naive Miss Marple.

There was one thing that bothered me about Girl Targeted, and I could not be clearer about it being a personal preference thereby having nothing to do with how much I enjoyed the read. When it comes to names that look one way and are pronounced a completely different way I tend to suffer from my very own version of the Stroop Effect. Example: the word purple being written in red, do not read the word say the colour. So, the same happened with the name Aoife. Pronounced Ee-faa (and yes the author does tell the reader how to say it), my mind says Oyff. I was annoyed by own brain going Oyff nope Ee-faa the entire time. ‘Sigh’

I digress.

Let’s get back to what really had me intrigued when it came to this story. On the surface Aoife and Jason appear to be a happy young couple with a new baby. Jason’s views are perhaps a wee bit chauvinistic, but there is nothing wrong him wanting her to stay at home with the baby, right. There is however something wrong with Jason. He wants to control all the money, the narrative and who Aoife meets or talks to.

Wrapped in a bubble of apparent concern is the insidious nature of the beast called abuse. Jason uses emotional abuse to control Aoife. He uses neglect and coercion to convince her to do everything he wants. He traces her every move, controls every penny and manipulates others to get his wife to do what he wants.

It seems almost innocent and can easily be mistaken for overprotective love or concern for a loved one, which is often how an abusive partner gets away with it. They try and take away any financial freedom, make the victim dependent upon them in every way and seclude them from family and friends. Extreme jealousy and paranoia are usually precursors for abusive behaviour.This element of the story, and the way it evolved, was really interesting.

Girl Targeted is a murder mystery with the serious topic of abuse woven into the story. The main character has a nose for murder, which leads to the discovery of self and a snake pit full of lies.

Buy Girl Targeted at Amazon Uk or go to Goodreads for any other retailer.

#BlogTour Turning for Home by Barney Norris

I am absolutely delighted to be part of the #BlogTour for this incredibly talented author. Believe you me the hype is not only worth it, it is also absolutely accurate. Barney Norris has a knack for storytelling and is a scribe worth watching.

About the Author

Barney Norris was born in Sussex in 1987, and grew up in Salisbury. Upon leaving university he founded the theatre company Up In Arms. He won the Critics’ Circle and Offwestend Awards for Most Promising Playwright for his debut full-length play Visitors. He is the Martin Esslin Playwright in Residence at Keble College, Oxford. Barney’s new play Nightfall is one of the three inaugural productions at Nicholas Hytner’s new Bridge Theatre, beginning early 2018.

Follow @barnontherun @DoubleDayUK

Buy Turning for Home

About the book

Once a year, every year, Robert’s family come together at a rambling old house in the country to celebrate his birthday. Aunts, uncles, grandchildren, distant cousins – it is a milestone in their lives and has been for decades. But this year Robert doesn’t want to be reminded of what has happened since they last met – and neither, for quite different reasons, does his granddaughter Kate. Robert is determined that this will be the final party. But for both him and Kate, it may also become the most important gathering of all.

As lyrical and true to life as Norris’s critically acclaimed debut Five Rivers Met on a Wooded Plain, this is a compelling, emotional story of family, human frailty, and the marks that love leaves on us.

Barney’s debut novel, Five Rivers Met on a Wooded Plain was bestselling and critically acclaimed – the Guardian called it a ‘state of the nation novel’, and ‘deeply affecting’, and the Mail on Sunday praised it as ‘outstanding…a moving, strangely uplifting novel…Superb’. It featured as Waterstones Book of the Month, and was shortlisted for prizes including the RSL Ondaatje Prize and Debut of the Year at the British Book Awards.

In Turning for Home, Barney tackles the issue of eating disorders, a very personal subject that has affected someone close to him. Barney has much to contribute to current discussion around how mental health and eating disorders in particular are handled by our health services.

Review

It isn’t often one finds an author self-assessing their own novel at the end of said novel, and then pinpointing exactly what my thoughts are on the story in question.

Norris himself says that initially this started out as a story about the Boston Tapes. They started out as a series of frank interviews given by former loyalist and republican paramilitaries that chronicles their involvement in the Troubles, in an attempt to create an oral history of those times. In return for names, dates, places and details, the former paramilitaries made a deal that the interviews wouldn’t be made public until after their deaths.

Including the frank admission that Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams had his own squad within the IRA, who were responsible for the so-called ‘Disappeared’ of the Troubles. The people who were targeted, kidnapped, murdered and secretly buried by the IRA.

I digress.

Turning for Home is like reading two stories in one, and I am sure both would make excellent stand-alone novels. Together they become something special. A spark ignites and weaves its way through this poignant tale of pain, grief and control.

The reader follows Robert and Kate, grandfather and granddaughter. Their individual tales collide at the annual celebration for Robert’s birthday. A family reunion that has an air of finality to it, especially since the loss of Robert’s wife.

Robert is dealing with the implications of the Boston Tapes. The possibility of secrets being aired has some of his connections running scared, and after so many years the past has the power to insert itself into the future.

Kate’s story is a wee bit more complex. She suffers from anorexia nervosa, which comes under eating disorders in the DSM. Norris gives the reader a candid look into the thought process of someone with an eating disorder, and how many misconceptions there are about how to help someone with the disorder. Even so-called mental health professionals have difficulty really comprehending the grip it can have, and the impact it has on entire families.

It’s all about control and loss of control. When you experience loss of control it is a normal response to try and regain it. You start to look for the one thing no one else can control but you. Food, fat and calories become the enemy and you start to fight them with every inch of your body.

Aside from the obvious familial connection, the thread that connects both Robert and Kate, and their stories, is coping with loss and feelings of guilt. Unresolved emotional distress, trauma and conflict are the equivalent of malignant tumours in our bodies. Sometimes the inner enemy is evident and sometimes it is a ticking time-bomb waiting to explode.

Norris writes with a finesse and wisdom beyond his years. He has the gift of gab, a knack for telling a story and pulling his readers along with him on a journey even he doesn’t have the directions for. Eventually he brings himself and us home, regardless of wherever that may be.

Buy Turning for Home at Amazon Uk or go to Goodreads for any other retailer.

#BlogTour Whiteout by Ragnar Jónasson

whiteout12

You’ve come to the right place if you fancy a sneaky taste of Nordic Noir and the Blog-Tour for Whiteout by Ragnar Jónasson. He is back with another captivating Dark Iceland story featuring his smart as a whip police inspector Ari Thór Arason.

About the Author

Ragnar Jónasson is author of the international bestselling Dark Iceland series. His debut Snowblind went to number one in the kindle charts shortly after publication, and Nightblind, Blackout and Rupture soon followed suit, hitting the number one spot in five countries, and the series being sold in 18 countries and for TV. Ragnar was born in Reykjavik, Iceland, where he continues to work as a lawyer. From the age of 17, Ragnar translated 14 Agatha Christie novels into Icelandic. He has appeared on festival panels worldwide, and lives in Reykjavik with his wife and young daughters.

Follow @ragnarjo @OrendaBooks on Twitter or ragnarjonassonwriter on Facebook

Visit ragnarjonasson.com

Buy Whiteout

About the book

Two days before Christmas, a young woman is found dead beneath the cliffs of the deserted village of Kálfshamarvík. Did she jump, or did something more sinister take place beneath the lighthouse and the old house on the remote rocky outcrop? With winter closing in and the snow falling relentlessly, Ari Thór Arason discovers that the victim’s mother and young sister also lost their lives in this same spot, twentyfive years earlier. As the dark history and the secrets of the village are unveiled, and the death toll begins to rise, the Siglufjordur detectives must race against the clock to find the killer, before another tragedy takes place. Dark, chilling and complex, Whiteout is a haunting, atmospheric and stunningly plotted thriller from one of Iceland’s bestselling crime writers.

Review

Ragnar Jónasson  brings us another part of the Dark Iceland series with Ari Thór Arason. It is a subtle combination of old school mystery and detective work, with the fresh breeze of Nordic Noir weaving itself through the story.

This time Ari finds himself on the brink of fatherhood, a road which brings up many nostalgic and painful moments for him, whilst trying to discover why two women and one child have suffered similar fates at the same spot in an isolated part of the country.

Is it some kind of mental illness passed on from one family member to the next or is there something more sinister going on. What kind of secrets are being hidden by the people of this small community? Why did Asta return to a place with so many unpleasant memories? Did she really return just to make a grand gesture to accentuate her actions?

The strong and eccentric characters are part and parcel of the charm of this book. The elderly man who has very friendly relationships with young children, the neighbour who always seems to be in the middle of every situation, and the housekeeper with a dangerously sharp tongue.

Then there is the odd couple relationship between Ari and Tómas. As a reader you get the feeling neither of them quite knows which one of them is in charge. Tómas, the mentor, always appears to pull Ari into these complex cases, then throws his weight around a wee bit, but ultimately Ari always takes over and leads the team towards a solution.

Whiteout has a distinctive Christie flair to it, the whole questioning technique a la Poirot with red herrings, abrupt about turns and a solution buried in years of deception and mystery. The author combines his very unique Nordic flair with a vintage recipe for crime.

Buy Whiteout at Amazon Uk or go to Goodreads for any other retailer.

Read Rupture by Ragnar Jónasson

Blog-Tour: Snare by Lilja Sigurdardóttir

Today it is my pleasure to take part in the BlogTour for Snare by Lilja Sigurdardóttir. Snare is a fresh, gritty walk through life and crime as we know it in the 21st century.

About the Author 

Icelandic crime-writer Lilja Sigurdardóttir was born in the town of Akranes in 1972 and raised in Mexico, Schweden, Spain and Iceland. An award-winning playwright, Lilja has written four crime novels, with Snare, the first in a new series, hitting bestseller lists worldwide. The film rights have been bought by Palomar Pictures in California. Lilja has a background in education and has worked in evaluation and quality control for preschools in recent years. She lives in Reykavik with her partner.

Follow @lilja1972  Visit liljawriter.com

Buy Snare

About the book

After a messy divorce, attractive young mother Sonia is struggling tp provide for herself and keep custody of her son. With her back to the wall, she resorts to smuggling cocaine into Iceland, and finds herself caught up in a ruthless criminal world. As she desperately looks for a way out of trouble, she must pit her wits against her nemesis, Bragi, a customs officer, whose years of experience frustrate her new and evermore daring strategies.

Things become even more complicated when Sonia embarks on a relationship with a woman, Agla. Once a high-level bank executive, Agla is currently being prosecuted in the aftermath the Icelandic financial crash.

Set in a Reykjavik still covered in the dust of the Eyjafjallajökull volcanic eruption, and with a dark, fast-paced and chilling plot and intriguing characters, Snare is an outstandingly original and sexy Nordic crime thriller, from one of the most exciting new names in crime fiction.

Review

It’s kind of ironic that Sonja makes such an excellent drug smuggler. Her planning is meticulous and she seems to be able to out-think the border control by ten steps every time. If left to her own devices she could probably run the whole set-up herself.

There is no doubt that Snare is a well executed crime story, however it is so much more. Sigurdardóttir has created a layered literary cake with a variety of topics, which will appeal to a multitude of readers. The divorce and the custody battle, the complexity of the snare itself and the topic of homosexuality.

Like many women Sonja finds herself in a position of vulnerability after her husband catches her in flagrante with her lover and demands a divorce. He, and society, believes she is at fault and is an unfit mother because her lover is a female. It begs the question whether she allows herself to be treated like a sub-human because she believes the same thing or just because of her guilty conscience.

Either way she finds herself in financial difficulty, which then makes her a target and she ends up trying to make enough money to get her young son back where he belongs. She is willing to go to any length to get custody, a part of the story many readers will identify with. You never know what you’re capable of until you’re pushed to your limits.

One of the really captivating elements of Snare is the relationship between Alga and Sonja, especially Alga and the rejection of her own emotions and sexuality. She is curious about the inner sanctum and secrets, and yet rejects it all with an equal level of passion. Her entire existence is a balancing act of what she believes she should want and what she really needs.

I really enjoyed the realism. This could happen to anyone, and the snare is explained really well. Being caught between a rock and a hard place. You either do it, commit a crime to achieve your hearts desire or you remain a law-abiding citizen and lose what you love the most. A lose-lose situation, so the reader can’t help but feel empathy for the criminal.

The other aspect, which I believe Sigurdardóttir has purposely written in a way that creates a dialogue, is how same gender sexual attraction is still a point of contention for some of those still discovering their sexuality and people who view it as something to feel guilty about.

Snare certainly has a noirish quality to it, however I think it is a strong and vivid Kodak moment of our modern times. It often makes for uncomfortable reading because it is easy to relate to the desperation of the main character, because when it comes down to it, Sonja could be any one of us.

Buy Snare at Amazon Uk or go to Goodreads for any other retailer.

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Blog-Tour: Maria in the Moon by Louise Beech

Today I am thrilled to welcome an author from my local area, and to be taking part in the Blog-Tour for Maria in the Moon by Louise Beech. It is a remarkable read you don’t want to miss.

About the Author

Louise Beech is an exceptional literary talent, whose debut novel How To Be Brave was a Guardian Readers’ Choice for 2015. The sequel, The Mountain in My Shoe was shortlisted for Not the Booker Prize. Both books have been number one on Kindle, Audible and Kobo in USA/UK/AU. She regularly writes travel pieces for the Hull Daily Mail, where she was a columnist for ten years. Her short fiction has won the Glass Woman Prize, the Eric Hoffer Award for Prose, and the Aesthetica Creative Works competition, as well as shortlisting for the Bridport Prize twice and being published in a variety of UK magazines.

Louise lives with her husband and children on the outskirts of Hull – the UK’s 2017 City of Culture – and loves her job as a Front of House Usher at Hull Truck Theatre, where her first play was performed in 2012. She is also part of the Mums’ Army on Lizzie and Carl’s BBC Radio Humberside Breakfast Show.

Follow @LouiseWriter @Orendabooks #MariaintheMoon

Visit louisebeech.co.uk

Buy Maria in the Moon

About the book

‘Long ago my beloved Nanny Eve chose my name. Then one day she stopped calling me it. I try now to remember why, but I just can’t.’

Thirty-two-year-old Catherine Hope has a great memory. But she can’t remember everything. She can’t remember her ninth year. She can’t remember when her insomnia started. And she can’t remember why everyone stopped calling her Catherine-Maria.

With a promiscuous past, and licking her wounds after a painful breakup, Catherine wonders why she resists anything approaching real love. But when she loses her home to the devastating deluge of 2007 and volunteers at Flood Crisis, a devastating memory emerges … and changes everything.

Dark, poignant and deeply moving, Maria in the Moon is an examination of the nature of memory and truth, and the defences we build to protect ourselves, when we can no longer hide…

Review

Maria in the Moon has echoes of Eleanor Oliphant, especially when it comes to the anti-heroine type of main character. Another common denominator is the fact I enjoyed both stories, because the authors travel far off the well beaten path of literary clichés.

Catherine-Maria has this strange need to help others, she does this by volunteering at crisis helplines, which brings her into contact with people at their most vulnerable moments and often their last moments. Regardless of her own issues, and there are plenty of those, she always manages to wrangle herself into a position where she is confronted with the worst case scenarios in society. Her new pet project is a helpline set up to help the victims of the 2007 floods of Hull and East Yorkshire.

Part and parcel of the volunteering is being known under an alias. This is to keep both the volunteers and the callers safe. In Catherine’s case the pseudonym is also an important part of her identity crisis. How can she be Catherine-Maria when she doesn’t really know where Catherine-Maria went.

She knows Catherine, the promiscuous danger loving girl with a prickly attitude and a sharp-edged tongue. She knows all the personalities and names she pretends to be. She is a walking, talking example of coping mechanisms. The question is what is she trying to cope with, because at this point she doesn’t have a clue. The only thing she knows is she can’t remember entire years from her past, and someone is haunting her both at night and during the day.

She meets Christopher there, yet another man she connects with via her volunteer work. At this point one could start to question whether her romantic relationships are just an involuntary reaction to the emotional distress caused by the phone conversations she has to navigate and digest.

Another major part of her story, and the person who steers the majority of her reactions, is her mother. Their relationship is complex and most certainly the cause of many of her problems. Their problems go beyond the normal mother and daughter conflicts.

Maria in the Moon is a cold realistic ‘look in through the window’ approach to a highly sensitive subject. Beech pulls it off like a million dollar art heist. Although Catherine isn’t the most sympathetic of characters, which is completely on par with a real situation of this kind, she does build a tenuous rapport with her audience, the readers. Kudos to Beech for being able to convey the confusion, pain, anger and desperation of the emotional turmoil and most importantly the complexity of the situation.

A commendable and memorable read.

Buy Maria in the Moon at Amazon UK or go to Goodreads for any other retailer.

Blog-Tour: Give Me the Child by Mel McGrath

I am thrilled to be able to kick off the Blog-Tour for this incredible read by Mel McGrath. Give Me the Child is a spiderweb of paranoia, intrigue and betrayal. Nothing is quite as it seems in this captivating thriller.

About the Author

Melanie McGrath is an Essex girl, the author of the critically acclaimed and bestselling family memoir Silvertown. She won the John LlewellynRhys Mail on Sunday award for ‘Best Writer under 3’5 for her first book, Motel Nirvana. She has published three Arctic mysteries featuring the Inuit detective Edie Kiglatuk under the name MJ McGrath, the first of which, The Boy in the Snow, was shortlisted for a CWA Gold Dagger.

She is one of the founders of the writing collective, Killer Women, which has rapidly established itself as one of the key forums for crime writing in the UK. Give Me the Child marks a change in direction for her writing and is her first thriller published by HarperCollins.

Follow @mcgrathmj @HQStories @killerwomenorg

Visit melaniemcgrath.com

Buy Give Me the Child

About the book

Dr Cat Lupo, expert in child personality disorders, aches for another child, despite the psychosis which marked her first pregnancy. When her husband’s eleven-year-old-love-child turns up in the middle of the night on her doorstep, she must decide whether to give her a home. But as the events behind Ruby’s arrival emerge – her mother has been found dead in their South London flat – Cat questions whether her decision to help Ruby has put her own daughter at risk.

Cat’s research tells her there’s no such thing as evil. Her history tells her she’s paranoid. But her instincts tell her different. And as the police fight to control a sudden spate of riots raging across the capital, Cat faces a race against time of her own.

Depicting a city and a family in meltdown, Give Me the Child is a dark psychological thriller that draws upon the latest research in adult and child mental health to ask uncomfortable but pressing questions about how much we know about our partners, our children and ourselves.

Extract of Give Me the Child

Chapter One

My first thought when the doorbell woke me was that someone had died. Most likely Michael Walsh. I turned onto my side, pulled at the outer corners of my eyes to rid them of the residue of sleep and blinked myself awake. It was impossible to tell if it was late or early, though the bedroom was as hot and muggy as it had been when Tom and I had gone to bed. Tom was no longer beside me. Now I was alone.

We’d started drinking not long after Freya had gone upstairs. The remains of a bottle of Pinot Grigio for me, a glass or two of red for Tom. (He always said white wine was for women.) Just before nine I called The Mandarin Hut. When the crispy duck arrived I laid out two trays in the living room, opened another bottle and called Tom in from the study. I hadn’t pulled the curtains and through the pink light of the London night sky a cat’s claw of moon appeared. The two of us ate, mostly in silence, in front of the TV. A ballroom dance show came on. Maybe it was just the booze but something about the tight-muscled men and the frou-frou’d women made me feel a little sad. The cosmic dance. The grand romantic gesture. At some point even the tight-muscled men and the frou-frou’d women would find themselves slumped together on a sofa with the remains of a takeaway and wine enough to sink their sorrows, wondering how they’d got there, wouldn’t they?

Not that Tom and I really had anything to complain about except, maybe, a little malaise, a kind of falling away. After all, weren’t we still able to laugh about stuff most of the time or, if we couldn’t laugh, at least have sex and change the mood?

‘Let’s go upstairs and I’ll show you my cha-cha,’ I said, rising and holding out a hand.Tom chuckled and pretended I was joking, then, wiping his palms along his thighs as if he were ridding them of something unpleasant, he said, ‘It’s just if I don’t crack this bloody coding thing…’

I looked out at the moon for a moment. OK, so I knew how much making a success of Labyrinth meant to Tom, and I’d got used to him shutting himself away in the two or three hours either side of midnight. But this one time, with the men and women still twirling in our minds? Just this one time?

Stupidly, I said, ‘Won’t it wait till tomorrow?’ and in an instant

I saw Tom stiffen. He paused for a beat and, slapping his hands on his thighs in a gesture of busyness, he slugged down the last of his wine, rose from the sofa and went to the door. And so we left it there with the question still hanging.

I spent the rest of the evening flipping through the case notes of patients I was due to see that week. When I turned in for the night, the light was still burning in Tom’s study. I murmured ‘goodnight’ and went upstairs to check on Freya. Our daughter was suspended somewhere between dreaming and deep sleep. All children look miraculous when they’re asleep, even the frighten- ing, otherworldly ones I encounter every day. Their bodies soften, their small fists unfurl and dreams play behind their eyelids. But Freya looked miraculous all the time to me. Because she was. A miracle made at the boundary where human desire meets science. I stood and watched her for a while, then, retrieving her beloved Pippi Longstocking book from the floor and straightening her duvet, I crept from the room and went to bed.

Sometime later I felt Tom’s chest pressing against me and his breath on the nape of my neck. He was already aroused and for a minute I wondered what else he’d been doing on screen besides coding, then shrugged off the thought. A drowsy, half-hearted bout of lovemaking followed before we drifted into our respective oblivions. Next thing I knew the doorbell was ringing and I was alone.

Under the bathroom door a beam of light blazed. I threw off the sheet and swung from the bed.

‘Tom?’

No response. My mind was scrambled with sleep and an anxious pulse was rising to the surface. I called out again.

There was a crumpling sound followed by some noisy vomiting but it was identifiably my husband. The knot in my throat loosened. I went over to the bathroom door, knocked and let myself in. Tom was hunched over the toilet and there was a violent smell in the room.

‘Someone’s at the door.’ Tom’s head swung round.

I said, ‘You think it might be about Michael?’

Tom’s father, Michael Walsh, was a coronary waiting to happen, a lifelong bon vivant in the post-sixty-five-year-old death zone, who’d taken the recent demise of his appalling wife pretty badly.

Tom stood up, wiped his hand across his mouth and moved over to the sink. ‘Nah, probably just some pisshead.’ He turned on the tap and sucked at the water in his hand and, in an oddly casual tone, he added, ‘Ignore it.’

As I retreated into the bedroom, the bell rang again. Whoever it was, they weren’t about to go away. I went over to the window and eased open the curtain. The street was still and empty of people, and the first blank glimmer was in the sky. Directly below the house a patrol car was double parked, hazard lights still on but otherwise dark. For a second my mind filled with the terrible possibility that something had happened to Sally. Then I checked myself. More likely someone had reported a burglary or a prowler in the neighbourhood. Worst case it was Michael.

‘It’s the police,’ I said.

Tom appeared and, lifting the sash, craned out of the window. ‘I’ll go, you stay here.’

I watched him throw on his robe over his boxers and noticed his hands were trembling. Was that from having been sick or was he, too, thinking about Michael now? I listened to his footsteps disappearing down the stairs and took my summer cover-up from its hook. A moment later, the front door swung open and there came the low murmur of three voices, Tom’s and those of two women. I froze on the threshold of the landing and held my breath, waiting for Tom to call me down, and when, after a few minutes, he still hadn’t, I felt myself relax a little. My parents were dead. If this was about Sally, Tom would have fetched me by now. It was bound to be Michael. Poor Michael.

I went out onto the landing and tiptoed over to Freya’s room. Tom often said I was overprotective, and maybe I was, but I’d seen enough mayhem and weirdness at work to give me pause. I pushed open the door and peered in. A breeze stirred from the open window. The hamster Freya had brought back from school for the holidays was making the rounds on his wheel but in the aura cast by the Frozen-themed nightlight I could see my tender little girl’s face closed in sleep. Freya had been too young to remember my parents and Michael had always been sweet to her in a way that his wife, who called her ‘my little brown granddaughter’, never was, but it was better this happened now, in the summer holidays, so she’d have time to recover before the pressures of school started up again. We’d tell her in the morning once we’d had time to formulate the right words.

At the top of the landing I paused, leaning over the bannister. A woman in police uniform stood in the glare of the security light. Thirties, with fierce glasses and a military bearing. Beside her was another woman in jeans and a shapeless sweater, her features hidden from me. The policewoman’s face was brisk but unsmiling; the other woman was dishevelled, as though she had been called from her bed. Between them I glimpsed the auburn top of what I presumed was a child’s head – a girl, judging from the amount of hair. I held back, unsure what to do, hoping they’d realise they were at the wrong door and go away. I could see the police officer’s mouth moving without being able to hear what was being said. The conversation went on and after a few moments Tom stood to one side and the two women and the child stepped out of the shadows of the porch and into the light of the hallway.

The girl was about the same age as Freya, taller but small-boned, legs as spindly as a deer’s and with skin so white it gave her the look of some deep sea creature. She was wearing a grey trackie too big for her frame which bagged at the knees from wear and made her seem malnourished and unkempt. From the way she held herself, stiffly and at a distance from the dishevelled woman, it was obvious they didn’t know one another. A few ideas flipped through my mind. Had something happened in the street, a house fire perhaps, or a medical emergency, and a neighbour needed us to look after her for a few hours? Or was she a school friend of Freya’s who had run away and for some reason given our address to the police? Either way, the situation obviously didn’t have anything much to do with us.

My heart went out to the kid but I can’t say I wasn’t relieved. Michael was safe, Sally was safe.

I moved down the stairs and into the hallway. The adults remained engrossed in their conversation but the girl looked up and stared. I tried to place the sharp features and the searching, amber eyes from among our neighbours or the children at Freya’s school but nothing came. She showed no sign of recognising me. I could see she was tired – though not so much from too little sleep as from a lifetime of watchfulness. It was an expression familiar to me from the kids I worked with at the clinic. I’d probably had it too, at her age. An angry, cornered look. She was clasping what looked like a white rabbit’s foot in her right hand. The cut end emerged from her fist, bound crudely with electrical wire which was attached to a key. It looked home-made and this lent it – and her – an air that was both outdated and macabre, as if she’d been beamed in from some other time and had found herself stranded here, in south London, in the second decade of the twenty-first century, in the middle of the night, with nothing but a rabbit’s foot and a key to remind her of her origins. ‘What’s up?’ I said, more out of curiosity than alarm. I smiled and waited for an answer.

The two women glanced awkwardly at Tom and from the way he was standing, stiffly with one hand slung on his hip in an attempt at relaxed cool, I understood they were waiting for him to respond and I instinctively knew that everything I’d been thinking was wrong. A dark firework burst inside my chest. The girl in the doorway was neither a neighbour’s kid nor a friend of our daughter.

She was trouble.

I took a step back. ‘Will someone tell me what’s going on?’ When no one spoke I crouched to the girl’s level and, summon-

ing as much friendliness as I could, said, ‘What’s your name? Why are you here?’

The girl’s eyes flickered to Tom, then, giving a tiny, contemptu- ous shake of the head, as if by her presence all my questions had already been answered and I was being obstructive or just plain dumb, she said, ‘I’m Ruby Winter.’

I felt Tom’s hands on my shoulder. They were no longer trem- bling so much as hot and spasmic.

‘Cat, please go and make some tea. I’ll come in a second.’

There was turmoil in his eyes. ‘Please,’ he repeated. And so, not knowing what else to do, I turned on my heels and made for the kitchen.

While the kettle wheezed into life, I sat at the table in a kind

of stupor; too shocked to gather my thoughts, I stared at the clock as the red second hand stuttered towards the upright. Tock, tock, tock. There were voices in the hallway, then I heard the living room door shut. Time trudged on. I began to feel agitated. What was taking all this time? Why hadn’t Tom come? Part of me felt I had left the room already but here I was still. Eventually, footsteps echoed in the hallway. The door moved and Tom appeared. I stood up and went over to the counter where, what now seemed like an age ago, I had laid out a tray with the teapot and some mugs.

‘Sit down, darling, we need to talk.’ Darling. When was the last time he’d called me that?

I heard myself saying, idiotically, ‘But I made tea!’ ‘It’ll wait.’ He pulled up a chair directly opposite me.

When he spoke, his voice came to me like the distant crackle of a broken radio in another room. ‘I’m so sorry, Cat, but however I say this it’s going to come as a terrible shock, so I’m just going to say what needs to be said, then we can talk. There’s no way round this. The girl, Ruby Winter, she’s my daughter.’

Review

It doesn’t happen often, but occasionally a character will make me want to bash them around the head with a baseball bat for the duration of the story. Yeh, I’m looking straight at you Tom.  To be fair I might share some of the whacks with slippery Sal and downtrodden Cat.

McGrath slips in some interesting points without deviating from the plot. Once someone has been tarred with the mental health brush, you never really lose the stigma of it. I use the word tar intentionally, because unfortunately people still regard mental health issues as a taboo topic. There is a general ignorance surrounding the whole issue, the treatment and how it affects people.

Then there is the aspect of children with severe behavioural and mental health issues. The author paints a gloomy picture of parents looking for solutions, but being let down by the system and society. These children are often not given the support they need, and the consequences are dire.

Cat knows that every misstep, every over the top reaction and anything her friends and family find slightly out of the ordinary, is a possible cause for alarm. Is Cat just having a bad day or is Cat slipping into another psychosis? All the doubt and suspicion weighs heavily on her. It also tends to steer her decisions and make her less likely to stand up for herself. This element of the story infuriated me the most, well admittedly not as much as Tom did, the way this intelligent and educated woman kowtowed to those around her.

McGrath melds fiction with fact in this riveting psychological thriller. She lures the reader in with her ready made solution, only to let it implode further down the line. I would say trust your gut instincts with this read. If it looks like a killer and acts like a killer then chances are it probably is one.

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