THE FOREST OF SOULS by Carla Banks

30 06 2018

Helen Kovacs and Faith Lange are old school and university friends who, after graduating from Oxford, went their separate ways. Helen, despite her First, married and settled into life as a mother and housewife, while Faith pursued the academic career that has led to her being appointed Senior Research Assistant at the Centre for European Studies at the University of Manchester.

Briefly, their lives come together again when Helen tires of being a housewife, completes her PhD, and is accepted at Manchester for post-doctoral research. And leaves her husband.

Then Helen is murdered.

From the beginning, Faith  is sure that this was not some random, possibly sex-related, killing, and she gradually becomes obsessed with the notion that the killer was in fact Helen’s jealous and violent husband, Daniel.

Jake Denbigh, however, while agreeing that it was not some random killing, has a different theory. He believes Helen was murdered because someone did not want her to pursue her research into the atrocities committed in and outside the city of Minsk during WW2. Denbigh,  a writer and journalist who has himself been carrying out research in the same field,  is very interested in Faith’s own grandfather, who arrived in the UK as a refugee in 1943 and whose home, though he has always been very secretive about it, was in Minsk.

An exciting read and a mind-numbing reconstruction of the war years in Poland and Belarus. Eastern Poland and Belarus were occupied first by the Russians (when Hitler and Stalin divided Poland between them), then by the Germans after Hitler (greedy for more of Eastern Europe and after having lost the Battle of Britain and the Battle of El Alamein) declared war on Russia. The Nazis were seen by many at that time, in Belarus anyway, as liberators. But not for long, once the atrocities began.

It is those atrocities – the massacre and the mass graves under the trees in the Kurapaty Forest; and the Maly Trostenets death camp – and the further atrocities committed by the Communists when the Nazis were pushed back out of Minsk and the rest of Belarus and the Russians rolled back in, that forms the heart of this unforgettable book. 

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DEAD GORGEOUS by Elizabeth Flynn

17 04 2018

I received a free copy of this book from the publisher via Netgalley
in exchange for an honest review. Thank you!

I didn’t know this book was the second in a series until I’d finished it and at the end came across a blurb for Game, Set and Murder, the first book. So there you are. It stands alone. It needs no prequel and it ends neatly with no cliff-hanger. I like that.

To tell the truth, the title (Dead Gorgeous) grabbed me because I do love a good vampire and/or zombie story, but the word “Dead” in the title here signifies what it used to signify before the vampire and zombie craze, and it is actually one of a new series of police procedurals featuring D.I. Angela (Angie) Costello. About whom, it has to be said, there is nothing particularly special or memorable. She is married to a retired policeman and has a grown-up step-daughter who returns home to live early in the story. A bit like Mr Wilkinson the clergyman.

What I most enjoyed about the book was the setting, the London fashion scene. The author is clearly at home there but I was moving into a new world, and that for me is the acid test of a novel and a novelist.

The eponymous victim is indeed “dead gorgeous” (though still alive) when the story opens. But though she looks like an angel, her character is far from angelic, and when she is murdered there is, as her flat-mate Sandra remarks, going to be no shortage of suspects.

The plot is original, the setting interesting, the characterisation good, the writing professional and the editing competent. I enjoyed it, and if you are into UK police procedurals, then you will, too. However, Angie Costello herself  is, as I say, depressingly ordinary – reality personified – and that is just what I don’t want when I pick up a book. (See the previous post!)





PERSONA NON GRATA by Avery Mann

14 04 2018

[This is a review I wrote a while back of a book I loved and considered very important. I thought I had posted the review on this site but as it doesn’t seem to be here so, as it is even more relevant today than it was then, I am posting the review again.]

At first sight, it is just another story of international mayhem and intrigue, with a mysterious ancient artifact thrown in for good measure. But the author wastes no time in letting us know this novel is much more than that. In Chapter 1, we find ourselves in the company of Pope Benedict. (This must be a first! I was hooked immediately.) Ex-Pope Benedict, I should say, the Pope Emeritus, for this is now, he has retired, and Pope Francis holds the reins. Or seems to. In the background, it is obvious that Benedict is still very much in control while Francis is the exoteric front-man, the smiling face the public sees and loves.

The concerns of the highly intellectual Benedict are more esoteric. From him, no secret seems to be hid, whether those of the Vatican itself or the world of global intelligence. And among the cast of the book is President Putin, here a personal friend of the ex-Pope and very much one of the good guys.

But to put you squarely in the picture, let me quote (I can’t resist it) from that first chapter. This is Pope Benedict speaking:

While the West has turned its back on the Christian refugees fleeing from both the madness they unleashed in Iraq and Syria and the mess they have now ignited in Egypt and across North Africa, only Russia’s relationship with the Orthodox Church has given these people reassurance. Our Catholic flocks in these countries only look to Russia now. […] Many of the Syrian Christians fleeing now are Armenian and some of the most intense fighting is in Der Zor. Do you recall its significance? It’s literally built on the bones of Armenians driven from their homeland. They’re starving once again, being driven from their homes once again. And now we learn that even their Genocide Memorial Church, containing the remains of hundreds of thousands of their grandparents, has been blown up by the Islamic State. You know we never answered their pleas and prayers before. The West made promises, but it was Russia that saved them from extinction. […] The Egyptian Copts, the Maronites, the Syriacs, and the Armenians are completely vulnerable. The Syrian Catholics have been telling us for years that Assad is their protector, just as Iraq’s Saddam protected his Christians. You knew that Tarik Aziz, Saddam’s foreign minister, was a Chaldean Christian? […] Christians held prominent positions in Iraq. Many Christian Iraqi women were among the foremost professionals and doctors, but the Americans seemed indifferent to their fate. They are passionate about their friendship with the Saudis, yet claim concern for the rights of women …

Right now, today, the story is stunningly topical and enlightening. We have, in the novel, the Turks as the bad guys wanting to realise their historic “pan-Turkic plan” “to link Turkey with the oil-fields of Baku”, making the Turkmen of Syria – and even those of Turkmenistan – part of Greater Turkey and killing off the remaining Armenians, whom they seem to particularly loathe, and the rebellious Kurds. And in the news today we have Turkey shooting down a Russian plane, claiming it was over Turkish territory when in fact it was flying over the Turkmen area of Syria at the request of the legitimate (recognised by the UN) Syrian Government.

I rarely say DO READ THIS, but do; it is an eye-opener as well as being a story that will keep you up all night and remain engraved on your memory for the rest of your life.





FREE TODAY – Emma of Iran

1 02 2018





The MADELEINE TOCHE series by Soren Petrek

31 01 2018

Cold, Lonely Courage

Madeleine Toche grew up in a village in Provence where little usually happened apart from the changing of the seasons and people coming to eat at Chez Toche, the family restaurant. In her case, though, something quite out of the ordinary happened: the Germans invaded France, her brother was killed and she herself was raped by an SS officer. Later, after days of careful planning with her father, she killed the rapist and escaped to England where she joined the SOE, the Special Operations Executive (the original “Special Ops”, also known as “Churchill’s Secret Army”), where she was trained as an assassin.

Back in France, we follow her war as she kills and kills again and again, always picking the worst of the worst, Gestapo torturers and murderers, while at the same time spiriting Jewish children to safety.

By the end of the war she is known far and wide as L’Ange de la Mort, the Angel of Death.

This is a very exciting book, certainly one of the best and most memorable WWII novels I have ever read – and I have read dozens! Not one to miss if you are a WWII buff.

Then comes Angels Don’t Die, an apt title and another great story. Madeleine is now about fifty years old and living in small-town America (in Patience, Missouri) with a British husband, another SOE agent from the war. There, she runs a French restaurant and thinks of her wartime life as a thing of the past, almost a dream now.

That is until her godson, Tracy, is kidnapped by the PLO  while on a training mission with the Mossad in Israel.

The Angel of Death, it seems, was not dead but sleeping.

Another well-researched and deeply-felt story that had me for one up through the wee small hours again, Kindle clutched tightly in my hand.

Patience County War brings the trilogy to a close. Another thirty years have passed by. Now in her eighties, Madeleine can no longer play the lead, so don’t expect to see much of her. The protagonist this time is Sam, Sheriff of Patience County and younger brother of the Tracy she rescued in the previous story.

When Sam clashes with a Mexican gang who have the audacity to cook and push meth (methamphetamine) in his county, they send an assassin to eliminate the gringo. It is the assassin who dies, and the ensuing battle soon escalates into a full-scale war.

The story has its exciting moments, some very exciting, but much of it is slow and its setting is not one of the worlds I always love being transported to (like WWII France and the Israel/Palestine conflict). That said, if you enjoyed the other two books then you really should round them off with this sunset, passing-on-the-baton-to-the-next-generation tale.





COLD SIGHT by Leslie A. Kelly

30 01 2018

Aidan McConnell is a psychic living in retirement – in hiding, we might say – after making a mistake and subsequently being blamed for a child’s death. Blamed not only by others, but by himself.

Lexie Nolan is a reporter with the local small-town newspaper. She, too, is in disgrace, after claiming that a series of missing teenage girls were not runaways and quite separate incidents, but all victims of kidnapping and possibly murder at the hands of local people important enough to be able to cover the whole thing up. This of course led to accusations of jumping to conclusions and threats of libel suits, and brought her paper into disrepute. Now she is hanging onto her job by the skin of her teeth.

But when another teenage girl goes missing and Lexie is expected to report it as simply another runaway kid from a “garbage family”, she has had enough. She knows of Aidan McConnell, of course, knows his story, and while not believing in “all that psychic nonsense” knows that he has a record of successfully locating victims such as this girl. Only she prefers to call it intuition, having a hunch.

At first he is not remotely interested, but when they do finally get their act together …

The corrupt mayor, judge, police chief and bank manager are vividly portrayed and totally convincing. A small-town version of the Washington DC swamp. Perfect.





SHEPHERDS by J. Drew Brumbaugh

12 01 2018

This is a story about what are, in effect, mermaids and mermen. However, it is not fantasy – at least not fairy-tale fantasy, though perhaps you might class it as that SF sub-genre Speculative Fantasy, rather than as hardcore Science Fiction.

In one sense, it is a little of both – as I suppose are all the best SF novels.

In a not-too-distant future, when over-fishing has depleted the seas of wild fish, shoals of millions of farmed tuna are minded out in the open ocean by genetically engineered humans and tame dolphins. Like shepherds and their sheepdogs, the humans directing operations and the dolphins keeping the shoal all together and moving in the right direction. As a situation this clearly has its good side, but one of its downsides is that traditional fishermen, who had been barely making a living before, are now unable to compete. Some turn to piracy, or to drug-trafficking, working for the big cartels. Others, like our hero Toivo, struggle on as fishermen.

Toivo, it should be pointed out, is not a shepherd. What enables him to keep going is his ability to communicate directly with dolphins. He literally “speaks dolphinese”, which he learnt as a small child spending all his time with dolphins that his father, a marine zoologist, was studying. Now his dolphin friends help him with his fishing.

So there he is on his fishing-boat somewhere out in the south Pacific. And not far away on a submersible raft, their home, live three shepherds. Two of them are a couple; the third, Olga, whom some would descrinbe as beautiful, others as a freak, feels left out. Lonely. And that she has nothing whatsoever to look forward to. She cannot live on land, and now her kind, mutants, the product of genetic engineering, have been declared illegal by the UN.

On a third vessel, a large ship, a fishing-boat skipper turned drug-runner who hates “swimmer freaks” sails towards them.  Enough. I don’t wish to spoil it.

I love the whole notion of mermaids and sea-people so naturally I thrilled to this story. But there is something else that makes this book stand out from the rest. The dolphins are not only intelligent but philosphically and spiritually more advanced than most of us humans – partly, of course, because they are completely unmaterialistic. There is even the suggestion that their ancestors, millions of years ago, were land-dwellers and the first civilisation on Earth, but then took the conscious decision to return to the sea. Toivo’s close friend, the dolphin Poika, believes that humans have at last begun to tire of their materialistic and self-destructive civilisation and are now ready to return to the sea. That people like Olga represent the future of our species.

Don’t miss this if you enjoy thrillers with an unusual setting and some passages which make you think. And go on thinking after you have closed the book.