28 November 2023

#Review - Bookshops and Bonedust by Travis Baldree

Book "Bookshops and Bonedust" by Travis Baldree. In the centre, crossed bones. Above, a sword stabs a book with black pages. In the corners of the page, rope, seashells and starfish.
Bookshops and Bonedust
Travis Baldree
Pan Macmillan, 9 November 2023
Available as: HB, 368pp, audio, e   
Source: Advance copy
ISBN(HB): 9781035007356

I'm grateful to the publisher for providing me an advance e-copy of Bookshops and Bonedust to consider for review.

Bookshops and Bonedust is set in the same universe as Legends and Lattes, but takes place earlier, documenting a period in Viv's life at the start of her adventuring career. While it will I think me a must-read for lovers of the previous book, it can also therefore be read on its own - as I did, having inexcusably not read L&L last year when it made a huge stir. 

The story takes place after Viv is injured in one her first battles as one of Rackam's Ravens. Impetuous and hot-heated, she heads for the thick of the fight, is injured, and and invalided out to recuperate in the little seaside town of Murk and, bored silly by the quiet, wanders in to a cluttered little bookshop for some distraction...

Thus we are introduced to the world of fantasy bookselling. I mean, of bookselling in a fantasy world - where a ratkin, Fern and her pet bird-animal, Potroast, are struggling to stay in business at Thistleburr Booksellers - which, by and large, doesn't traffic in ancient evil tomes (though one will turn up eventually). Rather its mainstay is nautical charts and popular fiction (Baldree gives us little glimpses of this). As Viv becomes friends with Fern and Potroast, we see just what a bookseller with a mission can do for an innocent customer - Viv is introduced not only to the delights of sword-swinging pirates, but also to the charms of smut. 

It's really fun to see a friendship springing up and as the book proceeds, Viv makes others too. There may be danger, magic and adventure going on in the background - a sinister stranger turns up, there are rumours of a necromantic army and city gate warden Iridia is on high alert and Has Her Eye On Viv - but there are also baked goods to be eaten, books to be read and discussed and flirting to be done. Viv is clearly chaffing to get back to the fight, but also honest enough to admit that she may have found something - or rather someone - pretty good in Murk.

Adventure and danger do, it's true, come to the town in the end and Viv plays her part in defeating it, but I was pleased to see that Viv's success was due as much or more to the friendships she's made as to her fighting prowess (in contrast to the episode at the start where she fails just because she tries to do it all herself). 

All in all, a cracking story and I can now understand the excitement around Legends and Lattes. I clearly have some catching up to do...

For more information about Bookshops and Bonedust, see the publisher's website here - and of course the other stops on the blogtour which you can see listed on the poster below. 

23 November 2023

#Review - The Watchmaker's Hand by Jeffery Deaver

Book "The Watchmaker's Hand" by Jeffery Deaver. Against a murky background of blues and greys, a dark figure stands. Surrounding them are cogwheels and other watch internal parts in an arc.
The Watchmaker's Hand (Lincoln Rhyme, 16)
Jeffery Deaver
HarperCollins, 23 November 2023 
Available as: HB, 400pp, audio, e   
Source: Advance copy
ISBN(HB): 9780008503864

I'm grateful to HarperCollins for providing me with an advance e-copy of The Watchmaker's Hand to consider for review.

Readers who are following Deaver's Lincoln Rhyme books will remember The Watchmaker - an accomplished assassin whose plans Rhyme has frustrated on several occasions and who now, it seems, is targeting Rhyme himself.

If that setup sounds a little familiar, Deaver makes no bones in this book about a comparison with Sherlock Holmes (and, by extension, Moriarty), musing on how both Rhyme and Charles Vespasian Hale (the Watchmaker) resemble the Great Detective and his nemesis, for example in the way that Rhyme, like Holmes, ruthlessly discounts information that doesn't bear on his cases. And in one extended piece of of brilliant analysis here, we even see Rhyme track a suspect down to his hideout through close analysis of soil types, a feat that Doyle employs early on to establish Holmes's abilities. (There are also tongue in cheek references to Rhyme's bafflement at the success of published accounts of his cases).

Evoking Holmes and Moriarty in this way does of course bring with it a sense of foreboding. And it's a foreboding Deaver builds up in other ways as well. One of Rhyme's circle is being sounded out to act as his successor, should anything happen to him. There are signs of vendettas and political agendas within the NYPD, interfering with the case and with the team. And Amelia Sachs, Rhyme's wife, stumbles into danger early on in the book, suffering injuries which will become concerning once we understand what is going on here and how high the stakes are.

Once we understand what is going on...  one of the reasons I so much enjoy this series is the fiendishness of the plots. Deaver gleefully combines so much: personal agendas, criminal machinations, politics, and always, the sprawling, complex mechanism of New York City itself. For the reader, even the seasoned crime reader, understanding what's going on demands something but the rewards are great - out of all these ingredients Deaver draws addictive and ramified stories boasting plots within plots, red herrings aplenty and numerous twists. The Watchmaker's Hand is no exception, indeed I think it may be one of the more devious novels in the series, one which has, as the Watchmaker himself might say, many complications.

That made this story great fun for me to read. As ever, we're given some insight into what the bad guys are doing - but it's far from complete (and indeed, we don't know everything about Rhyme's countermoves either). So the tension is high, with many threats to the team and behind that, threats, as well, to the city and possibly, to the nation. Hale is a worthy adversary and one almost gets a sense that Rhyme is relishing the contest - as Holmes was wont to do.

Basically, explosive fun, in a story that really moves the series forward and which grips from beginning to end. 

For more information about The Watchmaker's Hand, see the publisher's website here.

21 November 2023

#Blogtour #Review - Upstairs at the Beresford by Will Carver

Book "Upstairs at the Beresford" by Will Carver. Done in tones of blue. A jumble of architecture - stairways, doors, wall and floors - all opening in different direction, in the style of an Escher drawing. Below all this, in shades of stone, line drawings of demons and monsters.
Upstairs at the Beresford
Will Carver
Orenda Books, 9 November2023 
Available as: PB, 276pp, e   
Source: Advance copy
ISBN(PB): 9781914585920

I'm grateful to Anne Cater for for inviting me to join the blogtour for Upstairs at the Beresford and for getting me an advance copy to read.

Upstairs at the Beresford is a kind-of prequel to Carver's The Beresford (can it really be two whole years since that came out?)

I say "kind-of" because, as with the other books which are set in what might be called the Carververse, while one can see repeated elements (characters, events, businesses) there isn't I think a "continuity" as one might normally define it - a shared set of events and a consistent set of facts - rather there is a sort of "moral" continuity. So I'm not sure that it makes sense to say that events of Upstairs precede those of The Beresford in a temporal sense, but they do come before, in a kind of moral, developmental (or perhaps better, decline-y)sense.

Put simply, it's revealed here that the Beresford itself - that institution to be found on the edge of any town, where drifting members of humanity find themselves tested, and often failing - is a sort of sulphurous experiment, a gambit, as it were, by the powers of darkness, to gather in more souls and not only more souls but the best souls (imagine offering your soul to the Devil and being told that no, it's not up to scratch! What a humiliation!)

The experiment, the gambit, described here, precedes the one seen in The Beresford which is now shown as simply another iteration of the same shell game. In Upstairs, the Beresford is more a hotel than the suite of apartments we saw in the earlier book, something that presents both opportunities to the management (the monthly sales conferences that it host are a good opportunity to gather product) and risks (such as potential for publicity). This both explains a bit more about what is going on in The Beresford and raises questions about where things are ultimately bound.

In particular this book isn't I think answering the question of what was going on when saw that little glimpse upstairs in the previous book, rather it's telling a story of its own. Carver portrays an ensemble of residents and visitors who represent humanity with its strengths and weaknesses: the family with an abusive husband, his wife desperately turning tricks during the day to raise money to get out with her son; the loved-up young couple living as cheaply as they can while they save for their own place; the cabaret singer who's so achingly cool it almost hurts; the raffish salesman in town for that conference; and of course Carol, the manager, who's bound to the place by some strange bargain of her own, and is adept at clearing up dead bodies, the debris of orgies, and the remnants of whatever it is happens each month down in the basement.

Together these characters - and there are others - form a strong cast, a group around whom Carver can illustrate and explore the foibles, failings and quiet triumphs of humanity. Triumphs? They are here. It would be tempting to characterise the Carververse as a dark, hopeless place but that would be wrong. His books - and Upstairs at the Beresford is particularly good at this - are unsparing of humanity's blushes, they pull no punches, but they are celebratory too - of human resilience, kindness, loyalty and especially, love. (When rarely, they are found).

We still, of course, metaphorically get to visit that crossroads from time to time - you know, the one where the Devil (or one of His minions, Old Nick is a busy chap) strikes a deal, giving the customer what he or she really, really wants for consideration of a single soul. We don't visit it for real, there are no excursions to a windswept heath or remote junction, but still the book takes us there, showing - and discussing - those who have made the journey before and pondering who may be along next, and why.

I've previously referred to these books as "moral noir" which is perhaps a bit silly because noir is all moral noir, but I was trying to make the point that for all the bloodshed and suffering here (and be warned there is plenty) the key events are, well, moral, internal, they are choices and lack or choices, responses to constraints and tight corners and above all, they derive form a calculus of self vs everyone else. Convincingly portrayed as it is - and the setting here really does draw on in - the real landscape is mental, ethical. 

Reading - and I assume writing - about this brings a sense of clarity, I think, which marks Carver's writing out as not only having real heft and importance but also as bracingly good in itself (despite the darkness billowing all around).

So - welcome to Hotel Beresford. You can leave whenever you want to. 

No, really, you can...

For more information about Upstairs at the Beresford, see the publisher's website here - and of course the other stops on the blogtour which you can see listed on the poster below. 

You can buy Upstairs at the Beresford from your local high street bookshop or online from Bookshop UK, Hive Books, Blackwell's, Foyle's, WH Smith, Waterstones or Amazon.

16 November 2023

#Blogtour #Review - Murder on the Christmas Express by Alexandra Benedict

Cover for book "Murder on the Christmas Express" by Alexandra Benedict. A cream background with a red railway track running around the edges of the cover. In the centre, two train carriages with the words"Eighteen passengers" above them and "Seven stops... one killer" below. The rest of the page has various motifs - snowflakes, holly leaves and berries.
Murder on the Christmas Express 
Alexandra Benedict
Simon and Schuster, 10 November 2022 (HB) 28 September 2023 (PB)
Available as: HB, 341pp, PB, 368pp, audio, e   
Source: Purchased
ISBN: 9781398519824 (HB) 9781398519855 (PB)

I'm grateful to Anne Cater for inviting me to join the blogtour for Murder on the Christmas Express.

I do have a weakness for Christmas-themed novels, a weakness I'm indulging this year, and I also enjoy Benedict's books, so when Anne Cater was looking for bloggers to do the tour for Murder on the Christmas Express I leapt at the chance. Bring on the seasonal mayhem!

And there is mayhem here, it;'s true. But there's so much else to love as well. We meet a bunch of strangers on a train, on the night before Christmas Eve, some going back home for the season, some heading for a romantic mini break, just trying to get away from it all. A regretful ex-policewoman who wants to make amends to her estranged daughter. A dream journey into a silent Highland landscape - and a nightmare situation.

And one person who has particular business to conduct on that train

We're boarding the Caledonian Sleeper at Euston Station in London on a busy night. Of course the train's late and our passengers have to kick their heels in the lounge beforehand, revealing a lot about themselves and setting up conflict for the rest of the journey. Of course, something's going to go wrong, stranding everyone out in the snowy Highlands as the death count rises. Of course we get fascinating vignettes about our fellow travellers. Of course - I'd expect no less. 

Roz is our eyes and ears aboard the sleeper. A just-retired DI, she's travelling back to the Highlands to be with her daughter Heather, about to give birth, ready to support her and her girlfriend Ellie. Roz has spent her career trying to live down a severe trauma when she was young: the events of the next thirty-six hours will revive it and she'll have to test whether she is still able to help people, or whether a career in the muddled, compromised Met police has extinguished that spark.

Like Roz, the other passengers on the train are a thoroughly modern lot. We don't meet any spies, nuns or glamorous divorcées, but there is a beauty vloger, her sexist creep boyfriend, a party of students, a teacher with a shady past, a cat and a stowaway. And others besides. 

Benedict handles this largeish cast of characters very well, quickly grounding the reader with who is who and indicating which travellers get on with, and which dislike, each other - the heart of the book will be complex as they're forced to crowd together for safety and warmth, but when it does, the tension arises very organically from those well established relationships (although there are some surprises: we're not told everything we might know though the author respects the rules I think and tells us everything we need to know).

All that, and this book also manages to include a locked-room mystery, a pretty searching analysis of toxic masculinity (I would give a CW for mentions of sexual assault) AND its own side quiz with the reader primed to look out for song titles and anagrams in the text (I did poorly, but I'd plead that I got totally absorbed the plot so forgot to look out for them).

All in all a book which was great fun, had a compelling central character in Roz and some sharply observed (and rather tenderly done) others besides. It has quite a hard core though so I'd say, yes it's fun fun, but I'd hesitate to attach the label "cosy" too easily to it.

For more information about Murder on the Christmas Express, see the publisher's website here - and of course the other stops on the blogtour which you can see listed on the poster below. 

You can buy Murder on the Christmas Express from your local high street bookshop or online from Bookshop UK, Hive Books, Blackwell's, Foyle's, WH Smith, Waterstones or Amazon.

14 November 2023

#Review - The Death of Sir Martin Malprelate by Adam Roberts

Cover for book "The Death of Sir Martin Malprelate" by Adam Roberts. A pair of railway tracks recede into the image of a Victorian man, with stovepipe hat, portrayed I genitive. To either side the steep rooves of terraced houses.
The Death of Sir Martin Malprelate
Adam Roberts
Datura Books, 14 November 2023 
Available as: PB, 400pp, audio, e   
Source: Advance e-copy
ISBN(PB): 978-1915523020

I'm grateful to the publisher for providing me with an advance e-copy of The Death of Sir Martin Malprelate to consider for review.

It was an unexpected treat to have a new book from Adam Roberts, and as we move into the season of Christmas ghost stories what better than one with a whiff of the uncanny, a story set in Victorian London - and a London beset by unease and coming change?

In 1848, much is in flux. Across Europe, revolutions and revolutionary movements swell. Even in Britain, the Chartists agitate. At the same time the new railways are redrawing the map of London, and of the wider country. Roberts catches a moment when these things are in process, but not complete, where the future is uncertain. The Middlemarch Grand Congruence Railway is imagined, and being built, laying waste to swathes of Camden, but it is not yet a reality. Despite the bustle of progress, many of the journeys taken in this book are on foot, by stagecoach, on horseback or in carts. Political agitators push the People's Charter and are seen as firebrands, radicals, though pursuing an agenda which to modern eyes seems a very modest step towards democracy. There is a great deal of "Dickensian" atmosphere (and Roberts plays games, dropping in characters and events from Dickens, and from other 19th century novels) and language but also a sense that this is looking backwards. In another strand of the story, literary ideas are formed from the fantastic, from the dawning of science fictional ideas. It all produces a feeling of dizziness, a loss of certainty, a sense that anything might happen.

The novel opens with the death that gives it its title and this event is, like much here, uncertain. We're given many alternative explanations for Sir Martin's - the chief architect of the railway company's - death, from murder at the hands of mobs of disaffected agitators or citizens whose homes and gardens he's seized, to some kind of supernatural, devilish influence, to others even more fantastic. But as Sir Martin's own character proves slippery - his deeds contradictory, both a grasping Scrooge of a man and also a philanthropist - so does the reason for his death. Both end up as ways into the fantastically complex society that's being built, which is explored by two men seeing to understand what happened to Sir Martin. These are Bryde, an engineer, and Holmes - Vavasour Holmes, father of the more famous Sherlock.

These sleuths can't though be detached from the events whirling away here, but are picked up and jostled by the forces at play. Indeed there's a whole subplot where Holmes is spirited away to Middlemarch itself, making this not just a London novel but one engaged with progress and resistance across the whole country.

It's a truly absorbing read, a detective story - complete with a Scotland Yard Inspector, of course - but also plenty of bustling Dickensian figures - sneering company grandees, pernickety clerks, loquacious women serving soup, servants at inns who clearly imagine themselves as central characters in a narrative not walk-ons as here. It's a deeply literary mystery, not just in its atmosphere and characters but in the way it examines the world and in the alternative theories it considers for the accomplishing of the central murder. This was, it's clear from the start, intended to be a spectacle, and a puzzling one - but that doesn't mean there isn't a perfectly human motive behind it, even if it's obscured by the means adopted.

I loved the atmosphere here of an uneasy 19th century, not a self-satisfied, grand edifice but a society very uncertain of itself, not a place blessed with the perspective of hindsight at all but a fractious, provisional, turbulent society people by fractious, turbulent people.

A truly enjoyable read.

For more information about The Death of Sir Martin Malprelate, see the publisher's website here.

9 November 2023

#Review - The Party Season by SJI Holliday

Book "The Party Season" by SJI Holliday. Against a festive background of icy blue and of snow crystals, two champagne flutes clinked together, the whole being spotted with drops of blood.
The Party Season
SJI Holliday
Hodder, 9 November 2023 
Available as: PB, 320pp audio, e   
Source: Advance copy
ISBN(PB): 9781399714259

I'm grateful to the publisher for providing me with a copy of The Party Season to consider for review.

I have a weakness for Christmas-themed novels, and I love Holliday's books, so this was bound to be my choice for a little seasonal mayhem. A sequel of sorts to her The Deaths of December, The Party Season picks up the stories of Detectives Eddie Carmine and Becky Greene.

Men are being killed at Christmas parties in the town of Woodham. Among the jolly music, holly - and the mistletoe - stalks a glamorous young woman in a party dress and heels who'll decide whether those men are naughty or nice... and act accordingly.

Carmine and Green are in a race against time to track her down before Christmas is ruined for the partygoers of Woodham.

I loved the contrasts in this book. There's slightly tawdry Christmasiness of everything (signalled by the inflatable snowman smuggled into Eddie's office early on), the debates about songs and films, the vendor selling dodgy Christmas trees from the middle of a roundabout on the by-pass. All excellent. I won't for a minute hear a criticism that all this vulgarity demeans Christmas - it has always been a raucous, roistering feast and I love to see that.

But there's another side, too. There's pathos here. Becky's mum turns up unexpectedly in a care home, near the end of her life. Becky's attempt to reintegrate the woman who abandoned her into her, before she dies, adds a real sense of coming loss and deepens the character, complicating what might otherwise be a full-on will they, won't they with Eddie (I have hopes they will, so let there be more books in this series!) The killer, too, it turns out, has suffered tragedies which are as one would expect a key part of what's driving events. But they take a while to expose so it would be spoilery to give too much detail. Indeed, unravelling that detail is what Carmine and Green are at through most of the story.

In a slickly written, page turner of a novel, Holliday introduces other themes too: a stalkery, unpleasant boyfriend, the stresses of office life (only magnified by the FOMO of Christmas parties and jubilations), a hint of a mystery from Eddie's past (I loved that Becky accepts there are things he won't reveal - these are partners who give each other some space) and a real injustice at the heart of things.

All in all this is entertaining, seasonal and fun, one of those books where you can't necessarily believe what you think you see. And it gives a hint of more to come, I have a sense the Holliday isn't finished with Carmine and Green yet...

For more information about The Party Season, see the publisher's website here.

7 November 2023

#Review - A Power Unbound by Freya Marske

A Power Unbound (Last Binding Trilogy, 3)
Freya Marske
Pan Macmillan, 9 November 2023
Available as: HB, 432pp, audio, e   
Source: Advance copy
ISBN(HB): 9781529080988

I'm grateful to the publisher for providing me with an advance e-copy of A Power Unbound to consider for review.

With A Power Unbound, Marske at last centres a book on Jack Alstom - Lord Hawthorn - one of the more enigmatic of the gallery of magicians and magic-adjacent individuals we've seen in this series, and a character who's always had a whiff of brimstone about him (Violet, you may recall, asked him to ruin her in A Restless Truth). As a reminder, the first book, A Marvellous Light, largely follows Sir Robin Blyth, our non-magician gateway to the world of these books, a Civil Servant and the Home Office's liaison with the enchanted world, and Edwin Courcey, his magician counterpart, as they fall in love while the second book, A Restless Truth is more Sapphic in tone, with Maud Blyth and the aforementioned Violet getting to up all sorts on an ocean liner. Behind the personal entanglements, though, a dastardly plot is evolving, a scheme to take all of the power of the British magicians into one pair of hands. This has proceeded as the conspirators find pieces of the "Last Contract" and as Jack, Edwin, Maud and others seek to prevent that.

A Restless Truth also introduced Alan - journalist, radical, peddler of smut, and thief - as a sort of counterweight to Jack and - given the previous books - that means there is a big element of will-they, won't they in A Power Unbound.  The powerful distaste between the two men, a distaste with its roots perhaps in a contrast between Alan's working class suffering and Hawthorn's hauteur, has not gone away but since the events of A Restless Truth Alan has also been enlisted in the last-ditch effort to save British magic. Marske does a terrific job here at unpeeling layer after layer of Alan's feelings - his resentment of those who, as well as being born with wealth and power, have inherited magic too; his revulsion at what was done to Jack to remove his magic (yes - finally, we're learning more about what has been going on, and it's riveting!) and his desire to protect and nurture his family. 

Plus, of course, his attraction to Jack...

Fantasy novels can often be accused of ignoring real social conditions, as well as being oblivious to the actual politics of a world in which magic is real, but Marske inverts this, making questions of power, agency and privilege central to the narrative. It's perhaps in keeping with this that when things get steamy between Jack and Alan (sorry, minor spoiler, but surely you expected that? It's not just me?) the liaison between titled aristocrat and scrabbling guttersnipe doesn't dodge those same issues of power and consent, with some lovemaking scenes where these things are in fact central to the sexiness, Jack and Alan negotiating their relationship by stages through some saucy role-play.

And yes, if you're a reader of a traditionalist hue who doesn't an appreciate these themes, maybe this book might not be for you - but I would still encourage you to at least try it. There is also plenty of conflict, scheming, magical combat and racing for time, as the clock counts down and the villains finally make their move - enough to keep any reader satisfied even if they don't really get on with the more  tender parts of the story. 

For me, A Power Unbound does several difficult things very well. It rounds off a complex through-plot, which Marske has made us care intensely about. It does justice to the historical background of the Imperialistic, Edwardian setting, without uncritically adopting the prejudices of the time (this is shown most fully in the Queer narrative strand, one of the reasons it would be a mistake to see this as something secondary). It does credit to characters we've come to love. And, even at this late stage in the trilogy, it gives us a great deal of new information to round out, explain and motivate pretty much everyone.

Lastly - and of course not lastly - it tells a rattling good, exciting story in its own right and totally lands the ending.

In short, I'm sad to see this series end, but it goes out firing on all cylinders, the perfect ending to the trilogy.

For more information about A Power Unbound, see the publisher's website here.

2 November 2023

#Blogtour #Review - His Favourite Graves by Paul Cleave

Book "His Favourite Graves" by Paul Cleave - a country road in the US by day with a car in the distance, a crowbar lying on the road.
His Favourite Graves
Paul Cleave
Orenda Books, 9 November 2023
Available as: PB, 293pp, e   
Source: Advance e copy
ISBN(PB): 9781914585883

I'm grateful to Anne Cater for inviting me to join the blogtour for His Favourite Graves and for sending me a copy of the book to consider for review.

His Favourite Graves is a difficult book to review because there are features I want to rave about - but to explain exactly why would reveal too much about it. His Favourite Graves starts out leading the reader into thinking it'll be one sort of story, but then stuff happens, and it actually turns out quite, quite different. (BUT also keeps the original bargain with the reader, as it were). I'd like to analyse how, and why, all of that matters, and what it seemed to me to be saying - but again, it would be unfair to do this, since that you deserve to experience that swerve, not be told all about it first.

We are in the town of Acacia Pines, somewhere in the US, and we begin with an episode of high school bullying, young Lucas Connor having been imprisoned in a locker by - well, that'll be made clear in good time. Worse is, though, to befall Lucas as he subsequently goes missing, setting things up for a serial-killer, race-for-time kind of narrative.

Cleave isn't, though, anything like so predictable (which I did KNOW, having read, for example, The Pain Tourist) and His Favourite Graves turns out to be so much richer than one might naively expect. This can be seen in the twisty backstory, which emerges slowly, and continually wrong-foots the reader just as they think they've got a grasp on who the villain(s) is/ are and who the victims. 

More pointedly, though, the richness shines out from the characters. Take kidnapper 'Simple' Simon Grove, for example (not a spoiler, as he assumes that role very early on). A truly awful man, how much so being first hinted at and then described, partly from his own mouth. But also a troubled soul and a victim himself. He is, though, one of the more straightforward protagonists. Bluntly, in this book, motivations are one, two, three layers deep, behaviour conditioned not only by human mantra (what Simon blames as 'biology) but by circumstances, choices (those momentary flips of the mental coin that one spends the rest of one's life had gone the other way) and, of course, love and hate.

The pretty tourist town of Acacia Pines turns out to be a festering mixture of all the above, so that it's hardly surprising when, towards the end of the book, Sheriff Cohen - who has his own share of troubles - reflects on missing hikers, and on businesses and farms which are vacant because the owner shot themself or just disappeared. We spend the story reacting to the consequences of one crime, Lucas Connor's abduction, starting out from the normal premise of a crime novel that normal life has been disrupted by a shocking, intrusive, event but that all will be made good. What's revealed here inverts the norm, though, suggesting a dimension to life in this small town that is routinely nasty and brutish (and for some, also short). And once you see that malign undercurrent to events in Acacia, you realise that nothing will ever be right again (and that it never was in the first place).

It would be tempting to call such a story a noir, implying at least a thread of morality amidst the darkness. I find that hard to do, though - His Favourite Graves really is written in shades of darkness, rather than shades of grey. In atmosphere it is much closer to cosmic horror than cosy crime. That may put some off - it would normally put me off - but in this book Cleave delivers such a focussed and compulsive story and and so many nuanced characters - villains, if you will, at the same time deeply vile but also sympathetic; and others, deeply sympathetic but also, at times, also vile - that it is one of those books which simply must be finished once you begin. 

I would give CWs for this book for torture and for abuse towards children and animals. 

For more information about His Favourite Graves, see the publisher's website here - and of course the other stops on the blogtour which you can see listed on the poster below. 

You can buy His Favourite Graves from your local high street bookshop or online from Bookshop UK, Hive Books, Blackwell's, Foyle's, WH Smith, Waterstones or Amazon.