The Zig Zag Girl by Elly Griffiths #20BooksofSummer

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Author : Elly Griffiths
Title : The Zig Zag Girl
Series : A Stephens & Mephisto Mystery #1
Pages : 352
Publisher : Quercus
Publication date : July 16, 2015

aboutthebook

Brighton, 1950.

When the body of a girl is found, cut into three, Detective Inspector Edgar Stephens is reminded of a magic trick, the Zig Zag Girl.

The inventor of the trick, Max Mephisto, is an old friend of Edgar’s. They served together in the war as part of a shadowy unit called the Magic Men.

Max is still on the circuit, touring seaside towns in the company of ventriloquists, sword-swallowers and dancing girls. Changing times mean that variety is not what it once was, yet Max is reluctant to leave this world to help Edgar investigate. But when the dead girl turns out to be known to him, Max changes his mind.

Another death, another magic trick: Edgar and Max become convinced that the answer to the murders lies in their army days. When Edgar receives a letter warning of another ‘trick’, the Wolf Trap, he knows that they are all in danger…

mythoughts

I’m sure many of you are familiar with Elly Griffiths’ other series featuring Ruth Galloway (So behind on that one as well. I’ve only read four 🙈) but this one is very different. I’d heard quite a lot about The Vanishing Box, the fourth book in this Stephens and Mephisto Mystery series but as always, I was compelled to start at the beginning.

When the body of a young girl is found, DI Stephens is immediately reminded of a magic trick gone wrong.  The girl’s body has been cut up into three pieces, just like the Zig Zag Girl trick. DI Stephens calls in the help of his old friend, Max Mephisto, with whom he served in the war. Max is a good old-fashioned magician who is still touring around the country from venue to venue in a world that’s constantly changing and where variety show entertainers may just be a dying breed.

Max is reluctant to help until it turns out the dead girl was known to him. When another body turns up, Stephens and Mephisto become convinced that the answer is to be found in their army days. But can they stop the killer before they strike again?

Set in 1950’s Brighton, The Zig Zag Girl is an incredibly original combination of police work with the intriguing world of magic and variety shows. Now, I did figure it out but that didn’t bother me at all. The atmosphere, the fantastic setting and the fabulously colourful and sometimes quirky characters had me completely enthralled.

This cleverly plotted and addictive story had me utterly captivated and it’s such a delight to step away from the more modern crime fiction. DI Stephens doesn’t have access to all the fancy gadgets and resources that are around these days. No smartphones, no computers, no databases. All he has is his wit and his gut instinct and nobody bats an eyelid when he pulls in an amateur to help out with his investigation.

I’m glad I have this in-built urge to start a series at the beginning, no matter how many books there are already. Granted, I don’t know how the other books progress but I feel I may not have connected to these characters the way I did if I had jumped right into book four. As it is, I’m left wanting more from both of them as I’m sure there is a lot more background to discover about Stephens and Mephisto.

Elly Griffiths’ decision to tackle something completely different sure paid off. I enjoyed this historical mystery immensely and I can’t wait to find the time to get caught up on the rest of the series.

The Zig Zag Girl is available to buy!

Amazon US | Amazon UK | Kobo | Goodreads

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Book 15 from my 20 Books of Summer list.

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Fatal Inheritance by Rachel Rhys #20BooksofSummer

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Author : Rachel Rhys
Title : Fatal Inheritance
Pages : 400
Publisher : Doubleday
Publication date : June 26, 2018

aboutthebook

1948: Eve Forrester is trapped in a loveless marriage, in a gloomy house, in a grey London suburb.

Then, out of the blue, she receives a solicitor’s letter. A wealthy stranger has left her a mystery inheritance. And to find out more, she must to travel to the glittering French Riviera.

There Eve discovers that her legacy is an enchanting pale pink villa overlooking the Mediterranean sea. Suddenly her life could not be more glamorous. But while she rubs shoulders with film-stars and famous writers, under the heat of the golden sun, rivals to her unexplained fortune begin to emerge. Rivals who want her out of the way.

Alone in this beguiling paradise, Eve must unlock the story behind her surprise bequest – before events turn deadly.

mythoughts

One word : LOVE!!!! There. Now go and buy it.

I adored Rachel Rhys’ previous book, A Dangerous Crossing, and couldn’t wait to read more by her. I had super high expectations for Fatal Inheritance and needing to wait for the stunning hardcover to finally land on my doorstep was excruciating! However, within the first few pages I already knew it had most definitely been worth the wait.

There is something immensely captivating about the way Rachel Rhys writes and it only took minutes for me to find myself completely transported to 1948, where we are introduced to the character of Eve Forrester. To say Eve is a wee miserable might be a slight understatement. Caught up in loveless marriage and living in a grey London suburb in a gloomy house where nothing is to her taste, she often wonders if this is it. Is this the best it’ll ever be?

But then she receives a letter, telling her of an inheritance left to her by a wealthy stranger. To find out more, Eve needs to travel all the way to the south of France. But with a family resentful of her status as an heir, all is not fierce sunshine and lovely smelling flowers.

Set right after the second world war, there was no hardship at all in sympathising with Eve’s circumstances. After all, women had been doing their bit during the war, finding their own feet and surviving, doing jobs intended for men as they were off fighting. Yet now, they are expected to go back to being submissive. Eve’s husband, in particular, is incredibly domineering and highly unlikeable. Her trip to France, where she gets to mingle with celebrities and get a taste of how things could be, will change her life.

I’ve never been to the south of France but the gloriously vivid descriptions made it incredibly easy to imagine the sights, the scents and the feeling of the sun on my skin. Although considering I read this in the middle of a heatwave, the latter wasn’t too hard to do. The mystery as to who has left Eve this inheritance is slowly revealed throughout the story and while I did figure bits out quite early on, it didn’t bother me at all.

Fatal Inheritance is historical fiction from the top shelf. It’s mysterious and exquisitely written. One to savour and enjoy and be utterly immersed in. Did I mention I loved it? I absolutely can’t wait for more by Rachel Rhys!

Fatal Inheritance is available to buy!

Amazon US | Amazon UK | Bookdepository | Kobo | Wordery | Goodreads

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Book 14 from my 20 Books of Summer list.

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The Death of Mrs Westaway by Ruth Ware #20BooksofSummer

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Author : Ruth Ware
Title : The Death of Mrs Westaway
Pages : 384
Publisher : Harvill Secker
Publication date : June 28, 2018

aboutthebook

On a day that begins like any other, Hal receives a mysterious letter bequeathing her a substantial inheritance. She realizes very quickly that the letter was sent to the wrong person—but also that the cold-reading skills she’s honed as a tarot card reader might help her claim the money.

Soon, Hal finds herself at the funeral of the deceased…where it dawns on her that there is something very, very wrong about this strange situation and the inheritance at the center of it.

mythoughts

Oh boy, I have absolutely no idea how to tackle this review and get across how much I loved The Death of Mrs Westaway. 

Hal receives a letter telling her she’s inherited something. She’s convinced names were mixed up and this inheritance isn’t meant for her. But debts and threats spur her on to rely on the cold-reading skills she’s picked up as a tarot card reader to convince everyone she is a rightful heir and maybe get herself out of trouble.

Despite the fact Hal is about to commit fraud, I couldn’t help but warm to her. She’s a very likeable and complicated character who has fallen on hard times and I was rooting for her all the way, wishing she could get some sort of happy ending.

The Death of Mrs Westaway is not packed full of action, nor would I call it a thriller. It has quite a slow pace but it’s nevertheless incredibly engrossing and as the tension gradually builds up throughout the story, I felt I just couldn’t put it down. It’s an intensely gripping mystery that held my attention, kept me guessing and I devoured it in one day. The Westaway family has secrets like no other and I enjoyed trying to unravel them.

I found this to be quite the dark and haunting story, set against the glorious and slightly creepy feeling of a neglected mansion. It oozes atmosphere and has that delightful gothic vibe to it. The immensely mysterious and character-driven plot full of intrigue had me completely enthralled from start to finish and Ruth Ware’s brilliant writing totally won me over.

This is the first book I’ve read by Ruth Ware and it left me feeling like I’d seriously been missing out. So much so that it prompted me to buy her other books and I can’t wait to find the time to get caught up. For now though, this one shoots right up my list of top books of the year and I highly recommend it!

The Death of Mrs Westaway is available to buy!

Amazon US | Amazon UK | Bookdepository | Kobo | Wordery | Goodreads

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Book 11 from my 20 Books of Summer list

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The Girl in the Letter by Emily Gunnis @EmilyGunnis @headlinepg @annecater #blogtour #RandomThingsTours

Delighted to host a stop on the blog tour for The Girl in the Letter by Emily Gunnis today! My thanks to Anne Cater at Random Things Tours for the invitation to join and to the publisher for my review copy.

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Author : Emily Gunnis
Title : The Girl in the Letter
Pages : 384
Publisher : Headline
Publication date : August 1, 2018

aboutthebook

In the winter of 1956 pregnant young Ivy is sent in disgrace to St Margaret’s, a home for unmarried mothers in the south of England, run by nuns, to have her child. Her baby daughter is adopted. Ivy will never leave.

Sixty years later, journalist Samantha stumbles upon a series of letters from Ivy to her lover, pleading with him to rescue her from St Margaret’s before it is too late. As Sam pieces together Ivy’s tragic story, terrible secrets about St Margaret’s dark past begin to emerge. What happened to Ivy, to her baby, and to the hundreds of children born in the home? What links a number of mysterious, sudden deaths in the area? And why are those who once worked at St Margaret’s so keen that the truth should never be told? As Sam unpicks the sinister web of lies surrounding St Margaret’s, she also looks deep within – to confront some unwelcome truths of her own…

mythoughts

Wow! The Girl in the Letter has left me rather speechless and let me tell you that doesn’t happen very often. I feel quite lost for words and slightly incapable of forming any kind of coherent sentence, nor do I have a clue as to how to do this novel justice.

In her debut novel, Emily Gunnis tackles one of the most disturbing topics in history. That of the mother and baby homes, where single expecting mothers were sent to give birth away from the disapproving eyes of relatives and neighbours. They were often forced to give their babies up for adoption with no hope of ever seeing them again.

The story starts in 1956 when young Ivy is sent to St. Margaret’s. Abandoned by her family and the boy who got her pregnant, the circumstances in which she finds herself are utterly devastating.  Sixty years later, reporter Samantha stumbles upon letters written by Ivy while at the mother and baby home. Samantha senses there’s a story here that needs to be told. What happened to Ivy? Where is Ivy’s baby? What secrets and lies hide behind the walls of the home?

I don’t want to give too much away about the plot. Yes, there are a few mysteries to be solved and questions to be answered but to be honest, they all kind of melted into the background for me. This was all so realistic and believable, as history has proven it to be, that it near had me in bits. Ivy’s letters are immensely harrowing and the events she describes are incredibly disturbing. I can’t even begin to imagine the hardship of daily life at the home, the loss of a child. Not just at the home but also in later life. It’s devastating to realise that so many people got away with these atrocities.

The Girl in the Letter is a thought-provoking, moving and utterly heartbreaking novel that nearly had me in tears. It made me sad, it made me angry and it’s a novel I won’t be forgetting in a hurry. I’m not entirely sure I’ve managed to get across the impact this novel had on me but I do so hope I’ve said enough to make you want to pick this one up. This is an absolutely incredible debut novel by Emily Gunnis and I can’t wait to see what she comes up with next.

The Girl in the Letter is available to buy!

Amazon US | Amazon UK | Bookdepository | Kobo | Goodreads

abouttheauthor

I’ve wanted to be an author since my mum, Penny Vincenzi, got her first book deal when I was 13. We’d spend hours walking and talking about the worlds her characters inhabited and unpicking any plot dead ends she’d found herself in. I absolutely loved it – this is what I wanted to do!

Fast forward 30 years and I’ve discovered it’s a great deal harder than my mother made it look! But still, here I am.

After graduating I wrote scripts and had two episodes of BBC Doctors commissioned but didn’t like all the input from Script Editors and Producers. So, while I worked in various PA jobs I decided to go for it and just kept learning as much as I could until I sold my debut novel, The Girl in the Letter, which is published on eBook on 1st August 2018 and paperback in April 2019. I really hope you enjoy it, and my follow-up novel which I’m busy researching now!

I live in Sussex with my husband Steve and our two beautiful girls, Grace and Eleanor.

Author links : Facebook | Twitter

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The Lost Letters by Sarah Mitchell @bookouture #blogtour

Welcome to my stop on the blog tour for The Lost Letters by Sarah Mitchell. My thanks to Noelle Holten at Bookouture for the invitation to join and the review copy, which I received via Netgalley.

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Author : Sarah Mitchell
Title : The Lost Letters
Pages : 322
Publisher : Bookouture
Publication date : August 2, 2018

aboutthebook

Canada, present day

When Martha’s beloved father dies, he leaves her two things: a mysterious stash of letters to an English woman called ‘Catkins’ and directions to a beach hut in the English seaside town of Wells-Next-The-Sea. Martha is at a painful crossroads in her own life, and seizes this chance for a trip to England – to discover more about her family’s past, and the identity of her father’s secret correspondent.

Norfolk, 1940

Sylvia’s husband Howard has gone off to war, and she is struggling to raise her two children alone. Her only solace is her beach hut in Wells, and her friendship with Connie, a woman she meets on the beach. The two women form a bond that will last a lifetime, and Sylvia tells Connie something that no-one else knows: about a secret lover… and a child.

But the tragedy of war brings heartbreaking choices. And a promise made between the two women will echo down the years, and could change everything for Martha…

mythoughts

Dual timeline historical fiction set in World War II? Don’t mind if I do!

The story starts with Martha whose father recently passed away. He was in the middle of writing his memoirs but the first twenty years of his life are missing. Amongst his effects, Martha and her sister find letters to someone called Catkins and a reservation for a hotel and beach hut in Norfolk. Martha seizes this opportunity to cross the Atlantic to look for answers.

In the chapters dealing with the past, we meet Sylvie. Her husband is away fighting in the war and she’s left to raise her two children on her own. When her aunt dies, Sylvie suddenly finds herself in possession of a beach hut. One day, she meets Connie and their friendship will change lives forever.

What started out a bit on the slow side, soon had me enthralled. It provided the perfect opportunity for me to get to know Martha and she quite often made me smile. With chapters switching between Martha in the present and Sylvie in the past, there is quite a lot to enjoy. Sylvie’s story provides the perfect background, whereas Martha’s is mostly where the pieces of the puzzle start to come together. Just when I thought I had figured it all out, the author led me in a different direction. There are plenty of twists in this story but they all felt quite natural.

Part of the story deals with the topic of the evacuation of children. I can’t even begin to imagine how hard that must have been for everyone involved. For a parent to decide that they need to let their children go in order to keep them safe is not a choice any parent is willing to make. Will they ever see their children again? For the children who are sent away, to end up in a foreign country with people they don’t know … doesn’t bear thinking about. And we all know from history that not all the children were lucky enough to be treated well.

The Lost Letters is a thought-provoking and moving story about identity, family and friendship. With realistic and believable characters, clues to find and a mystery to solve, this will keep you entertained for hours. I thoroughly enjoyed this one and if a historical fiction mystery set in WWII is your thing, I have no doubt you will too.

The Lost Letters is available to buy!

Amazon US | Amazon UK | Kobo | Goodreads

abouttheauthor

After graduating from Cambridge University, Sarah Mitchell practised as a barrister in London for 20 years, working in the field of human rights and European Law. She was tempted to write fiction for a long while and finally signed up for an introductory creative writing course with the Open University. Two years later she took a sabbatical from the bar to do an MA in Creative Writing at the UEA and has never looked back. THE LOST LETTERS is her first novel, inspired by a walk on the beach at Wells-next-the-Sea to calm her nerves before starting the MA, and the decision her grandparents almost made to evacuate her mother to Canada at the start of the Second World War. Sarah now lives back in Norfolk – where she grew up – with her husband and three almost-grown-up children, and combines writing with some legal work.

Author links : Twitter

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Murder on the Marshes by Clare Chase @bookouture #blogtour

It’s a pleasure to welcome you all to my stop on the blog tour for Murder on the Marshes by Clare Chase! My thanks to Noelle Holten at Bookouture for the invitation to join and for the review copy, which I received via Netgalley.

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Author : Clare Chase
Title : Murder on the Marshes
Series : Tara Thorpe Mystery #1
Pages : 346
Publisher : Bookouture
Publication date : July 31, 2018

aboutthebook

As the sun rises, a young woman – Samantha Seabrook – is found drowned in the ornamental fountain of a deserted Cambridge courtyard, the only clue – an antique silver chain wound tightly around her throat.

It’s Tara Thorpe’s job to discover what happened to Miss Seabrook – but the case becomes personal when she learns that Samantha had been receiving death threats… rather like the one that landed on Tara’s doorstep the night the woman died.

Together with Detective Inspector Garstin Blake, Tara tracks the killer to the dank and dangerous fens on the outskirts of the city. But there’s something Tara can’t quite admit to Blake about her past – and it could make all the difference to whether they live… or die.

mythoughts

Welcome to Cambridge and its elite university colleges, whose foundations will be rocked by the murder of one of their own. Samantha Seabrook is found drowned in the fountain of a courtyard. The only clue is a silver chain. How did Samantha get access to this courtyard? Who would want to harm her and why?

The investigation into Samantha’s murder falls into the hands of DI Blake, but he isn’t the only one tracking a killer. Tara Thorpe is a journalist, whose boss wants her to write an article about the life and death of Samantha Seabrook. But when Tara receives a warning and realises this same warning was sent to Samantha before she was killed, things become personal. Can DI Blake and Tara Thorpe find the culprit before it’s too late?

The gorgeous Cambridge setting is in stark contrast with the backstabbing, rivalry and competitiveness of the professors at the college. Bar maybe one or two, nobody comes across as especially likeable and everyone seems to have something to hide. Throughout, there is the fascinating angle of the privileged versus the ones who come from nothing and had to work extraordinary hard to get where they are now.

The prologue sets the tone for things to come but its relevance isn’t revealed until the end. I do so enjoy that as I keep going over things like that in my head, trying to figure out how that little teaser fits into the story. For the record, I didn’t have a clue. Nor did I have the tiniest inkling about who the murderer was.

One investigation but two different ways of tackling it and both really held my interest. As a journalist, Tara has other resources available to her than DI Blake has, and vice versa. In their own ways they do the same thing with the same goal in mind. Talk to people, find the clues, put together the pieces of the puzzle and ultimately find the truth. And in Tara’s case, stay alive, as that first warning won’t be the last.

This first instalment in the Tara Thorpe Mystery series does exactly what it needs to. It’s gripping and compelling, has a wonderful setting and introduces us to fantastic characters both professionally and personally. There are plenty more things to discover about both DI Blake and Tara Thorpe and the conclusion of this first book sets things up perfectly for the follow-up. A brilliant start that will leave you wanting more!

Murder on the Marshes is available to buy!

Amazon US | Amazon UK | Goodreads

abouttheauthor

Clare Chase writes women sleuth mysteries and recently signed a three-book deal with Bookouture for a new crime series set in Cambridge. The opening book, Murder on the Marshes, is available for pre-order and will publish in July 2018. The mystery follows investigative journalist Tara Thorpe as she teams up with Detective Garstin Blake to solve the murder of a young female professor at Cambridge University. The case takes them through the dark underbelly of Cambridge and in to the murky fens that surround the centuries-old city. The second and third books in the series are scheduled for publication in late 2018/early 2019.

After graduating from London University with a degree in English Literature, Clare moved to Cambridge and has lived there ever since. She’s fascinated by the city’s contrasts and contradictions, which feed into her writing. She’s worked in diverse settings – from the 800-year-old University to one of the local prisons – and lived everywhere from the house of a Lord to a slug-infested flat. The terrace she now occupies, with her husband and teenage children, presents a good happy medium.

As well as writing, Clare loves family time, art and architecture, cooking, and of course, reading other people’s books.

Clare’s debut novel, You Think You Know Me, was shortlisted for the Novelicious Undiscovered Award 2012, and an EPIC award in 2015. It was also chosen as a debut of the month by Lovereading.

Author links : Facebook | Twitter | Website

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An Unwanted Guest by Shari Lapena @sharilapena @ThomasssHill @TransworldBooks #20BooksofSummer

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Author : Shari Lapena
Title : An Unwanted Guest
Pages : 304
Publisher : Bantam Press / Transworld
Publication date : July 26, 2018

aboutthebook

We can’t choose the strangers we meet.

As the guests arrive at beautiful, remote Mitchell’s Inn, they’re all looking forward to a relaxing weekend deep in the forest, miles from anywhere. They watch their fellow guests with interest, from a polite distance.

Usually we can avoid the people who make us nervous, make us afraid.

With a violent storm raging, the group finds itself completely cut off from the outside world. Nobody can get in – or out. And then the first body is found . . . and the horrifying truth comes to light. There’s a killer among them – and nowhere to run.

Until we find ourselves in a situation we can’t escape. Trapped.

mythoughts

Bless the insane heatwave and a nice bout of insomnia which allowed me to read this one in one sitting until the wee hours of the morning. I found myself so incredibly captivated from the first page that I didn’t even notice how late/early it was.

This Agatha Christie-esque scenario of a bunch of strangers trapped in a remote location will never get old, if you ask me. While the Inn sounds absolutely delightful when the guests arrive, things soon become a bit more creepy when the power goes out and you realise how many nooks and crannies this place has. Most of the time, I felt like was stumbling around in the dark just as much as the characters were.

After being introduced to the visitors to the Inn, I almost felt like a witness myself. Lounging on a sofa near the fireplace, checking out the people sitting around me, trying to figure them out and wondering what they were about. I had the urge to make a little spreadsheet, filling in what little information I was offered, adding tiny clues along the way. This is one of those stories, where I take a breather after each chapter, letting the new information I’ve gained sink in and try to figure things out before they are revealed to me.

I had a suspect in mind from the start, for reasons I obviously can’t divulge. There was a point where I briefly changed my mind but ultimately I went back to my original idea. To my surprise, it turned out I was right and I felt rather smug. Although, I couldn’t quite guess as to the motive behind it all.

An Unwanted Guest had me utterly engrossed from the very first page. With intriguing characters and no idea if there’d be another victim and who that would be, the nail-biting tension had me in its clutches until the end. Brilliantly written and intensely absorbing, I can see this murder mystery being in my list of top books of the year come December. And now I should really go check out some of Shari Lapena’s other books!

My thanks to Thomas Hill at Transworld for my review copy!

An Unwanted Guest is available to buy!

Amazon US | Amazon UK | Bookdepository | Kobo | Wordery | Goodreads

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Book 9 from my 20 Books of Summer list.

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Playing With Death by Simon Scarrow & Lee Francis @SimonScarrow @headlinepg @annecater #blogtour #excerpt #RandomThingsTours

It’s a pleasure to welcome you all to my stop on the blog tour for Playing With Death by Simon Scarrow and Lee Francis! My thanks to Anne Cater for the invitation to join and for the extract I’ll be sharing with you, right after I tell you what the book is all about.

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Author : Simon Scarrow
Title : Playing With Death
Pages : 400
Publisher : Headline
Publication date : July 26, 2018

aboutthebook

A UNEXPLAINED DEATH

The discovery of a horribly mutilated corpse launches FBI Agent Rose Blake into a puzzling investigation. The victim was alone at home with no signs of forced entry. Who – or what – burnt him to death?

THE GAME BEGINS

Strips of rubber melted to the body emerge as evidence that the victim was wearing The Skin, an innovation that takes users deep into a virtual world.

ESCAPE OR DIE…

When a body with identical wounds is discovered, Rose realises that in the darkest corners of the Dark Web, a brutal killer is playing a deadly game. A game with no rules – and no mercy. To stop it, Rose must play too…

extract

1

Seven months later
September

Rose is in the kitchen, peeling the cellophane from the tray of snacks. The scars on her hand have virtually disappeared. It’s been a cold day and she is wearing a thin wool sweater over her black pants. She takes a sip from her wine glass as she considers the arrangement on the tray and then moves a few of the sushi wraps so that the layout is neatly symmetrical. Outside, in the dining room, she can hear the voices of her husband, sister and father. Jeff ’s voice is deep, but loud, as he holds forth with an amusing tale of the latest scandal breaking on the Hill. The others listen in silence and then there is laughter.

Rose smiles. She loves him and she loves the fact that Jeff is popular. It allows her to bask in the satisfaction that he chose her for his wife when she felt he could have done better for himself. She still feels it, which is why she is determined to give him no reason to regret what she sees as his mistake. And why wouldn’t other women want Jeff for themselves? He is tall and athletic with a full head of light brown hair, almost blond, with a ready smile and devastating charm. He is intelligent and has a job with prestige, even if the salary is not in the big league. Jeff is taking a sabbatical from San Francisco State University to serve as social media adviser to Democratic senator Chris Keller, who is fighting to keep his seat in the Senate in Washington. If Jeff is on the winning side then he may go all the way with Keller. She is pleased at the thought that the best is yet to come for her husband. All going well, he might one day work at the White House.

The future of her own career is a source of less optimism.

Thirty-nine years old – three years younger than Jeff – she knows that the time she took off work to have their son, Robbie, and raise him through infancy until school age meant that she lost vital years of experience and seniority that pushed her promotion prospects back. Then there was the Koenig case . . . But there’s really no contest when she weighs up her love of her job against her love for her son. Her family comes first.

‘Rose, you about done out there?’ Jeff calls. ‘You’ve got three in here ready to sign up to Anorexics Anonymous.’

There is more laughter and Rose joins in, picking up the tray and crossing the kitchen before pushing the door open with her shoulder. The room beyond is large, and the walls are panelled, like many of the early-twentieth-century properties in the neighbourhood. Their house on Oak Avenue is in a pleasant, leafy suburb with views over San Francisco and the Golden Gate Bridge on the skyline.

Places have been set either side of the table. Opposite Rose’s seat is Jeff, grinning at her as he winks through his neat frameless glasses. Sitting next to him is Rose’s sister Scarlet, and next to her is their father, Harry Carson.

Scarlet, thirty-three, is short, with dark dyed copper hair and a voluptuous figure. The younger, more reckless, sister has recently divorced and is enjoying her new-found single status, especially as her oleaginous weasel of an attorney gouged her former husband for every available cent. She still works as a real-estate agent though. She is good with people and is skilled at closing deals. She tops her wine glass for the third time that evening, grabs her smartphone and takes a picture of herself posing with the wine glass.

‘Gotta get that on the ’gram,’ she says, before cropping the picture and applying a filter so her skin looks smoother. She slides the smartphone onto the table. Rose is concerned about her obsession with social media and has, on more than one occasion, asked her to limit her screen time in the presence of family.

Their father, seventy-two, a retired master sergeant from the marine corps, has salt and pepper hair. He sits quietly and Rose wonders if he is thinking about her mother, who disappeared without trace many years ago. It’s an open wound in the family, but one too painful to discuss. Harry is listening politely to Jeff, whose politics he does not share but has learned to tolerate for his daughter’s sake. There’s something about Harry’s expression that concerns Rose. A listlessness. He’s starting to forget things and is confused from time to time, and she hopes that he is not starting the slide into senility.

‘At last!’ Jeff pretends to gasp. ‘You had me worried there, girl. Thought you were gorging on the dainties and leaving the rest of us to starve.’

Scarlet shakes her head. ‘Hope the main course isn’t delayed the same way. Man, I’m hungry.’

‘You always are,’ says Harry, slipping her a fatherly wink.

Rose sets the tray down in the middle of the table and takes her seat. Her guests don’t wait to be asked and begin to eat. Scarlet reaches for a second snack as she glances at Rose.

‘So, Ro’, how’s business? Catch any more bad guys lately?’

Rose shrugs. ‘You know how it is. Ninety per cent paperwork, ten per cent TV reality show where we get to chase guys down dark alleys with guns and flashlights.’

‘Really?’ Scarlet arches a plucked eyebrow. ‘How about Mulder and Scully? They solved The X-Files case yet?’

‘Old joke, Scar. Don’t go there.’
‘So tell me, seriously. What’s new at the Bureau?’
She’s referring to the failed case that nearly cost Rose her life, that burned her out, that some of her colleagues had even quit the Bureau over. Shane Koenig. The serial killer who had been preying on women and a handful of men across the West Coast, videoing their deaths. One of the vlogging news sites, ‘The Gab’, had named him the Backwoods Butcher, which got picked up by the TV networks, leading to a surge in audience figures.

Rose is reluctant to say anything. Koenig slipped through their fingers and there has been no sign of him since. The grisly human remains recovered from the cabin and the video files on his laptop prove beyond doubt that Koenig is the Backwoods Butcher. And now he’s out there, Rose reflects bitterly, waiting for the right time to resume his serial killer career.

The online and press fallout had been vitriolic – the FBI Twitter feed is still a target for internet trolls lamenting the Bureau’s failure, and hers. But luckily her superior, Special Agent Flora Baptiste, stepped in. After a fairly ineffective psychological debrief, Baptiste had eased Rose’s workload for the last few months. From time to time Rose still mentors undercover agents in training, and with additional therapy on the quiet, she has just about made it work. She glances at Jeff, imploring him not to say anything about it. He smiles before reaching for the wine bottle and topping up the glasses. Scarlet leans forward.

‘Oh, come on, Rose. What’s the latest?’

For the last six months Koenig seemed to have been wiped from the face of the earth. All manner of surveillance had been running, including facial recognition, licence plates, GPS tracking, IP searches, but the task force had drawn a blank, despite intense pressure from the media and relatives of the victims. They’d even asked one of the technology giants to hack a cellphone recovered from the cabin, but the corporation denied their request and increased their encryption instead. The FBI’s Cyber team had tried to crack it, but they were unsuccessful.

There had been a chance to take him down. But Rose had blown it. She had taken her shot at Koenig and missed. She briefly closes her eyes, trying to shut out the rest of the thorny memory.

Sometimes, the monster wins.

Harry shifts in his seat. ‘Scarlet, please, maybe your sister doesn’t want to talk about all this.’

‘Oh, come on, Dad. Rose is a pro. She can handle it.’

Rose rolls her eyes at Scarlet. ‘If you must know, we found out what he was doing with the body parts. They were trophies. He’d store them in secret locations, burying them and then auctioning them online to the highest bidder. When the money was paid he’d release the geotag coordinates.’

Scarlet’s eyes open wide. ‘That’s gross . . .’

‘We didn’t release the details, but the media still got to hear about it somehow and . . . Well, I’m sure you’ve seen the stories. How Koenig used to keep the mutilated genitalia and other body parts. In jars, with printouts of their profile pictures on the outside. We found and confiscated what was left, but most of the buyers were clever and masked their IPs. As for the rest of the remains of his victims, he ate them. That enough detail for you?’

Scarlet lowers her half-eaten finger of seaweed and rice. ‘Oh God . . .’
‘Nice, Rose. Thanks for the overshare,’ says Jeff.
‘She asked.’
Rose feels a ripple of anxiety, which she quells by picking up the wine bottle. A figure emerges from the den at the other end of the living room. The light sensor detects his presence and a lamp fades into life, bathing the boy in its warm glow.

Harry raises his glass. ‘Robbie! How’s my boy?’

The youth walks across the room and stands at the end of the table. He is fourteen, and tall for his age. He has Jeff’s good looks except for his acne and the glasses. But there’s something missing in his expression. He returns the smiles of the adults around the table and then nods to Harry. ‘I’m fine, Grandpa . . . How are you?’

‘Just swell. How’s school?’

Robbie looks to his mother. Rose feels a sudden surge of concern for her son and quickly steps in. ‘He’s doing well. Top of the class in math and science. We’re very proud of him.’

Rose turns to her husband. He surreptitiously sends a text, sliding his smartphone away, something he has been doing more and more frequently of late.

‘Surely that can wait?’ she asks with a tight smile. ‘You’re at home now. Your time belongs to the family.’

‘If only it was that simple. But you know how it is. We don’t work nine to five. The campaign runs 24/7, and we have to run with it.’

‘Huh . . .’ Rose glances at her watch. ‘Anyway, who are you texting at this hour?’
‘Oh . . . my assistant. Pandora’s printing some notes for tomorrow.’
‘She’s the one I met at the last fundraiser? Dark hair. Young.’
Jeff nods. ‘That’s her.’

His eyes meet hers with a hint of challenge and she decides not to pursue the matter right now.

Harry chuckles. ‘Boy, how things have changed. Time was when your home was your own and no one could bother you once you closed the front door. Now they can get you anytime, anywhere. You’ll all be screwed up in the head if the world carries on this way, I tell you.’

‘Hear, hear,’ Rose says, smiling.
Scarlet checks her smartphone.
‘Oooh, my pic’s got sixteen likes.’ She scrolls down.

‘He looks cute. See?’ She holds up the phone to reveal a cheesy shot of a slick-haired guy in a business suit, tanned and expensively dentured. She reads the profile. ‘Oh no, he likes jazz. Sorry, babe.’ She flicks the profile away.

‘Harsh,’ Jeff says. ‘I mean, Rose likes country music, but I still married her. No one’s perfect.’

‘Well with this I can find Mr Perfect.’

There’s a single electronic tone from Rose’s smartphone and she reaches into her jacket pocket and takes it out. She reads the message on the screen and stands up.

‘Excuse me for a moment.’
‘Trouble?’ Jeff frowns. ‘At this time of night?’
‘Criminals don’t work nine to five,’ Rose replies. ‘Or haven’t you heard about that?’
There’s laughter as Rose retreats to the kitchen and hits the quick-dial button. A deep female voice coughs before speaking.

‘Baptiste.’
‘I got the message,’ says Rose. ‘What’s up?’
‘Hey, sugar, there’s something I want you to take a look at. There’s been a fire in Palo Alto. Possible arson. One person dead. Happened a few hours back. Local PD are handling it. Or were, until we got the call.’

‘Who from? I mean, since when did the Bureau deal with this kind of thing? Arson? Suspected arson? What’s that got to do with us?’

‘Normally? Nothing. But this isn’t exactly normal.’ ‘What do you mean?’
‘You’ll see for yourself when you get there. I’m on the scene now and I’ll send you the address soon as I hang up. Get there as fast as you can.’

‘Now? Tonight?’
‘Yes, tonight,’ Baptiste replies testily.
‘But I’ve got my family here. At dinner. Can’t it wait until morning?’
‘No chance. This has come down from the top.’ Baptiste lowers her voice slightly. ‘Seems that someone at the Defense Department has requested our assistance.’

‘Defense?’ Rose feels a twinge of anxiety. ‘But this isn’t their jurisdiction, any more than it’s ours.’

‘Technically, no,’ Baptiste admits. ‘But someone at the Pentagon has asked for our help, so we’re to head up the case with our experience, our labs. Seems there’s a computer angle to it – that’s where Defense comes into it. In any case, Palo Alto PD hasn’t got the budget for this kind of investigation.’

Rose sighs. It is true local police forces are undermanned and struggling to deal with the rising tide of crime. Civil offences and minor crimes are all but overlooked, and many forces have ceased to even investigate them. The amount of technology-related crime has soared in recent years, everything from bitter ex-partners posting intimate pictures online to fraud on a massive scale, but departmental budgets including the Bureau’s have not increased to cope.

Baptiste continues. ‘What I have been told is that the vic has recently been accused of stealing defence contractor secrets, which is our jurisdiction. Defense want a tight lid on it. I don’t know any more than that. We’ve just been given the word and told to deal with it, like now. And now I’m telling you. So you better skip from soup to nuts in five and get in your car. They want our best agents on the case and you’re still my best agent.’

Rose sighs. She owes Baptiste.
‘All right.’
‘That’s my girl. You can get to the scene in forty-five minutes. Make it forty.’ Her faintly husky smoker’s voice softens: ‘Sorry to get you at home . . . but I really need you to take a look at this, while it’s hot, so to speak. This isn’t your usual murder scene.’

‘Murder? I thought you said it was arson?’

‘Feels like murder to me. It could be just a damn fire, but the DoD wants to be sure. At any rate, this one’s unusual, and then some. Christ . . . It’s a fucking mess. I’ve never seen anything quite like this before. Our forensics guys are already on the road.’ There’s a brief pause. ‘Hope you haven’t eaten anything tonight.’

The line goes dead. Rose bites back on her frustration and anger before she thumbs the off button and thrusts the smartphone back in her pocket. She takes a deep breath and leaves the kitchen. Maybe a new case is what she needs, so she can let Koenig go.

‘Guys, I gotta run.’
‘Right now?’ Jeff asks, his soft voice hardening.
‘Sorry, honey. It happens. You’ll have to take over. The salmon is in the oven. Sauce in the microwave. Make sure Robbie gets to bed before ten thirty and no games after ten.’

He nods.

Rose hurriedly kisses her son, her sister and Harry. Jeff cranes his neck to kiss her on the lips but Rose deflects his kiss onto her left cheek. His texting to Pandora has been very regular lately. It’s hard to avoid being suspicious.

‘See you later, guys.’
‘Be careful,’ Jeff calls after her.

There’s a locked desk in the hall. Rose slips her key in,opens a shallow drawer and picks up her badge and the Glock 22 .40 cal in its holster. She pockets the badge and tucks the holster clip over her belt. Her palm presses against the cold metal grip of the gun so it hangs neatly over her right hip.

As soon as she steps outside she is no longer a mother and wife. She’s Bureau through and through. It’s a trick she has made herself learn. You can’t mix two different worlds at once, not without fucking them up. That’s one thing Rose holds on to. By the time she reverses her navy Changan out into the street, the dinner party is a distant memory. She feels a familiar quickening of her heartbeat as she drives towards the crime scene and the gravelly voice of Baptiste echoes inside her head.

It’s the uneasy tone that troubles Rose. Baptiste had served fifteen years before Rose joined her team. There was nothing that she had not seen in that time, and nothing unsettled her.

Well, almost nothing.

Rose remembers the aftermath at the cabin, when Koenig had escaped. She had noticed Baptiste sitting alone on a felled log, facing away, in a moment of private reflection. She seemed to be crying. Rose drew back, knowing she’d witnessed a rare, intimate moment for her boss, but Baptiste had looked up and seen her. She’d wiped her face and fixed it into a frown as she stood up. They’d never spoken about it then, or since.

As Rose drives towards Palo Alto, she wonders: what could possibly have unsettled Baptiste tonight?

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If you’d like to read more about Rose and The Backwoods Butcher, you can as Playing With Death is available to buy!

Amazon US | Amazon UK | Goodreads

abouttheauthor

Simon Scarrow

Simon Scarrow is a Sunday Times No. 1 bestselling author. After a childhood spent travelling the world, he pursued his great love of history as a teacher, before becoming a full-time writer. His Roman soldier heroes Cato and Macro made their debut in 2000 in UNDER THE EAGLE, and have subsequently appeared in many bestsellers in the Eagles of the Empire series, including CENTURION, INVICTUS and DAY OF THE CAESARS.

Simon Scarrow is also the author of a quartet of novels about the lives of the Duke of Wellington and Napoleon Bonaparte, YOUNG BLOODS, THE GENERALS, FIRE AND SWORD and THE FIELDS OF DEATH; a novel about the 1565 Siege of Malta, SWORD & SCIMITAR; HEARTS OF STONE, set in Greece during the Second World War; and PLAYING WITH DEATH, a contemporary thriller written with Lee Francis. He also wrote the novels ARENA and INVADER with T. J. Andrews.

For exciting news, extracts and exclusive content from Simon visit www.simonscarrow.co.uk, follow him on Twitter @SimonScarrow or like his author page on Facebook/OfficialSimonScarrow

Lee Francis

Lee Francis worked for several years in the world of film, TV and advertising as a script reader and assistant director on major productions such as Harry Potter, The Woman In Black and Spooks. He has a BA First Class in Film Studies. He enjoys travelling, running, gaming and listening to cheesy techno. He has travelled the USA, New Zealand, China and Europe.

PLAYING WITH DEATH, written with his former lecturer Simon Scarrow is his first novel. It is published in the UK by Headline and foreign sales around the world have already begun.

For exciting news, extracts and exclusive content from Lee visit www.leefrancisauthor.com, follow him on Twitter @leefrancis or like his author page on Facebook/leefrancisauthor

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No One Will Hear by Joel Hames @joel_hames @MainsailBooks @Tr4cyF3nt0n #blogtour #NoOneWillHear

Delighted to join the blog tour for No One Will Hear by Joel Hames today! My thanks to Tracy Fenton for the invitation to join and to the author/publisher for my review copy!

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Author : Joel Hames
Title : No One Will Hear
Series : Sam Williams #2
Pages : 321
Publisher : Mainsail Books
Publication date : July 23, 2018

aboutthebook

Four murders
Four messages
One chance to catch a killer.

Renowned human rights lawyer Elizabeth Maurier lies dead, her body mutilated, her killer unknown. For DI Olivia Martins and her team, it’s a mystery. For the victim’s daughter Lizzy, a poet and academic with a shaky grasp on reality, it’s a tragedy. But for Sam Williams, the man she fired a decade ago and hasn’t spoken to since, it’s a whole new world of pain.

Elizabeth’s death has stirred a sleeping past back to life. Former clients are darkening Sam’s door, old enemies returning, ancient cases reopening. It doesn’t help that DI Martins is on his case, the press are dogging his every step, and his girlfriend’s behaviour is increasingly erratic.

But Elizabeth’s murder is just the start. As Sam reluctantly digs his way back into the past, more truths will crumble into lies.

More certainties will shade to doubt.

And more innocent people will die.

mythoughts

Sam Williams is back and within the first few pages I was reminded of how much I like this character. Not a lot of time has passed since events from the previous book Dead North but if Sam thought he’d have some time to recover from all that has happened, he’s sorely mistaken.

It all begins with the murder of his former boss, renowned lawyer Elizabeth Maurier. To Sam’s surprise, he finds out he’s mentioned in Elizabeth’s will. But this is just the start of a whole can of worms about to be opened and to find out the truth, Sam will have to work with his nemesis, David Brooks-Powell.

On top of that, Sam’s girlfriend Claire is acting very, very strangely. As a journalist, she’s caught up in her own investigation centred around someone smuggling young girls into the country, who are subsequently sold and the victims of unspeakable crimes. But her story is going nowhere as her editor thwarts her at every turn and she’s becoming increasingly morose.

Sam is just such an incredibly likeable character. For a lawyer, he’s not at all what you’d expect him to be. Not the stuffy suit and tie kind of man but a tad on the quirky side. He’s determined, has great instincts and is quite perceptive. Although maybe not so much where his girlfriend is concerned. Taking on the job of helping out with Elizabeth’s memoirs is really just an excuse to give himself something to do. His lawyer career isn’t exactly blossoming and there are only so many hours in the day when he can pretend to be working on something important.

The past is coming back to haunt Sam. Someone seems to have been pulling strings for years and there are some seriously murky waters to wade through with old enemies resurfacing, skeletons in closets and a case that has haunted Sam for ages. Full of intrigue and suspense but also some chuckles, this story had me absolutely hooked. Honourable mention to Vicki Coleman. I do so hope we’ll see more from her in future.

No One Will Hear is a well-paced story full of twists and turns and with a multitude of secrets to uncover. Some I figured out myself, some I didn’t see coming at all. But it all ends in a race to an immensely unexpected finish that made me yell the words “Why would you do that?!” at my Kindle. In a perverse sort of way, I really quite like it when an author manages to pull the rug from under my feet like that.

This is a fantastic addition to the series and I’m so glad joining the blog tour for the previous instalment allowed me to be introduced to these books and to Sam Williams. I’m incredibly excited to see where Joel Hames takes this series next!

No One Will Hear is available to buy!

Amazon US | Amazon UK | Goodreads

abouttheauthor

Joel Hames lives in rural Lancashire, England, with his wife and two daughters, where he works hard at looking serious and pretending to be a proper novelist.
After a varied career in London which involved City law firms, a picture frame warehouse, an investment bank and a number of market stalls (he has been known to cry out “Belgian chocolates going cheap over ‘ere” in his sleep), Joel relocated from the Big Smoke to be his own boss. As a result, he now writes what he wants, when he wants to (which by coincidence is when the rest of the family choose to let him).
Joel’s first novel, Bankers Town, was published in 2014, and The Art of Staying Dead followed in 2015. The novellas Brexecution (written and published in the space of ten days following the UK’s Brexit referendum, with half of the profits going to charity) and Victims were published in 2016 and 2017 respectively.

Joel’s website can be found at http://www.joelhamesauthor.com/, where you can find out more about the writer and the books, and sign up to his email newsletter. If you want to know what Joel has planned for the future, what he thinks right now, or just stalk him a little, you can find him on Facebook at facebook.com/joelhamesauthor or Twitter at @joel_hames. Joel has never seen the word “Joel” appear as frequently as it does right here, and wholeheartedly approves.

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The London Murder Mysteries #1 : Death in Dulwich by Alice Castle @DDsDiary @crookedcatbooks @rararesources #blogtour

It’s a pleasure to welcome you all to my stop on the blog tour for The London Murder Mysteries by Alice Castle. This series currently consists of two books : Death in Dulwich and The Girl in the Gallery. For my stop, I’m reviewing the first one.

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Author : Alice Castle
Title : Death in Dulwich
Series : The London Murder Mysteries #1
Pages : 219
Publisher : Crooked Cat Books
Publication date : September 6, 2017

aboutthebook

Thirty-something single mum, Beth Haldane, has her hands full – with a bouncy young son, a haughty cat, a fringe with a mind of its own, and bills to pay. She loves her little home in plush London suburb Dulwich, but life here doesn’t come cheap.

She is thrilled to land the post of archivist at top local school, Wyatt’s, though she secretly fears she’s not up to the job. But even Beth couldn’t have imagined how badly things could go, until she discovers a hideous crime and finds herself prime suspect.

Setting out to clear her name, Beth encounters a cast of characters who will follow her through the London Murder Mystery series, proving along the way that the nicest places can hide the nastiest secrets.

mythoughts

Welcome to the village of Dulwich. Where appearances matter a great deal. From wonderfully maintained homes to the yummy-mummies at the school gates and children with a multitude of extra-curricular activities that will surely catapult them into a future that holds big mansions, flashy cars and lots of money and status.

How inconvenient then that Beth Haldane, on her first day at a new job, should find a dead body near the bins on the playground of the top local school, Wyatt’s. Since Beth has no alibi, she worries she may end up being the prime suspect and she sets out to investigate on her own to try and find the culprit of this crime.

Beth is one of those characters you warm to from the moment you meet her. There’s something incredibly likeable about this thirty-something single mum. Thrilled as she is to land the job of assistant archivist at Wyatt’s, she also fears she’s not up to the job and wonders how on earth she got it in the first place. However, she’s determined to make a good go of it, hoping the money she earns can be put aside to give her son the best start in life.

Death in Dulwich is a wonderful introduction to a new cosy crime series. Alice Castle really brings the village to life and there is always something fun about an ordinary person finding themselves in extraordinary circumstances. The mystery itself kept me guessing until the end. I couldn’t at all figure out who the killer was, especially because it seemed the victim wasn’t particularly liked so the list of potential suspects was quite long.

I thoroughly enjoyed this cosy mystery.  If gore and gruesomeness isn’t quite your thing but you do like a bit of crime fiction, then this is for you. I’m sure Dulwich and its residents have many more stories to tell.

Death in Dulwich is available to buy!

Amazon US | Amazon UK | Goodreads

abouttheauthor

Alice Castle lives in South London with her two children, two stepchildren, two cats and her husband. She was a feature writer on the Daily Express for many years and has written for most other national newspapers. She has a degree in Modern History from St Andrews University, is the British Royalty expert for Flemish TV, and lived in Brussels for eight years.

Author links : Twitter

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