Wednesday 29 November 2023

Tell Me Your Secrets by Mel McGrath #TellMeYourSecrets @mcgrathmj @HQStories #BookReview


A devastating loss

When Meg and Marc lost their daughter, their family collapsed in on itself. Nobody could understand the trauma that they carried so it made sense when they turned to a therapist, Janette to help process their grief.

A new start

Desperate for some distance from their grief, they relocate to a small town where they know no one. They’re sure it’s a happy coincidence that Janette has moved there too, and at first it feels reassuring to have a friendly face nearby.

A past that won’t be silenced

But in those dark, desperate days after the accident, they shared everything with her. Secrets they haven’t even told each other. And it seems Janette doesn’t want to just be their therapist anymore. Or even their friend…

Dark, sharp and sinister, this novel will make you question those whom you trust most, and the final twist will shock you to your core.

Tell Me Your Secrets by Mel McGrath was published in hardback on 28 September 2023 by HQ. My thanks to the publisher who sent my copy for review. 

This is an intense and gripping psychological thriller that kept my attention during a five hour flight. The hours slipped by very quickly as I was consumed by this twisty tale that constantly throws up questions. 

I've read Mel McGrath in the past and she's an expert at dissecting her characters and exposing the frailties of the human mind.  This story features vulnerability and manipulation, teamed with an eerie setting with a tragedy at it's heart. 

Meg and Marc have suffered the worst pain that any parents can feel. Their young daughter Lily was killed in a hit and run accident, the driver of the car has never been found. Both Meg and Marc have dealt with the aftermath in different ways, they are both broken, but Meg carries such a sense of guilt about what happened, as she was with Lily at the time, and every mother should protect their child. 

A new start in a cottage in the country feels like it could be the answer. Marc's father has left Covert Cottage to him, and even though he feels that his sister Helen should have benefitted too, he and Meg decide to move in and renovate the property, hoping to pay Helen some money later on.  Marc continues to commute to work whilst Meg stays at home in the cottage. She does her best to get to know the people in the local community, but there's certainly something a little odd about the place. The house feels as though it's alive too. Meg experiences noises and strange feelings, especially from the loft area. When she bumps into Janette in the village, she is delighted to see someone that she knows, and who knows everything about her. Janette was their therapist, both she and Marc had regular sessions with her after Lily's death. Janette is looking for somewhere to stay, and it seems obvious that Meg should offer her their little garden room.

What follows is a sinister, creepy tale that gave me goosebumps at times. Meg and Marc really do suffer over the coming weeks, but thank goodness for Janette; a listening ear, someone to give advice ...... but what does Janette get out of this?

The reader sees far more than either Meg or Marc do, and at times, it feels so obvious what is happening, but I was never quite sure why it was happening. Both Meg and Marc become dependant on a woman who uses her professional skills to manipulate them both, almost pitching them against each other. Yet Marc and Meg don't tell each other, they don't feel able to open up and discuss what is happening. Meg is terrified of being labelled as mentally ill, and Marc seems to just flounder around, not really having any idea what is happening. 

It's a long and quite complex story, but it's also a clever and tense look at how a tragedy can shape people, how long-time grudges and events can manifest themselves years later, creating chaos and unhappiness for all. 

Tell Me Your Secrets is chilling and unsettling. The characters can appear naive at times, but this makes them appear human and more realistic. A study in grief, trauma and also a great thriller. Recommended.

Mel McGrath is an Essex girl, co-founder of Killer Women, and an award-winning writer
of fiction and non-fiction. 
As MJ McGrath she writes the acclaimed Edie Kiglatuk series of Arctic mysteries. 
As Melanie McGrath she wrote the critically acclaimed, bestselling memoir Silvertown. 
As Mel McGrath she is the author of the bestselling psychological thrillers Give Me the Child, The Guilty Party and Two Wrongs.

Twitter / X @mcgrathmj

Instagram @mcgrathmelj

Tuesday 28 November 2023

Upstairs At The Beresford by Will Carver BLOG TOUR #UpstairsattheBeresford @will_ carver @OrendaBooks #BookReview #CarverCult #NoPlaceLikeHome


There are worse places than hell…

 Hotel Beresford is a grand, old building, just outside the city. And any soul is welcome.

 Danielle Ortega works nights, singing at whatever dive bar will offer her a gig. She gets by, keeping to herself. Sam Walker gambles and drinks, and can't keep his hands to himself. Now he's tied up in a shoe closet with a dent in his head that matches Danielle's broken ashtray. 

 The man in 731 has been dead for two days and his dog has not stopped barking. Two doors down, the couple who always smokes on the window ledge will mysteriously fall.

 Upstairs, in the penthouse, Mr Balliol sees it all. He can peer into every crevice of every floor of the hotel from his screen-filled suite. He witnesses humanity and inhumanity in all its forms: loneliness, passion and desperation in equal measure. All the ingredients he needs to make a deal. 

 When Danielle returns home one night to find Sam gone, a series of sinister events begins to unfold. But strange things often occur at Hotel Beresford, and many are only a distraction to hide something much, much darker…

Upstairs At The Beresford by Will Carver was published in paperback by Orenda Books on 9 November 2023. My thanks to the publisher who sent my copy for review as part of this Blog Tour 

As much as I adore Will Carver and his extraordinary books, he is that one author who makes me reconsider my aim to review every book that I read. It's not often that I'm lost for words, but Carver often silences me with his often grotesque, but always perfectly formed characters. Upstairs At The Beresford is a prequel of sorts. For anyone who entered the doors of The Beresford in his 2021 novel of the same name, this is a enrapturing look at how that place came to be. Do not worry if this is the first time that you've checked into the Beresford though, it's also a fabulous stand-alone story. 

When you open a novel by Will Carver you know just what to expect whilst also not knowing anything at all. His unique take on life, people, communities - the good, the evil and the lost and lonely is absolutely stunning. The reader may recoil when reading some passages, whilst others will leave a lump in the throat. This is real life, but Carver style. 

The Beresford sits outside the city, it could be any city; New York, London, Birmingham, Toronto, any of those. Everyone is welcome to take a room here. The manager, Carol, will not turn you away, but she will know everything there is to know about you, she will know if you sold your soul, and she will know if you did it for yourself, or to save someone else. Carol has been at The Beresford for more years than even she can remember, she runs a tight ship. She's adept in clearing away bodies, and bodily fluid and sometimes she also makes them reappear again. 

Carver has created a cast of residents staying in the Beresford, from the innocent and good Odie and his dysfunctional parents, to the soulful Danielle who flits about seeing everything and nothing, to the man in the penthouse who everyone is beholden to. 

There is so much to take away from this book. Carver's look at the toxicity that seems to rule the world, the destruction of our planet and the selfish greed and arrogance of man is just on the nail. He cleverly weaves these observations into the narrative, it never sounds preachy, it's also perfectly aligned to the character voice. 

So much happens in this trip to the Beresford, too much to detail in a review, but be warned, there are things that will stick in your mind and cast a black mark on your soul ...... if you haven't already sold it that is. 

Once more, the genius that is Will Carver has produced a novel that is laced with dark black humour, alongside characters who will haunt your dreams. This guy is so slick, so devilishly clever. The book is both horrific and gentle, an ode to humanity, and beyond.  Highly recommended. 

Will Carver is the international bestselling author of the January David series. 

He spent his early years in Germany, but returned to the UK at age eleven, when his sporting career took off. 
He turned down a professional rugby contract to study theatre and television at King Alfred’s, Winchester, where he set up a successful theatre company. 
He currently runs his own fitness and nutrition company, and lives in Reading with his two children. 

His title Hinton Hollow Death Trip was longlisted for the Not the Booker Prize, while Nothing Important Happened Today was longlisted for the Theakston’s Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year. Good Samaritans was book of the year in Guardian, Telegraph and Daily Express.

X / Twitter @will_carver

Instagram @will_carver

Monday 27 November 2023

This Thing of Darkness by Nicola Edwards #ThisThingOfDarkness @nicanned @AderynPress @WriterForster #BookReview


The storm that dismantles a dynasty…

1780. Wild and windswept Yorkshire. Sixteen-year-old Heathcliff runs from the only home he has ever known in a squall of pain and fury.

Blown into an inn on the edge of the moors, sodden, rejected, and hankering for revenge, he steals a horse and sets out for Liverpool in search of answers. The town he arrives in is a brutal new world, brimming in equal measure with risk and opportunity. Here, Heathcliff might map his future, make his fortune, forge a role for himself. But at what cost…

Reimagining the three years during which Heathcliff is absent from Wuthering Heights, This Thing of Darkness traverses countries and oceans in pursuit of one of literature's best known characters.

This Thing of Darkness by Nicola Edwards was published by Aderyn Press on 2 November 2023. My thanks to the publisher who sent my copy for review. 

Wuthering Heights, the first and only novel from Emily Brontë is considered one of the greatest novels ever written. A story of toxic love and obsession, dealing with issues around mental health and domestic violence, it has to be said that the character of Heathcliff is probably one of the most complex male leads ever imagined. 

Only Emily Brontë really knows what happened to Heathcliff during the lost three years. When he was absent from the wild moorlands, but Nicola Edwards has created a thrilling and at time brutally uncomfortable version of those missing three years. 

Told from the perspective of various characters who had an impact on his life, this is a beautifully written story that complements the original text so very well. Abe Earnshaw narrates the first part, a prequel if you like, explaining how Heathcliff initially came to the Heights, we are then taken forward to the same town of Gimmerton as Heathcliff makes his escape. From the streets of Liverpool, to the slave ships in the Caribbean, Nicola Edwards vividly describes the different landscapes and allows her readers to experience Heathcliff's journey so very well. 

Heathcliff is a brutal man, damaged without doubt, with varying degrees of loyalty to those that he encounters. He leaves a legacy of cruelty and despair where ever he goes, thinking nothing of betraying those who have aided him, thinking only of a future wealth and his one big obsession; Cathy Earnshaw.

The writing is beautiful, it is stark and vivid, with characters who are so completely and wonderfully created. The sense of place and atmosphere is wonderfully presented, layered with the violence and toxicity that is Heathcliff. 

This is such a fabulous piece of historical fiction and one that kept me turning the pages eagerly to find out just what terrible things Heathcliff would do next. Highly recommended.

Nicola Edwards is a PhD candidate at the University of Bangor and teaches English and Classics in a school in North Wales. 
Nicola has worked as a journalist and has lectured on race and representation in the media for Race Council Wales. 
Her non-fiction writing has appeared in Wales Arts Review. 

This Thing of Darkness, her first novel, won the Michael Schmidt Prize at the Manchester Writing School.

X / Twitter @nicanned

Instagram @nic_writes

Thursday 23 November 2023

What I Hid From You by Heleen Kist #WhatIHidFromYou @hkist #BookReview


After the death of a patient in her care, Radha begins taking Valium to control her anxiety.

She tells herself she’s fine, but as the pressures of being a perfect wife, mother and daughter mount, her little habit spirals into addiction.

When she’s forced to find a new source of pills, she stumbles into the blackmailing clutches of Glasgow’s underworld.

A mistake that could cost her everything.

They give her an impossible choice: face personal and professional ruin or have blood on her hands by helping them deal.

As she fights to protect all she holds dear, can she protect herself?

A gripping and emotional suspense novel about a woman who risks it all to juggle it all.

What I Hid From You by Heleen Kist was published in June 2022. My thanks to the author who sent my copy for review. 

This is one of those thrillers that you settle down with, and a couple of hours later you are still hooked. I read this on holiday, and it was the perfect choice for a bit of escapism, with a lot of tension whilst enjoying the luxury of being able to read for hours in the sun. 

I don't think I've ever read a thriller where the lead character is a dentist, it's certainly something a little different and Radha is certainly that. She's Indian heritage, living and brought up in Scotland, married to her business partner and watched constantly by her elderly father Gunbir. The practice that Radha and her husband Arjun own and manage was passed on to her by Gunbir, and he finds it hard to let go. 

Radha and Arjun have one son who attends an exclusive school locally.  Radha seems to take on the weight of the world whilst Arjun floats around, performing cosmetic procedures on his private wealthy patients. Radha treats ordinary, everyday people, she also has to ensure that Gunbir is OK, that her son is doing what is supposed to and be part of the glamour wife and mother set too. She's also battling a secret addiction to prescription painkillers. 

An elderly woman died in Radha's chair and whilst the investigation into the incident has shown that she wasn't to blame, she cannot bear the flashbacks and the feelings of guilt. Forging the odd prescription for Valium seems to be the answer. Every time she does it, she tells herself that it's the last time ....

Eventually Radha realises that she can no longer risk the reputation of the surgery and turns to the dark web to order more drugs. She feels dirty and ashamed, but feels absolute terror when she realises that these are not some anonymous dealers from far away. No, this gang know her, they know her family and they hold a grudge. Radha has no idea about the history between the dealers and her own father, but it's really not nice and now they are all in danger.

This novel is cleverly structured. We hear the point of view of both Radha and Gunbir throughout and this ties together the present day, and the historical events so very well. I enjoyed the author's insight into the world of a woman of colour, in business and also in motherhood. Radha tries her very best but is constantly exhausted by the effort of just being herself. 

The tension increases towards the latter quarter of the book and all of the streams of the story are woven together well to create a revelatory ending.  This is great crime fiction, populated with some fabulously drawn characters in a setting that is away from the norm. Recommended by me. 

Heleen Kist is a Dutch, formerly globetrotting career woman who fell in love with a Scotsman and his country, and now writes about its people from her garden office in Glasgow. 

She was chosen as an up-and-coming new author at Bloody Scotland 2018. 

Her novels have been finalists in a range of awards, both in the UK and USA. 

She yearns to one day 'be the bride'. 

Heleen hopes you enjoy her writing and would love to hear from you on twitter (@hkist), Faceboook (@heleenkistauthor) or Goodreads. You can also sign up to her newsletter on

21 Miles by Nicola Garrard BLOG TOUR #21Miles @nmgarrard @hoperoadpublish @RandomTTours #BookExtract


21 MILES revisits the much-loved protagonist of 29 LOCKS two years after his canal boat adventure as a fifteen-year-old. 

Older, wiser and more confident, life is going well for the former gang member who’d escaped a brutal life of criminal exploitation. 

But when Donny and his best friend Zoe plan a day trip to France ahead of their sixth form exams, Donny loses his passport and is arrested as an ‘illegal’ migrant. 

To survive, he must rely on the help of unaccompanied teenage refugees, living rough in the dunes east of Calais. 

Can Donny use his boat skills to cross the busiest shipping channel in the world and make it home? 

A fast-paced, tender and unflinching depiction of teenage friendship and resilience against the odds.

21 Miles by Nicola Garrard was published on 28 September 2023 by HopeRoad Publishing. As part of this #RandomThingsTours Blog Tour, I am delighted to share an extract from the book with you today. 

Extract from 21 Miles by Nicola Garrard

Hertfordshire, June 2022

I’m a boat boy. I can navigate the canals, fix a hull, strip an engine and handle any lock gate – all that with my eyes shut.

My best friend Zoe, on the other hand, is a motor girl. When she turned seventeen, she got a brand-new soft-top electric Mini for her birthday, with Union Jack trim and all the safety features, like twin airbags and a roll bar. It’s even got pollen filters in the air conditioning in case she gets hay fever. Her dad is taking no chances with his little girl. And neither would I. If I ever become a parent, I’ll be the kind that makes sure his kid gets her ten-a- day fruit and veg.

But I definitely wouldn’t let her drive to France on a day trip just two weeks after she passed her driving test. Even with me in the passenger seat.

So it’s on account of her nice new car that Zoe comes round for me at six in the morning. It’s a Saturday but no chance of a lie-in. I’m already awake because the birds have been singing since five. The garden is noisy like that, this time of year – exam time, just when I need the extra sleep. Laura, my foster carer, is already up. I hear her moving around in the kitchen. Normally, she’s up early doing her yoga but today, I can smell baking. That’s not as good as it sounds; most things she bakes are brown and healthy.

Zoe never rings the bell and Laura never locks the doors during the day so Zoe lets herself in. Even upstairs in bed and with the duvet pulled over my head I hear her say, ‘Morning, Laura.’

‘Oh hi, Zoe. Did you manage to get your euros sorted? Look, I’m afraid

Donny’s not quite up ... I thought you weren’t coming till seven?’

I put the pillow over my head and curl in a ball, but six foot two is too high to hide. And I know what’s coming next: feet on the stairs, no knock, my bedroom door bangs open and, ‘Oh my God, Donny,’ Zoe says in her posh accent. ‘You’re still in bed! Laura was supposed to get you up. What the actual ...?’

I peek out and say grumpily, ‘Allow it, Zo.’

She turns on my light, then orders: ‘Get up, sleepyhead. Time to go, mon cher.’

‘Go where?’ I mumble. ‘What’s going on?’

‘La France, dumbo!’

She opens my curtains. The light stings my eyes so I duck under again.

Then she lands on the end of my bed, right on top of my feet, and bounces till I can’t take it any longer and sit up, my feet out of her range.

‘What are you talking about? I’m staying in my room all day,’ I tell her. ‘End of. I don’t have a French exam like you, but I’ve got other exams, you know.’

I see that she’s scrolling down her phone calendar. ‘Let me see – you have History on Monday morning, including the Siege of Calais, 1558. Calais, right? Wednesday, I sit French after lunch. So ...’ Her eyes light up, a big smile on her face. She looks so happy. ‘We’re going to revise – in Calais!’

‘We? Wait, small problem, Zo,’ I say.

‘Don’t worry. Granny’s paying.’

‘Yeah, but what about the Arsenal match later? We’re playing Chelsea.

London grudge match, innit.’

Nicola Garrard has taught English in secondary schools for twenty-three years, including fifteen years at an Islington comprehensive. 
Her first novel, 29 LOCKS, was shortlisted for the Lucy Cavendish Fiction Prize and the Mslexia Children’s Novel competition, and longlisted for the Branford Boase Award 2022 and the Berkshire Book Award. 
It was picked by Suzi Feay in the Financial Times as one of their ‘Best Books of 2021’. This is her second book.

Nicola Garrard has appeared at the Hay Festival of Literature and Arts, Chichester Festival and Petworth Festival Literary Week and on BBC Radio London. 
She gives regular talks for schools, libraries and colleges (including for World Book Day), as well as prisons. 
Her words and poetry have been published in The Frogmore Papers magazine, IRON Press Publishing, Mslexia magazine, The Guardian and the Writers & Artists Yearbook Guide to Getting Published, and by the Poetry Book Society. 

Nicola lives in West Sussex with her wife, three children and a Jack Russell terrier called Little Bear. Her family is typical of modern Britain, with roots in England, Scotland, Hungary and Trinidad.

She currently works at Minority Matters, a charity which aims to empower young people from isolated communities through engagement projects, and is also an active supporter of the Trussell Trust.

For more information see or follow @nmgarrard on X, formerly twitter

Wednesday 22 November 2023

The Man Of Her Dreams by Sarra Manning #TheManofherDream @sarramanning @HodderBooks #Competition #BookReview #Giveaway #Prize


Is he too good to be true?

Meet Theo. Handsome, sexy, funny. kind. And he can cook.

He's literally the man of Esme's dreams. But Esme's sensible enough to know that you can't just manifest your perfect boyfriend then have him turn up on your doorstep.

Or can you?

The Man of Her Dreams by Sarra Manning was published in hardback on 9 November 2023 by Hodder. My thanks to the publisher who sent my copy for review.

This review was originally published in S Magazine - 12 November 2023

I have one hardback copy of The Man of Her Dreams to give away. Entry is simple, just fill out the competition widget in this blog post. UK entries only please. 


On the surface, Esme's life is a success. She has a great job as a copywriter, owns her own home and has plenty of friends. But she's struggling to come to terms with her failed marriage and she often escapes by disappearing into an imaginary world containing her perfect man. 

After the hen night from hell, which involved crystals, mood boards and too much alcohol, Esme collides with a cyclist and suffers a nasty bump to her head. 

Whisked off to A&E, she meets fellow patient Theo. From his job to his accent, he's everything she pictured in her daydreams. Did the power of her desire manifest him into being?

Esme and Theo start dating and he appears to be the perfect man. He makes sure she takes her painkillers, comforts her when he awful sister Allegra shouts at her and supports her through her often manic life. Most important of all, she can always count on him to be there when she needs him most. 

But when Esme returns to the hospital to have her stitches taken out, the consultant drops a bombshell that turns everything she thought she knew about Theo on its head.

But even if Theo isn't the man she thought he was, perhaps that's not such a bad thing?

Saucy, funny and emotional, this is a feel-good romance with fabulous characters and a juicy twist. 

One copy of The Man of her Dreams by Sarra Manning

Sarra Manning has been a voracious reader for over forty years and a prolific author and journalist for twenty five.

Her novels, which have been translated into fifteen different languages include Unsticky, You Don’t Have To Say You Love Me, After The Last Dance, The Rise And Fall Of Becky Sharp and her latest, Rescue Me, which publishes in 2021. Sarra has also written over fifteen YA novels, and four light-hearted romantic comedies under a pseudonym.

She started her writing career on Melody Maker and Just Seventeen, has been editor of ElleGirl and What To Wear and has also contributed to The Guardian, ELLE, Grazia, Stylist, Fabulous, Stella, You Magazine, Harper’s Bazaar and is currently the Literary Editor of Red magazine.

Sarra has also been a Costa Book Awards judge and has been nominated for various writing awards herself.

She lives in London surrounded by piles and piles of books.

Twitter: @sarramanning

Instagram: sarra_manning

Murder on the Christmas Express BLOG TOUR #MurderontheChristmasExpress @ak_benedict @simonschusterUK @RandomTTours #BookExtract


Eighteen passengers. Seven stops. One killer.

In the early hours of Christmas Eve, the sleeper train to the Highlands is derailed, along with the festive plans of its travellers. With the train stuck in snow in the middle of nowhere, a killer stalks its carriages, picking off passengers one by one. Those who sleep on the sleeper train may never wake again.

Can former Met detective Roz Parker find the killer before they kill again?

All aboard for . . . Murder on the Christmas Express.

Murder on the Christmas Express by A K Benedict was published in paperback on 28 September 2023 by Simon and Schuster.  As part of this #RandomThingsTours Blog Tour, I am delighted to share an extract from the book with you today. 

Extract from Murder on the Christmas Express by A K Benedict 


December 24th

Meg wouldn’t let him see her cry, not this time. She ran out of the club car, aware of the phone cameras turning her way. Her eyes stung as she stumbled down the corridor to their cabin. The train seemed to whisper to her: he doesn’t love you, he doesn’t love you, he never loved you. 

Fumbling for the key card, she checked behind her. Grant wasn’t following. Part of her wanted him to. Wanted the fight that felt like love, and the peace that followed when he’d sobered up and begged forgiveness. The rest of her knew what could happen. What had so nearly happened before. And she wasn’t going to die tonight. 

Inside their club double, she locked the door and curled into a foetal position on the bed. She held a pillow to her chest and rocked. Her heart felt pulled apart like a Christmas cracker, and all that was left was a scrunched-up joke. 

She thought about going to see that woman, Roz – the ex-detective who looked like Kate Bush. Maybe she could help. 

Then her phone buzzed. 
And again. She looked at the screen – she’d been tagged in a video and the notifications were stacking up in their hundreds. Both the train and her heart seemed to fly faster. The video had been posted a minute ago. Someone had filmed the whole argument between her and Grant, from the whispered accusations and shouted denials to Meg running out. 

She watched the comments appear in real time. As usual, she couldn’t stop herself reading them:

Lindyhop2010: I’m TeamMeg! 
Meg4Eva: ♥♥ ☹
InkedAndPrimped: He’s fit - she should suck it up. I would! 😉
DinosaurSenior: LEAVE HIM, MEG! Come and sit on my face instead!
TaintedProphets: Don’t trust him, take it from me
Nastasha_Roberts: She’s a basket case. She’s on something. You can always tell.
ICD3adp30pl3: Fake news. All staged. They’re both beards and the rest are crisis actors.

Meg checked Twitter – #megrantlovespat was trending. She could feel her rosacea flaring to match her humiliation. She knew what Grant would say: ‘Turn it into money.’ He was like Rumpelstiltskin – he could spin anything into gold, especially if it made her feel pale and brittle. By tomorrow night, he would have sold the story to one of the weeklies and she’d be on the cover with him, smile never touching her filtered eyes. 

Not this time. Not after what he’d whispered to her when she was on that table. People would ask why she hadn’t spoken up before, or left him. Those people were lucky, because they’d never been abused. They didn’t understand that, after being starved of love, you longed for stale breadcrumbs. 
It didn’t matter what anyone said, not anymore. She would reclaim her story. Tell the truth. All of it. Everything she had been hiding and saving up in video clips for so long. Now was the time to release them, and herself. And, maybe, she’d speak up for the many people who couldn’t. Start her own hashtag: #Megtoo. 

Meg got out her compact and regarded herself in the mirror. Her dark pupils reflected her face back. Kajal and mascara ran down her cheeks, making tracks in her foundation. She got out the latest batch of promo samples she’d been sent to test and repaired the worst smears of make-up, covering the red patches that showed through the foundation. If she was going to ugly-cry on camera, she was going to look pretty doing it. 

Ring light on, filter applied, Meg typed into her phone the brands that would flash over the beginning of her live stream on Instagram. She had secrets to spill and today was the day. A Christmas present for her followers and a piece of coal from Krampus for Grant. It wouldn’t hurt her career, either – the clock never stopped on TikTok and this would get back some of the attention she’d lost. She had to stay calm, be authentic while promoting brands. Her mentions would explode and her wavering sponsors would be secured. 

She took as deep a breath as her lungs would allow. Picked up a can she was being paid to sell, placed it to her immaculate mouth, then pressed the button marked Live Stream:
Lowering the can, she smacked her lips as if she’d tasted something delicious. ‘Hi everyone. Told you I’d be back later. Things haven’t gone to plan. As you’ve probably already seen, Grant and I have been arguing again. I’d never normally let you see me like this.’ She pointed to her eyes, goth-smudged and swollen. The flurry of people watching was already turning into a blizzard. This was her moment. ‘I’d normally fix myself up and carry on. But not today. Today I’m going to tell you the secrets that lie behind my relationship with Grant.’ 

This would be enough to hook them for now. Time for more promo. She talked on, about being resilient, just like the make-up that remained on her face despite the tears. 
And then when she felt she might be losing her audience: ‘So this is what I have to tell you. I’ve already started, in snippets I’ve got secretly recorded, but now feels the right time to tell the truth. Behind the make-up and photo shoots, the stories in Hello! and other places, lies—’ 
The train juddered, jerking to one side. Brakes screamed. The bathroom door flew open and slammed against the wall. The carriage tipped slightly, veering. Meg crawled into the corner of the bed, holding tight to her phone. ‘What’s happening?’ she asked it, as if anyone watching would know or could help. 

The train screeched to a stop. 

The decorations she’d made and put up earlier swung and fell over her. Designer bags shunted around the cabin. Her jewellery box fell from the sink, along with a new eyeshadow palette which scattered pigment in shades of heather and smoke across the floor. The compact mirror slid off the bed, cracking as it hit the wall. 

Meg stayed where she was, waiting for the world to settle. Down the corridor, she could hear screams and shouting from nearby cabins. 

In a few moments: stillness. She pulled down the window, letting in a blast of air. Looking down the curved track, she couldn’t see what had happened, only the thick, winter dark. Other windows were opening. 

‘Well, I bet you weren’t expecting a train crash,’ she said, turning back to the camera on her phone. ‘And neither was I, though my life has been one for a long time. But Grant will be here soon, so I need to tell you. I need to speak.’ She took a deep breath and looked directly at the camera, knowing her eyes would be wide, her pupils huge. ‘He was amazing at first. The ultimate romantic. My therapist called it love-bombing. But soon he—’ 

Meg stopped. The door was opening. A foot was in the door. Grant’s. She felt relieved at first, saying, ‘Grant, oh it’s—’ Then he walked in, closed the door. He had that look on his face. ‘Please, don’t—’ But the words turned to coal dust in her throat. His hands reached for Meg’s neck. She stepped back, fumbling her phone and turning off the recording by mistake. 

She dropped it on the floor and his heel smashed down on the screen. She raised her hands to her face. She didn’t need to be psychic to know. This was the night she died. 

Alexandra (AK) Benedict is a best-selling, award-winning writer of short stories, novels and scripts. 
Educated at Cambridge, Sussex, and Clown School, Alexandra has been a indie-rock singer, an actor, RLF Fellow, and a composer for film and TV as well as teaching and running the prestigious MA in Crime Thrillers at City University. 
She is now a full-time writer and creative coach.

Her most recent novel, under the name Alexandra Benedict, was the bestselling The Christmas Murder Game. 
She is currently writing another Christmas mystery, a high-concept thriller and TV scripts. 
Alexandra lives on the south coast of England with writer, Guy Adams, their daughter, Verity, and dog, Dame Margaret Rutherford.

X / Twitter @ak_benedict

Instagram @a.k.benedict

Tuesday 21 November 2023

The Marlow Murders by Biba Pearce #TheMarlowMurders @BibaPearce @JoffeBooks #DCIRobMiller #BookReview


Debby Morris, mother of two, goes to a Christmas party at historic Hollyhock Manor in Marlow, and never comes home.


Her phone, handbag and Santa’s elf hat are found in a park near the River Thames. The police issue a nationwide search, but Debby is nowhere to be found.

Three weeks later, Debby’s body, still in her elf costume, is discovered five miles downstream from where she disappeared.


Detective Rob Miller is pulled from compassionate leave and put in charge. He’s still reeling from his last botched case, and he knows all eyes are on him — waiting to see if he’ll crack.

Meanwhile, another body is found with their throat slashed . . . and a link is discovered between the two cases that changes everything.


Rob and his team will need to pull out all the stops to catch a twisted killer before anyone else dies.


This gripping page-turner is perfect for fans of Helen H. Durrant, Mick Herron, Joy Ellis, Angela Marsons, Rachel McLean, Alex Smith and J.M. Dalgliesh.

The Marlow Murders by Biba Pearce was published on 24 October 2023 by Joffe Books. My thanks to the author who sent my copy for review. 

The Marlow Murders is book seven in the Detective Rob Miller series. I haven't read any of the previous books and am usually loathe to begin a series part way through, but by the time I'd read the first couple of chapters, I was hooked and there was no turning back. 

Biba Pearce expertly provides some of Rob Miller's back story, especially throughout the beginning of the story. It wasn't laboured and it didn't feel as though she was going over old ground, she merely let the reader know a little about his past, just as one would expect in a standalone story. The joy of a Detective series is that it is the current investigation that is central to the plot, and whilst Miller and his team are a leading part, it's the mysterious discovery of the body of young mother Debby Morris that really intrigues. 

Miller arrives in Marlow, tasked with taking on the case of Debby Morris. A few noses are put out of joint as it's really not the Met's area, but people in high places are eager to get this solved quickly.  For Rob it's a difficult task, he and his team have been suspended for months due to serious issues that arose with their last case. It has affected him deeply, especially as his family were involved. However, he's a good cop and is determined to see this case through to the end. 

It's a fascinating plot line, with echoes of recent real-life events that were featured heavily in our media. As Rob and his team, accompanied by young PC Victor Trent from the Marlow station begin to dig deeply into Debby's movements on the night that she went to a Christmas party and didn't return home, they uncover many things. Debby's husband, Ian is central to the investigation, and they also discover that there are important people who may be hiding things. 

Biba Pearce has produced an authentic and very atmospheric crime story. The cold, dark setting, along a river bank with the piercing cold and frozen ground are so well described and the characterisation is superb.  I enjoyed this one very much and will certainly look out for more by this author 

Biba Pearce is a British crime writer and author of the DCI Rob Miller series.

Biba grew up in post-apartheid Southern Africa. 
As a child, she lived on the wild eastern coast and explored the sub-tropical forests and surfed in shark-infested waters.
Now a full-time writer with more than twenty-five novels under her belt, Biba lives in leafy Surrey and when she isn't writing, can be found walking through the countryside or kayaking on the river Thames.

X/Twitter @BibaPearce