Tag Archives: troubled hero

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc The Revenant Express by George Mann #Brainfluffbookreview #TheRevenantExpressbookreview

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This is the long-awaited next book in this entertaining steampunk, gothic series featuring our two heroic crime fighters Maurice Newbury and Veronica Hobbes.

Following their bloody encounter with the Executioner, Sir Maurice Newbury’s assistant Veronica Hobbes is close to death. Desperate to save her life, Newbury and Veronica’s sister Amelia board a sleeper train bound for St. Petersburg, in the hope that Gustav Faberge might have the answer. But there are enemies on board, and Newbury and Amelia will need all their strength and cunning to survive the Revenant Express.

This is an action-packed read, given that it is only just over 250 pages long. Mann certainly manages to keep the tempo fast and furious as both Veronica Hobbes and Maurice Newbury are both attempting to tackle a terrible threat. Although I enjoyed the excellent action scenes, particularly on the train – I am a tad concerned about a major anomaly. We are told in the blurb that Veronica is close to death – so I actually reread the opening chapter in which she features, and at no time do we get a sense in her viewpoint that she’s anything other than a tad cold and miserable while standing in the pouring rain. While close to death, she happily goes off to get involved in a demanding case with Sir Charles Bainbridge and doesn’t mention feeling slightly unwell at any stage.

While in the ordinary run of things, this issues would be a dealbreaker, they aren’t this time around, simply because I like the world and the characters so much. It doesn’t hurt that this particular adventure is largely set on a train travelling across Europe, so a lot of the action doesn’t impact the wider story arc. The gruesome nature of the infection causing all sorts of havoc presents a real danger to our trusty protagonists – and has Mann has already demonstrated that he isn’t shy of killing off some main characters, I found myself paying real attention to the very dramatic fights.

That said, something clearly occurred that threw a major spanner in the works regarding Mann’s writing. I hope he is able to get back on track to write the next exciting instalment, but if he can’t or doesn’t – that’s okay, too. I do wince sometimes at the angry impatience of some readers while waiting for the next book. Everyone experiences major upsets in their lives – including authors in the middle of writing a popular series. In the meantime this series is recommended for fans of steampunk adventure with a gothic feel.

While I obtained an arc of The Revenant Express from the publisher via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
8/10

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Friday Faceoff – Every great story seems to begin with a snake… #Brainfluffbookblog

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This meme was started by Books by Proxy, whose fabulous idea was to compare UK and US book covers and decide which is we prefer. This meme is currently being nurtured by Lynn’s Book Blog and the subject this week featuring on any of our covers is SNAKES, so I’ve selected a book from one of my favourite series, Tongues of Serpents – Book 6 of the Temeraire series by Naomi Novik.

 

This edition was produced by Del Rey in July 2010 and features two snakelike dragons entwined around a porthole showing a ship. I really like the rippled sand as a backdrop, but I do think the fonts are very boring, given what an amazing premise this series offers.

 

Published in June 2011 by Voyager, this is the cover of the book that I read. I confess to loving this series with the black and white etched illustrations relating to incidents within the book and featuring amazing dragons. I also like the coloured font that is in keeping with the strong period feel of the cover and nicely pops against the black and white. This is my favourite.

 

Produced by Pocket in March 2013, this French edition follows the theme of the dragon coiled around a porthole or some sort of orb. I love the font – I think it works beautifully and picks up the gilding around the porthole very effectively. However, the stormy backdrop isn’t sufficient foil to the dark crimson/brown dragon and while those half-furled wings are wonderful, I’d rather the head was more of a feature. I’m also rather distracted by the shadow of the dragon against the clouds – surely that shouldn’t be happening?

 

This German edition, published by Penhaligon Verlag in 2010, is my favourite of all the similar designs where a dragon is coiled around some sort of globe. For starters, this dragon looks properly fierce and I love the way it has grasped the patterned globe, which is also beautifully patterned in colours that contrast very well with the hot reds and oranges of the dragon and the scaled background – another nice feature. It was so nearly my favourite, but I found the font both plain and a poor contrast to the rest of the cover.

 

This Polish edition, published by Rebis in October 2010 is the cover that gave me the chance to actually choose this book. Instead of dragons, we have two snakes battling on this cover. While it all looks very dramatic, I’m not sure the snakes are all fully in proportion – it seems one of them is rather on the short side, but perhaps the hidden part of the body conceals several coils… Once again, that rippled sand effect is a great backdrop, but disappointingly this Polish cover has gone down the route of also duplicating the very dreary, if clear, font from the Del Rey cover. Which is your favourite?

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of Ebook NOVELLA Knife Children by Lois McMaster Bujold #Brainfluffbookreview #TheKnifeChildrenbookreview

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Those of you who are regular visitors to my blog know that Himself and I are huge fans of Bujold. So it was a given that we had pre-ordered this novella in The Sharing Knife series, which was completed a number of years ago.

Lakewalker Barr Foxbrush returns from two years of patrolling the bitter wilds of Luthlia against the enigmatic, destructive entities called malices, only to find that the secret daughter he’d left behind in the hinterland of Oleana has disappeared from her home after a terrible accusation. The search for her will call on more of Barr’s mind and heart than just his mage powers, as he tries to balance his mistakes of the past and his most personal duties to the future.

Bujold’s claim that this novella can be read as a stand-alone is correct. While I suddenly recalled exactly who Barr was about a quarter of the way in, it really didn’t matter. As ever, Bujold absolutely nails the story. She has written a series of successful novellas, getting the story progression, characterisation and pacing spot on – something the majority of authors who attempt this writing form don’t often achieve in my experience.

I have always had a soft spot for this particular world, where mages a long time ago let loose terrible magical creatures who feast on living energy, growing stronger and evermore powerful with every victim they consume. Theses malices can only be stopped by the death energy of a Lakewalker, who are the descendants of those irresponsible magic-users. Unsurprisingly, there is a gulf between the non-magical community, mostly farmers, who are at major risk from the malices and the Lakewalkers, who are the only people able to kill the malices – but at a very high cost to themselves.

This story, where Barr is forced to confront the consequences of his wild past and try to fix things, drew me in from the first line and wouldn’t let me go until the final full stop. Like most of the other people who have reviewed this book, my main regret was that it ended. However, it was brought to a fitting conclusion that I found unexpectedly emotional. This is Bujold at her awesome best and is highly recommended for any reader with a pulse, particularly if they enjoy well written fantasy.
10/10

My Outstanding Reads of the Year – 2018 #Brainfluffbookblogger #MyOutstandingReadsoftheYear2018

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It’s been another great reading year with loads of choice within my favourite genres, so I ended up reading 162 books with 125 reviews published and another 23 in hand. In no particular order, these are the books that have stood out from the rest in the best way. Some of them might not even have garnered a 10 from me at the time – but all those included have lodged in my head and won’t go away. And none of this nonsense about a top 10 – I can’t possibly cope with a limit like that.

The Stone Sky – Book 3 The Broken Earth trilogy by N.K. Jemisin
The whole trilogy is an extraordinary read – a mash-up between fantasy and science fiction and sections of it written in second person pov. It shouldn’t work, but it does because her imagination and prose fuses together to make this more than a sum of its parts. See my review.

 

Hyperspace Trap by Christopher G. Nuttall
I like this author’s writing anyway and I’m a sucker for a well-told space opera adventure, so I read a fair few. However, something about this one has stuck – I often find myself thinking about those passengers on the space liner and the crew looking after them, while marooned by a malign presence. See my review.

 

The Cold Between – A Central Corps novel by Elizabeth Bonesteel
This is the start of a gripping space opera adventure with interestingly nuanced characters, whose reactions to the unfolding situation around them just bounces off the page. I love it when space opera gets all intelligent and grown-up… See my review.

 

The Green Man’s Heir by Juliet E. McKenna
This fantasy adventure is set in contemporary Britain with the protagonist very much hampered by his fae ancestry and trying to discover more about that side of his family. It gripped me from the first page and wouldn’t let go until the end, when I sulked for days afterwards because I wanted more. See my review.

 

Head On – Book 2 of the Lock In series by John Scalzi
This is such a smart, clever premise. The paralysed young protagonist is able to live a nearly-normal life because his consciousness is uploaded into a robot, when he pursues a career fighting crime. Science fiction murder mysteries are one of my favourite genres, when it’s done well – and this is a great example. See my review.

 

Before Mars – Book 3 of the Planetfall series by Emma Newman
This has been an outstanding series – and this tight-wound thriller is no exception. I love the fact that Newman tackles the subject of motherhood, which isn’t a subject that comes up all that often in science fiction. See my review.

 

Child I by Steve Tasane
I’ve been haunted by this book ever since I read it. It’s not long and the language is very simple. The little boy telling the story is bright and funny and not remotely self pitying. When I started reading it, I assumed it was set in a post-apocalyptic future – and then discovered that it was set right now and is the distilled experience of children from all over the world. And I wept. See my review.

 

The Wild Dead – Book 2 of The Bannerless Saga by Carrie Vaughn
This was the most delightful surprise. This is another murder mystery set in the future – this time in post-apocalyptic America once law and order has been re-established. I loved the atmosphere, the society and the above all, I fell in love with Enid, the no-nonsense, practical lawgiver sent to sort out the puzzle of a body of a girl that nobody appears to know. See my review.

 

The Great Alone by Kristen Hannah
As well as being a story of a family, this is also a homage to Alaska and a time when it was a wilder, less organised place. It isn’t one of my normal reads, but my mother sent me this one as she thought I’d love it – and, being my mum, she was right. See my review.

 

Fallen Princeborn: Stolen by Jean Lee
I’ve come to know the author from her amazing blog and was happy to read a review copy of her book – what I wasn’t prepared for was the way her powerful, immersive style sucked me right into the skin of the main character. This contemporary fantasy is sharp-edged, punchy and very memorable. See my review.

 

Eye Can Write: a memoir of a child’s silent soul emerging by Jonathan Bryan
This is another amazing read, courtesy of my lovely mum. And again, she was right. This is a non-fiction book, partly written by Jonathan’s mother and partly written by Jonathan himself, whose severe cerebral palsy locked him into his body, until he found a way to communicate with the outside world using one letter at a time. See my review.

 

Windhaven by George R.R. Martin and Lisa Tuttle
This remarkable colony world adventure is about a girl yearning to break into the closed community of flyers – and what happens when she does. I love a book all about unintended consequences and this intelligent, thought-provoking read thoroughly explores the problems, as well as the advantages of throwing open this elite corps to others. See my review.

 

Strange the Dreamer – Book 1 of Strange the Dreamer duology by Laini Taylor
I loved her first trilogy – but this particular book has her writing coming of age. The lyrical quality of her prose and her amazing imagination has her odd protagonist pinging off the page. See my review.

 

Battle Cruiser – Book 1 of the Lost Colonies series by B.V. Larson
This is just such fun. William Sparhawk is a rigidly proper young captain trying to make his way in the face of enmity from his superiors due to his family connections, when he’s pitchforked right into the middle of a ‘situation’ and after that, the tale takes off and buckets along with all sorts of twists and turns that has William becoming less rigid and proper… See my review.

 

Certain Dark Things by Sylvia Moreno-Garcia
That this author is a huge talent is a given – and what she does with a tale about a vampire on the run in a city that has declared it is a no-go area for the destructive creatures is extraordinary. Review to follow.

 

The Psychology of Time Travel by Kate Mascarenhas
I’ll be honest – I liked and appreciated the skill of this book as I read it, but I didn’t love it. The characters were too flawed and unappealing. But it won’t leave me alone. I find myself thinking about the premise and the consequences – and just how right the setup is. And a book that goes on doing that has to make the list, because it doesn’t happen all that often. Review to follow.

Are there any books here that you’ve read? And if so, do you agree with me? What are your outstanding reads for last year?

Friday Faceoff – If my head would win him a castle in France, it should not fail to go… #Brainfluffbookblog

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This meme was started by Books by Proxy, whose fabulous idea was to compare UK and US book covers and decide which is we prefer. This meme is currently being nurtured by Lynn’s Book Blog and the subject this week featuring on any of our covers is the TUDOR PERIOD, so I’ve selected one of my favourite reads of this excellent series, Dark Fire – Book 2 of the Matthew Shardlake series by C.J. Sansom.

This edition was produced by Penguin in December 2005 and features a blazing London cityscape. I love the artwork and drama – but loathe that red blob plonked in the middle of scene announcing that this is a Matthew Shardlake thriller. What’s wrong with adding that detail under the main title?

 

Published in May 2007 by Pan Books, I love the drama of this ancient text being engulfed by flames – the title font is awesome. But I don’t like the lack of additional information, like the fact that this is the second book of the series, which is a serious fail.

 

This edition, published by Viking Books in January 2005, at least includes some of the vital information on it. I very much like the title text box as a ripped scroll, though I do feel they have been a tad too clever adding the St George’s Cross, which instead looks like a cross put in the corner by a grumpy teacher. The actual artwork is skilful, with the half-hidden swordsman in the foreground and the Tudor building behind him, but it doesn’t have much impact in thumbnail.

 

Produced by Pan Books in 2005, this dramatic depiction is my favourite for the sheer drama of the cover. The fire roaring through the windows with the winding stone staircase in the foreground immediately pulls us into the scene. I also love the stylish lettering of the title font – but again, why is it such an almighty secret that Dark Fire is the second Matthew Shardlake book in the series? It’s unforgiveable to leave a detail like that off the front cover, I feel. Notwithstanding this egregious omission, this is my favourite cover.

 

This German edition, published by Fischer in 2011 is another stylish offering in the form of a Tudor book, complete with the elaborate hinges and attractive font – though again, there isn’t a mention that this is part of a best-selling series. Which is your favourite?

Review of PAPERBACK book Together by Julie Cohen #Brainfluffbookreview #Togetherbookreview

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One of my students kindly lent me this book – thank you, Rose! She thought I might enjoy it as I’d enthused about JoJo Moyes writing…

This is not a great love story. This is a story about great love.
On a morning that seems just like any other, Robbie wakes in his bed, his wife Emily asleep beside him, as always. He rises and dresses, makes his coffee, feeds his dogs, just as he usually does. But then he leaves Emily a letter and does something that will break her heart. As the years go back all the way to 1962, Robbie’s actions become clearer as we discover the story of a couple with a terrible secret – one they will do absolutely anything to protect.

That blurb is a really good summing up of the story – kudos to the publisher for getting it spot on – so many blurbs don’t. The book is told from two viewpoints – Robbie, whose pov features mostly at the beginning of the book, before Emily takes over the narration. So in order for this one to work, I had to really care for both of the main protagonists – and I did. Robbie is in the most horrible dilemma at the start and takes a hard decision without any compromise. But as the book continues, I realised that was how he lived his life – once he decided what was best for him and the ones he loved, he was prepared to go to any lengths to ensure it would happen.

Emily is equally determined to follow her heart. They both pay a very high price for that decision, but as the narrative timeline gradually works backwards throughout the book, I also become aware that they aren’t the only ones who get hurt. Others are also caught up in their unwillingness to live apart.

By the end of the story, I had a lump in my throat and also felt very emotionally torn – because this is essentially a story about a great love between two fundamentally good people who are not prepared to do the right thing and let each other go. Though I was very interested to see there were lines that Cohen wasn’t prepared to cross – the storyline concerning their son was interesting, because in some ways I felt the author slightly ducked the issue surrounding that one.

I’m aware this is a book I’ll remember for a long time… That many people will be shaken at the depiction of two people, whose passion for each other took them places where, perhaps, they shouldn’t have gone. Very highly recommended for fans of Me Before You.
10/10

Review of KINDLE Ebook The High Ground – Book 1 of the Imperials series by Melinda M. Snodgrass #Brainfluffbookreview #TheHighGroundbookreview

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This is one of the books that I tucked into during November for Sci Fi Month – before I realised that I’d run out of days. However, reading and writing a review about an enjoyable, entertaining space opera adventure is never a hardship…

Emperor’s daughter Mercedes is the first woman ever admitted to the High Ground, the elite training academy of the Solar League’s Star Command, and she must graduate if she is to have any hope of taking the throne. Her classmate Tracy has more modest goals — to rise to the rank of captain, and win fame and honor. But a civil war is coming and the political machinations of those who yearn for power threaten the young cadets. In a time of intrigue and alien invasion, they will be tested as they never thought possible.

This book is written from two viewpoints – and is one of the reasons why it works so well. We get an insight into Mercedes’ life and the strains of being the first young woman ever admitted to a male bastion – Solar League’s Star Command – to prepare her for the task of ruling in her father’s stead. And no – this isn’t your classic female heroine panting to knock down the barriers to women having more freedom in society, as Mercedes was perfectly happy with her court life and spending time with her highborn female companions. She is appalled when her father informs her that she will be attending The High Ground.

Her desperate reaction is also mirrored by another reluctant candidate from the other end of the social scale. Her father’s skilled but poor tailor is thrilled when his only son, Tracy, is selected as a scholarship student to attend The High Ground. Tracy isn’t so impressed – he hates the whole rotten system and has no intention of being part of it on any level, until he realises the problems it will cause his father if he walks away.

Snodgrass has been very canny in selecting both these characters as it means we see two lives at both extremes of this rigid, very hierarchical society, both with their own constraints and pressures that oddly, end up being similar even though the causes are quite different.

I’m aware that I’ve given the impression that this is one of those stories all about the social structure with lots of chat, meaningful looks and not much else – it isn’t. In amongst the classes and the difficulties of fitting in, there is plenty of action – and when it all properly kicks off with a life or death event pulling in both main characters and most of their friends and foes, I simply couldn’t put this one down.

I really enjoyed this one and am delighted to find yet another talented female author writing my favourite kind of fiction – I’m definitely going to be tracking down the next book in this series.
9/10

Friday Faceoff – Ho, ho, ho! Brainfluffbookblog

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This meme was started by Books by Proxy, whose fabulous idea was to compare UK and US book covers and decide which is we prefer. This meme is currently being nurtured by Lynn’s Book Blog and the subject this week featuring on any of our covers is CHRISTMAS, so I’ve selected Hogfather – Book 20 of the Discworld series by the irreplaceable Terry Pratchett. The first time I read this book, I was crying with laughter over the scene in the toy department…

This version was released in October 2002 by Corgi and I get the impression that the cover designer was told that this book featured Death stepping into the role of the Hogfather. He chose to focus on the Death part… All this gloom and blackness gives this cover a sense of horror – and it’s nothing of the sort. While the story is violent in places and features the most psychotic killer Pratchett ever depicts, there is also plenty of mayhem and lots of humour, too. Not that you’d know it from this cover, which I HATE.

 

Published in October 2002, also by Corgi, this cover is a huge improvement – mostly because it’s based on the original. In my opinion, it’s even better, because those big, intrusive text boxes are no longer a feature and we get the full benefit of the fabulous artwork. This one is my favourite.

 

This edition, published by Corgi in June 2013, is another winner – though I’m intrigued to see this one was released in the middle of summer, for some reason… Rightly featuring the pigs, it once more packs a punch with that lovely dark sky in the background and nicely stippled author font. Again, this one is based on the original cover for the book and so the riotous aspect of the story is reflected in the artwork. This one is also my favourite. And no… don’t ask me to choose between the two, because I can’t.

 

Produced by Harper in September 1999, this one is just boring. While a picture of the Hogfather features on the cover and the title font is pleasingly quirky, that doesn’t really make up for the oh-so plain yellow cover. And no – I personally don’t think the line of scythes is a suitable replacement for the iconic bright, colourful covers that always remind me of Pratchett’s Discworld series.

 

This French edition, published by Pocket is the only original cover that comes close to the humorous mayhem that represents the series. I love the way Death emerges from the chimney, with the children looking on in fascination. Susan is beautifully portrayed and I love the orange glow that suffuses this cover – so appropriate for the time of year. If I didn’t have such fond memories of the previous covers, which I’m sure is affecting my choices, this one would have been a real contender. Which one is your favourite?

Review of hardback book The Death Chamber – Book 6 of The Detective’s Daughter series by Lesley Thomson #Brainfluffbookreview #TheDeathChamberbookreview

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Anyone who has been on this blog for any length of time knows that this is one of my favourite authors as I find her detailed worldbuilding, steady accumulation of clues and layered, complex characterisation adds up to a thoroughly satisfying read. See my review of her first book in this series, The Detective’s Daughter. I had acquired this copy at a book signing and reading and then put it down in the kitchen, where it promptly got buried under a pile of other books. I was delighted when I unearthed it…

Queen’s Jubilee, 1977: Cassie Baker sees her boyfriend kissing another girl at the village disco. Upset, she heads home alone and is never seen again.
Millennium Eve, 1999: DCI Paul Mercer finds Cassie’s remains in a field. Now he must prove the man who led him there is guilty.

When Mercer’s daughter asks Stella Darnell for help solving the murder, Stella see echoes of herself. Another detective’s daughter. With her sidekick sleuth, Jack, Stella moves to Winchcombe, where DCI Mercer and his prime suspect have been playing cat and mouse for the past eighteen years…

Stella Darnell’s father was a detective married to the job – and Stella bears the scars. She set up and now runs her own very successful cleaning company, but is increasingly drawn to the drama and tension surrounding the business of solving cold-case murders. Jack, her partner in these investigations also has a fascinating backstory, which I won’t be revealing here as it wanders into spoiler territory. Each of them is a loner, and I enjoyed the increasing tension as they now both feel uncomfortable keeping secrets from each other to an extent that occasionally trips into humour. Lucie Mae, local journalist and long-running character, also crashes into this investigation and brings along her budgie.

Thomson manages to evoke the countryside very well from the viewpoint of two confirmed Londoners as they rent a ramshackle cottage while investigating the crime. Her vivid worldbuilding is her superpower, as we get the sound and feel of Winchcombe and the sense of a tight-knit community, who nevertheless enjoy the chance to talk about the murdered girl, especially as her convicted killer is due to be released on parole. Though a fair few people don’t believe he committed the crime.

I found it difficult to put this one down as Jack and Stella steadily gather evidence and red herrings, while someone is also trying to persuade them to walk away. As ever, I didn’t guess who the murderer was until I was supposed to – and this time in particular, there is a development near the end that means Jack’s life is about to change forever. The thing I find with Thomson’s books, is that once I’ve finished reading one, the characters and situation goes on living in my head. And no… that isn’t usual for me. Normally once I’ve put a book down and written the review, I usually move onto the next book and rarely recall it. But Stella and Jack have wriggled into my inscape and rearranged my mental furniture. Highly recommended for fans of intelligent, murder mysteries set in a vivid contemporary setting.
10/10

Review of INDIE Ebook Academic Curveball – Book 1 of the Braxton Campus Mysteries by James J. Cudney #Brainfluffbookreview #AcademicCurveballbookreview

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I have heard good things about Cudney’s writing from a number of book blogging friends, particularly Rae Longest, so when I got the Goodreads invitation to read his latest release, I was delighted to accept. This is my honest, unbiased opinion of the book.

When Kellan Ayrwick, a thirty-two-year-old single father, is forced to return home for his father’s retirement from Braxton College, he finds the dead body of a professor in Diamond Hall’s stairwell. Unfortunately, Kellan has a connection to the victim, and so do several members of his family. Could one of them be guilty of murder?

I really enjoyed this one. Kellan has had some tragedy in his past life and now is attempting to bring up his daughter alone and establish a career in Hollywood, dealing with an obstructive boss. But that doesn’t prevent him being a chippy character, who isn’t thrilled at returning to the family home, yet again, leaving his young daughter in the care of his in-laws. His father is a rather distant workaholic and his mother seems very wrapped up in her career, while his nan is full of snark and never happier than when she’s feuding with someone, including her frenemy. It’s intriguing to have a murder mystery where a whole family is involved, including Kellan’s sister.

But as is often the case in cosy murder mysteries, this is a closed community. So we get to know a fair number of the characters, including Kellan’s former best friend, who is now the security officer on the campus and the grumpy sheriff who has the responsibility for solving this one. Kellen is busy trying to work out if any of the cast of suspects were actually responsible for the murder, while keeping on the right side of those who are officially attempting to solve the crime. It means this plot is twistier than a corkscrew, while the stakes go on getting steadily higher. There is plenty of snark and attitude as the sheriff is determinedly dismissive of Kellen’s efforts, while his nan is busy trying to find him a girlfriend.

With all this going on, it could have been so easy for the plot to descend into a morass of pointless clues, confused characters and dodgy pacing. However Cudney keeps absolute control of the narrative throughout and the result is a delightfully intricate bit of plotting – I certainly didn’t work out whodunit, and once I did, it made absolute sense. Highly recommended for fans of quality cosy mysteries.
9/10