Tag Archives: whodunit

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NOVELLA Masquerade in Lodi – Book 9 in the Penric and Desdemona series by Lois McMaster Bujold #Brainfluffbookreview #MasqueradeinLodibookreview


We loved the groundbreaking Miles Vorkosigan series that took science fiction and shook it firmly, so that it didn’t quite go back the same way, again – see my review of Cryoburn. So we were delighted when Bujold started self-publishing this delightful fantasy series, featuring a young man possessed by demons, set in her World of the Five Gods series. See my reviews of Penric’s Demon, Penric and the Shaman, Penric’s Mission, Mira’s Last Dance, Penric’s Fox, The Prisoner of Limnos, and The Orphans of Raspay and The Physicians of Vilnoc. And it was a wonderful treat to discover that this year, there was to be another offering.

BLURB: Bastard’s Eve is a night of celebration for most residents in the canal city of Lodi — but not for sorcerer Learned Penric and his Temple demon Desdemona, who find themselves caught up in the affairs of a shiplost madman, a dangerous ascendant demon, and a very unexpected saint of the fifth god.

This novella falls between “Penric’s Fox” and “Penric’s Mission” in the internal chronology of the Penric & Desdemona tales.

REVIEW: As ever, Penric is an enjoyable protagonist. It was interesting to go back to a time when he isn’t so self assured and mature in his judgements. Bujold has a habit of dotting around, so the publishing chronology isn’t the same as the internal chronology. But while it’s worth knowing, so that the characterisation is consistent, other than that, I don’t find it too much of a problem.

Bujold is an experienced author, with a smooth, readable style and while I did enjoy this one, I was aware that there wasn’t quite the same depth of plotting, this time around. We get told that Penric is reeling from some personal losses, but I would have preferred to have had this demonstrated.

I also felt that the pacing was slightly off – the main part of the plot didn’t feel quite substantial enough to sustain the story for its length. It didn’t help that I guessed early who the culprit was – and this time around I was right. It didn’t mean that the adventure dragged – Bujold is too good a writer to let that happen, but it wasn’t as intense and fulfilling a read as usual. Which means that it was good, rather than outstanding. I’ll take that. Writers who can work at Bujold’s level consistently are rare – and an 8 is perfectly respectable.

I’ve been reading for far too long to be arrogant enough to ‘expect’ a 10 every time from any author. Because, let’s face it, a 10 is a gift of a reading experience. Something magical and mind-altering. And the day I start ‘expecting’ that is probably the day that I’ll give up reading, as I will have become far too jaded and entitled.

Recommended for fans of the series – but if you have just picked this one up, I do recommend that you go back to the beginning and start from there. Though if you do, I suggest you follow Bujold’s internal chronology, rather than the publishing one.

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc The Killer in the Choir – Book 19 of The Fethering Mysteries by Simon Brett #Brainfluffbookreview #TheKillerintheChoirbookreview


I was delighted to see this offering on Netgalley, having only recently had the pleasure of reading the previous book, The Liar in the Library – see my review here. So I was still in the groove with the Fethering regulars, as well as easily able to recall the foibles of the main protagonists, Jude and Carol.

Although she hadn’t known Leonard Mallett very well, nor liked him particularly, Carole Seddon feels duty bound to attend her fellow committee member’s funeral. As she suspected, the hymns, readings and sermon are all very predictable — not unlike Leonard himself. What she couldn’t have predicted was that the deceased’s daughter would use the occasion to publicly accuse her stepmother of murder. Did Heather Mallett really kill her husband, as many Fethering residents believe? Deciding to get to the heart of the matter, Carole’s neighbour Jude joins the new community choir – and discovers that amidst the clashing egos and petty resentments lurk some decidedly false notes. At least one chorister would appear to be hiding a deadly secret — and it’s up to Carole and Jude to unearth the truth.

What I particularly enjoy about this series, is that while the murder investigation is the engine that powers the plot, Brett also gives us a real slice of life within the Fethering community. We get an insight into what matters to this community – both good and bad – and Brett isn’t afraid to take a pop at the frailties of the characters he depicts. There is an edge to his observations and I enjoy seeing how he plays with our assumptions – and then throws in a twist, such as the fact that buttoned-up Carol previously had a fling with the village landlord. In fact, I don’t particularly like Carol, whose self-righteous, rather jealous behaviour frankly gets on my nerves – however those traits help to make her effective at worrying at a mystery until she has solved it to her satisfaction. It certainly doesn’t impact on my enjoyment, as her rather jaundiced, sour observations are also insightful and rather funny – and while I don’t like her, I do like the more easy-going, relaxed Jude.

I found this investigation even more enjoyable than the previous one – there were several real surprises that had me reading far into the night to find out what was going to happen next. I’d figured out what happened and why – until the denouement, when I realised that I’d got it completely wrong. Nonetheless, despite my complete misreading of the situation, the perpetrator and the reasons for the wicked deed made absolute sense – and the clues were there. In short, Brett writes a cracking whodunit with a very well-plotted mystery which is a joy to read.

I haven’t read all nineteen of these entertaining books – but given just how much I have enjoyed these last two, I am definitely going to be visiting Fethering again. This series is far too much fun to miss out on. While I obtained an arc of The Killer in the Choir from Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc The Liar in the Library – Book 18 of the Fethering Mysteries by Simon Brett


Simon Brett is patron of the West Sussex Writers club, so I have had the pleasure of hearing him speak a number of times. His witty take on the world pervades this pleasing cosy mystery.

When an author event at the local library ends in murder, Jude finds herself a suspect in the waspishly witty new Fethering mystery. Having been booked to give a talk at Fethering Library, successful author Burton St Clair invites his old friend Jude to come along. Although they haven’t met for twenty years, Jude is not surprised to find that St Clair hasn’t changed, with his towering ego and somewhat shaky relationship with the truth. What Jude hadn’t been suspecting however was that the evening would end in sudden, violent death. More worrying, from Jude’s point of view, is the fact that the investigating police officers seem to be convinced that she herself was responsible for the crime. With the evidence stacking up against her, Jude enlists the help of her neighbour Carole not just to solve the murder but to prevent herself from being arrested for committing it.

Set in a small village literally a stone’s throw from where we live in Littlehampton, which is mentioned several times in the book, I’ll freely admit that one of the attractions with this entertaining whodunit is the fact that I recognise the towns they visit. It is rather fun to so clearly visualise the setting during the investigation, even if the village of Fethering is a construct. Of course, the book would be a downright trudge if that was the only thing going for it, so the fact that I really like Jude and her relationship with her rather prickly neighbour, Carole. It’s a bonus they are both retired and of a certain age – while I haven’t yet retired, I’m also well into middle age and it’s a solid pleasure to read a book with two female protagonists who reflect my own age-group. It doesn’t happen all that often…

Jude is a thoroughly likeable protagonist, who during the story becomes the chief suspect in the murder. These days, with our overloaded justice system, it’s all too believable to see a scenario where she could be imprisoned for perpetrating a crime she didn’t commit, so the stakes in this case are far higher than terminal boredom. What turns this readable adventure into pure delight, however, are the acidic observations Jude and Carole both have on the world and the characters around them. Brett doesn’t hold back from having a pop at the state of the publishing industry and the struggles rural libraries are having to keep going, amongst other aspects of life in modern England – as well as the protagonists’ observations about the other characters they come into contact while on the case. Several times I giggled aloud at a nicely pithy phrase.

Any grizzles? Well, I was rather taken aback at having a crucial scene in the book where Jude is explaining the denouement glossed over in half a page, rather than being given the reactions of the characters involved. As the stakes were so high at this stage, I expected at least the first section to be fully depicted and the fact it wasn’t jarred with me. This is, after all, one of the planks of this particular genre and while Brett often successfully plays with readers’ expectations, this time it didn’t work. However, that is the only niggle and it certainly isn’t a dealbreaker. I found the ending not only satisfying, but unexpectedly poignant. If you are looking for an entertaining cosy mystery with a thoroughly modern take on the genre, then go looking for this offering – it reminded me all over again why I enjoy Brett’s writing so much. While I obtained an arc of The Liar in the Library from Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of KINDLE EBOOK The Student Body – An E.J. Pugh Mystery by Susan Rogers Cooper


The blurb and arresting cover caught my attention and as I felt in the mood for an amusing contemporary whodunit, I requested the Netgalley arc.

Graham Pugh should be having a ball as a first-year student at the University of Texas in Austin. Unfortunately for him, his roommate, Bishop ‘Call Me Bish’ Alexander, is an arrogant asshole he can’t stand, to the point of dreaming of killing him in his sleep. Even more unfortunately for Graham, when he wakes up early one morning for a lecture, he finds that Bishop actually is dead on the floor. With Graham the prime suspect, E.J., Willis and the girls race up to Austin immediately. Unsurprisingly, it just so happens that Bishop annoyed a lot of people on campus, not just Graham. But who killed him? E.J. is soon facing a desperate battle to prove her son’s innocence.

This story, told in multiple pov with E.J.’s viewpoint in first person, was a bit grittier than I’d originally assumed. There were regular flashes of humour and plenty of snarky dialogue – but E.J. was too genuinely distressed at the prospect of her son being accused of murdering the unspeakable Bish for it to be truly comedic. In true whodunit tradition, no one appeared to care much for Bish, who was greedy, insulting and manipulative such that even his own mother wasn’t shedding too many tears.
As for the hapless Graham – despite the fact that there wasn’t any hard and fast proof that he had done it – the local police commander heading up the investigation decided early on that he was the only viable suspect. While I haven’t read any of the previous E.J. Pugh murder mysteries, I did get the sense that in this one, she is further out of her comfort zone than usual. What worked really well, was the uncomfortable dynamic between Graham and E.J.

Under normal circumstances, children leaving for college helps to establish them as adults. Though often needs parental assistance, it tends to be from a distance. Not so when Graham finds himself the chief suspect in a murder investigation that has the campus buzzing. When he calls his mother in, the two of them are clearly floundering. E.J. is concerned and protective, while Graham is terrified and wanting help – but not so that any of his peers would notice that it’s his mother offering the much-needed assistance.

Indeed, I found E.J. a fascinating protagonist. She certainly has edges. As well as battling her overly protective maternal instincts, she seems very ambivalent towards her husband. I had expected him to be the rock on which she leans as she negotiates this tricky investigation – but that role falls to Luna, her neighbour and local policewoman, who travels to Austin out of her jurisdiction to work with the crusty, recently divorced Champion heading up the case. Getting the measure of her character was every bit as interesting as the murder mystery, which has plenty of twists and turns – though I would have liked a sense that the victim was more than just a complete tosser who was universally unpleasant to everyone.

As for the denouement – while one of the key suspects was early on easy to spot, I certainly didn’t guess the motive or the actual murder suspect before the climactic reveal. This is an entertaining cosy murder mystery with plenty going on and an interesting protagonist. Recommended.

While I obtained the arc of The Student Body from the publisher via NetGalley, this has in no way influenced my unbiased review.

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of KINDLE Ebook Sherlock Mars by Jackie Kingon


The quirky title and interesting premise caught my eye – I’m always a sucker for crime set in space, so I requested the arc.

Molly Marbles runs a successful bistro on terraformed Mars. But a virtual restaurant opens near her place, offering the experience of delicacies from across the Solar System with none of the calories. What will this do to her business? Then its owner is murdered in her kitchen. Molly, an amateur detective, springs into action to help the police solve the mystery, while also planning her pop-star daughter’s wedding, keeping her kitchen staff from feuding, and protecting her cyborg friend from the humans-only mob. Meanwhile, the infamous Cereal Serial Killer has escaped prison on Pluto and has everyone worried. Things are getting hectic, but Molly is a resilient and resourceful woman. And her knack for mysteries sees her nick-named ‘Sherlock Mars’.

This is basically a cosy mystery set in space. It has the classic ingredients – a victim that no one seems to care all that much about; a quirky, successful restaurant owner who inexplicably has sufficient time to shoot off here, there and everywhere to run down a number of clues; a friendly law enforcement officer who is happy to let Molly have crucial details of the ongoing case; lots of foodie details along the way.

I like Molly – the fact that she is happily married with adult children and is rushing around organising a wedding for one of them is a major plus point as far as I’m concerned. It’s nice to see women of a certain age confident in her ability and established in a stable relationship and career featuring as the main protagonist for a change. However, while she is crazily busy, I did feel her characterisation was a little thin – mostly because the continual stream of puns and gags around the future version of the past crowded out the opportunities for us to bond with her.

The worldbuilding is detailed and builds up a clear picture of exactly what life is like on Mars for Molly and her family. We get plenty of descriptions of the places they visit and in particular, the build-up to the wedding and the celebration, but again, the focus on the one-liners and wordplay inevitably skews some of the detail, as destinations and placenames are clearly only added for the sake of the gag. The situation regarding androids as political tensions rise around their status is nicely handled and I did enjoy Molly’s relationship with her friend Jersey, whose husband, Trenton, is an android. The only problem I did have, is that given the abilities Trenton displayed in manufacturing a range of goods for Jersey, it did occur to me that the fears of unmodified humans were very well founded – and that aspect simply wasn’t investigated. Perhaps it is being left for another book in the series, as although at no time is this book flagged as the second in a series, there is clearly a previous book somewhere about another case earlier in Molly’s life.

The solution to the case worked well, in that the murderer is someone who has a strong reason for killing the victim and is well placed to keep threatening Molly as she endeavours to track down the perpetrator. The various story arcs are nicely tied up and overall, it comes to a satisfactory conclusion – but I cannot help thinking that if there were a few less puns and wordplay jokes, the overall characterisation and scene setting could have been a lot stronger.

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of KINDLE Ebook Snared Book 16 of the Elemental Assassin series by Jennifer Estep


Last year, I plunged into the tail-end of this series, Unraveled – see my review here. So when I saw Snared was available, I immediately requested the arc from Netgalley, keen for another slice of the feisty Gin Blanco…

Another week, another few clues trickling in about the Circle, the mysterious group that supposedly runs the city’s underworld. Gathering intel on my hidden enemies is a painstaking process, but a more immediate mystery has popped up on my radar: a missing girl. My search for the girl begins on the mean streets of Ashland, but with all the killers and crooks in this city, I’m not holding out much hope that she’s still alive. A series of clues leads me down an increasingly dark, dangerous path, and I realize that the missing girl is really just the first thread in this web of evil. As an assassin, I’m used to facing down the worst of the worst, but nothing prepares me for this new, terrifying enemy—one who strikes from the shadows and is determined to make me the next victim.

The overall tone and setting for this urban fantasy offering is darker than the breezy gung-go fun to be had at the Bullet Pointe western theme park where all the action took place in Unraveled. In this adventure, we start with the death of a young girl and the disappearance of another. As Gin watches the anguish of her sister, desperate to get her back, it takes her back to her own troubled past – and this is where Estep’s skill and experience kicks in. For those of us with the poor judgement to crash midway into this series, this provides us with valuable nuggets of information about Gin’s backstory – for those who have been following the series, this will doubtless provide further layers of characterisation.

While I’m sure there are nuances and allusions I am missing, at no point was I adrift, or struggling to work out what was happening to whom. I enjoy Gin’s gritty, rather violent take on Life as she is confronted with a range of unpleasant underworld characters. Her ice and stone magic give her some significant advantages in any kind of shootout or battle – but she isn’t invulnerable and when her own cockiness gets her into a very tricky situation, help comes from a completely unexpected quarter.

I really enjoyed the various plot turns snaking through this whodunit plot, where all is not as it seems, as well as savouring the extra information we learn about her traumatic childhood. Once more, an wholly enjoyable urban fantasy adventure full of action and twisty goodness.

While I obtained the arc of Snared from the publisher via NetGalley, this has in no way influenced my unbiased review.

Review of City of the Lost – Book 1 of the Casey Duncan series by Kelley Armstrong


I enjoy Kelley Armstrong’s writing – see my review of Omens here. So when I saw City of the Lost on the library shelves I scooped it up.

cityofthelostCasey Duncan once killed a man and got away with it. Since then she’s become a talented police detective, tethered only to her job, her best friend, Diana, and the occasional evening with her sexy, no-strings-attached ex-con lover, Kurt. But then Casey’s own dark past begins to catch up with her. The two women need to run—and Diana’s heard of a place where they won’t be found, a town especially for people like them…

One of the prerequisites for a really successful murder mystery is an enclosed community where the murderer and the victim are necessarily interacting with no way of leaving once the deed is done. Which is why the country house week-end killing was one of the staples of the early whodunits – it ticked all those boxes and gave the reader plenty of opportunity to get to know all the guests and discover guilty secrets and hidden antagonisms. In this setting – an isolated community set hundreds of miles away from modern civilisation in the wilderness – Armstrong sets up the same backdrop for her crimes, though they are a good deal less genteel than Colonel Mustard in the library with the poker.

Does it work? Oh yes – I really liked the concept of this secret town with the hard-pressed sheriff, which also has echoes of America’s Wild West past when the rule of law was overseen by one man and his deputy. But while the setting may hark back to a historical past, the protagonist certainly doesn’t. Casey is half Filipino-Chinese, with a troubled past. She has always been the outsider, never quite belonging and her only friend is Diana, who also has her own problems. Casey is also a police detective and is immediately drafted in to assist the very grumpy sheriff who has a suspicious death and a missing person to contend with.

As the story gradually spools through the possible suspects, with a variety of other crimes thrown into the mix, we get to know Casey a lot better. For despite the story being told in first person pov, Casey takes some time to fully warm to. I liked that. In the days of protagonists emoting all over the place, it was a refreshing change to have a protagonist who doesn’t often show her feelings. Alongside the increasingly dire situation – think Midsomer Murders’ body count – there is a growing romance that also steadily gathers momentum throughout the book. While I generally don’t object to a romantic sub-plot, it is never the reason why I’ll pick up a book, so I was surprised to find that I really enjoyed watching this relationship unfold. I also very much enjoyed the major plot twist that explains exactly why the sheriff is perpetually bad tempered and unable to move away.

However, in order to really work, the denouement has to have plenty of drama and shock value. Despite the fact that I’d guessed who one of the main perpetrators was before the main unveiling, this still was a successful climax to the story, which Armstrong brought to a strong conclusion leaving a couple of dangling plotpoints so she will be able to resume this series in due course.

All in all, this is an enjoyable, slickly written book with plenty going on and an engaging, appealing protagonist. If you like classic murder mysteries with plenty of drama and an unfolding love story, then track down this book.

Review of Death on the Downs – A Fethering Mystery by Simon Brett


In the depths of winter, still recovering from the over-indulgence of the Christmas holidays, this entertaining whodunit certainly hits all the right spots.

Caught out in a sudden downpour during a walk on the South Downs, Carole Sedden shelters in a dilapidated barn – only to discover deathonthedownstwo fertiliser bags packed with human bones. The gossips in the Hare and Hounds, the local pub in the hamlet of Weldisham, immediately identify the corpse as Tamsin Lutteridge, a young woman who disappeared several months earlier. But when Carole and her new neighbour, Jude, investigate further, they are not so sure…

Firstly, what this novel isn’t. You don’t get a graphic anatomy lesson in decomposition as in a Patricia Cornwall or Kathy Reiches – neither is this a Rankinesk study in world-weary cynicism. Which is a refreshing change as the current whodunit trend seems to be striving to make each book more bloodily horrifying than the last. Though neither are we in a Disneyland version of the genre. Brett treats the murder with suitable seriousness and his well written heroine is far more likely to be standing next to you in Tescos than some protagonists found in more lurid novels.

However, for me the outstanding feature of the book are the descriptions of the local landscape and characters. The acerbic humour running through these word sketches are a joy to read. The narrative pace is apparently unhurried, so I wasn’t flipping back to check up on clues or characters I might have missed during a half-page of inattention. Which didn’t prevent me staying up till 2 am in order to reach the denouement, where again, Brett’s capable storytelling pedigree is apparent. The ending was suitably satisfying with all the major plotlines thoroughly tied up.

My only niggle – and I am conscious that this a matter of personal preference – is that a certain amount of mystery regarding one of the protagonists wasn’t resolved. As this was a theme running through the story I did feel a little cheated that by the end I still didn’t know all the details. However, when writing a multi-volume series, it is always a fine judgement call as to how many hooks to leave trailing in order to tempt readers to continue with the other books.

I don’t need any such inducement. Brett’s witty, well-crafted slices of West Sussex murder and mayhem are right up there, jostling with the latest steampunk and urban fantasy offerings.

Review of Whispers Underground – Book 3 in Rivers of London series by Ben Aaronovitch


D.C. Peter Grant – U.K.’s answer to Harry Dresden – serves in a little known branch of the Metropolitan Police. So in this, the third book in the series does Aaronovitch manage to sustain the energy, quirky humour and detailed knowledge that has made this series so popular so quickly?

In Tuffnell Park, North London, a pair of railway tracks dive under a school, taking trains to and from Kings Cross. Wet, filthy, dangerous. Lovely place. And one Sunday before Christmas a sweet (sort of) kid called Abigail took me and my long-suffering Lesley May down there to look for a ghost.

We found one.

whispersundergroundAnd that was that, I thought, because come Monday, I get to do some proper policing. Persons Unknown has been stabbed to death on the tracks at Baker Street tube. Magic may have been involved. And sure enough, in the blood; vestigia, the tell-tale trail magic leaves. Person Unknown turns out to be the son of a US senator and before you can say ‘International Incident’, FBI agent Kimberley Reynolds and her firmly held religious beliefs are on my case. And down in the dark, in the tunnels of London’s Underground, the buried rivers, the Victorian sewers, I’m hearing whispers of ancient arts and tortured, vengeful spirits…

That’s the premise – and with that we are whisked off in Peter Grant’s engaging, chirpy first person viewpoint to a ringside seat as he embarks on another investigation. Once more, we are treated to his cinematic descriptions of the city he clearly loves and knows as well as a London cabbie, while he plunges into another plot more twisty than Mama Thames herself.

Lesley May is accompanying him for most of the ride – and the sparky, yet poignant interaction between the two of them lit up sections of the book for me. In any successful long-running series, it becomes as much about the supporting characters as the protagonist. Aaronovitch doesn’t rely solely on having one of the most cheekily engaging main characters to keep our interest – he also surrounds Peter with a quirky cast. This ranges from Molly, the housekeeper at The Folly (think Mrs Hudson with sharp teeth and chronic insomnia); Detective Chief Inspector Thomas Nightingale, Peter’s boss and that last official English wizard, to the pantheon of headstrong river goddesses who all seem to have a bit of a thing for Peter…

Aaronovitch is a highly experienced writer and knows that one of his writing strengths is creating powerfully effective backdrops, providing mood music to the action. This book has underground tunnels as a creepy setting to the action – not just the Underground, but also slices of the complex warren that burrows under London for a variety of purposes. I’d strongly advise you to avoid reading the passages set in the sewer while eating your dinner – it’ll put you right off your food…

Whispers Underground is every bit as good as the first two books – if anything, better. Peter’s character sings off the page and as Aaronovitch refines and fleshes out the world and supporting cast, his voice gains in emotional depth and confidence. This is certainly one of 2012’s outstanding reads.

Review of The Fourth Wall – Book 3 of the Dagmar Shaw series by Walter Jon Williams


This book is told in first person present tense and this time, we are not in Dagmar’s viewpoint. The protagonist in this story is Sean Makin, ex-child star who at the height of his acting career was a household name and earned millions – which his parents have all taken. So as a failed adult actor, he is reduced to humiliating himself in shows like Celebrity Pitfight – think of Gladiators crossed with I’m A Celebrity Get Me Out of Here

4thwallWhen he meets Dagmar Shaw and is considered for the lead part in her latest film project, he thinks his dreams have come true. However, what Sean doesn’t know is that people often have a shortened life expectancy around Dagmar. Perhaps he should have paid more attention to the SUV that nearly knocked him down…

I’ve read all three books in this series. One of its strengths is that you don’t have to read any of the others to fully enjoy this particular book, where we have moved on. However, having read the first two, one of the pleasures was to see Dagmar through the lens of someone else – someone so essentially self-absorbed that she wasn’t particularly important to him. Until the end, that is…

So, change of protagonist; change of viewpoint and tense; complete change of scenario – gone are the politics and world-awareness of the first two books. Sean is only vaguely conscious there is a vicious war going on, as all his attention and energy is focused on Hollywood and events unfolding around him. Does it work?

Oh yes – this is an absolute joy. This is the book where Williams really hits his stride – and confirms for me just how uncomfortable he was with Dagmar as the main protagonist. Because Sean is inspired – there are layers in his characterisation that are wonderful, both tragic and hilarious. There were always occasional shafts of dark humour lancing through Williams’ other two books in the series – but in the character of Sean, Williams has given his readers an intimate and unforgiving insight into the life of a Hollywood actor. It is pathetic, funny and shocking by turns – all delivered in Sean’s pinpoint-sharp voice. The whodunit running through the filming is entertainingly twisty – I enjoyed the unexpectedness of the deaths and trying to work out who was the perpetrator.  And the fourth wall of the title?  This is the invisible barrier that the actors have to reach through in order to reach their audience.

There has been some criticism that the final denouement was something of an anti-climax. Which had me scratching my head, wondering whether we’d been reading the same book. I thought the ultimate twist provided by Dagmar was an amazing conclusion to the story – although I’ll concede that the whodunit discovery was slightly workaday. But surely, isn’t that the point? Isn’t that Williams playing a game with his readers – giving them a relatively bland payoff, as a caricature of a Hollywood-type ending? If he’d left it at that, then I think they have some cause for grumbling – but he doesn’t. He goes on to produce the real ending, which delivers an almighty punch.

All in all, this is one of the best books I’ve read in 2012. Sean is a wonderful creation and I’m hoping that Williams hasn’t done with him – I’d love another slice of Sean’s life. Please?