An Announcement

I started Killing Time (as opposed to killing time, which I’ve been doing much longer) way, way back in 2011. Life, frankly, was a tad simpler back then. And by many people’s standards I still don’t have anything near what could be called a complicated life. But what I do have, without getting too personal, is a diminishing amount of reading time.

I still read a lot, and will continue to do so while I still have sight (and then I suppose I’ll move on to audio books). What I’ve realised, though, is that I need to start picking and choosing my reading material to make the most of my reading time. This is still likely to include a lot of crime fiction, obviously, so I’ll probably still talk about that here, but I’ve made the decision to stop accepting books for review (or indeed taking part in blog tours and the like).

This is not to say that I’m being sent loads of rubbish. Quite the opposite. I receive a lot of really good books – I also receive a lot of books that are probably really good but that I won’t get to read, at least not for a long time. And that’s a tiny bit heartbreaking. I appreciate that’s all part of the book blogging game these days, and it’s fantastic that publishers and authors are embracing the online communities that are so passionate about books and reading. I will remain a member, and book blogs will continue to be my first port of call when I want to know what’s worth reading.

I have discovered some amazing books and authors via the blog that I would not have otherwise, and there are some that I probably wouldn’t know about to this day, which is a very strange thought. I won’t name names here, the chances are regular readers and correspondents will know already.

This is not goodbye. I’ll still be around on Twitter as @garethesque (I haven’t quite decided what to do with @thekillingtime – I think it’ll probably stay there for now). And I’ll still be boring people about books at every opportunity. And I’m sure the occasional post will continue to appear here. In the meantime, there are many excellent, independent book bloggers out there, across all genres. Again, I’m not going to try and specify any for fear of forgetting a gem (but you could, ahem, take a look at the links page if you were so minded).

Finally, thank you. Thank you for reading, for getting in touch, for sharing your thoughts and stories.

Gareth

Nowhere Girl by Ruth Dugdall – Review

Nowhere Girl
by Ruth Dugdall
(Legend Press, 2015)

Nowhere Girl

When Ellie goes missing on the first day of Schueberfouer, the police are dismissive, keen not to attract negative attention on one of Luxembourg’s most important events.

Probation officer Cate Austin has moved with her daughter Amelia to live with her police detective boyfriend Olivier Massard. But when she realises just how casually he is taking the disappearance of Ellie, Cate decides to investigate matters for herself. She discovers Luxembourg has a dark heart. With its geographical position, could it be the centre of a child trafficking ring? As Cate comes closer to discovering Ellie’s whereabouts she uncovers a hidden world, placing herself in danger, not just from traffickers, but from a source much closer to home.

I was a big fan of Ruth Dugdall’s previous book, Humber Boy B, and Nowhere Girl sees the return of Cate Austin (in her fourth outing), but, troubled by the events of the preceding novel, she has taken a year out and moved to Luxembourg with her boyfriend, seeking a fresh start. Freed from her demanding job, Cate enjoys being able to focus on life as a mother and a more sedate pace of life, leaving the crime-fighting to Olivier. But when a young girl goes missing, she begins to think the police aren’t taking it seriously enough and ends up doing some investigating of her own.

It’s quite a bold move, uprooting your protagonist a few books into a series, but it pays off. We get to see a new side to Cate, and the new setting has plenty of scope to explore some contemporary issues in an unfamiliar environment.

Dugdall has given voice to characters representing the more marginalised sections of society in previous books and in Nowhere Girl does the same for illegal immigrants with Amina, a young Algerian girl in search of a better, safer life in Europe. Dugdall’s channelling of a character with experiences few readers will be able to directly relate to is very impressive, and often moving.

As with the previous books in the series, the viewpoint switches between several characters. We have Cate and Amina, and also Emma’s mother Bridget, the sort of complex character you’re glad to be able to hear from directly.

Once again I was left marvelling at Dugdall’s skilful plotting, as all the strands gradually weave together with no loose ends. In my review of Humber Boy B, I said that it was a novel that reminded us what great crime fiction can do, and I feel the same about Nowhere Girl. Dugdall tackles some serious issues and gives life to some believable and sympathetic characters, all within a fast-paced thriller.

Nowhere Girl is out now in paperback and ebook.

Review copy from Legend Press, with thanks.

Liverpool by Luca Veste

As part of the blog tour for his new novel Bloodstream, Luca Veste has written a guest post for us on why he chose Liverpool as the setting for his books.


Luca Veste

Luca Veste

One of the questions I’m asked quite regularly is about the setting of my books. They’re Liverpool based, with my two detectives occupying space at a station near the city centre, termed ‘Liverpool North’ by command. The questions usually come in the form of “why Liverpool?”, which I think is just a way of asking what the city offers, rather than a “what were you thinking?!”. Or, I get asked why there’s not much crime fiction set in Liverpool (this sometimes come with a knowing smirk, as if I’m going to join in with the cliche that Liverpool is a hotbed for crime – spoiler alert: it’s not). If it’s during a live event, I have a stock answer about how much the city has to offer a writer. The many different parts of Liverpool to explore, the history and the people. As to why there’s not more crime fiction set in the city, I smile and say I don’t really know. Say I can only speak from experience, but some publishers were wary of taking on the book when it was first being sent around, as they didn’t really have any form for selling books set in the city.

The truth about why I set my books in Liverpool, simple… to set them anywhere else wouldn’t feel right to me. It’s the city I love most. It’s a city of endless wonder. It’s a city I still don’t know enough about, despite living within or a few minutes away from, for thirty odd years. It’s a city of ridiculously rich history, of cobbled stones and modern buildings. Of great character and heritage. There’s as many accents heard in town as there is in London, the four universities bringing people of all backgrounds and races to the city. It’s a city which welcomes outsiders, as long as they accept we’ll take the piss out of the way they talk for a bit. It’s a city that can have places of great riches at one end, and great poverty at the other. Of two great football teams (Liverpool and Liverpool Reserves… I joke, Everton fans!).

bloodstream

It’s a city which never apologises for what it is. That even with great tragedy will band together and fight for justice. That will stand up for what it believes in and not back down. That will withstand abuse from outside and not wither.

I know people in other major cities will say the same things about their own city. Most of us feel that way about a place they love. They’re allowed to point out its foibles and bad parts, but will defend it if someone else points them out. Loads of people believe they live in the best city or town in the world. That’s just the way of things. For me, Liverpool has everything. Rome comes a close second, mainly as it has better food, but Liverpool is where I set my books and that’s that.

When I’m writing the Murphy and Rossi books, I start with a theme. With Dead Gone, it was death and grief. With The Dying Place, it was about a generation clash between young and old in society. With Bloodstream, it’s about social media and mass media. All broad themes, which speak to society in the UK as a whole, rather than just locally. However, setting them in Liverpool gives me a base from which I feel comfortable to explore those issues. We have the tourist attractions – Albert Dock, the museums, Mathew Street – but also parts of the city people never see. Speke, Norris Green, Toxteth, and on and on. I can look at societal issues such as youth unemployment in a setting such as Liverpool, whilst also showing the places people will recognise. The inner-city clashing with its more prosperous outer neighbours. The socio-economic disparities coming to life through fiction. The haves and have-nots side by side, living each day in separate universes, colliding in desperation.

Liverpool Skyline (Photo: LivingOS https://www.flickr.com/photos/livingos/3209807847/)

Liverpool Skyline (Photo: LivingOS https://www.flickr.com/photos/livingos/3209807847/)

With Bloodstream, I wanted to examine the idea that some victims are somehow better, more newsworthy, than others. It opens with the discovery of two bodies in an abandoned house in Anfield, with their identities quickly becoming known. Two reality TV/Social Media stars, with a massive media interest in their sad end. Another couple soon turn up dead, but the media interest doesn’t shift. The focus remains on the “stars”. This is a reflection of what happens in society, a reflection of what happens in a major city. Someone with a good background, photogenic with a nice professional photograph to splash across the screen… they’ll be deemed worthy. A crime against someone more affluent seems to always mean more when it happens to someone “worthy”.

Liverpool works for me as a setting to explore those issues. It’s an incredible city, beautiful in its own inimitable way. It’s a city of culture and character. It has its good points and its bad points, just like every other city in the world. Yet, it’s my city.

Why Liverpool? Simple answer. I couldn’t imagine anywhere else I’d want to write about.

CR2hunTW0AA2JqH


Bloodstream is out now in paperback and ebook from Simon & Schuster. You can find out more about Luca on his website.

Gallows Humour by Cameron Bane

Today, Cameron Bane, author of the suspense thriller Pitfall, discusses what it’s like to write a protagonist who constantly finds the humour in dark and dangerous situations.

cameron

Cameron Bane

Many people enjoy gallows humor. I’m one. Wikipedia states it’s “finding humor in very unpleasant, serious, or painful circumstances,” a “witticism in reaction to a hopeless situation. A response to stressful, traumatic, or life-threatening events.”

The question is what it’s like to write about such a cheeky, badass protagonist. I’m glad you asked that. In my world John Brenner’s a remarkable, permanent house guest. It’s intense and passionate. Like living with a professional, finely-tuned athlete who’s constantly in training.

Writing about him is akin to sailing on a massive Caribbean cruise ship hard charging into a hurricane: thrilling, deep, and scary as hell. Before you enter the actual edge of the storm the water appears peaceful and still. But beneath you, deadly currents writhe and boil, as powerful as any freight train.

Pitfall cover image

It’s like riding the biggest, wildest, fastest roller coaster on earth. There’s a time it’s calm and level, but then the climb begins. The action ratchets up and up and up, evening out as it crests the hill, hanging for a split second before rocketing like a banshee toward the ground, sending your heart into your throat. You barely have time to register what’s happening before it’s flying skyward, nailing you into your seat and spiking your adrenaline. A series of twists, turns, corkscrews, and unexpected angles assault your every sense; even the log flume one ride over drenches you as you draw near it.

You could even say it’s like skydiving. You step out the door into a delirious azure blue. It’s intriguing, delightful, and just plain fun to write the character John Brenner. What a rush!


Cameron Bane is the nom de plume of a thriller novelist who has been writing professionally for more than a decade, with six novels commercially published. A business executive with a large company, he’s frequently circled the globe working with American military forces. He was born to a military family in the southern United States, and is an army veteran himself. Bane currently resides in the Midwest with his wife and family. He’s a member of the Authors Guild, and is a much-in-demand speaker and teacher, having taught fiction tracks for three years at a nationally ranked writers conference near Santa Fe, New Mexico.

Pitfall is out now from WildBlue Press. You can find it on Goodreads here.

PITFALL_printcover blog tour


WildBlue Press is offering a free 8GB, 7″ Kindle Fire to the writer of the most helpful review on Amazon or the review with the most likes on a Goodreads, whichever has the most before November 22nd. After your review is posted please email the date, site and a link to it to info@wildbluepress.com.

Alone with the Dead by James Nally – Review

Alone with the Dead
by James Nally
(Avon, 2015)

Alone With The DeadMeet PC Donal Lynch. Irish runaway. Insomniac. Functioning alcoholic.

Donal is new to working the beat in London, trying his best to forget that night. After all, there aren’t many police officers who can say they have a convicted murderer for an ex-girlfriend.

So when a woman is murdered on his patch, Donal throws himself into the case. As the first person on the scene, Donal can’t forget the horrific sight that faced him – and he knows this case can’t go unsolved. But how do you solve a case with no lead suspect and no evidence?

As his past catches up with him, Donal is forced to confront his demons and the girl he left behind. But what will crack first, the case or Donal?

It’s always exciting to be present at the birth of a promising new series, and James Nally’s Alone with the Dead is (hopefully) exactly that. Having read one too many very average crime novels lately, this was all the more thrilling in its originality, punchy writing and humour.

PC Donal Lynch is new to the London police force, having abandoned his native Ireland for several reasons, not least that his former girlfriend has been convicted of murder. He’s an ambitious guy, but finds himself hindered from all sides,  including his journalist brother Fintan.

All new fictional detectives need a ‘thing’, of course, and Donal’s is that he sees dead people – not unlike ‘the creepy little boy in The Sixth Sense’. Donal finds himself witnessing the final moments of the recently deceased – upsetting for him, but potentially quite useful for a police officer. I was at first unsure about this, worried about an unnecessary gimmick, but Nally makes it an important enough part of the plot, and of Donal’s character, that it doesn’t feel tacked on, and many of the scenes of his hallucinations are genuinely unnerving. Having said that, the police procedural aspect of the novel could easily stand on its own – the plot and characterisation are so strong the supernatural elements of the story can seem like an unnecessary distraction.

The novel is narrated in the first person by Donal, whose wisecracking sense of humour lightens what could otherwise be a rather unremittingly dark crime novel. Both Donal and James Nally are welcome new voices in crime fiction, and I look forward to their return.

Alone with the Dead is out now in paperback and ebook.

Review copy from Avon, with thanks.

Alone with the Dead – Extract

Killing Time is pleased to be able to host this exclusive extract from James Nally’s Alone with the Dead.

Alone With The Dead

Meet PC Donal Lynch. Irish runaway. Insomniac. Functioning alcoholic.

Donal is new to working the beat in London, trying his best to forget that night. After all, there aren’t many police officers who can say they have a convicted murderer for an ex-girlfriend.

So when a woman is murdered on his patch, Donal throws himself into the case. As the first person on the scene, Donal can’t forget the horrific sight that faced him – and he knows this case can’t go unsolved. But how do you solve a case with no lead suspect and no evidence?

As his past catches up with him, Donal is forced to confront his demons and the girl he left behind. But what will crack first, the case or Donal?


‘Try not to touch anything,’ hissed Clive, and I thought about letting the door slam into his thick head.

I floated up the stairs towards the first floor flat, adrenaline numbing my feet to the carpet beneath.

She lay on the landing, on her side, an untamed red mane of hair sprawled almost ceremonially across the carpet. Her moon-white face lay awkwardly on her outstretched arm; her bloodshot blue eyes staring into nothingness. She looked no more than twenty-five, probably younger.

Her sad mouth had cried blood. One trail made it all the way down to her slender white throat. Her flowery summer dress was laddered with stab wounds – still fresh. My head swooned. I leaned back against the wall of the landing, exhaled hard.

Clive bent down and placed a reluctant finger to her porcelain neck.

‘She put up a hell of a fight,’ he said flatly, ‘but she’s dead.’

He backed away apologetically. My eyes fastened upon her limp hand, focusing upon the nail hanging from her little finger which had almost been completely ripped off. Sadness flooded me. My stinging eyes blinked and shifted to the floor next to her: a set of keys, a handbag, her jacket, some post.

‘She must have let her killer in,’ I squeaked, sounding every bit as shocked as I felt.

‘Looks like it,’ said Clive, reassuringly unmoved.

‘Right,’ he added brightly, ‘best get back downstairs. We don’t want to contaminate the crime scene.’

A cold breath chilled the right side of my face. I turned to see a small window on the landing, slightly open. ‘Fuck,’ I said. All this time, I’d been standing between her newly dead body and an open window. Where I came from, this spelt doom. I shivered, then snapped myself out of it. There was work to be done.

I’d never understood officers who said that, in really stressful situations, ‘your training kicks in’. I did now. Clive started questioning Chiselled Ginge and taking notes. His name was Peter Ryan. He was twenty-eight. The dead woman was his wife of thirteen months, Marion, aged twenty-three.

She usually got home before six. He and Karen – a colleague from work – got back just after nine and found her like that on the landing. Police officers and forensics were wandering in, so I went outside to find Karen.

In the darkening, humming summer night, Sangora Road flashed blue and red, a grotesque carnival of morbid curiosity. Neighbours who’d never shared a word before chatted intently: lots of ‘apparently’ and ‘oh my God’. The petite, curly-haired brunette I assumed to be Karen was being comforted by a group of middle-aged men. One edgy-looking sleaze ball in a wife-beater vest and school-shooter combats rubbed her upper arm vigorously. He looked like a man who spent his life hunting down any kind of a leg-over whatsoever.

‘Karen?’ I asked. She looked up sharply, surprised by the sound of her own name. ‘PC Donal Lynch. Sorry, but I’m going to have to ask you a few questions.’ Her arm rubber – a Poster Boy for Families Need Fathers – glared at me, ready to back up his potential new squeeze against the filth.

Karen took a long deep breath and nodded. Instead of structured questions, I let her ramble. In a quivering, childlike, barely audible voice, she told me the following: her name was Karen Foster, twenty-five, from Lee in South East London, a colleague of Pete’s at the Pines old people’s home in Lambeth. She told me Pete was the gardener there. She’d given him a lift back to his flat tonight to pick up some heavy pots to take back to the home, where she lived in staff accommodation. They’d got here just after nine. He had unlocked the front door, then the door to their flat and went in first. Pete had stopped suddenly on the stairs and screamed, ‘Marion, Marion!’ He went to her. Karen had followed and saw Marion lying there. She checked for signs of life.

She shivered. Arm Rubber gave me a look that said: ‘C’mon mate, I think she’s had enough’, but I hadn’t.


Alone with the Dead is out now in paperback and ebook from Avon. A review of the book will follow later today.

The Shoeshine Killer by Marianne Wheelaghan – Review

The Shoeshine Killer
by Marianne Wheelaghan
(Pilrig Press, 2015)

The Shoeshine KillerDS Louisa Townsend is in Fiji for a money laundering conference. From the moment she arrives in the country things go wrong, including someone breaking into her room while she sleeps and mucking about with her underwear. But that pales into insignificance when she stumbles upon the murdered body of a new friend. Louisa wants to help find the truth and the killer. But DI Vika, the officer in charge of the investigation, tells her to keep out of it.

Louisa isn’t happy. The snooper is still breaking into her room, and although Louisa doesn’t know how or why, she’s sure there’s a connection between the break-ins and the murder. Determined to get to the truth, and with the help of Fijian colleague Constable Makereta, Louisa embarks on journey which takes her into Fiji’s underworld and fighting for her life.

Louisa Townsend first appeared in Food of Ghosts back in 2012. She had moved from Edinburgh to work for the Kiribati Police Service on Tarawa, a remote coral atoll in the Pacific. The Shoeshine Killer sees her travelling in Fiji for a conference. But she arrives just as a political coup has taken place, leaving her stranded along with a fellow traveller. They’re picked up by two (well-meaning) men form Australia and New Zealand who offer to share their hotel room until they can each get to where they’re supposed to be staying. Sharing a hotel room doesn’t fit easily with Louisa’s OCD, and neither does someone snooping in her room and rearranging her underwear. The next day, one of the men is found murdered, and Louisa becomes convinced that the two crimes are somehow connected.

We’re in a different location from that of Food of Ghosts (barring a brief trip back to Tarawa), but the sense of place is no less keen. In fact, if forced to choose, I’d say I got a more detailed idea of Fiji from The Shoeshine Killer than that of Tarawa in the previous book. Either way, the evocation of her exotic settings is something that Wheelaghan clearly takes a lot of effort over, and it pays off, immersing you in the unfamiliar surroundings.

The Scottish Lady Detective mysteries (as I believe the series is known) are a sort of more realistic Death in Paradise, and there are shades of Alexander McCall Smith in the often humorous, unfussy style of writing. It’s tempting to call the novel deliberately old-fashioned, and in many ways it is. However, when you drill down there are probably more contemporary elements than the opposite. Louisa is a thoroughly modern heroine, and there are explorations in The Shoeshine Killer of child exploitation, religious homophobia and underworld violence that you can’t exactly imagine MC Beaton addressing.

The Shoeshine Killer is an immersive, deceptively gritty mystery novel, and wherever Louisa Townsend is off to next, I hope we’ll be able to follow her.

The Shoeshine Killer is out now as an ebook.

Q&A with Simon Toyne

Simon Toyne is the international bestselling author of the Sanctus trilogy – Sanctus, The Key and The Tower. He wrote Sanctus after quitting his job as a TV executive and it became the biggest selling debut thriller of 2011 in the UK. His books have been translated into 27 languages and published in over 50 countries.

Simon kindly joined us to talk about his new thriller, Solomon Creed.

Simon Toyne; photo Toby Madden

Simon Toyne; photo: Toby Madden

I appreciate that giving away anything after the first few pages is something of a spoiler, but can you tell us a bit about Solomon Creed?

Solomon Creed is the name of the main character of the story. He arrives shoeless in the Arizona desert and seemingly knows everything about everything but nothing about himself. The only thing he knows for sure is that he is there to save someone. Unfortunately that person turns out to have been buried that morning. But how do you save a man who is already dead?

solomon creed

Where did the idea for Solomon Creed the character come from? Did he come before the story?

I had the general idea first, of a man who has to save others in order to ultimately save himself, then I worked backwards and spent a lot of time thinking about who that man might be and what he might look like. Solomon Creed is an albino, a blank sheet of a man, wiped clean of his past. As he starts to remember who he is he starts to get coloured in, literally and figuratively.

He’s very much in the long tradition of the knight errant or the ronin or the lone rider in westerns. He has a code and a quest and he blows into places with deep secrets and starts asking awkward questions that put him in harm’s way. I love those kinds of stories and always wanted to write one. And now I have.

Why did you decide to set the novel in the deserts of Arizona? Was a lot of research involved?

I wanted Solomon to walk out of a very hostile environment wearing inappropriate clothes to give the impression that he had just appeared and shouldn’t really be there. To my mind this meant he had to either emerge from a snowstorm wearing a T-shirt and shorts, or from a desert wearing a suit. I’d visited Arizona a few times and loved its otherworldly, elemental landscape so I went back there on a research trip looking for a place to set the book. In my previous books I’d built a whole city in Turkey – Ruin – to set the stories and it was a lot of work so I wanted to avoid that if possible. In the end, though, I couldn’t find a place that exactly fitted what I needed for the story so I ended up creating a whole town anyway, the city of Redemption.

My trip to Arizona was invaluable, though. I took hundreds of photos, some of which I’ve posted on my Pinterest page, and referred to them endlessly while writing. I’m very visual so I need to know what things look like. Going to Arizona meant I knew what it smelled and felt like too and that also made its way into the book.

Solomon Creed goes by another title in the US – The Searcher. Which title came first? Do you think one loses or gains something over the other?

Solomon Creed is my title. It’s actually the only book I’ve ever written that has retained my original title. Sanctus started life as Ruin, so did The Key, and The Tower was called End of Days. Solomon Creed was always Solomon Creed until my US publisher decided to change it to The Searcher for their market. I would have preferred it to stay as Solomon Creed, partly because I wouldn’t then have to endlessly explain to various readers on both sides of the Atlantic that it’s the same book with a different title and cover. I actually did a small survey of my writer and reader friends in the US, Canada and the UK and found that, generally, the UK readers and writers prefer the UK cover, and the US and Canadian readers and writers prefer the US one, so those marketing peeps clearly know what they’re doing. I think both covers are great, actually, so I can’t complain. Maybe we can do a straw poll of your readers too, ask them which cover and title they prefer. Answers in the comments section below. 🙂

Solomon UK UK

Your Sanctus trilogy focused very much on history and identity. Solomon Creed does this as well, albeit in a different way. Do you find yourself returning to certain themes and ideas? Why do you think they appeal?

Well, that’s very perceptive of you.

I think identity is one of those big, universal human themes that overlaps with history, philosophy, science and religion. In fact if you did a Venn diagram of those four subjects in relation to mankind then ‘identity’ would be the point where they all intersect.

As a writer, and a reader, I like stories that make me think about all the big fundamental questions – who am I? why are we here? what’s the point of everything? I also love thrillers and a fast-paced story. I want you to turn the pages and be desperate to know what happens next, but I also want to write something that has a bit more depth than the average crash and dash action story. Don’t get me wrong, I love a good, mindless action-er as much as the next person, but it takes me a year to write a book and I have to have something going on in it that engages me and makes me think a bit, otherwise I’d lose interest and I think the reader would too. I also think thrillers are a bit of a guilty pleasure and if I can inform you a bit while you’re (hopefully) frantically turning the pages, and make you think about it in a little more depth it will resonate more. And identity is central to all of us, we’re all trying to figure out who we are, so I find it endlessly fascinating. It’s a perfect thriller element too containing mystery, uncertainty, and questions seeking answers.

Sanctus trilogy

What’s next for you? Will Solomon be returning?

Yes he will. This is the first book of a new series and so, even though each book will have a self-contained story and mystery, his personal journey towards discovering who (or what) he is will continue through the series.

Next he’s heading to France to find the tailor who made his suit. I’m writing it now. It’s got Nazis and modern right-wing politics and intolerance woven into it – it’s going to be a corker.


Solomon Creed is out now in hardback and ebook from HarperCollins.

Pretty Baby by Mary Kubica – Review

Pretty Baby
by Mary Kubica
(Mira, 2015)

Pretty BabyGood Samaritan Heidi sees a dishevelled teenage girl on the station platform, standing in the pouring rain, clutching a baby in her arms.

Heidi has always been charitable, but to her family’s dismay she returns home with the girl and her baby in tow.

As Willow begins to get back on her feet, disturbing clues to her past start to emerge. Is she really who she says she is and how far will Heidi go to help the stranger?

Mary Kubica’s first novel, The Good Girl, was a surprise highlight of last year’s reading for me. Her second, Pretty Baby, is therefore less surprising, but no less entertaining.

Heidi notices a teenage girl on the subway platform, clutching a baby. She’s also there the next day, and the next. Eventually Heidi offers to buy the girl dinner. The girl’s desperation overcomes her suspiciousness and she takes Heidi up on her offer. It’s not really a spoiler to say that Heidi ends up offering the girl – Willow – somewhere to stay for a night. It’s one of those ‘what would you do?’ moments that draws you in to a story. And unlike some comparable novels in the genre, Kubica doesn’t then undermine the reader’s investment by having her characters behave in unbelievable ways.

The story is told alternately, in the present tense, from the points-of-view of Heidi and Chris. Then Willow’s voice comes in, gradually revealing how she came to be in her situation.

The characters are all very well-drawn, with a depth often lacking in the average thriller. Chris, for example, starts out as something of a stereotypical bastard, but comes more into focus as we get to know him, and gradually softens as he comes to realise what he has. Similarly, Heidi’s arc is distressingly believable, especially as certain aspects of her backstory are revealed. Throughout the first half of the book, we learn a lot about the three narrators, and Kubica invites us to wonder who is in the most danger, who has been the most harmed?

Things unravel a little quickly towards the climax, but not enough to distract from a really well-told, compelling story that plays with your expectations.

Pretty Baby is out now in paperback and ebook.

Review copy from MIRA, with thanks.