Quick Review: THE UNRAVELING OF CASSIDY HOLMES by Elissa R. Sloan (William Morrow)

SloanER-UnravelingOfCassidyHolmesUSThe dark side of celebrity and early success

Cassidy Holmes isn’t just a celebrity.

She is “Sassy Gloss,” the fourth member of the hottest pop group America has ever seen. Hotter than Britney dancing with a snake, hotter than Christina getting dirrty, Gloss was the pop act that everyone idolized. Fans couldn’t get enough of them, their music, and the drama that followed them like moths to a flame—until the group’s sudden implosion in 2002. And at the center of it all was Sassy Cassy, the Texan with a signature smirk that had everyone falling for her. 

But now she’s dead. Suicide.

The world is reeling from this unexpected news, but no one is more shocked than the three remaining Glossies. Fifteen years ago, Rose, Merry, and Yumi had been the closest to Cassidy, and this loss is hitting them hard. Before the group split, they each had a special bond with Cassidy — truths they told, secrets they shared. But after years apart, each of them is wondering: what could they have done?

I’m very fond of novels set in and around the entertainment industry. Elissa R. Sloan’s debut novel was pitched as being in the same vein as Taylor Jenkins Reid’s (superb) Daisy Jones & the Six, so my attention was immediately grabbed. I read this very soon after receiving it, and I’m happy to say I very much enjoyed it. Continue reading

Quick Review: EIGHT PERFECT MURDERS / RULES FOR PERFECT MURDERS by Peter Swanson (William Morrow / Faber)

SwansonP-EightPerfectMurdersUSAn intriguing new mystery about a bookseller who finds himself at the centre of an FBI investigation…

Years ago, bookseller and mystery aficionado Malcolm Kershaw compiled a list of the genre’s most unsolvable murders, those that are almost impossible to crack — which he titled “Eight Perfect Murders” — chosen from among the best of the best including Agatha Christie’s A. B. C. Murders, Patricia Highsmith’s Strangers on a Train, Ira Levin’s Death Trap, A. A. Milne’s Red House Mystery, Anthony Berkeley Cox’s Malice Aforethought, James M. Cain’s Double Indemnity, John D. Macdonald’s The Drowner, and Donna Tartt’s A Secret History.

But no one is more surprised than Mal, now the owner of the Old Devils Bookstore in Boston, when an FBI agent comes knocking on his door one snowy day in February. She’s looking for information about a series of unsolved murders that look eerily similar to the killings on Mal’s old list. And the FBI agent isn’t the only one interested in this bookseller who spends almost every night at home reading. The killer is out there, watching his every move — a diabolical threat who knows way too much about Mal’s personal history, especially the secrets he’s never told anyone, even his recently deceased wife.

To protect himself, Mal begins looking into possible suspects… and sees a killer in everyone around him. But Mal doesn’t count on the investigation leaving a trail of death in its wake. Suddenly, a series of shocking twists leaves more victims dead — and the noose around Mal’s neck grows so tight he might never escape.

The synopsis for this caught my attention, and the publishers were kind enough to approve my request to review it (both the North American and UK publisher gave me access to DRCs). Strangely, given how interesting Swanson’s novels sound, this is the first of his that I’ve read. An engaging and gripping read, I zipped through this in just a couple of very enjoyable sittings. Continue reading

Quick Review: HOUR OF THE ASSASSIN by Matthew Quirk (William Morrow)

QuirkM-HourOfTheAssassinUSA very fast-paced, political conspiracy thriller

Framed and on the run for his life, a former Secret Service agent discovers how far some men will go to grasp the highest office in the land…

As a Secret Service agent, Nick Averose spent a decade protecting the most powerful men and women in America and developed a unique gift: the ability to think like an assassin. Now, he uses that skill in a little-known but crucial job. As a “red teamer,” he poses as a threat, testing the security around our highest officials to find vulnerabilities — before our enemies can. He is a mock killer, capable of slipping past even the best defenses.

His latest assignment is to assess the security surrounding the former CIA director at his DC area home. But soon after he breaches the man’s study, the home’s inner sanctum, Nick finds himself entangled in a vicious crime that will shake Washington to its foundations — as all the evidence points to Nick.

Nick knows he’s the perfect scapegoat. But who is framing him, and why? To clear his name, he must find the truth — a search that leads to a dark conspiracy whose roots stretch back decades. The prize is the most powerful position in the world: the Oval Office.

To save himself and the people he loves, Nick must stop the men who rule Washington before they bury him along with their secrets. 

I’ve been a fan of Matthew Quirk’s novels ever since I got my hands on an ARC of his debut, The 500. I blitzed through it in one long, gloriously entertaining sitting (staying up way into the night). Since then, I’ve read most of his novels and each has been a fast-paced thriller set in and around American politics — often in and around D.C., specifically. Hour of the Assassin is exactly the kind of novel I expected from Quirk: fast-paced, entertaining, and filled with commentary on the state of modern politics. Continue reading

Quick Review: THE NIGHT AGENT by Matthew Quirk (William Morrow)

QuirkM-NightAgentUSA fast-paced, gripping political conspiracy thriller

To find a Russian mole in the White House, an FBI agent must question everything… and trust no one

No one was more surprised than FBI Agent Peter Sutherland when he’s tapped to work in the White House Situation Room. From his earliest days as a surveillance specialist, Peter has scrupulously done everything by the book, hoping his record will help him escape the taint of his past. When Peter was a boy, his father, a section chief in FBI counterintelligence, was suspected of selling secrets to the Russians — a catastrophic breach that had cost him his career, his reputation, and eventually his life.

Peter knows intimately how one broken rule can cost lives. Nowhere is he more vigilant than in this room, the sanctum of America’s secrets. Staffing the night action desk, his job is monitoring an emergency line for a call that has not — and might never — come.

Until tonight.

At 1:05 a.m. the phone rings. A terrified young woman named Rose tells Peter that her aunt and uncle have just been murdered and that the killer is still in the house with her. Before their deaths, they gave her this phone number with urgent instructions: “Tell them OSPREY was right. It’s happening…”

The call thrusts Peter into the heart of a conspiracy years in the making, involving a Russian mole at the highest levels of the government. Anyone in the White House could be the traitor. Anyone could be corrupted. To save the nation, Peter must take the rules into his own hands and do the right thing, no matter the cost. He plunges into a desperate hunt for the traitor — a treacherous odyssey that pits him and Rose against some of Russia’s most skilled and ruthless operatives and the full force of the FBI itself.

Peter knows that the wider a secret is broadcast, the more dangerous it gets for the people at the center. With the fate of the country on the line, he and Rose must evade seasoned assassins and maneuver past jolting betrayals to find the shocking truth — and stop the threat from inside before it’s too late.

That surprisingly long synopsis does set up the plot for Matthew Quirk’s latest fast-paced thriller rather well. Peter Sutherland is languishing in the basement of the White House, working for two prominent administration staffers, in a strange, important-yet-unexciting job. Then, with a single phone call, his job and life is thrown completely out of whack. What follows is 400~ pages of breakneck paced thriller action and conspiracy. This is an entertaining, well-written thriller. Continue reading

Upcoming: AMERICAN POP by Snowden Wright (William Morrow)

WrightS-AmericanPopUSI already have a review copy of Snowden Wright‘s upcoming American Pop — the fictionalized story of the Forsters, the founders of America’s first major soft-drink company. I’ll probably be reading it very soon, though I’ll be holding off on posting a review until closer to its release date (it’s now due to hit shelves until next year…) Now that there’s a cover, though, I decided to feature it on CR. Here’s the synopsis, which caught my attention:

The story of a family.

The story of an empire.

The story of a nation.

Moving from Mississippi to Paris to New York and back again, an epic saga of family, ambition, passion, and tragedy that brings to life one unforgettable Southern dynasty — the Forsters, founders of the world’s first major soft-drink company — against the backdrop of more than a century of American cultural history.

The child of immigrants, Houghton Forster has always wanted more — from his time as a young boy in Mississippi, working twelve-hour days at his father’s drugstore; to the moment he first laid eyes on his future wife, Annabelle Teague, a true Southern belle of aristocratic lineage; to his invention of the delicious fizzy drink that would transform him from tiller boy into the founder of an empire, the Panola Cola Company, and entice a youthful, enterprising nation entering a hopeful new age.

Now the heads of a preeminent American family spoken about in the same breath as the Hearsts and the Rockefellers, Houghton and Annabelle raise their four children with the expectation they’ll one day become world leaders. The burden of greatness falls early on eldest son Montgomery, a handsome and successful politician who has never recovered from the horrors and heartbreak of the Great War. His younger siblings Ramsey and Lance, known as the “infernal twins,” are rivals not only in wit and beauty, but in their utter carelessness with the lives and hearts of others. Their brother Harold, as gentle and caring as the twins can be cruel, is slowed by a mental disability — and later generations seem equally plagued by misfortune, forcing Houghton to seriously consider: who should control the company after he’s gone?

An irresistible tour de force of original storytelling, American Pop blends fact and fiction, the mundane and the mythical, and utilizes techniques of historical reportage to capture how, in Nathaniel Hawthorne’s words, “families are always rising and falling in America,” and to explore the many ways in which nostalgia can manipulate cultural memory — and the stories we choose to tell about ourselves.

American Pop is due to be published by William Morrow on February 5th, 2019. (As far as I can tell, it will be available on import in the UK, but not sure if it’s getting a full release.) The novel has already been getting some great advance praise. For example, this blurb from Jonathan Dee:

“The House of Forster is built on bubbles; watching each wealth-addled generation try not to blow the family fortune and/or disgrace its name provides not only excellent Gothic fun but a panoramic tour of the American Century — and Snowden Wright’s voice has all the Southern charm and lightly worn wisdom you’d expect from a writer with a name like Snowden Wright.”

Follow the Author: Website, Goodreads, Twitter

Interview with JAMEY BRADBURY

BradburyJ-AuthorPic (Brooke Taylor)Let’s start with an introduction: Who is Jamey Bradbury?

I’m a Midwesterner by birth and an Alaskan by choice whose cat, at the moment, keeps getting in the way of my keyboard. And I’m a writer who likes smashing genres into each other to see what happens. I have been, in the past, a receptionist, an actor with a dinner theater company, a volunteer, a CPR instructor, and a professional poop-scooper. Right now, I happily divide my life between writing fiction and doing storytelling for an Alaska Native social services organization.

Your debut novel, The Wild Inside, was published by William Morrow in March. It looks really interesting: How would you introduce it to a potential reader?

It’s partly a horror novel, partly a suspense novel, partly a coming-of-age story, set against the backdrop of sled dog racing in Alaska. Plot-wise, it’s about a girl with a love for hunting who has to contend with a pair of strangers who show up on her doorstep, one of whom is mortally wounded — something that may or may not have been her fault. At its heart, though, The Wild Inside is about whether it’s really possible for people to truly know each other. Continue reading

Interview with PETER SWANSON

SwansonP-AuthorPicLet’s start with an introduction: Who is Peter Swanson?

At this particular moment I’m a lump on a couch getting over a spring cold and looking forward to the start of the baseball season. I aspire to a dull life while at the same time concoct very un-dull lives for my characters.

Prior to being a full time writer I was a bookseller, a teacher, a bartender, a bookseller, and a blogger. And through it all I’ve been an avid reader, primarily of mystery and crime novels. I like to think that I am now living my ideal life.

Your latest novel, All the Beautiful Lies, will be published by William Morrow in April. It looks really interesting: How would you introduce it to a potential reader?

I like to think of it as two stories that converge into one. In the first story a recent college graduate named Harry Ackerson moves in with his stepmother after his father’s death, and discovers that his father led a secret life. In the other story we follow his stepmother, Alice Moss, going back to when she was a teenage girl, and the events that turned her into the adult she becomes. Continue reading

Review: KILLFILE and FLASHMOB by Christopher Farnsworth (William Morrow/Zaffre)

FarnsworthC-KillfileUSThe first two John Smith novels… which will make you terrified of the internet

John Smith possesses a special gift that seems more like a curse: he can access other people’s thoughts. He hears the songs stuck in their heads, knows their most private traumas and fears, and relives the painful memories they can’t let go of. The CIA honed his skills until he was one of their most powerful operatives, but John fled the Agency and now works as a private consultant, trying to keep the dark potentials of his gift in check — and himself out of trouble.

Unfortunately, John is unexpectedly plunged into dangerous waters when his latest client, billionaire software genius Everett Sloan, hires him to investigate a former employee — a tech whiz kid named Eli Preston — and search his thoughts for some very valuable intellectual property Sloan is convinced he’s stolen. But before John can probe Preston’s mind, his identity is compromised and he’s on the run for his life, along with Sloane’s young associate, Kelsey Foster.

Hunted by shadowy enemies with extensive resources and unknown motives, John and Kelsey must go off the grid. And John knows that using his powers to their fullest potential is their only hope for survival — even if it means putting his own sanity at risk.

In Killfile, we’re introduced to John Smith: the man you call if you need a situation handled quietly, and out of the eyes of the law. He’s also the one you contact if you need to extract information or discover others’ intentions. You see, from the opening pages, we learn that he is pretty unique: he is psychic — actually psychic, not a parlour magician who’s just very good at reading gullible tourists.

Killfile is a briskly-paced novel, and one that will pull the reader through from start to finish. I blitzed through this in just two sittings, and immediately began the sequel. A strong series opener, in a series that looks like it could have strong staying power. Continue reading

Excerpt: HUNT YOU DOWN by Christopher Farnsworth (Zaffre)

FarnsworthC-HuntYouDownUKToday, we have a short excerpt from Christopher Farnsworth‘s latest thriller, Hunt You Down. The second novel in the author’s John Smith series, it is published in the UK by Zaffre today. Here’s the synopsis:

John Smith is no ordinary gun for hire.

Smith is a man of rare gifts, and he knows your every thought…

Hired to track down a shooter targeting the rich and famous, Smith must complete his mission before another attack takes place. But when a website on the dark net is found to have connections to the murders, Smith realises that taking down a shadowy figure who has weaponised the internet will prove more difficult than he first thought.

And no matter how hard he tries, this criminal mastermind continues to remain one step ahead.

The novel is published in North America by William Morrow, as Flashmob. The first novel in the series, Kill File, is also published by Zaffre and William Morrow. Now, here’s the excerpt…

Continue reading

Review: THE FORCE by Don Winslow (Harper Collins/William Morrow)

WinslowD-TheForceUKPossibly the best thriller (or novel) of the year?

Everyone can be bought. At the right price…

Detective sergeant Denny Malone leads an elite unit to fight gangs, drugs and guns in New York. For eighteen years he’s been on the front lines, doing whatever it takes to survive in a city built by ambition and corruption, where no one is clean.

What only a few know is that Denny Malone himself is dirty: he and his partners have stolen millions of dollars in drugs and cash. Now he’s caught in a trap and being squeezed by the Feds, and he must walk a thin line of betrayal, while the city teeters on the brink of a racial conflagration that could destroy them all.

Don Winslow’s latest novel is a haunting story of greed and violence, inequality and race, and a searing portrait of a city on the edge of an abyss. Full of shocking twists, this is a morally complex and riveting dissection of the controversial issues confronting society today.

The Force is the first of Winslow’s novels that I’ve read. It will definitely not be the last. There was a lot of pre-publication buzz surrounding this novel, and I can certainly now see why: it’s superb. On almost every level, this novel is a triumph. Continue reading