Review: Caraval by @SGarberGirl @Flatironbooks

Goodreads|Amazon|Author Website
Release date: January 31, 2017

Publisher: Flatiron Books

Genre: YA, Fantasy 


Welcome, welcome to Caraval―Stephanie Garber’s sweeping tale of two sisters who escape their ruthless father when they enter the dangerous intrigue of a legendary game.

Scarlett has never left the tiny island where she and her beloved sister, Tella, live with their powerful, and cruel, father. Now Scarlett’s father has arranged a marriage for her, and Scarlett thinks her dreams of seeing Caraval, the far-away, once-a-year performance where the audience participates in the show, are over.

But this year, Scarlett’s long-dreamt of invitation finally arrives. With the help of a mysterious sailor, Tella whisks Scarlett away to the show. Only, as soon as they arrive, Tella is kidnapped by Caraval’s mastermind organizer, Legend. It turns out that this season’s Caraval revolves around Tella, and whoever finds her first is the winner.

Scarlett has been told that everything that happens during Caraval is only an elaborate performance. But she nevertheless becomes enmeshed in a game of love, heartbreak, and magic with the other players in the game. And whether Caraval is real or not, she must find Tella before the five nights of the game are over, a dangerous domino effect of consequences is set off, and her sister disappears forever. 


Though I do read YA I usually tend to pick up contemporary YA, I don’t read very many fantasy novels, it’s just not my thing. However, from the first time that I saw this stunning cover and read the enticing blurb, I knew that I had to read Caraval. (The cover is even more gorgeous in person by the way.) From the very first page I was completely swept away and dazzled by Caraval and my interest never wavered for one second.

First and foremost I have to talk about the world that Garber created here. It is beyond magical and enchanting, I’m blown away by her creativity and her vision. Her writing style is so detailed and vivid that you can easily and clearly picture what you’re reading. Caraval is a quirky and bizarre place where a game is being played, remember it’s just a game…I forgot this simple message many times as I was so captivated by this epic tale.

I love a story about the bonds of sisterhood and Scarlett and Tella had such a strong love and connection with each other. Though Tella is absent for most of the story as she’s been kidnapped as part of the game, she is never far from Scarlett’s mind so you still feel as if you have a strong sense of who she is and what she stands for. Their father is a cruel and calculated man and his mean streak has made them closer than ever. Julian helps the girls travel to Caraval and from his first scene I was charmed by him. He’s a rogue and devilishly handsome and many times I wondered what he was really playing at. 

I had heard that this was being compared to The Night Circus and while I can see why, Caraval stands firmly on its own. Yes, there are similar elements, however this experience was totally unique and had a darker feel that I loved. You’re always wondering what is real and what is just an illusion, afterall it’s a game meant to puzzle and confound. I was pleasantly surprised by all the plot twists and turns and Garber meticulously crafted this in a way that left me reeling. The ending was fantastic and had me craving more and not wanting this wickedly delicious game to end. This book will undoubtedly be HUGE in the new year, if you haven’t already preordered it, you’re going to want to do it now.

Overall rating: 5/5

Thanks to Flatiron Books for my review copy. 

Audiobook Review: Today Will Be Different by Maria Semple 

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Release date: November 4, 2016

Publisher: Hachette Audio

Narrator: Kathleen Wilhoite

Genre: Contemporary Fiction


A brilliant novel from the author of Where’d You Go, Bernadette, about a day in the life of Eleanor Flood, forced to abandon her small ambitions and awake to a strange, new future.Eleanor knows she’s a mess. But today, she will tackle the little things. She will shower and get dressed. She will have her poetry and yoga lessons after dropping off her son, Timby. She won’t swear. She will initiate sex with her husband, Joe. But before she can put her modest plan into action-life happens. Today, it turns out, is the day Timby has decided to fake sick to weasel his way into his mother’s company. It’s also the day Joe has chosen to tell his office-but not Eleanor-that he’s on vacation. Just when it seems like things can’t go more awry, an encounter with a former colleague produces a graphic memoir whose dramatic tale threatens to reveal a buried family secret. TODAY WILL BE DIFFERENT is a hilarious, heart-filled story about reinvention, sisterhood, and how sometimes it takes facing up to our former selves to truly begin living. 


I’m probably one of the only people on the planet who still hasn’t read Where’d You Go Bernadette and I’ve had it on my TBR forever. One day. But when I saw Semple’s latest book was an option for an audio review I was pretty excited after all the good things I had heard about her earlier work. While this was an extremely enjoyable read at times, there were definitely some moments where I wasn’t entirely engaged and I struggled to keep going.

Eleanor is the main character and she vows that today will be different for her. There were parts of her that I really liked, she’s snarky, has a wicked sense of humor and is dry, but I really like that. She’s married to Joe and they have an eight year old son named Timby. That’s not a typo though his name is the result of an autocorrect error. The story follows her in one day as she strives to be her best self despite her general unhappiness with her life. The universe has other plans and nothing goes the way she wants it to. What follows is a series of unfortunate events that have many humorous happenings. 

Wilhoite did a fantastic job as narrator, she did exceptionally well when she was reading as Timby. There’s a scene where she sings Morning Has Broken that was just amazing. She definitely made my experience more enjoyable. 

Towards the middle there are some flashbacks that discuss Eleanor’s relationship with her sister Ivy. I found this part to be quite boring if I’m being honest, it seemed to drag on and on. I also had problems connecting with Eleanor even though I appreciated her humor, I had no deeper connection to her. I loved Timby though and found him to be sweet and endearing. Joe didn’t really leave any sort of impression on me, he was just there. The ending was a bit of a let down as well and I was just underwhelmed. Overall it had some really funny moments and it was far more enjoyable than un enjoyable for me, but something key was missing for me that I can’t quite put my finger on.

Overall rating: 3/5

Thanks to Hachette Audio for my review copy. 

It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? #imwayr

It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? Is a weekly post to share what you recently finished reading, what you’re currently reading, and what you plan on reading this week. It’s hosted by Kathryn at Bookdate

What I Read Last Week: 

I was on the blog tour for this one. 

This one was completely insane in the best way.

I really liked this one, it reminded me of Criminal Minds. 

This was a really touching holiday read. 

Another blog tour, this was an amazing collection for charity. 

This was a powerful and amazing read. 
Currently Reading: 

I’m on the tour for this in a few days and it’s excellent so far. 

Up Next: 

The TBR list for this week is probably not going to happen but I’m going to try!

How was your week? What are you currently reading? I hope you all have a lovely holiday! 

Review: Final Boarding by A. J. Mayers @aj_mayers #WhereIsFlight619

Goodreads|Amazon|Author Website
Release date: November 1, 2016

Publisher: Mascot Books

Genre: Mystery 


Patrick Baldwin had no idea missing Phoenix Airlines Flight 619 would mean he would live to see another day. The flight he missed went missing itself over the Pacific Ocean, going off radar without a trace or any sign of debris. When the world can’t stop talking about the disappearance, Patrick begins to delve into the mystery of the missing airliner in hopes of discovering its fate and the fate of his three colleagues who were on board. The deeper he finds himself in this mystery, the stranger the circumstances become. Was Flight 619’s disappearance an accident, or something more sinister?


I was totally captured and taken in after reading this blurb, then when I found out that the author was inspired by the missing Malaysian Airlines Flight 370, I was even more interested. It’s hard to fathom how, in this age of technology, a plane full of people can just disappear without a trace, right? There is no signs at all of where the plane crashed, no debris or anything. How is this possible? I can’t imagine being personally affected by this type of tragedy and never being able to receive any closure, it seems like it would be absolutely nightmarish. Mayers did such a good job writing this book that I almost forgot I was reading a fictional account and not a true story.

Patrick misses his flight and this is the luckiest day of his life even if he doesn’t realize it yet. He’s understandably devastated when his flight vanishes as he had close colleagues on board and he begins to chronicle the events in the aftermath in a personal journal. Final Boarding is actually his account in the days before the flight and the year afterwards. Telling the story of Flight 619 in this manner allows the reader to make a deep connection with Patrick. I was able to see his inner thoughts and feelings in relation to this catastrophic event and form a bond with him. 

I don’t want to discuss the plot very much but it is full of twists and misdirection as Patrick searches for the truth. When the whole truth is revealed, it’s totally crazy and unexpected. This wasn’t a typical murder/mystery it was full of conspiracy theories and corruption. It would make a really great movie, it’s action packed and suspenseful with a few tender moments that tugged at my heart strings. 

Overall rating: 4/5

Thanks to the author for my review copy.

Review: Small Great Things by Jodi Picoult

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Release date: October 11, 2016

Publisher: Ballantine Books

Genre: Contemporary Fiction 


Ruth Jefferson is a labor and delivery nurse at a Connecticut hospital with more than twenty years’ experience. During her shift, Ruth begins a routine checkup on a newborn, only to be told a few minutes later that she’s been reassigned to another patient. The parents are white supremacists and don’t want Ruth, who is African American, to touch their child. The hospital complies with their request, but the next day, the baby goes into cardiac distress while Ruth is alone in the nursery. Does she obey orders or does she intervene?

Ruth hesitates before performing CPR and, as a result, is charged with a serious crime. Kennedy McQuarrie, a white public defender, takes her case but gives unexpected advice: Kennedy insists that mentioning race in the courtroom is not a winning strategy. Conflicted by Kennedy’s counsel, Ruth tries to keep life as normal as possible for her family—especially her teenage son—as the case becomes a media sensation. As the trial moves forward, Ruth and Kennedy must gain each other’s trust, and come to see that what they’ve been taught their whole lives about others—and themselves—might be wrong.

With incredible empathy, intelligence, and candor, Jodi Picoult tackles race, privilege, prejudice, justice, and compassion—and doesn’t offer easy answers. Small Great Things is a remarkable achievement from a writer at the top of her game. 


I’ve had to take some time since finishing this book to really collect my thoughts and wrap my head around all the things I gained by reading this book. I’ve been a Picoult fan for years and have read almost every single one of her books, so I knew beforehand that I would be in for a heavy read. She always manages to write novels that make the reader really think and contemplate various situations, but she’s really outdone herself here. She tackled some extremely substantial subject matter in a empathetic manner that moved me to the point of tears. (More than once)

There are three various viewpoints here; Ruth the nurse who is told by her boss and patient that she is not allowed to do her job because of her skin color, Turk the patients father who sets this entire situation in motion, and Kennedy, the public defender who represents Ruth when she is charged on multiple counts due to her alleged neglect. Picoult seamlessly weaves all of these perspectives together and still manages to write in a distinct voice for each character. 

The growth of the characters in Small Great Things is astounding and may be Picoult’s best work in that department yet. Ruth reveals parts of herself that she has never even acknowledged herself during the course of the story. She is facing the biggest challenge of her life and is faced with an uncertain future. Her main priority is ensuring that her teenaged son, Edison is taken care of and her life is in the hands of Kennedy. But how can she put her trust in a woman who has literally no idea how it feels to walk in her shoes? Turk is the sort of character that you loathe as soon as you meet him, he’s a proud white supremacist and there isn’t really much about him that is redeeming. But by the end of the book, I at least had a better understanding of what shaped him into the hateful man that he was. Things come full circle in a way that is classic Picoult and if you’re looking for her usual twist, you won’t be disappointed. 

Racism is hard to watch, difficult to read about, and almost downright impossible to discuss in an open and honest manner. Picoult wrote a really profound authors note at the end that explained why she was compelled to write a book on the subject of racism. She said she felt like it was the right thing to do, even though she was aware that it would be highly controversial and she would inevitably experience some blowback. I applaud her for tackling such a deep and volatile issue, it cannot have been easy. I’m so glad that she did though, it is timely and relevant and it was really thought provoking. It made me think about the difference between prejudice and discrimination, about how all white people are privileged in some way based on their skin color alone, and how ignorance still runs rampant in the United States. Book clubs would seemingly never run out of topics to discuss surrounding this book, the possibilities are endless. 

I could blather on and on about all the emotions I felt while reading this, I was outraged, disgusted, enlightened, sad, happy, hopeful. It was quite an emotional read to say the least. It’s not a book to pick up if you’re looking for something light or easy, but if you want a read that is captivating, emotive, and provides some insight into race relations, this is a must read.

Overall rating: 5/5

Blog Tour: Flesh Evidence by @MHollingdrake @Bloodhoundbook

Goodreads|Amazon UK|

Publisher: Bloodhound Books

Genre: Crime Fiction 


An explosive, edge of your seat, crime thriller

In Harrogate things are about to get weird.

Jars of honey containing pieces of tattooed flesh are the first clue in the search for the whereabouts of a missing fourteen-year-old boy. Then another boy goes missing and further jars of honey are discovered.

Serial kidnappings taking place in Harrogate and the culprit is unlike any other Bennett has dealt with before.

A number of leads seem to be going nowhere and the police are running out of time.

Can Bennett and his team catch a psychopath before any more damage is done?

This will be his toughest case yet.

For my stop on the blog tour for Flesh Evidence I’m bringing you an rather chilling extract. Matches that creepy cover quite well I think! 



7th August 1976

 The heat of the long summer showed no sign of abating. The south-facing windows of the hospital trapped more and more of the day’s incessant heat; the waiting room seemed to grow increasingly claustrophobic as the air grew thick, warm and sticky, emphasising the indelible hospital aroma. Pamphlets full of advice for young parents hung as listlessly as the air from discoloured, cork-lined walls, each held at one corner by a solitary drawing pin of varying colour. Ian Dixon let his eyes follow them round the room. He counted the different coloured pins to alleviate his anxiety. It was then he heard his name disturb the silence. Butterflies shot through his stomach.

 “You have a son, Mr Dixon. Congratulations!”

 His heart raced as he moved towards the delivery room. There, cradled in Jose’s arms, was his first born, a son, Samuel.

Chapter One

Early August 2015

 The keen edge of the blade ran diagonally across the white, stretched flesh, squeezing various sized, pomegranate-coloured beads of blood sitting precariously on the white skin’s surface. Some gorged and swelled more than others before bursting and running round the curvature of the arm. Other lines, now healing, criss-crossed near them. The muffled sound from taped lips and the twitching torso danced involuntarily to the music playing in the background, adding a certain frisson to the macabre pantomime. 

 It was always their eyes, no matter how young or how old, their eyes told the true story, like crystal balls projecting deeply within those dark pools, their torment and their fear. Those same crying eyes followed the tormentor as the tip of a tongue traced the sliced flesh, removing the remaining blood-filled beads one by one. The lips then moved away before coming together, savouring the metallic, sharp, bloody taste; for one person in the room, it was a perfect end to the day. 

 “You’re not sweet enough yet my young friend. Maybe it will take another week, maybe a fortnight but we’re in no rush are we? And the only thing you get from rushing is chance children!” 

A smile moved across the blood-marked lips. “That’s my father’s advice you know and yes, I did have parents although I’m sure you might think only a bastard could keep you locked away from the world.” 

 Tears continued to fill the eyes that were now pleading and so alive as the throb of the youth’s pulse bounced along his sliced arm.

 “You know I can’t release you, not yet anyway, you’re not ready.”

 A gloved hand removed a rolling tear from the youth’s cheek. The blood-tinged tongue licked it from the blue latex before switching off the music. 

 “Time for you to rest and calm down.”

 The light went off and the world was black and silent again.

Be sure to visit the other stops on the tour!

Saturday Shoutout: Guest Post with D. J. Swykert @djswykert

For today’s Saturday Shoutout I have a totally fascinating guest post from author D. J. Swykert. 

Unique DNA Search Catches the Grim Sleeper


 The underlying theme in The Death of Anyone, Melange Books, poses the Machiavellian question: Does the end justify the means? Bonnie Benham, the lead detective in my story, has her own answer. But the legality of this question was answered in a real life courtroom in the California trial of a serial killer dubbed by the media: The Grim Sleeper.


Lonnie David Franklin, the Grim Sleeper, was caught because his son’s DNA was the closest match to DNA collected at the crime scenes in the database. Investigating Franklin’s son led them to investigate Lonnie Franklin. But there was no direct DNA evidence that linked Lonnie to the crime scene until they obtained a sample from him after his arrest. Lonnie Franklin was the first person in the U.S. to ever stand trial for murder based on this type of evidence, and its admissibility issues were thoroughly tested by defense attorneys.


Only two states at this time, California and Colorado, have a written policy concerning the use of Familial DNA in an investigation. The admission of Familial DNA, with its potential Fourth Amendment violations, has never been tested in court. The California trial of Lonnie David Franklin will become a landmark case for the future use of Familial DNA Searches by law enforcement agencies nationwide.

Lonnie David Franklin, AKA, The Grim Sleeper, was arrested on July 7, 2010. The Los Angeles District Attorney’s Office charged him with ten counts of murder, one count of attempted murder, and special circumstance allegations of multiple murders in the cases. A grand jury indictment was issued on March 23, 2011. The Grim Sleeper has been resting comfortably in jail since his arrest awaiting trial; the large quantity of evidence in this case, some dating back thirty years, has caused a lengthy pretrial discovery. The trial was originally scheduled to begin the summer of 2014, but was put on hold. It was rescheduled for June 30, 2015, but that didn’t happen. On Monday August 17, 2015, at a pretrial hearing, the trial was rescheduled for October 14, 2015. Finally, in the spring of 2016, The Grim Sleeper was convicted. A long appeals process, which might ultimately end up with the Supreme Court, is expected.

I first heard of the technique while working as a 911 operator in 2006. It came up in a conversation with officers. I thought at the time it would make an interesting premise for a book. I began writing the mystery some three years later after leaving the department. I had just finished editing a first draft of The Death of Anyone in the summer 2010 when news of The Grim Sleeper’s capture in Los Angeles was released. I read with interest all the information pouring out of L.A. regarding the investigation and the problems confronting prosecutors. All of which are explored in The Death of Anyone.

In my fictional story Detroit Detective Bonnie Benham has been transferred from working undercover in narcotics to homicide and is working the case of a killer of adolescent girls. She is a straight forward investigator who describes herself as a blonde with a badge and a gun. CSI collects DNA evidence from the scene of the latest victim, which had not been detected on the other victims. But no suspect turns up in the FBI database. Due to the notoriety of the crimes a task force is put together with Bonnie as the lead detective, and she implores the D.A. to use an as yet unapproved type of a DNA Search in an effort to identify the killer.

The Death of Anyone is available on the Melange Books website and also on Amazon in Kindle and print, Barnes & Noble, Smashwords and Kobo.


DJ Swykert is a former 911 operator writing and living in the Cincinnati area. His work has appeared in The Tampa Review, Detroit News, Coe Review, Monarch Review, the Newer York, Lunch Ticket, Gravel, Zodiac Review, Barbaric Yawp and Bull. His books include Children of the Enemy, Maggie Elizabeth Harrington, Alpha Wolves, The Pool Boy’s Beatitude, Sweat Street, Justice in the Street, Nude Swimming and The Death of Anyone.

Social media sites: 


Twitter: @djswykert

Facebook: David J. Swykert

Blog Tour: Dark Minds A collection of stories for charity @bloodhoundbook

Goodreads|Amazon UK|Amazon US

Release date: December 9, 2016

Publisher: Bloodhound Books

Genre: Mystery/Thriller, Crime Fiction, Horror


A collection of short stories from some of your favourite authors

You think you know darkness? Think again.

Bloodhound Books presents Dark Minds – a collection of stories by authors who have come together to produce an anthology that will lure, tantalise and shock its readers.

What took place By the Water?

What goes on behind A Stranger’s Eyes?

And what is so special about Slow Roast Pork?

From master authors such as Lisa Hall, Steven Dunne, Louise Jensen and Anita Waller, readers can expect a one hell of a ride… 

Dark Minds is a collection of 40 crime and thriller short stories from authors including; Louise Jensen, L.J. Ross, Lisa Hall, Steven Dunne, Betsy Reavley, M.A. Comley, Alex Walters and Anita Waller plus many more. 


I have to start by saying that the proceeds from the sale of this brilliant collection go to two very worthy causes, Sophie’s Appeal and Hospice UK. I’m honored to be one of the stops for the blog tour today and can’t wait to tell you all about this phenomenal compilation. Check out the book trailer as well. 

Since there are forty stories in this collection I won’t review every single one separately, but I do want to mention that as a whole they are fantastic. There were none I actively disliked, I really enjoyed something about each of them. I’ll highlight my favorite ones, but there really is something for everyone here, especially if you’re a thriller fan. I haven’t read many short stories but this experience opened up my eyes and made me realize how enjoyable it can be. Who knew a few pages could pack such a huge punch? 

The Shoes Maketh the Man by Louise Jensen 

Being a huge Jensen fan I was ecstatic to see she was one of the participating authors for Dark Minds. Her story is about an elderly man named Bill who’s wife Maureen has passed leaving him a widow.  Pensioners are being murdered in his area, is he next? It was creepy and pulled off quite a twist within a few pages. 

Never Tell a Lie by Tara Lyons 

This is about an un named man who has an obsession with a beautiful woman named Fiona who he meets when she visits the coffee shop where he works. It’s obsessive, dark and menacing.

By The Water by Betsy Reavley 

Christine wakes up in a mental institution and has no idea why or what happened to land her there. Freaks me out just thinking about it! This was very chilling. 

Slow Roast Pork by S. E. Lynes 

An un named woman this time who’s husband, Peter disappears. She seems distraught but does she know where he is? Or is she just a good actress? This was chilling in its intensity. 
Sticky Fingers by J. T. Lawrence 

Nikki is a kleptomaniac, she’s not hurting for money she’s actually a wealthy housewife. She just can’t help herself, but is her time finally up? I loved the glimpse into her twisted mind and thought processes. 

Hidden by K. A. Richardson 

Don’t want to say anything besides it is extremely creepy and graphic but excellent in its depravity. 

I’ve Gone by Anita Waller

Laura’s husband Kevin is missing all that’s left is a note that says I’ve gone. This one was heartbreaking and shocking.
Be Careful What You Wish for by Peter Best

Sammy has found herself unwittingly entangled with the mafia in NYC. This is very action packed and there are twists until the very last sentence. 

Dangerous Actions by M. A. Comley 

Joanne and Beth  are two best friends who meet a new guy on Facebook but social media can be deadly… I can’t say much more than that, but I was thoroughly impressed! 
Captive by Stephen Edger

Daisy is kidnapped by Tim when she’s 6. There is quite a lot of action and intensity for a short story. My pulse was pounding as waited to see what her fate would be. 

That’s just a taste of what this amazing collection has to offer, there are so many excellent stories that you have to read for yourself! It’s SUCH a good cause, grab your copy, you won’t be disappointed. (Buy links are at the top of this post)

Overall rating: 5/5

Thanks to Bloodhound Books for my review copy and inviting me to take part in this tour. 

Review: The Christmas Gate by T. A. Cline @Old_Farmer

Goodreads|Amazon|Author Website
Release date: December 6, 2016

Publisher: Tate Publishing

Genre: Holiday Fiction 


Robert Robinson is a renowned author of two best-selling mystery novels. As his prestige begins to affect his work ethics, he becomes detached from his writing obligations. Because of his failure to fulfill a three-book contract that was already long overdue, his editor gives him an ultimatum. He could either face legal action, or travel to the editor’s farmhouse in upstate New York to complete a manuscript with no distractions. He arrogantly agrees to go after realizing that his options are limited, and makes a discovery in the old farmhouse that will change his life forever in the story of The Christmas Gate 


This is an absolutely lovely story of forgiveness and faith that I unexpectedly fell in love with! Robert is a best selling author who is dangerously close to missing his latest deadline and  his publisher sends him to his farmhouse to buckle down and write. What happens there is magical, delightful and totally not what Robert anticipated.

I do want to mention that there are some religious aspects to this story, nothing gratuitous but it is there. It truly adds the bones of the story though and provided such a warmth and sense of overall love to the book. I don’t want to discuss the plot at all really, as this is a short novella under one hundred pages and I fear saying anything would ruin it. I will say though that I really liked the messages here, it talks about the true meaning of Christmas and how as a society we have strayed from it in recent years. It makes you contemplate what is really important in our lives and it sure isn’t having a lot of things. It was a heartwarming story of love and loss, forgiveness and acceptance, and the power of faith. It ended on a slight cliffhanger but part two is coming and I can’t wait to see what choices Robert makes for himself and his life. 

Overall rating: 4/5

Thanks to my girl Laura for sending me a copy, I appreciate it greatly! 

Blog Tour: Hell’s Gate by Malcolm Hollingdrake @MHollingdrake @bloodhoundbook

I’m thrilled to be one of the stops on the blog tour for Hells’s Gate. Read on for more information about the book and an extract.

Amazon US|Amazon UK
About the book: 

Hell’s Gate: an explosive, gritty and utterly gripping new crime thriller

A disused railway tunnel where, cruel and sinister deeds are executed.

A policeman on a mission.

A killer who will stop at nothing.

The formidable DCI Cyril Bennett and DS David Owen of Harrogate Police find themselves embroiled in a series of bizarre events. 

A domestic dog attack on a child soon leads to a more complex case – the macabre discovery of a jigsaw of featureless, indiscernible body parts amongst bin bags littering a quiet road on the outskirts of the town.

While under the leadership of a Chinese Mafioso, a team of Eastern Europeans spreads its tentacles into the sordid underworld of people trafficking, dog fighting, prostitution and murder.

Bennett quickly has his hands full investigating a gambling syndicate, the discovery of a mutilated corpse, the death of a prostitute and the case of a badly beaten police officer.

As Bennett and his team are stretched to capacity cracks begin to appear.

Is there a link between these cases and can they catch a twisted killer before he strikes again?


Chapter One

The cold had a cruel habit of creeping slowly into his bones once he was tucked away from the dissipating day’s heat. Even the new cardboard bedding he’d dragged in seemed suddenly damp. He twisted the cork from the bottle of cheap brandy and allowed the amber liquid to tumble to the back of his throat but even that failed to take away the insidious chill. At least he felt safe. This place was fairly secure and unaffected by the vagaries of the weather, although the constant, cutting draught that permeated through the grilled, yet open entrance seemed to constantly gnaw at him. He was, however, tucked well into the manhole that had been expertly crafted into the stone wall’s façade and this was, for him, a psychological cocoon that he failed to find out on The Stray. 

A small candle flickered weakly, illuminating dimly his grim surroundings. Bulging black bin bags of clothes were stuffed casually into the corners of his temporary accommodation. White needle-like stalactites hung from the brick, arched ceiling and the occasional flying bat distracted his eye. It was his fifth night in his new dwelling and he liked its darkness and security. 

It had been a squeeze getting through the entrance bars. He had attempted entry on other occasions but the grids were too secure. However, this time they had seemed looser. Had he been capable, metaphorically, of reading the illegible graffiti on the wall, he might not have entered. He might have turned and found another shelter, but the dry, secure home, despite the constant sound of dripping water, was worth the trouble and the degree of risk. He looked at his shaking hand in the flickering, yellowy light; nails black and grimy. He had not always been this way, once he had had a family, a job, a home and a car but…the drink and the gambling had seen an end to such comforts. He could not now recall which hurdle had tripped him first and really he did not care. He took out his wallet, empty apart from three photographs. He looked at each in the dim flicker of candlelight and the images brought him a degree of warmth that was sadly tainted by the bitterness brought to the lump in his throat by his own selfish immaturity. He pulled the wallet to his chest and whispered the words, “Forgive me!”

It was the unexpected noise near the entrance that made the vagrant’s heart beat more strongly and instinctively he blew out the candle. Hot, molten wax spilled onto his hand. The last thing he wanted was a gang of youths pissing about and tormenting him. He cocked his head and looked towards the echoing, alien sounds. Lights, thin white beams, danced around the arched roof like ancient searchlights, enlarging and deforming shadows and human features. He squashed himself tightly into the corner and prayed they would leave. His anxiety was real and suddenly he felt no cold, just the warmth of the fear he had so often experienced; he knew all about man’s intolerance of man.

The human snuffling and snorting sounded more porcine than human, growing deeper as the youth was manhandled through the grid. Even though the youth was fully aware that his efforts were useless, vapour streamed from both his nostrils, his chest heaved as he squirmed and struggled. Tears had already begun to blur his vision and streams of snot dribbled onto the knotted cloth that filled his mouth, blocking breath and conscious sound alike.

Hands on the youth’s shoulders forced him downward. The discarded garden seat on to which he was dragged was wet and cold against his naked buttocks, the steel frame rusty and rough against his sweating skin. His clothes had been discarded some time ago. Mud oozed between his toes and he could feel the sharp pain where broken glass and pieces of stone had punctured the soft soles of his feet. The people around him proved difficult to see; each wore a powerful head torch that created a contrast between blinding lights, silhouettes and shadows. Occasionally, when one head turned to the other, he identified the familiar faces of those surrounding him, once his friends. Large, electrical ties secured his elbows behind him, pushing out his chest pigeon-like. All seemed to grow quiet apart from the occasional plop of water hitting some distant, dark puddle but it was the next occurrence that the frightened youth could never have anticipated. 

There seemed a moment of absolute silence where satanic forces grew more alive, co-operating fully with the present evil; even the falling droplets co-operated but the quiet was short lived. Hands forced the elastic band of a torch around his head holding it in position just above the eyebrows. The figure directly in front was handed a staple gun and immediately the sharp pain made his body twitch as the thin, metal staple penetrated the skin on his forehead and then splayed against his skull, trapping band to flesh. Blood trickled down his sweat-wet face and blended with the snail-path of snot, then another click of the gun, more pain and then another. Quickly the band was stitched to his head. 

“We’ll need to be able to see your progress, you shit! We’ll need to see where you go and we don’t want you to lose the light. The switch will be broken. There’s only one way to run and that’s what you do well, right little runaway? But you failed at that last time you were caught and brought home. This time you need to win or else…The way you run is that way. Get on top of the wall and you’ll be safe, you’ll be given another chance, just one more chance, but fail, and nobody will hear from you again.” 

The face moved closer and the garlic vapour, like a small cloud, filled his nostrils. It was pungent but somehow ridiculously reassuring that he had eaten the same meal. His mind spun, he recognised his error and his recklessness, definitely foolish and certainly inexcusable. Blood dripped onto his thigh before running down his leg to be diluted in the stinking mud. The penetrating beams of light hurt his eyes. It suddenly seemed that his senses had come alive and had increased ten fold, the pumping adrenalin and crippling fear had made sure of that.

“You get four minutes, four. Run fast and keep running. You really don’t want what is behind you to find and catch you!” 

The speaker spat directly into the captive’s face. 

“That’s for your disrespect. You were treated like a son. It’s now up to you, bastard.”

The torch on his head was illuminated and the switch snapped off before the straps holding his arms were cut.

“Go!” they all screamed, the echo reverberating within the confined, black space.

After a brief pause, his heart racing and his pulse thumping in his ears, he started his slippery run, arms pumping, and eyes wide, into the chasm, into the unknown. Mud oozed between his toes as he moved over the parallel indentations running across the floor, making movement difficult. He just had to get away, he had to escape. He was unaware that an unknown, unsympathetic pair of eyes would briefly watch his progress.  

“Run you little shit, run!” they all called, striking in him more fear and uncertainty of what was to come. Their sounds of laughter boomed as they bounced off the stonework 

“Get them ready!”

Drew Sadler pushed himself as flat against the wall as possible, his breath instinctively held. Sweat now beaded his face as the heavy breathing and whimpering of the desperate youth grew louder as he approached. The cavernous space amplified the sounds that accompanied the naked figure running and stumbling past. Light beams danced on his back but it would be the next moment, the next split second that would bring the sudden and unexpected terror into Drew’s private world.

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