Category Archives: Crime and thrillers

The Innocent Wife by Amy Lloyd: A Tale of Dangerous Obsession

Do you ever find yourself feeling you want to shout STOP at a character in a novel? I do occasionally when I notice the character about to make a decision or take an action that I know will lead to danger, heartbreak or tragedy.

Cover of The Innocent Wife, a psychological thriller by Amy Lloyd

I reached that point 16 pages into The Innocent Wife by Amy Lloyd. This is the moment in the narrative when an English schoolteacher’s fascination with a man on Death Row in America, crashes through the borderline with obsession.

Sam has been following his case for months, eagerly participating in online message boards and forums arguing Dennis Danson is the victim of a miscarriage of justice. She scrutinises every piece of evidence described in Framing The Truth, a TV documentary about the case. Then she writes directly to Dennis and is quickly won over by the charm and kindness of his reply.

Suddenly she’s declaring her love for him and hopping on a plane to visit him. Why? Essentially because she has little else going on in her life. She’s 31 years old, adrift in her job and recently broke up with her boyfriend. “It’s time,” says decides. ” for me to stop wasting my whole life wishing for things and actually do them.”

I know people do write to prison inmates even though they are complete strangers. There are even organisations like WriteAPrisoner to support this kind of penpal arrangement. But I’ve never heard of people flying thousands of miles to meet their partner prisoner in person.

Sam wilfully ignored my instruction to STOP. The stupid woman carried on disregarding the warning signs and said yes when this guy she barely knows pops the question. So there she is, wife of a guy in jail for the murder of one young girl and suspected of killing several others. Hardly the start of a wonderful marriage is it?

But Sam’s so naive that when Dennis does get released, she’s all a flutter, imagining this idyllic life together. Except you and I know it’s going to be anything like idyllic. He’s a non-smoking, health freak, superfit, meticulously tidy and jaw-droppingly handsome. She’s overweight, smokes, loves fast food and leaves a trail of discarded clothes and magazines in her hotel room.

They have little in common. She imagines the bliss of being wrapped in his arms. He doesn’t even want to share the same bed. Of course this is all heading for a disaster. We all know the signs and even Sam begins to get suspicious and afraid for her own suspicions. But Amy Lloyd cleverly keeps us in suspense about whether those suspicions are well founded and it’s not until the final 10 pages or so that we discover the truth.

Sam is a character for whom I had no empathy whatsoever yet I had to keep reading the book to find out whether my prognosis of disaster was misjudged or Amy Lloyd had been pulling the wool over my eyes all along. And that’s really the mark of a good thriller isn’t it? We keep reading even when the scenario is highly improbable and the characters disagreeable.

The novel does get rather draggy at times. I got tired of Sam’s expressions of physical desire for this guy and her frustration when he turns his back on her. I also got tired of the way she hangs about in hotel rooms doing nothing while he’s off to the gym, out running or hitting the keys on his laptop to write his memoirs.

There was an element of the story which didn’t ring true al all. We’re led to believe that Sam is being manipulated by Denis but there was little evidence of coercion. He snaps at her, is demanding about what they eat and where they go but generally shows little interest in her. It was hard to accept that she feels completely dependent on him and just goes along with whatever he wants.

But I did enjoy Amy Lloyd’s portrayal of the media and public frenzy that follows Dennis’ release. Money comes pouring in, as do freebie supplies of clothes and goodies from people who want ride the bandwagon. Media outlets hassle to be the first to get Dennis on their shows. Filming gets underway for a new documentary; there’s talk of a Hollywood premier. And then it all comes crashing down after one disastrous interview. That reversal of fortune felt such an accurate portrayal of the way heroes can so quickly become villains in today’s media and social media cycles.

Though I’m not a great fan of thrillers and I wouldn’t rate The Innocent Wife as one of the best, it did keep me entertained and distracted me from the crisis in which we find ourselves in the real world this year.

The Innocent Wife by Amy Lloyd: Endnotes

About The Book: The Innocent Wife was published by Arrow, an imprint of Penguin Books in 2018. It won the Daily Mail’s first novel contest 

About the Author: Amy Lloyd is from Wales. She studied English and Creative Writing at Cardiff Metropolitan University. The Innocent Wife, her debut novel, became a Sunday Times top ten bestseller. Amy lives in Cardiff with her partner, who is also a published novelist. Her second novel One More Lie was published in 2019.

Curates and Quiches with Agatha Raisin: Deliciously Entertaining

When a little free library opened a few weeks ago in my village I absolutely had to take a gander.  With shops and libraries closed, this was the only way I could indulge in my favourite hobby of book browsing. 

I thought I would come away empty handed but then, tucked away behind the multiple copies of James Patterson and John Grisham novels, I found two slim volumes by M C Beaton. 

I’ve never read any of her Agatha Raisin series and probably wouldn’t have been tempted except it just so happened I was in the mood for something not too demanding. 

Wit And Humour

And that’s exactly what I got. Book 1, Agatha Raisin And The Quiche of Death, and Book 13, Agatha Raisin And The Case Of The Curious Curate are both delightful escapist novels. I thought I would be mildly entertained but I wasn’t expecting to encounter books that were full of such sharp wit or to feature such an enjoyable non-PC character. 

It’s the character of Agatha Raisin, a retired PR queen turned amateur sleuth. that makes the difference in this series. She’s absolutely the star of the show. Without her we’d just have pretty cottages, slightly amusing mysteries (nothing too gory or nasty) and quaint village traditions. 

Agatha is definitely not in the Miss Marple mode. Instead of a neatly dressed, quietly spoken amateur sleuth with an acute understanding of human nature we get a brash and prickly career woman.

As the series opens, Agatha has decided to sell up her public relations company and move to a picturesque cottage in the Cotswolds. Accustomed to the buzz of parties and launches, she finds rural life is harder than she imagines. The locals in the village of Carsley are not hostile but don’t go out of their way to welcome her or include her in their social circle. Without friends and work, she quickly becomes bored. 

No one asked her for tea. No one showed any curiosity about her whatsoever. The vicar did not even call/ In an Agatha Christie book the vicar would have called, not to mention some retired colonel and his wife. All conversation seemed limited to ‘Mawnin’, ‘Afternoon’, or talk about the weather. For the first time in her life, she knew loneliness, and it frightened her. 

To stamp her mark on the village she decides to ingratiate herself with the locals to enter the annual ‘Great Quiche Competition’ . Never having baked anything in her life, she resorts to cheating, buying her ‘entry’ from an expensive London delicatessen. Unfortunately the competition judge dies after tasting her quiche. Agatha’s duplicity is revealed. Shame turns to anger when she is blamed for his death. It spurs her to turn detective and find the murderer herself.

Her methods are unorthodox and she finds herself in more than one scrape before the crime is solved. It’s great fun watching this woman’s inept attempts at detection and all the false trails she follows.

When I caught up with her again in Agatha Raisin And The Case Of The Curious Curate, it was to find that she’d become a fixture in the village. In the intervening years she’d married (twice). Husband number two has just dumped her; the launch she took on as a freelance project turned out to be dull and even her beloved London had lost its sparkle. So it’s back to the Cotswolds and those microwave meals for one.

Bumbling Detective In High Heels

The arrival of a new curate in Carsley is just the tonic she needs. Even though “she swore she would never be interested in a man again” Tristan Delon is a golden-haired, blue-eyed dish. He has all the ladies in Caswell swooning over him. After an intimate dinner for two in his flat, Agatha falls for his charms. she begins to dream of an exciting new adventure with a toy boy. Her dream doesn’t last long – the very next day the curate is found dead.

When the eye of suspicion turns on the Vicar, the husband of her best friend, Agatha sets off once more on the trail of a murderer. What follows is often hilarious as Agatha bumbles around following up on clues, worming information out of people and annoying the local police force.

Just like The Quiche of Death, in The Case Of The Curious Curate, MC Beaton delivers some deliciously funny scenes. Agatha has a penchant for causing mayhem as she lurches from one theory to another. Though she is so often rude and forceful, by the end of each novel, I did find myself warming to her. I loved the image of this champion of justice fretting about her weight before bunging another high calorie meal into the microwave before heading off in high heels and tight skirt, to do battle with the villain behind net curtains.

Would I read another book in the series? I might do if I were ever feeling a bit down in the dumps and in need of a pure entertainment. I have a feeling they would work really well as audiobooks so I’ll have to look out for them via my library’s digital service.

Tense And Absorbing: Wicked Game by Matt Johnson

Wicked Game by Matt Johnson

If you enjoy taut, high octane thrillers with good characterisation, Wicked Game by Matt Johnson is the perfect fit.

Johnson takes us into the covert world of national security and intelligence services through the figure of Robert Finlay. He’s an ex SAS operative who thought he had left those days behind him, his past cloaked with the secrecy of a role in the Royalty Protection Service. Even his wife doesn’t know about his involvement in surveillance of IRA suspects or hostage negotiations.

But his first day in a new job, as a police inspector in one of the London suburbs, is marked by a wave of attacks on police officers in the capital. Finlay learns there is a real and present danger that his cover has been blown and he could be the next target. What he doesn’t know is the identity of the assassin/s. He made enemies during his time in Northern Ireland. Could this be an IRA revenge attack for his activities in Northern Ireland. Or is there a connection to his previous involvement in ending a siege at the Iranian embassy?

Finlay’s quest to find the answers and kill the assassin/s before they get to him, makes Wicked Game a tremendous page turner.

It has a complex plot and, since this is the murky world of intelligence and counter intelligence, more than one character we’re not sure we can trust.

Finlay is a well crafted character. He’s intelligent,; thinks fast on his feet and is a good marksman. But he’s also vulnerable; caught between his love for his wife and young child and his desire to hunt down his attackers.

What lifts Wicked Game far above many other thrillers, is its strong sense of authenticity. The book is packed with fascinating details about surveillance techniques. Who knew for example that during the Troubles in Northern Ireland, the army officers’s cars were regularly repainted so they wouldn’t get tracked by IRA shooters.

This is a world that Matt Johnson writes about with authority. And that’s because this was his world for 25 years. He was a soldier and then a serving officer with the Metropolitan Police, a witness to acts of terrorism and attrocity.

In 1999 he was officially diagnosed with PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) and discharged from the police so that he could receive treatment. He turned to writing at the encouragement of his counsellor.

Wicked Game was the result. The book was a word of mouth success when it was self published in 2012. Matt was then spotted by Orenda Books who published it under their imprint in 2015 and have also published his next two titles. Deadly Game and End Game, both featuring Robert Finlay.

I’m keen to read these next two books in the series. But first I have to catch up on all the sleep I missed because I kept reading Wicked Game way into the early hours.

Although I’m not a big fan of thrillers, this was a gripping read. I am however left with a puzzle. This is a novel that has garnered praise from many quarters – my copy of the book has testimonials and praise from some highly respected authors like David Young (author of Stasi Child) and Peter James (Chief Inspector Roy Grace series). With that kind of commendation i’m baffled why Matt Johnson hasn’t received a lot more attention.

What I’m Reading: Episode 25, January 2020

For the first time in 2020 I’m sharing with you all what I’m currently reading, what I recently read and what I plan to read next. 

What I’m reading now

Last year I had the opportunity to listen to Matt Johnson, an author from Wales, explain how writing had helped him deal with post traumatic stress disorder. Matt had served in the army in Northern Ireland and then as a senior police officer in London, both experiences taking a toll on his mental health. 

Wicked Game by Matt Johnson

I’ve now been reading his debut novel: Wicked Game. It’s a fast-paced novel that draws on his experiences in the front line through the character of former special forces operative Robert Finlay. He’s just moved from the Royalty Protection team to a new job as a police inspector in a London suburb. But his past involvement in a terrorist siege is putting his new life in danger.

Matt self published this novel in 2012 but in 2015 it was picked up by Orenda Books – they also published his next two titles.

I’m half way through and can’t help wonder why we haven’t heard more noise about this author.

When breath becomes air by Paul Kalanithi

My current audiobook is When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi. It’s an extraordinary book. Kalanithi wrote it after he was diagnosed with inoperable lung cancer at the age of 35 when he was on the verge of completing a decade of training as a neurosurgeon. He didn’t live long enough to see it published.

It’s more than a memoir about a man facing mortality; it’s a meditation on life; the relationship between doctor and patient, and the intersection of science and literature.

This is such a deeply moving book that I have to take it in small doses.

What I just finished reading

The year got off to a fabulous start with The Hours by Michael Cunningham and Colourless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage by Haruki Murakami

But then it came crashing down with two books I had to abandon.

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern was the book club choice for January. As a fantasy novel it was always going to be a challenge for me but I was willing to give it a go. After 50 pages I’d had enough. It had neither a plot or characters that interested me, nor was it particularly well written.

Independence Square by A D Miller

My attention turned to Independence Square by A. D Miller which is due to be published next month. I’d read his earlier, debut, novel Snowdrops set in post-Glasnost Russia and thought it was well paced and well observed but lacked good characterisation.

I expected he would have ironed out those flaws by his second novel only to find more of the same issues. His new book has a dual time narrative (frankly I’m getting rather tired of those now), moving between Ukraine at a time of political turmoil and London, 10 years later. Connecting the two threads is Simon Davey, a former senior British diplomat who lost his job because of something that happened in Kiev a decade earlier.

It had potential but fell far short of my expectations.

What I’ll read next

Usually this is a hard question because I simply don’t like to plan my reading.

Revenge by Yoko Ogawa

But my reservation of the next book club selection Little by Edward Carey came through in the library. So of course when I went to collect it, I absolutely had to have a browse (yes you can roll your eyes given it was only a few days ago I said I had 264 unread books at home). And I found Revenge by Yoko Ogawa. I’ve been keen to read more by her ever since experiencing The Housekeeper and The Professor. It’s currently the Japanese Literature Challenge so what a perfect opportunity to do just that with this novella.

That should keep me quiet for a little while.


Those are my plans. Now what’s on YOUR reading horizon for the next few weeks? Let me know what you’re currently reading or planning to read next.


This post is for WWW Wednesday hosted by Sam at Taking on a World of Words.

Uncovered: An Overdose Of Crime On The Shelves

Today marked yet another attempt to bring some order to the chaos of my book collection. Thanks to a mini cull I can see some space on the bookshelves which is just as well because the piles on the floor are in danger of toppling.

Every time I do this exercise I make a discovery about my stock of “owned but unread” books. Today’s discovery was that I own a load more crime fiction novels than I expected.

It’s a surprise because, though I’m partial to a little crime fiction from time to time, I’ve never considered myself a huge fan.

I view them as entertaining, something I enjoy at the time, but not the kind of book that makes me think or that lingers in my mind long after I’ve got to the final page. Most of them are so forgettable that, were you to ask me to describe a particular book, I’d be in difficulties.

Those I do recall are memorable because the characterisation is sharp, the setting evocative and the narrative deals with interesting issues. Hence why I enjoy Louise Penny’s Chief Inspector Gamache series so much.

Given all this, how have I ended up owning 22 crime fiction books?

Fortunately I can turn to the spreadsheet where I record all my purchases and acquisitions (gifts, donations, ARCs etc) to find some answers.

Completing A Series

A few are parts of a series I’ve been following. That accounts for my copies of Nature Of The Beast and Bury Your Dead which are part of the series by Louise Penny I mentioned earlier.

It also accounts for In Two Minds by Alis Hawkins. It’s the second in her Teifi Valley Coroner series and I enjoyed the first None So Blind so much I had to get the follow up. I do need to read this soon however because there is a third book Those Who Can due out in May 2020.

Earlier this year I started reading a series by Abir Mukherjeeset in India at the time of the Raj. I must have been convinced this would be good because even before I read book one, A Rising Man, I had already bought books 2 and 3 and have an ARC of the fourth.

Who Can Resist A Bargain?

I can’t, at least not when it comes to books.

I volunteer at a National Trust property which runs a second hand bookshop as a way of raising funds. So of course every time I report for duty I just have to have a peek at the most recent donations.

The prices are ridiculously low – just £1 will get you a paperback in good condition (the volunteers who run the shop vet everything before it goes on the shelves). So hard to resist…..

Which is how I acquired two books by Jane Harper: The Dry and The Lost Man, both of which a friend had highly recommended.

A “two for the price of one” offer at The Works brought me Stasi Child, a debut novel by David Young which has won several awards. What attracted my interest was that it is set in the former East Germany during the time of the Cold War. I also bought the follow up Stasi Wolf.

I have a set of three books by Alexander Wilson that came as a discounted bundle from The Book People. Wilson was one of the pen names of Alexander Joseph Patrick “Alec” Wilson, an English spy and MI6 officer. I’ve no idea about the quality of the books; maybe their plots won’t be as interesting as the real life story of the author. After his death in 1963 he was discovered to have been a serial bigamist but then questions began about the true nature of his intelligence work.

Buzz Books

There are some books I bought purely on the strength of reviews from other bloggers, mentions in social media and the occasional newspaper review. Unfortunately I failed to record the exact source of the recommendation – something I shall try to remedy with any future purchases.

Into this category falls Sixty Four by Hideo Yokoyama which revolves around the disappearance of two teenage girls 14 years apart. It was published with considerable buzz in 2018. It’s a massively chunky book , which is probably why I haven’t tackled it yet.

I also have Lewis Man by Peter May which is clearly a mistake because it’s book number one in a trilogy and I don’t have book one. So now I have to decide whether to go back to the beginning and add yet another title to my shelves…..

It’s going to take me a few years to work my way through all of these because I’ll space them out among other genres. If you’re a crime fiction expert maybe you can help me decide which of these to read first? And if there are any titles here that I could maybe give away…..

Reading horizons: Episode 24

Reading Horizons: November 2019

What I’m reading now

I’ve been digging into my stack of “owned but unread” books in an attempt to  bring some order to the chaos of the bookshelves. 

A Change of Climate was published in 1994 and is nothing like any of the other books by Hilary Mantel that I’ve read. She never seems to write the same kind of book twice.

This one is focused on a couple living in Norfolk who run a charitable trust for homeless people; drug addicts and problem teenagers. In their early married life they worked as missionaries in South Africa at a time when restrictions are tightening towards the non white population. The couple’s liberal attitudes land them in trouble and they are arrested.

I’m half way through and while I’m enjoying Mantel’s descriptive style I think the book needs to move up a gear now.

By contrast I’m reading The Diary of a Bookseller by Shaun Bythell, owner of the second largest second hand bookshop in Scotland.

It’s a journal which details the day to day events including the number of books ordered, the number of customers and total sales for the day (horrifyingly low!) Shaun’s comments on his often eccentric customers and his eccentric shop assistant Nicky are wonderful because he has a great eye for the absurd. This should be required reading for anyone thinking of buying a bookshop because while it sounds like great fun, the economic reality is sobering.

After a run of three books so disappointing that I abandoned them (one of them after just 5 pages) it was a delight to read Michelle Obama’s memoir Becoming. From start to finish it gave a fascinating insight into the character of a woman that stamped her mark on the White House. I loved her honesty and her humility – even with everything she achieved, she constantly asked herself “Will I be good enough.”

The Bowery Slugger was an experimental toe in the water of crime noir. Set in one of the most notorious neighbourhoods in New York in the early decades of the twentieth century, it traces the downward spiral into violence of a Jewish immigrant boy. The level of violence was disturbing but the book was redeemed by its depiction of New York gang culture and the Jewish community.

What I’ll read next

A friend keeps raving about the Australian author Jane Harper. I have two of her novels, The Lost Man and Force of Nature, both of which are appealing. But I’m also in the mood for some Trollope so might delve into the next in the Barchester Chronicles – Framley Parsonage.

That should keep me busy for a while.


Those are my plans. Now what’s on YOUR reading horizon for the next few weeks? Let me know what you’re currently reading or planning to read next.


This post is for WWW Wednesday hosted by Sam at Taking on a World of Words.

%d bloggers like this: