I love reading books where you find yourself in the minds of the characters, whether they are the protagonist or the antagonist. So far, John Nicholl’s first two novels do just that, and now Portraits of the Dead is no exception.
When the story opens, we witness the kidnapping of nineteen-year-old Emma. She’s taken to a place where time has no meaning and she has only the voice of her captor to keep her company. Emma’s captor sees everything that she does. He rejoices in her pain, her fears. He makes her do certain things that delight him. To her, his name is Master. To him, Emma’s new name is Venus 6.
Emma wants to give up and die so that her misery is over with, however, her will to survive is too strong to allow her. Her captor has already eliminated five girls that look like Emma and wonders if she is finally the one he’s been searching for.
Portraits of the Dead is a dark psychological thriller that throws twists and turns at you at every corner. The characters are very well-rounded and believable in what they do and how they speak. The interactions the main detectives (Grav and Rankin) had with their suspects or witnesses were fun and entertaining to read. It was easy to imagine watching their exchanges rather than simply reading, which is one quality I require in a great book.
My only issue would be that the point of view would switch in a single paragraph, which at times threw me off; however, the storytelling was tight, so I paid little attention to the POV shifts as I moved through the plot line.
The ending has a twist that left my jaw clenched and my eyes raced across each line to see what would happen next…that’s as far as I am willing to go without giving anything away. I could not put this book down. it was fast-paced, riveting, dark, creepy, tense. Everything I love in a book.
Over the past few months, I’ve been reading several serial killer thrillers as a kind of research for my own work in progress, and I have to say that Portraits of the Dead is one of my favorites. As always, I look forward to more of Mr. Nicholls’ brilliant writing and recommend him for fans of psychological thrillers that grips you with no intention of letting go.
Overall Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
John Nicholl’s debut novel: White is the coldest colour, a chilling dark psychological suspense thriller, draws on the author’s experiences as a police officer and child protection social worker. The novel entered the Amazon UK top 100 bestsellers chart after just 15 days, and became one of the 25 most read books on Kindle, reaching # 1 in British Detectives and Vigilante Justice. It also reached # 1 in British Detectives and Psychological Thrillers in France, # 1 in British Detectives and Psychological & Suspense in Spain, and # 1 in British Detectives and International Mysteries and Crime in Australia, where it reached # 10 of all books in the Kindle store. The gripping sequel: When evil calls your name, was published on the 31st of December 2015, and quickly reached # 1 in Biographies and Memoirs of Women in the UK, # 1 in Biographies and Memoirs of Criminals and International Mysteries and Crime in Australia, and # 1 in Violence in Society in the USA. Portraits of the dead, a gripping serial killer thriller, is available for pre-order from the 14, August 2016, with a 1st of September release date.
Title: Darkness Rising Author: Brian Moreland ASIN: B00Y05TVUG Published: September 1st 2015 Pages: 113 Genre: Horror
It’s all fun and games until…
Marty Weaver, an emotionally scarred poet, has been bullied his entire life. When he drives out to the lake to tell an old friend that he’s fallen in love with a girl named Jennifer, Marty encounters three sadistic killers who have some twisted games in store for him. But Marty has dark secrets of his own buried deep inside him. And tonight, when all the pain from the past is triggered, when those secrets are revealed, blood will flow and hell will rise.
Darkness Rising by Brian Moreland. Horror, poetry and redemption
I was given a free copy of this novel in exchange for an honest review.
I have read several books by Brian Moreland and loved them all.
Darkness Rising is the story of Marty, a young man with a difficult past (his father is a serial killer who killed his mother and six young women and he had to grow up suffering bullying and abuse), who has found in poetry a way to communicate his feelings and to quieten down the darkness inside. He has big plans, goals, and is in love with a young girl, Jennifer, whom he’s been teaching poetry. Unfortunately, a gang of two young men and young woman have chosen his favourite spot next to a lake to make snuff movies and dispose of the bodies, and he’s spotted there with terrible consequences. What happens next is only the beginning of the horror for Marty and what he becomes.
The story, like the previous novels written by Moreland I had read, is written with a great sense of suspense, and very visually. One can imagine the movie that could be made from the book (although sometimes it’s best not too, like when describing the artwork Marty’s father creates). This novel is more than a horror story, and it includes beautiful passages about art, the effects of creativity, first love, and redemption. Despite the extreme violence (and even the descriptions of the evil beings are lyrical and vividly accomplished) this is a coming of age and a young adult story, and an inspirational one too. Perhaps the moral of the story would not be to everybody’s taste, but the message is ultimately positive. Marty talks about going through purgatory and… he might have a point.
I like my horror stories to end up in a horrifying manner, but couldn’t help and root for Marty, who goes a long way and works hard to be the best he can and to prove that one can fight against fate and blood.
This is not a conventional horror story but I’d recommend it to people who like beautifully written dark fiction, stories about the nature of creativity and art, and do not fear treading where others wouldn’t dare.
Title: The Man Who Watched Women (A Sebastian Bergman Thriller) Author: Michael Hjorth, Hans Rosenfeldt ASIN: B00TQDWIHK Published: June 18th 2015 Pages: 528 Genre: Psychological thriller
Sometimes expectations can be a killer
Thanks to NetGalley and the publishers for the ARC copy of The Man Who Watched Women.
Like most people in the planet (particularly readers) I’m well aware of the phenomenal boom Scandinavian thrillers have experienced in the last few years. I must confess I haven’t read that many of the novels (I have read some Wallander novels and a few others), but I’m a big fan of the TV series. I stumbled upon The Killing, then after watching the BBC version of Wallander I watched the Swedish version (well, there seem to be several), and then The Bridge blew me over, and I recommended it to everybody I met (near enough).
So when I read about this novel and the fact that one of the writers had written The Bridge, I had to get it.
And then, expectations can be a killer.
This is, evidently, the first in a series of novels with Sebastian Bergman, a psychologist expert in serial killers who has experienced a terrible personal loss, as the protagonist. The novel takes on the points of view of most of the characters, including the killers, all the members of the investigative team, and some minor characters (although it is written in the third person). And that was my first issue. I’m not sure if it’s a problem with the formatting of the draft copy I received, or it is intentional, but there is no way of distinguishing when there is a change of point of view. Sometimes within the same paragraph there will be two different characters (or rather, it will pass from one to another), creating confusion, especially at the beginning when you don’t know who anybody is or what is happening. So you need to be on your toes, and not only due to the nature of the story.
Then, the characters. The case itself is interesting, although I’m not sure it’s the most interesting novel with a serial killer (or more than one, but I don’t want to spoil the story) that I’ve read. But I did not find any of the characters likeable enough. Most of them were interesting, but I found it difficult to connect with them. Sebastian is a complicated man, with an awful tragedy in his past, but he is a dislikeable human being, and other than intelligence (and he’s not at his sharpest throughout the novel) there are no redeeming qualities I could find. I also thought there were inconsistencies, like his reaction to a woman who comes into his life during the book (and there were many women in his life, and that’s the central issue, although I found it difficult to see why…), his lack of insight, and his proclaimed love for somebody but total inability to reveal a crucial bit of information that would have made everything easier and possibly mark the difference between life and death for the said person. Egotistical, and as personality disordered as the criminals he studies, he lacks the charm that might make understandable the attraction others seem to feel towards him. Yes, he’s at a low moment, but there is no evidence that he’s ever been any different, apart from possibly with his family, and we only have his memories to rely on. The ending might have been intended as some sort of redemption for Sebastian, but I thought it was too little, too late.
The rest of the characters didn’t fare any better for me. Again some were interesting, but either we didn’t get to know enough about them, or they were presented in such a single-minded fashion that it was not easy to make a connection. I thought Billy and Torkel might have some potential, but there was not enough about them to know. I was not sure about the female character who invades Sebastian’s life. She appears disturbed, and considering he’s a psychologist he should notice, even in the circumstances, and the authors add a twist at the end regarding her character that felt a bit tagged on to ensure a second part. Ursula has potential but I wasn’t sure the snippets of information we were given hang together and the surprise at the end… Well, maybe she’ll be developed further. Vanja… other than being a good police woman, and easily irritated, there was nothing else. Hinde, the baddy, is a psychopath, intelligent, with his own traumas, but no particular appealing characteristics.
There were things in the plot that I wasn’t so sure about. The psychologist Sebastian is visiting at the beginning, who was a promising character, disappears suddenly, and he’s never even questioned, despite one of the victims being his patient. When they are trying to track several people throughout the book, they never try to find them through their mobiles, even when they get phone messages sent to them from the said individuals. Although they know about one of Hinde’s associates, and they know he’s somehow involved, he disappears and it’s not clear what efforts, if any, are being made to track him down. And they should have paid attention.
All in all, maybe somebody who comes to the book without my expectations will find it more satisfying. I suspect I was expecting far too much. It is an interesting book, for sure, but I won’t be coming back for the second part. (And if the commercial edition is better formatted and a paragraph given to each character, that would definitely help).
Ratings: Realistic Characterization: 3/5 Made Me Think: 4/5 Overall enjoyment: 3/5 Readability: 2/5 Recommended: 3/5 Overall Rating: 3.5/5
Title: Chaos Is Come Again Author: John Dolan and Fiona Quinn Print Length: 350 pages Publisher: Tention Publishing Limited (October 21, 2014) Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc. Language: English ASIN: B00OSP0AGW Genre: Thriller/romance/? The publishing business, murders and madness
I have read and love the three books (so far) in the series Time, Blood and Karma by John Dolan. I know Fiona Quinn from her fantastic blog (I recommend it to anybody interested in writing thrillers. I had the pleasure of being one of her guests). And I was very intrigued by their collaboration. If any more encouragement were needed, the reviews were great too.
I had read interviews about the process involved in writing the novel and I wondered how it would have worked in reality, as it sounded fairly complicated.
Given all that I had been looking forward with trepidation to reading the novel and it did not disappoint.
The novel is seamless. I could not pick up parts that I fell were more likely to have been written by either author (I might have my theories, but nothing stood out), and once I got into the story that was no longer important.
The novel has two main protagonists: Sean, a young Englishman, a barista diagnosed with schizophrenia and with a violent incident in his past that weights heavy in his mind (although we’re never given any details), and Avery, an American woman, a literary agent burdened with a mother suffering from dementia, and whose difficulties provide at times light entertainment and at others add poignancy to the proceedings.
The two storylines: life in the literary world, a woman’s point of view, friends and chocolate cakes; and London’s gritty life, anxiety and self-doubt, together with a writer with a penchant for scandal (some would say blasphemous), an aspiring poet/singer and girlfriend with no evident redeeming qualities, and a mysterious serial killer, create as many plot threads as any eager reader would wish for (possibly even more).
Social media (Twitter in particular) helps bring them together and reels us into a thriller/romance, with a disquietingly open ending.
It’s dynamic, flows well although the rhythm varies according to whose point of view we’re seeing the story from, and with its mixture of characters and likable central duo it’s difficult not to find somebody to root for.
This is a book for readers who like to explore outside established genres and don’t mind open endings. I’m not sure die-hard thriller fans would approve but writers will have a chuckle. I did.
What the book is about: An American female literary agent, a British man struggling with a diagnosis of schizophrenia and concerned about a previous incident of violence, an irreverent author, a wannabe narcissist singer, who all come in contact with each other thanks to Twitter and the literary world. Ah, and a London serial killer.
Book Highlights: The London atmosphere, seen both through the eyes of locals and through those of newcomers. The inner workings of a literary agency. The relationship between Avery and her friend Lolly that adds a touch of chick-lit to the proceedings.
Challenges of the book: The book moves comfortably between the terrains of chick-lit, thriller, and accurately observed London life. The changes of registry, and the fragments of Travis’s novel might prove challenging to some readers, or at least not sit comfortably with everybody.
What do you get from it: That the cooperation between writers can lead to great things. And, that where there is a will, there is a way.
What I would have changed if anything: Being a psychiatrist I found it difficult not to diagnose and treat a few of the characters and I wonder how somebody with similar problems might react to some the way some of the characters are treated (Goose and his obsessive behaviours, for example) but it did reflect reality (it was probably fairly tolerant compared to reality).
Who Would I recommend this book to?: This novel moves across a few genres. I’m convinced most writers will enjoy it, and those who love thrillers with a degree of quirkiness (rather than straight procedural or cosy mystery lovers).
Ratings: Realistic Characterization: 4/5 Made Me Think: 4/5 Overall enjoyment: 4.5/5 Readability: 5/5 Recommended: 5/5 Overall Rating: 4.5/5
Title: Normal Author: Graeme Cameron ASIN: B00OY2769S Published: Kindle version due on 6th April. Hardback available from 31st March and paperback due in September 29th ) Pages: 301 pages Genre: Thriller (serial killer)/romance
Thanks to Net Galley and to Harlequin Mira for providing me with a free copy of this novel in exchange for an honest review.
Normal takes another look at the ever popular figure of the serial killer. This one is not only British, but also fairly “normal”. The author choses to use first person narration as a way of keeping the main character anonymous (no description, no personal details other than his own narration of his actions and his environment, not even a name) and of offering the readers and insight into the mind of the murderer. And this was where the problem resided for me. Of course a serial killer deserving of that name would have to appear “normal” to society at large, otherwise he would be easily spotted and stopped. But there are certain psychological characteristics that would be expected, like superficial charm, callousness, lack of empathy… All of these are present to a certain level, and even give rise to pretty humorous (in a dark humour kind of way) situations, but unravel when he seems to fall in love and becomes… an utter disaster.
From being a man who had managed to kill an undetermined number of young women, never getting caught and who had a pretty organised system, he becomes one who starts making mistakes, forgetting to bury bodies, and getting himself caught in all kinds of dangerous situations. At some point, cruelty and all, the novel becomes somewhat slapstick in its situations, and it seems that if he doesn’t get caught sooner is only down to his good luck and to the utter lack of skills of the local police (who pay dearly for their mistakes).
I wasn’t sure if the lack of psychological consistency in the character was meant to indicate a crisis (of conscience, a moral crisis) or to point out at the redeeming powers of love. The characters comments towards the end (that I won’t reveal, although the actual end is not completely closed) indicate the second option, and that stretches somewhat the limits of credibility, but maybe I’m just too cynical. As the book is a Harlequin Edition, this makes some sense, and it’s an interesting move within their line of publications.
Some reviewers have queried the lack of explanation of the motivations for the character’s actions that are only vaguely hinted at. Although that is true, the main character never seems to entertain deep reflections about himself other than in relation to his immediate plans, actions and the likely consequences of these and there doesn’t seem to be much space for biographical reflection in the way his brain works.
The character that I found intriguing is Erica who is totally unexplained and unexplainable, and in some ways I wonder how the novel would have been if she was the narrator of the story (or this had been a third person narration to allows us some insight into her).
This is a good read (if you tolerate violence, although is by far not as violent as other books on the subject), the language flows easily, and it has enough intrigue, and dark humoured moments to keep most readers of the genre happy. Being a psychiatrist (and a forensic psychiatrist at that) I wasn’t totally convinced by the psychological portrayal of the character and his behaviour in the last third of the book but I don’t think I’m the intended reader of this novel. In my opinion most readers of thrillers looking for something a bit different will enjoy it, but maybe not the hard core of the genre.
Ratings: Realistic Characterization: 3/5 Made Me Think: 4/5 Overall enjoyment: 3.5/5 Readability: 4.5/5 Recommended: 4/5 Overall Rating: 3.5/5
Buy it at: Amazon Format & Pricing: Paperback: $ 13.04 (Available from 29th September) Hardback: $ 18.71 (Available from 31st March) Kindle:$7.25 (Available from 6th April. Currently on pre-order)
Thank you all for reading, and you know what I say, like, share, comment, and if you’re really interested, get pre-CLICKING!