Author Archives: sandradan1

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Novelist. I blog about writing, reading and everything to do with books and writing them at Come and visit me!

#BookReview ‘The Partisan’ by Patrick Worrall #thriller #ColdWar #spy

The key protagonist in The Partisan by Patrick Worrall is a female Lithuanian resistance fighter who becomes a Cold War assassin. How nice to read a thriller set in the Baltic States, a fresh take on war and how to survive it. At the heart of the story is Greta, the partisan. I admired her, and feared her. Patrick WorrallAn ambitious timeline ranges from the Spanish Civil War to the Sixties Cold War as Greta turns from wartime fighting, one of the Three Sisters, to post-war vengeance tracking down the war criminals on her list and eliminating them. Greta’s story intersects in 1963 with Yulia and Michael, Soviet and English teenage chess champions respectively, and a Soviet plot to win the Cold War. The 1963 chess sub-plot got in the way. Greta is the fascinating character, I wanted to read about her. Her story is thrilling enough.
I couldn’t help but wonder if a more limited reach would help the story’s rhythm. The story jumps around a bit. In the first half I would prefer spending longer with each character to understand them, before the pace picks up as tension rises and point of view gets snappier. I wanted to read about Greta’s story in one long narrative thread instead of a timeline jumping between 1940s and 1963. I particularly enjoyed Greta’s interviews with journalist Indrė in 2004 and was unable to get beyond the jumping around when I wanted to settle in with one character. The character list is long with many similar names to remember – who is on which side, who is double-crossing who – and this took me out of the story.
I’m always partial to a good thriller and like to find debut authors, so I’ll be watching out for the next book from Patrick Worrall. It’s different, try it.

If you like this, try:-
The Diamond Eye’ by Kate Quinn
A Hero in France’ by Alan Furst
V2’ by Robert Harris

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THE PARTISAN by Patrick Worrall #bookreview via @SandraDanby

#BookReview ‘The Last Hours in Paris’ by Ruth Druart #WW2

The Last Hours in Paris by Ruth Druart is a different kind of Second World War romance. At times it is a tough read, the hatred is visceral and uncompromising. It feels real. Ruth DruartThis is the story of three people in the last days of occupied Paris and the years following when repercussions continued and the war, though never spoken of, remained tangled in the roots of daily life. Those who fought the Germans, those who stayed behind and lived under German dictatorship. In peacetime everyone must live alongside each other again. The different memories, experiences, losses, are difficult to assimilate.
In Paris 1944 Élise Chevalier a bank clerk by day, secretly helps to smuggle Jewish children from the city. ‘Paris was no longer Paris. It was an occupied city, and even the buildings seemed to be holding their breath, waiting.’ No longer her familiar city, Paris is sinister, threatening, frightening. One day in her favourite bookshop Élise is threatened by two French policemen and is defended by another customer, a German soldier. And so begins the story of Élise and Sébastian Kleinhaus and the terrifying, impossible time in which they live.
In 1963 in rural Brittany, eighteen-year old Joséphine Chevalier uncovers a story about her mother that she could never have imagined. She fears it is impossible to truly know someone. ‘From now on, she’ll always be wondering what part of themselves people are hiding.’
A slow burn to start, Druart takes her time, allowing us to feel connected to the characters as she gradually raises the emotional temperature. The peripheral characters are well drawn, particularly Élise’s younger sister Isabelle, bookshop owner Monsieur le Bolzec and Breton farmer Soizic. Each brings their own experience, judgement and dignity to what is an impossible, unbearable situation for everyone. The definition of family and home, love, protection and separation. ‘Maybe home wasn’t a place at all, but the people you wanted to be with.’
Whatever you may think of what happened in Paris at this time, Druart tells this sensitive story of young people, inexperienced, naive and hopeful, living in a time of such violence and betrayal, of secrets, survival, moralising and vengeance. After surviving the hardships, violence and deprivations of war, how can they adapt to find a new life of possibilities. How can they forgive the secrets and betrayals and move on.
A strongly emotional interpretation of life in occupied Paris that is hardly an obvious setting for a story about love. But this is a love more than romance. It is a love of family, responsibility, truth, sacrifice, forgiveness, of letting go of past hurts and wrongs and looking to the future.
Highly recommended.

Click the title to read my review of WHILE PARIS SLEPT, another World War Two story by Ruth Druart.

If you like this, try:-
Midnight in Europe’ by Alan Furst
The Book of Lies’ by Mark Horlock
After the Bombing’ by Clare Morrall

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THE LAST HOURS IN PARIS by Ruth Druart #bookreview via @SandraDanby

#BookReview ‘Ladder of Years’ by Anne Tyler #literary #family

Ladder of Years is another fine character-led drama by Anne Tyler, one of my favourite authors. It is the story of Delia Grinstead who, in a moment of dissatisfaction with her life and relationships, goes for a walk on the beach and keeps on walking. Finding a niche in a small town, with hardly any money and possessions, Delia starts again. And when her family catch up with her and ask her why she left, she cannot find a way to explain.

It is twenty-eight years since Ladder of Years was first published. It was chosen by Time magazine as one of the ten best books of 1995. Tyler had already been a Pulitzer Prize finalist in 1986 with The Accidental Tourist and won it in 1989 for Breathing Lessons. All her novels stand the test of time and can be read as if the action takes place today, so accurately is her finger on the portrayal of human emotion.

Adrift from her husband and three almost-adult children in Baltimore and not understanding why, Delia finally tips over the edge while on holiday. She finds herself in Bay Borough, the sort of small town where everyone knows everyone else’s business. She finds a job and a room to rent, buys a couple of secondhand work dresses and a nifty gadget to heat water in a cup so she can make an early morning cup of tea. Delia knows she should let her family know she is safe but is disinclined to do so, feeling she has been taken for granted. Inevitably, one of her sisters arrives on the doorstep. What follows is the story of a woman free for the first time, having married as a teenager and worked all that time as her doctor husband’s receptionist. Free from the expectations of others, she makes a circle of friends on her own terms.

This is a novel about middle-aged stasis and escape, about admitting the truth of one’s own life, choices and possibilities, and that there are no easy answers. Tyler’s characters are always so well-drawn and believable and her observations so wise and true, sometimes uncomfortably so. Here’s an example; ‘Didn’t it often happen, she thought, that aged parents die exactly at the moment when other people (your husband, your adolescent children) have stopped being thrilled to see you coming? But a parent is always thrilled, always dwells so lovingly on your face as you are speaking. One of life’s many ironies.’ Of course, Delia encounters other parent/child combinations in Bay Borough which challenge this theory.

Tyler’s novels deceive; seemingly about small domesticities and passage-of-life-events, they are really about the big, difficult questions we all face as we pass through different phases of life.


Read my reviews of these other books by Anne Tyler:-

And read the first paragraphs of:-

If you like this, try:-
Olive Kitteridge’ by Elizabeth Strout
Mothering Sunday’ by Graham Swift
The Stars are Fire’ by Anita Shreve

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#Bookreview LADDER OF YEARS by Anne Tyler via @SandraDanby

Rebecca Stott

#BookReview ‘Dark Earth’ by @RebeccaStott64 #fantasy #folklore

Dark Earth by is rooted in the history of post-Roman Londinium, the Dark Ages of which few facts are known. It traces the fate of two sisters, both confound the expectations of the time. Isla is a smith, Blue a mystic. When their father dies they must adapt to survive. Rebecca StottSet around AD 500, these sisters have been living a self-sufficient free life with their father, a Great Smith, on a small island in the Thames. When he dies, they cannot stay. Isla finishes her father’s commission, a special ‘firetongue’ sword for the local lord and overseer Osric. Women are forbidden to work as smiths so the girls must deliver the sword without admitting their father is dead, their aim is to gain the protection of kinship. But a violent act forces the sisters abandon their plan and they flee Osric’s camp.
They hide in the Ghost City, the abandoned riverbank settlement that belonged to the Sun Kings and is now home to a secret women’s community. As the girls are hunted by Osric and his son Vort, they are torn. Should they stay or run. Stay sheltered amongst this supportive group but unable to venture beyond the walls of the Ghost City, or protect the community by leaving it and leading their attackers away. The sisters have different tasks during the day which means they see each other less and become exposed to new influences. Isla establishes a forge while Blue forages for herbs and learns about healing. Romance adds complications to their big decision, stay or go. Will the sisters remain united or, as they become adults, will they make individual decisions taking them in different directions.
In places I was overwhelmed by description with so many historical and folklore details that the setting seemed to blur and the narrative pace slowed. More a fantasy novel rooted in history than a historical novel with fantasy elements, Stott has creatively imagined the unknown time in which Isla and Blue live. The country during this period was occupied by a variety of settlers, knitted together by essential trade but separated by beliefs and violence. Little fact remains. Perhaps there would be more clarity if each group were given their historical name, ie Romans rather than Sun Kings. Trying to guess who was who distracted me from Isla and Blue’s story.
This is a story about sisters in an ancient time who grow from being inseparable to having their own motivations, desires and conflicts. Told from a modern female perspective with few rounded male characters, it is an atmospheric read, slow in the middle but which raced towards the end. An end that neatly connects the Ghost City to today.

If you like this, try:-
The Invasion of the Tearling’ by Erika Johansen
Children of Blood and Bone’ by Tomi Adeymi
The Silence of the Girls’ by Pat Barker

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DARK EARTH by @RebeccaStott64 #bookreview via @SandraDanby

#BookReview ‘A Lady’s Guide to Fortune-Hunting’ by @SophieHIrwin #romance

Just what I needed after finishing a more weighty and time-consuming read, A Lady’s Guide to Fortune-Hunting by Sophie Irwin propelled me along on a wave of flirting and social waltzing. And I gulped it down like a mug of hot chocolate on an icy day.Sophie Irwin

Kitty Talbot is in need of a husband, quickly. After the deaths of first her mother then her father, Kitty, as the eldest of five girls, is left with the financial and caring responsibilities of her younger sisters and a huge debt. With 12 weeks to pay the money owed or vacate their childhood home Netley Cottage, Kitty decides a husband with the right amount of wealth must be sought. The twenty-year old problem solver, always pragmatic, heads to London with bookish sister Cecily in tow, to stay with an old friend of their mother. Aunt Dorothy is not their aunt and, Kitty fears, her history may not withstand close examination. But Kitty’s plan is to gain admittance to the London season – specifically the circle of ‘the ton’, the wealthiest and most aristocratic of London’s social scene – and find a man richer than is available to her in Dorsetshire. He must wipe out the Talbot debt and ensure the financial security of the five sisters. Aunt Dorothy is the only person Kitty knows, despite never having met the lady, who might help them.
A combination of scheming Becky Sharp and witty Elizabeth Bennet, Kitty occupies the fine line between being a fortune-seeker, a flirt and a liar. She is sharp-witted, charming, eager to learn and brave. The latter quality comes in useful as she must enter ballrooms full of people she knows she recently offended due in part to her lack of knowledge of social conventions and in part to the delicate sensitivities and prejudices of the offended. The social mores of ‘the ton’ are unpredictable, difficult to predict and often silly. So she holds her head high and seeks help from the most unlikely places. Lord Radcliffe, the elder brother of one of Kitty’s first flirtations, becomes an unwilling mentor. In a deal to ensure Kitty will not engage with his younger, naïve brother Archie, Radcliffe agrees to give Kitty guidance on London’s social minefield. Neither is wholly satisfied with their deal. Kitty, because Radcliffe is often unable to give her the most helpful information [how deep or shallow a curtsey should be to people of differing ranks, for example] and Radcliffe because he fears he will never be rid of her.
Funny and entertaining, complete with unpredictable siblings who get into trouble, embarrassing beaux, flirtations and elopements, gambling and pistols, I enjoyed this immensely. The plot moves on swiftly and, though the language and detail sometimes slips from period accuracy, I decided to ignore that and go with the fun.

If you like this, try:-
The Convenient Marriage’ by Georgette Heyer
The 20s Girl, The Ghost, and All That Jazz’ by June Kearns
The Girl at the Window’ by Rowan Coleman

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A LADY’S GUIDE TO FORTUNE-HUNTING by @SophieHIrwin #bookreview via @SandraDanby

#BookReview ‘Paper Cup’ by @writerkcampbell #contemporary

Homeless Kelly witnesses a horrific accident in Glasgow which sets her on a course towards her hometown in Galloway. Paper Cup by Karen Campbell is Kelly’s story as she faces her long-buried demons and receives gestures of kindness from complete strangers. Karen CampbellA new author for me, I found the first few pages slow to get into but I persevered and was glad I did. There are many ‘finding yourself’ road trip novels – THE UNLIKELY PILGRIMAGE OF HAROLD FRY by Rachel Joyce being the first that comes to mind – and most are uplifting, verging on the sentimental. This one is different. Campbell’s gritty portrayal of Kelly’s struggles, and finally the truth of why she is a vagrant, challenges the reader to be open-minded and compassionate.
A long way from home, cadging pennies to buy the alcohol which keeps her going from day to day, Kelly blocks out troubling memories until a lost ring gives her purpose and a forlorn puppy becomes a companion. Re-learning to love and care for Collie [short for Cauliflower] redirects Kelly’s self-focus and gives her strength to put one step in front of the other. Kelly originally starts walking in order to return an engagement ring to a drunken bride who, on her hen night, didn’t realise that in the pile of coins she left at a dosser’s feet was her diamond ring.
This is a generous, sympathetic portrayal of a character who is lost in so many ways and Campbell encourages us to be kind and less judgemental. In order to move on emotionally, Kelly must open the box full of bad memories and be kind to herself. During an encounter with a minibus of tourists, Kelly is given a leaflet. ‘Pilgrims’ Progress. Travel through Scotland in the footsteps of saints and sinners.’ She decides to follow the map. Four places in four days. ‘Her own wee walkabout’ alone amongst the heather. ‘And the best of it is, no one knows she is here.’ Meanwhile Kelly is pursued from Glasgow by friends, and a journalist keen to tell her story.
There is Glaswegian slang but after a few pages I just learned to go with the flow of language. Kelly walks through a beautiful part of the world and Campbell’s description brings this to life, always tempered with edginess which brings us back to Kelly’s past and present, the sad reasons for her homelessness and alcoholism.

If you like this, try:-
The Funny Thing About Norman Foreman’ by Julietta Henderson
Etta and Otto and Russell and James’ by Emma Hooper
Mobile Library’ by David Whitehouse

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PAPER CUP by @writerkcampbell #bookreview via @SandraDanby

#BookReview ‘The Ivy Tree’ by Mary Stewart #mystery

A strange encounter on Hadrian’s Wall in Northumberland kicks off this mystery of assumed identity and deceit. The premise of The Ivy Tree by Mary Stewart reminded me immediately of Josephine Tey’s masterpiece about a fraudulent heir, Brat Farrar and Stewart’s characters refer to the Tey book. Mary StewartDays after a young man mistakes Mary Grey for a local woman who disappeared eight years earlier, Mary sees a strange woman watching her in the Newcastle café where she is waitressing. What follows is a complex plot to secure the fortune and property of an elderly gentleman, his health failing, before he should die. Mary, at the behest of sibling partnership Connor Winslow and Lisa Dermott, will impersonate Annabel Winslow, the woman she so resembles, in order to win the Winslow’s farm Whitescar for Con. Unscrupulous, immoral? Or redressing a wrong perpetuated in a will which needs updating before Matthew Winslow’s imminent death? Throughout the first half of the story, which works up to the false Annabel’s arrival at Whitescar and the hurdles of lies and pretence she must negotiate, I suspected Mary Grey of being the real Annabel. But at the halfway mark in the story, everything changes as new information bursts on the scene. And all set in the glorious summer setting of rural Northumberland, where abundant roses tumble through the hedgerows and a cat named Tommy has kittens.
More a mystery with an odd touch of romance, than a romantic mystery, Stewart has populated the story with edgy unlikeable characters. Apart from Annabel’s grandfather and her young cousin Julie, who was only eleven when Annabel was assumed dead after mysteriously disappearing. Julie’s naïvely-recounted memories of what passed eight years earlier help the reader, and ‘Annabel,’ to grasp the complexities of the Winslow family politics. But as for everyone else, I didn’t trust any of them.
The ivy tree of the novel’s title is not of course made of ivy, it’s a large old oak tree now swamped by ivy. ‘Eventually the ivy would kill it. Already, through the tracery of the ivy-stems, some of the oak boughs showed dead, and one great lower limb, long since broken off, had left a gap where rotten wood yawned, in holes deep enough for owls to nest in.’ As the story unfolds, the significance of this tree becomes clearer. Stewart, as always, writes with such a brooding sense of atmosphere, almost acting as an extra character. And she handles the balance of trickery, of information withheld, suspected, hinted and revealed, like a master craftsman.
A story with so many twists it seems the knot will never be untied. But it is, in a final thrilling scene involving the old ivy tree. Another Mary Stewart classic. She makes you feel as if you’re there, watching as the story unfolds around you.

Click the title to read my reviews of other Mary Stewart novels:-

Click the title to read my review of BRAT FARRAR by Josephine Tey.

If you like this, try these:-
My Husband the Stranger’ by Rebecca Done
Wolf Winter’ by Cecilia Ekback
Little Deaths’ by Emma Flint

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THE IVY TREE by Mary Stewart #BookReview via @SandraDanby

#BookReview ‘My Name is Yip’ by Paddy Crewe #historical

Through the course of his story, Yip Tolroy founds out who he is and who he isn’t. My Name is Yip by Paddy Crewe is a historical novel with a difference, a first person narrative about an extraordinary, ordinary, boy and what he learns about friendship. Paddy CreweYip is 4 ft 8 in tall and unable to speak. His father disappeared on the night of Yip’s birth and so he and his mother muddle along together. He is assumed by everyone who lives in Heron’s Creek to be slow, with no understanding of what is going on around him. But the opposite is true. Yip watches and learns. He is a great observer. He is fifteen when old gentleman Shelby Stubbs recognises Yip’s intelligence, teaches him to read and write and presents him with a portable slate and chalk which Yip uses to communicate. A new world opens up before him but he must find the courage to take the first step.
The voice at first seemed awkward, but by the third or fourth page I knew this was Yip’s own voice and the awkwardness disappeared. Yip has a clear sense of right and wrong, of kindness and cruelty. As a growing child, he sits on a stool beneath a tree outside his mother’s store and watches the world go by. Until events conspire to change his world. Set in Georgia in 1830, gold is discovered near Heron’s Creek, a man disappears and Yip commits a crime. He goes on the run with a newcomer in town, Dud Carter; a man Yip has only seen once before. ‘A tall gangly figure with a crop of hair what the rain had plastered to his short forehead.’ These unlikely companions go on a road trip, with Yip’s constant horse Gussie, facing trials and danger, learning about themselves, each other and the things man is capable of doing to man.
This is an original story with an everyman message about being true to yourself. As Yip says at the end, ‘You got to keep yourself whole & be who it was you was set here to be.’
Very different. Don’t miss it.

If you like this, try:-
Barkskins’ by Annie Proulx
At the Edge of the Orchard’ by Tracy Chevalier
Days Without End’ by Sebastian Barry

And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet:
MY NAME IS YIP by Paddy Crewe #bookreview via @SandraDanby

#BookReview ‘City of Masks’ by @SD_Sykes #historical

It is 1358 and Lord Somershill, Oswald de Lacy, is in Venice with his mother on route to the Holy Land. But Venice is at war with Hungary and the pair are stranded in this city of secrets. City of Masks, third in the Oswald de Lacy medieval mystery series by SD Sykes, sees the young lord investigating the death of a friend. SD SykesVenice is a wonderful setting for Oswald’s detecting. A closed city with its own rules, customs, prejudices and culture, it is a minefield for a stranger seeking information. Oswald relies on acquaintances and new friends for help. But all is not as it seems. Not all deceivers wear a traditional grotesque Venetian mask, some are in full sight. Oswald’s mother continues to be an irritant to him but is full of surprises and there is tension in the house of their hosts, John Bearpark and his young wife, who is due to give birth. As Oswald’s investigations progress, so do strange happenings at the Bearpark house. Plus, Oswald has the feeling he is being followed everywhere he goes. Even to the dangerous military complex, the Arsenale, to the island of lepers and to the gambling dens where he wins, and loses, money.
In this instalment we learn more of Oswald’s inner devils. He is accompanying his mother on this pilgrimage not because he shares her beliefs but because he is running from a bad memory at home. This dark shame within him will not be repressed and as he closes in on the murderer, his thought processes become fickle and his decision-making unreliable. As the days pass, Oswald must solve the murder or an innocent woman will be executed. And Oswald owes money he doesn’t have, money lost at cards, to a thug named Vittore. Venice is portrayed as a repressive, autocratic society with abuse of the poor and infirm. The surface glitters with beautiful houses but beneath, the foundations are rotting. Each island in the lagoon is a separate territory, outsiders are watched, exploited, killed.
Oswald is an impetuous investigator. He assumes possibilities are fact and pursues numerous wild goose chases. He is not an ideal detective. He stumbles on truths and walks straight into danger. He is emotional and naïve. But hidden in his to-ing and fro-ing around Venice and other islands in the Venetian Lagoon, are hints of the real crime, the real culprits. Venice is riddled with deception and Oswald must learn to see beyond the disguises and dissembling, to apply scepticism to everyone and everything around him.

Click the title to read my reviews of the first two books in this series:-

If you like this, try:-
The Almanack’ by Martine Bailey
The Leviathan’ by Rosie Andrews
Dangerous Women’ by Hope Adams

And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet:
CITY OF MASKS by @SD_Sykes #bookreview via @SandraDanby

#BookReview ‘London Rules’ by Mick Herron #spy #thriller

‘Cover your arse’ is the first rule to live by for Jackson Lamb’s team of spies in London Rules, fifth in the Slough House thriller series by Mick Herron. Mick HerronLife in Britain is going to the dogs. A troublesome Brexiteer MP is being loud-mouthed again. Number two spy at Regent’s Park HQ, ‘Lady Di’ Taverner, has a new boss. And there’s an unprovoked gun attack by men in jeeps on a small village in Derbyshire. Lamb’s team of reject spies is adjusting to life after a recent attack on the premises. Shirley Dander is counting down the days to her last anger management session while trying to resist the packet of cocaine in her pocket; River Cartwright visits his grandfather, the ‘OB,’ now suffering from dementia; and Louisa Guy distracts herself from grief with a shoe obsession. Contrary to some descriptions, this is not a series about one man but about a team of colleagues. Each is flawed, and compelling.
When IT guy Roddy Ho is attacked in the street in broad daylight, the action can’t be ignored. The Slough House desk-bound spies leap into action. Their long-ago training lends them a basic knowledge of tradecraft which is useful, but their ignorance and ability to blindly charge into a dangerous situation can be a liability as well as an advantage. When a pipe bomb is lobbed into the penguin enclosure at a zoo and a bomb is found on a train, the team begin to wonder if JK Coe’s wild theory – that someone is implementing a theoretical five-stage terrorist plan to destabilise a state – could be happening in Britain. If so, how did the terrorists get the top secret plan? Was someone duped into leaking secrets or is there a mole at Regent’s Park?
Meanwhile the grind of daily politics continues. As the publicity-seeking MP prepares to announce he is going to cross the floor of the House of Commons, he is warned by new Lady Di’s new boss Claude Whelan that a deeply-hidden secret is about to be made public. In Birmingham, the media-friendly aspiring Muslim mayor, tipped for success and who has the ear of the PM, also has a ‘bagman’ with a criminal past. Could they be a threat, or in danger? And what has any of this to do with JK Coe’s theory?
In each book, the team of reject spies changes slightly though some old favourites, such as River Cartwright, and of course the chief, Jackson Lamb, continue. This time there are a number of curious things going on. No one can understand why Kim, beautiful girlfriend of the dysfunctional Ho, is actually with him. What secret is sleazy politician Dennis Gimball hiding from his wife, Dodie, who thinks she knows every dirty little thing he has done? And why is Ho taken to Regent’s Park and locked in an isolation room with a tap and a metal drain?
The plot twists inside out and round about and through it all cuts the acerbic cynicism of Lamb. If JK Coe’s theory is correct will Lamb believe his silent, intense, anti-social spy and act? If Lamb disobeys orders again, could Slough House be shut down?
The dark humour of this series never fails to make me laugh out loud while the scenarios are one frightening step away from feeling possible. I do long, though, to hear Lamb’s inner thoughts. We are shown the mind of other Slow Horses but not Jackson Lamb. What really makes him tick?

Click the title to read my reviews of the first four books in the Slough House series:-

If you like this, try:-
Waiting for Sunrise’ by William Boyd
Never’ by Ken Follett
This is the Night They Come for You’ by Robert Goddard

And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet:
LONDON RULES by Mick Herron #bookreview via @SandraDanby