From the Shadows by Neil White

Although Neil White is a bestselling author, I hadn’t come across him until I saw From the Shadows on Netgalley. What drew me to the title was the description — “a gripping thriller”. In fact, it’s part murder mystery, part crime fiction, part thriller, part courtroom drama. All of which amounts to a good read once the story gets going.

So, what’s it about?

When criminal defence lawyer Dan Grant is asked to take over a case from another firm, he suspects there’s something unusual about the case.

Robert Carter is accused of murder. The court case is just two weeks away and Dan is supposed to just turn up, defend the client, and get paid. But that’s not Dan’s style. He wants to do his best for Carter, and that means investigating the case. Carter’s best chance of getting off is if Dan can show that someone else had the opportunity to commit the crime.

Time is very short so Dan needs help to build a case. He hires a former client, investigator Jayne Brett, to do some of the legwork.

Dangerous game

Once they begin to look into the case, they find that Carter is not the murderer. But everyone, including Carter, is reluctant to tell what they know and, before long, Dan and Jayne find that uncovering the truth is a dangerous game. Once they’ve started, however, they can’t let go until the job is done.

After a strong opening, From the Shadows takes a while to pick up pace. A couple of chapters in, it seems to settle down and from there on it’s a fairly engrossing read.

Dan and Jayne are a well-matched team and far and away the best characters in the novel. I’d happily follow them through further novels if White turns this into a series. That said, Neil White could have made From the Shadows a stronger story with a bit more insight into the background and motivations of the other main characters.

I’d like to have known more about Shelley, the solicitor who worked on Carter’s case before Dan took it over. What did she find out and who did she upset in the process? How come her firm’s conflict of interest only became an issue so late in the case? There was also scope to provide more detail on some of the other key players in this story — particularly the baddies. Nevertheless, From the Shadows is a decent read. If you like crime fiction, murder mysteries or courtroom dramas, keep an eye out for it.

From the Shadows by Neil White is published by Bonnier Zaffre. I read a Netgalley ARC.

Perfect Prey by Helen Fields | An absorbing police procedural

Three-quarters of the way through Perfect Prey by Helen Fields, at 10.30 on a summer’s evening, I dragged a lamp out to the conservatory so I could read on until I reached the end. That’s a sure sign of an unputdownable book. There’s lots to like about Perfect Prey. It’s an absorbing story with interesting, complex characters, narrated at a fast pace with lots of action and nice short chapters.

So, what’s Perfect Prey about?

This is is a policy procedural — the second in a series by Helen Fields featuring Detective Inspector Luc Callanach. The story begins with an apparently out-of-the-blue stabbing at an open air concert in Edinburgh.  Soon, it turns out the killing is just the first in a series of attention-grabbing murders. But are they linked? Who’s behind them and why?

Investigating the crimes are DI Callanach, a French/Scottish police officer with hints of an intriguing back story and DI Ava Turner.

At first, there are few clues to follow but when words connected to the crimes begin to appear in graffiti around Edinburgh it becomes clear that the murderer or murderers are announcing the occupation of their intended victims in advance.

When Luc needs help to track the online activities of the murder suspects, he turns not to police experts, but to a private operator, Ben Paulson and an online journalist. This creates tension with Ava’s boyfriend — a Scotland Yard investigator who specialises in investigating in cybercrime. You get the sense there’s more to this tension than just the cases they’re working on. Could it have something to do with Ava? Or it is just because the boyfriend is nasty piece of work?

These are really interesting characters with complicated personal lives and hints of a shared history.  As soon as I finished Perfect Prey, I went out and bought Perfect Remains, the first novel in the series. I look forward to reading it next and hope to read more Helen Fields in future. If you like crime thrillers, keep an eye out for her!

[Disclosure: I read an uncorrected proof of Perfect Prey thanks to publisher Harper Collins.]

Here and Gone by Haylen Beck | An intense thriller

Haylen Beck delivers a tense thriller about an isolated mother struggling to find her children before it’s too late.

Leaving behind an abusive husband, a young mother packs her belongings into an old station wagon. Then, taking her young children she sets out on a journey to start a new life. As she travels from New York through Arizona, Audra Kinney half expects someone will follow her. She’s understandably nervous so she sticks to quiet, back roads but the journey is long and the car is hot.

Stopping for water at an isolated gas station, she spots a police car parked on the forecourt. Although she’s done nothing wrong, the sight of the car makes her nervous. She buys the water and plans to stop off overnight when she reaches the next town. It’s just a few miles away and both she and the children are ready for a rest. Back in the car, with no sign of the police, she resumes her journey. But then she notices the police car following her and when Sheriff Whiteside pulls her over, Audra’s nightmare is about to begin. In the blink of an eye she finds herself in a jail cell with her children missing. Isolated and with no one to call on for help, she must battle corrupt authorities to find her children before it’s too late.

Here and Gone is not just tense, it’s intense. From the first page, Haylen Beck had my heart racing. I felt both too scared to continue reading and too scared to stop. In the event, I read on until 300 pages later I  reached the end in a single sitting.

This is good, old-fashioned storytelling with a strong plot, believable characters, tension, drama and a fast pace.  If you don’t mind being scared, it’s a cracking read!

Disclosure: I read an advance copy via Netgalley.