Welcome to my book-blog. I've spent the last 22 years as a teacher of English Literature and running a Stage School and Theatre. Alongside that, I spend as much time as I can within the pages of a book and hope you'll get some reading inspiration from my library. Catch me on Instagram as well as books.tea.and.me – I'm always looking for recommendations!
It’s super exciting to be a part of this blog tour for A.J. Park’s debut novel ‘The First Lie’. With thanks to Alex at Orion Books for the invite! Please keep scrolling for some bookish chat…
A freak accident. An impossible choice. But what was the first lie?
When Paul Reeve comes home to find his wife in the bathroom, bloodied and shaking, his survival instinct kicks in.
Alice never meant to kill the intruder. She was at home, alone, and terrified. She doesn’t deserve to be blamed for it. Covering up the murder is their only option.
But the crime eats away at the couple and soon they can’t trust anyone – even one another… But there is much more at stake than anyone realises – and many more people on their trail than they can possibly evade…
Crikey, this book opens with a nightmare situation and a terrific narrative hook! Imagine the terror of arriving home after discovering several missed calls from your spouse… and finding the front door open! This is the scary and traumatic scene Paul Reeve finds at the beginning of ‘The First Lie’, and from this starting point we are hurtled along at quite a pace, as he deals with the cover up of a bloody ‘crime’ and his wife’s struggle to accept the events of that night and the choices they made.
A.J. Park’s debut novel moves from the narratives of Paul, and his wife Alice, whilst alternating with the police investigating team of a series of murders, where an assassin is the suspected culprit; this is headed by D.S. Katherine Wright and becomes our alternate focus in the story. These two elements eventually combine, and the narrative pulls together sharply.
I must admit that there are characters who are incredibly annoying in this book! This is not a negative, this is part of the story and their roles; personally I struggled with the development of Alice – she seemed to have a complete personality change three-quarters of the way in, which alienated me a little, but again that’s just my individual response. I love the balance between the two narratives, and how they gradually pull together; this makes exciting reading!
This is a super debut novel, with all the thriller elements readers of this genre enjoy! There are lots of plot layers and links which make it an enjoyable puzzle to read; it’s jam packed with deception, lies and mistrust, building to an intense and nerve-wracking climax.
A swiftly flowing, dark and challenging thriller that compels you to keep turning the pages!
About the author
After studying literature, linguistics and Spanish at university, A.J. Park trained as an English teacher and actor. He has edited magazines, and taught English, Media Studies and Drama in secondary schools across England. He was also a competitive fencer for seven years.
I’m really pleased to be featuring an extract from ‘Blood Red City’ today, I’d have loved to read it, but my review list was a little too long sadly, and I didn’t have enough time before the tour – it’s definitely on my list of books to buy soon! Can’t wait! Keep reading for the blurb, a gripping extract (I really want to keep reading!) and the author bio…
A witness but no victim. A crime but no crime scene…
When crusading journalist Lydia Wright is sent a video of an apparent murder on a London train, she thinks she’s found the story to revive her career. But she can’t find a victim, much less the killers, and the only witness has disappeared. Wary she’s fallen for fake news, she begins to doubt her instincts – until a sinister call suggests that she’s not the only one interested in the crime.
Michael Stringer deals in information – and doesn’t care which side of the law he finds himself on. But the murder on the train has left him exposed, and now he’ll stop at nothing to discover what Lydia knows.
When their paths collide, Lydia finds the story leads through a nightmare world, where money, power and politics intersect … and information is the only thing more dangerous than a bullet.
An extract from BLOOD RED CITY
The day’s penultimate job was an easy one, comparatively. He’d ordered things that way. The self-help manuals he used to read would advise tackling the hardest tasks on your list first; fine in theory, not so easy when there were lives at stake.
So that came next. For now, Michael Stringer had the home of London Assembly member Nigel Carlton in his sights. A nice semi on a nice road in Finchley, the streetlights casting the bay windows in amber relief. He’d done business in worse places.
His skin itched, waiting. Carlton had arrived home ten minutes prior, the house unlit before that. Stringer’s information was that Carlton’s wife was in Brussels for business – a regular occurrence, in his estimation the cover for an affair. Not Stringer’s concern in this matter, but professional rigour wasn’t something he could just turn on and off.
Ten minutes was just long enough. Carlton had showed up in a cab, so the chance of anyone else arriving separately was slim – but not zero. A mistake he’d made once before: on that occasion, Stringer had tailgated a target into his flat after watching him arrive alone, only to have the man’s secretary let herself in minutes later with her own set of keys, just as he was getting to it. Transpired the woman and the target took separate cabs from their office to keep their trysts under wraps.
But ten minutes was enough time to discount that possibility. Any longer ran the danger of a takeaway order showing up, or even the target leaving home again – a late-night urge for a bottle of Pinot or a bag of coke, or who fucking knew what.
Stringer rang the doorbell. The hallway light went on, and then the door opened without a sound. Carlton looked him over, the caution in his expression fading when he took in the wiry man in the charcoal-grey suit on his doorstep. Stringer didn’t immediately speak.
‘Yes?’ Carlton said.
Stringer raised the blue plastic document wallet in his hand. ‘We need to talk about these.’
Carlton squinted. ‘Sorry, have we met? Who—?’
‘The girl you’ve been emailing is fourteen years old. Did you know?’
‘What? What girl?’
‘Jennifer Tully – Jennycat18@hotmail.com. Her Facebook picture is her with glitter all over her face; I’m told it’s something the kids are into these days. If you swore to me she was eighteen I’d probably believe you, but I wouldn’t bet my career on it.’
Carlton dug into his pocket, produced his phone. ‘I’m calling the police.’
Stringer waited, staring at him doing nothing. ‘Well? You don’t need my permission.’
‘I don’t know … Look, you’ve got your wires crossed somewhere so why don’t you bugger off before…’ He swiped the phone to unlock it.
‘“Assembly Member”. That your title?’
Carlton looked up.
‘Awkward as honorifics go, so I’ll use Nigel. Nigel, have a listen to some of this.’ Stringer dipped his head, mimicking reading even though he had it memorised. ‘“I’ve been thinking about you all night, I couldn’t help myself, couldn’t sleep … I can smell you on my shirt and I just want to eat you up … I haven’t felt this way about anyone since I was a teenager … I don’t know what’s come over me.”’ Stringer handed him the email printout, pointing to the sender details at the top. ‘That’s you, yes?’
Carlton skimmed the page, his mouth coming ajar. ‘I’ve never … This is not me. I’ve never seen it in my life, I’ve never heard of this girl…’
‘Let’s go inside.’
‘Who the hell are you?’
Stringer jutted his chin. ‘Inside.’
Carlton backed up, staring at the printout as if he could wish it into thin air.
Stringer made his way down the hall and into a large kitchen, the rest of the house in darkness. The room was centred on a walnut-topped island unit and was straight out of a design catalogue: black bi-fold doors to the garden, brushed steel fridge, gleaming pans hanging above the counter. A cooker that looked like it’d never been lit. A faint smell of cleaning products.
Stringer took two glasses out of a cabinet above the sink and filled them with water. He set one down for Carlton and watched him inch down the hall, flipping the page to read the full email trail as he came.
‘I’ve been hacked.’ Carlton looked up, his face as pale as hypothermic flesh. ‘Where did you get these?’
Stringer pushed a glass towards him. ‘Word of advice: no one buys “I’ve been hacked” anymore. You’re supposed to use WhatsApp for this shit, Nigel. Snapchat.’
Carlton set the sheet of paper on the counter, the spotlights in the ceiling so bright it gave off a glare. ‘I’ve never seen any of these emails. Those are not my words, these are fakes.’
Stringer sipped his water. ‘You didn’t give me those, so where else would I have got them from?’
‘How the hell should I…?’ The penny dropped. ‘The girl?’
He frowned in confirmation.
Carlton rubbed his face.
‘Who are you?’
‘No it fucking isn’t. Why are you doing this to me?’
‘I’m just a fixer.’
‘Then who are you working for?’
‘You’re asking the wrong questions.’
As he brought the glass to his mouth again, Stringer’s shirt cuff gapped, flashing the melted skin on his arm. Carlton snapped his gaze to the counter, his discomfort a sure sign he’d noticed. Ten years ago Stringer would have made something of it; now he put the glass down and let his hand fall to his side. Not embarrassment; just taking away the distraction. ‘The question you need to ask is what am I going to do with these?’
‘I’m not having this.’ Carlton snatched up his phone again.
Stringer took out his own mobile and tapped the screen twice, Carlton’s phone vibrating a second later when the message came through. He stared at the image, his eyes flaring wide.
Stringer pointed to the picture, upside down from his viewpoint but more than familiar. It appeared to show a man and a girl at the start or end of an embrace. ‘As you know, that’s Jennifer Tully.’
‘No … no, I don’t know her…’ Carlton screwed his eyes shut, a memory coming back. ‘She dropped her purse, I picked it up for her and she gave me a hug. A thank-you thing, I was as surprised as anyone. I was on my way into Pret, for god’s sake.’
To Stringer, the snap looked too professional – the image a higher resolution than the average phone camera could manage, a red flag to anyone paying attention. But Nigel Carlton was a newborn baby, wiping his own shit out of his eyes in the harsh new world he found himself in.
‘There’s a dozen emails here, Nigel, and the photos. My guess is the Standard will put you on page five, but you might make the cover. And then the nationals will grab it, and that will be that. Fourteen years old … Christ.’
Carlton deleted the picture, visibly shaking. ‘This is a bloody setup.’
Stringer took his time putting his phone away, then stretched the silence to breaking point, taking a sip of water. ‘On Tuesday of next week, you’ll meet a gentleman named Jonathan Samuels at an office in the city. You’ll get a message telling you exactly when and where. Mr Samuels will have some suggestions for you to take back to your colleagues on the planning committee.’
‘What do you want?’
‘That’s Mr Samuels’ business. Miss the meeting and the story goes to the papers that afternoon. Speak to the police or anyone else about this and copies of everything go to your wife.’
Carlton planted his fists on the island. ‘No one would believe this of me. Least of all my wife.’
Stringer put his hands in his pockets, calling time on proceedings. ‘You sure about that?’ He moved closer to Carlton. ‘Absolutely sure?’ He stepped around him and made his way out of the house.
Rod Reynolds is the author of four novels, including the Charlie Yates series. His 2015 debut, The Dark Inside, was longlisted for the CWA New Blood Dagger, and was followed by Black Night Falling (2016) and Cold Desert Sky (2018); The Guardian have called the books ‘Pitch-perfect American noir’. A lifelong Londoner, in 2020 Orenda Books will publish his first novel set in his hometown, Blood Red City. Rod previously worked in advertising as a media buyer, and holds an MA in novel writing from City University London. Rod lives with his wife and family and spends most of his time trying to keep up with his two young daughters
Hugely excited to be a part of this blog tour, and many thanks to Anne Cater for the tour invite! I haven’t read any Joanna Briscoe books, so it’s lovely to be introduced to a new writer with a backlog of books to discover. Keep reading to find out more about ‘The Seduction’.
Beth lives in the tree-shrouded no-man’s land by Camden with her partner Sol and their daughter Fern. Life is peaceful, but Beth is troubled by increasing unease. It could be the uncertainty of her mother, who disappeared when Beth was a child. Or it could be the sense that Fern is keeping secrets from her.
So she goes to therapy. Dr Tamara Bywater is there to help her patients. But what if the very person who is meant to be the solution becomes the most dangerous problem of all? And why is what’s bad for us so enticing?
It’s certainly true that this book embraces the beauty and flexibility of language in its descriptions. I was hooked in early; the narrative weaves its spell and pulls you into the lives of Beth, Fern and Sol, as Beth’s troubled past brings her to the attention of Dr Tamara Bywater. There follows a story of obsession, manipulation and the power of paranoia.
What I enjoyed about this book is its study of human behaviour and the dark undertone in the writing, it’s certainly an addictive concept. I also enjoyed the theme of mother-daughter relationships, which lie at the core of this novel. What makes this book more than a relationship drama, is how it explores the role of the therapist; a person who is privy to your inner thoughts and, who has the ability to manipulate that closeness if they choose to do so. That’s where this novel’s tone is more disturbing as slowly Beth’s relationship with Dr Bywater becomes sexually charged, and draws her into a complex situation to the detriment of her family life.
Overall, a beautifully crafted, darkly drawn story of human psychology and dysfunctional personalities, colliding in a toxic and emotional journey of a book.
The Blog Tour
Joanna Briscoe is the author of five previous novels, including the bestselling Sleep With Me, which was adapted for ITV by Andrew Davies. She has been a columnist for the Independent and the Guardian, is a literary critic for the Guardian, and broadcasts regularly on Radio 4.
Jess Walker, middle child of a middle-class family, has perfected the art of vanishing in plain sight. But when she arrives at a concrete university campus under flat, grey, East Anglian skies, her world flares with colour.
Drawn into a tightly-knit group of rule breakers – led by their maverick teacher, Lorna Clay – Jess begins to experiment with a new version of herself. But the dynamic between the friends begins to darken as they share secrets, lovers and finally a tragedy. Soon Jess is thrown up against the question she fears most: what is the true cost of an extraordinary life?
This is a twisty coming of age drama, and follows the story of Jess as she begins to study English under the tuition of the complex and unorthodox Dr Lorna Clay, an English teacher with an original flare and academic drive; a person who becomes both muse and mystery to Jess. This is also a murder mystery and a study of human behaviour; there’s a gripping interplay between all the characters, that pulls and lulls the reader throughout the story and into the final climax. With themes of power, dominance, infatuation and more there’s plenty of depth to pull from this story.
For a debut, it’s impressive and despite not overly liking any of the characters, I was compelled to keep reading as Jess gets caught up with obsession, first love, desire, identity and ultimately murder.
Emotionally intricate, pleasingly plotted, and a confident debut.
A recommended book for people who enjoy slow burn mysteries with complex characters and relationship drama.
Kate Weinberg was born and lives in London. She studied English at Oxford and creative writing in East Anglia. She has worked as a slush pile reader, a bookshop assistant, a journalist and a ghost writer. The Truants is her first novel.
With huge thanks to Anne Cater #RandomThingsTours for the invite and to Kate Weinberg for the story. Happy Reading!