Book Review: Never Be Broken

Never Be Broken, by Sarah Hilary, is the sixth and possibly final instalment in the author’s Marnie Rome series of crime thrillers. It opens with DI Rome attending a crime scene – the wreckage of a car that is stained with the blood of her colleague, Noah Jake. The timeline then moves back forty-eight hours leaving the reader to ponder if a favourite character from the series has been killed.

DS Jake is receiving counselling following the murder in prison of his brother, Sol. Noah feels responsible for Sol’s incarceration. Despite knowing it must be his subconscious speaking, Noah is haunted by his brother’s ghost. He is reluctant to lose even this tenuous link and refuses to speak of it to anyone.

Marnie’s crime team are investigating the growing number of deaths of children from London’s less than salubrious estates. There are links to drug dealing, the supply of knives and guns, and perhaps even people trafficking. When the latest victim, a white girl named Raphaela Belsham, is gunned down in Muswell Hill close to her parent’s expensive home, questions are asked about possible links to the run-down high rises where the dark skinned victims lived. Raphaela’s father is furious at the suggestion that his privileged daughter could have been caught up in any form of criminal activity.

The police are widely regarded as either incompetent or the enemy. Belsham blames people of colour for the country’s ills. When Marnie takes Noah along to question the Belshams about Raphaela, her father’s anger and racism manifest. He accuses Noah of planting evidence.

Much of the action revolves around Erskine Tower, a block of flats within sight of the fire damaged Grenfell. The residents include the elderly who have lived there for decades and younger people caught up in the escalating violence. Raphaela had been a visitor to the tower as part of a supervised school project. Her level of supervision comes under scrutiny.

Although following the fast moving, tense and twisty structure of many compelling crime fiction novels, the author digs deeper into complex issues raised. This is skilfully done, never compromising effortless reader engagement. Her use of language is impressive conjuring the tastes, sounds, smells and feel of challenging locations. Shocking events are presented to the reader in high definition.

The denouement is violent and rendered without compromise whilst avoiding sensationalism. There are several heart palpating moments involving key characters. There is a nagging fear throughout that the author will kill her darlings – she has ensured that the reader cares.

This is a tenacious and troubling exploration of the many colours of life existing beneath the shiny veneer of our capital city. It is crime fiction at its best.

My copy of this book was provided gratis by the publisher, Headline. 

Book Review: Come And Find Me

Come And Find Me, by Sarah Hilary, is the fifth book in the author’s Marnie Rome series of crime thrillers. It opens with a prison riot during which several inmates are viciously attacked, a fire is started and, in the ensuing mayhem, one escapes. Mickey Vokey was incarcerated after he assaulted a young mother in her home. He has been receiving impassioned fan-mail from women since his conviction, who have provided him with their addresses that he may write back to them. In attempting to locate the felon, the police are spread thin. Cutbacks and the interest of the press add to the pressures the force comes under, that and the consensus from those who knew Vokey that none of the photographs being circulated of the missing person look anything like him.

DI Marnie Rome must once again detach her professional life from her personal demons. Her foster-brother, Stephen Keele, has sustained life-threatening injuries in the riot. Marnie approaches her contacts within the prison but is unsure of the veracity of their testimony. Prisoners know that they must not upset those within the system for fear of direct retaliation. They are also aware that those on the outside maintain control by threatening family members.

Marnie and her team quickly uncover a number of valuable leads, including access to the Vokey family home. Mickey Vokey is a talented artist with a particular interest in capturing the emotions of his subjects. He collected photographs including some of his known victim. The police officers fear that there could be others unaccounted for within his collection, and that now he could strike again.

Interspersed with the details of the ongoing search and investigation are chapters narrating the thoughts of Vokey’s cellmate who is on life-support due to injuries sustained in the riot. Ted Elms was convicted of benefit fraud and is regarded as a model prisoner. He knows what happened during the riot but is now unable to speak. He is, however, more aware of what is going on around him than his carers and visitors realise.

The reader is offered glimpses of past lives that enable empathy with the varied cast of characters despite their obvious flaws. Where there is evil it has been exacerbated by the prison system. Prisons also exist on the outside due to loneliness and societal dislocation. Initial, easy judgements rarely stand up to scrutiny.

The author is a master of suspense – it is almost frightening how good she is at injecting dark, twisted suspicions and changes of direction. Although gruesome in places the prose remains emotive and sensuous. Smells and tastes permeate each tightly constructed scene.

A crime thriller that dives straight into the action and maintains a roller coaster tension through to the unanticipated denouement. It will appeal to fans of the genre but contains sufficient depth and consideration to satisfy any reader. A fiercely assured addition to an unflinching series. This is a recommended read.

My copy of this book was provided gratis by the publisher, Headline.

Book Review: No Other Darkness

no other darkness

No Other Darkness, by Sarah Hilary, is a tense and gripping crime thriller which opens with the grisly discovery of two little boys entombed in an underground bunker. It features DI Marnie Rome who first appeared in the author’s debut novel, Someone Else’s Skin. Like the first book a challenging crime involving families and their dark secrets is explored. The story has depth and complexity but is presented effortlessly, thereby confirming the skill of the writer.

The boys’ bodies are found by the owner of a house which was built above the bunker eighteen months previously. It is estimated that the boys have been dead for around five years. With little to go on as to who these children could be or why they were entombed DI Rome’s team struggle to deal with what is threatening to become a cold case. They are not the only ones adversely affected by the tragedy. The home owner who found them has been rehomed while the investigation is ongoing. He and his family are struggling to come to terms with the effect the find and their enforced move has had on their psyches. As their home is exposed to outside scrutiny questions arise about how they chose to live and why.

The family have two young children, another on the way, and are also fostering a teenager. When the press become interested in the case an old flame of Marnie’s emerges, taunting her with parallels from her past. The teenager is the same age as the foster child who killed her parents.

At various stages I correctly guessed ahead of the plot yet each time found that this was not the conclusion but merely a step along the way. The story is heartbreaking on so many levels, the final few chapters oozing the terror of the darkness.

For crime fiction fans this thriller is an absolute treat. Graphic but never gratuitous it explores the potentially devastating consequences of untreated mental illness, of paranoia, and the damage that can be wrought by guilt, grief and fear.

I was fortunate enough to receive two proof copies of this book to review: one from the publisher, Headline, and one from Goodreads via a First Reads giveaway.



Book Review: Someone Else’s Skin

Someone elses skin pb 2_4x2.jpg

Someone Else’s Skin, by Sarah Hilary, explores the frightening and messy world of domestic violence with searing aplomb. It introduces us to Detective Inspector Marnie Rome, a rising star in the ranks of the police, who is struggling to deal with her own demons. All of the characters in this book have weaknesses and flaws which come across as recognisable and real. This is a crime story where prejudices exist and mistakes are made with potentially devastating consequences. It is all the more compelling and believable because of them.

The story centres around a group of abused women who have found sanctuary at a Women’s Shelter. The police arrive to interview one of the residents, only to find the front door unlocked and a man stabbed and dying on the floor inside. Stretched to their limits by the escalating violence that this turn of events unleashes, they try to unravel what has gone before, a task muddied by the victims and witnesses inability and unwillingness to share their experiences. What is gradually exposed is a frightening world of skewed moral compasses, family secrets and damaged people.

I did not warm to Marnie Rome but was impressed with the supporting cast that the author created. The level of diversity, experience, complacency and prejudice in the police force came across well, as did the officers reactions to each other. If literary licence were taken to achieve the fast-moving and tightly woven action then it was played out by credible crime fighters.

Amongst those being investigated by the police, I did find it hard at times to remember who was who. The back stories were complex and mattered. They did not make for easy reading due to the sadistic nature of the crimes. Although exploring the impact of psychological damage, this tale contains a disturbing level of physical violence that was challenging to read. It cannot have been an easy book for the author to research.

The various emotions evoked highlight the quality and power of the writing. The violence described is in no way gratuitous with much being suggested more than dwelt upon. That this happens in the world is sickening. That it is often overlooked for the sake of community relations, respect for cultural differences or because of a simple lack of manpower to deal with the scale of the problem is depressing.

I loved the ending. Not everything is neatly wrapped up, but this is intended to be the first of a series. I am sure that I am not the only reader who will be eagerly looking forward to the next book.

My copy of this book was provided gratis by the publisher, Headline.