Category Archives: Fiction

Review of The Wooden King by Thomas McConnell


A dark wartime tale showing the extraordinary lengths people go to protect those they love.

Set in Czechoslovakia, 1939, Viktor Trn has to decide resist the Nazi hold on his country or ride out the war hoping that he and his family survive.

I found this book hard to get into. Thomas McConnell’s prose is not initially easy to follow, but once you get into the swing the language he uses cleverly constructs images and ideas.

As the war progresses Trn has to make decisions that go against his beliefs, but ultimately he wants to protect his young son.

McConnell explores the quandary of how we would react under similar circumstances in understated way that illustrates the extraordinary lengths people go to protect those they love.

At times it’s very dark and does take you on a roller coaster as Trn navigates his way across the turmoil of invasion and occupation.

I received this book from the publisher, but was not required to write a positive review.



Review of A Divided Spy (Thomas Kell #3) by Charles Cumming


Intelligent and well paced thriller

Kell is a former MI6 officer retired from the service and damaged by personal tragedy. In this book he’s tracking down a Russian agent he believes to be behind the murder of his girlfriend.

Now this might sound like the start of whizz bang all action thriller, but Charles Cumming’s style is much more thoughtful with rich depth to his characters and a slow burn. The story has loads of tradecraft detail for the espionage fan and Kell is a likeable and believable character.

I won’t giveaway the plot, but suffice to say there’s some twists and turns that keep your interest just when you think you ‘ve got the plotline sussed.

All in all an entertaining read that makes you want to read more of the Cummings canon.

I was given a copy of this book to review by the publisher, but wasn’t obliged to provide a positive review.

Review of The Honest Spy by Andreas Kollender, Steve Anderson


Well written fictional account of relatively unknown WW2 spy.

Written by German author Andreas Kollender, this book is based on the life of Fritz Kolbe a member of the German Diplomatic Service during World War 2 who had access to top secret information. He provided this information to the Allies for ideological reasons and not for personal gain and smuggled hundreds of top-secret files to American intelligence from 1943 onwards, continuing undetected until the end of the war.

Allen Dulles, who became head of the CIA , but then an OSS officer in Switzerland said of Kolbe “No single diplomat abroad, of whatever rank, could have got his hands on so much information as did this man; he was one of my most valuable agents during World War II.”

Although based on Kolbe, the book doesn’t follow his personal life exactly and certainly creates a fiction that allow the author to portray more depth to the man in his personal life and struggles with his conscience.

The book is framed within a fictional post-war interview with a pair of journalists and starts with Kolbe in South Africa at the declaration of war which is interesting in itself, showing how German embassy and legation staff were treated upon the outbreak of war.

There’s good colour to the OSS station on Berne with some of the early career of Allen Dulles being illustrated as well as the contrasts between life in neutral Switzerland versus late war Germany.

Steve Anderson has translated this book from the German and he’s done a great job as the text flows well and moves along at a good pace. Whilst I’d not call it an absolute page turner, the author keeps the tension as the fear of capture and death increases with each day.

If I had to criticise anything it would have been the use of Kolbe’s real name alongside an obvious fiction. Although all history is subject to someone’s interpretation, I have mixed feelings around taking the name of a real person of honour and heroism and creating fiction around them, especially as a fictitious name appears to be used for Kolbe’s friend in Bern.

That being said, this was as entertaining read and a good insight into the quandaries and challenges that faced Kolbe during World War 2.

I was given a copy of this book by the publisher, but was not compelled to write a positive review.

Review of Seasons of the Moon by Julien Aranda, Roland Glasser


Beautifully written

Although listed as historical fiction this is more a reflection on life, circumstance and being true to yourself.

The story centres on farmers boy Paul, who aged 15 is saved by a Nazi soldier from being killed. Paul now finds this same soldier captured, and with his last gasps asks Paul to please find his daughter and to let her know that her father loved her.

So far so good, but this isn’t your regular WW2 tale as it evolves into a memoir of Paul’s life which takes the reader on a beautiful journey.

The book has quite a slow start and as other reviewers have commented it takes a while to lure you in, but once in, the story ebbs and flows in a lyrical fashion despite being a translation from French to English.

If you are expecting a formulaic World War 2 novel you will be pleasantly surprised by this moving and powerful debut novel.

My thanks go to NetGalley and the Publisher for the chance to read an advance copy of this book

Review of A Darker State (Karin Müller #3) by David Young


Excellent and compelling crime novel with the added bonus of being set in the former East Germany.

This is episode 3 of this fascinating police procedural, however each book works as a standalone.

What sets it apart from others is the unusual location, combined with the ideology, bureaucracy and secrecy that Oberleutnant Karin Müller and her team have to deal with

In this story Müller has been promoted to run a serious crimes unit and quickly has a difficult case on the border with Poland.

This story lives up to its title, showing a darker side of the GDR that challenges Karin’s belief in the GDR and her personal loyalties as well as the looming influence of the Stasi blocking enquiries and influencing the investigation. There’s various different timelines at play here, so you need to keep your wits about you, but I found this a real page turner.

David Young knows East Germany well. There’s some great details that would appear insignificant to many not familiar with the period or the politics. As a result the book portrays a fascinating landscape where David Young’s research captures well the feel (and the smell!) of 1970’s East Germany. It’s well worth reading his notes at the end about how the book developed and his research.

However, it’s worth not losing sight that it’s also a great crime novel with a richly detailed and complex female lead. According to David he’s contracted for another two books and I’m very much looking forward to the further adventures of Karin Müller.

If you like police procedurals, strong female characters, along with an Orwellian landscape then I recommend this.

I received a review copy of this book from the publisher, but was not required to write a positive review.

Review of District VIII: A Thriller by Adam LeBor


Adam LeBor has created a fascinating character in Gypsy murder detective Balthazar Kovac. Even though he’s a policeman, he’s on the outside, not trusted by his colleagues and shunned by his own family.

When Kovac gets a text message with a photo he’s drawn into a web of government, international organized crime gangs and the ghosts of the Soviet and Nazi era that still haunt Budapest.

LeBor describes the gritty back alleys of District VIII with a knowledge seemingly of having walked these streets on the ground, and his knowledge of the Romany community with its customs and practices adds an extra layer of authenticity and gives the book a rich atmospheric feel.

His characterisations are strong too with menacing criminals, corrupt politicians and truth seeking journalists all described in compelling detail.

I greatly enjoyed this book and found it to be quite a page turner. I will be looking out for further works by this author.

I was given a copy of this book to review by the publisher, but wasn’t obliged to provide a positive review.

Review of The Blood Card (Stephens & Mephisto Mystery #3) by Elly Griffiths


Another solid very readable atmospheric crime thriller from Elly Griffiths

This is the third outing of the “Magic Men” and I’m really enjoying the characters.

It is May 1953 and England is on the cusp of crowning a new Queen. The murder of a gypsy fortune and the stabbing of their old boss from the Magic Men days are linked as DI Edgar Stephens investigates.

Loads of strong characters here and excellent period details that provide and enjoyable and compelling British whodunit.

Elly Griffiths continues to capture the seedy, down at heel feel of the English South Coast expertly creating another highly readable atmospheric crime thriller, with a great sense of time and place. I can’t wait for the fourth instalment of the “Magic Men”.

My thanks go to NetGalley and the Publisher for the chance to read an advance copy of this book.