June 2021 - dedicated to Skipper and Holly with all my love...
  books monthly
Stuart MacBride's brilliant novella Sawbones head this month's fiction list...


My books of the month for June are a quirky novella by Stuart MacBride, Peter James's latest Roy Grace Novel, LEFT YOU DEAD, and Alison Weir's brilliant novel about Henry VIII's sixth wife, Katharine Parr, plus, Richard Osman's spectacularly successful debut novel THE THURSDAY MURDER CLUB is now out in paperback! You'll also find details of Oxford University Press's new editions of Nineteen Eighty-Four and Animal Farm...

Book of the month #1 - Stuart MacBride: Sawbones

Published 27th May 2021

This time the serial killer picked the wrong family…

‘MacBride is a damned fine writer’ Peter James

They call him Sawbones: a serial killer touring America kidnapping young women.

The FBI’s investigating – but getting nowhere.

The latest victim is Laura Jones. Sixteen years old. Pretty. Blonde. And the daughter of one of New York’s most notorious gangsters. Laura’s Dad doesn’t care about the law. What he wants is revenge. And he knows just the guys to get it.

This time, Sawbones picked on the wrong family…

I have an old copy of this, published ten years ago by Barrington Stokes - I'm surprised it's taken Harper Collins this long to publish it, but I guess it's to keep Stuart's followers happy until the next blockbuster, probably a Logan McRae, comes along in the new year. It's not my favourite Stuart MacBride, but it's pretty good, and some of the scenes are reminiscent of scenes from Stephen King's The Stand, which can't be a bad thing. Well worth a look, although you won't immediately recognise it as being by Stuart.

Book of the month #2 - Peter James: Left You Dead

Published 13th May 2021


Niall and Eden Paternoster start their Sunday the same way they always do – with a long drive, a visit to a country house and a quick stop at the local supermarket on the way home.

But this Sunday ends differently – because while Niall waits and waits in the car park for Eden to pick up supplies, Eden never returns. She’s not waiting for him at home, and none of their family or friends have heard from her.

Gone without a trace, Niall is arrested on suspicion of her murder. When DS Roy Grace is called in to investigate, it doesn’t take long to realize that nothing is quite as it seems – and this might be his most mysterious case yet .

This is by far the very best Peter James Roy Grace  novel I have ever read, and at the same time it is by far the very best crime novel I have ever read in terms of the accuracy of police procedures. There are very few clues as to what will be the eventual lutcome, or as to who the villain is, and for me, this superb book was reminiscent of the early days of British crime fiction in the hands of someone like Carter Dickson (John Dickson Carr) and his brilliant locked room mysteries that enthralled me back in the 1960s. This is  a magnificent tour de force of British crime fiction and I thoroughly enjoyed it. It's inspired me to get hold of a copy of the very first Roy Grace novel, DEAD SIMPLE, which I've never read, and start making my way through the entire series. Absolutely terrific.

Book of the month #3 - Alison Weir: Six Tudor Queens - Katharine Parr, the Sixth Wife

Published 13th May 2021


Two husbands dead, a boy and a sick man. And now Katharine is free to make her own choice.

The ageing King's eye falls upon her. She cannot refuse him... or betray that she wanted another.

She becomes the sixth wife - a queen and a friend. Henry loves and trusts her. But Katharine is hiding another secret in her heart, a deeply held faith that could see her burn...


Renowned, bestselling historian Alison Weir reveals a warm, clever woman of great fortitude who rose boldly to every turn her life took.

I've come to Alison's Six Tudor Queens series right at the very end, because Headline were kind enough to send me this blockbuster novel, published this very month. Ordrinarily I like to start with the first book in a series and work my way through them, but in this case it doesn't really matter because they are all self-contained (I managed to get hold of a copy of Katheryn Howard from our W H Smith after finishing Katharine Parr, and it's what I'm reading now). I have always thought of King Henry VIII as the monarch who split with the catholic church of Rome, founded the church of England and did away with all of the catholic idolatry and worship of gold and silver etc. It seems, according to Alison, that it was not that simple and that I was being naive. Reading this superb history of Henry's sixth wife, it has become clear to me that what I was taught at school in the 1950s/60s was extremely simplistic, and that in fact Henry was resistant to change, and in particular the protestant religion. Indeed, much of the book is taken up with Katharine covering her tracks as an ardent supporter of protestantism and going in fear of discovery as one of the foremost advocates of the sweeping changes that were needed to fully split with Rome; indeed, it emerges that Henry's deathbed scenes recalled his close links with the Church of Rome rather than with the teachings of Martin Luther. I have read hundreds of historical novels during my long life, probably beginning with the likes of Jean Plaidy, and more recently the hugely enjoyable novels of Philippa Gregory, but I don't remember my beliefs that Henry was the man who crushed catholicism once and for all being cast into doubt. It seems to me that the first truly protestant king of England was Henry's son by Anne Boleyn, Edward, who unfortunately reigned for such a brief period. I knew of the battles between Mary and Elizabeth, but Alison's Katharine Parr has come as something of an eye-opener, and I can't remember enjoying any medieval history quite as much as this one. It's brilliant, from start to finish!

Lucie Whitehouse: Risk of Harm

Published 8th July 2021

The gripping new crime thriller from the bestselling author of Before We Met and Critical Incidents

Robin Lyons is back in her hometown of Birmingham and now a DCI with Force Homicide, working directly under Samir, the man who broke her heart almost twenty years ago.

When a woman is found stabbed to death in a derelict factory and no one comes forward to identify the body, Robin and her team must not only hunt for the murderer, but also solve the mystery of who their victim might be.

As Robin and Samir come under pressure from their superiors, from the media and from far-right nationalists with a dangerous agenda, tensions in Robin's own family threaten to reach breaking point. And when a cold case from decades ago begins to smoulder and another woman is found dead in similar circumstances, rumours of a serial killer begin to spread.

In order to get to the truth Robin will need to discover where loyalty ends and duty begins. But before she can trust, she is going to have to forgive – and that means grappling with some painful home truths.

First thriller I can ever remember reading set in the heart of the midlands, in Britain's second city. Absolutely enthralling stuff from Lucie Whitehouse.

George Orwell: Nineteen Eighty-Four

Published 28th January 2021

'If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face―forever.'

1984 Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949), George Orwell's final novel, was completed in difficult conditions shortly before his early death. It is one of the most influential and widely-read novels of the post-war period, and has been a huge international bestseller over many decades. Continually in print, it has long been controversial, both in its immediate Cold War context and in later history.

It is in some ways a realist novel, but in others is more akin to a work of science fiction, a dystopia or a satire. It also has strong affiliations to Gothic in its plotting, motifs and affective states. Full of horror and terror, it contains prophetic dreams and a central character who thinks of himself as a 'monster', a 'ghost' and 'already dead'. Like Frankenstein and Dracula, it is fascinated by the power of a documentary remnant addressed to an unknown reader.

I probably should have read 1984 back in the 1960s when I was starting my A Level English Literature course, as background reading, but none of my teachers ever suggested it, and as far as I knew none of my friends had read it, despite most of us being well into science fiction. I haven't read it yet, but OUP have been kind enough to send me a copy of their new edition, and it will remain on this page, probably into the July iossue, by which time I shall have had time to read it and write a review.

George Orwell: Animal Farm

Published 7th January 2021

 'The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again; but already it was impossible to say which was which.'

When the downtrodden animals of Manor Farm overthrow their master Mr Jones and take over the farm themselves, they imagine it is the beginning of a life of freedom and equality. Soon the other animals discover that they are not all as equal as they thought, and find themselves hopelessly ensnared as one form of tyranny is replaced with another.

Animal Farm was one of George Orwell's most successful books - after its publication Orwell became one of the best-paid writers in England. Though the text continues to play a foundational role in the political education of young people across the world, its allegorical function has become more difficult to decode as the U.S.S.R recedes into the historical distance.

The same applies to Animal Farm. I've seen the film, of course, but cartoon films can't really convey that much about such a classic, and once again, I shall keep Animal Farm on the page until the July issue, when I shall post my review...

George Orwell: A Clergyman's Daughter

Published 7th January 2021

'The face was quite unfamiliar to her, and yet not strange. She had not known till this moment what face to expect'.

A Clergyman's Daughter is George Orwell's least well-known, most unappreciated novel. Drawing on his experiences as a hop-picker, teacher, and urban vagrant, it tells the peculiar story of Dorothy Hare, the daughter of the Rector of St Athelstan's in the fictional town of Knype Hill. Unacknowledged by her absent-minded father and gossiped about by his rheumatic parishioners, Dorothy is suddenly and traumatically catapulted into the unknown. She wakes up in London, her memory temporarily gone; travels to the Kentish countryside; spends a night in Trafalgar Square; works for the authoritarian schoolteacher Mrs Creevy; and then journeys back to her old, limited life. A novel about loss and return, A Clergyman's Daughter charts the course of a young woman's voyage out and circular homecoming.

In his introduction to the novel, Nathan Waddell lays out the fantastical elements and socio-political dimensions of A Clergyman's Daughter and examines how it drew inspiration from James Joyce's epic modernist novel Ulysses, a book Orwell deeply admired.

ABOUT THE SERIES: For over 100 years Oxford World's Classics has made available the widest range of literature from around the globe. Each affordable volume reflects Oxford's commitment to scholarship, providing the most accurate text plus a wealth of other valuable features, including expert introductions by leading authorities, helpful notes to clarify the text, up-to-date bibliographies for further study, and much more.

The blurb describes this as "least well-known and most unappreciated" - in fact I can honestly say I have not even heard of it, but that's about to change, and like 1984 and Animal Farm, I shall post my review in the July issue... 

George Bernard Shaw: Pygmalion, Heartbreak House and Saint Joan

Published 4th February 2021

Pygmalion, Heartbreak House, and Saint Joan are widely considered to be three of the most important in the canon of modern British theatre.

Pygmalion (1912) was a world-wide smash hit from the time of its première in Vienna 1913 and it has remained popular to this day. Shaw was awarded an Academy Award in 1938 for his screenplay of the film adaptation. It was, of course, later made into the much-loved musical My Fair Lady.

Heartbreak House (1917), which was finally performed in 1920 and published in 1921, bares the hallmarks of European modernism and a formal break from Shaw's previous work. A meditation on the war and the resultant decline in European aristocratic culture, it was perhaps staged too soon after the conflict; indeed, it did not have the success of his earlier works, which was likely due to his experimental aesthetics combined with a war-weary audience that sought lighter fare. However, while this contemporary reception was muted, it is now recognised as a modernist masterpiece.

Saint Joan (1923) marked Shaw's resurrection and apotheosis. The first major work written of Joan of Arc after her canonization (1920), the play interrogates the origins of European nationalism in the post-war era. Like Pygmalion, it was an immediate world-wide hit and secured Shaw the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1925. Drawing upon the transcripts of Joan's trial, Shaw blended his trademark wit to produce a hybrid genre of comedy and history play. Despite the historical setting, Saint Joan is highly accessible and continues to delight audiences.

Unlike the three previous George Orwell books from OUP, I did read Pygmalion back in the 1960s when I was educating myself in Southend-on-Sea whilst we waited to move to Stevenage New Town, and after I'd exhausted all of the Noel Coward and Terence Rattigan plays. I used to love reading plays, but find them a little hard going nowadays - but this is a splendid new edition of Pygmalion, by far my favourite Shaw play, and it will look grand on my bookshelves, from which I can take it down and delve into it from time to time. If you've never read a play, and in patrticular a GB Shaw play, try Pygmalion first - it's a savagely funny indictment of the "ruling classes" that holds good now just as much as when it was first publshed. Superb.

Katie Lowe: The Murder of Graham Catton

Published 10th June 2021

It’s time to hear the truth…

Ten years ago, Hannah Catton’s husband was brutally murdered in their home.
The murderer was convicted. The case was closed.

But now a podcast called Conviction is investigating this horrific crime – and they have Hannah in their sights.

Someone knows more than they’re letting on, and listeners are about to become judge, jury and executioner as they undercover the truth about the murder of Graham Catton.

Katie's excellent second book will keep you on tenterhooks right up till the last pages - something every psychological thriller should aspire to, of course. Hannah is a complex, troubles character, and the revelations start to spill out as soon as the Conviction podcast that looks at her ex-husband's death are broadcast. This is a superior quality read, and thoroughly recommended by me. The perfect summer read.

Charles Cumming: Box 88

Published 27th May 2021

An organisation that doesn’t exist. A spy that can’t be caught.

Years ago, a spy was born…

1989: The Cold War will soon be over, but for BOX 88, a top secret spying agency, the espionage game is heating up. Lachlan Kite is sent to France to gather intelligence on the Lockerbie bombing. What he uncovers is terrifying…

Now he faces the deadliest decision of his life…

2020: Kite has been taken captive and brutally tortured. He now has a choice: reveal the truth about what happened in France thirty years earlier – or watch his family die.

In a battle unlike anything he has faced before, Kite must use all his skills to stay alive.

This brilliant spy novel is perfect for fans of TV series Spooks, and now out in paperback, it will reach a much bigger audience. Pure enjoyment, brilliantly written.

Angela Marsons: Twisted Lies

Published 13th May 2021

When the lifeless body of a man is found on an industrial estate, Detective Kim Stone arrives on the scene and discovers he's been tortured in the worst way imaginable. 
But as she breaks the devastating news to the victim's wife, Diane Phipps, Kim can't help feeling that something isn't quite right about the woman's reaction. Twenty-four hours later, the victim's family disappears into thin air. Then a second body is found staked to the ground in a local nature reserve. Desperate to crack the case open quickly, Kim and her team unravel a vital clue - a fiercely guarded secret that links both victims and could cost even more lives. A secret that some police officers are also protecting. Faced with deceit from those she should be able to trust, family members who won't talk, and local reporter, Tracy Frost, opening a can of worms on the case of a woman murdered by her husband a year ago - Kim is in deep water like never before. Kim must find the motive if she is to find the killer who is systematically targeting and torturing his victims. But can she unlock the shocking truth and stop him before he strikes again? 
An absolutely jaw-dropping crime thriller from the number one, multi-million-copy bestselling author of the incredibly addictive Detective Kim Stone series.

Richard Osman: The Thursday Murder Club

Published 13th May 2021

In a peaceful retirement village, four unlikely friends meet up once a week to investigate unsolved murders.

But when a brutal killing takes place on their very doorstep, the Thursday Murder Club find themselves in the middle of their first live case.

Elizabeth, Joyce, Ibrahim and Ron might be pushing eighty but they still have a few tricks up their sleeves.

Can our unorthodox but brilliant gang catch the killer before it's too late?

Scott Mariani: The Pandemic Plot

Published 13th May 2021

When ex-SAS major Ben Hope is urgently recalled to the UK from his base in France to assist with a family crisis, little does he know that he’s about to be drawn into one of the most dangerous missions of his career: his son Jude has been accused of a brutal murder, and all the evidence points to his guilt.

To prove Jude’s innocence Ben embarks on a wild chase, facing up against mysterious killers and piecing together a fragile web of clues. What connects an all-female criminal gang from the early 1900s called the Forty Elephants, a century-old vendetta and a shadowy government conspiracy that claimed millions of innocent lives?

Along the way Ben teams up with his former acquaintance, rugged Detective Tom McAllister. They’re heading for a showdown in the wilds of Cornwall, and the villains have no intention of letting Ben come out of it alive . . .

Damien Boyd: Dying Inside

Published 22nd June 2021

Kate trusts Della, and Della trusts Kate.
Their downfall is each other.

When Kate moves to London after the disappearance of her sister, she’s in need of a friend. A chance meeting leads Kate to Della, a life coach who runs support groups for young women, dubbed by Kate as ‘the Janes.’

Della takes a special interest in Kate, and Kate soon finds herself entangled in Della’s life – her house, her family, and her husband. It’s only when she realises that she’s in too deep that Della’s veneer begins to crumble, and the warnings from ‘the Janes’ begin to come true.

Why is Della so keen to keep Kate by her side? What does Kate have that Della might want? And what really lies beneath the surface of their friendship?

A twisty psychological thriller for fans of Louise Candlish and Harriet Tyce.

Has a Gothic romance/mystery feel about it, which in my opinion is a really good thing... I thoroughly enjoyed this one!

T J Newman: Falling

Published 10th June 2021

You just boarded a flight to New York.

There are one hundred and forty-three other passengers onboard.

What you don’t know is that thirty minutes before the flight your pilot’s family was kidnapped.

For his family to live, everyone on your plane must die.

The only way the family will survive is if the pilot follows his orders and crashes the plane.

Enjoy the flight.

Alice Hunter: The Serial Killer's Wife

Published 27th May 2021

Every marriage has its secrets…

Beth and Tom Hardcastle are the envy of their neighbourhood – they have the perfect marriage, the perfect house, the perfect family.

When the police knock on their door one evening, Beth panics. Tom should be back from work by now – what if he’s crashed his car? She fears the worst.

But the worst is beyond imagining.

As the interrogation begins, Beth will find herself questioning everything she believed about her husband.

Nora Roberts: Legacy

Published 25th May 2021

The first time Adrian met her father was the day he tried to kill her...

Adrian Rizzo didn't have the easiest childhood, to put it mildly, but she's worked hard to put it behind her and to the outside world she is a beautiful young woman with a successful, high-profile career and a wonderful family and friends.

When, out of the blue, she receives a death threat in the post, she is shocked but puts it down to someone's jealousy of her success and tries to forget about it. But Adrian doesn't realise that it's more than just spite. Someone is very, very angry about her happy life and will stop at nothing to bring it all crashing down.


Stephen King: Billy Summers

Published 3rd August 2021

From legendary storyteller and No. 1 bestseller Stephen King, whose 'restless imagination is a power that cannot be contained' (The New York Times Book Review), comes a thrilling new novel about a good guy in a bad job.

Billy Summers is a man in a room with a gun. He's a killer for hire and the best in the business. But he'll do the job only if the target is a truly bad guy. And now Billy wants out. But first there is one last hit. Billy is among the best snipers in the world, a decorated Iraq war vet, a Houdini when it comes to vanishing after the job is done. So what could possibly go wrong?

How about everything?

This spectacular can't-put-it-down novel is part war story, part love letter to small town America and the people who live there, and it features one of the most compelling and surprising duos in King fiction, who set out to avenge the crimes of an extraordinarily evil man. It's about love, luck, fate, and a complex hero with one last shot at redemption.

You won't put this story down, and you won't forget Billy.

Lesley Pearse: Suspects

Published 24th June 2021

Welcome to Willow Close, where everyone is a suspect . . .

On the day Nina and Conrad Best move into their new home in picture-perfect Willow Close a body is discovered.

Hurrying inside with their belongings, they see horrified neighbours gather by the police cordon - one of the residents has been attacked and brutally killed in the woods.

Believing someone must have seen the murderer, the police interview all the residents of the Close. They soon find out that each neighbour harbours their own secrets.

The residents of Willow Close are far from what they initially seem and strange, even dark, things happen behind their closed doors.

Nina and Conrad had thought they'd found their dream neighbourhood. But have they moved into a nightmare?

Bernard Cornwell: Warlord

Published 27th May 2021

The epic conclusion to the globally bestselling historical series.

After years fighting to reclaim his rightful home, Uhtred of Bebbanburg has returned to Northumbria. With his loyal band of warriors and a new woman by his side, his household is secure – yet Uhtred is far from safe. Beyond the walls of his impregnable fortress, a battle for power rages.

To the south, King Æthelstan has unified the three kingdoms of Wessex, Mercia and East Anglia – and now eyes a bigger prize. To the north, King Constantine and other Scottish and Irish leaders seek to extend their borders and expand their dominion.

Caught in the eye of the storm is Uhtred. Threatened and bribed by all sides, he faces an impossible choice: stay out of the struggle, risking his freedom, or throw himself into the cauldron of war and the most terrible battle Britain has ever experienced. Only fate can decide the outcome.

The epic story of how England was made concludes in WAR LORD, the magnificent finale to the Last Kingdom series.

Jeffery Deaver: The Final Twist

Published 13th May 2021

Twist left.

Unique Investigator Colter Shaw is searching for the answer to his father’s final, posthumous riddle. It will lead him to evidence that will topple the secretive espionage company, BlackBridge.

Twist right.

He believes BlackBridge to be responsible for his father’s murder and brother’s disappearance.  They  can outmanoeuvre anyone, as the long trail of bodies behind them can confirm.
But they haven’t yet met Colter Shaw.

Don’t slip up.

This time the stakes are huge – the fate of a nation is in Colter’s hands. He must find the solution as to why his father died – but to do that he needs to stay alive…

Sheila O'Flanagan

Published 20th May 2021

At the first wedding, there's a shock

The second wedding is unexpected

By the third, Delphie thinks nothing could surprise her. But she's wrong . . .

Delphie is enjoying her brother's wedding. Her surprise last-minute Plus One has stunned her family - and it's also stopped any of them asking again why she's still single. But when she sees all the missed calls that evening, she knows it can't be good news. And she's right.

Delphie has been living her best life, loving her job, her friends, her no-strings relationships and her dream house by the sea. Now she has to question everything she believed about who she is and what she wants. Is her mum right - is it time to settle down? Or does she want to keep on trying to have it all?

Each wedding of a glorious summer brings a new surprise. And as everything Delphie thought she had is threatened, she has the chance to reshape her future . . .

The small print: Books Monthly, now well into its 24th year on the web, is published on or slightly before the first day of each month by Paul Norman. You can contact me here. If you wish to submit something for publication in the magazine, let me remind you there is no payment as I don't make any money from this publication. If you want to send me something to review, contact me via email at paulenorman1@gmail.com and I'll let you know where to send it.

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