Category Archives: Sharon Bolton

Little Black Lies – Sharon Bolton

Sharon Bolton, formerly S.J. Bolton, has slowly but surely become one of my favourite crime authors over the last few years due to her Lacey Flint series, which has become one of my favourites. Her latest novel Little Black Lies is a standalone set on the remote Falkland Isles where it seems like from the very beginning we know just who is going to kill someone and just who is going to get killed, yet as with all of Sharon’s novels that would be far to simple, and from the off we know this is going to be a tale with many, many twists.

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Transworld Books, hardback, 2015, fiction, 368 pages, kindly sent by the publisher

I believe just about anyone can kill in the right circumstances, given enough motivation. The question is, am I there yet? I think I must be. Because lately, it seems, I’ve been thinking of little else.

And with these words Caitlin, the first of our narrators opens up the start of Little Black Lies. What has lead to her thoughts on murder, we very soon discover, is the death of her children who were left in the back of her friend’s car which in a moment of carelessness tragically falls off a cliff and into the ocean around the small Falkland island they have lived on all their lives. Indeed they were best friends until that tragic event almost three years ago. Yet while Caitrin is plotting the murder of her former friend a young boy goes missing, something which has happened before over the years, and soon everyone on the island is hunting for a child and their abductor or possible killer.

I have to say that I think Little Black Lies might just be the most complexly crafted, yet brilliant executed (if you will excuse the pun) of her novels that I have read. Not only do we have the duo plots of Caitrin’s murderous planning and the missing boy which make for very tense and page turning fodder, Bolton throws some extra twists and turns as we go. Firstly there is the fact that the novel is written over three parts and set within just six days (pacey). Initially we are in Catrin’s head as she plots the unthinkable, we then go into the head of her ex lover Callum who fought in the Falklands War and has some form of post traumatic stress resulting in blackouts, finally we have Rachel who clearly has depression and who spends most of her time riding and talking to her horses… who talk back.

This of course is genius because we have what everyone? Yes, three unreliable narrators, pretty much a feast if you love an unreliable narrator as much as I do. You also have three very different versions of the same series of events, yet when stitched all together (as each one reveals that little something extra, or a little additional facet) reveal something close to the truth. We think, though with Bolton we can never be sure and she does something so clever on the last page it utterly chilled me. I will say no more on that.

What is also brilliant is that whilst we have these three characters at the forefront, we have a host of characters who could quite easily be the potential killer/abductor, if one of these three isn’t. This isn’t quite a locked room mystery obviously yet on a remote island there are only so many people it could be, it is either one of the villagers or a tourist from the cruise ship. Even as the islanders start to remember the cases of other missing children they would far blame an outsider than one of their own who they have lived with for years, especially as some of those fought for their island in the conflict.

Pouring coffee from the jug on the table is the head teacher of the school, a man called Simon Savidge who became something of a hero in what, only half jokingly, is called the Falkland Island’s Resistance. In the early stages of the Argentinean occupation, while the islanders were waiting for the British Task Force to arrive, Simon made contact with the groups via a forbidden radio, keeping them informed about Argentine movements on the ground.

Oh did I mention there is a war veteran/hero called Simon Savidge, just like me (the name not the war hero)? Well there is, look how simply and cleverly I dropped that huge literal name drop in. As it is, the fictional Simon Savidge of the Falklands is the father of the senior detective Josh, who we soon learn is a bit crap at his job. These additional characters come fully form and offer an interesting and fully realised bunch of suspects; The Savidge’s, Caitrin’s ex husband Ben, Mel the transgender cook…  I could go on.

Bolton also uses these characters to add another angle/layer to the book, the background of the Falklands. Through both characters like Simon and particularly with Callum, along with other stories which weave in and out over the six days as we meet the islanders, we are given snapshots of the conflict and some of the politics behind it as well as a sense of what the Falklands is like today. If this is all beginning to sound very, very dark (and in parts it is exceptionally so, if you love whales one bit will be very difficult to read, I struggled) and rather chilling and creepy (which it also is especially on some of the wrecked boats, yes a book set on boats) there are also some lighter and occasionally incredibly funny moments. Rachel’s conversations with her talking horse being some of them, no really…

‘Come on you grumpy old bugger. We’ve got work to do.’ I flick the bolt on his door. He kicks it open himself and walks out into the yard, his coat gleaming in the sunshine. Officially, Bee would be described as a black horse, but that barely does him justice. I’ve counted over a dozen shades in his coat, from deepest black to rich red brown.
‘Any of those brats around?’ He looks disdainfully for the kids he despises. ‘I’m peckish.’
‘Grandma’s on the premises.’ I drop my voice at this point. There are windows open in the house and you never know where she might be lurking. ‘Plenty of meat on that ass.’
‘Where the fuck are we going now?’ I’m leading him to the trailer and he’s not that keen. ‘We’ve been out once.’
‘Estancia. You like it there.’
‘Fuck I do. Blue clay sticks on hooves for weeks.’

I have always said that an author could never write a book that was set on a boat or had talking horses in it that I would like, damn you Sharon Bolton as that challenge has been met and I thought Little Black Lies was a corker of a thriller – and not just because it broke my book bugbears, which I promise I didn’t thrown down to Sharon as a gauntlet, ha. It is really one of those thrillers that have everything. It has brilliantly unreliable, complex and occasionally rather unlikeable characters at its dark heart; many layers of plots and history; and so many twists and turns, which keep going right until the very last page. Seriously, your jaw might just drop, mine did – easily my thriller of the year so far.

Who else has read Little Black Lies and what did you make of it? Have you read the Lacey Flint series and what about Sharon’s previous standalone novels which I am now itching to get to? As always I would love your thoughts.

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Filed under Books of 2015, Review, Sharon Bolton, Transworld Publishing

What A Character I’ve Become…

I have always wanted to be a character in a book. I think in reality it is every readers dream. Well, believe it or not it has happened, and in one of my favourite contemporary crime writers latest books too…

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Yes that’s Simon Savidge, headteacher and local hero on the Falkland Isles, or Sharon Bolton’s version of them in her latest thriller (a standalone) Little Black Lies. Only could there be come to this Mr Savidge than meets the eye…

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Could he be a suspect and murderer? I have no idea and am reading like a loon to try and find out! Not that I will tell you either way, you’ll have to get Little Black Lies when it comes out in July. I can say it’s a corker and is making me slightly obsessed with shipwrecks, something I never thought I would say. Anyway, I just had to share my excitement with you all!

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Filed under Random Savidgeness, Sharon Bolton

Like This, For Ever – Sharon Bolton

Murders are horrific, they are also grimly fascinating. I know I am now alone in this, yet many people might not like to admit that they feel this way. With a murder we empathise with the victim and their family, we also find the little horrific facts that get reported along the way grimly fascinating, we also like to try and work out who the killer might be even if we have very few of the facts and nothing evidential. It is human nature; it is why crime has become one of the biggest selling genres of books around the world.

Transworld Books, paperback, 2013, fiction, 512 pages, kindly sent by the publisher

In Like This, For Ever we see a series of murders through the eyes of an eleven year old boy, Barney, who has become fixated by them. Part of this is the element of human nature as I mentioned above, part of it is also that the victims are young boys like himself which adds empathy for them to him and also a fear that he could at some point fall under the killers eyes and become a potential victim. Part of it is that Barney would really like to catch the killer, gaining some acclaim and attention from his dad but also from some of the kids at school who bully him for the black outs that he sometimes gets. He is not alone and soon, along with some of his friends, he decides to play investigator yet catching a killer can mean catching that killer’s attention.

Meanwhile, elsewhere in London, Dana Tulloch and Mark Joesbury of the Major Investigations Team are getting nowhere in trying to solve who this killer is. With the slowly dawning realisation of the public that this might be a serial killer and then the disappearance of more children Tulloch and Joesbury have to work fast before time runs out. Yet this killer is clever, so clever in fact that soon the police start to be taunted by a killer that is making themselves known on social media and making the public interest and fear all the wider spread.

Now you may be wondering where on earth Lacey Flint is in all this, after all this is the third Lacey Flint novel. I know I was. Without giving away any major spoilers I can say that Lacey, who is currently off the police force after what happened in her last case (in Dead Scared, which is bloody scary) does get involved and at a time when she swore to herself that she wouldn’t get involved in another case herself, especially one which chimes to a time in Lacey’s murky past which we are slowly but surely learning more and more about.

The kids on the touchline were watching her approach. Lacey studied each in turn. The smaller boy was edgy and nervous. The girl was bold-faced and defiant, just like she’d been at that age, but scared underneath it. The young were so bad at hiding their feelings. All except Barney, who, she had to admit, was a pretty cool customer. He’d turned back to watch the match again, she’d almost be convinced if it weren’t for the angle of his head. He was watching her. Then the taller of the boys followed his lead, turning his back on Lacey, slinging an arm around Barney’s shoulders, saying something a little louder than necessary. Then he laughed. Barney laughed too, as though the two of them had just shared something hilarious.
As Lacey drew close, the girl looked her up and down, sizing up everything she was wearing, and then turned her back, as though she wasn’t worth any more interest. Little minx. The younger boys couldn’t take their eyes off her. They were like small mammals when a snake gets ready to strike.

These three stands create a fantastic thriller from an author who is easily becoming one of my favourite crime writers. With its many viewpoints Like This, For Ever really looks at a series of murders from all angles from those involved closely and those from a distance. I have to admit I wasn’t sure that the voice of an eleven year old would really work for me in a crime novel but in many ways I think it is what gives this book a real edge. Barney sees and hears things going on around him, he might not always understand them or may not catch their implications, we as the reader do however and this adds a really clever, and sometimes incredibly sinister, dynamic to the book. Doubly cleverly it also adds a certain naivety to the novel, child murders are very uncomfortable ground, yet Barney’s narration somehow softens the horror as it ups the fear. It is really hard to describe and genius of Bolton to do, a true masterstroke.

Also, as always in this series, Lacey Flint adds another edge to it. Rogue at the best of times, without being assigned to the case or indeed being on the force any longer, Flint takes it even further with this novel. As she does so we get snapshots into a part of her past, and her psyche, that we haven’t seen before. In the Lacey Flint series, really it is the mystery of who Lacey really is and what on earth has happened in her past, which we are slowly uncovering. Just as I didn’t have a clue who was the murderer in this book until the last chapter, I have no idea where Lacey’s back story will take us next. Part of me is desperate to, whilst the other part is enjoying the slow reveal and doesn’t want this series to end.

To cut to the chase Sharon Bolton (or S J Bolton as you may know her) has gone and done it again. Like This, For Ever is an intelligent, scary, chilling and gripping thriller that will have you reading until the small hours, both because you are gripped and because you are too tense or scared to turn the light out. Each novel in this series just gets better and better, and the first one was blooming brilliant, so I cannot wait for the next – which thankfully is sat on my shelves already. I love the mix of intrigue, genuine fear and hint of something ‘other’ that they evoke. If you haven’t given them a whirl then you really, really must.

If you would like to hear more about the Lacey Flint novels you can hear Sharon and myself in conversation here. Who else out there has read the Lacey Flint series? What about the standalone novels? I am very excited because in the forthcoming Little Black Lies guess who makes an appearance? Yes, a certain Simon Savidge, I am both thrilled and nervous about this.

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Filed under Books of 2015, Review, S.J. Bolton, Sharon Bolton, Transworld Publishing

Dead Scared – S. J. Bolton

How times flies. It doesn’t seem that long ago since I read Now You See Me, the first in S.J Bolton’s, or Sharon Bolton as she has now ‘some out as – as it were, series of DC Lacey Flint crime novels yet it is in fact two years. After having read Now You See Me I remember being desperate to read the next one but putting it off as I didn’t want it to be overkill. Pun unintended. Yet once having finished Dead Scared I was (almost) kicking myself for having not read it sooner. But sometimes the best crime novels shouldn’t be binge read and saved and savoured for the right moment, as you may have guessed from that statement Dead Scared is another bloody brilliant crime thriller. Pun fully intended.

Bantham Press, hardback, 2012, fiction, 378 pages, kindly sent by the publisher

At Cambridge University a girl has tried and failed to take her own life in an extreme and unusual way, and yet she survives. Yet psychologist and lecturer Evi Oliver thinks there is something much darker possibly going on as she looks into suicides in the university and discovers that there have been 19 cases in 5 years. DC Lacey Flint is then assigned an undercover role, from DI Mark Joesbury, as a student at the school to look into the cases and find out more about what might be going on that the clothed detectives are concerned could be a case of something much darker. Soon enough Lacey is thrown into a world of internet suicide pacts, cruel student pranks and then she starts to have nightmares and the suspicion that the scary dreams of a man coming into her room might actually not be her brains overactive imagination. Could someone genuinely be scaring these girls to death?

As with Now You See Me there is much to admire about Dead Scared. Firstly it is really gripping and incredibly chilling. I was completely hooked from the very start of Dead Scared, and actually ended up reading it in two sittings both well into the night which was most unadvised when you then have to go through the house turning all the lights off and frankly have the creeps. Fear is something that we all have and know the sensation of and just as Bolton’s killer, or killers, uses that to their advantage with their victims so does Bolton with her readers. I don’t like clowns, even though they aren’t my greatest fear, I like them even less now. This book seriously gave me the shivers.

Secondly, not only are there several red herrings and dead ends to leave the reader constantly second guessing themselves and who the killer is, there is also a clever second plot around some creepy goings on in Evi Oliver’s life which has you pondering how and if the two may or may not be interlinked. Perfect puzzling fodder for anyone who loves a good (and occasionally rather grisly; one method of supposed suicide really, really bothered me – and it wasn’t even the clown one) crime and playing detective along with the detectives.

Thirdly I love Lacey Flint. Not quite in the on/off way that DI Mark Joesbury does, but she is a really fascinating protagonist. She is likeable despite the fact she is bolshy, she is honest yet sometime all too emotion driven (which is both a good and bad thing), she is also flawed (she likes a drink and casual sex and other activities) but most interestingly is she is a mystery. Still two books into the series Bolton is revealing, or actually not revealing but teasing, us with Lacey’s back story. I think there is much more for us to find out, I won’t give it away but one thing we learn about her made me do a ‘what?’ especially as she works for the police, and as we do I think it is going to get darker and darker.

Fourth and finally, because I may just sound like a stuck record of praise, what I like so much about her novels is that yes there is a lot of crime yet there are also real issues of ‘the now’ which are dealt with in her books. In Now You See Me (which I also heartily recommend if you hadn’t guessed) we are given a Ripper copycat killer thriller, which also looks at the issues of the homeless in London and how they are treated and seen by society. In Dead Scared we have a genuinely unsettling and creepy novel which also looks at the rate of suicides in the young, some hard facts and figures are placed in the book which leaves you really thinking.

I would highly recommend Dead Scared. If you like gritty and realistic crime thrillers which will have you hooked but also look at the darker aspects of society and we human beings then you can’t go wrong with these. If the series carries on like this then Sharon is going to be up there with Tess Gerritsen, Sophie Hannah, Susan Hill and Kate Atkinson as one of my very, very favourites. I can’t wait for the next one, and as I have discovered the 4th DC Lacey Flint book is out in May I might have to dive into Like This, For Ever (the third) ridiculously soon.

P.S From now on I will always call S.J. Bolton Sharon Bolton, this edition was just under the S.J. title.

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Filed under Bantam Press, Books of 2014, Review, S.J. Bolton, Sharon Bolton, Transworld Publishing