Book Reviews

The Dead HouseThe_Dead_House_Billy_O_Callaghan
by Billy O’Callaghan

It is said, that to write well, you must read well. So, whether to improve your writing or for the pure enjoyment of a great tale, well-told, place Billy O’Callaghan’s, The Dead House, at the top of your list.

It was while scrolling through recently that I came across an article about his debut novel that piqued my interest, the title alone creating goose bumps. It was apparent that, at the very least, I’d read a story written by a master short story writer who has honed his craft. He has close to a hundred stories published in literary journals and magazines around the world while still others have won awards including the 2013 Bord Gais Energy Irish Book Award for Short Story of the Year. That’s no mean feat!

So I went in search of The Dead House, published in early May, and on my third attempt managed to secure a copy. It all helped to heighten my anticipation. But finding this beautifully bound novel with its haunting image on any book shelf, I would have been instantly drawn to it. I felt as I had as a child when I came across a book I hadn’t read by one of my favourite authors and settled down to read, with a fervent hope that I wouldn’t be disappointed. I wasn’t.

O’Callaghan delivers a well constructed story which gradually builds to a heart-stopping crescendo. I read this book in two sittings. After the first ninety-five pages I took a breather, sending O’Callaghan a Tweet to tell him how much I enjoyed his book but that I’d probably be too scared to sleep if I read any more. He advised that another fifty pages in and I’d definitely be awake. I should have listened! Except – after another fifty pages – I no longer had the power to close the book. I had to read on. Unfortunately for me, it was close to midnight when I read the final page …

Perhaps I shouldn’t reveal that a sleepless hour later, I felt compelled to remove this book from my bedside locker and leave it hidden behind closed curtains on the landing. The following morning I could laugh at such foolishness but, the night before lying in a darkened room, my imagination was stirred enough to contemplate the possibility that something evil might seep through its pages.

O’Callaghan, with the eye of an artist, creates a landscape that becomes every bit as relevant a character in his novel as Maggie Turner. Although totally different, The Dead House, for me, created the same feeling of menace and dread as two of my favourite supernatural books – Stephen King’s, The Shining and James Herbert’s, The Secret of Crickley Hall. Each of them left me pondering the events that delivered their characters into a world where evil could reach out to touch them. Whether living or dead, O’Callaghan conjures such believable characters that when you close your eyes it’s impossible to believe that they’ve never actually drawn a breath. He delivers a perfect ending to this ghost story ensuring the reader is left haunted, just enough, to have them looking over their shoulder as they climb the stairs to bed …

About The Dead House:

Attempting to rebuild her life after a violent relationship, Maggie Turner, a successful young artist, moves from London to Allihies and buys an ancient abandoned cottage. Keen to concentrate on her art, she is captivated by the wild beauty of her surroundings.

After renovations, she hosts a house-warming weekend for friends. A drunken game with a Ouija board briefly descends into something more sinister, as Maggie apparently channels a spirit who refers to himself simply as ‘The Master’. The others are visibly shaken, but the day after the whole thing is easily dismissed as the combination of suggestion and alcohol.

Maggie immerses herself in her painting, but the work devolves, day by day, until her style is no longer recognisable. She glimpses things, hears voices, finds herself drawn to certain areas: a stone circle in the nearby hills, the reefs at the west end of the beach behind her home … A compelling modern ghost story from a supremely talented writer.  

Over the years, I’ve read and enjoyed all of Alex Barclay’s books. Darkhouse, up until now,

Killing Ways

Killing Ways by Alex Barclay

would have topped my all-time favourite books. As an avid reader, that’s high praise indeed – but that was before I read Killing Ways. Don’t worry – I guarantee no spoilers – but if you enjoy your crime fiction gritty with plenty of twists and turns then look no further. Engrossed in the story and the characters, about half-way in I had my first of many “oh, my God” moments, as the tension, along with my blood pressure, ratcheted up.

Sitting on the Luas I nearly missed my stop and couldn’t wait to dive between the pages again on my return journey; half of me wanted to race through the pages to the end while the other half wanted to savour every moment.

It was reminiscent of reading childhood books where I became so engrossed in the story that my real world virtually dissolved. The characters were alive and I felt as if I knew them as intimately as close friends and family; my mind already worrying about their future, long after that final page. Barclay is, most definitely, at the top of her game!

About Killing Ways

In the game of vengeance, he holds a killer hand.

In her most shocking case yet, FBI Special Agent Ren Bryce takes on a depraved serial killer fuelled by a warped sense of justice.

A master of evasion, each life he takes ramps up Ren’s obsession with finding him. Then one victim changes everything and brings Ren face to face with a detective whose life was destroyed by the same pursuit.

Together, can they defeat this monster?

Or will he take them both down?

 Crime Scene Book Club Reviewers over on

Who could possibly argue with Louise Phillips, author of Red Ribbons, when she compared us – Joe McCoubrey, Mick Halpin, Triona Walsh and little ‘auld me – as similar to the X Factor panel!  Just as discerning – and possibly even more dangerous – all of this in our roles as part of the Crime Scene Book Reviewer Panel over at . . .

As avid readers, I know this is a role we are all enjoying immensely.

Joe McCoubrey Mick Halpin Triona Walsh Susan Condon

You can find links to a number of my reviews below to whet your appetite:

The Doll’s House by Louise Phillips

Headstone by Ken Bruen

In The Darkness by Karin Fossum

The Chosen by Arlene Hunt

Bad Moon Rising by Frances de Plino

Crossbones Yard by Kate Rhodes

And don’t forget to check out what Joe, Mick and Triona are reading and reviewing.

Happy reading!

Red Ribbons
by Louise Phillips

Not a review – yet – but I guarantee that from the snippets I have had the pleasure to read, this book will be one, that like me, you’ll be rushing out to buy.

If you don’t believe me, then let me whet your appetite with not one, but two fabulous trailers . . .

RED  RIBBONS  Trailer No 1 – Click Here!


Trailer No 2 – Click Here!

 A missing schoolgirl is found buried in the Dublin Mountains, hands clasped together in prayer, two red ribbons in her hair. Twenty-four hours later, a second schoolgirl is found in a shallow grave … her body identically arranged.
A hunt for the killer is on.

The police call in profiler Dr Kate Pearson to get inside the mind of the murderer before he strikes again. But the more Kate discovers about the killings, the more it all feels terrifyingly familiar . . .

As the pressure to find the killer intensifies there’s one vital connection to be made. . .  Ellie Brady, a mother institutionalised fifteen years earlier for the murder of her twelve-year-old daughter. She stopped talking when everyone stopped listening.
Learn more about the author, Louise Phillips, and her upcoming debut novel by checking out her Blog:

The New Author
by Ruby Barnes

I read this book on my eReader while on holidays – the only problem I had with that, was that I didn’t have a pen and paper handy to make notes!

This book is perfect for anyone who has a passion for writing. It is very well written and divided into three parts. I had only planned on reading the first two, which relate to writing tips and advice on how to promote your brand using social media, but was enticed into reading every word – and I’m so glad I did. Ruby includes excellent advice, as well as tips, on the drawbacks of not thinking through your whole approach to writing and branding, drawing on personal experience to highlight it all. There’s advice on what to include in your blog or website to draw readers and writers to your pages – but also advice on how to avoid the lure of social media sites in favour of writing – something I’m sure we’ve all done at one time or another.

I found the section on self-publishing a real eye-opener, with step-by-step instructions on how to strip your writing of all formatting so that it will appear perfectly on Amazon, Smashwords etc. Ruby advises on everything from pricing structures and how setting up a special offer on one platform can affect your pricing on another; to advice on how best to promote your work with the help of fellow authors and reviewers. It was something I had never considered before, but I’ve already recommended this book to a number of friends, who would benefit from this section alone, to promote their work to a wider audience.

I came away from this book feeling that I had garnered some very useful information which can only help on the road to success . . .

The Chosen
by Arlene Hunt

Having read and enjoyed ‘Black Sheep’ some years ago, I was aware that Arlene Hunt was moving her latest novel, ‘The Chosen’, across the water to the States. She wet my appetite at Reader’s Day, when she read an extract from this book, about serial killer Caleb Switch and his meticulous preparation before a kill . . .

I wasn’t disappointed!

With a riveting plot and well-developed characters, you are immediately sucked right in to their lives. From the opening pages, you are introduced to the heroine, Jessie Conway and you immediately feel a bond with this brave, yet vulnerable woman.

Her husband Mike is a strong, solid man but for some reason it is his brother, Ace, who steals the show. When he is first introduced, it is the revealing lines:

“Ace shrugged, managing to look more tired and disinterested by the second. Mike took that as a yes and went inside to the back office, happy to be out of the sun and away from a man he had once idolised with every fibre of his being.” 

that immediately makes the reader wonder at this man’s fall from grace and hope that he can somehow redeem himself.

Jessie’s life appears to be unravelling around her and when Caleb becomes interested in her, feeling that at last he has found a worthy adversary, things can only get worse . . .

‘The Chosen’ is an action-packed book, that promises to keep the reader on the edge of their seat, right to the very last page.

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