The House of Killers. Samantha Lee Howe

Every now and then a book comes along and ticks all my boxes. This is one of those books.

Espionage and Crime Thrillers are my favourite genres of books, tick, tick

Robert Ludlum’s Bourne trilogy and Stig Larsons Millennium trilogy, are two of my favourite series with two of my favourite characters. Neva in The House Of Killers is an amalgamation of Bourne and Salander, Tick, tick

A cracking, believable story that keeps me hooked from start to finish. Tick, tick, tick.

Neva is a Bourne in reverse. She’s an accomplished assassin who feels no empathy for her victims, in fact she is void of any emotions, just like Larson’s Salander. But, something is happening to her, flashback memories to when she was a child. Flashbacks to being abused and trained in a merciless brutal way start to enter her mind, along with the occasional memory of innocent times before she was taken to “The House” to be trained by The Network

Meanwhile Michael Kensington is an MI5 agent who works for a shadowy department that is officially called the Archive Taskforce. A team that on the surface looks at cold cases, but whose main duty is to investigate murders that could be politically motivated assassinations.

Michael has been building a case against one assassin that he is convinced is responsible for a lot of the murders that he has in his system. A clinical killer that specialises in using a very sharp blade. But in recent kills the killer has uncharacteristically got a bit careless, has he found a chink, can he identify the killer.

When Neva kills, “retires” another assassin who works for the “Network” it triggers something inside her, when will it be her turn?

When she cracks and kills another member of The Network, of her own volition, she has to disappear, and she knows she needs help.

A chance meeting between Neva and Michael puts him on her track, but why doesn’t he tell the Archieve team everything, and why does he let her under his skin.

What follows is a very unlikely, but thoroughly believable hook up of the two main characters, but what a dance. Neither fully trusts the other, contact is lost and established at Neva’s behest, but still he trusts her, and in doing so puts his career on the line

This book is stunning. It’s that nugget of gold you spend hour panning a river for, the one that comes along every now and then. The last time I was this excited about finding a new author it was Tom Clancy.

The book had me hooked from the start. The characters are great, Neva is believable, but even in her coldest murderous moments there is something that attracts me to her as a character.

Michael is a typical security service Investigator, more Morse than Bond, reserved, lives alone, does his job, goes home. Just your everyday person doing a police job for a government agency. The perfect foil for Neva’s vicious uncaring character.

This story flew by. The plot runs at a prolific speed and the ending is one I just did not see coming. Usually this would mean the author had thrown in something that would be unrealistic in the plot, but not in this case. There’s a slow build up to it that is cleverly hidden in the plot, and when it manifested itself in the last couple of chapters I could see where it had come from, and I loved the fact that I had been caught by surprise by a brilliant twist.

2021 has given me some of the best books I’ve read for years, and this one is right at the top of the list.

Pages: 432. Publisher: One More Chapter Publishing Date 24th June 2021

Oh How I’ve Changed

In July 2014 I decided to try writing a blog. I’ve been reading books since as early as I can remember, and have I to be the very definition of a bookworm. I can remember times in my life by what books I was reading, or what author or genre was my favourite. So I decided to share my thoughts on what I read.

That first blog was titled My Life In Books, and I used it as an introduction to show people who I was, and what I was reading at different points in my life.

I read that blog back recently and realised how much my views on reading have changed since I wrote it, and how my reading habits have changed.

So it’s about time for an update

One of the biggest things that stood out for me was how I said that I liked authors that only published every 18 months or so. I even said that authors who were publishing 2 or more books a year couldn’t be writing anything good.

HOW WRONG could I have been. My favourite author at the moment is Angela Marsons. Angela is a woman that has been writing for years, but like many, was having trouble getting published. Bookouture stood up and took a chance on her, and I was lucky enough to read the first DI Kim Stone book, Silent Scream, as soon as it was published in 2015. It was about a ballsy young woman who had had a terrible childhood. Her mother was abusive, her brother was killed, and she ended up being passed around foster families and children’s homes. As a young woman she joined the Police and now investigates major crimes across the Black Country. I have read and loved every book in this series and number eleven was published late last year. Yes that’s right, about 3 a year, and they are all brilliant. It just goes to show how wrong I was. Oh, and she’s just sold her 4 millionth copy, so I’m not the only one that likes them.

I mentioned, in that first blog, about how a Kindle let me find books by authors I had never heard of. Well writing this blog has taken that to a new level. In that first blog I said how much I enjoyed the Harry Potter books, but that I just couldn’t face reading anything that J.K Rowling had written under her pseudonym Robert Galbraith.  A woman called Sophie at The Crime Vault read this and sent me a copy of The Cuckoo’s Calling, the first in the Cormaran Strike books. I loved it and my second blog was a review of that book.

That is how it started, now I’ve reviewed well over 300 books, a lot of which have been sent to me by publishers as ARC’s or Advanced Readers Copy. I’m lucky to get books a couple of months before they’re published so that my review can be used as part of the publicity drive, if it gets a favourable review, and believe me not all of them do.

My work life has changed. I now lecture to people all over the UK and occasionally abroad. The increase in travel time has led me to listening to audio books when I travel, most of these books are factual accounts of events or biographies. The best of these, so far, has been Colin Sutton’s account of the investigation he lead into the arrest and conviction of Levi Bellfield. I’d seen the TV adaption and decided to listen to the actual book, Manhunt. It is stunning.

Another excellent audiobook is

Unnatural Causes by Dr Richard Shepard. An autobiographical account of a Home Office Pathologist and his work, which has included some of the most horrific murders, and disasters of the recent years. It pulled no punches in the way it described the scenes, but more significantly, it pulled no punches in describing the effects it had on Dr Shepard’s mental health, and the way it affected his family. These are two books that all crime fiction addicts should read, or listen to, to show the real consequences carried by the people who are involved in real world incidents and investigations.

My blog has also introduced me to a lot of authors, some I’ve built up a friendship with, even if it is only in the modern day way of social media. Some have come to me for advice when they’re writing scenes which include fires, and I’ve been in quite a few acknowledgements at the end of books.

The other thing the blog is helping me with is remembering what I’m reading. I love my Kindle but it opens to the page I’m on. I never see book covers anymore. So when somebody says what are you reading, I very often can’t remember the title, the author yes, the title no. The screen shot of the cover I put on the blog is my link to the book, and the way I remember it after I’ve read it. Kindle please show the book cover when I wake my device, then go to the last page I read.

The other thing that has changed is that I am getting ARCs from publishers for new authors who have written their debut book. It’s not often that a book has the impact that Noelle Holten’s Dead Inside did last year. I don’t think I’ve ever read a book that was written so well, with such a deep understanding and empathy of the crimes involved. It was my book of the year last year. I’ve just read the next in the series Dead Wrong, and it left me literally breathless at the end. It’s published soon so watch out for the review.

So in the last 5 years my reading habits have changed to include audiobooks, which I now wouldn’t travel without. I have come to understand authors better and lost my prejudice against authors that publish multiple titles a year. I’m on publishers lists to send advanced copies to, and post reviews that are read by people all around the world. I have authors contacting me for advice, I still can’t believe that, and love the fact that I help in a little way to bring a story to life.

The best thing though, the best thing by far, is this blog has taken my enjoyment of reading to another level. Books were never boring but I did have difficulty finding titles I wanted to read, because I was set in my ways. Now my horizons have been broadened and I am reading some great books I never would have even heard of before.