Block 46 – Johana Gustawsson

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Block 46 by Johana Gustawsson

A psychological thriller that covers not only the current but also the past and the past being 1944 and Buchenwald Concentration Camp. Block 46 by Johana Gustawsson is at times harrowing and dark and one thriller not for the faint hearted. This is a serial killer novel with more than just a twist. At the end my review you have a chance of winning a copy in a free prize draw.

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The storyline is split between two timelines from 2014 in Sweden the body of a young talented fashion designer is found brutally mutilated, then a young boy is found dead in London and also mutilated. A serial killer is on the loose. It is 1944 and we move back in time to the Buchenwald Concentration Camp and these parts of the story are just as harrowing as we see the pure hellish horrors unfolding, here is one man Erich Ebner trying to survive from one day to the next.

How Gustawsson describes the terror that went on in the camp is harrowing and is written with incredible power and honesty that brings home to the reader just how barbaric those that ran the camps. As psychological thrillers go this even beat me as at times I had to stop reading for moments to catch my breath. Block 46 takes many twists and turns as move from the historical to the current as both Emily Roy and Alexis Castells try to understand the parallels between the cases and find the serial killer before it is too late and the killer strikes again. There is a certain evil that pervades this book and it stalks you like the killer itself. You have been warned. Gustawsson’s writing is just chilling and will bring you out in a cold sweat as the story heats up. Just when you think you may have figured out who is behind it the killings then Gustawsson strikes. We flit from Sweden to London then back to the darkest times in our history those of Nazi Germany. This is no easy read it is dark and some of the detail is very descriptive. This is one thriller that will haunt you for some time after you have finished reading. But it is a five star read. The first in a series and if the next instalment is anything like this then prepare yourself. A very talented writer that I think we are going to hear a lot more from.

300 Pages.

Thank you to Karen Sullivan at Orenda Books for the advanced review copy of Block 46.

Block 46 by Johana Gustawsson is published by Orenda Books and is available through Waterstones, Amazon and all good bookshops.

 Competition:

How do you fancy winning a copy of Block 46 by Johan Gustawsson. This is a free prize draw and the rules are simple. Head over to my Twitter page at @thelastword1962 and then follow and retweet the pinned tweet that carries this review. The draw will be open until 7pm on Wednesday 24th May. Good luck.

 

You can keep up with the Block 46 Blog Tour

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Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman

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Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman

I am going to say this now the debut novel Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman (Harper Collins) is a leading contender for book of the year 2017. That is quite a statement. But read on and you will have a taste of why this is THE book of the year.

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Be prepared for a rollercoaster of emotions through this novel but there is a message of hope written through the pages and this will resonate to every reader. Meet Eleanor Oliphant she is a real character; she lives each day at a time, never straying too far and avoiding straying from a carefully straight line that each day brings. She will wear the same clothes to work, even eats the same lunch every day. Then there are the crosswords every lunchtime. Eleanor believes she has everything in her life she needs, but actually when you get to know Eleanor everything seems to be missing.

Every weekend it is the same two bottles of vodka, no-one comes to call at her home and her phone never rings. At first you may not like Eleanor that much, but I promise you one thing that by the time you come towards the end, you are going to care a lot about her. Some may think that Eleanor Oliphant is a lost soul, but there is much more to this story and the journey you are going to take with her. Prepare to live in her world and the rollercoaster will take you to places that at times is very funny to just utter heartbreak. Eleanor Oliphant lives a life of isolation.

The story of Eleanor evolves throughout the story, and it just takes a moment an act of pure simple kindness to change Eleanor’s perfect world. There is so much in the story it would be wrong of me to give it away but there is a crush on a singer that does not go well, which leads to a whole series of events that in turn lead us to getting to know Eleanor’s life and how she got to where she is at the present. There is so much emotion throughout the story, yet it is a real joy to read. There are so many twists that at times you just never knew what or where it was leading you to. But that is one of the beauties of this story. There are some moments in the story that will make you laugh out loud so if you are going to read this on a journey be prepared.

If I could buy one novel this year for everyone I know it would be Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine is it just staggeringly brilliant in every aspect from the storyline to the writing which flows easily and captures the reader from page one to the ending. One book that will stay with me for a long time to come. This is one book that I am delighted to HIGHLY RECOMMEND.

400 Pages.

Thank you to Jaime Frost for the advanced review copy of Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine.

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman is published  today 18th May by Harper Collins and is available through Waterstones, Amazon and all good bookshops.

Spanish Crossings by John Simmons

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Spanish Crossings by John Simmons

Spain 1937 and Lorna a young woman falls in love with Harry who is a member of the International Brigade and who returns to fight in the Spanish Civil War after seeing at first hand the horrific bombing of Guernica. Lorna later finds out that Harry is then killed. Has Lorna’s chancing of lasting happiness now gone. Spanish Crossings by John Simmons is a deeply moving and exceptional novel of love and hope when all seems lost. In historical writing this is up there with the best. A novel based on true stories.

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Lorna’s world has collapsed on hearing of Harry’s death during the fighting in Spain is there a meaning to go on in a world that is going through such upheaval and turmoil. Lorna is asked by her law firm if she would assist in helping children of Spain caught up in the fighting escape the horrors.

For Lorna who has lost her loved one strikes up a friendship with one of the children and Pepe who is now in England grows up with memories of his homeland and of his people who have suffered. Their bond is a special one but as Pepe grows his yearning to return to Spain also grows separated from family and relations. For Lorna and Pepe’s stories are linked together and its story is emotive and deserves to be read.

John Simmons has done a remarkable job in his research and his telling of this story is so descriptive and at times incredibly poignant. John’s writing is so intricate with details of how people’s lives were affected by the Civil War in Spain and life in London. Spanish Crossings is a book that deserves its place in historical writings elite. A story not to be taken lightly but one that you want to savour and remember every word.  HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

320 Pages

Thank you to Matthew at Urbane Publications for the advanced review copy.

Spanish Crossings by John Simmons is published by Urbane Publications and is available through Waterstones, Amazon and all good bookshops.

The President’s Gardens by Mushin Al-Ramli

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The President’s Gardens by Mushin Al-Ramli

Make no mistake this is a very powerful novel. The President’s Gardens written by Mushin Al-Ramli and translated by Luke Leafgren is a book not to be taken lightly and is an incredibly beautiful novel that has passion running through its heart. An outstanding achievement in Iraqi literature.

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A story of incredible tragedy in unimaginable proportions. A story of three friends Abdullah, Tariq and Ibrahim that have been friends all their life and growing up in war torn Iraq. The sheer hell that was the war between Iraq and their neighbours Iran and then through the invasion of Kuwait through to the American led invasion of 2003.

Haunting is the word I would use here, the opening gives the reader a lot to absorb and through the remaining pages the is more detail and along with more detailed descriptions of life in Iraq. The one aspect of this novel that pours out of the pages is ‘war’ it is ever present through the lives of the people of this country. Some of the descriptions of the ravages of war on villages and people are detailed at upsetting and the author does not shy away from writing this into the storyline. It is the horror of war that you cannot escape from. Some may find this disturbing but there are some very moving and beautiful moments in the story that bring joy and emotion to a deeply powerful novel. The three friends despite knowing each other for nearly all their life are uniquely different shaped by the events that have engulfed their country this is their story and there is tragedy waiting for one of them while the other has seen enough and longs for peace while the remaining friend has escaped the worst but things he does will have significant ramifications.

To quote from the book “The skies rained down hell, the earth vomited it back up . . . the simple Iraqi soldiers who resisted fought in despair and died.” The writing is just incredible how the author tells a story of love, death war and more war. There is no escape. Although first published in Arabic in 2012 this is a book that needs to be read and should be read widely. It is an incredible read if upsetting at times. The story ends with “To be continued” Does this mean that we can expect a follow story. I for one earnestly hope that this is the case. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

Thank you to Paul Engles and MacLehose Press for the advanced review copy of The President’s Gardens.

The President’s Gardens by Mushin Al-Ramli is published by MacLehouse Press and is available through Waterstones, Amazon and all good bookshops.

Reviews of Into the Water by Paula Hawkins & See What I have Done by Sarah Schmidt

Today sees the release of two of this year’s biggest must read books. Paula Hawkins follows up from The Girl on the Train with Into the Water (Doubleday)and a debut novel by Sarah Schmidt called See What I Have Done. (Tinder Press) Two books that are going to be on everyone’s TBR lists this Spring and Summer.

For the first time I am running today on my blog a double book review. Starting with Paula Hawkins Into the Water.

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Into the Water by Paula Hawkins

Imagine for a moment trying to sit down and write your next novel. Ok you say but what if you were the author of the massive international hit that was The Girl on the Train Then not for a moment can I begin to imagine what Paula Hawkins must be thinking as today see’s the release of her new thriller Into the Water. (Doubleday) Although some readers found that The Girl on the Train with its narrator that we know as unreliable to say the least. Paula Hawkins has gone a different route this time around as this new psychological thriller is very different and if this is at all possible it actually is better that her monster hit that captured the imagination of readers across the globe and was also a massive success on the big screen that starred Emily Blunt.

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What you will find with Into the Water is that here is a thriller that will have you on the edge of your seat as this is a stunning thriller with more than just the usual twists than your average read. This is an ambitious attempt to move away from the formula that gave Hawkins so much success, here there are more characters and the plot is so layered that is gives more to the reader. There is even something Hitchcock about this book and one that many readers will flock to. The story is set in a small riverside town, and the opening sequences are nothing short of horrific as a woman is tied up and then drowned by a group of men. At this point I had to re-read this first part as I was not sure if this was a current event or was this a past event from history and if so was history to play a major part in the novel. A chilling start that set the tone for what was to be a gripping thriller. It is now August 2015 and this little riverside town now becomes centre stage and a small of that river that has a notorious history that involves the drowning of witches. But there has been a much more recent drowning a middle aged woman called Nel Abbott is found dead in this stretch of water but how was this possible? Now let your imagination play with you here. Some including her daughter think Nel planned to end her life but Nel’s sister Jules is not sure. Now the history of this part of the comes to the fore as other deaths by drowning come to light. It also appears that Nel was taking a keen interest into the drownings has she taken some if its secrets and the towns secrets with her.

There are many character here that have a story to tell and they do this in bite size chapters that play a part in telling the real story of what has been going on in this small town. Some of these characters are hiding the truth and it also appears that Nel was not liked by many in the town. Question is why? Add into the story a psychic and you have the recipe for a thriller that is just building page by page with suspense until the very last moment. If you are going to read Into the Water on a train journey, be warned you may miss your stop but at least it stop you looking at people’s homes through the window of your carriage.

368 Pages

My thanks to Alison Barrow for the advanced review copy of Into the Water.

Into the Water by Paula Hawkins is published by Doubleday and is released today 2nd May and is available through Waterstones, Amazon and all good bookshops.

 

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See What I Have Done by Sarah Schmidt

It is the morning of 4th August 1892 and the bodies of Andrew and Abby Borden are discovered in their home. They have been brutally murdered with an axe. It was Lizzie Borden who discovered the mutilated body of her father. Here in See What I Have Done (Tinder Press) the debut novel by Sarah Schmidt she tells the story with fact and fiction in a gripping and riveting debut.

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I have to admit to not knowing the story of the brutal murders that took place in the Borden home so before I started to read the book I did a little research to prepare myself for the book. Once I started I became hooked on Sarah Scmidt’s telling of the story using both facts and then using fiction to re-tell the infamous story.

When the Police arrived at the family home in Fall River, Massachusetts it becomes clear there was only one suspect and that was Lizzie Borden. Could she really have taken an axe to her stepmother and to her father? Despite the fact that there was other people in the house the police believe that she was responsible for the murders. Lizzie Borden was then tried and acquitted. To this day the murders remain unsolved in what remains one of the most heinous crimes the axe that was used in the murders was never found.

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There are a numbers of characters that Scmidt focuses on in the novel with Lizzie and her sister Emma who at the time of the murders was not present in the family home, then there is the girls Uncle John and then the maid, Bridget. With the facts of the case already known Schmidt then weaves a dark and claustrophobic story. Behind the front door of the family home clearly all was not well. To say this was a troubled family even dysfunctional, there was many things quietly bubbling away under the surface in that steaming hot summer. The entire story just jumps out at you and leaves your pulse racing. This is an incredible first novel that is visceral and truly compelling. Schmidt’s writing is dark and chilling and the palms of your hands become sweaty or was that blood oozing from the pages of this disturbing read. This was clearly a family with many problems hidden behind the shutters of the windows as if they were keeping the secrets from the outside world. The parts of the story as told through Lizzie Borden leave you cold and wondering about her sanity and left me in cold sweats. See What I have Done is a Superb first novel and one I highly recommend.

Thank you to Georgina Moore for the advanced review copy of See What I Have Done.

See What I Have Done by Sarah Schmidt is published by Tinder Press and is released today 2nd May and available through Waterstones, Amazon and all good bookshops.

 

 

The May Queen by Helen Irene Young

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The May Queen by Helen Irene Young

The book opens in July 1934 and we get to know the young May and her family in this beautifully written coming of age story of a young woman searching for love amidst a country heading into World War Two.

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The key here with The May Queen is that this is story that runs at a steady pace from start to finish, this is the perfect Sunday read get yourself settled as there are secrets hidden among the storyline and it is down to the reader to follow the story from page one for May is hiding a secret about her elder unmarried sister Sophie who has brought shame to the family and has just disappeared. There are connections between May’s family and the family that live in the Manor House what we have here is a novel about families, secrets and a sense of belonging.

As the years past we enter WWII and May suddenly comes of age and leaves the tranquil Cotswold’s and has decided to play her part by joining the Wrens, she literally has to dodge war ravaged parts of London during the blitz as the bombs rained down all around her. But never far away was her memories of her home and her family and of the family in the Manor House and also of Christopher the son of the owners of the big house. But she just wants the secret to leave her and to survive the darkness of war. But what of Sophie the sister who just vanished, As the war comes to an end the two sisters are re-united but under what circumstances. I really enjoyed The May Queen and with Helen’s beautiful writing it reminded me of books read long ago. This may not be a story with pace but it has a real story at its beating heart heart and is worth exploring.

Thank you to Stephanie Patterson for the advanced review copy

The May Queen by Helen Irene Young is published by Crooked Cat and is available through Waterstones, Amazon and all good bookshops.

Centaur by Declan Murphy & Ami Rao

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Centaur by Declan Murphy & Ami Rao

The May bank holiday Monday of 1994 the world was still coming to terms that weekend of the deaths of racing drivers Roland Ratzenberger and the three times World Champion Ayrton Senna at the San Marino Grand Prix. At Haydock Park the celebrated jockey Declan Murphy was riding Arcot the favourite in the Swinton Hurdle as they approached the final hurdle they were lying third after coming through the field. Arcot misjudged the hurdle and they fell for Declan Murphy the world just seemed to disappear into a world of blackness then a following horse crashed into Murphy with one hoof colliding with his head causing 12 fractures in his skull. It was so severe that soon after Declan was given the last rites. He was not expected to survive such dreadful injuries.

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The world of sport now held its breath, one of this countries’ top sportsmen was now in such a critical condition that the Racing Post ran his obituary. Despite he was facing having his life support switched off Murphy in a dark world was not giving up he was fighting and fighting hard. Now 23 years later Declan Murphy with Ami Rao tells his story in Centaur in what is one of the most incredible and brave memoirs that many will want to read and is surely in the running to win the William Hill Sports book of the year. This is a brave and open memoir of Murphy’s fightback from a man who looked death in face and lives to tell his story. Hidden within the pages of Centaur is a secret that at the time he kept from his loved ones and that for the celebrated Jockey is shattering. For coming back from the dead there was a price to be paid, as he fought to regain his health there were choices to be made some so painful that even this part of Declan’s journey brought a tear to my eyes. This brave man was going to overcome this crisis in his life he was mend his shattered injury and he was going to do this in the only way he could by shutting the world and those close to him away. This fight was personal and some may say selfish but I would like to call it brave.

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Just eighteen months later Declan Murphy recovered to ride again in what some would call sheer madness after facing death. The date was Tuesday 10th October 1995 Murphy rode Jibereen at Chepstow to win. This was the comebacks of all comebacks. To have your obituary in the Racing Post then comeback not only to ride again but win. This long tunnel that Murphy was in finally was the end was reached but for this brave sportsman that had to be more to life that riding and for Declan Murphy after a spell in New York and now Barcelona he has found peace and personal happiness. An extraordinary memoir that is so beautifully written. Riding a horse there is symmetry between both the rider and horse in Centaur there is symmetry between both Declan Murphy and Ami Rao and the result is a book worthy of the highest plaudits. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

Thank you to Alison Barrow for the advanced review copy of Centaur

Centaur by Declan Murphy and Ami Rao is published by Doubleday and is published on 27th April and available through Waterstones, Amazon and all good bookshops.

The Stolen Child by Sanida Kay

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The Stolen Child by Sanida Kay

Anyone who read Sanjida Kay’s debut novel Bone by Bone will know just what a powerful novel it was and now in her second novel The Stolen Child Sanjida Kay really has managed to go one better as this really is a superb psychological thriller that will leave you on the edge of your seat.

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The title of Kay’s second novel gives more than a hint as to what the story is about. The Stolen Child is about a mother and her daughter. The story starts as Zoe and Ollie have been trying to start a family for a number of years and have accepted that this is not going to happen as they had hoped and so they turn to adoption and they have adopted a baby girl and they name her Evie. Their lives now complete, sadly for both Zoe and Ollie it is not that simple. For baby Evie is struggling as her natural mother was addicted to drugs and so Evie was born with the effects of those same drugs so in those early days and the watchful parents watched and cared for her anxiously.

As the years moved on Zoe gave birth to a baby boy who they called Ben by now the family had relocated to Yorkshire and the family unit was complete. Life could not be better for both Zoe and Ollie. But as the title of the book suggests you just know something is coming and sure enough it does. Card and gifts start arriving for Evie from her real father. This man has been on a mission to seek his daughter and take her back. For both Zoe and Ollie, the nightmare is about to begin.

Sanjida Kay has delivered a pulsating and disturbing psychological thriller that will have the reader wanting to know what is going to happen on every page. This is a clever piece of writing as you are being sucked into the story just as Evie was being sucked in by her real father. You feared for the leading characters they seek to punish each other and lives are being torn apart in full view of the small community where they live. It would be easy for me here to give the storyline away but this is such a gripping story that you really want to read this for yourself. Kay’s writing style really lends the story its real edge it is tense and visceral and then there is the climax of the novel. But we will leave it there. I promise you The Stolen Child will steal your weekend from you. I highly recommend you head to your local bookshop and settle in for the weekend. Not to be missed.

336 Pages.

Thank you to Kirsty Doole and Corvus for the advanced review copy.

The Stolen Child by Sanjida Kay is published by Corvus and is now available through Waterstones, Amazon and all good bookshops.

Faithless by Kjell Ola Dahl

 

 

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Faithless by Kjell Ola Dahl

(Translated by Don Bartlett)

Kjell Ola Dahl made his literary debut in 1993 and has won a number of prizes and has been shortlisted on two other occasions. He has become known as one of the fathers of Nordic Noir. Yet again Orenda Books has come up with another incredible find.

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This is the latest instalment featuring the Police investigators Frølich and Gunnarstranda The story starts with a stakeout and then subsequent arrest of a young woman but on letting her go after she was charges in possession of cocaine, but later this very same young woman is found dead, dumped in a dumpster. But for the arresting officer Frank Frølich he did not know it at the time but she was the fiancé of one of his best friends. Who killed her and why? Did she know something that the police would be keen to know? So now the two investigating officers set about trying to uncover who she really was. But then Gunnarstranda finds a body during the subsequent investigation. For both police officers time now is of the essence as they believe the killer has struck again.

Although this was a slow-burner of a start and the story moves along at a pace that is not hurried in any way, there was something rather chilling and intense in the drama that began to unfold from page one. This is a clever piece of writing the internationally renowned writer who writes in a very atmospheric style that sets the tone for a Norwegian thriller with some very dark and twisting undercurrents. You feel you are being slowly sucked into the story and before you realise it you have raced through half the book.

Having read many Nordic crime thrillers there is something unique about this that stands out from the rest. It is slower than most but the two main investigators are two that are going to get answers. So is the door ajar for more for these two Oslo detectives. I for one really hope so.

Thank you to Karen Sullivan for the advanced review copy.

Faithless by Kjell Ola Dahl and published by Orenda Books and is available through Waterstones, Amazon and all good bookshops.

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The Single Soldier by George Costigan

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The Single Soldier by George Costigan

Many will know George Costigan as the theatre, television and screen actor, best known for appearing in the successful hit TV dramas Rita, Sue and Bob Too as well as Happy Valley as well as many theatre productions. The Single Soldier is his debut novel set in France during the German occupation.

 

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This is a story that is both heartbreaking and heartwarming, it is big and the passion that runs through the heart of this incredible story-line. There is some much in The Single Solider that will stop you and make you think. Set in a village in South Western France tells the story of Jacques who has running the family farm on his own after his father was killed during WWI, it is also a story of Simone a young woman fleeing the onslaught of the German army and has found her way to the farm and has been taken in. She has endured a perilous journey and is lucky to be alive.

The war is raging around them and Jacques is trying to maintain the farm he has looked after single handed since he was thirteen. It is not long before war brings both Jacques and Simone together. As the months move on Simone gives birth to a baby boy but now German troops are looking seeking revenge for the activities of the French resistance fighters and it is now too dangerous for Simone and their son to remain on the farm. It is decided that they should leave to stay would put their lives in danger. Now the story become so heartbreaking as Jacques later finds out that Simone and his son have fled Europe. Jacques is now all alone, he cannot follow his family so he does what he has done nearly all his life and that is bury himself in his work on the land. This is the story of how one man moves his entire house via a cart pulled by a cow to rebuild his shattered life after hopes and dreams are destroyed. The war is over now peace returns to rural France but can one man ever again find similar peace.

This is simply an outstanding debut novel with so many vivid characters and the storytelling so lifelike that you feel part of the story and the lives the community during those war years. This is testimony to the sacrifice of those who endured and suffered the brutality of the German occupation and the tone is captured superbly.

The Single Soldier is beautifully presented by Urbane Publications and this is a book I highly recommend at over 500 pages it is by no means a quick read, but once you have started reading you will quickly come to realise this is a remarkable story.

560 Pages

Thank you to Matthew at Urbane Publications for the advanced review copy.

The Single Soldier by George Costigan was published by Urbane Publications on 30th March and is available through Waterstones, Amazon and all good bookshops.

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