Far From the Tree by Rob Parker #bookreview #blogtour @robparkerauthor @RedDogTweets

On my blog today, I’m delighted to be taking part in the blog tour for the new novel by Rob Parker, Far From the Tree. With thanks to Meggy Roussel from Red Dog Press for inviting me to take part.

Far From the Tree (Thirty Miles Trilogy Book 1) by [Rob Parker]

BLURB

Twenty-seven bodies, vacuum-packed, buried in a woodland trench. Some have been there for years, some for just days.

When DI Brendan Foley recognises one of the Warrington 27, he knows this case is about to shake his world.

Detective Sergeant Iona Madison is a skilled boxer and a vital support for Foley. Theirs is a newly established police force, and loyalties are about to be tested to the extreme.

Pressure mounts as news of the mass grave is plastered over the news. Brendan knows they can’t crack this case alone, but he’s not letting a rival force take over.

Their investigations lead them into the murky underworlds of Manchester and Liverpool, where one more murder means little to drug-dealing gangs, desperate to control their power bases.

But as Madison steps into the ring for the fight of her life, the criminals come to them. It’s no coincidence that the corpses have been buried in Foley’s hometown. The question is, why?

MY THOUGHTS

Far From the Tree is a brilliant start to a new police procedural series. Rob Parker begins this book with a great opening that hooked me into the story right away. The bodies of 27 people are found in a mass grave. But the most horrifying thing is that one of the victims is DI Brendan Foley’s nephew, and he is the one to realise this when he is called to the scene.

This is the first book I have read by Rob Parker, and I have heard very good things about his writing in the past. I can’t believe that it’s taken me this long to get round to reading one of his books. I am pleased to see that this book is the first in a trilogy.

Far From the Tree is a very gritty crime thriller that pulls us into the dark criminal underworld. I could feel Foley’s pain after the discovery. But Foley is determined to stay on the investigation and find out what happened to his nephew. The opening scene is one of the most gripping and shocking that I’ve read. I instantly wanted to know what had happened here and what had led to Foley’s nephew being killed. What, if anything, had he been involved in before his death? With the twenty six other deaths the team are investigating, it becomes a very complex investigation.

Because of his connection to one of the victims discovered in the mass grave, Foley knows that he won’t be allowed to be involved in the investigation. His determination to get the truth comes through very strongly, and it is clear to see that he is willing to go to any means to achieve this. It’s what makes this book such an exciting and tense read as Foley is a police officer who doesn’t always follow the rules. It made me wonder if anything was going to him if the rest of his team found out what he was up to.

I liked Foley’s partnership with Madison, and I thought Madison was a really fresh character. I loved that she was a boxer, and I thought that her and Foley’s working relationship was very well done. I could see very clearly that they are two people who will always have each other’s back.

This is a very pacy book, and Rob Parker kept me turning the pages. It is a crime thriller fuelled by action, and Rob Parker keeps the tension turning up a notch. It’s definitely one of those books which you can devour in just a couple of sittings.

I’m really looking forward to reading the next books in the series. I want to find out more about DI Brendan Foley and his family, and I am very excited to see what’s in store for him next. Rob Parker has written a captivating page turner that has left me wanting more. If you’re a fan of high octane crime novels, you definitely need to read this book. I highly recommend it.

Publisher: Red Dog Press

Publication date: 2nd July 2021

Print length: 275 pages

Far From the Tree is available to buy:

Amazon UK

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Roses for the Dead by Chris McDonald cover reveal @RedDogTweets @cmacwritescrime #RosesForTheDead

On my blog today, I’m delighted to be taking part in the cover reveal for the third book in the DI Erika Piper series by Chris McDonald, Roses for the Dead.

But before I reveal the cover, let’s take a look at the blurb.

MURDER CAN BE MAYHEM.

2013
Rockstar Johnny Mayhem sits on his bed, holding a bloody baseball bat. On the floor, clutching a lavender rose in her fist, is his wife, Amanda, who he has just beaten to death. Erika Piper knows this because she is one of the first on the scene. Mayhem is arrested and led away, screaming that they’ve got the wrong man. But the evidence is irrefutable and when Mayhem is sentenced to life in prison, no one is surprised.

Now
Thanks to new evidence, Johnny Mayhem is a now free man. During a television interview, he issues a thinly veiled threat to those involved in the original case before seemingly disappearing off the face of the Earth. When the body of Mayhem’s dealer is found, Erika Piper is pulled from the safety of her desk job and thrown into the hunt for the Rockstar. Can she find Mayhem before he can enact his revenge on everyone involved, including Erika? Or, has he been telling the truth all along? Did the police really get the wrong man?

Now for the all important cover!

Roses for the Dead (DI Erika Piper Book 3) by [Chris McDonald]

Roses for the Dead is published by Red Dog Press on the 13th April 2021 and you can pre-order your copy by clicking on the link below.

Amazon UK

Sins of the Father by Sharon Bairden #bookreview @sbairden @RedDogTweets

On my blog today, I’m delighted to be sharing my thoughts on the debut novel by Sharon Bairden, Sins of the Father.

BLURB

Lucas Findlay thinks he has struck gold when he marries Rebecca, but she married him for one reason only – to destroy him.TRAUMA RUNS DEEPWhen her past comes back to haunt her, Rebecca begins to disconnect from herself and the world around her. As secrets are unearthed, she begins to fear for her sanity… and her life.TRUTH WILL OUTWith her world unravelling around her, Rebecca clings to her determination to make Lucas pay, whatever the cost.FORGIVE HIS SINSBut someone must pay for the sins of the father…
A chilling page-turner from a sharp new Scottish voice.

MY THOUGHTS

Sins of the Father by Sharon Bairden is a very dark book. It was a read I was really looking forward to, and it did not disappoint.

The novel covers some tough themes, but it is very gripping, and Sharon’s writing is really immersive. I wanted to read on and find out more about the characters in the book. Sins of the Father is Rebecca’s story, a young woman who has suffered horrific abuse since childhood. Sharon Bairden explores how the abuse she suffered in her early years has impacted her as she grows into a young adult.

I thought it was interesting how my perspective of Rebecca changed as the novel progressed. During the scenes covering her childhood years, I really felt sorry for her. In her adult years, she is fixated on revenge. I can’t say that I blame her for choosing this path. I can imagine anyone in Rebecca’s position would want to let the people who hurt them, know how it made them feel. Her anger comes across very strongly in the book. I felt I warmed more to Rebecca when she was a child. I really wanted her to escape. I felt so angry for her that her mother couldn’t seem to see the danger she was putting her child in. It also makes you think about the people who are going through situations like this in real life, which is all the more disturbing.

Another thing which drives Rebecca is the voices she hears in her head. Sharon Bairden made these voices feel like they were people. It really was chilling seeing how they could easily control Rebecca, and it did make me fearful for her. It made me wonder if they were going to persuade her to do something terrible. You can see just how much they have an impact on her. It makes it quite upsetting to read about at times. These are some very powerful scenes. It shines a light on the topic of mental health, which has been covered a lot recently in the media. It’s a subject that needs to be spoken about more.

There some hard-hitting and shocking twists as Sharon Bairden wraps everything up in an explosive finale. My eyes were glued to my kindle as I was reading. I didn’t want to turn away until I had turned the final page.

Sharon Bairden’s first novel is a powerful, highly engaging debut; she is such a talented writer. I’m really excited to see what she comes up with next. Sins of the Father is the perfect title for this book. It comes highly recommended from me if you like dark crime fiction.

Publisher: Red Dog Press

Publication date: 27th November 2020

Print length: 308 pages

Sins of the Father is available to buy:

Amazon UK

The Curious Dispatch of Daniel Costello by Chris McDonald #bookreview #blogtour @cmacwritescrime @RedDogTweets

I’m delighted to be joining the blog tour for The Curious Dispatch of Daniel Costello by Chris McDonald on my blog today. With thanks to Meggy Rousell from Red Dog Press for inviting me to take part.

The Curious Dispatch of Daniel Costello: A modern cosy mystery with a classic crime feel (The Stonebridge Myseries Book 1) by [Chris McDonald]

BLURB

Wedding bells are chiming in the idyllic, coastal town of Stonebridge. For Sam and Emily, it should be the happiest day of their lives. But, on the morning of the ceremony, the best man is found dead. The police quickly write his death off as a tragic accident, but something doesn’t seem right to wedding guest and groomsman, Adam Whyte.
Armed with an encyclopedic, but ultimately ridiculous knowledge of television detective shows and an unwarranted confidence in his own abilities, Adam and his best friend (and willing Watson) Colin, set out to uncover what actually happened to Daniel Costello.

MY THOUGHTS

The Curious Dispatch of Daniel Costello by Chris McDonald is the most fun you’ll have with a crime novel this year. It’s a very short novel, at just under a hundred pages, so if you’re looking for a quick and entertaining read, then this is the book for you.

In this introduction, to what I hope will be a new cosy crime series, we meet Adam Whyte and his friend, Colin. They are attending the wedding of one of their friends. The wedding is tragically interrupted when the best man, Daniel, is found dead in his hotel room. The police believe it was an accident, but Adam thinks otherwise after witnessing something which aroused his suspicions earlier in the day. He and Colin team up to find out what really happened.

The book opens with a gripping chapter when the groom is on his stag do, along with his best man, Daniel. Daniel witnesses something that may make him a potential target. It is clear that Daniel may be willing to use what he knows as blackmail, which would definitely give the killer a motive.

If you’re looking for something light hearted to read, particularly over the next few weeks, then you should definitely give this book a go. Adam and Colin made for excellent amateur sleuths who take what they are dealing with seriously. They want to understand what would prompt someone to murder the best man. It would surely have to have been someone who was invited to the wedding, wouldn’t it?

I had so much fun reading this book. Adam and Colin do not have all the expertise the police have at their fingertips. They can’t convince people to talk to them, and they can’t issue search warrants. This is what makes these types of stories very interesting. I find it all the more fascinating seeing how private detectives, or in this case, amateur sleuths, go about their work. I was rooting for Adam and Colin to find the truth. After the events that happen here, I’m certain that trouble will find Colin and Adam sooner rather than later. I think that they’ll be looking for it after the events in the first book in this series.

This is the perfect book to sink into on a Sunday afternoon. It’s highly engaging, and I can’t wait to see what is in store for Adam and Colin next.

Publisher: Red Dog Press

Publication date: 12th January 2021

Print length: 96 pages

The Curious Dispatch of Daniel Costello is available to buy:

Amazon UK

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Untethered by John Bowie #coverreveal @johnbowie @RedDogTweets

I’m delighted to be taking part in the cover reveal for Untethered, the new novel by John Bowie on my blog today. Before I reveal the cover, let’s take a look at what the book is about.

BLURB

John Barrie is bored in his witness protection program in Bristol. A disturbed ex-SAS soldier, he searches for meaning at the bottom of many a glass as madness begins to set in. Then a series of cryptic messages arrive, pulling him into a web of deceit, destruction and disillusionment.

One note comes with a knock on his door and a chance to find a missing girl; to start over again… as a private investigator.

Meanwhile, his therapist encourages him to put his demons on paper; to write it all out. As John battles with his past, could this writing lead him to find the girl, his future and maybe even the love he craves?

Untethered is a semi-autobiographical crime noir, reminiscent of old noir films like Chinatown and Double Indemnity, exploring themes of identity, isolation and the damaging effects of drink, depression and PTSD.

And now to reveal the cover!

Untethered_FINAL

Untethered is being published on the 13th October 2020 by Red Dog Press and you can pre-order your copy by clicking on the link below.

Amazon UK

A Wash of Black by Chris McDonald #bookreview @cmacwritescrime @RedDogTweets

I’m delighted to be sharing my thoughts on A Wash of Black by Chris McDonald on my blog today. This is Chris’s debut novel and I am sure I’ll be returning to his work again in the future.

A Wash of Black (DI Erika Piper Book 1) by [McDonald, Chris]

BLURB

IT’S NOT LIFE THAT IMITATES ART. IT’S DEATH.

Anna Symons. Famous. Talented. Dead.

The body of a famous actress is found mutilated on an ice rink in Manchester, recreating a scene from a blockbuster film she starred in years ago.

DI Erika Piper, having only recently returned to work after suffering a near-fatal attack herself, finds she must once again prove her worth as the hunt for the media-dubbed ‘Blood Ice Killer’ intensifies.

But when another body is found and, this time, the killer issues a personal threat, Erika must put aside her demons to crack the case, or suffer the deadly consequences.

MY THOUGHTS

A Wash of Black is a strong debut crime novel by Chris McDonald, and I finished it in just a couple of days. This is the first book to feature Detective Inspector Erika Piper, and I can’t wait to catch up with her again.

Erika has only recently returned to work after taking a break for a year following a horrific event which took place twelve months earlier. But she suddenly has her work cut out when the body of a celebrity is discovered which will no doubt propel the case into the media spotlight. What is even more disturbing is that the killer has chosen to re-enact a murder screen from the star’s latest film. Clues left behind by the killer prompt Erika and her team to think that this won’t be the last of the killings.

This was a really intriguing first case for Erika and her team to get to grips with. I liked how Chris McDonald led me in different directions as he threw in each red-herring. He didn’t make it very easy for me to pinpoint the murderer, and I wanted to know what their motives were. This led to me considering a few of the characters as possible suspects, and when I thought the story was going one way, Chris managed to pull the rug out from under my feet.

Erika is a great character. She has an intriguing back story which made me want to find out more about her and what had happened in her past. She grew on me really quickly, and I can see her becoming a favourite character of mine in this genre.  You can see how difficult it still is for Erika to overcome what has happened in her past. This is also having an impact on her current relationship with her boyfriend. But she is also determined to make sure that this doesn’t have an impact on her work. It won’t stop her from trying to catch the person responsible before they kill again. It’ll be interesting to see how she will develop from this point on.

Chris McDonald keeps the pace of the book flying forward. I had to keep reading to find out the answers, and I could feel the tension rising as Chris threw in each new twist in the case.

I’m sure I’ll be returning to this series in the future, and I hope that we don’t have to wait too long for the next book. A Wash of Black is a chilling crime novel that will draw you in and keep you hooked.

Publisher: Red Dog Press

Publication date: 4th February 2020

Print length: 234 pages

A Wash of Black is available to buy:

Amazon UK

Stay Mad, Sweetheart by Heleen Kist blog tour @hkist @RedDogTweets

I’m delighted to be sharing an extract from Heleen Kist’s latest novel Stay Mad, Sweetheart as part of the blog tour. With thanks to Dylan Thomson from Red Dog Books for inviting me to take part.

Before I share the extract with you let’s take a look at what the book is about.

Stay Mad, Sweetheart by [Kist, Heleen]

BLURB

THERE’S A FINE LINE BETWEEN INNOCENCE AND GUILT. AN EVEN FINER LINE BETWEEN JUSTICE AND REVENGE.
Data scientist Laura prefers the company of her books to the real world – let alone that cesspit online. But when her best friend Emily becomes the victim of horrific cyberbullying, she makes it her all-engulfing mission to track down the worst culprits.
Petite corporate financier Suki is about to outshine the stupid boys at her firm: she’s leading the acquisition of Edinburgh’s most exciting start-up. If only she could get its brilliant, but distracted, co-founder Laura to engage.
Event planner Claire is left to salvage the start-up’s annual conference after her colleague Emily fails to return to work. She’s determined to get a promotion out of it, but her boss isn’t playing ball.

As the women’s paths intertwine, the insidious discrimination they each face comes to light. Emboldened by Emily’s tragic experience, they join forces to plot the downfall of all those who’ve wronged them.
But with emotions running high, will the punishments fit the crimes?
A pacy suspense fiction novel with its feet firmly in the #MeToo era.

EXTRACT

1.

JUST ME, LAURA

 

A tear fell onto the page of my book in a star-shaped splotch. I wiped it with my thumb. The stationery cupboard’s dry, inky air tickled my throat as I sighed.

Those poor people.

The photocopier vibrated against my back, mirroring the movement of the novel’s train carriage, its heat evocative of the bodies pressed together, its persistent humming an echo of the stoic prayers uttered by the captives being transported to their final destination.

I hated to leave them, but my time was up. I waved the still damp page side to side and blew the coldest air that I could onto it. The translucent spot rippled the paper. I closed the book and held it to my chest, stroking its edges. It wasn’t the first one I’d ruined this way.

I heard giggling. The door clicked open. I froze. Restless rustling of fabric, the smacking wetness of lips, and baritone groans filled the tiny space.

Crap.

‘Hurry up,’ said a woman.

The man whispered, ‘Let me help.’

It may only have been seconds, but the intensifying moans suggested they were being well spent. I shrunk into my slot between the photocopier and the side wall, forced to listen to the unmistakable swoosh of skirt-lining against tights, the metal tear of a zipper, and the thud and tinkle of a belt buckle hitting the floor.

The room’s flimsy rear partition shook against my shoulder. Through a small gap I saw snippets of skin: her braceleted arms outstretched above their heads, the tips of his fingers digging into her wrist.

I looked away. Beside me, rattled pens rolled towards the edge of a metal shelf. I willed them to stay put.

Her voice again, breathless: ‘I have a better idea.’ She cooed, ‘Help me up.’

I stiffened. Up?

The man grunted. The photocopier creaked and a cascade of red curls fell over the side of the machine onto my head. Definitely Sally. But who was he?

I winced. I preferred not to know. But what if they saw me? They’d think I was some kind of pervert. Steeling myself for intense awkwardness, I cleared my throat. Twice.

‘What the…?’ said the guy.

The mass of hair bounced out of view.

My knees complained as I rose. ‘Sorry. I was reading.’

‘Oh my God, Laura, if I’d known…’ Sally hopped off the machine, clutching the panels of her blouse. She swooped down to pick up her skirt, not realising that swift move exposed me to a full-frontal of the newest data science recruit, his stunned face up top and trousers bunched around his ankles below.

My blush felt incandescent. I covered my eyes to let the interrupted love birds regain their modesty, the three of us developing an unspoken understanding that this never happened.

As the door closed behind them, I caught his worried murmur, ‘Do you think she saw it?’ and her replying with a chuckle, ‘If she did, it will have been her first.’

Though it was true, it was unnecessary. I crouched to retrieve the book from my rudely invaded personal haven. The guy’s head popped back in. I jumped, hitting my shoulder against the shelf.

‘Forgot to tell you.’ He smiled meekly. ‘Justin is looking for you.

THE FILTERED-WATER dispenser in the corridor provided me with much-needed cooling down. The heat receded from my cheeks but immediately fired up again as I saw the clock overhead and stress took hold: I was late.

How did I let time slip away? I grabbed my phone for my regular check-in with Emily, my best friend. The line rang out. I let out a high-pitched whine, torn between wanting to wait to try again and rushing to Justin’s supposedly mission critical meeting.

I walked on.

Five colleagues huddled ahead of me, deep in discussion, drawing flow charts with black marker pens on a long length of wall coated with a special, wipeable paint. One of them spotted me approaching; he nudged another. Their semicircle fell silent and broke open, revealing their work. Hopeful faces sought my contribution, my approval. I passed them with a brisk pace and my most courteous smile.

I dialled Emily again as I strode past rows of desks, their occupants tip-tapping away at their keyboards, their screens faded by the rays of a rare Scottish sun. This time, her line was engaged.

Please God, let them not have found her mobile number, too.

In the lobby, the multicoloured logo of Empisoft stretched across the surface behind the reception desk. Underneath, a shelf showcased our many technology awards, oversized engraved dust-gatherers bearing testament to our team’s hard work. Next to them, an embarrassingly large photo of Justin and me holding yet another trophy, my thin smile doing its best, my eyes missing the lens by a mile.

Liv stood watering the plant next to the visitors’ TV tuned to the non-stop horrors of the outside world. She dried her hands on her cardigan and flashed a motherly smile. ‘There you are. A dose of book time again?’

I nodded, ready to speed on, but my eyeline flicked to the sixty-inch screen. Adam Mooney, the Hollywood star, was exiting Edinburgh’s Festival Theatre and making his way down its stone steps. Saliva flooded my mouth in revulsion.

A sea of outstretched arms shoved microphones towards his angular jaw as reporters pelted him with questions. ‘How do you respond to calls for your arrest for sexual assault?’ I spotted errors in the closed caption transcription. Too many voices. But it perfectly captured his response: ‘No Comment.’

Liv stood at my side. ‘That’s a real tearjerker, isn’t it?’

‘What? You feel sorry for him?’ I asked.

‘No, your book. The concentration camps.’

‘Oh.’ I looked down at the blue-and-white-striped cover. ‘Yes.’

‘I do feel a bit sorry for him, though.’ Liv gazed back at the screen. ‘It’s so easy for this kind of thing to destroy a career. I’m not convinced he deserves to suffer like that.’

I spun towards the boardroom. ‘I don’t think he can suffer enough.’

2.

MY EMILY

The kettle beeped three times, the red numeric display showing the water had reached the programmed temperature of seventy-three degrees. Perfect for herbal tea, according to the manual.

Emily drew a green tea bag from the overhead cupboard of her galley kitchen and plopped it into a brown-rimmed mug. She loved her gadgets, but had she known it was a required safety feature for the voice-controlled kettle to beep when ready, she would have sent the freebie back to her client. It was getting on her nerves. And her nerves were frayed enough.

Swirls of yellow liquid formed underneath the steam in her cup. Unable to find a clean teaspoon in the drawer, Emily fished the tea bag out of her brew with a chopstick pulled from last night’s microwaved egg fried rice. She threw the bag into the sink, onto a pile of its discarded kin, white-rimmed squares of thin, drying paper shrunk around increasingly mouldy lumps of leaves.

With the other end of the chopstick, she scratched behind her ear, stirring thick strands of unwashed hair. She returned the stick to the plastic container as though that small semblance of tidying made up for the surrounding week-worth of filth.

Emily shuffled to her armchair. Her fuzzy slippers stirred dust bunnies into the sunshine streaming through the living room’s large, Victorian window. She blew on her drink out of habit — from when kettles just boiled water to a throat-scorching one hundred degrees centigrade. A dribble of drool escaped her mouth.

The remote control for the TV was out of reach, where she’d hurled it last. That was okay. She’d seen enough. Too much.

But perhaps this time…

Her mobile rang, diverting her attention. But it, too, lay far away and her limbs were heavy. By the time she managed to propel herself forward, the ringing had stopped. She shrugged. Laura would retry later. She always did.

Emily took a tentative sip of her drink. The phone rang again. She groaned. The side table was covered with dirty crockery and technology magazines sticky with donutty finger marks, so she put her mug on the floor. It would mark the floorboards with a ring but sod the landlord.

She read the caller ID and her shoulders slumped. She slid the green strip aside.

‘Hello, Claire.’

‘How are you, Em?’ Claire’s voice wavered. ‘We haven’t heard from you at work.’

‘I’m … I don’t know.’

‘Listen, Darren was having a hissy-fit yesterday, stomping about the place, shouting about deadlines. I’m not sure how much longer I can cover for you… I mean, everybody knows you’re not really sick-sick.’

Emily flinched. No, she wasn’t sick-sick. But this didn’t have a name.

‘Anyway,’ Claire continued. ‘I’m calling because of the Empisoft conference. It’s only weeks away and I need your help. I’m not up to speed and I’ve got my hands full with my charity gig’s PR and coordination as it is.’

Emily suppressed a sigh. Her mind was a million miles from the office, but this was Laura’s company and the most important event of the year for them. ‘What do you need?’

‘I’ve sent you a long email with questions. Would you have a look, please?’ Claire asked.

Emily scanned the room. Where was her laptop? A black triangle poked out from below a blanket of newspapers and magazines on the dining table. ‘Will do.’

‘Honestly, Em, we need you back … and we’re all worried about you.’

Emily massaged her forehead. ‘I guess I could come in tomorrow.’

‘That’s great. But don’t rush-rush. Darren’s gym sessions don’t start until 8.30 now. I’m glad you’re feeling a bit better. See you tomorrow.’

‘Uh-huh.’

Emily rifled through her papers on the dining table, shoving aside print-outs of emails and letters from the council. She found her charger cable and the red sock she’d lost the week before. The TV remote by her feet lured her to have one more peek. She knew she shouldn’t, but she picked it up and took aim.

It was that dreadful women’s talk show. The one where the presenters fanned themselves when the resident Italian chef spoon-fed them tiramisu, the one that ensured guests stormed off to keep the viewers coming back.

Why was the dippy blonde on the right pointing and shouting this time? Emily upped the volume. She leaned closer, her body tensed.

How can you say non-verbal cues should be enough?’ the blonde demanded. ‘What is a non-verbal cue, anyway? A squirm? Does that count? Why not say “no” like a normal person?

The one with the over-white teeth replied, ‘We’re British. We’re polite. A firm “no” is too… punitive, like a slap in the face. When all we want to signal is to slow down.’

‘We can’t expect men to read minds, though,’ interjected the third woman, older, her lips puffed out with fillers

Emily stood transfixed. She knew it was wrong for her to be so unreasonably — unnaturally — drawn to the incessant coverage; but she couldn’t help it. It was about her. It was her harrowing encounter they probed, as selfishly as he’d touched her. They were lifting the lid off her life, as insensitively as he’d lifted her dress.

She bit her lip to channel the hurt; she needed to watch. Which way would it swing today? Would they see it her way? Would they see her? A person. A real, pulsing, sentient human being. Not some slab of meat offered for dismemberment, for them to pry apart her motives, her honesty, her morals — to judge.

Occasionally, throughout this whole ordeal, she’d catch a glimmer of hope through all the contempt, a sliver of validation. So the fascination persisted. She longed to understand what it was that hurled some to her defence and others to the edge of crazy.

Exactly.’ shrieked the first panel member on the TV. ‘I’m sorry, but in my day, you knew not to go to someone’s flat — or in this case a hotel room, which is even worse — unless you were up for it. This girl throws herself at a famous actor she’s only met that night and what? She expects him to read her mind? She can speak. She should’ve spoken up if she didn’t like his kisses or him performing oral sex on her. Quite frankly she should have left the minute she became uncomfortable.

Don’t you think there was a power dynamic at play that made it harder? I mean he’s Adam Mooney, for Christ’s sake.

She doesn’t work for him—

Emily zapped the screen into darkness. Enough. There was nothing new. Nothing that would make the haters hate less. Nothing that would make this ‘she’ they spoke of so callously feel uncorrupted again. Emily covered her mouth; felt a tear hit her hand. They knew her name. Why did they never use her name?

Questions she’d asked herself over and over swirled round in her head. Why hadn’t she just said ‘no’ that night? Why had she thought it a good idea to write her story and have it posted online? Why had she believed that blog when they said she’d remain anonymous? What an idiot. What a fool to think she would be a force for good, for girls’ empowerment, for healthy debate. It had been the worst decision of her life. And now nothing could turn back the clock.

She rubbed her face to loosen the tension and filled her lungs slowly. Must try to move on. Maybe work would help after all?

The itch behind her ear didn’t let up. She scratched it once more and scooped her hair into a messy bun, wincing as the rank-smelling bobble she’d been carrying around her wrist all week passed her nose. Once the bun was secured into place, she knotted the belt of her bathrobe and strode to the table.

The computer broke free from its surrounding papers and magazines with a single yank. She watched the disturbed pile wobble and slip to the ground in a colourful spread. Emily cleared more space on the table, flicking crumbs of who-knows-what into the void with the back of her hand.

There.

She sat down. The laptop whirred into action, the screen’s static attracting a plague of dust. She clutched her sleeve and rubbed it away.

A thump by her door.

She listened for more, the back of her neck tingling. She hoped, of the two things it might be, that it was her neighbour coming to check on her again. But no knock came. Her stomach dropped.

Shit.

She shook her head. Ignore it.

The waterfall background on her screen was meant to be a serene, calming image but all Emily sensed when she looked at it was the thunderous pressure of the water on her head, its silvery foam enveloping her, the absence of air — drowning.

With a slight tremble in her finger, she inched the mouse towards her email. At the top of her inbox was Claire’s red-flagged message: Help! Questions for Empisoft conference.

Emily breathed a wisp of relief when she saw that the fifty-odd other messages were business-related and all from people she knew, including one from HR she’d check out later. She mentally blew a kiss to the IT chap who’d assured her he would filter out all the hate mail, so she wouldn’t be confronted with it.

Her brain wouldn’t focus. She re-read the same piece of text five times. The planning around the annual conference of the city’s most celebrated high-growth start-up was a challenge, sure, but she knew that wasn’t the real problem. It was the thought of returning to work, to the stares, the whispers. They’d had to get extra security at the office when she’d been identified as the anonymous woman behind the incendiary blog post; a daily hassle no one appreciated.

For the best part of two hours, she resolved logistical issues with the catering and stupidly constrained parking around the large conference venue. No reason Claire couldn’t have handled those herself.

Emily’s cramped thighs begged for movement. She got up for another cup of tea, leaving the previous one cold, iridescent plaques lining the surface like an oil slick.

As she passed the front door, she remembered the earlier sound. Despite alarm ringing in her ears, she pulled at the knob.

On the landing lay a medium-sized box, addressed simply to The Bitch. Emily peered over into the stairwell of her tenement, knowing it was pointless. Whoever had finagled access to her building would be long gone.

The box didn’t weigh much, but its content sounded solid when shifted. She carried it inside, her pulse throbbing in her temples, her teeth clenched.

She walked straight to the kitchen, flipped open the stainless-steel lid of her bin, and shook the ‘gift’ out of the box. The large purple dildo fell atop layers of gloopy plastic film pried from ready meals. Underneath, she could still see the fat, curved tip of the other veiny, flesh-coloured sex toy.

Emily smacked the metal lid down and crumpled onto the tiled floor. Tears rolled down her cheeks, her body convulsing with each staggered sob.

She couldn’t do this anymore.

 

Publisher: Red Dog Press

Publication date: 19th November 2019

Print length: 330 pages

If you would like to purchase Stay Mad, Sweetheart, you can do so by clicking on one the following link below. 

Amazon UK

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