A Cold Cold Heart, by John Nicholl

Nine stars

John Nicholl is back with another spine-tinging psychological thriller that will keep the reader hooked until the final sentence. A number of young women have turned up murdered, strangled by hand and dressed in some vintage outfits. West Wales Police takes up the investigation, headed by DI Gareth Gravel, who is still trying to balance work and his personal life. When Gravel receives a surprise visit from his daughter, Emily, he is overjoyed, especially when she reveals that she’s taken a local job as a solicitor. As the investigation heats up, Gravel suffers a health crisis that pushes him to the sidelines and allows his colleague, DS Laura Kesey, to serve as temporary point-person. Kesey uncovers some interesting information from Emily that helps point the case in a specific direction, one that Gravel cannot stomach while he remains bedridden. With a killer on the loose, their home a veritable torture chamber, and more bodies piling up, everyone soon realises that Emily’s gone missing. It will be up to Kesey to solve this horrific case and locate Emily, while keeping DI Gravel from making a rash decision that could pave the way to his permanent departure from the police force. Nicholl does not falter whatsoever in this quick read, that allows the reader to feel the full gamut of emotions. Readers who have indulged in Nicholl’s work beforehand, as well as those who love a psychological thriller with a cat-and-mouse aspect, will thoroughly enjoy this book and likely push through in a sitting or two.

I have been a Nicholl fan since I sped through his debut novel, which caught me off guard. Writing about what he knows best, Nicholl utilises the depths of despair to his advantage and produces well-paced thrillers, pushing good and evil together at every turn. DI Gravel does not make his debut here, though series fans will know that he is a tough as rocks copper that places the public above his own well-being, as is clear throughout the narrative here. Giving DS Kesey some of the spotlight will surely help pave the way for future series pieces, should some of the underlying tones of the narrative prove correct. Nicholl is able to utilise a vast array of characters to pull the story together and keep the readers curious throughout. Introducing the killer in the early stages might have been a gamble for some, but Nicholl allows the reader to see the sick development of a killer blossom, turning what might have been a hunt for a serial killer into a twisted game of cat-and-mouse, with the two sides pushing slightly under the pressure. Nicholl’s writing is such that the story flows swiftly and the chapters melt away, leaving the reader to want ‘a little more’ before bookmarking their progress. Readers are in for a serious treat should they take the time to explore this piece and the entire John Nicholl collection.

Kudos, Mr. Nicholl, for always having some new spin to offer your fans. Your writing is stellar and you capture the nuances of the genre so effortlessly.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge: https://www.goodreads.com/group/show/248185-a-book-for-all-seasons


A Mind to Kill, by John Nicholl

Eight stars

First and foremost, thank you to John Nicholl for providing me with a copy of this book, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

After thoroughly enjoying his previous work, I jumped at the opportunity to read an early copy of John Nicholl’s latest work. Likely pulling on some of his past experiences in Child Protection, Nicholl tells a dark and somewhat macabre story that will pull the reader in, if only to learn whether justice is served by the end. When the Crown Prosecution Service declines to press charges after she is sexually assaulted by her ballet instructor, six year-old Rebecca Smith is left to fight with the demons that haunt her dreams. There is now a paedophile left lurking in the shadows and DS Gareth ‘Grav’ Gravel has no answers for the Smith family. Moving ahead seventeen years, Grav is now a DI, though some of his recent activity has left him hanging onto his job by the skin of his teeth. Fallout from his partner’s apparent suicide has just about pushed Grav to the brink. Perhaps a holiday in the Bahamas will rejuvenate him and allow him to reorganize himself. Meanwhile, little Rebecca Smith is now a grown woman, though the demons are still ever-present. She has secured a tech job within the West Wales Police Force in Caerystwyth, but her true passion is hunting for paedophiles who lure children online. Taking on various child personas, Smith is able to keep up significant banter with them, until just the right moment, when she lays a trap and has them come for a visit. Rather than an innocent child waiting for a ‘special friend’, Smith enacts the revenge she wished she could have done all those years ago; torturing, killing, and dismembering the bodies. When some of the body parts surface in a local body of water, new hire DS Laura Kesey must make sense of this, while Grav remains halfway around the world. Her initial investigation makes some headway, though how could she know that Smith is the fox in the henhouse, wiping out some key evidence that could close the case in short order. As Grav is summoned back early from holiday, he is confronted with a case that is not bringing in leads as swiftly as he might have hoped. Add to that, Smith makes herself known to him, laying on significant guilt for his past failures. Will it be enough to spur Grav on to catching this paedophile killer, or has the past all but defeated him once and for all? Dark and at times shocking in its bluntness, Nicholl provides the reader a free trip into those parts of society many hope never to encounter. Perfect for those readers who are willing to venture well out of their comfort zone and never to feel the same way about the vulnerability of children again, with a powerful ending to leave a lasting residue.

My current work in Child Protection has left me a little better suited to stomach some of the atrocities found in this book, but no one can be completely prepared. Nicholl has continued to impress me with his abilities, both in writing and storytelling. He uses some of his own knowledge and experiences, weaving it into stories of the most depraved portions of society. While some might try to shy away or candy coat, Nicholl thrives on telling it ‘like it is’, if only to pay respect to the victims and raise a red flag with the reader. The characters used herein show the various perspectives that are present in the world of paedophilia: the vulnerable child, the helpless coppers, the destroyed family members, and even the general public. Nicholl provides a narrative that is both full of despair for the victims and yet shows how an investigation might yield effective results, given the right break. While I applaud the Rebecca Smith character and how she might seek to enact revenge after her ordeal, I am slightly troubled how her childhood trauma might turn her into such a ruthless killer. I might expect her to be withdrawn and not fuelled by such hatred to the point of plotting numerous murders. Granted, I have not been through such an experience and Nicholl is sure to have a a better understanding of the mindset of such victims. If the reader is looking for a swift and happy ending, this is surely not the book for them. However, those who can handle a trip to the dark side, come join Nicholl on this unforgettable journey. 

Kudos, Mr. Nicholl for this stunning piece. It chilled me to the core and I am sure many readers familiar with your work will be just as interested (dare I use the word, ‘excited’?) to tuck in. Always a pleasure to see what you have to offer.

Billy Boy Blue: A Novella, by John Nicholl

Eight stars

Master of the full-length psychological thriller, John Nicholl presents the reader with a novella that offers the same bone chilling excitement as the story progresses. Kathy Conner lives the most horrible life possible. An abusive husband who bullies her unremittingly with no one who will believe her, either the family she has regularly called or the police who turn up at the door. Married to Police Inspector Michael Conners, Kathy is sure that she will never rid herself of this monster, especially when he offers such a calm demeanour to the outside world. At her breaking point, Kathy begins concocting a plan as her only way out, though it will take all the patience she can muster. Never knowing if each night Michael comes home will be her last on earth, one day Kathy takes a chance. A great story that reminds the reader of how addictive Nicholl can be, given the chance.

I remember when I first discovered Nicholl on a whim and could not put the book down. Promising I would keep an eye out for any of his future publications, Nicholl kept me on his own personal radar. Each book built on strengths from the last and now this novella first perfectly into the flow and ongoing positive development of his writing style. Though brief, the story builds on a few central characters and the emotional differences between them, namely Kathy and Michael. From there, it is the slowly evolving thought processes that Kathy exhibits that keeps the reader wanting to know how it will all come to a climax. The reader goes through all the ups and downs faced by an abused woman and the desire to flee, even when she finds herself under the thumb of the abuser. With Nicholl’s past professional experience in this area, it is no surprise that he is able to write so seamlessly and presents the reader will a stellar story whose impact resonate powerfully. 

Kudos, Mr. Nicholl for such a wonderful piece of work. I am truly blessed to be able to read and share your work with others and hope you have many more stories to come.