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“This is a magical, daring book, set in a world reminiscent of Mervyn Peake’s Gormenghast or the Wes Anderson film Grand Budapest Hotel” – bestselling crime author Simon Michael

‘Gifts ought to be free, but they never are. They tie you to the wishes of others. To your own sad expectations. To the penitentiary of your dreams.’

Late one night, Thomas Ruder receives a strange package: a small blue box. Another such item is delivered to his friend Liselotte Hauptmann. These ‘gifts’ will change their lives forever.

In the far-off border town of Grenze, a play is to be performed at the Sheol Theatre. Reynard the impresario expects a very special audience. Thomas and Liselotte, together with their friend Johann, are drawn into Reynard’s seductive web, as Daumen, the gift maker, must decide who his master really is.

The Gift Maker is a story about identity, about fulfilling your dreams and becoming the person you always were … at whatever cost.

The Gift Maker – publication day!


Today (at last!) is publication day for The Gift Maker – and I am absolutely overjoyed. I send huge thanks to all readers, book bloggers, and reviewers thus far – you’ve all been amazing!! And a massive thanks to Matthew Smith of Urbane Publications, without whom none of this would have happened!

There are already some wonderful reviews of The Gift Maker appearing on book blogs, Goodreads, NetGalley, and on Amazon (links below). 🙂  And even one on YouTube.



And also reviewed on these wonderful Book Blogs:

Books and Brew

The Quiet Knitter



Review of ‘The Brief’ by Simon Michael (Urbane)

I read, and hugely admired, ‘An Honest Man’ (the second in the Charles Holborne series), before reading ‘The Brief’. Taking the two books out of order certainly did no harm to my enjoyment of this splendid novel.

I am completely hooked by Charles as a character: his struggles, his background, his continually tested honour and courage. I find him utterly compelling and attractive, as I do the legal milieu in which he operates, and the wider setting of 60s London, reproduced in meticulous detail.

The clarity and economy of Simon Michael’s writing, his way of building a scene, internalising at just the right moments, his descriptive abilities, authentic dialogue, and his masterful plotting, all combine to make ‘The Brief’ a joy to read. On completion, you sit back, and think, “Bloody hell, that was good.”

The choice to render the trial as a transcript, thereby making it read like a play, is a stroke of genius. What was spoken was more than enough to manifest the scene in your mind – you simply fill in the tone of voice, body language, and any other physical details yourself.

Simon Michael places Charles in some terrible fixes, and does it so skilfully, cranking up the tension to an unbearable level, that you are wholly riveted to the plot to see how on earth the hero will come through with his life, let alone his reputation.

Essentially, I see Holborne as a man for whom truth and fairness trump all other concerns. This does not make for an easy life. Under increasing pressure, he acts in the way we all feel we would like to, but suspect our nerve would fail us. Yet he is no plaster saint – he is fully rounded, capable of all shades of feeling, of impetuousness, and burdened with a deep vulnerability.

In this series of books, I believe Simon Michael is really achieving something special, both as a storyteller and as a creator of a character sure to capture both the mind and heart of any discerning reader; a character with longevity, archetypal yet wholly individual. I am more than keen to read the third in the series, ‘The Lighterman’, when it comes out later in 2017.



Review of “The Cruelty of Lambs” by Angelena Boden (Urbane Publications)

Angelena Boden has written one hell of an intense novel. Albeit the settings are principally domestic, and the world of the two central characters, Iain and Una, is comfortably ‘middle class’ and professional, their home, in truth, is a crucible of psychological terror, which too often spills over into violence.

In the earlier stages, the author plays with the reader’s perceptions and expectations, as we are thrown this way then that with regard to who is at fault in this ill-starred marriage. Suffice it to say that in Una (the Irish version of this name being Oonagh, meaning ‘lamb’ – hence the title) the author has created a monster of narcissism and cruelty – seriously damaged goods, who in turn damages all those about her.

I felt at times that Iain was probably suffering some form of Stockholm syndrome, and had been so undermined by the abuse meted out to him by his wife that he began to doubt every aspect of his reality. She frequently “gaslights” him, to the point where he believes her actions to have been his.

Having somewhat looked into the issue of Narcissistic Personality Disorder, the people who may be so diagnosed, and the dreadful effects on those who come into their orbit, Angelena Boden has, to my mind, created the poster child for that particular diagnosis, in Una Carrington. Obsessed with expensive lipstick, domineering and shallow, heartless towards her children, husband, and employees alike, this character is truly terrifying, and makes “Cruelty of the Lambs” compulsive reading on that account.

If all this weren’t bad enough, Iain, a onetime music teacher, has been falsely and maliciously accused of sexual harrassment by a gang of schoolgirls. This has destroyed his career, and threatened the balance of his mind. In this weakened state he is easy prey for his borderline psychopathic wife. Iain’s faithful friend, Fergus, and his calm and wise first wife, Morag (why Iain ever left Morag for Una is really beyond me!) can see all too clearly how Iain is being destroyed, and do all they can to save him. At times, it seems as though it may be too late. When Iain’s beloved (and very expensive) cello is stolen in an apparent burglary, his life truly spirals out of control.

“The Cruelty of Lambs” is exceedingly well written, the prose being both stylish and witty. It also offers a deep understanding of human psychology, and exemplifies starkly how one person may be utterly ground down by another. The reader is tantalised and thrown into confusion at times as to who the ‘bad’ person is in the marriage – this is very artfully done. It is almost as if on reading this novel we, too, have to fight against Una’s uncanny ability to coerce, control, and destabilise; we also become her victim for a time. In short, this story gets under your skin; it disturbs and alarms; it is repellent in places, as depiction of such abuse, both mental and physical, really ought to be.

Una’s background is sketched in, including some possible notions of this being partly inherited behaviour from her own mother, as indeed Una’s and Iain’s daughter, Johanna, is beginning to demonstrate similar traits – and one must hope it is not too late for her to outgrow these.

The theme of music, the healing power thereof, is an important strand in this novel, and is both believable in this context, and adds necessary texture, and necessary beauty amid the emotional carnage.

Angelena Boden has created a cast of characters that are memorable and intricate. The author is also very good at description – cityscapes, domestic interiors, bars, Spanish hotels, you name it – all is achieved with economy and specificity.

I found this a very impressive first novel, both from a writing point of view, and as an interrogation into the psychology of both abuser and abused.



A pre-publication review of “The Gift Maker” – by bestselling crime author, Simon Michael.


This is a magical, daring book, set in a world reminiscent of Mervyn Peake’s Gormenghast or the Wes Anderson film Grand Budapest Hotel.  Using language of marvellous distinctiveness and beauty which reveal his poetic background, Mark Mayes creates a sometimes beautiful and frequently nightmarish world where reality and folk tale morph into surrealism to disturbing effect.  By turns hilarious and terrifying, wise and thought-provoking, The Gift Maker stands head and shoulders above anything I have read this year.  I devoured it in two sittings, and will now start again so as to savour less breathlessly its sublime language and ideas.  This sustained feat of imagination is a best-seller and likely award winner if ever I read one.  Not for the faint-hearted, but brilliant.

Bestselling crime author Simon Michael

Link to Urbane (publisher)


Simon Michael

(note: “The Gift Maker” publishes 23rd February 2017, with Urbane Publications)

Review of “Dancers in the Wind” by Anne Coates (Urbane Publications)

Dancers in the Wind is a page-turner if ever there was one. Written in an effortlessly readable style, combining great clarity and economy of language with a pitch-perfect ear for dialogue and feel for characterisation; as well as an utterly convincing depiction of 1990s London; in particular the area around Kings Cross, before it was ‘regenerated’.

Hannah Weybridge is a journalist and single mum, with a career somewhat in the doldrums, trying to do her best by her infant daughter. As the result of a feature article she is assigned, she finds herself unwittingly pulled into a dark and dangerous world of prostitution, pimps, potentially bent policemen, and something far worse – a shadowy and murderous elite group of sexual deviants, who believe they can kill prostitutes with impunity.

But exactly how far up the pyramid of power does this nefarious group extend, and is Inspector Tom Jordan, investigating a growing tally of murdered women, really on the side of justice and truth? Should Hannah trust him, or is her growing attraction to him clouding her judgement?

Into Hannah’s largely regulated life lands Princess (a.k.a. Caroline), a young prostitute who has been badly beaten, and is in search of sanctuary. But exactly who is she running from? Hannah reluctantly takes her in, thereby putting both her own safety, and that of her daughter, at risk.

Some really masterful plotting in this novel keeps you on tenterhooks pretty much all the way through, and in the last third of the book the tension is mercilessly ratcheted up for both Hannah and the reader. I did not want to read this book as quickly as I did, as generally, the more I enjoy a book the more I eke it out – but you are simply compelled to find out what will happen next, and holding off is not an option. There is a scene, near the very end, that will have you silently (or not) screaming: “No – this can’t be happening!”

Anne Coates clearly knows what she is doing as a thriller writer. She is very skillful indeed at drawing the reader in and not letting them go. Hannah, Princess, and Tom, are all vividly drawn characters: nuanced, often wrestling with internal contradictions, as most of us humans tend to. The minor characters of the novel are deftly conveyed, as individuals, yet are also recognisable as types – certainly, none are ciphers.

Seeing that Anne Coates is also a journalist, everything about Hannah’s day-to-day life as a freelance has the ring of truth. The world of prostitution is explored in depth, and from many angles. The exploration is neither condemnatory nor facile, rather it allows the reader to consider the moral complexity, and appreciate the inherent dangers, of such an occupation.

We accompany Hannah on her journey into a demi-monde few of us know much about first-hand, and as more and more pressure is placed on Hannah, to do the right thing (if that may even be discerned), to be braver than she thought she could ever be, her essential character is revealed under that very pressure. This makes for an exhilarating and emotionally-involving reading experience. The same may also be said of Princess’s journey within the novel, although we see less of this from her direct perspective.

Perfectly paced, instantly engaging, and with central characters that you truly care about, and relate to, Dancers in the Wind is surely the ideal read for lovers of thrillers and crime fiction, who also happen to be fans of high-quality writing.