BLAME . . . Between the covers

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JeffAbbottI guess we all play the game. We know the rules, every one of us. No expensive equipment required and no real skill needed, that’s for sure. The Blame Game, it’s called, and when something bad happens in the world it plays out on every social media feed, every newspaper paragraph and every breathless sentence from every permatanned TV news anchor. Bestselling thriller writer Jeff Abbott (left) convinces us that it’s also very popular in the little Texas town of Lakehaven where, just two years ago, a car carrying two teenage friends plummeted off a lonely road and down into a deep gully.

When the paramedics arrived, all they could do for young David Hall was to get his body clear of the wreckage – and then zip up the body bag. Jane Norton, the driver? Well she got lucky. After a fashion. Multiple broken bones, but nothing fatal. And a major bang to the head, which has left her with partial amnesia. When a suicide note surfaces, written by Jane, the Lakehaven rumour mill starts to grind, and it grinds exceeding small. Obviously, Jane intended to kill herself, and she took David – the trusting, popular, talented, handsome David – down with her.

Two years on, Jane has learned to recognise her mother and her college friends, but as to what actually happened on that dreadful night, nothing. Nada. A big fat blank. This big fat blank makes her the perfect hate figure for many former school and college buddies, and she has shrunk into what is left of herself. She has left home, and is ‘crashing’ in the dorm room of one of the few friends who is still prepared to give her – literally – house room.


Jane and David were inseparable childhood friends. Their parents still live next door to each other. Perri Hall and her soon to be ex- husband Cal no longer speak to Laurel Norton who is also on her own for a different reason. Her husband Brent is three years dead from a gunshot from his own weapon, either intentionally or maybe through a tragic accident; the gossip jury is still out but, like Old Jacob Marley, Brent Norton is as dead as a doornail.

The two year anniversary of David’s death is being commemorated in the modern way, along with other tragedies, baby scans, bad moods, good moods, cute cats, photos of ‘what I had for dinner’ and Trump memes on the (strangely familiar) social media hub, Faceplace. David is the martyr, Jane and her mother equally culpable as the villains.

blame017In a nutshell, the novel is an account of Jane’s attempt to find the truth about what actually happened on that dreadful night on High Oaks Road. We have to assume – because we are seasoned readers of crime thrillers – that Jane is innocent of a brutal suicide mission which claimed the life of a boy whose only crime was to be in love. As Jane turns over rock after rock, and unpleasant critters scuttle about, exposed to the light of truth, the novel builds to a dramatic and breathless finale. As might be expected from a writer of Jeff Abbott’s pedigree, he keeps his cards close to his chest, and keeps us guessing until the final few pages.

I particularly loved how Abbott works the Jane character; at the beginning, despite her having suffered a terrible physical trauma, she still comes over as being something of a pain in the butt; as the novel develops, and the web of possible suspects widens, her courage and determination not to take shit from anyone began to grow on me. Remember, as well as having lost her memory, the boy they tell her was her best buddy is also gone, and she has completely forgotten how to talk properly to people. As for normal social and conversational responses, they are also an unfathomable mystery. Blame came out earlier in the year in hardback, but will be available in paperback from 28 December.

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THE POSTMAN DELIVERS … Abbott, Greaney & Svensson

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The generous people at Sphere came up trumps (whoops, can we still use that expression?) last week with a triple whammy to make my day, but sadly add to the seasonal woes of my postman. Three lovely new books to examine, the first being from one of my favourite American thriller writers, Jeff Abbott (below left).

JeffAbbottBLAME came out in hardback and Kindle earlier this year, but is due in paperback on 28 December. We are in the author’s home state of Texas, and two years on from a fatal road accident. Jane Norton drove her car down into a steep ravine below a remote road, killing her passenger and coming within a whisker of death herself. David Hall is cut from the wreckage but dies in the arms of a paramedic. Jane survives her multiple fractures, but loses her memory. After an incriminating note is found, it becomes the received wisdom in the small town of Lakehaven that Jane Norton was hell bent on committing suicide, and had decided to take her best friend with her. Reviled on social media and snubbed at school, Jane becomes a reclusive outcast until a mysterious person calling themselves Liv Danger begins a campaign of hate against all those involved in the tragedy. Can Jane – and her tangled memories – solve the mystery of what happened that fateful night on High Oaks Road?

markGUNMETAL GRAY by Mark Greaney (right) takes us away from small-town intrugue and places us on a much bigger stage altogether. Readers who know their spy thriller genre will be well aware that Greaney has pedigree – he collaborated with the late Tom Clancy on his final three books, and has continued the Jack Ryan series under his own name. This novel sees the return of Court Gentry, ‘The Gray Man’. Gone are the days when the only international villains had snow on their boots and answered to the name ‘Ivan”. Gentry becomes involved in a winner-takes-all struggle with ruthless agents from The People’s Republic of China, and he finds that they are every bit as resourceful and relentless as their Russian counterparts. Played out against the background of of Hong Kong and South East Asia, Gunmetal Gray came out in hardback in February this year, but will be available in paperback on 4 January 2018.

The Sons

ANTON SVENSSON is the pseudonym of the successful Swedish writing partnership between Stefan Thunberg and Anders Roslund. The Sons (originally published as En Bror Att Dö För earlier this year) has been translated into English by Hildred Crill. It is the second in a series called Made In Sweden. The first novel was called, logically enough, The Father. The story is centred on that most lucrative – and dangerous – of trades, bank robbery. Leo Duvnjac emerges from a lengthy prison sentence for bank heists, but inside he has made friends with killer Sam Larsen. Released and together outside, they plan the climactic job-to-end-all-jobs, but they face a stern opponent in the hard-nosed cop Detective John Broncks – who just happens to be Larsen’s brother. If you were of a mind to question the authenticity of the tale, you should know that co-author Thunberg is the only ‘straight’ member of his family – the rest are infamous real-life bank robbers. The Sons will be out in the UK on 9 January 2018.

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