Faceless by Vanda Symson

Worn down by a job he hates, and a stressful family life, middle-aged, middle-class Bradley picks up a teenage escort and commits an unspeakable crime. Now she’s tied up in his warehouse, and he doesn’t know what to do.

Max is homeless, eating from rubbish bins, sleeping rough and barely existing – known for cadging a cigarette from anyone passing, and occasionally even the footpath. Nobody really sees Max, but he has one friend, and she’s gone missing.

In order to find her, Max is going to have to call on some people from his past, and reopen wounds that have remained unhealed for a very long time, and the clock is ticking…

Hard-hitting, fast-paced and immensely thought-provoking, Faceless – the startling new standalone thriller from New Zealand’s ‘Queen of Crime’ – will leave you breathless.


When I picked up Faceless to read I felt a tingling of excitement! Having read her Sam Shephard series, I knew Vanda Symon was an exceptional talent and so I expected great things from this new standalone novel. What I got, was a superbly written thriller, with characters I both loved and hated, best of all a story that gripped my head and my heart.

One of the reasons I loved it so much was that although it is dark and often dramatically so, it also contains themes of friendship, love, respect and loyalty between the two main characters Max and the young homeless girl who becomes his friend. Frame that against Bradley, angry, frustrated and bitter and you have a triumvirate around whom the story swirls. Anxiety flooding the reader, caused by the frightening possibility that his toxic and devastating anger will eventually destroy the lives of the innocents he has targeted. It’s the way the writer balances light and dark that gives this thriller the edge over so many others on the market, it has a sense of humanity, a light shining in the darkness, that made me want to read on!

In amongst the light and shade that the story is constructed from are characters that are flawed and yet complex. There is Max, homeless, lost and damaged, who when he meets Billy, sees in her the chance not just to save her, but redeem himself. Both are victims of a events, betrayed by the actions of others, together they have found friendship and that is why I loved them so much. Vanda Symon writing them in such a way that I desperately wanted them to survive the cruelty that surrounded them. It is a clever writing tool, to create characters that you instinctively love and find yourself rooting for, because it anchors you to them, you feel a sense of fellowship, like you are standing with them against the cruel world.

It is rare in any book to make such a connection to a set of characters and it is what makes Faceless so special. So many writers make the mistake in thrillers of prioritizing story over character, so much so that the theatrics of the constant twists in the tale, leave the reader feeling a little exhausted from the perpetual barrage of content. What we have here is a balanced and nuanced tale of good against twisted, off the back of characters who are the story and not overwhelmed by it, becoming barren husks that the reader forgets the moment they finish the final page. I promise you, you will not forget Max, Billie and even Bradley, they will for weeks after, remind you why the writer has a legion of fans! She has an instinctive grasp of what can turn a person from good to bad and why some flawed as they are, will always instinctively seek out the light, not the dark.

Faceless is a superb and clever thriller, one that does what all great thrillers do, it entertains. Better than that it does so by telling a story around the one thing that connects us all, or shared sense of humanity.

You can buy this novel directly from the publisher Orenda Books.

It can also be purchased from Amazon, Waterstones and all the great independent bookshops!

About the author

Vanda Symon is a crime writer, TV presenter and radio host from Dunedin, New Zealand, and the chair of the Otago Southland branch of the New Zealand Society of Authors. The Sam Shephard series has climbed to number one on the New Zealand bestseller list, and also been shortlisted for the Ngaio Marsh Award for best crime novel. She currently lives in Dunedin, with her husband and two sons.

You can follow the author on Twitter at @vandasymon and at her website.

My Own Worst Enemy – Scenes of a childhood by Robert Edric

My Own Worst Enemy is a wry and moving memoir of a working-class childhood in 1960s Sheffield, and the relationship between a touchy, tragicomic bully of a father and a son whose acceptance to grammar school puts him on another track entirely.

With a novelist’s eye, Robert Edric vividly depicts a now-vanished era: of working-men’s clubs; of tight-knit communities in factory towns; and of a time when a woman’s place was in the home. And he brings to colourful life his family, both close and extended – though over all of it hovers the vanity and barely-suppressed anger of his own father.

My Own Worst Enemy is a brilliantly specific portrait both of particular time and place – the Sheffield of half a century ago – and a universal story of childhood and family, and the ways they can go right or wrong.


I have over the years read many autobiographies, many of them have been moving and fascinating. My Own Worst Enemy by Robert Edric is remarkable, in that it is all of these things and more, quite frankly it is a masterpiece!

It brings alive a world many of us have lived in, an era many grew up during, of working men’s clubs. Where the women stayed at home, the excepted norm being that their role was to look after the children and ensure men returning from work, had a meal and some moments of peace. A world of social deprivation and families living on large sprawling council estates. The world of working class families who walked a tightrope between survival and poverty. It is a gritty tale, powerful and utterly captivating.

I found it a fascinating and moving book, because I was born to a working class family, my dad for the first years of my life was the bread winner, my mother stayed at home. But this was a life lived on the apex of change, my mother going out to work when I eventually went to school. But much of what he talks about in My Own Worst Enemy resonated with me, because it was part of my life, even if that world was beginning to wain. He brings to life a period of time my father would have known better than me, the males of the house having to be brought back from the pub, after the women had spend the morning preparing lunch for all. He brings this and more to life with a sense of pathos, for unlike me, his world as a child was lived under the shadow of a petty, controlling, vain father, whose power over his family, was used to rule and control them. It is not all gritty story telling, of pain, there is humor too, moments when away from the drudgery of normal life, the family seemed happier, more care free and it gives his story, not just a sense of balance, but a hopefulness that enabled him to survive his father’s crippling influence.

It is painfully forthright and that is why it resonated so much to me, his honesty around the complex world he lived in is not hidden behind a pointless romanticism of working class life in the 50s and 60s, but the reality of their world. Mothers scraping around to pay bills, feed families on a pennies left over, while dads worked long hours, leaving the needs of the family dynamic to their wives. The way he talks about a father that enjoyed his control over his family, reveling in his power to intimidate is deeply affecting, the often calm tone of his writing, making the life he, his siblings and his mother lived seem all the more compelling. My father was a good man, he cherished his family, he supported us and encouraged us, we were loved and lucky, sheltered from the day to day struggle to feed a family. We were allowed to be children, free from fear and so Robert Edric’s story of his childhood made me realize how lucky I was.

Written as a series of memories, he gives the reader a insight into a world that for many is now resigned to a place in history, or so we like to think. The reality is it is still there in some form and his words are not just about his life, but of all that lived on those estates with him. His escape route was acceptance into Grammar school, but the world he grew up shaped him and he brings it to life in all its brilliant complexity and showed that there is a route to a better life out there for even those who have so little.

You can purchase this book from Amazon, Waterstones and your local independent bookshop.

About the author

Robert Edric was born in 1956. His novels include Winter Garden (James Tait Black Prize winner, 1986), A New Ice Age (Guardian Prize Runner-up, 1986), The Book Of The Heathen (WH Smith Literary Award, 2000), Peacetime and Gathering the Water (both longlisted for the Booker Prize) and In Zodiac Light, shortlisted for the 2010 International IMPAC award. He lives in Yorkshire.

Crow Court by Andy Charman

Spring, 1840. In the Dorset market town of Wimborne Minster, a young choirboy drowns himself. Soon after, the choirmaster―a belligerent man with a vicious reputation―is found murdered, in a discovery tainted as much by relief as it is by suspicion. The gaze of the magistrates falls on four local men, whose decisions will reverberate through the community for years to come. So begins the chronicle of Crow Court, unravelling over fourteen delicately interwoven episodes, the town of Wimborne their backdrop: a young gentleman and his groom run off to join the army; a sleepwalking cordwainer wakes on his wife’s grave; desperate farmhands emigrate. We meet the composer with writer’s block; the smuggler; a troupe of actors down from London; and old Art Pugh, whose impoverished life has made him hard to amuse. Meanwhile, justice waits…


It is an odd feeling to know that you are reading an exceptional debut, yet know that for me it didn’t quite sit right. I can’t emphasis enough that Crow Court by Andy Charman is a clever and beautifully written, but it left me wanting more! Firstly I will illustrate why I felt I needed something further and then, because this was a very personal reaction to the novel, layout the reasons you should still read it.

In Crow Court Andy Carman is less concerned with the murder of the choirmaster and more with the consequences of the event that ripple through the months and years following it. This is it’s greatest strength and one he carries off with great skill, for he is certainly a talent to look out for in the future. Why I was left a little disconcerted was I wanted a little more of the lives and events he covers. I wanted the story to feel a little more concentrated, so I could get a better feel for the characters and their emotions. But this is simply my own feeling, I love character heavy books and I felt it was lacking that for me.

But given that this was not the aim of the book, others rightly will read the same novel and not be bothered by this. So why should you read Crow Court?

It is an excellent look at how one event is not isolated from the natural passage of time, it creates ripples that stretch through years to come and has consequences for not just those involved, but the people they love, their families and friends. He deals with his main theme by following those who knew the murdered man and looks at how they deal with his death, leaving us to wonder who it is that killed him. The uncertainty is handled with accomplishment, leaving me full of apprehension about who amongst this essentially good group of men if any was driven to murder. He explores their morality, the things that connect them to the choirmaster and why the eye of the local magistrate falls upon them. Therefore it is the events more than the characters themselves, informed by their personal circumstances, that create the story. Andy Charman’s exceptional look at how human nature, both flawed and passionate, weak and strong informs the actions of these men, produces a narrative of depth and scope and ensures the reader never second guesses the eventual conclusion, because it is satisfying and clever.

The thriller element is drawn out over a long period of time and I really enjoyed that. Many modern thrillers allow the shock element to overpower the story completely. Here the story is teased out and the reader gets to embrace the era and the patterns of intrigue that flow out of one mans death. So many writers forget that readers like to be played with, teased, but they also want to wallow in a story that wraps them in a different time and era. Not Andy Charman, who writes a story that could inhabit anytime or space, but still be a utterly gripping page turner.

I’m looking forward to what the writer does next.

You can purchase this novel from Amazon and Waterstones.

About the author

Andy Charman was born in Dorset and grew up near Wimborne Minster, where Crow Court is set. His short stories have appeared in various anthologies and magazines, including Pangea and Cadenza. Crow Court is his first novel, which he worked on at the Arvon course at The Hurst in Shropshire in 2018. Andy lives in Surrey and is available for interview, comment and events.

My Wonderful Reading Year -February 2022 – The Journey Continues.

I made an agreement with myself at the beginning of the year that I would make inroads into my very extensive to be read pile of books and so far I have kept to this resolution! It’s not that I won’t buy new books, but that I’m going to enjoy some of the older novels and non-fiction stories on my bookshelf, because books only really come alive when someone is reading them.

The first Beat The Backlog Book in February is Around The World in 80 Trains by Monisha Rajesh. Beat the backlog is a challenge set up by the wonderful @OwlBeSatReading on Twitter, in which she has challenged readers to show some love to some of the books they have owned for a while.

You feel like you are travelling on the train with them, enjoying the companionship they find with their fellow travelers and the wonder of the places they visit. They don’t sugar coat their experiences which I found very refreshing.

Next came the rather wonderful Mr. Loverman by Bernardine Evaristo. I adored this story about the tale of an older man who has hidden his sexuality all through his life, married and had children, all because he faced rejection from the community he loves. What he wants is to live his life honestly, escape a marriage that is making him and his wife miserable and move in with Morris, the love of his life, but does he have the courage? I loved the complexity and honestly of Barry as a character and the way Bernardine Evaristo brings to life the very real struggles he still faces in overcoming his fear of rejection.

Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston was the book chosen by the bookclub I am a member of and I was thrilled, because as part of my degree I read a lot of American Literature and I could remember reading Alice Walker and Toni Morrison, but not Hurston. So I delved into Their Eyes Were Watching God and loved it. The language is rich and powerful, bringing alive the issues of race, gender and discrimination both inside and outside the African American community.

I turned from this to a story of a life growing up in the Northern city of Sheffield. Witten by author Robert Edric My Own Worst Enemy is a moving retelling of his childhood with a father who was vain, controlling and a bully and how acceptance to Grammar school took his life on a different trajectory than that of his solid working class family.

Off Target by Eve Smith is an exciting thriller! I love the way she probed the often-dubious actions of scientists and the violent reactions of the religious right, leaving me the reader to decide if we have the knowledge and the right to play Russian roulette with our children.  She treats her readers to a story that explores the ethics and makes it a stunningly thought provoking thriller, because she is willing to tackle a subject most writers would steer clear of.

Crow Court by Andy Charman is a very clever historical thriller. Convincing historical detail, vies in my mind with a plot that didn’t altogether work for me, but still it is elegant and beautifully written.

My final read of February is the thought provoking A Life On Our Planet – My Witness Statement and A Vision for the Future by David Attenborough. Equal parts scary and worrying, but even better positive and it provides achievable aims for humanity to live happily within the natural world. Without a doubt this is a book everyone should read, especially those who claim to lead us.

It was another wonderful reading month and I have high hopes that March will be equally as good. I like many others need reading to help maintain our sanity in deeply troubling times.