Overall Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
“She will leave your surfaces sparkling. But she might well leave you dead…”
Note to Tina – HOW DO YOU DO IT?! How do you continue to write absolute bangers?! Note to readers – If you’re considering trying a Tina Baker book, I will wholeheartedly recommend any of her exceptional dark thrillers. At this point, I can’t even pick a favourite, but Make Me Clean made me root for a killer more than I ever have! Please read it! So thrilled to be sharing my review today on the Viper books blog tour!
About the book
Maria is a good woman and a good cleaner. She cleans for Elsie, the funny old bird who’s losing her marbles, with the terrible husband. She cleans for Brian, the sweet man with the terrible boss. She cleans for the mysterious Mr Balogan, with the terrible neighbours.
If you’re thinking of hiring her, you should probably know that Maria might have killed the terrible husband, the terrible boss and the terrible neighbours. She may also have murdered the man she loved.
She didn’t set out to kill anyone, of course, but her clients have hired her to clean up their lives, and she takes her job seriously – not to mention how much happier they all are now. The trouble is, murder can’t be washed out. You can only sweep it under the carpet, and pray no one looks too closely…
As with Tina’s previous books (Call Me Mummy and Nasty Little Cuts) the opening chapter was completely and utterly thrilling, filled me with a weird, dark, twisted excitement and made me so very curious to find out more about the main character. But this didn’t surprise me in the slightest because it’s how I’ve felt every time I’ve picked up one of Tina’s books! In this case, the main character is Maria, and as first impressions go, I don’t reckon I’d want to cross her on a dark night. Or early morning, or midday, or any other time, quite frankly. Although, I wondered if there would be much more to this character than first meets the eye… Tina’s stunning description slaps you right in the face; I felt like I could reach out and grasp Maria’s calloused hands and if I closed my eyes, I was right there with her as she scrubs and scrubs the blood away from the kitchen floor. Of course, that’s when the questions began. What happened here? Who is the real Maria? Who was she about to bury six feet deep? Perfect, perfect, perfect opening.
As we get further into the start of the book, we finally see more of the real Maria. She’s a cleaner and works in various different homes. Some owners are nice. Others are… not so nice. Surprisingly, after that first chapter, Maria didn’t seem threatening. Just a normal woman, going about her work to make a living. Hoping and praying she had enough money left each day to eat in the evenings. I actually liked her quite a lot! Tina’s perfect humour crops up almost instantly, and many of Maria’s thoughts often left a smile on my face. I was also curious about a character and a place that Maria seems to think about frequently. Joby. Spain. Who was this person? Why is this place so significant? Why does the thought of it all give her literal nightmares? What’s the real reason why she’s in London? I really liked how the chapters were written. So much mystery surrounding what should be a very straightforward job. A cleaner…cleans, right? Maybe that’s not all Maria is good at. I was completely hooked at this point; such a unique concept, but that’s exactly what Tina excels in.
“Her special deep cleans now run to the removal of violent husbands and bodies rather than basic waste disposal.”
Maria is such a complex character, written to perfection. There seems to be two very different sides to this woman, and each side I loved for very different reasons. I also loved meeting the characters Maria cleans for, and the more we learn about them, the more I thought Maria was some sort of superhero! She’s actually kind and considerate. She’ll do anything for those nice clients of hers. Anything. Even if it means taking out the trash… I loved Elsie, an elderly woman who is suffering from dementia, with a nephew who is trying his best to put Elsie into a home and sell her house. In fact, where family is concerned, it seemed she’d drawn the short straw. Her husband wasn’t the nicest person on earth, but Maria soon saw to that… Every scene I read was just so gripping, so intriguing, so interesting, and this just escalated as we learn about another of Maria’s clients, Brian, and his boss that continues to make his life hell. The personalities of these characters were so brilliant and memorable!
It was easy to feel panicky and on edge while reading this; the way Tina writes always puts me directly in the shoes of her characters, making me think how they would think, feel how they would feel. What was also weird (but excellent) was how we still feel sympathy for a woman who killed an elderly man and buried him in his own garden. Maria tries to push aside thoughts about what she’s turned into. About what she’s done. But I knew she’d do it again. Once you’ve cleaned up one person’s mess, the next time is easier, surely… The things she’s done begin to trigger those memories from her past, memories best forgotten. We’re only given the tiniest snippets though which really builds up suspense and had me so desperate to find out about her past. I loved revisiting certain parts of Maria’s upbringing and her early cleaning days, and it seemed we learned a little bit more about Maria and her journey through each memory. But what about Joby? ARGH, I just loved the direction things were going in, loved meeting new characters and exploring current ones. A truly flawless opening to the book and I couldn’t wait for what was to come!
I really enjoyed learning about how Maria met the mysterious Joby at fifteen years old, how exciting and rebellious their relationship had been at the start, how amazing he made her feel. The way we revisit different parts of their life together in every other chapter made the book flow so well, and we begin to piece together how these experiences led her to become the woman she is. To the things she’s done. Time passes by since Maria dug that hole in Elsie’s garden, and people start to wander about Nick’s whereabouts. Would Elsie ever let slip that her husband was buried there? And what on earth had happened to Brian’s boss after Maria swiftly served him one of her extra special canapes…? There were a few different stories with different characters branching off, but I loved how they were all connected, how each of them was just as important as the others. And of course, each chapter built suspense and kept me completely gripped to the pages.
Maria suffers plenty of hardships in her life leading up to her being a cleaner, and the detail in her back story was super impressive. Tina writes in a way that makes you feel as though you’ve known her characters for a lifetime, and Maria already had a place in my heart at this point. We slowly see warning signs in her relationship with Joby, how her way of life changes, how she didn’t have any prospects anymore, how their relationship very slowly disintegrates and becomes tainted with toxicity. I loved all the clever little references we get about how their relationship… ‘ended’; Tina’s words get darker, like that dark rain cloud that looms on a sunny day. I LOVED it, and I could tell we were getting ever closer to the details, about what really happened back in Spain. Does it make me a bad person to want it to be as grim as possible? 😬 Does Maria regret any of it? The pacing of everything was perfect – plenty of time to think about everything that’s happened, but not too much that it drags. Just *chef’s kiss*
“The harder she scrubs and vacuums, the less energy she has to worry about what lies in Elsie’s back garden. The faster she polishes and scours, the less likely she is to think about what she’s turned into.”
We’ve had quite an interesting look into the gypsy community so far – where Joby grew up – and it was fascinating to me! I love it when an author incorporates some of their own background into their books, and finding out Tina not only has fairground heritage but also a family of cleaners down the line really made me love the story even more. Her knowledge and passion definitely shines through, and after seeing a lot of Tina’s videos over on Twitter and Instagram sharing and explaining her inspirations for the book, I feel like I got to know her much more as a person the more I read – which was really lovely! Tina writes the emotional scenes with just as much power and passion as her dark and disturbing ones, leaving me in awe with so many new feelings about different characters, especially back in Maria and Joby’s marriage. I felt so comfortable in this story at this point, loving just how much I was completely lost in Maria’s world.
As things moved on, I became particularly fond of two different relationships; Maria and Balogan, another of Maria’s cleaning clients, and of her and Cass, Balgan’s neighbour. There are a few ways Maria can relate to both of these characters, and I loved how both of these relationships developed – slowly building trust, learning about their lives and their problems… but I could also sense that Maria had a deep, hidden urge to help them both. I’ve mentioned before how we’re given snippets of information about what happens in the past, almost teasing us with the murder we know has happened…but we aren’t sure how it happened. We finally get some of the more gory details; the darker side of Maria comes out to play and it was glorious! There could be so many ways an author could ruin a character like this, make them too cheesy or unbelievable, but not Tina. Her words are absorbing and shocking, but she also writes Maria’s impulsive thoughts and decisions in a somewhat weird, relatable way. Wouldn’t you want to protect those you care about by any means necessary?
With the ending of the book on the horizon, I read SO quickly. The chapters were written perfectly; there was so much to take in, so many cliff hangers, so much action and gore with a deep, dark edge that I wasn’t sure I’d come out of this book a sane woman! Maria finds something quite unexpected, quite dangerous in fact while she’s routinely cleaning Balogan’s place, but it’s something that gives her mixed feelings. Should she feel scared and on edge? Or is this thing about to bring them closer? Is she addicted to the thrill of danger? Of killing? I loved being inside Maria’s mind here and I still felt like there was so much unpredictability around the ending, especially when everything she’s done, everything she could potentially do builds up inside her and makes her want to do a runner. For a while, I wondered why I felt so stressed myself and I realised it was because I was subconsciously thinking about Maria! It’s definitely a sign of a good book when it’s all you can think about when that book isn’t in your hands!
There were multiple scenes here that stirred up so many emotions for me; seeing what Maria went through, how her toxic relationship with Joby reached boiling point and how he acted on multiple occasions had me feeling so sad and sorry for her, but also incredibly shocked that one human being could treat another so poorly. I’d definitely say there’s a content warning here for physical/emotional/domestic abuse. It was also around this point that my opinions of one character altered; what was once a mysterious, almost lovable character turns into something darker, someone I would absolutely stay cautious of. The character development in this book was so impressive – not just for Maria (who is probably one of my favourite characters in all the books I’ve ever read) but also for Balogan and Joby in particular. I’ve always loved Tina’s characters, some so easy to relate to, others you’d want to steer clear of. And sometimes, you can feel both of these things in the same character…
“She attracts violence. Joby’s mother said she was cursed. Perhaps she is. Or perhaps she is the curse itself.”
There was one chapter as we get closer to the ending that ties up so much, that gives us the answers we’re craving for so long, since the very beginning! And it was these scenes that left me speechless – the hatred, the love, the gore, the emotion, all mixed together to create something so horrifying yet so beautiful, so freeing. This part of the book is certainly not for the faint hearted; Tina’s perfect words turned my stomach and I had to remind myself that no, this isn’t real! After we learn of all this, there is one final issue. One more problem to solve. But Maria’s dark side, her drive to protect and to serve justice, rears its head and she does what’s needed to be done. These chapters have to be some of my absolute favourites in a book of this genre – I was left thinking about these scenes for absolutely ages when finishing the book, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves… the ending was also one of the best, and potentially the best in Tina’s works yet!
The final chapters were tense, suspenseful and such an emotional ride. Until those last pages, it was so difficult to work out Maria’s fate. Will she flee? Does she know too much? Has she said too much? But, as expected, Tina rounds things off by perfectly sealing her MC’s fate, leaving us to daydream about where her new path takes her, and also wondering how a sequel would go… Sharing her life with others was far from what I expected from a character like Maria, but how things play out for her makes her such a unique character, and also such a stand-out character in this genre of book. Another award-winning ending in my eyes and I closed this book wondering just how Tina could top this one. No pressure! I remember feeling that intense book hangover after reading Nasty Little Cuts, and that feeling definitely returned with Make Me Clean. A masterpiece. Another work of art. Another book to be immensely proud of! Tina for PM!
Make Me Clean was as excellent as I expected, probably even more so! Another tense and ingenious read, one that has kept me on edge, filled me with dread and fear, but also oodles of emotion too, some of it very unexpected. Tina’s way with words will not only keep you hooked and curious, but will entertain you and keep you smiling (if you can believe it!) Maria is an exceptional main character, her journey through life as rough and as terrifying as you could possibly imagine. But her experiences shape her into the person she’s become… good or bad? I’ll let you decide for yourself! I loved every single second of reading this. No one writes a dark thriller quite like Tina! Bring on the next 🥳
As always, HUGE thanks to the author, Tina Baker, and her fabulous publisher peeps at Viper Books for my copy of the book and place on the tour! Make Me Clean is out right now – grab it from Amazon or wherever you buy your books. Make sure you’re following Tina on Twitter and Instagram for updates!
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