Reviews

I enjoy good stories, whatever their genre, style or subject.

I’m currently reading Scared to Death by Rachel Amphlett

Scared to Death cover

November 2017

Beneath the Ink by Kath Middleton    *****

Beneath the Ink coverThis is a hugely enjoyable and entertaining science fiction story about the dangers of mixing combining miniaturised drones with plant DNA. Entering the body during tattooing, these seeds literally get under your skin and start to grow, wreaking havoc and mayhem in the Home Counties.

I loved the satirical edge and social comment as society breaks down, and the secret services struggle to deal with the fallout and solve the mystery of these ‘alien creatures’.

Ingenious, imaginative and skilfully told with a touch of dark humour, this story shows you what can happen when science loses control. Though a very different story, it reminded me of ‘The War of the Worlds’ by HG Wells, which also dealt with the collapse of society in the face of an unknown enemy.

If you ever wondered what could happen when scientists lose control, this is the story for you.

October 2017

Lost in the Lake by A J Waines    ****

I enjoyed this psychological suspense story, featuring Sam Willerby, a psychotherapist who gets into hot water when she fails to maintain professional boundaries when Rosie seeks help. She almost drowned when the van she was travelling in left the road and plunged into an ice cold lake. Now she wants to recover her memory of the event to find out what happened.

Was it and accident or was someone trying to kill her? Is Rosie all she seems?

The narrative alternates between the two characters, offering different perspectives on their relationship, slowly building the suspense, raising more questions than answers. Both characters were sympathetically drawn were entirely credible, adding a solid backbone to an enjoyable read. Though a little slow in places, once the fuse was lit, the story raced away.

This was the second book in the series, but I didn’t feel I’d lost or missed anything by not reading the first.

Honour Bound – Alaric Bond    *****

This series keeps getting better with each book. Honour Bound, like its predecessors, is character driven, and not afraid to venture from sea to land when the French capture King’s ship. He and his officers are taken prisoner and held at Verdun, France. Their captivity and way of life is shown in considerable detail, adding an extra dimension to the story and characters, who we get to know a little better.

Battles at sea are not forgotten though as a parallel story follows the exploits of Lewis, an officer turned smuggler.

If you like your novels to have strong and interesting characters, facing life and death challenges, and you enjoy learning about life in the past, then please give this novel, and the rest of the series, a try.

Highly recommended and looking forward to the next book.


September 2017

Blackmail, Sex and Lies – Kathryn McMaster    ****

There’s something pleasurable and fascinating in getting under the skin of a true crime story to discover the events, background and characters behind the names on the court register.

In this case, the journey of working class dreamer and social climber, Emile L’Angelier, spurned twice before and determined not to be rejected again, takes us to Glasgow in the 1850s where he meets Madeleine Hamilton Smith, daughter of a well-to-do architect.

Fictionalised from the correspondence between the two lovers, this is a well-researched story, brought to life with a fine eye for detail and nuance. The lead characters are well-portrayed and engaging as their relationship develops and struggles with the strict morals and codes of class and love in Victorian Glasgow.

The author’s review of the case and evidence allowed us to compare notes and review some of the factors in more detail, adding to my enjoyment.

If you like a glimpse of the past and a story filled with passion, conflict and engaging characters, all based on real events, then look no further.


Confronting the Hostile – Joy Mutter    ****

With new servants to do their evil bidding, Tile X and Joe embark on another killing spree in the latest paranormal thriller in the hugely entertaining and original Hostile Series. This time, two police officers, used to solving murders not initiating them, add a new dimension to the mix.

Written with great wit, humour and style, Joy Mutter’s down to earth writing makes the unusual seem perfectly normal. Add the inventive twists and ideas, the cast of great characters, battling to defeat the evil masters, and the scene is set for yet another entertaining and thought-provoking story.

While you don’t need to read the previous novels in the series to enjoy this one, why deny yourself the pleasure of some terrific stories, filled with characters and plots you’ll soon warm too?


August 2017

The Curse of the Baskervilles – Colin Garrow   *****

Imagine Dr Watson feeling a tad frustrated and peeved as his smart-Alec, know-all friend, Sherlock Holmes, swoops in to solve another baffling case with consummate ease. All this after Watson’s done all the mind-numbing donkey work.

This is the basis for an irreverent comedic romp at the expense of crime literature’s most famous double act. Watson, determined to show his friend he can solve baffling cases, gives a slightly offbeat version of events that’s a delight to read. Better still, I loved Watson’s feisty and amorous wife, Mary, who showed a flair for kicking ass and putting the men in their places.

Inventive, irreverent and hugely entertaining, the Watson Letters will leave you laughing, and occasionally gasping in disbelief as the detective duo trample over convention and good taste to solve some of the most baffling (and curious) cases imaginable. Even an appearance by Hannibal Lecter seems perfectly in keeping as modern characters and events are thrown into the Victorian melting pot of Holmes and Watson.

Once I tuned into the humour and went with the flow, I thoroughly enjoyed the stories, which got better as I progressed, reaching an epic climax in the Silence of the Lambtons.

I would thoroughly recommend them to anyone who enjoys a good and irreverent laugh.


July 2017

The Woman in Blue – Elly Griffiths    ****

(I was lucky enough to meet the delightful Elly Griffiths earlier this year when she gave a talk and signed books.)

The gentle pace of this murder mystery allows the reader time to get to know the main characters and the beautiful and atmospheric Walsingham, while the mystery unfolds. In this case, it’s the murder of a woman in a graveyard before a religious Easter gathering. Inspector Nelson, who has problems of his own, is then drawn into another case involving abusive letters sent to a woman priest who knows Dr Ruth Galloway.

Is there a connection? Ruth Galloway believes there might be and makes enquiries of her own.

I haven’t read any of the previous books in the series, but this didn’t detract from my enjoyment of a skilfully crafted story, laced with humour and social comment. Walsingham and its religious history are beautifully described and evoked, adding additional depth to the story.

An enjoyable and entertaining story that reminded me of LJ Ross.


June 2017

The Darkest Lies – Barbara Copperthwaite    ****

Melanie’s daughter, Beth, is left for dead on the Lincolnshire marshes. What was she doing out there at night when she should have been at her best friend’s house? Who delivered the blow that left her for dead? Why doesn’t anyone seem to know anything about the events of that night? Why aren’t the police doing more to find her attacker?

While Beth lays trapped in a coma in hospital, Melanie needs to find answers to these questions and uncover the truth about what happened in the marshes.

Filled with raw emotion, as you would expect, this is a harrowing story of lies and deceit, gradually peeled back until the truth emerges. The author vividly describes the acute pain and soul searching of the parents as they grapple to come to terms with what happened. But Melanie need to uncover the truth, drives her to make her own enquiries.

While I empathised with Melanie’s pain, at times she seemed too self-obsessed, which made me lose sympathy with her and left me feeling the novel was a little longer than needed. I can’t say any more without spoiling what is an emotional powerhouse of a story, with deftly handled twists and turns.

A difficult subject to read, but expertly handled. Well worth reading.


May 2017

Echoes From Afar by Tamara McKinley     *****

Echoes from AfarCan love endure? Can it survive the onslaught of war, lies and secrets?

Those are the questions facing Belle and Henri as their young love, ignited in Paris, is tested by the Spanish Civil War and its aftermath.

From the sublime descriptions of 1930s Paris to the heart breaking horrors of war, this is an elegantly written story, brought to life with memorable characters that sweep you along on an emotional ride filled with twists, surprises, and love that transcends tragedy.

Echoes From Afar is an epic tale, told with a confidence and mastery that engaged and surprised me from the first page to the last.

Highly recommended.


April 2017

The Hostile Game by Joy Mutter    *****

I enjoy stories that break with convention, and once again, Joy Mutter delivers another wonderfully offbeat, paranormal thriller, mellowed with a delicious dark humour.

Four years have elapsed since Holiday for the Hostile and Serena’s struggling to come to terms with the deaths she has caused. She’s pregnant and hoping for a peaceful life, but she’s in the grip of her paranormal ‘buddy’, who needs more deaths. With family and a former police detective closing in to uncover the truth behind the killings, Serena’s turmoil and problems can only get worse.

The intricate plot delivers twists, turns and surprises that kept me turning the pages, eager to learn how Serena would deal with all the struggles and problems. And what an ending it was! I can’t wait to read the next instalment.


The Demon of Devilgate Driveby Colin Garrow    *****

The hunt for missing Jimmy Brick takes young Jeff and Suzi on an exciting adventure of thrills and scares that kept me guessing right to the end.

Laced with sassy humour, filled with inventive 70s references and likeable characters, this is a thoroughly enjoyable story for that’s fun to read and impossible to resist.

 

 


A Greater World by Clare Flynn   *****

This is not my usual read, but it gripped me from the first tragedy in Chapter One to the final page, leaving my emotions in tatters at times. It’s a sweeping story of injustice, tragedy and survival in an unforgiving Australian landscape that shows no mercy to young or old. The beautifully drawn characters battle their way, and each other, through many unexpected twists and turns which kept me enthralled throughout, desperate to learn the fates of Elizabeth and Michael.

This is without doubt one of the best stories I’ve had the pleasure to read and I would recommend it to anyone, regardless of which genre you prefer.


The Killing of Polly Carter by Robert Thorogood   ****

An intricate and intriguing mystery which kept me guessing, but felt a little laboured at times. Enjoyed the backstory with Richard Poole’s parents, but I don’t think this is as sharp or engaging as Robert Thorogood’s previous novel, A Meditation on Murder.

That said, it’s still an entertaining read.

 

 


March 2017

Holy Island by LJ Ross   *****

I thoroughly enjoyed Holy Island, which I had been looking forward to reading for some time. Set on the beautiful, tight-knit island of Lindisfarne, the ritual elements to the murders added another dimension to the complex plot, which offered plenty of motives, conflict and suspects.

I can’t say I was overly convinced by the romantic sideline between Ryan and Anna, but it did provide an added frissance to the story as the body count increased. But the story kept me reading as the tension increased to a terrific climax, followed by a breathtaking twist I wasn’t expecting.

I’m already looking forward to reading the next in the series.

 


February 2017

The Way that it Falls by Robin Roughley     *****

On a cold, Wintery day in Wigan, a thief steals some chains from a new jeweller’s shop, colliding with an old lady as he escapes. It’s all in a day’s work for DS Lasser, even if he’s off duty at the time. Only this is no ordinary day as events spiral out of control into a full blown battle.

Filled with deftly drawn and engaging characters – even when some of them are terrorising the local population and ripping up the streets – the story follows a number of strands, which slowly weave into a thrilling climax and resolution.

Robin Roughley takes the ordinary and turns it into a mesmerising, complex adventure that has time to take in police politics, personal relationships and the gritty underworld of crime and despair that lurk behind the veneer of our High Streets. And at its heart is DS Lasser, who remains committed to the job he loves despite the flaws in the system and the risks to his personal safety.

While there are so many good things I could say about this story, I’ll confine myself to Plymouth, who has to be one the best villains I’ve encountered in crime fiction. He deserves his own book.

In the meantime, enjoy this great story. I’m already looking forward to the next in the series.


The Curse of Arundel Hall by J New      *****

On her return to Linhay Island, recently widowed Ella soon discovers the remains of a murdered woman in the basement of her home, Yellow Cottage. Does she link to the curse of neighbouring Arundel Hall? When a guest is murdered at the dinner party there, it’s time for Ella to investigate.

I have no knowledge of the 1930s, but the tone, language and atmosphere in this beautifully crafted cosy mystery evokes the period as I imagine it. With
engaging, believable characters and a page-turning plot, this is a classy, well-written story that entertained me from start to finish.

I felt sad when I turned the last page and would thoroughly recommend this story to anyone who enjoys their mysteries with a touch of class.


January 2017

Death on a Dirty Afternoon – Colin Garrow       *****

Death on a Dirty Afternoon is an original, delightfully narrated murder mystery, with a tone and style that reminds me of those black and white American private detective movies. Only this story takes you on a tour of the north east around Newcastle with taxi driver, Terry Bell, at the wheel, trying to make sense of the body he found on a dining table and the murder of Big Ronnie.

Filled with colourful description and characters with names like Bench Face and Gorilla Boy, this is an intriguing, twisting journey as Terry, and colleague, Carol, try to untangle the truth from the red herrings, meeting resistance and problems at every turn.

The dialogue and interplay between the main characters is excellent throughout, and you never know what’s coming or how it’s going to end, but you’re guaranteed to smile and laugh at the wry, often dark humour that permeates even the bleakest moments.

This story is a treat from start to finish, and I look forward to meeting these lovable characters in the next volume of Terry Bell.


Holiday for the Hostile – Joy Mutter       *****

I enjoy reading something a little different and this paranormal adventure has all the ingredients that make a great and absorbing story. Though unusual, it’s essentially the story of misfit teenager, Serena, out of sorts and out of place in the mundane world around her. Nothing unusual there, until you realise she’s befriended by a powerful ‘force’ that can grant her darkest wishes. As she struggles to cope with the results of her past wishes, she’s faced with new threats on a family holiday in Ireland.

Imaginative, irreverent, and packed full of colourful characters, the unusual and outlandish events Serena precipitates seems quite normal, thanks to great writing and storytelling, underpinned by a lovely, wry sense of humour that urges you to simply enjoy the thrilling ride.

Whatever your preferences, a great story is a great story and Holiday for the Hostile kept me absorbed and entertained from start to finish. I loved it and eagerly await the next book in the series.


December 2016

The Blackstrap Station – Alaric Bond      *****

Following on from HMS Prometheus, Tom King and company continue their adventures in the Mediterranean, resuming their battles with the French and each other. And that’s what makes this book so enthralling and entertaining. At its heart is a story about people in conflict, fighting their own personal battles and demons alongside the enemy in the form of a formidable French frigate. There’s friendship, rivalry, love, jealousy, cowardice, treachery, bravery and the whole range of human emotion, delivered in a compelling story set on the shores of Malta and at sea.

The author excels in the details about life on board ship, adding an authenticity and atmosphere that enriches both the mundane day to day activities and the rousing battle scenes. You can almost taste the salt beef and feel the timbers shudder as the enemy’s cannons wreak their damage.

For me, this is the most enjoyable book in the series so far because of the greater focus on the characters and the conflicts they face.

I would thoroughly recommend this book and look forward to the next book in the series.


November 2016

Lost Lands – Shaun L Griffiths      ****

This is an entertaining fantasy adventure that pits good against evil to possess a crystal that promises the ultimate power. It’s well-written throughout with vivid, believable characters and some great relationships, such as the two snow bears that help Carter on his quest. The straightforward plot builds tension and suspense as the danger increases towards the final battle.

I haven’t read the first book, but had no trouble picking up the story, set in a well created and described world. I enjoyed the story and journey through the Lost Lands as I’m sure readers of all ages will.


Suckers – Jacky Dahlhaus      ****

Suckers is an enjoyable, light-hearted read that’s as much about love and relationships as vampires. With some lovely humorous moments, engaging characters and a sense that being overrun by vampires is an everyday occurrence, the story flies along.

 


Toxic Minds – Gordon Bickerstaff      ****

This is the first novel I’ve read, unaware of the previous three thrillers in the series, but this stands up fine on its own. At its heart is a convoluted conspiracy concerning fracking, a current environmental concern for many.

The story starts slowly, and I wasn’t sure who the main protagonist. The story seemed to be about Alexa and her family, living with protestors outside her home. The characters were well-drawn and generally believable, though I thought one or two events stretched credibility a little. Then the action switched to a university and I wasn’t sure where it was going until I discovered who the main protagonist was.

After that, Toxic Minds found its feet and took off like a rocket with non-stop action and increasing tension as all the elements came together for a fantastic finale.

Full of interesting ideas and characters, Toxic Minds mixes action and suspense with topical issues and blends them into a satisfying thriller, which I enjoyed immensely once it got going.


October 2016

Betrayal – Sharon Bownlie      *****

Betrayal grew on me as the story progressed. In the beginning, I felt the main characters were a little two-dimensional, especially DI Brennan, mainly because of the way she spoke to her boss and her attitude. But she developed into a strong, gritty character with humour, compassion and the necessary determination to crack the case. Helen too seemed a little stereotyped at the beginning, partly because of her situation and language, but she too became a more rounded character as the story progressed.

In the second half of the story, the pace quickened and the tension increased. I began to care for the characters as the police team knitted together, particularly Ellington and Brennan. I enjoyed the often dark humour, which made everything feel more real. The gritty depiction of Edinburgh and its underbelly of drugs and crime were well-written, adding depth to the whole story.

While I have some small reservations about the early stages, I’m happy to give 5 stars as the characters and treatment of the subject make this a memorable read, unlike many crime novels I’ve read.


September 2016

Who Killed Vivien Morse? – Diana J Febry      ****

This is an entertaining and enjoyable crime story concerning the hunt for the killer of Vivien Morse, who had a complex life and relationships that produce plenty of suspects for DCI Peter Hatherall. He seems to have a few issues of his own with his wife and sidekick, Fiona, which may spill over from the previous books in the series, which I haven’t read.

The suspects, including a couple of delightfully eccentric and amusing ones, provide an interesting mix of characters, adding depth and intrigue to the plot and the story. With the Cotswolds setting and colourful characters, this is a gentle read that has its moments of excitement and conflict, including a good twist at the end.


August 2016

The Needle House – Robin Roughley       *****

Over the years I’ve read a number of police procedurals. While most are entertaining, only a few ever leave me feeling I’ve been treated to something special. These few make me stop to identify what separates them from the crowd.

With The Needle House, it’s a combination of good storytelling and writing that draws you through the chapters. Add engaging, realistic characters you can empathise with and root for as their lives unravel in the face of a brutal killer. The family scenes were particularly well executed, especially as the tension mounted towards the end. All the characters, especially DS Lasser, grow and develop as the story progresses. The twisting plot, with enough intrigue to keep you reading and guessing, leads to a double climax that’s well executed, tying up all the loose ends.

There’s nothing vastly different from most of the police procedurals I’ve read. It’s not flashy, full of gimmicks or burdened with deeply flawed detectives. The author has relied on good, solid writing and storytelling that brings his characters to life to produce a compelling and intriguing story that stands proud of the pack. Heartily recommended.


July 2016

Dead Is Better – Jo Perry       ****

It’s lovely when something fresh and unique comes along to breathe new life into the crime genre. Dead is Better offers a new take on the murder mystery with a dead protagonist, Charlie, who has to solve his own untimely murder and the death of his new companion and friend, Rose, the dog. With a distinctive, no-nonsense voice and dry, sardonic humour, Jo Perry delivers a different and entertaining story.

After a while, I stopped reading the quotes about death that preceded each chapter as they took me out of the story, quite frequently as many of the chapters are very short. This is my only quibble in an otherwise refreshing change from police procedurals and serial killers.


Who Killed Little Johnny Gill? – Kathryn McMaster       *****

It’s 1889 and in Bradford’s smog ridden streets, young Johnny Gill is brutally murdered in a crime that has echoes of Jack the Ripper. Did he travel north from London to commit the crime, or is the murderer a local man?

This is not a story, but a real case, brought to life from archive documents, reports and transcripts from the time. With great attention to detail and vivid characterisation, Kathryn McMaster allows us to share the agony of the helpless parents. She recreates the painstaking, but ultimately flawed police investigation that seeks to find and punish the killer. And finally, once the story is told, she offers her own opinions on the case, based on her extensive research.

While the story is unique and memorable, more so because the events happened, I found it
fascinating to study this historical case through today’s eyes. Not only is this an intriguing glimpse into another era, it’s a riveting story, told with great compassion and humanity.


May 2016

Murder at the Lighthouse – Frances Evesham      ****

In an era of gritty, serial-killer crime thrillers and police procedurals, it’s refreshing to find a traditional murder mystery that doesn’t rely on blood, profanities and a standard maverick cop for interest and entertainment.

Murder at the Lighthouse begins with Libby Forest, a newcomer to Exham on Sea, finding the body of Susie Bennet on the beach. Libby isn’t convinced by the police verdict of an accident and teams up with local, Max Ramshore, to investigate further and uncover the truth.

Libby’s a likeable, determined lead, who’s not afraid to follow her instincts despite the small town attitudes of the locals. Enjoyable and easy to read, this is an entertaining and intriguing escape for those of us who like to solve murders.


A Barrow Boy’s Cadenza – Pete Adams      ****

From the intriguing title to the cast of lovingly crafted characters, this is a highly original story full of warmth, humour and humanity. You soon tune into Pete Adams’ authentic style and delivery for a delightful journey into all manner of scrapes and surprises.

I thoroughly enjoyed the capers of Jack Austin, aka Jane, and his eclectic band of agents and friends, as he fights to save the nation from those who want to destroy it. From his Morecambe and Wise shorts to his irreverent treatment of politicians, I found myself loving and rooting for Jack Austin, who will linger long in the mind.

While I suspect I’m not meant to take the plot too seriously, I felt the story was a little slow to start as the author revelled in his characters. The ending was just a little too fanciful and long for my liking, taking the edge off the humour and tension. In between, story is memorable, uplifting, and both funny and sad at times.

Delightfully different, this is a story to savour.


March 2016

Wicked Game – Matt Johnson       *****

This classy cat and mouse thriller centres on Bob Finlay, a police inspector with a past that’s catching up with him. Before he becomes the next victim, he must find out who is killing his former SAS colleagues and why.

With strong, believable characters and a plot that twists and turns and keeps you guessing right to the tense climax, this story is told with a confident, authentic voice that is a joy to read. I particularly liked Bob Finlay’s self-doubt and fears, which he dealt with admirably as he faced up to the threats he and his family faced. This made him more human, vulnerable and more likeable as a result.

I enjoyed every page of this story, which had enough twists to keep anyone who likes thrillers happy. Whether you like thrillers or just want a good story, packed with suspense, action and strong characters you can relate to, Wicked Game will not disappoint.


February 2016

HMS Prometheus – Alaric Bond       *****

After extensive repairs in Gibraltar, HMS Prometheus sets out to sea with a crew of new and familiar hands in this latest instalment in the Fighting Sail series. Galvanised by a meeting with Admiral Nelson, Sir Richard Banks risks all in his desire to engage and defeat the enemy.

The considered pace of the opening allowed me to get to know and better understand the characters who would shape the adventures to follow. The cast of familiar and new characters, with all their doubts, flaws and ambitions, came alive as HMS Prometheus set sail and almost immediately went into action.

I could hear the thunder of the cannons and feel the heady mix of fear and adrenaline during the vivid battle scenes. The author’s attention to detail revealed the realities of life at sea, while the relationships and bonds between characters added humour and humanity to those who risk their lives in battle.

While I’m sure this novel will appeal to anyone with an interest in naval history, this is first and foremost a story about people and how they deal with fear, conflict and death. Told with honesty and humour, this story shows the harshness of life at sea and the resilience of the human spirit in the face of adversity.