A hero for today

Have you ever read a book or watched a TV programme and wished you could write something as good?

Inspector MorseNeither had I until I saw the original Inspector Morse series. The superb characterisation, complex and intriguing plots, and the beautiful Oxford settings captivated me. About the same time, BBC 1 aired the Miss Marple series, adapted from Agatha Christie’s books.

Both programmes evoked the same emotion and desire to write a complex murder mystery.

At this point, I should tell you I was already a writer. Not a successful one, unless you include the national short story competition I won at the age of 12. That early enthusiasm and promise never quite materialised into something a publisher would want or take – until Morse and Marple got under my skin.

I sensed a brighter future. But first, I needed a hero for my murder mysteries – someone different, someone flawed but principled, charismatic and up to the job.

Police officer or private investigator?

While I’d worked with the police many times as an environmental health officer (EHO), I had no idea how they investigated murders. With DNA evidence making its mark, I thought I’d leave it those who understood such things.

Sue GraftonEqually, I had no idea how private investigators worked. Sue Grafton’s first novel, A is for Alibi, featuring PI Kinsey Millhone tempted me to create my own investigator. The character was feisty, sassy, funny and quite ruthless in completing any job she took. The books were a joy to read.

Could I create a male version of Kinsey?

It took some time for Kent Fisher to evolve. The name took almost as long to create, but that’s a subject for another day. He was tough, determined, single-minded, hopeless in love, and had a good stock of witty one-liners.

But was he flawed?

In his first outings, he was more like Rambo than Morse. That’ll teach me to make him a former paratrooper. He was married to an unsuitable woman. While it seemed like a good idea at the time for extra conflict, I couldn’t imagine him falling for such a woman. Net result – I failed to write with any conviction.

My attempts to make him a PI fared no better.

Thanks to my healthy appetite for Dick Francis, that left me with one option. Many of his heroes were ordinary people, drawn into adventures and investigations that often put them in grave danger.

Kent Fisher became an EHO

Kent Fisher and ColumboAn environmental health officer conjured up an image of a person in a suit, carrying a clipboard and talking like some dreary, faceless bureaucrat. That was how TV writers saw them at the time. It was hardly an image to inspire readers, was it?

So I gave Kent a past as a hunt saboteur and environmental protestor, who chained himself to trees and bulldozers to stop developers destroying the countryside he loved. This ensured he had as many enemies as he had supporters, offering plenty of storylines for the future.

Without thinking, I knew he would live in an animal sanctuary, confirming his dedication to the natural world.

While I doubt if he’s anyone’s idea of a detective, to me he’s a hero for today. He’s an ordinary person who solves the most complex and difficult murders I can dream up.

This posed another challenge – how would an EHO solve a murder? Let’s be honest, during my long career, no one has ever walked into the council offices and asked me to investigate a murder.

I’ll admit I’ve wanted to murder many awkward members of the public, councillors and restaurateurs and publicans over the years. Luckily, I can now do that in my novels.

Finally it came to me – disguise a murder as a fatal work accident. Kent Fisher goes in to investigate with the police. They pass the investigation to him and he uncovers a murder.

Simple.

But no one believes him, of course, so he has to solve it himself.

It led me to the highly original title of No Accident, which was traditionally published in June 2016.

A fresh approach to the traditional murder mystery

Thoroughly modern, with contemporary themes about protecting wildlife and the environment, Kent Fisher was like no other detective out there. Whether that’s a good or bad thing depends on how much you like the traumatised police inspectors with pen-pushing superiors that seem to dominate crime fiction these days.

What I hadn’t anticipated was the part the characters and backstory would play in the hearts and minds of readers. I simply set out to build a world around Kent and fill it with strong, engaging characters that would impact on his life and work.

HarveyAnd that’s before we get to the rescue dog he adopted. Named Columbo after Kent’s favourite TV detective, the West Highland white terrier would become a firm favourite with readers and reviewers.

With his personal life as complex as the murders Kent solved, the story drew in people who didn’t normally read crime. Readers cared about these people, about this world Kent lived in, as much as they enjoyed trying to solve the murders.

But that’s something for another post…


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Missing Lies by Chris Collett

18th May 2021.

In the seventh book in the series, Tom Mariner, now acting Detective Chief Inspector, has a lot going on in his personal life. It means he needs to keep to a strict timetable and rely on help to look after autistic Jamie. At work, he’s got a new team around him as Millie’s on maternity leave and Tony Knox on a separate enquiry.

When the daughter of a prominent local politician goes missing, it looks like she’s run away from her parents. There’s no evidence of foul play and a reconstruction generates no leads. When her laundered and neatly pressed clothes arrive in a parcel at the station, everything changes. Within days, another set of clothes indicate another abducted woman.

When a local nurse goes missing, the hospital comes under close scrutiny as the detectives await another clothes parcel. But it never arrives, leaving them confused and struggling to make headway with the investigation.

It’s a complicated investigation that runs down several cul de sacs before a further death provides focus and an explanation for the crimes. Only Tom Mariner isn’t convinced and makes a sudden breakthrough to solve the crimes and apprehend the killer at the eleventh hour.

Missing Lies lacks the spark and focus of previous books in the series, perhaps because there’s so much time given to life outside the investigation. While Millie and Tony have peripheral roles in the investigation, the main plot feels hurried at the end.

Description

18-year-old Grace Clifton vanishes on her way home from work. Amazingly, not a single witness comes forward. But Detective Tom Mariner suspects that she ran away from her overbearing, rich father.

A PACKAGE ARRIVES AT THE POLICE STATION. IT CONTAINS GRACE’S CLOTHES, NEATLY FOLDED AND CLEANED.

Then another woman disappears. And a disturbing pattern begins to emerge.

WHO IS TAKING THEM?

Detective Mariner must track down a suspected serial killer in his toughest, and strangest, case yet, with a conclusion that will have you gasping.

Missing Lies by Chris Collett

Don’t Turn your Back on the Ocean by Janet Dawson

13th May 2021.

You’re always guaranteed something different and intriguing with private investigator, Jeri Howard. In this case her investigation has an environmental theme. While on holiday in Monterey, she’s asked to help find someone who’s mutilating pelicans.  Then her cousin, Bobby, becomes the prime suspect in the murder of his lover. And if that’s not enough to keep Jeri occupied, someone’s trying to destroy her mother’s restaurant business with acts of sabotage.

Are all three issues linked or nothing more than coincidence?

Naturally, Jeri focuses on the murder, crossing swords with the local police in the process. Though warned off, she continues to probe and dig, uncovering a growing list of murder suspects with good motives and means. Jeri’s investigation certainly reveals the divisions with the otherwise peaceful Monterey community.

As the case grows bigger, Jeri seeks help from former employer and mentor, Errol, who still has plenty to offer, despite retiring as a private investigator. With him on board, the investigation gains traction until Jeri homes in on the killer for an exciting chase climax.

And yes, there are links to the pelican mutilation and restaurant sabotage, rounding off the investigation nicely.

It’s another detailed, meticulous investigation that reveals Jeri Howard’s determination and guts, alongside her family loyalties and fragilities. It all adds to the depth of the characters and story, leading to a more satisfying read.

Description

WHAT’S THE WORST THING THAT COULD HAPPEN ON A PI’S VACATION?

A dead body on the beach, most likely.

In this riveting fourth mystery in the Jeri Howard Private Investigator Series, Janet Dawson takes readers on a road trip down the California coast to Monterey, where Jeri is looking to catch a respite from the PI life to relax and visit family. Easier said than done. From the first moment of her arrival in the quiet seaside town, nothing is as it seems.

First, some maniac is mutilating brown pelicans on Monterey Bay. Jeri’s cousin, Donna, who works for the Department of Fish and Game, wants Jeri all over the case. And another one too–something even more sinister that went down only miles from Monterey. And Jeri’s other cousin, Bobby, is the prime suspect.

A local fisherman and erratic alcoholic, Bobby is getting into deep water. His girlfriend went missing after the couple had an altercation at a bar up the coast. When a woman’s body washes ashore, it seems to the local cops that Bobby’s involved in both cases.

Suddenly Monterey Bay’s picturesque waters have become a dark and overpowering force for the vacationing detective and her family. The whole town’s awash in secrets, but answers are in as short supply as healthy pelicans. The only thing Jeri knows for sure? Don’t ever turn your back on the ocean.

Don't Turn your back on the Ocean by Janet Dawson

The Birdwatcher by William Shaw

13th May 2021.

All books should have an emotional impact on the reader. Some books entertain or inform. Others leave a deeper impression that lives longer in the mind and soul. This novel belongs in this category for its portrayal of William South, an ordinary neighbourhood police officer with a troubled past and a dark secret.

He lives alone in Dungeness, Kent, on a shingle headland with few neighbours. When his closest neighbour, and fellow birdwatcher, is found battered to death, William is drawn into the investigation against his will and wish. It brings back painful memories of his childhood in Northern Ireland before the peace agreement.

The two sides of the story run side by side. As the murder investigation progresses, the story of his childhood is replayed. William wants to find his neighbour’s killer, but he may have to reveal his own hidden truth in the process.

This conflict adds another dimension to the characters, relationships and stories, which are beautifully delivered, building the suspense into an emotionally charged climax that’s both life-threatening and tragic in equal amounts.

The aftermath is even more gripping and my emotions were torn in different directions as the consequences played out, leaving me drained and sad. Not many books can manage that.

This is a story about people and how events in the past shape the future and the consequences of suppressing secrets. Whether you enjoy crime fiction or not, you cannot fail to be moved by this story.

Description

Sergeant William South has always avoided investigating murder. A passionate birdwatcher and quiet man, he has few relationships and prefers it that way.

But when his only friend is found brutally beaten, South’s detachment is tested. Not only is he bereft – it seems that there’s a connection between the suspect and himself.

For South has a secret. He knows the kind of rage that killed his friend. He knows the kind of man who could do it. He knows, because Sergeant William South himself is a murderer.

Moving from the storm-lashed, bird-wheeling skies of the Kent Coast to the wordless war of the Troubles, The Birdwatcher is a crime novel of suspense, intelligence and powerful humanity about fathers and sons, grief and guilt and facing the darkness within.

The Birdwatcher by William Shaw

At Bertram’s Hotel by Agatha Christie

9th May 2021.

In the eleventh outing for Miss Marple, she’s staying at Bertram’s Hotel, a place she once visited many, many years before. Priding itself on its traditional décor, service and values, the hotel seems too good to be true for the cynical Miss Marple.

There are train robberies, curious affairs of the heart and personal vendettas all mixed up in a complex investigation led by a Scotland Yard detective, nicknamed Father for his calm, but effective technique. Like Miss Marple, he misses nothing and soon seconds her to his investigation.

Not for the first time, Miss Marple isn’t at the heart of the story. This may be due to the scale of the crimes under investigation. That said, she contributes a good deal to the investigation and deduction. As always, the main characters are sharply observed, though the author’s customary social comments and humour are not as prevalent in this story.

It’s still a complex and baffling puzzle that takes some unravelling, but it’s a much grander affair than the usual local village murder Miss Marple normally solves. Perhaps this is why she is more of an assistant to the police than the main sleuth.

Description

An old-fashioned London Hotel is not quite as reputable as it makes out…

When Miss Marple comes up from the country for a holiday in London, she finds what she’s looking for at Bertram’s Hotel: traditional decor, impeccable service and an unmistakable atmosphere of danger behind the highly polished veneer.

Yet, not even Miss Marple can foresee the violent chain of events set in motion when an eccentric guest makes his way to the airport on the wrong day…

At Bertram's Hotel by Agatha Christie

National Treasure by Barry Faulkner

8th May 2021.

It begins as a simple missing person enquiry. Actress and national treasure, Marcia Johnson, is worried about her daughter, who is missing. From the moment Ben Nevis takes the case, it’s anything but simple. He quickly uncovers a murky background, including drug debts and a Romanian crime family that wants its missing money.

Can Ben and partner Gold recover the missing woman before it turns nasty?

It’s an explosive story, delivered at great pace with barely a pause to catch your breath. Fast, furious and always exciting, Ben and Gold wreak havoc and mayhem as they use the most direct route to get what they want. However, it’s not all one way, and tables can easily turn.

The action is complemented by sharp dialogue, cutting humour and a healthy dose of irreverence as the story races to a climax with an unexpected twist among the drama. Ben and Gold are formidable characters with great rapport and understanding. The pace sweeps you along into a dark world where only the strongest survive.

If you’ve read the first book in the series, you’ll love this. If you haven’t you can read this as a standalone, but why miss out on the first?

Description

Book 2 in the Ben Nevis and the Gold Digger thriller series. Marcia Johnson is a respected actress, Marcia is, according to her agent, a National Treasure. Marcia’s daughter, Janie, is missing without any clue or reason as to why? London Private Eye Ben Nevis thinks it will be a simple search to find her but when Janie’s dead father’s background comes to light things take on a more sinister angle involving an unpaid drug debt owed to a Romanian crime family who wants it paid. Have they got Janie? Ben takes on the London end of the family and the body count grows. When he and Gold fly to Romania it escalates further in a series of exciting skirmishes in Bucharest as they attempt a hostage rescue and escape. Hovering in the background is DCS Clancy, Ben’s old boss at the Met’s Organised Crime Squad who has eyes on finishing the UK end of the Romanian family, but all doesn’t go well and Ben changes from being the pursuer to being pursued right to the final big twist. As usual with a Ben Nevis book, it’s fast and furious with no prisoners taken.

National Treasure by Barry Faulkner

What Lies Beneath by Bill Kitson

7th May 2021.

This is the first Mike Nash novel I’ve read and it won’t be the last. Due to the nature of the crimes, it wasn’t as easy book to read at times, but it’s certainly thrilling and Nash is a flawed, but terrific lead detective.

It starts with the horrific discovery of two skeletons at the bottom of a remote tarn or lake. Unfortunately, this is only the beginning as the lake yields yet more bodies, turning a simple investigation into suspicious deaths into a complex multiagency, international affair as people trafficking leaves it mark on rural Yorkshire.

Alongside the difficulties of bringing down a criminal organisation that spans Europe, Nash has to work with the national Major Crimes Unit, an external body that seems answerable to no one. Then there’s the Russian police and Clara, a detective with more than a passing interest in Nash.

Driven by a desire for justice, but hampered by rivalries and the scale of the operation, the story twists and turns, the tension building to an exhilarating and dramatic climax.

Considering the nature of the crimes, the author handles the issues with sensitivity, never straying into graphic detail. The general absence of swearing and graphic violence is also welcome, showing you can deliver a tense and dramatic thriller without either.

This is an impressive start to what I hope will be an engaging new series for me to read.

Description

Detective Mike Nash thought that moving back to Yorkshire from London would give him a quieter life. Little did he know . . .

Two skeletons are discovered in Lamentation Tarn, a mountain lake.

Talented detective Mike Nash and his team have little evidence with which to work, until a surprising discovery prompts them to contact law enforcement agencies in Eastern Europe.

A joint task force is formed to uncover a criminal network involved in prostitution, drugs, and human trafficking, but Nash’s preoccupation with internal politics, as well as with an attractive Russian detective, proves to be a distraction.

Finally, a young victim escapes the gang’s clutches, providing Nash with much needed evidence. A search of the neighbouring tarn yields evidence of even more heinous crimes.

Who else will die before the criminals are brought to bitter justice?

What Lies Beneath by Bill Kitson

Twisted Crimes by Michael Hambling

7th May 2021.

It’s no secret that I love the Sophie Allen series. They’re built around her dynamic and charismatic character and her relationship with her team. Thankfully, there are no traumatised detectives and stereotyped, pen pushing senior officers to spoil these novels. This places them head and shoulders above many police procedurals in my opinion.

In this latest novel, an elderly couple attend the wrong funeral and then disappear, only to be found weeks later, having committed suicide in a local nature reserve. Or is it murder? If so, what could possibly be the motive?

Later, when another body is found nearby, the investigation gains some traction. But it comes at a price as a whiff of corruption taints the atmosphere.

Live the previous novels in the series, Sophie Allen is a determined and dynamic detective, leading from the front, using all her skill and experience to pick her way through the dense tangle of clues, despite the pressures building around her.

Twisted Crimes is a joy to read and superbly written, maintaining the high standards set in the first novel in the series. It neatly avoids the formulaic approach of so many crime novels to deliver characters you care about alongside some intriguing investigations.

Highly recommended.

Description

Sylvia and Ted Armitage, a retired couple, attend the wrong funeral service by mistake. A month later their daughter returns from holiday to find them missing. The police make little headway in tracing their whereabouts until their bodies are found in their car, abandoned in the middle of a copse in a tranquil nature reserve. They appear to have committed suicide, but some of the forensic evidence suggests otherwise. The police slowly make progress and find several links to a shady organisation that owns a string of bars, clubs and cafes.

When another body is found in the same area, DCI Sophie Allen must use all her investigative skills to unravel the connections between these very different victims. Some of the suspects are involved in shady deals and corruption, others are masking dark family secrets. Sophie is joined by two new police officers, Rose Simons and George Warrander, who will transform her team.

Twisted Crimes by Michael Hambling

Murder on the Levels by David Hodges

6th May 2021.

Having previously started this book twice before, I decided to persevere on the third reading and was rewarded with an enjoyable story with some good twists and dark humour. Like the story, Kate Hamblin grew on me as a character till I was rooting for her by the end.

It begins when she leaves a police surveillance van in the middle of the night. Moments later, it’s blown up, killing her two colleagues. The killer then hunts her down , but she escapes, only to be accused of abandoning her colleagues, perhaps knowing they were about to be killed.

Kate not only has to clear her name, she has to uncover a resourceful killer, who still wants her dead. The story becomes a cat and mouse affair, which is cleverly plotted and executed as the killer tries to complete the job before he’s identified and arrested.

With some deft dark humour and plenty of twists and narrow escapes, the story rattles along to the climax. While a couple of the characters seemed wooden and stereotyped, it remains an enjoyable and different police procedural story.

I’m looking forward to finding out what happens to Kate in her next adventure.

Description

Detective Kate Hamblin is doing surveillance on the Somerset Levels, trying to catch a crazed arsonist. She leaves the van for a moment. Then it goes up in flames, killing her two colleagues.

Kate is accused of abandoning them and is excluded from the murder hunt and effectively suspended from duty.

She is desperate to nail the killer herself and clear her name. She risks all by entering into an unholy alliance with the murder team’s chief suspect.

Kate finds herself not only targeted in a personal vendetta by her own DCI, but stalked by the very killer she is pursuing .

A VICIOUS CRIMINAL NAMED TWISTER WITH AN AGENDA OF SLAUGHTER

Can Kate catch the killer before he takes out the only witness? And will her career go up in flames before it’s even really started?

Murder on the Levels by David Hodges