Rubbernecker by Belinda Bauer

5th May 2020.   4 stars.

When it comes to crime fiction I always enjoy something different from the often predictable police procedural and serial killer thrillers. And this story is different from the first page to the last. It grabbed me with its distinctive style and approach.

I enjoyed the author’s style of writing and characterisation, especially Patrick Fort, the unlikely hero of this tale about an unusual murder, set in the Intensive Care Unit of a hospital. He has Asperger’s Syndrome, which gives him a unique outlook and viewpoint that can be disturbing, humorous and incisive at times, but always believable.

The story also deals with the lives of some of the other characters on both sides of ICU, which helps paint a convincing picture of the department, the patients trapped there and what it’s like to nurse them. Some of the humour was deliciously dark.

The steady pace of the story picks up as the climax approaches and the truth is exposed. In the end, it all felt a little too easy to resolve, but offered a neat surprise I appreciated.

I’ve never read Belinda Bauer’s books before, but I’ll be reading more in the future.

Description

Patrick has uncovered a crime that the experts were too close to see . . .

Life is strange for Patrick Fort – being a medical student with Asperger’s Syndrome doesn’t come without its challenges. And that’s before he is faced with solving a possible murder.

Because the body Patrick is examining in anatomy class is trying to tell him all kinds of things. And now he must stay out of danger long enough to unravel the mystery – while he dissects his own evidence . .

Rubbernecker by Belinda Bauer

10% Better by Dr Rob Yeung

18th April 2020.   5 stars.

This book is so much better than the cover and title might lead you to believe.

There are no bold claims to transform your life, as with some self-improvement books and no hyperbole. You get solid, simple, easy to adopt tips and ideas, supported by scientific study, to help you make a number of small differences to your attitude and behaviour.

Put them all together and they could make quite a change to your life.

There’s a wealth of easy to follow tips and guidance to help you with stress, diet, decision making, goal-setting and creativity. You pick and choose which you adopt or ignore – the choice is yours. At the end of each chapter, there’s a summary to help you remember.

The down-to-earth advice, case studies and tips all made perfect sense. None of them involved massive changes in behaviour because the book’s about make small, cumulative gains.

If you want to make some small, but significant improvements to your life and the way you behave, I can’t recommend this book enough. I’m off to read it again.

Description

What’s the secret to appreciably raising your performance in life? It’s easy to feel the pressure to do better means you have to accelerate to keep in touch with your ambitions, but what if the secret to success was not hurtling forward with ever increasing urgency, but learning how to tweak your approach to get better results.

10% Better, by bestselling psychologist Dr Rob Yeung, will show you how to slow down, think twice, and change your habits for the better. With proven methods for improving your decision making, your creativity, your mood and your motivation, Rob will show you that simple every day changes can make all the difference. If you could learn to do life differently and see a 10% improvement in all that you do, why wouldn’t you?

10% Better by Dr Rob Yeung

An interview with author J A Schneider

I’m delighted to welcome psychological suspense author, J A Schneider to Robservations. Her latest novel, What You’ve Done, is released tomorrow, 16th April 2020. I was lucky enough to read it recently and it’s brilliant, driven by a strong lead character in attorney, Mia Pearle, who feels a sense of responsibility and guilt when 16-year old Kelly is brutally murdered in a quiet town in Connecticut.

Having also read and thoroughly enjoyed Girl Watching You, I thought it was time to find out a little more about J A Schneider.

Please tell me a little about yourself and your writing.

When very young, I’d hear complaints that I’d rather read the back of cereal boxes than “join in the discussion.” Ha! Well, small talk can be small indeed, right? Much more thrilling to escape the mundane and imagine exciting stories. So that’s me at the core: wild imagination, cooking up stories since forever.

And that led to being a reader, which led to being a French literature major in college/university, which led me next to working at Newsweek…where everyone dreamed out loud about writing the next “great American novel.” Back then, I never dared dream I could actually write fiction but I listened, and kept reading everything, pulp to Jane Austen.

When did you first realise you wanted to be an author?

Maybe it was the moment I started timidly, not really serious but “what the heck, let’s see if I can string sentences together.” My husband Bob and I were living in Paris, I’d had two glasses of wine and was off – scribbling on the back of a paper menu in a café. He thought it was funny. Our waiter came along, looked curious, and tried to read over my shoulder. Bob told him I was writing a novel and he said, “Ooh, mais qu’est-ce qui se passe?” (What’s happening!?) Seeing him grin and his eyes light up was magic. It was the first time I had dared tell anyone not a loved one that I was writing fiction. Such a serendipity, but I started more seriously soon after.

Describe the first piece you wrote and what it meant to you?

When my children were young, I wrote first for our local newspaper – people interest stuff, historical stories about Colonial times in Connecticut. It was nice to see people react to them, less nice when people found fault – “Greenwich was not founded by the Dutch!” – so I decided, nuts to non-fiction, if you write fiction no one can argue, it’s your thing. Back to scribbling fiction I went.

What do you most enjoy about being an author?

Feeling an exciting idea come to me.

What do you least enjoy about being an author?

The marketing and promo part, since I publish independently.

What type of characters do you love and hate to write? Why?

Do you mean love but hate to write? None! I enjoy developing all characters, imagining their innermost thoughts. In a way the villain is the most fun. Peter Pan would be no story at all without Captain Hook.

Can you tell us about your time at Newsweek magazine and how it influenced your writing career?

It was the most writing-intense experience ever. Every Friday night was a deadline. We had to research and write fast but succinctly – no padding. I’d watch whole paragraphs I’d slaved over get cut…so there was that aspect. Also eye-opening were former writers who’d published bestsellers and quit, then come back to grin and tease: “What are you still doing here? Write a novel!”

I believe you keep a list of inspirational quotes. Could you share a couple of your favourites and how they relate to your writing journey?

  • “Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.” Anton Chekhov
  • “Every paragraph I write is a surprise to me. Ideas comes as I write.” Lee Child
  • “We’re not writers, we’re re-writers. Nobody gets it right the first time.” Stephen King

I write on my laptop, and for the first draft keep three documents open: In the centre, the growing story; to the left my “crutch” with lots of inspirational quotes, & to the right the story’s outline – which only goes down as I figure out the story…not before. I’ve tried to outline before I start, and can’t.

You’ve written two series and standalone novels? Which do you prefer and why?

Love ‘em both. It’s like deciding which of your children is your favorite. Series stories are somewhat easier, because I already know the main characters. Readers also enjoy feeling familiarity with the characters…but again, I do like mulling whole new standalone ideas, like a box of chocolates.

How would you describe your books to someone who has never read one before?

High adrenaline romantic suspense thrillers often with police procedural.

What’s the best compliment you’ve received about your books?

“You’ve helped me. Helped me get through dark times just by being able to escape.”

Do you have any favourite authors? What is it about them or their work that appeals to you?

Ira Levin: (Rosemary’s Baby, The Boys From Brazil, The Stepford Wives) I re-read him often, am still astonished at how he conveys so much with so few words.

Agatha Christie’s best (And Then There Were None, Death on the Nile, others) Same: her ability to say much with few words.

James Patterson: I love his pace, fast action; also his ability to say much with few words.

If you could invite four guests (fictional or real, alive or dead) for dinner, who would you choose and why?

Smile…JFK was asked that question and he said, “I’d just want Thomas Jefferson dining alone.” J  But okay, four guests? How ‘bout James Patterson, Ira Levin, Don Rickles and Mel Brooks? What fun that would be!

Please tell me about your latest project/plans for the future.

The next thriller. Will probably feature Mia Peale and Jay Colter.

Thank you for some fascinating insights into the way you work and what motivates and inspires you to write fiction. Good luck with the launch and the book.

What You've Done

A small town divorce lawyer (“I know people’s secrets”) blames herself when a client’s teen daughter is brutally murdered. She investigates and finds herself the killer’s next target.

Grieving the loss of her NYPD detective husband, former defence attorney Mia Peale moves to Grand Cove, Connecticut, desperate for a sense of community and hoping to rebuild her life. Now, starting a family law practice, she’s finally found friends and peace – until the teen daughter of one of her clients is brutally murdered, and the girl’s boyfriend stands accused.

Kelly Payne was an adored high school track star. Brian Hall is a poor boy in a rich town, and the community is outraged. But Mia has known Brian since her arrival and can’t believe he’s guilty, despite strong circumstantial evidence against him. As his defence turns lacklustre, she asks Grand Cove police detective Jay Colter for help. Jay is also sceptical of the police and DA’s case and takes them on, especially when Mia’s friend from her former Manhattan law firm uncovers a frighteningly similar murder in the city. Secretly, Jay helps Mia investigate both murders, but his alarm grows as her life is threatened by a maniac hiding among them.

You can find J A Schneider on

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/joyce.schneider.142?fref=ts (friends)

https://www.facebook.com/JASchneiderAuthor?fref=ts   (author)

Twitter:   https://twitter.com/JoyceSchneider1

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/5832782.J_A_Schneider

Website: http://jaschneiderauthor.net

BookBub: https://www.bookbub.com/authors/j-a-schneider

 

What You’ve Done by J A Schneider

12th April 2020.   5 stars.

When I was offered the chance to read an advance copy of this novel, I jumped at the chance, having previously enjoyed the author’s last book, Girl Watching You.

When 16-year old Kelly is found brutally murdered, local lawyer and friend, Mia Peale feels responsible. Could she have stopped Kelly’s reunion with Brian, who’s now the main suspect? With the help of Jay Colter from the police, and a friend in New York, who finds links to a similar murder, Mia sets out to prove Brian’s innocence.

It’s a move that antagonises the killer and puts her life in danger.

What You’ve Done is an expertly crafted suspense thriller with strong, believable characters and a good pace that leads to a thrilling climax and resolution. The shock waves from Kelly’s death and its effect on the family and local community are particularly well portrayed, allowing the reader to share their grief and confusion.

Mia’s a bright, clever and creative lead whose determination and desire for justice drive the story along. Her feelings of guilt reveal the compassionate and vulnerable character beneath as she faces her fears to get the job done.

Gripping from the first page to the last, with chapters from the killer to raise the stakes and tension, this is an accomplished and involving mystery as well as a thriller. No one is quite who they appear to be, providing plenty of suspects and motives to keep the reader guessing.

Highly recommended.

Description

A small town divorce lawyer (“I know people’s secrets”) blames herself when a client’s teen daughter is brutally murdered. She investigates and finds herself the killer’s next target.

Grieving the loss of her NYPD detective husband, former defence attorney Mia Peale moves to Grand Cove, Connecticut, desperate for a sense of community and hoping to rebuild her life. Now, starting a family law practice, she’s finally found friends and peace – until the teen daughter of one of her clients is brutally murdered, and the girl’s boyfriend stands accused.

Kelly Payne was an adored high school track star. Brian Hall is a poor boy in a rich town, and the community is outraged. But Mia has known Brian since her arrival and can’t believe he’s guilty, despite strong circumstantial evidence against him. As his defence turns lacklustre, she asks Grand Cove police detective Jay Colter for help. Jay is also sceptical of the police and DA’s case and takes them on, especially when Mia’s friend from her former Manhattan law firm uncovers a frighteningly similar murder in the city. Secretly, Jay helps Mia investigate both murders, but his alarm grows as her life is threatened by a maniac hiding among them.

What You've Done

Penshaw by L J Ross

10th April 2020.   5 stars.

I’ve read and thoroughly enjoyed every one of the DCI Ryan series from Holy Island through to Penshaw, which is one of the best. It’s rooted in the miners’ strike of 1985, which cast a shadow over many communities. Move forward to the present and the death of a former union activist in a fire. Was it an accident or murder? When the activist’s son also dies, DCI Ryan’s suspicions are confirmed.

But these deaths are almost a distraction for Ryan, who’s leading a task force to combat organised crime in the north east. His main target is Bobby Singh, who seems to have enlisted a few police officers to help him stay one step ahead of the law. Ryan’s also tasked with rooting them out, but soon discovers the problem is closer to home than he would like.

These strands are woven together in a fast-paced and intriguing story that gripped me from the first page to the last. There are touching moments, heroic moments and everything in between. You can’t help but care for the characters and the challenges they face.

Everything that is good about the series is here – the characters, their relationships and camaraderie, the humour and an occasional touch of romance. The stories are easy to read, entertaining and filled with intrigue and great settings.

If you haven’t started from the beginning, you’re missing out on so many character developments and the intimate knowledge that only comes from following a series. While this is the thirteenth book in the series, the writing is still fresh, exciting and entertaining.

LJ Ross is an author at the top of her game and I can’t recommend her novels enough.

Description

When you sell your soul, the devil gives no refunds…

When an old man is burned alive in a sleepy ex-mining village, Detective Chief Inspector Ryan is called in to investigate. He soon discovers that, beneath the facade of a close-knit community, the burn from decades-old betrayal still smoulders. When everyone had a motive, can he unravel the secrets of the past before the killer strikes again?

Meanwhile, back at Northumbria CID, trouble is brewing with rumours of a mole in Ryan’s department. With everyone under suspicion, can he count on anybody but himself?

Penshaw by LJ Ross

The origin of the series

My journey as a crime writer – Part 1

It started with a simple idea – could one person make a difference?

It could easily have been a woman, but I felt more comfortable writing about a male protagonist, especially one who was going to embody my values and experiences. I envisaged someone with a strong sense of fair play and justice, someone who would take action to deliver it.

But not a police officer. I’ve worked with the police, but I’ve no real idea what it’s like to be a murder detective or part of a Major Crimes Team. Besides, there were too many police procedurals in the bookshops and on TV. Even more now crime fiction is the most read genre.

Sue GraftonNot a private eye either. Though a huge fan of Sue Grafton’s Kinsey Millhone, who inspired much of what I was to create, there were also plenty of PIs on the bookshelves and TV.

I wanted an ordinary person to solve murders – someone different, distinctive and original.

The idea posed quite a few challenges, namely credibility.

Ordinary people don’t solve murders, do they?

You wouldn’t wake up one morning and decide to solve a murder. You can’t go down to the police station and offer to investigate some of their unsolved crimes to help them out.

And where would you start? How would you collect evidence? What about personal safety?

Okay, Agatha Christie and writers of cosy mysteries have had ordinary people solving murders for years, but I wasn’t interested in quaint village murders, solved by a local resident who judged competitions at the flower show. I wanted something that resonated with the real world, something contemporary, but still a traditional whodunit.

The choices were simple.

  • My protagonist could have a personal connection to the victim, such as a lover or close relative. This works fine for the first book, but it would become repetitive and unbelievable after a few of books. It wouldn’t take long before my protagonist had no close family or friends. I’d also need a list of killers with a grudge against him and his family.
  • The police arrest the wrong person. This seems to be a favourite among crime writers and TV dramas like Murder She Wrote. Again, it doesn’t take long to become repetitive. And I’ve never liked the idea of showing the police to be inept. They have a difficult enough job already without me adding to their problems.
  • The protagonist stumbles across something that puts him in danger. This is more thriller territory than murder mystery and I can’t compete with the likes of Dick Francis and Simon Kernick.

Besides, the thought of shoe-horning my protagonist into solving murders didn’t appeal. I wanted my ordinary person to evolve as a sleuth, not set out to be one. This seemed more natural and credible – more plausible in today’s cynical world.

In the end, it all came down to the character of the protagonist.

I needed someone with strong principles and a sense of duty. This person couldn’t simply stand by and allow an injustice to happen. He was no knight in shining armour, but someone who felt he could make a difference, albeit a small one. This was a man who had a history of standing up for the underdog, battling for justice and fair play.

He would also need the means and time to investigate, to take action. Either he was rich and retired or he had to fit murder investigation around his day job and life outside work.

Slowly, my protagonist began to take shape in my mind.

He was the kind of person I would have liked to have been.

This realisation clinched the deal.

I was an environmental health officer – a law enforcer, protecting the public, improving health and the environment. I worked with the police, which meant I had contacts that could help me, like a Scenes of Crime Officer, for example. I had the skills to undertake complex investigations, interview suspects and build a case to prosecute offenders.

I occasionally investigated deaths – people who were killed in workplace accidents. This was part of my role in health and safety at work, protecting employees and ensuring workplaces were safe.

All I had to do was disguise a murder as a fatal work accident and my protagonist would be drawn into his first case.

There was still plenty of work to do, several false starts to overcome, and my ability to bring such a character and story to life.

Those are issues for future blogs.


In the meantime, if you’re interested in a complex murder mystery that pays homage to the classic whodunit, the Kent Fisher murder mysteries maybe for you. You can find out more on my website, where you can also sign up to my email newsletter.

Blood on the Tyne: Body Parts by Colin Garrow

1st April 2020.   5 stars.

I’ve long been a fan of Colin Garrow’s writing. His sharp observational narrative, pithy humour and knack of creating memorable characters and imaginative plots have created some original and exciting crime fiction.

Body Parts may just be his best writing to date.

It features singer Rosie Robson, who returns to her native Newcastle from London for her mother’s funeral. When she agrees to perform with her old band, she’s no idea she’s about to be plunged into a series of vicious murders when she finds the body of another singer.

Set in the 1950s, the time and setting are full of atmosphere and Geordie banter, revealing the author’s love of this city and the music of the time. The lively and twisting plot reveals Rosie to be a feisty, determined character who’s more than a match for the local police inspector and the men who run the clubs and music scene.

Her refusal to step back leads her into more danger. As she cleverly weaves her way towards identifying the killer, she puts her own life in danger, leading to an an exciting and satisfying climax with a neat twist.

If you enjoy character driven crime fiction with soul, I would recommend this story. I’m already looking forward to the promised sequel and more adventures with Rosie.

Description

Newcastle, 1955. A death in the family brings nightclub singer Rosie Robson home to Newcastle, but her planned return to London hits a snag after she agrees to perform with her old band. Learning the group’s previous singer left after an argument, Rosie begins to wonder if there might be a sinister reason behind the young woman’s disappearance. Uncovering the first in a series of grisly murders, Rosie decides to investigate, but in doing so, finds her own name has been added to the killer’s list…

Body Parts by Colin Garrow

Bed of Bones by Cheryl Bradshaw

30th March 2020.   5 stars.

Anyone who follows my reviews will know I’m a big fan of this series, featuring private detective Sloane Monroe. Bed of Bones is the fifth book in the series and has Sloane working with other enforcement agencies to track down a serial killer.

It starts with a nail bomb in a cinema where a film is about to be shown, fictionalising a tragic incident in the town’s past. The woman who made the film is missing. Soon other women connected with the film go missing and the race is on to find out why before he strikes again.

Like all good protagonists, Sloane has her own personal issues to deal with, namely Giovanni, her on off boyfriend who was injured in the blast. This puts her in the thick of things once more as she tries to work out the connections with the past to track down the present day killer. Then there’s Cade, a sheriff with more than a passing interest in Sloane’s well-being to add further complications.

It all adds up to a smooth and exciting read, filled with sharp observations, wry humour and a determined detective who’s as smart as she is sassy. Sloane’s direct approach often puts her at risk as she slowly unpicks the mystery, leading to a thrilling and tragic climax.

While this story, like all the others, can be read as a standalone, you’ll enjoy it far more if you read the series from the beginning, starting with Black Diamond Death. (Check out my review of this story here.) Sloane has her problems, as you’ll discover, but this only deepens the character and adds another interesting layer to the backstory.

If like me, you prefer private detective stories to police procedurals, I would recommend this book and the series.

Description

Sometimes even the deepest, darkest secrets find their way to the surface.

Thirteen-year-old Willie Compton and his younger brother Leonard stumble upon a mine shaft while hiking the hills of Park City, Utah. A Slinky Leonard’s been flipping back and forth between his hands slips through his fingers. Leonard bolts forward and reaches out to grab it, but he slips, then he falls into the shaft.

Bed of Bones tells a tale of murder, shining a big, bold light on Park City’s tragic past. A past that’s about to revisit the present.

Bed of Bones by Cheryl Bradshaw

Beware the Past by Joy Ellis

29th March 2020.  4 stars.

I like a story where it gets personal – and it doesn’t get more personal than someone threatening to destroy you and everything you believe in. The bleak fenland setting added to the atmosphere of fear and tension to create a well-written, intricately plotted revenge thriller that kept me turning the pages.

The killer seems to know everything about DCI Matt Ballard, whose life and grip on reality are brutally dismantled in a carefully orchestrated way, leading to an exciting climax with a neat twist. It all stems back to the murder of three boys early in the detective’s career. While the main suspect died, Ballard was never convinced of his guilt.

Is the real killer back to haunt Ballard?

The author’s direct style keeps the pace moving along as the suspense and tension are piled on with one setback after another until Ballard is left reeling and almost broken, outwitted at every turn by a clever and ruthless adversary.

Like many revenge thrillers, the villain seems to have endless time, resources and technological expertise. At times it seemed almost too easy for the killer to run rings around Ballard, which meant I had to suspend disbelief to some extent. It might also explain why I struggled to engage with the detective at times. He seemed to be pushed around too easily, often with little resistance.

Maybe there was just too much going on.

To be fair, the author explained every last detail and left no loose ends, including the identity of the original killer, revealing her mastery over the complex and intricate plot.

This is the first novel I’ve read by the author and it won’t be the last. I would recommend it to anyone who enjoys a tautly written thriller with an intricate plot.

Description

ONE TERRIBLE CASE ALWAYS HAUNTED DETECTIVE MATT BALLARD. NOW MANY YEARS LATER, THE KILLER SEEMS TO BE BACK. AND THIS TIME HE’S AFTER MATT.

When Matt Ballard was starting out his career, three boys were murdered in the same area, the remote and bleak Gibbet Fen. When the main suspect was killed in a hit-and-run, the killings stopped. But Matt was not satisfied that the real murderer had been caught.

Over 25 years later, Matt gets a photo in an unmarked envelope. It’s of the Gibbet Fen crime scene. And the picture was taken before the murder took place.

More photos arrive, relating to the historic murders, as well as intimate pictures of Matt’s very secret private life.

A KILLER WHO WILL STOP AT NOTHING TO DESTROY A DETECTIVE.

Then another murder happens, with some of the hallmarks of the old case. Has the killer returned or is this just a sick copycat determined to ruin Matt’s life and reputation? Everyone around Matt is in danger as the killer plays mind games with the detective.

In an absolutely breath taking conclusion, Matt and his team race against time to stop a vicious killer who knows no limits.

Beware the Past by Joy Ellis