Stranger in Town by Cheryl Bradshaw

12th January 2020.  5 stars

I’m a fan of this series featuring Sloane Monroe, a feisty, no-nonsense private eye with a heart of gold and a sly sense of humour. With each novel I learn more about her, her past and what drives her.

This is the joy of a series. Pretty much like in real life, you get to know the characters a bit better the more time you spend with them. So it goes without saying that it’s worth starting with the first in the series, Black Diamond Death. (You can check out my review here).

In this fourth outing, Sloane’s hired by the parent of a missing girl, abducted a couple of years earlier. There are links to second missing girl, but no clues to where they are, what’s happened or if they’re alive. Determined to get to the truth, Sloane sets out to investigate. Almost immediately, she clashes with the law, particularly Cade McCoy, who resents her intrusion into police work.

But Sloane’s not easily put off and starts to dig, uncovering small leads. The pace picks up. She and McCoy race to find the girls before the FBI takes over the investigation.

The direct, no nonsense style makes for a brisk pace with just the right amount of detail, backstory and humour. All the characters are well-drawn and engaging, the investigations realistic with plenty of challenges to test Sloane. Her personal life is also shifting and changing, posing more issues to resolve, leaving plenty to look forward to in the next story.

I would recommend this novel and series to anyone who wants entertaining crime fiction at the cosier end of the scale, particularly if you’re a fan of Sue Grafton or Sara Patesky.

Description

A frantic mother runs up and down the aisles of Maybelle’s Market, desperately searching for her missing daughter.

But she’s far too late. Six-year-old Olivia is already gone, already in the arms of a stranger. Will private investigator Sloane Monroe find her before it’s too late?

Stranger in Town

Call Me Star Girl by Louise Beech

11th January 2020.    4 stars.

I find many psychological suspense stories formulaic, relying on dark family secrets being slowly peeled away. Star Girl was quite different, being focused on the death of a pregnant woman, Vicky Valbon.

The story is told by Stella and her mother, Elizabeth, who abandoned her daughter at a young age. It jumps back and forth in time, which helps to build tension and suspense as more details are revealed. At times it felt like there were too many background details, slowing the pace and drawing out the story to delay revelations and key developments.

The characters are intense and driven by passion, often selfishly, often darkly, but the author portrays them sympathetically and deeply so you understand them and the way they think and behave. The intensity of the characters drives events and the consequences that lead towards a shocking climax. Several further twists then follow. Though they are clever and reveal what really happened to Vicky Valbon, I thought the twists drew out the ending, just taking the edge off the emotional impact.

Dark, occasionally disturbing, but always intriguing, Call Me Star Girl is a complex, consuming story that will take you on an emotional roller coaster. It will leave you drained but glad you took the ride.

Description

Stirring up secrets can be deadly … especially if they’re yours…

Pregnant Victoria Valbon was brutally murdered in an alley three weeks ago – and her killer hasn’t been caught.

Tonight is Stella McKeever’s final radio show. The theme is secrets. You tell her yours, and she’ll share some of hers.

Stella might tell you about Tom, a boyfriend who likes to play games, about the mother who abandoned her, now back after fourteen years. She might tell you about the perfume bottle with the star-shaped stopper, or about her father …

What Stella really wants to know is more about the mysterious man calling the station … who says he knows who killed Victoria, and has proof.

Tonight is the night for secrets, and Stella wants to know everything…

Call Me Star Girl

Deadly Games by Sally Rigby

29th December 2019. 3 stars.

I enjoyed the story, which was a familiar police procedural where the killer was always one step ahead of the police and adept at leaving no evidence. The pace was good and the plot developed steadily, with several possible suspects and a neat twist at the end.

The characters and their relationships felt a little stilted, especially Walker’s somewhat clichéd view of her fast-track boss. The relationship between Walker and Cavendish also seemed a little black and white. One minute DCI Walker wants nothing to do with Cavendish. Then, before you know it, they’re almost best friends.

I’m not sure the chapters written from the killer’s perspective contributed anything new or useful to the story or plot. If anything, these chapters intruded into the police investigation, lowering the suspense and tension rather than increasing it. I would have preferred the author to spend the time on building the characters and relationships to make them more believable.

Description

A killer is playing cat and mouse……. and winning.

DCI Whitney Walker’s in trouble. She’s threatened with demotion if she screws up another case. So, when a killer starts murdering female students, it’s a chance to redeem herself.

Forensic psychologist, Dr Georgina Cavendish, has spent her life inside the university walls, but when one of her students is murdered, she steps out from behind the text books and puts her skills to the test.

The two headstrong women join forces to stop the killer. But sparks fly when real world policing meets academic theory, and it’s not a pretty sight.

Deadly Games is the first book in the Cavendish and Walker crime fiction series. If you like serial killer mysteries and psychological intrigue, then you’ll love Sally Rigby’s page turning book. Pick up your copy today.

Dead at First Sight by Peter James

24th December 2019.   4 stars.

You know you’re always going to get an original and topical plot with Peter James. With the fifteenth and latest outing in the Roy Grace series, it’s internet romance fraud and the havoc it wreaks on lonely people. On the surface, it doesn’t sound like a subject made for thrills, but when victims begin to fight back against the fraudsters the body count starts to rise.

And then there’s the welcome return of assassin, Tooth. He returns to Brighton, tasked with eliminating a couple of the bad guys by their former employer. Only Tooth’s not at his best.

Even though it lacked the pace and suspense of many of the Roy Grace novels, I enjoyed the story and the continuing struggles he has with his slimy boss, Cassian Pewe. The story’s easy to read and follow as the various characters head for the final showdown in the countryside. It looks like it could be mayhem, but Peter James always has a couple of welcome twists up his sleeve to make you gasp and smile.

While not the best of the series, Dead at First Sight remains an entertaining read with a serious message, highlighting the dangers of internet romance. There is humour, great writing and plenty of twists and turns from an author at the top of his game. He even leaves some unanswered questions from Grace’s private and work lives, so it will be interesting to see where the story goes from here.

Thoroughly recommended.

Description

You don’t know me, but I thought I knew you . . .

A man waits at a London airport for Ingrid Ostermann, the love of his life, to arrive. Across the Atlantic, a retired NYPD cop waits in a bar in Florida’s Key West for his first date with the lady who is, without question, his soulmate. The two men are about to discover they’ve been scammed out of almost every penny they have in the world – and that neither women exist.

Meanwhile, a wealthy divorcée plunges, in suspicious circumstances, from an apartment block in Munich. In the same week, Detective Superintendent Roy Grace is called to investigate the suicide of a woman in Brighton, that is clearly not what it seems. As his investigations continue, a handsome Brighton motivational speaker comes forward. He’s discovered his identity is being used to scam eleven different women, online. The first he knew of it was a phone call from one of them, out of the blue, saying, ‘You don’t know me, but I thought I knew you’.

That woman is now dead.

Roy Grace realizes he is looking at the tip of an iceberg. A global empire built on clever, cruel internet scams and the murder of anyone who threatens to expose them.

Dead at First Sight

Death in Profile by Guy Fraser-Sampson

15th December 2019. 3 stars.

As a fan of Agatha Christie and cosy mysteries, I was drawn to this book by the description and promise of a golden age detective mystery. I enjoyed the easy going style of the author during the first half of the story. There seemed to so much promise, especially when a younger, fast-tracked superintendent replaces an experienced DC Inspector on a serial killer investigation. I couldn’t wait for the potential conflict and battle between the two to solve the case, but it never materialised. The main characters were shaping up to provide further interest and intrigue, especially when a profiler was appointed.

My high hopes, however, were dented when the plot moved in a direction I struggled to believe. The investigation stumbled along, owing more to Dorothy L Sayers than forensics and modern detection methods. This lack of method and direction may have been written to underpin the superintendent’s lack of experience, but as the former DCI was pretty much written out of the plot, this potential development came to an abrupt end.

The last couple of chapters surprised me, though not for the reasons the author or publisher intended, I imagine. All I can say without spoilers is that I found the ending disappointing and unsatisfactory.

It’s a shame because I enjoy crime fiction that avoids the usual clichés and traumatised cops, but in the end Superintendent Collinson, his colleagues and the story didn’t feel credible or real enough to me.

 

Description

The genteel façade of London’s Hampstead is shattered by a series of terrifying murders, and the ensuing police hunt is threatened by internal politics, and a burgeoning love triangle within the investigative team. Pressurised by senior officers desperate for a result a new initiative is clearly needed, but what? Intellectual analysis and police procedure vie with the gut instinct of ‘copper’s nose’, and help appears to offer itself from a very unlikely source a famous fictional detective. A psychological profile of the murderer allows the police to narrow down their search, but will Scotland Yard lose patience with the team before they can crack the case?

Death in Profile

The 4.50 from Paddington by Agatha Christie

6th December 2019. 5 stars.

I loved this whodunit from start to finish. It begins when the wonderfully named Elspeth McGillicuddy boards a train. She has no idea she’s about to witness a murder during her journey. Or did she imagine it as the police can find no body or evidence of a crime? Miss Marple is in no doubt that her friend saw what she saw and embarks on an ingenious plan to discover the location of the body. It’s uncovered within an old barn at Rutherford Hall, home to the dysfunctional Crackenthorpe family.

As with any classic whodunit, there are plenty of suspects, false trails and red herrings, and further deaths.

It’s all done with great imagination and style. The characters are sharply drawn with the minimum of fuss and allowed full rein to confuse and confound the reader. The carefully crafted plot ticks along at a steady pace, weaving here and there to build the suspense and intrigue before Miss Marple works it all out with great logic and insight to fill in the gaps in the police investigation.

One bonus I wasn’t expecting was the warm humour, best displayed by the author’s social commentary. It added another layer to my enjoyment of a story that holds up well against any of today’s crime fiction. If you enjoy a cunning cosy mystery, delivered with style and panache, you won’t go wrong with this story.

Highly recommended.

Description

Agatha Christie’s audacious mystery thriller, reissued with a striking cover designed to appeal to the latest generation of Agatha Christie fans and book lovers.

For an instant the two trains ran together, side by side. In that frozen moment, Elspeth witnessed a murder. Helplessly, she stared out of her carriage window as a man remorselessly tightened his grip around a woman’s throat. The body crumpled. Then the other train drew away.

But who, apart from Miss Marple, would take her story seriously? After all, there were no suspects, no other witnesses… and no corpse.

The 4.50 from Paddington

A Long Time Dead by Andrew Barrett

23rd November 2019. 4 stars.

I enjoy books that take me into new worlds. In this case it’s forensic science through the eyes of a Scenes of Crime Officer, who seems to have upset too many people.

While the story started slowly, the forensic detail during crime scene investigation was fascinating, but never to the detriment of the story. The author’s skill, practice and knowledge shone in these scenes, adding credibility and authenticity to the story.

I just wanted it to shift up a gear.

When it did, the whole story came alive, leading to a fast-paced, thrilling climax that kept me turning the pages. Roger Conniston, was a flawed but likeable lead character with plenty of determination, guts and conviction. By the end, I was rooting for him.

I’m look forward to reading more of his adventures.

 

Description

The police discover a woman’s naked body on her bed, arcs of blood tracked across the wall from a neck wound. This is the second such case Detective Superintendent Chamberlain has running. The first is still unsolved, and he’s desperate for a lead. Any lead.

It’s 1999, and Scenes of Crime Officer, Roger Conniston, is too busy obsessing over an arms dealer to worry about whether his coal-powered computer is Year 2000 Compliant; too busy cruising Wakefield’s night-life to worry about his wife or his lover, or the promotion he doesn’t really want.

Roger is about to make his move on the arms dealer when he’s arrested for the woman’s murder.

With Roger in the cells, Chamberlain can relax, and the arms dealer can resume his trade.

But Roger has to prove his innocence and find the true murderer. Not easy from behind bars – bars that are guarded by the same officer he’s been spying on.

A stressed investigator. A ruthless arms dealer. And someone else in the background plotting his death. Which of Roger’s new enemies want him out of the way?

A long time Dead

The Family by Louise Jensen

6th November 2019.  2 stars.

After reading some of the reviews for this psychological thriller, I started the book with high expectations. The first impressions were good. The story was told through the eyes of the three main characters, Laura, her daughter, Tilly, and Alex, who ran the community. They took it in turns to present their version of the events that unfolded.

The emotional states of the characters were particularly well portrayed, and the unresolved problems each one had helped to create the suspense needed for this type of story.

But despite the good writing, I never fully engaged or connected with these characters. I’m not sure why because they were realistic enough. Maybe their many secrets and past tragedies, which were hinted at regularly, got in the way, slowing the pace of the story. When the pace finally picked up towards the end, many of the twists and surprises felt more like convenient coincidences.

I wanted to like the story, but finished it feeling disappointed. The slow pace meant it never really got going for me. I never felt uneasy or threatened because I didn’t connect with the three viewpoint characters. And the revelations that explained the characters’ problems felt contrived, taking the edge off any surprises.

Description

ONCE YOU’RE IN, THEY’LL NEVER LET YOU LEAVE.

At Oak Leaf Farm you will find a haven.
Welcome to The Family.

Laura is grieving after the sudden death of her husband. Struggling to cope emotionally and financially, Laura is grateful when a local community, Oak Leaf Organics, offer her and her 17-year-old daughter Tilly a home.

But as Laura and Tilly settle into life with their new ‘family’, sinister things begin to happen. When one of the community dies in suspicious circumstances Laura wants to leave but Tilly, enthralled by the charismatic leader, Alex, refuses to go.

Desperately searching for a way to save her daughter, Laura uncovers a horrifying secret but Alex and his family aren’t the only ones with something to hide. Just as Laura has been digging into their past, they’ve been digging into hers and she discovers the terrifying reason they invited her and Tilly in, and why they’ll never let them leave…

The Family by Louise Jensen

Murder on Mystery Island by Colin Garrow

30-10-2019.  5 stars.

This is the fifth in the Watson Letters series, a deliciously funny and inventive spoof of Baker Street’s finest. Set in a parallel universe where almost anything goes, the events in the story echo a certain novel by Agatha Christie, where those present are killed one by one.

Thrust into this island of murder and intrigue are Dr Watson and his wife, Mary, who reveal a somewhat different slant on Sherlock Holmes and his prowess as a detective. Nothing and no one is spared from the author’s irreverent humour and invention. Agatha Christie’s character is a hoot and will live long in my memory, if only for her rather unusual jodhpurs.

As almost everyone becomes a suspect, the pace hots up towards a terrific finale that could almost have come out of a James Bond film. Totally absorbing and endlessly inventive, with memorable characters and some wickedly funny lines and moments, Murder on Mystery Island had me chuckling from start to finish.

Unlike previous books in the series, which featured three stories, this was a full length novel, which worked well and offered even more opportunities to mercilessly spoof the original, while remaining faithful to Conan Doyle’s style and approach.

Congratulations to the author on another wonderfully entertaining story in this great series.

Description

When consumptive Doctor Edward Armstrong turns up at Baker Street with an invitation to visit a mysterious island, Sherlock Holmes smells a rat. Sounding deviously similar to the plot of a recent novel by celebrated lady author Mrs Christie, Holmes decides to send his inveterate side-kick Watson to the island, along with the Doctor’s lovely, but wonky-eyed wife, Mary, and a well-known Scotland Yard detective. Taking Armstrong’s place, the team determine to find out exactly what’s going on, but before they’ve even left the mainland, one of the guests is murdered.

Murder on Mystery Island

The Calling by Jane R Goodall

22nd October 2019.  3.5 stars.

In the last of the Briony Williams trilogy, the author lovingly recreates London 1976 in an atmospheric and different kind of police procedural.

It is the beginning of punk rock, carefree fashion, and teenage rebellion. Sharon, bored at school, escapes during a class visit to the Tate Modern, unaware that her new punk friends have links to Sudden Deff, a cult band with a wild stage show and some sinister beliefs and practices.

Detective Inspector Briony Williams, back in London, slowly pieces together some disparate evidence and clues, including a gallery of photographs of her and two colleagues in a fanzine dedicated to Sudden Deff. When one of these colleagues is brutally attacked, the threat becomes all too real and the race is on to identify and catch the culprits before they inflict more harm.

The author clearly has a great affection for the London punk scene, which she crafts and describes so vividly. Unfortunately, the level of detail contributes to the slow pace of the story, which stifles the tension and suspense until it catches fire in the second half. Once the investigation gets moving, the pace picks up, the various threads of the story come together for a climax that was over a little too quickly for my liking.

The characters are well-drawn, the dialogue is vivid, and the period is evoked with passion and care, capturing the raw energy and anarchy of the punk era. I loved the atmosphere, but wanted the plot to catch fire. The quality of the writing kept me going, and I’m glad I persevered because the story delivered in a memorable second half. But in the end it’s the punks I remember, not the murders solved.

Description

It is the fierce English summer of 1976 and the Punk movement is on the rise.

‘Chaos’ is the catchcry down in its heartland at the World’s End of London, and Detective Briony Williams wryly observes that though ‘they stick pins in themselves, wear leather masks, and insult the Queen’, most of this is not against the law.

But things take a darker turn as a new group calling itself ‘Sudden Deff’ shows signs of wanting to live up to its name.

When Briony learns that she and her colleagues have appeared on ‘Deff Row’ in the group’s fanzine, she is drawn into a fatal game with adversaries who always seem to be two moves ahead.

And when Sharon, a young runaway, moves into a squat with her new punk mates, she enters a sinister world and unknowingly puts her own life in danger.

Can Briony uncover the leader Sudden Deff before anyone comes to harm?

Or will she be too late to stop chaos from being unleashed?

The Calling by Jane R Goodall