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.


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

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.


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.


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.



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.


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

The Crow Trap by Ann Cleeves

19th March 2020.    4 stars.

This is not your usual crime fiction. That’s why it appealed to me and why I enjoyed the story. I would also add that I’ve never watched the TV series.

The story starts with three women, brought together by an environmental impact assessment, prompted by an application to build a quarry. Naturally, feelings run high on both sides of the fence. Rachel, Anne and Grace are tasked with carrying out the assessment and each tells their own story about the events leading up to the apparent suicide of Bella, who owned the cottage where the women are staying.

At first, it reads like a psychological suspense novel with secrets and misdemeanours being revealed by each of the women. Then there’s a murder and DI Vera Stanhope enters the story like a tsunami. Unconventional, eccentric, with a dry sense of humour, but always mesmerising, she’s a tour de force, taking over the story with her no nonsense approach to detection. From this point on, the story is largely hers as she sifts through the evidence to identify the killer.

The novel’s well-written, the Northumberland setting atmospheric, and the characters given a chance to breathe and develop through the course of the story, leading to a sizeable list of suspects, all with motives to kill. The environmental issues give the story a contemporary feel, even though the story isn’t your usual police procedural.

However, allowing the characters so much space and time meant Vera Stanhope’s entry into the story was delayed until almost halfway through. While the characters were interesting and well-written, my interest began to waver several times up to this point.

The solution and arrest of the killer was also over in the blink of an eye after the usual meandering and struggles to sift the clues from the red herrings.

But these are niggles in what was an enjoyable and entertaining read with a detective who will remain long in my memory in these days of traumatised cops, constantly battling their past and spending cuts.

If you like atmospheric writing and don’t mind a story that takes it time to develop, which makes it a long read, I would recommend this book.


Three very different women come together at isolated Baikie’s Cottage on the North Pennines, to complete an environmental survey. Three women who each know the meaning of betrayal . . .

Rachael, the team leader, is still reeling after a double betrayal by her lover and boss, Peter Kemp. Anne, a botanist, sees the survey as a chance to indulge in a little deception of her own. And then there is Grace, a strange, uncommunicative young woman, hiding plenty of her own secrets.

Rachael is the first to arrive at the cottage, where she discovers the body of her friend, Bella Furness. Bella, it appears, has committed suicide – a verdict Rachael refuses to accept.

The Crow Trap by Ann Cleeves

Cast, in Order of Disappearance by Simon Brett

2nd March 2020.  3 stars.

Having already read the first book in Simon Brett’s Fetherington series, I was looking forward to some stylish writing and his trademark observational and social comments. These were delivered by fading actor, Charles Paris, a thespian who’s drawn into a murder investigation when a friend and occasional lover finds herself in hot water.

The characters are sharply drawn and evoked, offering an insight into the world of theatre in 1973, when power cuts and the three-day week were wreaking havoc with people’s lives. The story moves along at a gentle pace until the fairly innocuous starts to become a murky and complicated mystery involving impresario Marius Steen. It leads to an exciting climax and an almost Poirot-like unravelling of the motives and actions that led to the murder.

While I enjoy Simon Brett’s style of writing and narrative, I struggled to connect or empathise with Charles Paris, who seemed shallow and self-absorbed. Many of the other key players weren’t much better. Maybe this is a reflection of the theatrical world when actors fade, but it meant the story didn’t make an impact on me like some of the author’s other books have.

There’s still much to admire in the writing, plot and acerbic humour. Charles Paris may well grow on me as the series progresses through its 20 books. Fans of his writing may well encourage me reserve judgement until I’ve read the next in the series, which I may well do.


Who killed Marcus Steen, the theatrical tycoon with a fortune to leave to his young mistress Jacqui? And who killed Bill Sweet, the shady blackmailer with a supply of compromising photographs? Charles Paris, a middle-aged actor addicted to booze and women, decides to investigate by assuming a variety of roles, among them that of the mythical Detective Sergeant McWhirter. But, as Paris is about to discover only too painfully, impersonating a police officer is never a good idea.

Cast in order of disappearance by Simon Brett

The Murder House by Michael Wood

1st March 2020.  4 stars.

I’ve read and reviewed the previous four books in the Matilda Darke series and was looking forward to renewing her acquaintance in this latest episode. Well, the story certainly starts with a bang when three members of a family are brutally and savagely killed after a wedding reception.

But why were a young girl and her dog spared?

This and the sheer horror of the scene tested Matilda and her team as they began a difficult and challenging investigation. The issues affecting key team players like Sian, Scott and Rory ran parallel with the criminal investigation, adding to the pressure on Matilda. At one point, she claimed to know who the killer was, but this was never followed up in the ensuing chapters. It seemed to be forgotten, which puzzled me.

With the investigation progressing slowly, the personal issues sometimes seemed to take precedence until the team made a breakthrough. The investigation gathered pace. Matilda went out on a somewhat improbable limb, I thought, to solve the murders, but it led to a pulsating and satisfying climax that ticked all the right boxes.

As with all the previous novels in the series, The Murder House was well written and entertaining. The many threads of the backstory put almost too many plates in the air, which influenced the overall balance of the story. I’m not really sure about the epilogue either, but as it concerned one of the running threads in the series, it didn’t impact on the main plot or my enjoyment.

If you haven’t read any of the books in the series, I would urge you to start with the first, For Reasons Unknown, (Read my review here) to get the most out of the characters and the stories. While you do that, I’m off to pre-order the sixth book in the series.


They were the perfect family. It was the perfect crime.

It’s the most disturbing crime scene DCI Matilda Darke has ever seen…

The morning after a wedding reception at a beautiful suburban home in Sheffield, the bride’s entire family are stabbed to death – in a frenzied attack more violent than anything DCI Matilda Darke could have imagined.

Forensics point to a burglar on the run across the country. But cracks are starting to appear in Matilda’s team, someone is playing games with the evidence – and the killer might be closer to home than they thought

The Murder House by Michael Wood

Bury Them Deep by James Oswald

20th February 2020. 5 stars.

This has to be one of the best and most enjoyable police procedurals I’ve read for some time.

I’ve never read one of the author’s books before, so I wasn’t sure what to expect when I was offered an advance copy in exchange for an honest review. It’s the tenth book in the Tony McLean series and reads fine as a standalone, though I imagine you get a little more out of the characters if you’ve read the whole series from the start.

I enjoyed the story from the opening pages, where a member of the team goes missing at the start of a major operation, involving various agencies and countries. The author’s easy to read style moved the story along at a measured pace, allowing the characters, subplots and story to breathe and develop. I got to know the characters inside and outside the police, including the usual conflict between frontline officers and senior officers, more concerned with budgets and public relations than a missing member of staff.

The suspense built slowly, creating an overwhelming sense that something rather unpleasant was waiting for me at the climax. I was not disappointed as little by little, the story became more complex and intriguing. The mystery deepened with each step forward in the investigation until the gruesome and truth began to emerge from the Scottish mist. From here it was full steam ahead to an exciting and shocking climax that provided a satisfactory conclusion to the story with no loose ends.

This is a measured, thoughtful and intriguing story, related with great skill and confidence to ensure the perfect balance between character and plot. I have no hesitation in recommending this novel to anyone who likes realistic and elegant police procedurals that offer something a little bit different.

I’m going back to the beginning now to see how the series started.


When a member of the Police Scotland team fails to clock-in for work, concern for her whereabouts is immediate… and the discovery of her burnt-out car in remote woodland to the south of Edinburgh sets off a desperate search for the missing woman.

Meanwhile, DCI Tony McLean and the team are preparing for a major anti-corruption operation – one which may raise the ire of more than a few powerful people in the city. Is Anya Renfrew’s disappearance a co-incidence or related to the case?

McLean’s investigations suggest that perhaps that Anya isn’t the first woman to have mysteriously vanished in these ancient hills. Once again, McLean can’t shake the feeling that there is a far greater evil at work here…

Bury Them Deep

Hunting Shadows by Sheila Bugler

11th February 2020. 4 stars.

The story grabbed me from the start, thanks to the quality of the writing, the high stakes and the sharpness of the characters. DI Ellen Kelly in particular was vividly drawn with her flaws, self-doubts and fears, adding to the tension and suspense.

The abduction of a child must be a parent’s worst nightmare and this was well-portrayed throughout the story as the pressure mounted and facades began to crumble. Though it’s pretty much impossible to like or empathise with someone who takes a child, the abductor could also be viewed as a victim of a tragic past he never recovered from.

There’s a lot going on as the story develops and deepens, with Ellen and the police floundering for much of the story. The climax is exciting with a twist that wasn’t entirely unexpected, but it didn’t take anything away from the impact. I wasn’t overly keen on the way the viewpoint kept switching around during the climax, making it a little bitty, but it’s a minor niggle.

If you enjoy police procedurals with strong, but flawed characters, high stakes and a complex plot, Hunting Shadows is well worth reading.


Lee, southeast London. A young girl has disappeared. There are no witnesses, no leads, no clues. The police are tracking a shadow, and time is running out …

DI Ellen Kelly is at the top of her game – at least she was, until she took the law into her own hands and confronted her husband’s killer. Now she’s back at work, leading the investigation into the missing child. Her superiors are watching her; the distraught family is depending on her.

Ellen has a lot to prove. And she knows it.

A tense thriller that stalks the urban streets of southeast London and the bleak wilderness of the North Kent coast, Hunting Shadows introduces the forceful, compromised police detective, DI Ellen Kelly.

Hunting Shadows by Sheila Bugler

The Accident by Gillian Jackson

07-02-2020.  3 stars.

The Accident follows the lives of three families involved in a motorway pile up during freezing weather. Each family has to cope with loss and deal with the emotional and practical challenges that stem from this, leading to an enjoyable, interesting and realistic look at families under stress.

The characters were well-drawn and engaging as they dealt with the blows and tried to put their lives back together again. The emotional impact was well-handled and described as the challenges posed by the inquest and ‘getting back to normal’ tested them in different and occasionally surprising ways.

Friends and family rallied round to support each of the main characters and the three families came together for a heart-warming, if predictable ending that offered hope, as well as celebrating triumph over adversity.

The story isn’t the ‘heart-stopping domestic thriller’ described on the front cover. To achieve that more tension, suspense and heart-stopping moments would be needed. That aside, it’s an engaging look at how an accident can transform the lives of those involved.

My thanks to Sapere for an advanced copy in exchange for an honest review.


One moment can change a lifetime…

England, February 2018

‘The Beast from the East’ – a deadly combination of below-freezing temperatures, torrential rain and flurries of snow – has swept across the British Isles.

Most people are merely inconvenienced by it, but for some, the deadly storm will change their lives forever.

With the icy conditions on the roads making navigating rush hour more perilous than ever, it only takes a moment for an accident to occur.

Hannah Graham wakes up in hospital, suffering a life-changing injury – but she has no memory of the crash.

Joe Parker escapes the accident but the person he loves most is not so lucky.

Alan and Cassie Jones receive the worst news a parent can imagine a few hours after the collision.

Three families have been affected, but who was to blame?

The accident by Gillian Jackson