One to Watch by Rachel Amphlett

5/5 stars. I’m enjoying this series more with each book. The cases are highly original, driven by twisting plots that keep you hooked and guessing to the final pages.

Description

Sophie Whittaker shared a terrifying secret. Hours later, she was dead.

Detective Kay Hunter and her colleagues are shocked by the vicious murder of a teenage girl at a private party in the Kentish countryside.

A tangled web of dark secrets is exposed as twisted motives point to a history of greed and corruption within the tight-knit community.

Confronted by a growing number of suspects and her own enemies who are waging a vendetta against her, Kay makes a shocking discovery that will make her question her trust in everyone she knows.

My thoughts

I like it when things get personal. And they don’t more personal than a sinister, unknown enemy, intent on destroying everything you’ve worked so hard to achieve. But this subplot is only the icing on the rich, beautifully crafted cake that is the third outing for DS Kay Hunter.

Faced with the murder of teenager, Sophie Whittaker, at a party to celebrate her ‘purity pledge’, there are plenty of suspects and few clues. Most of the witnesses have already drunk too much, and as the investigation progresses, it’s clear that almost everyone Sophie came into contact with had a motive to kill her.

And then more secrets are uncovered.

I’m enjoying this series more with each book as the personal stakes increase, threatening to destroy Kay’s career and well-being for reasons she’s yet to establish. And each case she investigates is highly original, driven by twisting plots that keep you hooked and guessing to the final pages.

I love Kay’s single-minded determination to bring the killer to justice, no matter what it takes. No wonder her loyal team rally round when things get tough, even if the people at the top don’t. It all adds up to a series with great depth, vivid characters, heaps of conflict and personal challenges, topped off with some terrific storylines that should satisfy anyone who loves a good crime story.

I’m already hungry for another slice of that cake with the next book in the series, Hell to Pay

5/5 stars.

Please click on the links to read my reviews for Scared to Death and Will to Live.

One to Watch

Y is for Yesterday by Sue Grafton

4/5 stars. It’s sad that this will be Kinsey’s last adventure, but she bows out with her head held high at the end of a remarkable series.

Description

The darkest and most disturbing case report from the files of Kinsey Millhone, Y is for Yesterday begins in 1979, when four teenage boys from an elite private school sexually assault a fourteen-year-old classmate–and film the attack. Not long after, the tape goes missing and the suspected thief, a fellow classmate, is murdered. In the investigation that follows, one boy turns state’s evidence and two of his peers are convicted. But the ringleader escapes without a trace.

Now, it’s 1989 and one of the perpetrators, Fritz McCabe, has been released from prison. Moody, unrepentant, and angry, he is a virtual prisoner of his ever-watchful parents–until a copy of the missing tape arrives with a ransom demand. That’s when the McCabes call Kinsey Millhone for help.

As she is drawn into their family drama, she keeps a watchful eye on Fritz. But he’s not the only one being haunted by the past. A vicious sociopath with a grudge against Millhone may be leaving traces of himself for her to find…

My thoughts

In what has sadly turned out to be Kinsey’s last investigation, she’s given a hot potato of a case where all the participants have plenty to hide. As she digs into the details with her usual tenacity, flashbacks to events ten years earlier show what really happened.

Meanwhile, lurking in the shadows is Ned Lowe, a violent killer with a score to settle. Add in a few domestic issues with Kinsey’s cousin and some unexpected visitors who take advantage of her landlord, Henry’s, hospitality, and there’s plenty to occupy my favourite private detective.

Reading Sue Grafton is always like meeting up with an old friend, catching up on events, revisiting familiar settings and the characters that bring such colour to the novels. Granted, the pace is often gentle (until the fireworks commence), but the stories are filled with intrigue and danger, laced with Kinsey’ sardonic observations and one-liners.

There was still time for a couple of neat twists to the story and a range of vivid characters to keep the story moving on to its exciting climax.

It’s sad that this will be Kinsey’s last adventure, but she bows out with her head held high at the end of a remarkable series. I tip my hat to anyone who can write a series of 25 novels, maintaining a consistently high standard of stories that entertain, intrigue and satisfy her fans.

I shall miss Kinsey Millhone, but I’m so glad I discovered Sue Grafton’s books 30 years ago. Something tells me I’ll be reading them again soon and for many years to come.

4/5 stars.

Y is for Yesterday

The Good Mother by Karen Osman

3/5 stars. The plot and the twist placed constraints on the way the story was told, draining much of the tension and suspense from it.

Description

How far would you go to protect your children?

A gripping psychological suspense, with a shocking twist that will leave you reeling…

Catherine is a good mother and a good wife. The family home is immaculate, her husband’s supper is cooked on time, but when she starts writing to Michael, a prisoner convicted of murder, she finds herself obsessing about his crime and whether he can ever truly be forgiven…

Kate has no time for herself. Caught in the maelstrom of bringing up two young children with no money, and an out-of-work husband, she longs to escape the drudgery of being a wife and a mother. And she soon starts taking dangerous risks to feel alive…

Alison has flown the nest. But university life is not what she had hoped for, and she finds herself alone and unhappy. Until the day her professor takes a sudden interest in her. Then everything changes…

Three women – all with secrets. And as the days tick down to Michael’s release, those secrets can no longer be ignored.

My thoughts

I was puzzled when I finished this book – not at the ending, but my reaction to it. The shocking twist didn’t leave me reeling – quite the opposite.

“Is that it?” I thought, not sure why I felt flat. The story is well-written, cleverly plotted, and I thought the characterisation of Kate, Alison and Catherine was excellent overall. They came to life from the first paragraph and kept me intrigued as their stories unfolded.

I don’t think the tagline – gripping psychological suspense, with a shocking twist that will leave you reeling – was to blame. I ignore these overblown and all-too-frequent claims by publishers. However, this didn’t feel like psychological suspense to me. The tension didn’t build or grip me, especially towards the end when two of the story strands faded out.

This turned out to be necessary for the twist.

And that’s why I felt flat. The plot and the twist took over. They placed constraints on the story and the way it was told to disguise the twist. The resulting compromises affected character behaviour and some of the decisions made by the women. The overall result, I feel, was to drain much of the tension and suspense from the story.

It’s a shame because I think the author is talented. She brought the characters to life with some excellent writing and insights, and had she not gone for the clever plot and twist, I think The Good Mother could have been a tense, suspenseful story.

3/5 stars.

The Good Mother

Sycamore Gap by LJ Ross

5/5 stars. Absorbing, well-written, beautifully crafted and filled with characters you care about, Sycamore Gap is crime fiction with a heart.

Description

THE EXPLOSIVE SEQUEL TO THE UK #1 BESTSELLER HOLY ISLAND

The past never stays buried for long…

Detective Chief Inspector Ryan believes he has put his turbulent history behind him. Then, in the early hours of the summer solstice, the skeleton of a young woman is found inside the Roman Wall at Sycamore Gap. She has lain undiscovered for ten years and it is Ryan’s job to piece together her past.

Enquiry lines cross and merge as Ryan is forced to face his own demons and enter into a deadly game of cat and mouse with a killer who seems unstoppable.

Murder and mystery are peppered with a sprinkling of romance and humour in this fast-paced crime whodunnit set amidst the spectacular scenery of Hadrian’s Wall country in Northumberland.

My thoughts

I thoroughly enjoyed Holy Island and soon settled into Sycamore Gap with its menacing subplot adding an additional layer of suspense to the main investigation.

Suspense and tension are always much sharper when the crimes become personal. In this case, DCI Ryan, still dealing with recent traumas, seems to be in danger on all fronts. The skeleton of a woman murdered ten years earlier could be the work of his nemesis, currently serving time for other killings. Or is there a copycat killer, vying for his attention? As the body count rises and his own partner, Anna, comes under threat, the stakes can’t get much higher for Ryan.

I really felt for Ryan, attacked on all side, trying to set aside personal trauma that could affect his judgement, while sinister forces plot to destroy his career. But he soldiered on, ably assisted by his team, trying to make sense of a convoluted plot that threw up several suspects before Ryan uncovered the real killer.

I enjoyed the Durham setting, the internal politics and the tensions between team members that all painted a realistic picture of a murder investigation. Absorbing, well-written, beautifully crafted and filled with characters you care about, Sycamore Gap is crime fiction with a heart.

Looking forward to reading the next in the series.

5/5 stars

Sycamore Gap

Not Dead Enough by Peter James

5/5 stars. I hope Peter James enjoyed writing this story as much as I enjoyed reading it.

Description

Appearances can be deceptive; but the truth is a dangerous thing . . .

On the night Brian Bishop murdered his wife he was sixty miles away, asleep in bed at the time. At least that’s the way it looks to Detective Superintendent Roy Grace, who is called in to investigate the kinky slaying of beautiful socialite, Katie Bishop.

Roy Grace soon starts coming to the conclusion that Bishop has performed the apparently impossible feat of being in two places at once. Has someone stolen his identity or is he simply a very clever liar?

As Roy Grace digs deeper behind the façade of the Bishops’ outwardly respectable lives, it becomes clear that everything is not at all as it first seemed. Then he digs just a little too far, and suddenly the fragile stability of his own troubled world is facing destruction . . .

Not Dead Enough is the third bestselling title in the Detective Superintendent Roy Grace series from the number one bestselling author Peter James.

My thoughts

I hope Peter James enjoyed writing this story as much as I enjoyed reading it.

I loved it from the first page to the last, revelling in the wickedly devious plot that began with a murder and a clear suspect in Brian Bishop. Only he didn’t do it. He’s adamant about that. And I agreed with him, even when the evidence began to build up against up him. And then I worked it out, which increased my enjoyment as I watched the plot twist and turn, the tension build. Only I was wrong, because along came another masterful twist to sweep me into the dramatic endgame, which left me breathless by the end.

It’s a long story, but it will live longer in my memory for many reasons.

The author’s customary attention to detail not only adds realism and authenticity – it builds trust in the reader, building a bond that increased my enjoyment and admiration. After the previous novel, Looking Good Dead¸ (read my review here) I wanted to learn more about Roy Grace’s life and the mystery of his wife’s disappearance. Then there’s the politics of policing, struggling with decreasing budgets, concerns about how the Crown Prosecution Service will view the case – still highly relevant and part of the climate today.

All these factors support and enhance a terrific plot and crime story that I would recommend to anyone.

Peter James is a writer at the top of his game and an inspiration.

5 stars

February 2018

Not Dead Enough

The Missing Children by MA Comley

3/5 stars. The story had a decent pace and plenty of drama as it flicked between the police and the abductors of the children.

Description

The first gripping thriller in the DI Kayli Bright trilogy.

“I want my mummy…”

The whisper seems to echo through the rooms of the abandoned house. DI Kayli Bright and her partner, DS Dave Chaplin, aren’t strangers to dealing with bad cases, but no one can prepare for the emotional and mental anguish caused by the discovery of a child’s remains.

Determined to find the responsible culprit, several of the dead child’s family members surface on their radar of suspects…until they learn of another child’s abduction.

The investigation leads Kayli to the shocking conclusion that even more children in the area have been abducted. A race against time ensues to find the children before they get lost in a sinister, evil world.

My thoughts

I’m always interested in trying an author I haven’t read before and overall I enjoyed The Missing Children. The story had a decent pace and plenty of drama as it flicked between the police and the abductors of the children. Due to the subject matter, there was a high emotional level on all sides. The author wanted to show how crimes against children affect the investigating police officers, but this seemed to be at the expense of their professionalism and objectivity.

The story felt rushed and as a result the characters didn’t feel fully developed to me. They came across a bit lightweight and preachy. Some of the banter between DI Bright and DS Chaplin didn’t sound realistic as they seemed to be talking moral messages at times. The two of them also seemed to run around, carrying out most of the investigation themselves, despite having a team to support them.

While I welcomed her tenacity and commitment, DI Bright seemed to skip round police procedures and even break a few rules. I know all mavericks do this, but she didn’t strike me as a maverick no matter how well-intentioned and determined she was. Ultimately, this lack of professionalism starts to affect the credibility of the characters and story.

However, the action sequences were dramatic and well-handled, and the story was neatly wrapped up at the end.

3/5 stars

The Missing Children

Tethered to the Dead by Robin Roughley

5/5 stars. Tethered to the Dead is delivered with wit and verve, making this an exciting read with a lead character you can’t help rooting for in both his professional and private lives.

Description

Sometimes, living a life of privilege can come at a price that is impossible to pay.

At sixteen, Kelly Ramsey has a seemingly perfect life, adored by her parents, popular at school; a golden girl who has everything to live for. However, when she fails to return from her leavers’ prom, the lives of those closest to her are thrown into a world of recrimination and terror.

As the search for the missing girl unfolds, DS Lasser discovers that everyone involved has their own agenda and not everyone can be trusted.

Difficult enough, but Lasser’s boss knows the Ramsey family, has close ties, making it impossible for him to concentrate on the job.

With the clock ticking, Lasser battles to uncover the truth, and makes a discovery that rocks him to the core, as he learns that even tainted blood is thicker than water.

My thoughts

I loved the first two books in the DS Lasser series and started this one with high expectations. I was not disappointed.

Like the previous novels, it starts off with a simple enough problem – in this case a 16 year old girl hasn’t returned from her school prom. Then there’s the added pressure from Lasser’s boss, DCI Bannister, who has close connections to the family. And from this humble opening, all hell breaks loose. With each chapter, the plot becomes more complicated and the bodies start to pile up, driving the story towards it’s pressure cooker ending, which packed a few surprises.

But it’s not all about the plot. The characters, from the main players to the minor ones, are vividly created and portrayed with minimal effort. The author gets inside their heads and reveals their characters so we understand them and their agendas immediately. The conflict scenes are also handled with great confidence and verve, adding to the tension and conflict.

I have to say that DS Lasser reminds me of Dirty Harry. While he may not carry a Magnum, Lasser has the same tenacity, resolve and no nonsense approach to those who break the law. He isn’t afraid to stretch the boundaries to get results, but his motives are always honourable and in favour of the victim. There’s even time for him to show an understanding of Greek mythology, adding yet another layer to this complex character.

The seedier side of Wigan’s nightlife is vividly portrayed with a fair level of social comment that doesn’t judge, but leaves you in no doubt about what goes on in certain areas of the town.

Tethered to the Dead is delivered with wit and verve, making this an exciting read with a lead character you can’t help rooting for in both his professional and private lives.

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

A brilliant 5/5 stars

Tethered to the Dead

Will to Live by Rachel Amphlett

5/5 stars. The story flies along like an express train, packed with suspense, excitement and twists as it races towards the exciting and satisfying climax.

Description

When a packed commuter train runs over a body on a stretch of track known to locals as ‘Suicide Mile’, it soon transpires that the man was a victim of a calculated murder.

As the investigation evolves and a pattern of murders is uncovered, Detective Sergeant Kay Hunter realises the railway’s recent reputation may be the work of a brutal serial killer.

With a backlog of cold cases to investigate and attempting to uncover who is behind a professional vendetta against her, Kay must keep one step ahead of both the killer and her own adversaries.

When a second murder takes place within a week of the first, she realises the killer’s timetable has changed, and she’s running out of time to stop him…

My thoughts

I couldn’t wait to read the second novel in the Kay Hunter series, having enjoyed the first book, Scared to Death. Having read Will to Live, I can say that Rachel Amplett is fast becoming one of my favourite authors.

Will to Live begins with a suspicious death on a railway line renowned for suicides. But of course it’s a murder and the story flies along like an express train, packed with suspense, excitement and twists as it races towards the exciting and satisfying climax. The characters, including the villains, are well rounded and realistic, allowing readers to get into their heads and understand their motivations as the story rattles along, showing both sides of the murders.

Only one issue remains unresolved – who’s trying to undermine and destroy Kay’s career and possibly her life? Previous attempts to discredit Kay have failed, and with the support of Detective Inspector Sharp, she battles to restore her credibility, despite being constantly undermined by her Detective Chief Inspector Larch. With her husband’s support, she starts to probe, determined to discover who wants to destroy her, unaware of what she’s about to unleash. Then a colleague is badly beaten up after she uses his computer to do her digging.

The author’s direct style and the unusual but intriguing murders, distinguish this author’s work from the myriad of crime stories on the market. It’s easy to read and follow and you can’t help being drawn in by Kay’s resolve and determination to solve the crimes, despite the sinister threat to her future.

While you don’t need to read Scared to Death to enjoy this second in the series, why deny yourself the pleasures of a great book by an accomplished writer and storyteller?

Click here if you’d like to read my review of Scared to Death.

A well-deserved 5/5 stars.

Will to Live cover

A Narrow Victory by Faith Martin

3/5 stars. I liked the intriguing murder and plot, which was well developed, offering little in the way of suspects, but plenty of frustration for the investigators.

Description

Once again, ex-DI Hillary Greene is delving into the archives, trying to discover who killed an interior designer at a swanky New Year’s Eve Party in 1999.

Somebody clearly didn’t want Felix Olliphant to enjoy the momentous occasion of seeing in not only a brand new year, but a brave new millennium. The trouble is, the more she learns about her murder victim, the less likely it seems that anyone would want him dead – he was a genuinely decent human being, and she can’t find anyone with a bad word to say about him.

To add to her woes, it seems her lover and immediate superior, Detective Superintendent Steven Crayle, is being lured away from her team with offers of a promotion elsewhere.

Can she keep her mind on the job, and find out who killed Felix? Or is this the first cold case that will defeat even her?

My thoughts

I first came across the author in a review and rather liked the sound of the series, featuring Hilary Greene. If I’m not mistaken, this is #15 in the series, so I’ve missed a lot, which might explain why Hillary Greene sounded like Wonderwoman when I began reading. Clearly, she’s been through the mill and back in her previous adventures as a detective inspector. Though she’s now a civilian officer in a cold case squad, she’s still treated as a DI by her superiors and colleagues alike.

It didn’t matter as A Narrow Victory works as a stand alone, though you know reading the previous books would give you a fuller and better understanding of the characters. That said, there were two new, and very different, recruits to the cold case squad. One is a young, enthusiastic Goth, the other a successful millionaire from the dot-com era, wanting to put something back into society. Or does he?

This is one of two subplots that adds to the intrigue of a story that starts slowly, burdened by rather too much physical description of the characters and work for this reader. Once the cold case concerning the death of Felix Olliphant kicks off, the pace moves up a gear. The team track down witnesses and interview them once more, hitting dead ends at every turn.

It’s somewhat leisurely, with the bulk of the action confined to journeys in an E-type jaguar and lots of conversations over cups of tea. And then suddenly, there’s a breakthrough, an arrest and the story’s wrapped up, somewhat abruptly.

Overall, I enjoyed A Narrow Victory. I liked the intriguing murder and plot, which was well developed, offering little in the way of suspects, but plenty of frustration for the investigators. The characters were well-drawn and kept me engaged. Hillary Greene seemed a little too clever and almost too good to be true, which was a shame as she had the dogged determination and resilience needed to be an effective detective. But the story ended with a welcome note of intrigue, preparing for the next novel.

If you like a cosy mystery with likeable characters, and you don’t mind a gentle pace and lots of description, this should be right up your street.

3/5 stars

A Narrow Victory cover

Fifty Years of Fear by Ross Greenwood

December 2017

4/5 stars. Ross Greenwood’s a talented, thoughtful writer, who brings to life the rather sad story of Vincent, who suffers many tragedies and challenges during the course of the story.

Description

Could you forgive murder? What if it was something worse?

A childhood accident robs Vincent of his memories, causing him to become sensitive and anxious around others. His differences attract bullies, and he comes to rely heavily on the support of his family.

After the devastating loss of his parents, a remarkable woman teaches him to embrace life and, little by little, he realises the world is far more forgiving than he imagined. When fragments of his memory return, he begins to unravel his past.

Who was his mother? What kind of a man is his brother, Frank? And why does death surround them?

Fate is cruel. History is dark. Things are not as they seem.

Perhaps he should have stayed at home.

My thoughts

When I finished the story, I wasn’t sure how I felt about it.

This is the first book I’ve read by Ross Greenwood and he’s clearly a talented, thoughtful writer, who brings to life the rather sad story of Vincent, who suffers many tragedies and challenges during the course of the story. On the surface, he’s an unremarkable character from a typical working class family. He’s lacking in self-confidence, reliant on his elder brother, Frank, for protection, and prefers reading to real life.

In Vincent, I could see and feel parallels with some of my own self-doubts as a teenager, which meant the writing struck a deeper chord. However, as his story and life developed, the parallels faded, leaving me with the author’s skill as a storyteller to keep me turning the pages.

Overall, I felt this was a story about missed opportunities, tragedy and regret. The family secrets that were revealed by brother, Frank, didn’t quite have the impact they should have had, perhaps because of the way Vincent seemed to accept them as almost inevitable. My interest dipped a little midway as events felt a little predictable, but the story picked up towards the end and made quite an impact.

The atmosphere and detail, as described by Vincent, were vivid and well portrayed, with plenty of emotional depth to all the characters, including the minor ones.

It’s a thought-provoking story of what can go wrong in life when you don’t quite fit into the boxes society provides for you. The author has a distinctive style and voice that took you into the head and heart of Vincent with great skill and sensitivity, allowing you to understand and empathise with him.

If there is a message to be taken from this tale, it’s that we shouldn’t be too quick to judge others, especially when we haven’t walked in their shoes. Having now walked in Vincent’s shoes, I’m still not sure how I feel.

4/5 stars

 

Fifty Years of Fear cover