The Secret Adversary by Agatha Christie

13th October 2021.

First published in January 1922, this is another fast moving adventure, giving Tommy and Tuppence their first outing. Naturally, the language and attitudes are of the time, but in all other respects this is a dramatic ripping yarn that’s fun to read, easy to follow and filled with all the twists, turns and surprises I’ve come to expect from the Queen of Crime. Indeed, at the beginning there’s some clever plotting that brought a smile to my face.

The writing and story-telling is confident and bold, driven by the two main characters, who have a lust for excitement and an almost fearless approach to any danger they face. Can they find Jane Finn, who seems to be at the centre of a political plot that threatens the government?

While Tuppence is the main driving force in the duo, Tommy has his moments and it’s beautifully delivered as the pace and action hots up for a memorable climax. The usual explanations follow to show the reader how the mystery was solved and why.

In many respects, it’s light, frothy and easy to read, but this is a result of great writing and plotting, effortlessly delivered to satisfy the reader. If you’re interested in historical crime, this is a great introduction.

Description

Tommy Beresford and Prudence ‘Tuppence’ Cowley are young, in love… and flat broke. Just after Great War, there are few jobs available and the couple are desperately short of money. Restless for excitement, they decide to embark on a daring business scheme: Young Adventurers Ltd.—”willing to do anything, go anywhere.” Hiring themselves out proves to be a smart move for the couple. In their first assignment for the mysterious Mr. Whittingtont, all Tuppence has to do in their first job is take an all-expense paid trip to Paris and pose as an American named Jane Finn. But with the assignment comes a bribe to keep quiet, a threat to her life, and the disappearance of her new employer. Now their newest job are playing detective.

Where is the real Jane Finn? The mere mention of her name produces a very strange reaction all over London. So strange, in fact, that they decided to find this mysterious missing lady. She has been missing for five years. And neither her body nor the secret documents she was carrying have ever been found. Now post-war England’s economic recovery depends on finding her and getting the papers back. But he two young working undercover for the British ministry know only that her name and the only photo of her is in the hands of her rich American cousin. It isn’t long before they find themselves plunged into more danger than they ever could have imagined—a danger that could put an abrupt end to their business… and their lives.

The Secret Adversary by Agatha Christie

Witness to Evil by Janet Dawson

27th September 2021.

Jeri Howard series always offers something different, usually a social problem that encapsulates a crime or two. In this outing, Jeri has to track down runaway teenager, Darcy, who’s gone to Paris. It soon becomes clear that she’s tracking back through her grandmother’s time in Paris as a refugee from the Nazi occupation during World War II.

This history offers a hint at what’s to follow once Darcy’s returned to California. Sent off to a school for troubled teenagers, it isn’t long before she runs away and asks for Jeri’s help once more. It looks like Darcy may have murdered someone at the school.

But the truth is more sinister, as Jeri soon discovers.

Once again, Jeri is on the trail. The hunt through Paris is beautifully described. Darcy and her grandmother are terrific characters, both feisty and passionate about the truth. Back in California, Jeri’s journey is met with resistance from almost all sides as the school closes ranks, making for an intriguing and tense investigation.

It all leads to a dramatic climax that’s as exciting as it is tense, providing the perfect finish to a riveting story.

While you can read this book as a standalone, the Jeri Howard series is well worth a try as subject matter is always as intriguing as the investigations she undertakes.

Description

Oakland private eye Jeri Howard has landed a sweet gig: five days of Paris cafes and museums on somebody else’s franc. The assignment? Track down and retrieve a precocious seventeen-year-old who swiped her mother’s credit card and took off for Paris. Finding the girl (who’s not exactly hiding anyway – after all, she’s using her mother’s credit card) is no mystery for a P.I. with Jeri’s investigative skills. But the girl, Darcy, is on a mission to uncover family secrets. Her grandmother, it seems, has a past life and identity she’s shared only recently. As it turns out, Darcy didn’t need to travel to Paris to confront the evil that retains its vicious hold on the world in a modern-day counterpart. It’ll be waiting for her at home.

Jeri’s mission accomplished, they part, with Jeri’s invitation to call if ever Darcy needs help. Distress code: “We’ll always have Paris.” The call’s not long in coming. Darcy is now a “person of interest” in a murder case and, once again, in the wind. People at her new school seem to believe the worst of her, the police are inclined to agree, and she’s been sighted driving the dead man’s car with a couple of skinheads on her tail. This is not what Jeri was picturing when she cautioned, “Stay out of trouble, okay?”

The murder victim was the school handyman, an average-looking joe who kept some pretty rough company – skinheads with steel-toed boots and swastika tattoos. School officials have issued a gag order, but Jeri manages to glean one clue from Darcy’s roommate – the murder victim is not who he seems. Jeri relentlessly chases down the victim’s identity and teases out the connections that weave a web of hate from World War II to Darcy’s campus. As always, Jeri gets the last word – and the satisfaction of getting in a few good licks.

Witness to Evil by Janet Dawson

A Fatal Obsession by Faith Martin

26th September 2021.

The story, set in 1960, starts slowly with a murder connected to a past death. Ryder, a trainee coroner, sat in at the original inquest, convinced witnesses were lying. Now, as a coroner, he wants to investigate the original death to uncover the truth, but he needs a police officer to assist him. WPC Loveday, a fresh but ambitious officer, is assigned to help him.

As soon as they start working together, the story moves up a gear and develops into an intriguing double investigation. Both characters grew on me as they uncovered a somewhat gothic plot that didn’t pan out as I expected, which is always a bonus.

It’s always enjoyable to return to the days before DNA, forensics and computers dominated investigations. Detectives had to use their wits, experience and intelligence to deduce and solve crimes.

The novel is a worthy start to a new series that offers something different from the usual police procedural novels that seem to follow the same old well-worn tracks.

Description

Oxford, 1960. There’s a murderer on the loose and two unlikely heroes are poised to solve the case.

Meet Probationary WPC Trudy Loveday – smart, enthusiastic and always underestimated.

In the hope of getting her out of the way, Trudy’s senior officer assigns her to help coroner Clement Ryder as he re-opens the case of a young woman’s death. She can’t believe her luck – she is actually going to be working on a real murder case.

Meanwhile, the rest of the police force are busy investigating a series of threats and murders in the local community, and Clement can’t help but feel it’s all linked.

As Trudy and Clement form an unlikely partnership, are they going to be the ones to solve these crimes before the murderer strikes again?

A Fatal Obsession by Faith Martin

Rough and Deadly by Paula Williams

23rd September 2021.

In the second Much Winchmoor novel, Kat’s thrown into another murder investigation when Margot Duckett-Trimble is killed and left in a vat of cider. As she was standing for election to the parish council and full of self-importance, there’s going to be a long list of suspects.

But Kat already has enough troubles of her own to contend with. Without a permanent job and no money, she’s forced to live with her parents. Her dreams of escaping the sleepy village lie in tatters. And she’s not sure about her feelings for Will, or what he feels for her.

Somehow, she stumbles along, doing odd jobs here and there, freelancing for a local free newspaper, picking up village gossip along the way, especially where it concerns the murder. When her Aunt Tanya arrives in the village, keen to divorce her husband and start a new venture, events take a sinister turn and Kat’s problems multiply.

I enjoyed this engaging cosy mystery thanks to the likable characters, along with the humour and social comment that underpins the writing and story. All the typical characters you find in a village are here, with Prescott the dog stealing every scene as he wreaks havoc wherever he goes.

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

Description

Everyone knows Abe Compton’s Headbender cider is as rough as a cider can get. But is it deadly?

When self-styled ‘lady of the manor’, Margot Duckett-Trimble, announces she wouldn’t be seen dead drinking the stuff, who could have foreseen that, only a few days later, she’d be found, face down, in a vat of it?

Kat Latcham’s no stranger to murder. Indeed, the once ‘sleepy’ Somerset village of Much Winchmoor is fast gaining a reputation as the murder capital of the West Country and is ‘as sleepy as a kid on Christmas Eve’ when it’s discovered there’s a murderer running loose in the community again.

Kat has known Abe all her life, and she is sure that, although he had motive, he didn’t kill Margot. But as she investigates, the murderer strikes again. And the closer Kat gets to finding out who the real killer is, the closer to danger she becomes.

Rough and Deadly by Paula Williams

The Hour of her Death by Rebecca Rane

21st September 2021.

I enjoy discovering new authors and books, especially those that offer something original.

Kendra Dillon is only as good as her next podcast. And after a successful first cold case investigation, she’s told about a nun who was brutally murdered 30 years ago. Yet as she makes enquiries, there’s little evidence of a proper investigation at the time. Calling on her skills as an investigative journalist, and a few family connections, Kendra starts to make some headway.

A second murder threatens to derail her investigation and put her right in the path of a serial killer. That’s if a stalker who has hurt her in the past doesn’t get to her first.

From the first page to the last, this was a gripping story, full of pace, drama and tension. Kendra’s a likable lead character with a point to prove. She’s well connected, feisty and good at what she does. Unfortunately, a previous investigation touched nerves and she lost her job. Now working for public radio, she has to earn her keep by attracting sponsors to her podcast.

It’s a great premise that offers an original spin on the cold case investigation. In every other respect, it’s a traditional murder mystery, which means clues, red herrings, and suspects. Kendra holds it all together despite personal demons, bureaucracy and those who want the past to remain in the past. Her determination to reveal a killer who has escaped justice for too long drives the story along.

Then there’s the stalker, watching from the shadows, waiting for the right moment to strike.

This is a great start to a series.

Description

Only a monster could murder a nun on Christmas Eve. But the horrific crime has gone unsolved for thirty years when a mysterious stranger begs a true crime podcaster to investigate.

Kendra Dillon hosts The Cold Trail Podcast. She’s made it her mission to uncover new clues in old mysteries. She’s shocked that this brutal display of evil against an innocent nun has gone unchecked for decades. No suspects. No arrests. No justice.

With police and church officials refusing to reopen the investigation, Kendra believes someone’s hiding a vile conspiracy. But right as Kendra gets close to the disturbing truth, another shocking crime derails her investigation. The Cold Trail may be leading Kendra straight into the path of a serial killer. With every podcast episode, Kendra gets closer to waking an evil that’s been lying in wait.

And Kendra isn’t alone. A stalker is following her every move, ready to ensnare her in his own twisted fantasy.

Can Kendra catch the culprit and serve up justice before she’s silenced forever?

The Hour of her Death by Rebecca Rane

Belle Manor Haunting by Cheryl Bradshaw

14th September 2021.

In the fourth book in the series, Addison finds herself at the heart of another mystery from the past. This time it’s the death of a young girl in a hit and run. The heart of the mystery is Belle Manor, which hides plenty of secrets, including the identity of the killer.

This investigation holds more surprises as Addison discovers the history of her own family, especially the psychic powers that pass down the female line. She has to choose whether to embrace what history has ordained or walk away as her mother did. Her decision could have a profound effect on her husband and family.

The personal dilemma lifts the story to make it the most intriguing and satisfying book of the series so far. With conflict and pressure on all sides, Addison has to decide her future while solving a complex murder mystery.

It’s a fascinating story that begs a fifth book.

Description

Addison’s eyes open to find she’s been transported several decades into the past. She’s sitting in the back seat of a car. Sara is beside her. The car stops at an intersection. Moments later another vehicle in the opposite direction barrels through the stop sign, slamming into the car before jerking the vehicle into reverse and fleeing the scene. Who is the driver of the other car? And what secrets within the walls of Belle Manor provide the answer to little Sara’s untimely demise?

Belle Manor Haunting by Cheryl Bradshaw

A Credible Threat by Janet Dawson

26th August 2021.

In the sixth novel in the series, Oakland PI, Jeri Howard, investigates a dangerous stalker. It starts with hostile phone calls, moves on to damaging plants and in particular decapitating lemon trees, and escalates to a pipe bomb.

The targets are a mixed group sharing a house. Each one has something that makes them a target, which makes Jeri’s job difficult, to say the least. Vicki, the daughter of her ex-husband, called her in to help, but not everyone in the house is happy about it.

With tensions high and suspicions rife, Jeri finally gets on the right track when her mentor and former employer is mugged in Carmel. Suddenly, the case takes a sinister turn as Jeri has a race against time to prevent a murder.

The Jeri Howard novels are always interesting as they tackle different issues from the usual missing persons and murder. Many of these are social issues, and this story is no different. While it starts as a classic stalking, it turns into something much more dangerous. There’s also a personal element to the story, which increases the stakes and tension, leading to a highly enjoyable and satisfying read that kept me turning the pages.

I would also say that the story is easier to follow than some of the previous books, which may be why I read it fairly quickly. Or it could be that it’s an excellent story that gripped me from intriguing start to exciting climax.

Looking forward to the next in the series.

Description

Oakland PI Jeri Howard is now taking house calls. At least when her ex-husband’s daughter, Vicki Vernon, is on the other end of the line. Vicki, who is an undergrad at prestigious UC Berkeley, fears the worst when her shared house receives multiple threats from an unknown antagonizer.

First, it’s hostile phone calls. Then vandalism and stalking. And everything becomes real when Jeri picks up the house phone and hears the stalker’s chilling voice herself.

As if that weren’t enough, a nasty flyer circulates around the law school filled with bigoted epithets against students of color and women — and it’s uncannily similar to the anonymous caller’s hateful words. But with so many possible targets in one household, Jeri’s just not sure which of the housemates is the target.

After all, Rachel volunteers at an abortion clinic. Ben is an African-American student on scholarship. Marisol spends her time helping victims of domestic abuse. And Vicki and Emily have been harassed on campus by a sexist chemistry student.
But when someone throws a pipe bomb through the students’ window, the case all but explodes.

A Credible Threat by Janet Dawson

The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Arthur Conan Doyle

17th August 2021.

When I first read Sherlock Holmes as a teenager, I didn’t fully appreciate or understand his character or the subtleties of his relationship with Dr Watson. These developed over the series of short stories which make up this collection. While Watson is in awe of Sherlock’s brilliance, the good doctor is not oblivious to the negative traits either.

The stories are not your usual detective fayre. Holmes has a flair for the unusual cases, which grow in complexity as the series develops. All the clues are there as he deduces what is happening based on observations and logical reasoning. In addition to his mental abilities, he’s also portrayed as a man of action, always willing to right an injustice.

This makes the stories memorable and a little different. The narrated style makes for an easy and entertaining read. These stories, written over 120 years ago, have stood the test of time, which probably explains why Sherlock Holmes is still popular today.

Description

The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes is a collection of twelve short stories by Arthur Conan Doyle, first published on 14 October 1892. It contains the earliest short stories featuring the consulting detective Sherlock Holmes, which had been published in twelve monthly issues of The Strand Magazine from July 1891 to June 1892. The stories are collected in the same sequence, which is not supported by any fictional chronology. The only characters common to all twelve are Holmes and Dr. Watson and all are related in first-person narrative from Watson’s point of view.

In general the stories in The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes identify, and try to correct, social injustices. Holmes is portrayed as offering a new, fairer sense of justice. The stories were well received, and boosted the subscriptions figures of The Strand Magazine, prompting Doyle to be able to demand more money for his next set of stories. The first story, “A Scandal in Bohemia”, includes the character of Irene Adler, who, despite being featured only within this one story by Doyle, is a prominent character in modern Sherlock Holmes adaptations, generally as a love interest for Holmes. Doyle included four of the twelve stories from this collection in his twelve favourite Sherlock Holmes stories, picking “The Adventure of the Speckled Band” as his overall favourite.

The Adventures f Sherlock Holmes

The Winter Mystery by Faith Martin

The second book in the series sees roving caterer Jenny Starling taking a Christmas booking at a remote farm run by Stan. He’s an aggressive bully who rules with a rod of iron, keeping the rest of the family in check. His brother, Sid, who’s the rightful heir to the farm, is ill and in no position to fight.

When Sid’s found dead with a knife in his chest, the police arrive to investigate. The local inspector finds himself out of his depth and reliant on help from Jenny Starling, who’s already solved a few murders along the way.

It’s a very cosy mystery that’s well told with the usual red herrings and false trails to keep the reader guessing. Jenny Starling holds centre stage, slowly piecing together the clues to identify the killer. There’s a healthy helping of humour to lighten the mix and some well-drawn characters.

One of my pet peeves is police officers shown as incompetent or behaving unprofessionally to allow an amateur sleuth to shine. While it didn’t spoil my enjoyment of the story, I felt the portrayal of the police could have been handled better.

Description

Jenny Starling is spending Christmas in a snowed-in country house cooking all the traditional food she loves. But the family she’s working for are not full of the seasonal spirit. In fact, they seem to hate each other.

On Christmas Eve, someone is found dead on the kitchen table. And the head of the family is blaming Jenny!

But with an incompetent detective called in, and seemingly no motive for the murder, Jenny will have to give the police a hand.

She will stop at nothing to clear her name and find the real murderer.

The Winter Mystery by Faith Martin

Blackthorn Manor Haunting by Cheryl Bradshaw

3rd August 2021.

I’ve enjoyed the previous two Addison Lockhart outings, liking the combination of murder mystery and the paranormal. Like all the author’s books, they’re easy to read, well written and filled with characters you root for.

This third novel follows the same path as its predecessors with Addison picking up visions of a lady dressed in black and a young boy, Billy, in and around the house. It’s clear the lady needs help, but why and how?

It’s just what you need on your wedding day.

Matters are complicated by Catherine, the owner of Blackthorn Manor. Far from a welcoming host, she goes out of her way to get Addison out of the place. But she’s not going anywhere until she’s solved the mystery. Assisted by her grandmother, she sets out to get to the root of the mystery with surprising results.

I must admit I felt some sympathy for Addison’s new husband, Luke, who was side lined at one point while she went off to investigate the mystery. Otherwise, it was another enjoyable adventure that started slowly, but soon built up a head of steam.

I’m looking forward to the fourth in the series.

Description

A woman in black stares at the sea, her body transparent, eyes brimming with tears.

Hoping to get a better look at the woman, psychic medium Addison Lockhart leans out over the manor’s windowsill, gasping when she feels an intense pressure pressing down on her back–someone thrusting her forward. She grabs the side of the window to brace herself, but it’s too late. She’s already falling.

Who is the strange, melancholy woman haunting Blackthorn Manor? And why is someone out to keep Addison from unlocking the manor’s darkest secrets?

Blackthorn Manor Haunting by Cheryl Bradshaw