Murder in the Meadow by Faith Martin

13th July 2021.

With big changes to the team, including a fast track detective sergeant with her own agenda, Detective Inspector Hillary Greene has enough on her plate before a body is found by the river. Wayne Sutton, an artist and gigolo, was battered to death and the list of suspects is large.

With one eye on the investigation and the other on Detective Sergeant Gemma Fordham, DI Greene sets about another complex and entertaining investigation.

The interplay between the characters and the issues in the backstory, including Hillary’s love life and troubles inherited from her former husband turned crook, Ronnie, help make the series entertaining and compelling to read. The murder mystery elements are always first rate and the humour and troubles Hillary negotiates have made this series into a favourite of mine.

I’d recommend starting at the beginning and working your way through the books to get the most from the characters and backstory. You’ll also be rewarded with some cracking murder investigations.

Description

Wayne Sutton is found dead by a stream in a beautiful meadow. His head has been bashed in and a red paper heart left on his body. The handsome young artist had a reputation as a ladies’ man.

DI Hillary Greene discovers that many wealthy married women were buying his paintings and taking ‘private’ art lesson from him. It appears that several of them might have wanted him dead.

Hillary also has a new detective sergeant, Gemma Fordham. Seemingly efficient and pleasant, she harbours a secret agenda.

Can Hillary get to the bottom of a complex case involving jealousy, love, and cold-blooded murder?

Murder in the Meadow by Faith Martin

The Witness at the Wedding by Simon Brett

27th June 2021.

I’ve enjoyed all the Fethering murder mysteries so far. The humour that runs through them, gently poking fun at the foibles of the middle classes, is amplified through Carole and Jude, the chalk and cheese amateur sleuths who seem to have little in common yet work so well together.

In this story, the wedding of Carole’s son Stephen to Gaby seems to arouse all manner of anxieties and emotions. Forced to present a united front with her ex-husband, David, Carole’s dragged out of her Fethering comfort zone long before she meets Gaby’s strange parents. And then there’s a dark family secret no one’s keen to admit or reveal.

Everything comes to a head at the engagement party when Gaby’s father is murdered on his way home. It’s not long before a second murder follows. Jude, who’s is helping a journalist friend overcome depression, is soon in the thick of things. The two of them begin to delve into the West Sussex connection that could shed light on the murders.

From here, the story picks up pace as Gaby looks set to become the killer’s next victim.

While quite some time is spent setting the scene before the murders, it’s the perfect opportunity for the author to explore Carole’s past and reveal why she can be so insular and controlled in her life. More of Jude’s colourful past is also revealed, though she very much plays second fiddle in this outing.

While the unravelling of the killer is more straightforward than previous mysteries, it’s still exciting and handled with style and skill. While a traditional whodunit, the most enjoyable moments are delivered by Carole and Jude as they set about solving the murders with determination and imagination.

This is a highly enjoyable series that continues to entertain and develop.

Description

It’s time to celebrate in Fethering Village, as Carole’s son is getting married to a wonderful girl, albeit one with rather odd parents. Not only do they have no interest in the wedding preparations, but the mere thought of talking about the event frightens them beyond words.

When the bride’s father is found murdered, Carole and Jude fear the bride-to-be is the killer’s next target. They must unravel the bride’s family’s past before the killer makes another deadly move . . . and before the wedding festivities become completely funereal.

The Witness at the Wedding by Simon Brett

The Birthday Mystery by Faith Martin

25th June 2021.

Jenny Starling is catering for a 21st birthday party for twins Justin and Alicia in their parents’ country mansion in the Cotswolds. On the day she arrives, a worker from the estate is already dead, having drowned in a pond.

It soon becomes clear that all is not well in the house or between the twins, whose bitter rivalry and fighting comes under the spotlight when one of the guests dies at the party, poisoned by weed killer. The police arrive and begin an investigation, aware that Jenny is no slouch when it comes to solving murders.

Will she solve the case before the police, or will she hamper their investigation and land herself in hot water?

This light-hearted cosy mystery begins slowly, setting the scene, introducing the characters and the key relationships. Whether Jenny Starling is in the garden gathering herbs, checking out her sleeping accommodation in the house, or simply enjoying the country air, she’s never far from trouble, eavesdropping like a young Miss Marple to gather vital clues.

While some of the main characters seemed a little caricatured at the start, the story soon settled into a steady, entertaining rhythm, with plenty of humour to season the mystery. The competition between Jenny and the detective leading the enquiry was an enjoyable battle of wills as the cook pieced together the clues to solve the case.

This is an enjoyable first book in a series that features an excellent amateur sleuth, who’s more than a match for the police and killers. I look forward to reading the next in the series.

Description

Jenny Starling is catering the twenty-first birthday party of upper-class twins, Alicia and Justin.

She arrives at their parents’ country house and is immediately met by the police. A young man has drowned in the pond. Was it an accident or murder?

But the birthday party goes ahead. Then just after midnight, everyone gathers for a champagne toast . . . and one of the guests falls down dead. The police are baffled and there is a whole party full of suspects.

When it comes to someone adding the extra ingredient of poison to her own precious recipes, Jenny isn’t going to take it lying down. She has a reputation to protect.

Jenny Starling won’t stop until the murderer is found.

The Birthday Mystery by Faith Martin

Eye for Revenge by Cheryl Bradshaw

25th June 2021.

This cross between romantic suspense and murder mystery finds a devastated Quinn, searching for the killer of her best friend Evie. Behind the small town respectability, there are secrets and jealousies to be unearthed.

With a brisk place and a flawed but engaging protagonist in Quinn, this story is as much about her battles and transformation as securing justice for Evie. As the pressure and danger mounts for Quinn, she stands her ground, putting her life on the line to avenge her friend.

This is another thrilling story from the versatile Cheryl Bradshaw, who always writes entertaining stories with pace, mystery and great characters.

Description

Quinn Montgomery has lost the will to live.

She wakes to find herself in the hospital. Her childhood best friend Evie has been murdered, and Evie’s four-year-old son witnessed it all. Traumatized over what he saw, he hasn’t spoken. And when Evie’s cold-blooded killer goes into hiding, Quinn isn’t only out for justice, she’s out for revenge.

Eye for Revenge by Chaeryl Bradshaw

The Hanging in the Hotel by Simon Brett

19th June 2021.

This has become one of my favourite crime series. The books are beautifully written and cleverly plotted with a humorous underbelly of social comment, and engaging and charismatic characters. I particularly enjoy the way the relationship between Carole and Jude is developing. With each book, we learn a little more about Jude’s colourful past. While the two amateur sleuths are different in many ways, they share the same determination to get to the truth.

In this case, it’s the hanging of a young solicitor at a country hotel where Jude is waiting tables. She’s there to help out an old friend and finds herself struggling to believe the young man committed suicide. She spoke to him the night before and he was in high spirits, not suicidal.

But it seems the Pillars of Sussex, a secretive all male group have other ideas. Determined to protect their reputation and some of their more important members, they thwart Jude’s efforts to discover the truth. Meanwhile, Carole approaches the Pillars through another of their members, who has taken a fancy to her.

The story unfolds in small increments until Carole and Jude finally put all the pieces together for an exciting climax at the hotel. Along the way, the author never misses a chance to poke fun at the self-importance of secret societies and the foibles of the middle classes.

If you’re looking for a classy cosy mystery series with humour, distinctive plots and great characters, look no further.

Description

Fethering resident Jude soon regrets helping out at an event at the Hopwicke Country House Hotel. The all-male society, The Pillars of Sussex, are visiting and keep Jude up until the small hours when the last of the rowdy men goes to bed.

When one guest doesn’t show up for breakfast the next morning, Jude presumes he’s feeling the effects of the night before and searches him out. Only to discover his body hanging from the beams of a four-poster bed. Unconvinced that this was suicide, Jude enlists the support of fellow amateur sleuth Carole to crack the case.

The Hangin gin the Hotel by Simon Brett

Sleeping Murder by Agatha Christie

15th June 2021.

This final outing for Miss Marple is another convoluted mystery that requires all her skill and know how to solve. Gwenda is in England, looking for a house for her and husband Giles. While driving through Dilmouth on the coast, she’s drawn to Hillside. While she views the house, she has a terrifying flashback to a murder that happened here.

Once installed in the house, coincidences begin to happen, making her wonder if she’s losing her mind. Fortunately, Miss Marple is on hand to put everything into perspective. But the young couple ignore her advice to leave well alone and embark on a journey to find out what really happened at Hillside all those years ago.

It’s classic Agatha Christie, filled with sharply observed characters, lots of suspects, social comment and an original plot littered with red herrings and misdirection.

Perfect.

Description

Although Gwenda and Giles Reed are determined to solve a macabre puzzle involving a hauntingly familiar Victorian villa and a terrifying vision of a strangled woman, Miss Jane Marple advises them not to uncover a long unreported murder.

Sleeping Murder by Agatha Christie

Murder at the Museum by Simon Brett

3rd June 2021.

This fourth outing for amateur sleuths Carole and Jude is another delightful caper, filled with the author’s customary wit and comic observation of the middle classes and village life. In this book, he turns his attention to committees and the behaviour of the various characters that join them.

This committee comprises the trustees of Bracketts, the country home of former literary icon, Esmond Chadwick. Carole Seddon has joined at the request of the marketing director for the house. As she watches the power struggles around her, Carole soon wishes she’d stayed at home.

Until human remains are found in the garden, that is.

Though the skeleton is old, the hole in the skull suggests a shooting and a murder. As Carole picks up the challenge, her friend and neighbour Jude seems distracted. She takes in Laurence, an academic and former lover, who’s not in the best of health. Not sure of the situation, Carole feels put out and unable to discuss the case with her friend.

As they approach the investigation from separate angles, a second murder unites them. But with a gunman on the loose, a cast of suspects comprising most of the trustees and a bolshie American academic, it’s not going to be an easy case to solve.

With an eclectic cast of eccentric but believable characters, a convoluted plot with more suspects than you can shake a stick at, and the author’s often irreverent commentary, this is an entertaining and exciting murder mystery that delivers on every level.

And we get to learn a lot more about Jude’s colourful life and past.

Description

Bracketts, an Elizabethan house near the town of Fethering, is about to be turned into a museum, but the transition is proving nightmarish. Carole regrets her decision to be on the museum’s Board when she witnesses bitter antagonism and rivalry amongst the other members.

The tensions climax when a human skeleton is found in the kitchen garden and then another body is discovered, not yet cold. These murders in the museum quickly turn into a case that tests the sleuthing powers of Carole, and her neighbour Jude, as never before . . .

Murder at the Museum by Simon Brett

Murder at Home by Faith Martin

30th May 2021.

The murder of Flo Jenkins appears motiveless. This elderly lady is well loved and close to dying from cancer. Why would anyone stab her in her own front room?

This is the mystery facing DI Hillary Greene and her team in their fifth outing. Problems at headquarters also muddy the waters with a stalker sending nasty messages to Janine, who is about to marry the Chief Superintendent, Mel. Then there’s the new detective constable, transferred out of London after an incident.

And a former chief superintendent, who left under a cloud threatens to cause trouble for Hillary.

It’s all in a day’s work for Hillary as she rallies the team, deals with the internal problems and gets down to solving the murder with an inspired bit of lateral thinking. The murder is intriguing, the relationships within the team fascinating and laced with humour, and at the heart of it all, Hillary Greene shines, even though her love life is getting complicated.

This is another excellent and exciting episode in the series. Like all the books in the series so far, it can be read as a standalone, but then you’d miss out on the character development and relationships that are an integral and delightful part of stories.

Highly recommended.

Description

Flo Jenkins is found murdered in her armchair, a paperknife sticking out of her chest. The old woman was well liked and nothing seems to have been stolen from her home. And it was common knowledge that she only had weeks to live.

Why kill a dying woman? This is going to be one of the toughest cases yet for Hillary to solve.

Hillary also has to deal with a new colleague who has a terrible temper and a rocky past.

With no forensics, no leads, and only a drug-addict nephew as a suspect, will this be Hillary’s first failure to solve a murder case?

Murder at Home by Faith Martin

The Torso in the Town by Simon Brett

25th May 2021.

This is the third book in the Fethering mystery series, feature chalk and cheese neighbours Carole and Jude.

It starts with a dinner party at Pelling House, where Jude finds a mummified torso in the cellar. It isn’t long before Jude and Carole are returning to the small market town where it happened to investigate. Carole, however, is smarting from a breakup in a recent relationship, and isn’t as motivated as usual.

But it isn’t long before Jude’s befriending the locals, getting them invited to an important dinner party, and interviewing everyone with a connection to Pelling House over the years. As you would expect, there are plenty of characters in the town and even more suspects, once the body is identified.

Carole and Jude’s progress is a joy to behold as they get behind and under the façade of this sleepy town and its often pompous residents. I loved the author’s gentle mocking of middle class foibles, values and attitudes and the undercurrent of humour that keeps the story jogging along at a merry pace.

The descriptions and social commentary are a delight, the characters beautifully, an occasionally tragically, portrayed, and the investigation leads to an exciting climax, followed by an unexpected twist that adds to the reader’s pleasure.

If you enjoy a cosy mystery that’s original, sophisticated and fun, then this series is a treat and fast becoming one of my favourites.

Description

Grant and Kim Roxby had hoped that their first dinner party at Pelling House would make an impression with their new neighbours. And the next day it’s certainly the talk of the village in Fethering. For their guests – including the couple’s old friend Jude – had been enjoying a pleasant meal when they were rudely interrupted by a gruesome discovery. A human torso hidden in the cellar.

Carole and Jude turn amateur sleuths once again. They begin to question the locals, but they can’t help wondering why a town notoriously distrustful of outsiders is proving so terribly amenable to their enquiries . . .

The Torso in in the Town by Simon Brett

A hero for today

Have you ever read a book or watched a TV programme and wished you could write something as good?

Inspector MorseNeither had I until I saw the original Inspector Morse series. The superb characterisation, complex and intriguing plots, and the beautiful Oxford settings captivated me. About the same time, BBC 1 aired the Miss Marple series, adapted from Agatha Christie’s books.

Both programmes evoked the same emotion and desire to write a complex murder mystery.

At this point, I should tell you I was already a writer. Not a successful one, unless you include the national short story competition I won at the age of 12. That early enthusiasm and promise never quite materialised into something a publisher would want or take – until Morse and Marple got under my skin.

I sensed a brighter future. But first, I needed a hero for my murder mysteries – someone different, someone flawed but principled, charismatic and up to the job.

Police officer or private investigator?

While I’d worked with the police many times as an environmental health officer (EHO), I had no idea how they investigated murders. With DNA evidence making its mark, I thought I’d leave it those who understood such things.

Sue GraftonEqually, I had no idea how private investigators worked. Sue Grafton’s first novel, A is for Alibi, featuring PI Kinsey Millhone tempted me to create my own investigator. The character was feisty, sassy, funny and quite ruthless in completing any job she took. The books were a joy to read.

Could I create a male version of Kinsey?

It took some time for Kent Fisher to evolve. The name took almost as long to create, but that’s a subject for another day. He was tough, determined, single-minded, hopeless in love, and had a good stock of witty one-liners.

But was he flawed?

In his first outings, he was more like Rambo than Morse. That’ll teach me to make him a former paratrooper. He was married to an unsuitable woman. While it seemed like a good idea at the time for extra conflict, I couldn’t imagine him falling for such a woman. Net result – I failed to write with any conviction.

My attempts to make him a PI fared no better.

Thanks to my healthy appetite for Dick Francis, that left me with one option. Many of his heroes were ordinary people, drawn into adventures and investigations that often put them in grave danger.

Kent Fisher became an EHO

Kent Fisher and ColumboAn environmental health officer conjured up an image of a person in a suit, carrying a clipboard and talking like some dreary, faceless bureaucrat. That was how TV writers saw them at the time. It was hardly an image to inspire readers, was it?

So I gave Kent a past as a hunt saboteur and environmental protestor, who chained himself to trees and bulldozers to stop developers destroying the countryside he loved. This ensured he had as many enemies as he had supporters, offering plenty of storylines for the future.

Without thinking, I knew he would live in an animal sanctuary, confirming his dedication to the natural world.

While I doubt if he’s anyone’s idea of a detective, to me he’s a hero for today. He’s an ordinary person who solves the most complex and difficult murders I can dream up.

This posed another challenge – how would an EHO solve a murder? Let’s be honest, during my long career, no one has ever walked into the council offices and asked me to investigate a murder.

I’ll admit I’ve wanted to murder many awkward members of the public, councillors and restaurateurs and publicans over the years. Luckily, I can now do that in my novels.

Finally it came to me – disguise a murder as a fatal work accident. Kent Fisher goes in to investigate with the police. They pass the investigation to him and he uncovers a murder.

Simple.

But no one believes him, of course, so he has to solve it himself.

It led me to the highly original title of No Accident, which was traditionally published in June 2016.

A fresh approach to the traditional murder mystery

Thoroughly modern, with contemporary themes about protecting wildlife and the environment, Kent Fisher was like no other detective out there. Whether that’s a good or bad thing depends on how much you like the traumatised police inspectors with pen-pushing superiors that seem to dominate crime fiction these days.

What I hadn’t anticipated was the part the characters and backstory would play in the hearts and minds of readers. I simply set out to build a world around Kent and fill it with strong, engaging characters that would impact on his life and work.

HarveyAnd that’s before we get to the rescue dog he adopted. Named Columbo after Kent’s favourite TV detective, the West Highland white terrier would become a firm favourite with readers and reviewers.

With his personal life as complex as the murders Kent solved, the story drew in people who didn’t normally read crime. Readers cared about these people, about this world Kent lived in, as much as they enjoyed trying to solve the murders.

But that’s something for another post…


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