Vanish Without Trace by Bill Kitson

20th June 2021.

This is one of the best crime novels I’ve read for some time and definitely my top read of 2021 so far.

A teenage girl doesn’t return home in the sleepy rural retreat of Helmdale in Yorkshire. Little does DI Mike Nash realise his investigation will put him on the trail of a serial killer who leaves no trace. There are no bodies and no evidence of abduction – simply women still listed as missing.

The similarity in their appearance is the only common link.

Mike, still plagued by bad dreams and nightmares, knows there must be another link that will help him identify the killer. But while Mike and his team struggle to find this link, the killer’s lining up his next victims.

The skill of the serial killer in remaining anonymous for so long makes this investigation about as difficult as you can get. The tension never lets up as Mike sacrifices his health and well-being to identify and track down the killer.

The scale of the story is epic. The personal cost to both the families of the women killed and the investigators is graphically demonstrated. You can feel the emotion as an exhausted team struggle with the magnitude of the investigation.

And after the dramatic climax, the relief and joy of capturing the killer is tempered by the realisation of the devastation he caused, revealing both the emotional high and lows of a criminal investigation.

I felt drained after finishing the moving final chapter. My emotions were shredded, but in a good way. This story will live long in the memory – a sign of quality writing and storytelling.

Simply brilliant.

Description

HOW DO YOU SOLVE A CRIME WHEN THERE’S NO EVIDENCE ONE HAS BEEN COMMITTED?

Sarah Kelly goes for a night out at a club. She leaves around 2 a.m. No one sees her again.

Detective Mike Nash has nothing to go on, until a chance remark causes him to look deeper into other cases. Young women who have vanished without trace.

Nash spots chilling similarities: NO BODIES, NO WITNESSES, ALL DISAPPEARANCES EXPLAINED AWAY.

He needs to find a solution and fast as two more women vanish, making it personal and potentially fatal. Both for Nash and for the women who have disappeared.

CAN NASH STOP A VERY PECULIAR SERIAL KILLER? DISCOVER A FRANTIC, BREATHTAKING PAGE-TURNER OF A MYSTERY.

Vanish Without Trace by Bill Kitson

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

Cry to Me by J A Schneider

16th July 2021.

There’s an emotional intensity to this story that builds and blows like the hurricane that’s about to strike. From the confusion and hysteria of the opening, where paramedics rush Liddy Bell to hospital after a shooting, to the dramatic climax, the emotion and suspense rarely lets up.

Did Liddy Bell shoot her husband, Wyatt, at a party or did someone set her up? This is the question that drives the story and her sister, Kim. Not that their relationship is as strong as Kim suspects. Throw close friends, Wyatt’s brother, and a possible scorned lover into the mix and you have plenty of suspects, all with motives, all trapped together as the full force of the hurricane plunges the house into darkness.

This is an exciting and tense psychological thriller/murder mystery that never lets go once it draws you in. After the blistering opening, the story settles into an examination of the various suspects and their motives, taking you on a twisting journey where you’re never sure about anyone. The doubts and lies only add to the suspense and I found myself suspecting almost everyone before the dramatic and satisfying climax.

The approaching hurricane was a great foil for the building tension inside the house and added atmosphere and jeopardy to an already volatile situation.

The writing was first class. The plotting was tight and kept me guessing and turning the pages. The romantic element added another layer of the jeopardy as Kim began to wonder if the man she was falling for was the killer.

Powerful, atmospheric and highly recommended.

Description

Liddy Bell shot her husband – or did she? In the middle of a party she’s giving with her guests just feet away? Liddy’s sister Kim, a true crime writer, struggles to prove her sister innocent – and avoid falling for a man who might be dangerous.

Wyatt Bell was a powerful tech CEO; the party was to celebrate the purchase and restoration of his and Liddy’s 1920s mansion. No one heard the shots that killed him and wounded Liddy. The band was loud and guests were scattered. When the police declare the crime a failed murder-suicide attempt and Liddy as their suspect, her sister Kim is devastated and insists it’s a setup. Wyatt’s handsome brother David and Liddy’s closest friends try to help Kim investigate…but questions arise. Could Liddy have only pretended to be happy, snapped, and shot her husband? Above all, Kim’s worst anguish is wondering if she ever really knew her sister…

With a hurricane approaching, the police put their investigation on hold, and those closest find themselves all under one roof. Relationships unravel, and Kim thinks, “This is terrifying. We’re all five of us in this house. At night in a hurricane with no power…and a terrible feeling of menace. I can’t shake it.”

Cry to Me by J A Schneider

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

An Occupied Grave by AG Barnett

11th June 2021.

It took me a while to get into this crime story as the character of DI Brock seemed a little wooden. As someone who keeps his feelings to himself, the story was well underway before his character was slowly revealed. From this point the whole story picked up and became an entertaining and enjoyable read.

It starts with a funeral and the discovery of a body already in the grave of someone about to be buried. It’s a terrific start as the mayhem commences. DS Poole, who’s new to the squad, has his own problems alongside working with Brock. Slowly, they begin to piece together events and identify suspects as the story gathers pace for an exciting ending.

Overall, it’s well-written and delivered, the characters are believable and the outcome managed a couple of surprises, which is always welcome.

Description

A village of secrets finds its past lies waiting…

A terrible surprise rocks a funeral when the wrong body is discovered in a freshly dug grave. Now Detective Inspector Brock and Detective Sergeant Poole must open up an old case and dig through the small village’s secrets to solve a murder!

Detective Sergeant Guy Poole is hoping to put his traumatic past behind him and settle into his new station at Bexford. Now history is threatening to raise its head again, and he has a murder case to contend with.

Detective Inspector Sam Brock has a new recruit to take under his wing, and he’s determined this one isn’t going to die. As if that wasn’t enough of a headache, his wife is coming home and may be on the verge of discovering the lie he’s been telling her.

Newly paired duo Brock & Poole must track down the killer before more lives are lost.
AN OCCUPIED GRAVE is the first in a series of page-turning mysteries that will leave you wanting more!

An Occupied Grave by AG Barnett

Evil Crimes by Michael Hambling

This is another gripping and original crime story in the brilliant DCI Sophie Allen series.

When questions are raised about a couple of suspected suicides, the local police call in DCI Sophie Allen. It doesn’t take long for her to connect them to a suspect and the investigation moves across the border into Exeter University. Liaison with the local police becomes strained when the main suspect is murdered and the case takes an unexpected turn.

Everything I love about this series is here in abundance – another original storyline, the relationships between the team members and families that keep everyone strong and focused, and a twisting plot that throws up a few surprises along the way. The writing is tight, the pace pitch perfect and at the heart of it all is Sophie Allen. She’s charismatic, empathetic, determined, clever and tough. She never loses sight of what and who matters.

While you can read this sixth story in the series as a standalone, you will never get the full benefit of just how good these stories and characters are unless you start from the beginning.

Description

A young man’s body is spotted in the stormy sea off Dancing Ledge in Dorset.

Did he lose his footing in the gale force winds and fall in? Or is there a more sinister cause of death?

Detective Sophie Allen’s team discover some curious links to a suicide that happened six months earlier.

A strikingly attractive female student connects the cases. Alarming facts slowly come to light as the team probes more deeply.

Is the young woman as evil as she seems or is someone else manipulating her?

DCI Sophie Allen races against time to uncover the tragic secrets behind the crimes and stop any more deaths.

Evil Crimes by Michael Hambling

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 in Adland by Bruce Beckham

2nd June 2021.

In the Lake District, at a company party for an advertising agency, one of the directors is stabbed to death in his room. This provides plenty of suspects and motives, as DI Skelgill discovers when he starts his investigation with newcomer DS Jones.

The investigation begins and continues at a gentle pace, with the detectives travelling to Edinburgh and London on a regular basis as they interview suspects and witnesses. They also spend a lot of time eating and drinking, both on the trips and back home. Like the detailed descriptions of the settings, this has the effect of slowing the pace and reducing the tension. Then, out of the blue, Skelgill solves the murder and it’s all over.

It’s an interesting opener to the series. The Lake District setting is brought lovingly to life. The two lead characters are engaging and make a good, sparky team, with a hint of sexual tension to spice things up. I enjoyed the humour that runs through the story, but would have preferred more pace and urgency in an investigation that at times seemed to meander along with little pressure to get a result.

Description

WHEN A HIGH-FLYING ADMAN is stabbed to death on a company weekend in the English Lake District, local detective Daniel Skelgill finds himself wrenched from his rural Cumbrian comfort zone.

As the investigation unfolds, DI Skelgill is led a merry dance between London and Edinburgh, at every turn confronted by uncooperative suspects – colleagues, wife and lovers of the deceased – each of whom is possessed of motive and opportunity.

Is this a crime of passion, a professional hit, or a cleverly calculated killing borne out of greed and jealousy?

In this traditional-style whodunit, the case can only be solved by carefully piecing together the essential clues – but Skelgill is running out of time. The patience of his superiors wears thin, while the actions of an anonymous agent provocateur serve only to advance the moment when the killer must strike again.

Murder in Adland by Bruce Beckham

Loot by BL Faulkner

1st June 2021.

Gold is at the heart of this entertaining and enjoyable thriller. As the bodies start to pile up, the story twists and turns to keep you guessing until the exciting finale.

While Palmer and Gheeta Singh of the Serial Murder Squad try to keep up with the killings in this fast moving story, they uncover a trail of deceit, treachery and greed that takes them across country and back again.

I’ve enjoyed all the books in the series, but this is one of the best. It isn’t simply the fast, furious pace, but the feeling that the killer is always one step ahead of Palmer, which is unusual. This adds to the tension and surprise element as the story hurtles to its conclusion.

This is a hugely entertaining story with an imaginative and expertly crafted plot, engaging characters and just the right amount of humour to deliver on every level.

Description

Palmer and his Serial Murder Squad encounter an old adversary from the Brinks-Mat heist when bodies turn up in similar plastic sacks and the trail leads to WW2 looted German gold in the hands of a prominent Member of Parliament and some pretty nasty criminals. The gold is moving fast between the various underworld characters and the body count is mounting as Palmer follows it from London to Gloucester and Brighton and gets kidnapped along the way. Can DS Gheeta Singh keep up and pull the team together for the explosive finale at Brighton Marina.

Loot by BL Faulkner

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