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.

Description

ONE TERRIBLE CASE ALWAYS HAUNTED DETECTIVE MATT BALLARD. NOW MANY YEARS LATER, THE KILLER SEEMS TO BE BACK. AND THIS TIME HE’S AFTER MATT.

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.

A KILLER WHO WILL STOP AT NOTHING TO DESTROY A DETECTIVE.

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.

Description

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

An interview with author Paula Williams

I’m delighted to welcome crime novelist Paula Williams to Robservations. The third novel in her Much Winchmoor series, Burying Bad News, is published on 17th March 2020.

Having enjoyed the first book in the series, Murder Served Cold, I thought it would be interesting and fun to learn more about Paula and her writing.

Paula, please tell me a little about yourself and your writing.

I began my writing career writing short stories and serials for women’s magazines, which I still do sometimes, although it’s now a sadly shrinking market.  So I started thinking of a change of direction and decided to dip my toe in the murky waters of my first love, crime fiction.

A couple of years ago, I was lucky enough to be taken on by Crooked Cat Books and have recently moved across to their Darkstroke imprint, which focusses on crime and all things dark.  Darkstroke is about to publish Burying Bad News, the third in my Much Winchmoor Mysteries.

I live in Somerset with my husband and a gorgeous rescue dog, a Dalmatian called Duke.  My books are mostly set in Somerset and very much inspired by my friends, neighbours and fellow regulars in my local – although none of them, as far as I know, have murderous tendencies.

When did you first realise you wanted to be an author?

I wanted to be an author for ever!  I started writing stories as soon as I could hold a pencil.  Although my mother used to say that I was making up stories long before then, but they were of the ‘It wasn’t me, Mum, it was him’ variety.

Describe the first piece you wrote and what it meant to you?

I can remember writing an essay in school when I was about 12.  The topic was to discuss whether it was better to be the eldest or the youngest in the family.  I had very strong views about this, as I come from a large family and am firmly in the middle.  I got an A for my essay and Mrs Phillips (see, I can still remember her name) read it out to the class and called it an ‘excellent’ piece of writing.  I can still feel the glow of pride that gave me and it made me realise that writing isn’t really work when you’re writing something you feel strongly about.

What do you most enjoy about being an author?

Oh my goodness, just about everything.  It still gives me a buzz to hear myself described as such.  It is the best job in the world.   I really love the actual process of writing, especially in the beginning when I’m still sorting things out and the possibilities are endless.  I love creating a world that I can control.  But most of all, I think, I love it when people take the trouble to read my books.  It’s quite humbling that someone will give up a bit of their precious time to sit down and read ‘the book what I wrote!’  And if they leave a review, well, that’s the icing on my happy cake.

What do you least enjoy about being an author?

I know I’m not going to be alone in this when I say the thing I like the least is marketing.  Like many writers, I am an introvert and at my happiest when I’m on my own at my desk, talking away to the characters in my head… or, as if often the case, listening to them.

Putting myself ‘out there’ on social media is, quite simply, terrifying.  But it’s part of the job so I get on with it and spend a lot of my time studying how the successful authors (like you, Robert) do it.

(I don’t know about successful, Paula, but thank you.)

What type of characters do you love and hate to write? Why?

I love to write about feisty old ladies!  My mother in law was one and although she’s no longer with us, she certainly lives on within the pages of my books.  They are such fun to write.  I don’t have any characters that I hate to write.  I enjoy writing them all, especially the villains.

On your Amazon author page you talk about your first success being with short stories. Can you tell us a little more about what you wrote and how it led to writing novels?

The first short story I had published was an only slightly fictionalised account of a pageant I wrote when I was about eight and forced my younger brothers to appear in.  It was staged on our front lawn, to celebrate St George’s Day and everything that could do wrong did go wrong.  It must have been hilarious for the adults who’d been press-ganged into watching although I don’t remember anyone laughing.  So I read this how-to-write book that talked about writing about what you know and wrote about the pageant.  And, to my amazement, Woman’s Weekly bought it straight away.  When it was published, I bought each of my brothers a bottle of champagne and a copy of Woman’s Weekly.  They claim they’re still traumatised by the pageant and haven’t yet forgiven me.

I got into writing novels because I found I enjoyed writing crime as much as I enjoyed reading it.  In fact, the first in my Much Winchmoor series, Murder Served Cold, started life as a two part, 8,000 word serial for Woman’s Weekly and I enjoyed the characters so much, I couldn’t let them go. (Or, should that be, they wouldn’t let me go?)

In your blog you ask authors where they get their ideas. Where do you get your ideas?

I have lived most of my life in small communities, apart from a few years when I lived in Bristol.  I grew up on a farm in South Somerset and couldn’t wait to get away from the place – which I did when I was 18.  I married a Bristolian and thought I was set to live in Bristol for the rest of my life.  (I’d become a ‘proper townie’ by then).  But five years after we married, he was transferred to Somerset and I ended up living in the same sort of small community I’d been so eager to leave a few years earlier.

That was two children, four dogs and almost a whole lifetime ago now and I’m still here!  The difference is that now I love it and wouldn’t live anywhere else.  My family, friends and neighbours, even the lady in the queue next to me in the supermarket, are a constant source of inspiration to me.  Where would I be without them?

What inspired you to write the Much Winchmoor stories?

I was in my local pub one day and was, as is often the case, more interested in the conversations of others than listening to my husband and his friends bemoaning the sorry state of English rugby/cricket/weather or whatever their current moan was, when a voice rang out across the bar. “Well, everyone knows that Marjorie Hampton (not her real name) killed the Farm Shop”.  And that got me thinking.  (A) I knew the lady in question and she would never kill anyone or anything, least of all the local farm shop (Tesco’s managed to do that all on their own) and (B) why was that particular man so angry about it.  And then I started trying to answer that question.  The result was the 2 part serial I was talking about earlier.

How would you describe your books to someone who has never read one before?

Hmm, that’s a tricky one.  I suppose the genre is cosy/cozy crime but, I like to think, with a difference.  It’s more like what would happen if Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum was transported to rural Somerset.  Kat, my main character, is feisty, with an answer for everything.  She’s also been likened to Sue Grafton’s Kinsey Mahone and M.C. Beaton’s Agatha Raisin.  So she’s in pretty good company.

What’s the best compliment you’ve received about your books?

I think the best compliment of all is that someone has taken the trouble to read one of them and I am grateful to each and everyone of my readers, particularly those who are kind enough to leave a review.  I treasure every single one.

But one of my most treasured compliments came from a story I wrote for Woman’s Weekly.  It was about a widow, struggling to come to terms with her husband’s sudden death,  who was persuaded to keep a journal to write down her feelings.  She did so quite reluctantly but gradually came to discover just how very therapeutic writing can be. (And there’s a lovely rescue dog in the story as well).  The magazine forwarded a letter they’d received from a reader, saying that she too had been recently widowed and that after reading my story, had tried keeping a journal.  And it had worked!  She found (as all writers know) that writing can be the best therapy.  That just blew me away!

In fact, while I’m thinking about it, I am going to put that story on my blog,  It can be found here.

Do you have any favourite authors? What is it about them or their work that appeals to you?

I’m going to start with Agatha Christie because my mother introduced her to me when I was 12 and I’ve loved her writing ever since.  I also love Charlotte Bronte and reread Jane Eyre every few years.

I’m very lucky to be published by Crooked Cat/Darkstroke and have found some brilliant new to me authors there.  Another great way I’ve come across new to me authors is by joining the UK Crime Book Club on Facebook, which is where I came across you, Robert, as well as many other great crime writers.  It’s a brilliant group with a good mix of writers and readers of crime fiction.

If you could invite four guests (fictional or real, alive or dead) for dinner, who would you choose and why?

I’d invite Alan Coren (because he was so clever and witty and I miss him, even now, after all this time); Inspector Morse (because I really enjoyed both the books and the TV series and I have never watched or read the last one where he dies! Also because I share his love of choral music and crosswords although I’m not nearly as good at them as he was) ;  Mrs Phillips, my English teacher from school to whom I owe so much.  I’d love to have met her as an adult – although I’m not sure what she would make of my books!  And finally, I’d love my mother to be there.  She died many years ago but instilled in me a love of reading that has never left me.  I would dearly love to see her face when I place one of my books in her hand.  I think she’d have been proud – although she’d probably tell me that Agatha Christie would have tidied things up better – and, of course, she’d be right!

Please tell me about your latest project/plans for the future.

I’ve just finished an 8-part serial for the People’s Friend magazine and am now working through the edits for my third Much Winchmoor book, Burying Bad News, which is to be published on March 17th.  I’m really looking forward to getting the edits out of the way, as the fourth book in the series in clamouring to be heard.  It’s a bit crowded inside my head at the moment.

Thank you for the glimpse into your world, Paula. It’s always a delight to talk to authors who love what they do as much as you. Your enjoyment and sense of fun shine through in your writing.

Good luck with Burying Bad News.

Social Media Links

Blog – paulawilliamswriter.wordpress.com

Facebook author page – https://www.facebook.com/paula.williams.author.

Twitter –  @paulawilliams44.

Website –  paulawilliamswriter.co.uk

Instagram – paulawilliams_author

Amazon links to the Much Winchmoor Mysteries

https://mybook.to/murderservedcold

Murder Served Cold

https://mybook.to/roughanddeadly

Rough and deadly

https://mybook.to/buryingbadnews

One severed head, two warring neighbours – and a cold-blooded killer stalks Much Winchmoor. There’s the murder made to look like a tragic accident, and a missing husband. Could he be victim number two?

The tiny Somerset village is fast gaining a reputation as the murder capital of the West Country, and once again, reporter/barmaid/dog walker Kat Latcham finds herself reluctantly dragged into the investigation.

Things are looking bad for Ed Fuller, the husband of one of Kat’s oldest friends. Kat’s convinced he’s innocent – but she’s been wrong before.

Has Kat come across her biggest challenge yet?

Fans of Janet Evanovich could well enjoy this “funky, modern day nosey detective” transported to the English countryside. The third Much Winchmoor mystery is, as always, spiked with humour and sprinkled with a touch of romance.

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.

Description

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.

Description

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

Interview on Fictionophile

My thanks to Lynne LeGrow for some interesting and entertaining questions.

‘There’s nothing better than knowing others enjoy the story you wrote. That’s why I write.’

Read the full interview here.

 

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.

Description

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

No Mercy – Interview on Books Teacup and Reviews

My thanks to Yesha for some intriguing and enjoyable questions.

‘The challenge is invariably the same with all my books – keeping it fresh and credible, which isn’t easy when your main character isn’t a police officer or private detective.’

Read the full interview of Books Teacup and Reviews.

 

The challenge of writing a series

‘The Kent Fisher murder mysteries are a long way from the cop with a trauma, which seems to be one of the current trends in crime fiction. They’re traditional murder mysteries, driven by both character and plot to entertain readers.’

If you want to find out more about why I write the Kent Fisher mysteries, you can read the guest post at Between the Lines

My thanks to Cathy at Between the Lines for letting me spread the word.