The Body in the Dales by JR Ellis

31st December 2018 – 4 stars

I enjoyed The Body in the Dales, the first in a series featuring Yorkshire detective Jim Oldroyd. The gentle pace, the evocative setting of the Dales, both above and below ground, the villages and the characters that live there, firmly established this story as a traditional, cosy whodunit.

Usually, this means that the crime will be solved as much, if not more by deduction than forensic science and DNA profiling. This proved to be the case and it helped to sustain the suspense as the story progressed, as did the intriguing plot.

The body discovered in an underground cave generated a lot of suspects among the caving community in Burnthwaite village and I found it difficult to remember who was who. In part this was down to the number of suspects and the fact that the victim seemed to have slept with every wife in the village. Apart from jealous husbands, many of the men had also had dubious dealings with the victim.

I couldn’t help wondering why no one had beaten up this guy long before someone killed him.

The characterisation of the trio of detectives felt a little clichéd at times and i can’t help feeling Jim Oldroyd would have come across better had his character been shown by actions, rather than told by his colleagues. This didn’t spoil my enjoyment thanks to the easy going style, the author’s love of the Yorkshire Dales, and the original plot.

 

Description

An unpopular victim. An impossible crime. A murderer on the loose.

A body is discovered deep in a cave beneath the Yorkshire Dales. Leading the investigation into the mysterious death are experienced DCI Jim Oldroyd and his partner DS Carter, a newcomer from London.

The deceased is Dave Atkins, well known throughout the village but not well liked. While there is no shortage of suspects, the details of the crime leave Oldroyd and Carter stumped. How did Atkins’s body end up in such a remote section of the cave? When someone with vital information turns up dead, it becomes clear that whoever is behind the murders will stop at nothing to conceal their tracks.

Oldroyd and his team try to uncover the truth, but every answer unearths a new set of questions. And as secrets and lies are exposed within the close-knit community, the mystery becomes deeper, darker and more complex than the caves below.

The Body in the Dales

 

Caught by Harlan Coben

23rd December 2018 – 5 stars

The author’s distinctive voice and style immediately drew me into this complex, twisting story that kept me hooked and guessing to the final pages. The characterisation of both major and minor characters was superb, with compassionate and insightful detail that brought them to life within seconds.

As for the story, well it certainly covers some ground. An investigative reporter snares a suspected paedophile for her TV show and then questions whether she’s destroyed the life of an innocent man. Innocent or guilty? Exploring both sides of this question not only underpins and drives the story, it reveals what happens when a community discovers it may have misjudged one of its own.

And just when you think all the loose ends have been tied … there’s one more twist.

Excellent writing, storytelling and characterisation not only entertains, but lives long in the memory for dealing with a controversial issue in a compassionate, non-judgemental manner that offers some intriguing insights into human and community behaviour.

This was my first Harlan Coben novel and I look forward to reading many more.

Description

Haley McWaid never gave her parents a moment’s worry. Until one morning her mother wakes to find that her seventeen-year-old daughter didn’t come home the night before.

The community is stunned by her loss. Three months pass without a word and everyone assumes the worst.

Wendy Tynes is a reporter on a mission: to identify and bring down sexual predators. Her latest target is a social worker known as a friend to troubled teens.

But Wendy soon realises she can’t trust her own instincts – or the motives of the people around her – and that this story is more twisted than she could have imagined…

 

Caught Harlan Coben

Not Dead Yet by Peter James

4th December 2018 – 5/5 stars.

Peter James always comes up with original plots that entertain, intrigue and delight. This time, it’s the world of the superstar singer/actor that gets the Roy Grace treatment as Brighton born Gaia returns to her home town to make a film.

Little does she know that there’s an embittered writer who believes his script was stolen and an obsessive fan that will go to any lengths to be number one and meet Gaia. And with a dismembered body discovered on a poultry farm, the stage is set for another exciting crime story that twists and turns as it builds to an action-packed climax.

Apart from the superlative detail the author puts into his novels, he creates some brilliant and memorable characters, getting into their minds to bring them to life with great skill. Whether it’s an obsessive fan, an obnoxious film producer or a coke-snorting actor, these characters are so vivid and believable. And then there’s Roy Grace’s team with its camaraderie, tensions and odd but likeable characters, like the anachronistic Norman Potting.

The detailed descriptions of Brighton Pavilion, the film sets and trailers and the lives of the main characters add to the enjoyment of a story that offers a couple of intriguing subplots to threaten the cosy life Roy Grace is building for himself with Cleo. I look forward to following the backstory in the next novel, alongside another intriguing investigation.

If you haven’t read Peter James, where have you been? I’d urge you to start at the beginning of the series with Dead Simple so you can follow the development of the characters through the series. It will improve your enjoyment of all the books.

(And I resisted the temptation to mention fowl play.)

Description

For LA producer Larry Brooker, this is the movie that could bring the fortune that has so long eluded him . . .

For rock superstar, Gaia, desperate to be taken seriously as an actor, this is the role that could get her an Oscar nomination. . .

For the City of Brighton and Hove, the publicity value of a major Hollywood movie being filmed on location, about the city’s greatest love story – between King George IV and Maria Fitzherbert – is incalculable.

For Detective Superintendent Roy Grace of Sussex CID, it is a nightmare unfolding in front of his eyes. An obsessed stalker is after Gaia. One attempt on her life is made days before she leaves her Bel Air home to fly to Brighton. Now, he has been warned, the stalker may be at large in his city, waiting, watching, planning.

Not Dead Yet is the eighth novel featuring Detective Superintendent Roy Grace, from the number one bestselling author Peter James.

Not Dead Yet

Seven Bridges by LJ Ross

21st November 2018 – 4/5 stars

Once again, the author delivers another terrific story, filled with tension, suspense and superlative writing as someone starts blowing up the bridges over the River Tyne. Is it a terrorist, trying to bring Newcastle to a standstill, or is there a more sinister mind at work?

LJ Ross captured the horror, disbelief and fear of a city, dealing with the aftermath of a bomb and the threat of a second unless a ransom is paid. At times, I couldn’t put the book down, deeply affected by the quality of the writing and the very real reactions of the public and police.

DCI Ryan was his usual impeccable self, taking everything in his stride, even with the distraction of a fellow officer and friend under arrest for murdering Detective Superintendent Jennifer Lucas. Even as the minutes ticked away, with the threat of another explosion imminent, you knew he would battle through and find the bomber.

I had to suspend disbelief as the story sped to a rapid resolution that felt a little rushed somehow. Maybe that accounted for a couple of small slips in procedure, which is unusual. I also found the plot far-fetched, which took the edge of my enjoyment, even though Seven Bridges was original and well written.

Everything else about the story was as good as I’ve come to expect from LJ Ross. Her characters and the camaraderie they share may seem a little too good to be true in these troubled times, but there’s enough negative press, violence and nastiness every night on the news.

Reading should be an escape into a magical world with characters you care about and every book in the series scores highly in this respect.

Description

It’s been five months since a killer walked free and DCI Ryan is preparing to leave Newcastle to hunt him down – this time, for good.

But Ryan’s plans are scuppered when events take a dramatic turn and he is forced to stay and face his past one last time, or watch a friend suffer the consequences.

Amid the chaos, another killer is preparing to strike. When the Tyne Bridge explodes, Ryan’s team are faced with a frantic race to uncover a deadly foe who won’t stop until every bridge is burned, along with everybody on it…

Murder and mystery are peppered with romance and humour in this fast-paced crime whodunit set amidst the spectacular Northumbrian landscape.

Seven Bridges

Outside Looking In by Michael Wood

19th November 2018 – 5/5 stars.

Every once in a while a story comes along that blows your socks off. It’s not just the story that stands out from the rest, but the writing, characterisation, plotting and emotional content, combining to create a brilliant novel.

Outside Looking In, the second in the Matilda Darke series, is one of those stories. I loved every minute, every page, from the dark, but compelling opening to the final twists and revelations at the end. Central to my enjoyment is the character of DCI Matilda Darke, a damaged officer, whose vulnerability is challenged almost daily as she teeters on the brink of a breakdown due to past mistakes and losses. Her strength, refusal to be beaten and friendship with Adele, save the day but provide some emotional drama to add to the dark and twisting plot that starts with an horrific murder and attack.

Like all good dramas, the plot is filled with tension and suspense as the police struggle to get a handle on the murders. The local newspaper doesn’t help, slurring Darke’s character and abilities. There’s an old enemy, lurking in the wings, and plenty of potential suspects to confound the reader, but once it starts to fall into place, it’s a terrific ride to the climax.

While Outside Looking In can be read as a standalone, treat yourself to the first book, For Reasons Unknown (click here for my review), before you do. Not only will you read another cracking story, but you will get so much more from the characters and relationships.

Outside Looking In is without doubt my favourite crime novel so far in 2018.

Description

When elderly George Rainsford goes to investigate a suspicious noise one night, the last thing he expects to find is a bloodbath. A man has been killed and a woman brutally beaten, left for dead.

The victims are Lois Craven and Kevin Hardaker – both married, but not to each other. Their spouses swear they knew nothing of the affair and, besides, they both have alibis for the attack. With nothing else to link the victims, the investigation hits a dead end.

The pressure is on for investigating officer, DCI Matilda Darke: there’s a violent killer on the loose, and it looks like her team members are the new targets. With no leads and no suspects, it’s going to take all Matilda’s wits to catch him, before he strikes again.

Outside Looking In

 

Gallows View by Peter Robinson

12th November 2018 – 4/5 stars

First published in the late 1980s, Gallows View focuses on the characters and day to day police work in a provincial Yorkshire Dales town. The story follows a series of petty crimes that escalate into more serious ones, dealing with the effects on the victims, perpetrators and police officers.

The story is well-observed and written, easy to read and follow with a gentle pace that allows you to engage with the characters and the issues they have to deal with. In many ways, it reminds me of the Frost series by R D Wingfield, which took a similar approach to the police procedural.

While I prefer the pace, tension and issues covered by today’s crime fiction, Gallows View is still an absorbing and intelligent tale that sustained my interest to the last page.

Description

Detective Chief Inspector Alan Banks has recently relocated with his family to the Yorkshire Dales from stressful London but soon finds that life in the countryside is not quite as idyllic as he had imagined.

Three cases come to the fore: a voyeur is terrorizing the women of Eastvale. Two thugs are breaking into homes, and an old woman is dead, possibly murdered. As the tension mounts, Banks must also deal with his attraction to a young psychologist Jenny Fuller, and when both Jenny and Banks’s wife are drawn deeper into events Banks realizes that his cases are weaving closer and closer together.

Gallows View

Silent Scream by Angela Marsons

4th November 2018 – 4/5 stars

Every once in a while a book hits you with such force, it can leave you breathless.

There are no compromises with Silent Scream, the first in the DI Kim Stone series. The detective at the heart of the story is a tour de force – bold, brash and uncompromising, driven by a traumatic past that seems almost obligatory in crime fiction these days.

Her blunt manner makes her unlikeable and a little unbelievable, especially when she tears up the rule book if it hinders her investigation. But there’s method to her passion, as her investigation into three murdered children from a care home evokes memories of her own traumatic childhood in care.

The trouble is, the author continued to remind me about this troubled childhood. While some of the references were appropriate to the plot and for explaining Kim’s motivation and uncompromising behaviour, I didn’t need continual reminders of her difficult childhood. At times, it felt like it was being bludgeoned into my memory.

But as the body count rose and the investigation gathered pace, I came to admire Kim’s drive and personal crusade to find the killer and bring him to justice. It still led to a tense and exciting climax as killer and detective faced each other. Another twist followed to tie up the final loose end, but it felt a little hollow after all the excitement before, dragging out the conclusion of the story.

I know many readers are not concerned about the accuracy of police procedures in crime fiction, but inaccuracies can weaken credibility and jolt the reader out of the story.

Having grabbed me by the throat, Silent Scream left me feeling a little dissatisfied rather than breathless. It’s a shame as it’s a compelling story, quite unique, with a dynamic central character, but the distinctive tone and style were pushed too hard and too often for my liking. A little restraint would have done the trick.

Description

Five figures gather round a shallow grave. They had all taken turns to dig. An adult sized hole would have taken longer. An innocent life had been taken but the pact had been made. Their secrets would be buried, bound in blood …

Years later, a headmistress is found brutally strangled, the first in a spate of gruesome murders which shock the Black Country.

But when human remains are discovered at a former children’s home, disturbing secrets are also unearthed. D.I. Kim Stone fast realises she’s on the hunt for a twisted individual whose killing spree spans decades.

As the body count rises, Kim needs to stop the murderer before they strike again. But to catch the killer, can Kim confront the demons of her own past before it’s too late?

Silent Scream

No Time for Goodbye by Linwood Barclay

2nd November 2018 – 4/5 stars

I loved the idea behind this story. Imagine waking up one morning to discover that the rest of your family have disappeared. No note, no clues, no warnings. And 25 years later, you still don’t know what happened to them or why they disappeared.

No wonder Cynthia asks a reality TV show to produce a reconstruction to see if it will jog anyone’s memory. And that’s when things start to go wrong and fractures appear in her marriage. But having started, she can’t bail out now, not as events take several sinister turns.

The characters are well drawn and believable on the whole, though I did have to suspend disbelief a little as the mystery unravelled towards the end. All the loose ends are neatly tied, with an added twist when it looks like everything is resolved.

The story was a little laboured in the early stages to show the ‘perfect’ small town family. The screw was turned slowly, inching up the tension, testing the trust between husband and wife as their world began to turn inside out. But once the plot gathered momentum, it was more like a thriller with lots of pace and action, leading to an exciting climax.

The twist that followed was a bit of an anti-climax, no matter how necessary it was to tie up the final loose end, but it didn’t detract from an exciting, carefully crafted story with an ingenious premise.

Think twice before you stir up the past.

4/5 stars.

Description

On the morning she will never forget, suburban teenager Cynthia Archer awakes with a nasty hangover and a feeling she is going to have an even nastier confrontation with her mom and dad. But when she leaves her bedroom, she discovers the house is empty, with no sign of her parents or younger brother Todd. In the blink of an eye, without any explanation, her family has simply disappeared.

Twenty-five years later Cynthia is still haunted by unanswered questions. Were her family murdered? If so, why was she spared? And if they’re alive, why did they abandon her in such a cruel way? Now married with a daughter of her own, Cynthia fears that her new family will be taken from her just as her first one was. And so she agrees to take part in a TV documentary revisiting the case, in the hope that somebody somewhere will remember something – or even that her father, mother or brother might finally reach out to her . . .

Then a letter arrives which makes no sense and yet chills Cynthia to the core. And soon she begins to realise that stirring up the past could be the worst mistake she has ever made.

No Time for Goodbye

Dead Man’s Grip by Peter James

21st October 2018. 5/5 stars for another inventive plot and stylish addition to the Roy Grace series.

The story starts with a road accident that spirals out of control when the police discover the victim belongs to a New York Mafia family. His mother decrees that everyone involved in the accident should suffer. Tooth, a pragmatic, no nonsense hitman sets off for Brighton to deliver the contract.

This was the first Peter James novel I ever read several years ago. I enjoyed it on that occasion, but the book made a much greater impact this time around. Having read the previous six Roy Grace novels, I had a better appreciation of the characters, the setting and the backstories, which made for a more fulfilling read..

I love the detail Peter James incorporates into his stories, whether it’s police procedure, the description of the various settings or the little things that bring the characters to life. Of course, the main characters have personal issues and problems that test them as they struggle to keep pace with Tooth, who must be one the best hitmen I’ve come across in crime fiction. While he’s a ruthless assassin, this is offset by a dry, dark humour that underpins every appearance he makes.

The pace and action accelerated towards a nail biting climax in Shoreham Harbour that left me breathless. And like most of the Roy Grace novels, there was still time for a final sting in the tail at the end.

Simply brilliant.

Description

I want them to suffer, and I want them dead. . .

Carly Chase is still traumatised after being in a fatal traffic accident which kills a teenage student from Brighton University. Then she receives news that turns her entire world into a living nightmare.

The drivers of the other two vehicles involved have been found tortured and murdered. Now Detective Superintendent Roy Grace of the Sussex Police force issues a stark and urgent warning to Carly: She could be next.

The police advise Carly her only option is to go into hiding and change her identity. The terrified woman disagrees – she knows these people have ways of hunting you down anywhere. If the police are unable to stop them, she has to find a way to do it herself. But already the killer is one step ahead of her, watching, waiting, and ready …

Dead Man's Grip

Dark Skies by LJ Ross

5th October 2018 – 4/5 stars

After Cragside’s detour into the whodunit, it’s good to be back into the more familiar police procedural format. This time a murder from thirty years ago leads to more killings in the present day and another serial killer on the loose.

Ryan has the added challenge of a new boss, Detective Superintendent Lucas, who arrives with unfinished business and a score to settle. She starts by dividing and conquering, splitting up the team, befriending the weakest member, while chaining Ryan to his desk to do more ‘management’.

Because Lucas is so obsessive, with only a few hints about what caused the rift with Ryan, she felt a little predictable and wooden. Her battle with Ryan also contributed to an ending I understood, but found frustrating.

But it won’t stop me reading the next novel to find out how the various threads of the story develop. My quibbles are minor for a story that’s well-written and crafted, entertaining, filled with engaging and charismatic characters, and loaded with tension, suspense and welcome doses of humour.

Description

Beware what lies beneath…

One fateful, starry night, three friends embark on a secret camping trip but only two return home. Thirty years later, the body of a teenage boy rises from the depths of England’s biggest reservoir and threatens to expose a killer who has lain dormant…until now.

Detective Chief Inspector Ryan returns from honeymoon to face danger from all sides. In the depths of Kielder Forest, a murderer has escaped justice before and will do anything to protect the secrets of the past. Meanwhile, back at Northumbria CID, an old foe has taken the helm as Superintendent and is determined to destroy Ryan at any cost.

Who will prevail in Ryan’s most dangerous case yet?

Murder and mystery are peppered with romance and humour in this fast-paced crime whodunit set amidst the spectacular Northumbrian landscape.

Dark Skies