Hell to Pay by Rachel Amphlett

5/5 stars. The story will live long in my mind as a brilliant example of crime writing at its best.

Description

When a road traffic accident on a dark autumn night uncovers a disturbing conspiracy, Detective Sergeant Kay Hunter’s investigation exposes a ruthless serial killer exploiting vulnerable young women.

With her enemies unmasked and her career spiralling out of control, Kay’s determination to seek vengeance for the victims brings her dangerously close to those who want to silence her.

Undeterred, she uncovers the real reason behind a plot to destroy her career and sets in motion a terrifying chain of events.

Could Kay’s need for revenge be her undoing, or will she survive to see justice served?

My thoughts

This series just gets better as the personal stakes continue to increase for Kay Hunter.

With yet another original story, filled with pace, suspense, tension and drama, the scale of the challenge facing Kay and her team is overwhelming. Factor in the lack of support from above, another branch of the police stepping in to take over the investigation, and a ruthless killer who’s orchestrates from a safe distance, and you have one hell of a story.

Kay’s determination to bring the killer who has caused her, and others, so much pain and grief made me fearful, hoping she wouldn’t let her anger blind her to danger. But of course, this is fiction, no matter how real it feels, and I simply couldn’t put the book down as the tension and threat built.

In the end, I was left breathless. The story will live long in my mind as a brilliant example of crime writing at its best. Bring on the next book.

Hell to Pay

 

Before I Left by Daisy White

4/5 stars. While this is a crime story, it is ultimately about the power of friendship to heal old wounds, protect those who are vulnerable, and offer hope for a new future.

Description

A LONG HOT SUMMER, A CITY BY THE SEA, AND A SERIAL KILLER ON THE LOOSE.

Nineteen-year-old runaway Ruby Baker and pregnant best friend Mary escape domestic violence in London to find a new home in Brighton. They join a glitzy set of party girls who are hell-bent on enjoying themselves in the new freedom of the 1960s.

But their new life soon comes under threat. Ruby keeps spotting a tall stranger in the shadows. Someone is watching her. This man may have followed them from London. And Ruby fears her dark secret will be exposed.

Then a murder at a local beauty spot brings more danger for the party-loving set, and the first murder is followed by a second. Rumours of occult sacrifices spread across town.

In a breath-taking conclusion, Ruby faces a race against time to save someone very close to her. Can she keep her secrets from being exposed and her new life from being destroyed?

My thoughts

I loved the evocation of 1960s Brighton, a city which buzzed with life and possibilities. The author brought the city and period to life with well-chosen details alongside the prevalent attitudes and dialogue for the times.

The camaraderie between the guys in Johnnie’s group was the glue that held everything together. They looked out for one another, partied together, and set about solving the murder of one of their own when they felt the police were lacking.

Behind all the glamour and buzz, secrets added to the tension and danger facing Ruby and her cousin, Mary.

While this is a crime story, it is ultimately about the power of friendship to heal old wounds, protect those who are vulnerable, and offer hope for a new future. Though slow to start, the story built to a terrific climax.

4/5 stars.

Before I Left

Dead Tomorrow by Peter James

5/5 stars. Peter James is a hugely talented and original author at the top of his profession. Another stunning crime novel.

Description

The body of a missing teenager is dredged from the seabed off the Sussex coast, missing vital organs. Soon after, a further two more bodies are found . . .

Caitlin Beckett, a fifteen-year-old in Brighton will die if she does not receive an urgent transplant. When the health system threatens to let her down her mother takes drastic action and goes to an online broker in black-market organs. The broker can provide what she wants, but it will come at a price.

As Detective Superintendent Roy Grace investigates the recovered bodies, he unearths the trail of a gang of child traffickers operating from Eastern Europe. Soon Grace and his team will find themselves in a race against time to save the life of a young street kid, while a desperate mother will stop at nothing to save her daughter’s life . . .

Dead Tomorrow is the fifth novel in the multi-million copy bestselling Detective Superintendent Roy Grace series from number one author Peter James

My thoughts

Once again, Peter James has explored another area of crime that shows the depths some villains will plumb to make money. In this case, organ transplants. Orphaned street kids, living hopeless lives on and below the streets of East European cities, discover the promise of a new life in England comes at a heavy price.

When Brighton police recover the bodies of three youngsters, minus vital organs, the hunt is on to find out who is behind these heinous crimes. For Detective Superintendent Roy Grace, who’s finally coming to terms with the disappearance of his wife many years ago, it’s the latest in a series of ingenious and compelling crimes that will test him and his faithful team to the limit.

Once again, the villains show no mercy as they go about their crimes, providing chilling examples of the depths some people can sink to in this world of ours. Thank goodness for detectives like Roy Grace, who will do everything, and then some, to stop these people and put them away. As always, the details and depiction of the characters, their crimes and in this story, the medical information, are authentic and compelling, making the story so lifelike it scares me to think this could be going on in the world.

Dead Tomorrow is another fast paced, compelling and chilling story that kept me hooked to the last page as the investigation gathers momentum and closes in on the criminals in the sedate Sussex countryside.

Peter James is a hugely talented and original author at the top of his profession.

5 stars.

Dead Tomorrow

Dead Man’s Footsteps by Peter James

5/5 stars. You can always rely on Peter James for an original and ingenious plot and story. Simply brilliant.

Description

Amid the tragic unfolding mayhem of the morning of 9/11, failed Brighton businessman and ne’er-do-well, Ronnie Wilson, sees the chance of a lifeline: to shed his debts, disappear and reinvent himself in another country. Six years later the discovery of the skeletal remains of a woman’s body in a storm drain in Brighton leads Detective Superintendent Roy Grace on an enquiry spanning the globe, and into a desperate race against time to save the life of a woman being hunted down like an animal in the streets and alleys of Brighton.

Dead Man’s Footsteps is the fourth novel in the multi-million copy bestselling Detective Superintendent Roy Grace series, from number one author Peter James.

My thoughts

The more Roy Grace novels I read, the more I enjoy them. Each one has a unique and ingenious plot that never fails to deliver an exciting and enjoyable read. And central to it all is Detective Superintendent Roy Grace as his trusty team, who work all the hours needed to solve some heinous crimes.

This one’s no different, with a story that spans the 9/11 disaster in New York to the mean streets of Brighton, where illusions are soon shattered for one young woman as the story alternates between the past and the present. Peter James never fails to create frightening villains who show no mercy or lack of ingenuity when it comes to disposing of their victims.

But then that’s the trademark of these great novels – authenticity. The police operations are revealed in detail that not only takes you inside the incident room, but through the internal and external politics, bureaucracy and camaraderie essential for maintaining sanity while dealing with the most horrific crimes.

Exciting, fast paced and full of surprises, I particularly enjoyed the depiction of the events during and after 9/11. While I cannot begin to imagine the horror of being there, Peter James brought it to life with such vivid detail, the terrible impact of that day took on a new meaning for me.

And after all the twists and turns and the thrilling climax on Beachy Head, the author still managed to slip in one final twist, right at the death.

It won’t be long before I start the next book in the series – just got to get my breath back.

5 stars.

Dead Mans Footsteps

A home from Holmes

Environmental health officer turned sleuth, Kent Fisher, faces his most baffling and challenging mystery to date in No Remorse, due for release next Monday, 7th May 2018. The mystery centres on the picturesque village of East Dean. Kent’s faithful assistant and West Highland Terrier, Columbo, has already sniffed out the first clue.

Sherlock Holmes Cottage

Nestled in a valley of the South Downs, a mile inland from Birling Gap on the coast, East Dean once had a famous resident. If you look closely at the left hand side of the flint cottage in the photograph above, you’ll notice a blue plaque on the wall.

Sherlock Holmes plaque

I wanted to pay tribute to one of my favourite detectives in No Remorse, and set Nightingales, the luxury care home at the centre of the mystery, in East Dean. Its owner is Kieran Sherlock, who runs Sherlock’s Homes, a company providing residential care for the well-heeled. It sounds corny, I know, but the links to the fictional detective continue with receptionist, Louise Watson, who soon catches Kent’s eye.

Nightingales is a fictional home, set above the village on the slopes of the South Downs, close to the house you can see in the photo below.

No visit to East Dean would be complete without a stop at the Tiger Inn on the village green. While Kent interviews Miss Watson inside, Columbo sniffs out yet another clue to solve the baffling mystery surrounding Anthony Trimble’s death at Nightingales.

‘No Remorse echoes more modern crime novels, such as the alphabet mysteries of Sue Grafton and Peter Robinson’s Inspector Banks books.’
Will Hatchett, editor of Environmental Health News.

Click here to read the full review.

No Remorse is available for pre-order on Amazon and published on 7th May 2018.

Only the Dead by Malcolm Hollingdrake

3/5 stars. I enjoy something different from the norm, and the standard of writing was high, with some terrific descriptive passages and plenty of authentic detail.

Description

Meet DCI Cyril Bennett, a man with a passion for manners and efficiency, as well as an eye for the ladies. His partner, DS David Owen, is naïve and untidy but keen. Together they make a formidable pair.

When the discovery of two infants’ bodies is made at a Teacher Training College, Bennett and Owen are given the case. Soon a number of suspects are identified.

At the same time, a killer is on the loose staging attacks using sulphur mustard.

Is there a link between the infants’ bodies and the sulphur mustard attacks?

Do the answers lie in the past or the present?

Bennett and Owen must work together to bring to justice a killer with revenge on his mind.

My thoughts

From the moment you start reading, it’s clear this is not going to be a conventional police procedural. I have to be honest and say I struggled with the opening chapters, which reveal a lot of detail about one of the two plots that compete for police resources. But once the story got going, the pace picked up and produced an enjoyable read with some exciting moments.

There’s Lawrence, a man bent on revenge for the way people in the care system mistreated his mother. His method of revenge is unusual and elaborate to say the least, but intriguing. I liked the care and attention lavished on him as it helped to explain his motives without condoning his actions.

The second plot strand involved some missing children, whose remains are found. Inquiries by DCI Bennet and DS Owen soon put them on the trail of a gang of ruthless villains, who exploit the most vulnerable for financial reward. There’s a great deal of detail and information about the villains and their operations, which help to lend credibility and realism to their crimes. There are also some ingenious plot twists to keep you guessing.

But I didn’t feel the same detail and attention was given to the police side of things. This might explain why I struggled to warm to DCI Bennett or Owen. Neither engaged me, perhaps because I didn’t really get to know their characters. I would have preferred a little more time being invested in their characters and the police investigation. No doubt the characters will grow and develop as the series progresses.

I also found it difficult to work out who was talking in a quite a few places. This took me out of the story as I had to backtrack to work out which characters were saying what. I had trouble distinguishing Peter and Phillip, for example, who seemed more like twins than lovers.

That said, I enjoy something different from the norm, and the standard of writing was high, with some terrific descriptive passages and plenty of authentic detail. The author did well to juggle the two competing plots, which help to show the pressures facing police officers, who often have to deal with many cases concurrently.

3/5 stars

Only the Dead

A Smuggler’s trail

No Remorse, the third Kent Fisher Mystery, has a cryptic puzzle at its core that has Kent Fisher following in the footsteps of the old smugglers, who made their living in this beautiful part of the South Downs.

Smugglers left their mark on the landscape of East Sussex, landing their contraband on the shingle beach at Cuckmere Haven above. From here, they took boats up the Cuckmere River, past the white horse on the hill near Litlington village.

Cuckmere River

If you look closely, you can make out the river behind Harvey and the chalk horse on the hill beyond. As the inspiration behind Kent Fisher’s dog, Columbo, Harvey’s keen to help me research the settings for the stories, especially if it involves a trip to the local pubs..

In Collins’ time the river was wider, making it easier to move goods by boat past Litlington village, which features in No Remorse, past St Andrews Church to Alfriston.

St Andrews Church

Stanton Collins, who ran the main gang, had his headquarters in Alfriston, a pretty village with many lovely old buildings.

In Waterloo Square at the centre of the village on the opposite side to the building above, stands Ye Olde Smugglers Inne, its weather boarded first floor housing the rooms used by the gangs.

The rich smuggling heritage not only plays a part in the history of this part of the South Downs, but offers some cryptic clues to baffle and test Kent Fisher as he tries to discover why Anthony Trimble was killed.

From looking back to moving forward

‘You were a bright lad, but you were in the wrong job.’

Two years ago, after 39 years of service, I quit my job in environmental health to write full time. I rang Ged, who was my first manager when I started as a student Environmental Health Officer (EHO) in 1977. He chuckled and said, ‘You were a bright lad, but you were in the wrong job.’

Looking back, he was probably right. But I never had the courage, conviction or support to become a writer, as you’ll see if you read my post, Alas Poor Robert.

It may have been the wrong job, but I loved environmental health. It’s one of the most varied and rewarding jobs you can imagine. You’re out and about, meeting people and finding solutions to all manner of problems and issues to protect and improve public health.

Like nursing and teaching, it’s a vocation. And like many public sector jobs, it’s suffered in the last ten years as funding cuts and the media’s deriding, but false image of local government have taken their toll.

managerI was managing a team of officers by then. I spent much of my time justifying my actions and decisions to senior management, councillors, colleagues, my team, the press, the public and numerous other government bodies. It seemed crazy to me as I was following policy, working efficiently, within budget, and providing a good service.

In the end I couldn’t take any more and quit.

It wasn’t an easy decision. I had doubts right up to the moment I pressed send to email my resignation, but I’ve no regrets.

Okay, it took me 39 years to find the right job, but during that time I was hardly idle. I wrote and struggled like many other aspiring authors, working into the early hours most nights. A couple of novels drew interest from agents, but not enough for them to take me on and nurture what talent I had.

WritingDuring the 1990s, I sold articles to national magazines and had a column in Writers’ Monthly magazine. It was a hard slog, fighting for recognition among the stalwarts and regulars that magazine editors favoured.

And I wanted to write novels – crime novels.

As the millennium stepped up to the horizon, I’d already created my protagonist, Kent Fisher. Like me, he was an EHO, but that’s where the similarity ended. Unlike me, he was ex-army, married to the wrong woman, and in desperate need of a vice to fit in with all the other detectives on TV.

Kent appeared in three novels, shifting and changing like a chameleon as ideas came and went.

I was running low on rejection slips to paper the walls at Crouch Corner, so I sent the second novel to publishers and agents here and in the USA. One agent read it from cover to cover, but didn’t take me on.

Around the same time, I was promoted to manager and once more writing took a back seat for a few years. I loved the new role to start with. There I was, in control, setting policy, leading my team. Then I discovered the joys of meetings, human resources and memos. I also spent a lot of time checking the holiday planner to make sure we had enough cover on Fridays.

I immersed myself in service plans, performance management reports, and reading my manager’s mind so I knew what his priorities were. Like many senior managers, he never felt the need to explain what he wanted done.

Fisher's Fables coverKeen to record and poke fun at these moments. I named it Fisher’s Fables after my gung-ho detective EHO and let him be my mouthpiece. I created a fictitious environmental health team, populated by imaginary officers, who worked for a mythical local authority in a town that didn’t exist.

Over the years the length of the blogs increased as the number of post each year decreased.

By then, Fisher’s Fables was almost a sitcom, with a healthy following, which included the Chief Executive. I don’t know if he was disappointed to discover he didn’t feature in the stories, or relieved.

And that’s when it hit me between the eyes.

Not the blog, or the Chief Executive, but the realisation I had a cast of characters for my Kent Fisher murder mystery novels. More importantly, I’d found my author voice.

I don’t know whether it took 39 years to develop this voice, but looking back the clues were there from the age of 16. If only I’d stopped to look, to take notice of what my gut was telling me.

But that’s a story for another day.

Looking back

Over to you

Did you ever realise you were in the wrong job? What did you do about it?

If you’d like to find out more about Kent Fisher and the mystery series, click here to visit my website.

Heavenfield by LJ Ross

5/5 stars. I love the atmospheric locations, the sinister backstory and the engaging central characters, all wrapped up in some great writing.

Description

The hunter becomes the hunted…

When a man is found dead at the remote church of Heavenfield, DCI Ryan is the only other person for miles around. The police have no weapon, no motive and no other suspects.

Already suspended from Northumbria CID, Ryan must fight to clear his name. But soon, more than his career is at stake when prominent members of the mysterious ‘Circle’ begin to die. Somebody wants Ryan’s name to be next on the coroner’s list and to survive he must unmask the devil who walks among them – before it is too late.

Unfortunately for Ryan, the devil looks just like everybody else…

My thoughts

The beauty of a series is getting to know the main characters a little better with each book. In Heavenfield it’s the way the main characters come together and rally round DCI Ryan that lifts a story where there’s so much going on. He’s under attack from ‘The Circle’, whose members seem to be ruthlessly purging anyone who threatens their existence or exposure.

The events in this story have been brewing in the previous two books and lead to an intense and complex plot with many threads and a rather neat twist at the end. Hats off to the author for keeping so many plates spinning. At times it felt like there was too much going on, diluting the tension, but the thrilling climax more than made up for this.

I love the atmospheric locations, the sinister backstory and the engaging central characters, all wrapped up in some great writing that makes for exciting and dramatic stories that are an absolute pleasure to read.

I can’t wait to find out how the team deal with the aftermath of this story in the next book, Angel. From the standard of writing so far, it promises to be another great book.

5/5 stars

Heavenfield