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

A Clerical Error by J New

4/5 stars. Good writing and storytelling kept me entertained from start to finish.

Description

When the crime scene is pure coincidence and there’s no evidence, how do you prove it was murder?

Ella Bridges faces her most challenging investigation so far when the vicar dies suddenly at the May Day Fete. But with evidence scarce and her personal life unravelling in ways she could never have imagined, she misses vital clues in the investigation.

Working alongside Sergeant Baxter of Scotland Yard, will Ella manage to unearth the clues needed to catch the killer before another life is lost? Or will personal shock cloud her mind and result in another tragedy?

‘A Clerical Error’ is set in 1930’s England, and is the third of The Yellow Cottage Vintage Mystery series.

My thoughts

I enjoyed The Curse of Arundel Hall, the second in the Yellow Cottage Vintage mystery series, which introduced me to Ella Bridges, a woman of some substance, so I was looking forward to reading this.

With a personal mystery hanging over from the previous story, Ella soon becomes embroiled in the death of the local rector, who has only recently returned from his travels. While she seemed a little arrogant at times, there’s no mistaking her determination to organise the investigation and solve the mystery.

The style and atmosphere of the 1930s is beautifully evoked, leading to a gentle pace and style that allows the characters to shine through. I particularly like her aunt, who stole every scene she appeared in and helped Ella to solve the crime.

I found the solution a little convenient, but it was well set up and executed and doesn’t detract from the good writing and storytelling that kept me entertained from start to finish.

4/5 stars

A Clerical Error

Y is for Yesterday by Sue Grafton

4/5 stars. It’s sad that this will be Kinsey’s last adventure, but she bows out with her head held high at the end of a remarkable series.

Description

The darkest and most disturbing case report from the files of Kinsey Millhone, Y is for Yesterday begins in 1979, when four teenage boys from an elite private school sexually assault a fourteen-year-old classmate–and film the attack. Not long after, the tape goes missing and the suspected thief, a fellow classmate, is murdered. In the investigation that follows, one boy turns state’s evidence and two of his peers are convicted. But the ringleader escapes without a trace.

Now, it’s 1989 and one of the perpetrators, Fritz McCabe, has been released from prison. Moody, unrepentant, and angry, he is a virtual prisoner of his ever-watchful parents–until a copy of the missing tape arrives with a ransom demand. That’s when the McCabes call Kinsey Millhone for help.

As she is drawn into their family drama, she keeps a watchful eye on Fritz. But he’s not the only one being haunted by the past. A vicious sociopath with a grudge against Millhone may be leaving traces of himself for her to find…

My thoughts

In what has sadly turned out to be Kinsey’s last investigation, she’s given a hot potato of a case where all the participants have plenty to hide. As she digs into the details with her usual tenacity, flashbacks to events ten years earlier show what really happened.

Meanwhile, lurking in the shadows is Ned Lowe, a violent killer with a score to settle. Add in a few domestic issues with Kinsey’s cousin and some unexpected visitors who take advantage of her landlord, Henry’s, hospitality, and there’s plenty to occupy my favourite private detective.

Reading Sue Grafton is always like meeting up with an old friend, catching up on events, revisiting familiar settings and the characters that bring such colour to the novels. Granted, the pace is often gentle (until the fireworks commence), but the stories are filled with intrigue and danger, laced with Kinsey’ sardonic observations and one-liners.

There was still time for a couple of neat twists to the story and a range of vivid characters to keep the story moving on to its exciting climax.

It’s sad that this will be Kinsey’s last adventure, but she bows out with her head held high at the end of a remarkable series. I tip my hat to anyone who can write a series of 25 novels, maintaining a consistently high standard of stories that entertain, intrigue and satisfy her fans.

I shall miss Kinsey Millhone, but I’m so glad I discovered Sue Grafton’s books 30 years ago. Something tells me I’ll be reading them again soon and for many years to come.

4/5 stars.

Y is for Yesterday

The Good Mother by Karen Osman

3/5 stars. The plot and the twist placed constraints on the way the story was told, draining much of the tension and suspense from it.

Description

How far would you go to protect your children?

A gripping psychological suspense, with a shocking twist that will leave you reeling…

Catherine is a good mother and a good wife. The family home is immaculate, her husband’s supper is cooked on time, but when she starts writing to Michael, a prisoner convicted of murder, she finds herself obsessing about his crime and whether he can ever truly be forgiven…

Kate has no time for herself. Caught in the maelstrom of bringing up two young children with no money, and an out-of-work husband, she longs to escape the drudgery of being a wife and a mother. And she soon starts taking dangerous risks to feel alive…

Alison has flown the nest. But university life is not what she had hoped for, and she finds herself alone and unhappy. Until the day her professor takes a sudden interest in her. Then everything changes…

Three women – all with secrets. And as the days tick down to Michael’s release, those secrets can no longer be ignored.

My thoughts

I was puzzled when I finished this book – not at the ending, but my reaction to it. The shocking twist didn’t leave me reeling – quite the opposite.

“Is that it?” I thought, not sure why I felt flat. The story is well-written, cleverly plotted, and I thought the characterisation of Kate, Alison and Catherine was excellent overall. They came to life from the first paragraph and kept me intrigued as their stories unfolded.

I don’t think the tagline – gripping psychological suspense, with a shocking twist that will leave you reeling – was to blame. I ignore these overblown and all-too-frequent claims by publishers. However, this didn’t feel like psychological suspense to me. The tension didn’t build or grip me, especially towards the end when two of the story strands faded out.

This turned out to be necessary for the twist.

And that’s why I felt flat. The plot and the twist took over. They placed constraints on the story and the way it was told to disguise the twist. The resulting compromises affected character behaviour and some of the decisions made by the women. The overall result, I feel, was to drain much of the tension and suspense from the story.

It’s a shame because I think the author is talented. She brought the characters to life with some excellent writing and insights, and had she not gone for the clever plot and twist, I think The Good Mother could have been a tense, suspenseful story.

3/5 stars.

The Good Mother

Not Dead Enough by Peter James

5/5 stars. I hope Peter James enjoyed writing this story as much as I enjoyed reading it.

Description

Appearances can be deceptive; but the truth is a dangerous thing . . .

On the night Brian Bishop murdered his wife he was sixty miles away, asleep in bed at the time. At least that’s the way it looks to Detective Superintendent Roy Grace, who is called in to investigate the kinky slaying of beautiful socialite, Katie Bishop.

Roy Grace soon starts coming to the conclusion that Bishop has performed the apparently impossible feat of being in two places at once. Has someone stolen his identity or is he simply a very clever liar?

As Roy Grace digs deeper behind the façade of the Bishops’ outwardly respectable lives, it becomes clear that everything is not at all as it first seemed. Then he digs just a little too far, and suddenly the fragile stability of his own troubled world is facing destruction . . .

Not Dead Enough is the third bestselling title in the Detective Superintendent Roy Grace series from the number one bestselling author Peter James.

My thoughts

I hope Peter James enjoyed writing this story as much as I enjoyed reading it.

I loved it from the first page to the last, revelling in the wickedly devious plot that began with a murder and a clear suspect in Brian Bishop. Only he didn’t do it. He’s adamant about that. And I agreed with him, even when the evidence began to build up against up him. And then I worked it out, which increased my enjoyment as I watched the plot twist and turn, the tension build. Only I was wrong, because along came another masterful twist to sweep me into the dramatic endgame, which left me breathless by the end.

It’s a long story, but it will live longer in my memory for many reasons.

The author’s customary attention to detail not only adds realism and authenticity – it builds trust in the reader, building a bond that increased my enjoyment and admiration. After the previous novel, Looking Good Dead¸ (read my review here) I wanted to learn more about Roy Grace’s life and the mystery of his wife’s disappearance. Then there’s the politics of policing, struggling with decreasing budgets, concerns about how the Crown Prosecution Service will view the case – still highly relevant and part of the climate today.

All these factors support and enhance a terrific plot and crime story that I would recommend to anyone.

Peter James is a writer at the top of his game and an inspiration.

5 stars

February 2018

Not Dead Enough

The Missing Children by MA Comley

3/5 stars. The story had a decent pace and plenty of drama as it flicked between the police and the abductors of the children.

Description

The first gripping thriller in the DI Kayli Bright trilogy.

“I want my mummy…”

The whisper seems to echo through the rooms of the abandoned house. DI Kayli Bright and her partner, DS Dave Chaplin, aren’t strangers to dealing with bad cases, but no one can prepare for the emotional and mental anguish caused by the discovery of a child’s remains.

Determined to find the responsible culprit, several of the dead child’s family members surface on their radar of suspects…until they learn of another child’s abduction.

The investigation leads Kayli to the shocking conclusion that even more children in the area have been abducted. A race against time ensues to find the children before they get lost in a sinister, evil world.

My thoughts

I’m always interested in trying an author I haven’t read before and overall I enjoyed The Missing Children. The story had a decent pace and plenty of drama as it flicked between the police and the abductors of the children. Due to the subject matter, there was a high emotional level on all sides. The author wanted to show how crimes against children affect the investigating police officers, but this seemed to be at the expense of their professionalism and objectivity.

The story felt rushed and as a result the characters didn’t feel fully developed to me. They came across a bit lightweight and preachy. Some of the banter between DI Bright and DS Chaplin didn’t sound realistic as they seemed to be talking moral messages at times. The two of them also seemed to run around, carrying out most of the investigation themselves, despite having a team to support them.

While I welcomed her tenacity and commitment, DI Bright seemed to skip round police procedures and even break a few rules. I know all mavericks do this, but she didn’t strike me as a maverick no matter how well-intentioned and determined she was. Ultimately, this lack of professionalism starts to affect the credibility of the characters and story.

However, the action sequences were dramatic and well-handled, and the story was neatly wrapped up at the end.

3/5 stars

The Missing Children

Will to Live by Rachel Amphlett

5/5 stars. The story flies along like an express train, packed with suspense, excitement and twists as it races towards the exciting and satisfying climax.

Description

When a packed commuter train runs over a body on a stretch of track known to locals as ‘Suicide Mile’, it soon transpires that the man was a victim of a calculated murder.

As the investigation evolves and a pattern of murders is uncovered, Detective Sergeant Kay Hunter realises the railway’s recent reputation may be the work of a brutal serial killer.

With a backlog of cold cases to investigate and attempting to uncover who is behind a professional vendetta against her, Kay must keep one step ahead of both the killer and her own adversaries.

When a second murder takes place within a week of the first, she realises the killer’s timetable has changed, and she’s running out of time to stop him…

My thoughts

I couldn’t wait to read the second novel in the Kay Hunter series, having enjoyed the first book, Scared to Death. Having read Will to Live, I can say that Rachel Amplett is fast becoming one of my favourite authors.

Will to Live begins with a suspicious death on a railway line renowned for suicides. But of course it’s a murder and the story flies along like an express train, packed with suspense, excitement and twists as it races towards the exciting and satisfying climax. The characters, including the villains, are well rounded and realistic, allowing readers to get into their heads and understand their motivations as the story rattles along, showing both sides of the murders.

Only one issue remains unresolved – who’s trying to undermine and destroy Kay’s career and possibly her life? Previous attempts to discredit Kay have failed, and with the support of Detective Inspector Sharp, she battles to restore her credibility, despite being constantly undermined by her Detective Chief Inspector Larch. With her husband’s support, she starts to probe, determined to discover who wants to destroy her, unaware of what she’s about to unleash. Then a colleague is badly beaten up after she uses his computer to do her digging.

The author’s direct style and the unusual but intriguing murders, distinguish this author’s work from the myriad of crime stories on the market. It’s easy to read and follow and you can’t help being drawn in by Kay’s resolve and determination to solve the crimes, despite the sinister threat to her future.

While you don’t need to read Scared to Death to enjoy this second in the series, why deny yourself the pleasures of a great book by an accomplished writer and storyteller?

Click here if you’d like to read my review of Scared to Death.

A well-deserved 5/5 stars.

Will to Live cover

A Narrow Victory by Faith Martin

3/5 stars. I liked the intriguing murder and plot, which was well developed, offering little in the way of suspects, but plenty of frustration for the investigators.

Description

Once again, ex-DI Hillary Greene is delving into the archives, trying to discover who killed an interior designer at a swanky New Year’s Eve Party in 1999.

Somebody clearly didn’t want Felix Olliphant to enjoy the momentous occasion of seeing in not only a brand new year, but a brave new millennium. The trouble is, the more she learns about her murder victim, the less likely it seems that anyone would want him dead – he was a genuinely decent human being, and she can’t find anyone with a bad word to say about him.

To add to her woes, it seems her lover and immediate superior, Detective Superintendent Steven Crayle, is being lured away from her team with offers of a promotion elsewhere.

Can she keep her mind on the job, and find out who killed Felix? Or is this the first cold case that will defeat even her?

My thoughts

I first came across the author in a review and rather liked the sound of the series, featuring Hilary Greene. If I’m not mistaken, this is #15 in the series, so I’ve missed a lot, which might explain why Hillary Greene sounded like Wonderwoman when I began reading. Clearly, she’s been through the mill and back in her previous adventures as a detective inspector. Though she’s now a civilian officer in a cold case squad, she’s still treated as a DI by her superiors and colleagues alike.

It didn’t matter as A Narrow Victory works as a stand alone, though you know reading the previous books would give you a fuller and better understanding of the characters. That said, there were two new, and very different, recruits to the cold case squad. One is a young, enthusiastic Goth, the other a successful millionaire from the dot-com era, wanting to put something back into society. Or does he?

This is one of two subplots that adds to the intrigue of a story that starts slowly, burdened by rather too much physical description of the characters and work for this reader. Once the cold case concerning the death of Felix Olliphant kicks off, the pace moves up a gear. The team track down witnesses and interview them once more, hitting dead ends at every turn.

It’s somewhat leisurely, with the bulk of the action confined to journeys in an E-type jaguar and lots of conversations over cups of tea. And then suddenly, there’s a breakthrough, an arrest and the story’s wrapped up, somewhat abruptly.

Overall, I enjoyed A Narrow Victory. I liked the intriguing murder and plot, which was well developed, offering little in the way of suspects, but plenty of frustration for the investigators. The characters were well-drawn and kept me engaged. Hillary Greene seemed a little too clever and almost too good to be true, which was a shame as she had the dogged determination and resilience needed to be an effective detective. But the story ended with a welcome note of intrigue, preparing for the next novel.

If you like a cosy mystery with likeable characters, and you don’t mind a gentle pace and lots of description, this should be right up your street.

3/5 stars

A Narrow Victory cover

Looking Good Dead by Peter James

December 2017

5/5 stars. Peter James’ meticulous research is legendary, creating a world filled with memorable characters and authentic detail

Description

One single act of kindness becomes an endless reign of terror. . .

Tom Bryce did what any decent person would do. But within hours of picking up the CD that had been left behind on the train seat next to him, and attempting to return it to its owner, he is the sole witness to a vicious murder. Then his young family are threatened with their lives if he goes to the police. But supported by his wife, Kellie, he bravely makes a statement to the murder enquiry team headed by Detective Superintendent Roy Grace, a man with demons of his own to contend with.

And from that moment the killing of the Bryce family becomes a mere formality – and a grisly attraction. Notice of Kellie and Tom’s deaths has already been posted on the internet. You can log on and see them on a website. They are looking good dead.

My thoughts

As Peter James has written 13 novels in the Roy Grace series, I’ve joined the party a little late, but that hasn’t spoiled my enjoyment. I liked the imaginative premise and storyline and plot of Dead Simple, the first Roy Grace novel, but loved Looking Good Dead.

With great skill and insight, the author weaves in the details that bring Roy Grace and his demons vividly to life. The disappearance of his wife, Sandy, still troubles him and prevents him from moving on. His admission of consulting a psychic medium for help with a case has become national news with the media ridiculing both Grace and Sussex Police. Naturally, his boss isn’t amused, threatening to transfer him away from his beloved Brighton unless he solves the case of the dismembered body, found headless in a field.

After finding a CD on a train, Tom Bryce, reports the vicious killing he finds on the disc and makes himself and his family targets for the killers.

Peter James’ meticulous research is legendary, and allows him to create a world filled with memorable characters and authentic detail. He took me into the heart of an incident room to follow the officers in the squad and their relationships with each other as they work tirelessly, often at great cost to their personal lives, to bring killers to justice. It adds both depth and authenticity to this thriller, as officers race against time to prevent more deaths.

The mix of personal and professional lives, combined with comment on modern policing, media hostility and funding cuts, created a vivid picture of the police today, and the additional struggles officers face in carrying out their duties. Mix in an original plot, populated by some truly evil killers and this novel delivers on every level.

While I may have arrived late, I’m certainly enjoying the party and looking forward to spending a lot more time there.

5/5 stars

Looking Good Dead

Scared to Death by Rachel Amphlett

5/5 stars. The story not only kept me interested from start to finish, but I enjoyed the dashes of humour.

Description

When the body of a snatched schoolgirl is found in an abandoned biosciences building, the case is first treated as a kidnapping gone wrong. But Detective Kay Hunter isn’t convinced, especially when a man is found dead with the ransom money still in his possession.

When a second schoolgirl is taken, Kay’s worst fears are realised.

With her career in jeopardy and desperate to conceal a disturbing secret, Kay’s hunt for the killer becomes a race against time before he claims another life.

For the killer, the game has only just begun…

Scared to Death is the first book in a crime thriller series featuring Kay Hunter – a detective with a hidden past and an uncertain future…

If you like the Kim Stone series by Angela Marsons, Peter James’ Roy Grace series and the Erika Foster series by Robert Bryndza, discover Rachel Amphlett’s new detective novels today.

My thoughts

I’ve been aware of Rachel Amphlett and the Kay Hunter series for some time, but it’s taken a while to get around to Scared to Death. It’s always good to start with the first in a series so you can watch the characters and stories develop over time. And I have to say, I thoroughly enjoyed every page of this book.

While I have no problem with profanities and violence in stories, I often find them unnecessary and overdone in a lot of stories. Rachel Amphlett’s skill as a storyteller meant she didn’t need gratuitous violence, description or profanities to tell a riveting and realistic story, which made it all the more enjoyable for me.

Her straightforward, no nonsense style is refreshing, allowing readers to imagine the characters, if they want to. There was a strong sense of place and time, especially in the rundown industrial estates of Maidstone, and the scenes in the police station seemed highly realistic and credible to me.

The story not only kept me interested from start to finish, but I enjoyed the dashes of humour, particularly the snake her veterinary husband brought home to look after. The humour, and Kay Hunter’s compassion, proved the perfect counterpoint to the chills and terror experienced by the victims.

Both Kay and the killer were vividly brought to life, adding to the drama and suspense of the intriguing and original plot.

And behind it all, there’s this uneasy menace, lurking in the dark. I suspect this will continue into the next story.

5/5 stars. Highly recommended.