Murder at Home by Faith Martin

30th May 2021.

The murder of Flo Jenkins appears motiveless. This elderly lady is well loved and close to dying from cancer. Why would anyone stab her in her own front room?

This is the mystery facing DI Hillary Greene and her team in their fifth outing. Problems at headquarters also muddy the waters with a stalker sending nasty messages to Janine, who is about to marry the Chief Superintendent, Mel. Then there’s the new detective constable, transferred out of London after an incident.

And a former chief superintendent, who left under a cloud threatens to cause trouble for Hillary.

It’s all in a day’s work for Hillary as she rallies the team, deals with the internal problems and gets down to solving the murder with an inspired bit of lateral thinking. The murder is intriguing, the relationships within the team fascinating and laced with humour, and at the heart of it all, Hillary Greene shines, even though her love life is getting complicated.

This is another excellent and exciting episode in the series. Like all the books in the series so far, it can be read as a standalone, but then you’d miss out on the character development and relationships that are an integral and delightful part of stories.

Highly recommended.

Description

Flo Jenkins is found murdered in her armchair, a paperknife sticking out of her chest. The old woman was well liked and nothing seems to have been stolen from her home. And it was common knowledge that she only had weeks to live.

Why kill a dying woman? This is going to be one of the toughest cases yet for Hillary to solve.

Hillary also has to deal with a new colleague who has a terrible temper and a rocky past.

With no forensics, no leads, and only a drug-addict nephew as a suspect, will this be Hillary’s first failure to solve a murder case?

Murder at Home by Faith Martin

The Torso in the Town by Simon Brett

25th May 2021.

This is the third book in the Fethering mystery series, feature chalk and cheese neighbours Carole and Jude.

It starts with a dinner party at Pelling House, where Jude finds a mummified torso in the cellar. It isn’t long before Jude and Carole are returning to the small market town where it happened to investigate. Carole, however, is smarting from a breakup in a recent relationship, and isn’t as motivated as usual.

But it isn’t long before Jude’s befriending the locals, getting them invited to an important dinner party, and interviewing everyone with a connection to Pelling House over the years. As you would expect, there are plenty of characters in the town and even more suspects, once the body is identified.

Carole and Jude’s progress is a joy to behold as they get behind and under the façade of this sleepy town and its often pompous residents. I loved the author’s gentle mocking of middle class foibles, values and attitudes and the undercurrent of humour that keeps the story jogging along at a merry pace.

The descriptions and social commentary are a delight, the characters beautifully, an occasionally tragically, portrayed, and the investigation leads to an exciting climax, followed by an unexpected twist that adds to the reader’s pleasure.

If you enjoy a cosy mystery that’s original, sophisticated and fun, then this series is a treat and fast becoming one of my favourites.

Description

Grant and Kim Roxby had hoped that their first dinner party at Pelling House would make an impression with their new neighbours. And the next day it’s certainly the talk of the village in Fethering. For their guests – including the couple’s old friend Jude – had been enjoying a pleasant meal when they were rudely interrupted by a gruesome discovery. A human torso hidden in the cellar.

Carole and Jude turn amateur sleuths once again. They begin to question the locals, but they can’t help wondering why a town notoriously distrustful of outsiders is proving so terribly amenable to their enquiries . . .

The Torso in in the Town by Simon Brett

More than a Murder Mystery

Isn’t it lovely when readers surprise you?

Here I am, writing murder mysteries for crime fiction lovers, doing my best to create the most baffling and convoluted plots possible. Being a huge fan and admirer of Agatha Christie, I’ve studied her approach and techniques, determined to learn from the best-selling crime writer of all time.

When the reviews and feedback come in, I’m delighted when readers enjoy the plots, the complexity and the unexpected twists that lead to an exciting climax. But many of them love the characters and the backstory. They want Kent Fisher to find the woman of his dreams, to deal with his boss and the bureaucracy at work, and any number of issues the backstory generates.

And Kent’s West Highland white terrier, Columbo, steals every scene he’s in.

Harvey on sofa

Then I discover many of my readers don’t usually read crime fiction.

It’s a bit of a surprise, but a welcome bonus.

When I first started the series, I wanted to create something all the family could enjoy – the kind of TV crime drama that aired at 8pm on a Sunday evening, like Inspector Morse. That’s why there’s no excessive violence, no offensive swearing or graphic sex scenes.

I also wanted Kent Fisher to be rooted to a setting, to a dream and gave him his own animal sanctuary. He needed help, so I gave him a manager. He needed money, so I gave him wealthy parents – landed gentry to conflict with his principles and create some tension. As he was an environmental health officer by profession, there was a team and managers around him.

No AccidentWhen I started the first novel, No Accident, I had no idea how these characters and backstory would influence the books that followed, or the reactions of readers. Sometimes, it seems there’s as much drama in the backstory as the murder mystery.

I soon discovered that with each new book, I had to consider the backstory first. What was happening at Kent’s workplace that needed resolving? Was there anything at his sanctuary to consider? Then there were the main characters – his stepmother, Niamh, who started her own catering business. Gemma, his former lover and sidekick, was never far from his side. His continuing conflict with his manager, Danni, evolved with every book. Other women wandered in and out of his life. Some stayed a little longer.

Then there was his best friend Mike Turner, the retired scenes of crime officer and source of some of the best humour in the stories. When those two got together on the veranda of his beachside bungalow, the fun and humour reached new levels.

I love writing their scenes together.

It’s like writing two books

First, there’s the drama of Kent’s life and those close to him, and a murder to solve.

But the backstory gave me running themes – his romantic dalliances and the effect on those around him. At work, he struggled with government spending cuts, staffing issues and poor management. His sanctuary sometimes threw up problems. He started to outsmart the local police detectives as he solved the murders.

But I loved the backstory issues, tempting Kent with new lovers, discovering more about his past, what made him tick and the results of some of his indiscretions when he was younger. The characters around him could point out his bad points, the blind spots in his character he’d never see. These characters offered alternative opinions and values, adding to the tension.

Elements of the backstory can disrupt his investigations, throw him a curve, land him in deep water. He’s forced into difficult decisions, but that’s just how I like it.

The harder he has to work, the more people he comes into conflict with, the more exciting the story.

The backstory often allowed me to have the occasional cliff hanger ending. The murders are always solved and loose ends tied up. But what’s going on behind the scenes is life. It doesn’t fit into neat boxes. It can’t always be predicted or understood. And it can come along and bite you, as Kent often discovers.

I can spend days, weeks sometimes, working out where the backstory issues would be three or six months time after the end of the last story. What were the outstanding issues to address and how? What issues and drama would they raise?

Once these are decided, it’s time to write.Writer

As I don’t plan ahead, it’s all exciting, not knowing what’s going to happen.

I don’t worry how the backstory might affect the murder investigations. Kent begins his investigations under the circumstances he’s living in. If there are problems at the sanctuary or at the office, he works around them while he investigates. Sometimes it means sleuthing during work time, which brings its own conflicts and ethical issues, adding to the rich broth of the backstory.

Best of all, as the series progresses, Kent starts to realise the effect solving murders has on those around him. His brushes with death have left wounds that are difficult to heal, creating tensions and emotions he’d always buried to maintain his sanity.

And when something from his past leaps up to bite him on the backside, his murder investigations can become very personal indeed. But that’s a story for another day…


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A hero for today

Have you ever read a book or watched a TV programme and wished you could write something as good?

Inspector MorseNeither had I until I saw the original Inspector Morse series. The superb characterisation, complex and intriguing plots, and the beautiful Oxford settings captivated me. About the same time, BBC 1 aired the Miss Marple series, adapted from Agatha Christie’s books.

Both programmes evoked the same emotion and desire to write a complex murder mystery.

At this point, I should tell you I was already a writer. Not a successful one, unless you include the national short story competition I won at the age of 12. That early enthusiasm and promise never quite materialised into something a publisher would want or take – until Morse and Marple got under my skin.

I sensed a brighter future. But first, I needed a hero for my murder mysteries – someone different, someone flawed but principled, charismatic and up to the job.

Police officer or private investigator?

While I’d worked with the police many times as an environmental health officer (EHO), I had no idea how they investigated murders. With DNA evidence making its mark, I thought I’d leave it those who understood such things.

Sue GraftonEqually, I had no idea how private investigators worked. Sue Grafton’s first novel, A is for Alibi, featuring PI Kinsey Millhone tempted me to create my own investigator. The character was feisty, sassy, funny and quite ruthless in completing any job she took. The books were a joy to read.

Could I create a male version of Kinsey?

It took some time for Kent Fisher to evolve. The name took almost as long to create, but that’s a subject for another day. He was tough, determined, single-minded, hopeless in love, and had a good stock of witty one-liners.

But was he flawed?

In his first outings, he was more like Rambo than Morse. That’ll teach me to make him a former paratrooper. He was married to an unsuitable woman. While it seemed like a good idea at the time for extra conflict, I couldn’t imagine him falling for such a woman. Net result – I failed to write with any conviction.

My attempts to make him a PI fared no better.

Thanks to my healthy appetite for Dick Francis, that left me with one option. Many of his heroes were ordinary people, drawn into adventures and investigations that often put them in grave danger.

Kent Fisher became an EHO

Kent Fisher and ColumboAn environmental health officer conjured up an image of a person in a suit, carrying a clipboard and talking like some dreary, faceless bureaucrat. That was how TV writers saw them at the time. It was hardly an image to inspire readers, was it?

So I gave Kent a past as a hunt saboteur and environmental protestor, who chained himself to trees and bulldozers to stop developers destroying the countryside he loved. This ensured he had as many enemies as he had supporters, offering plenty of storylines for the future.

Without thinking, I knew he would live in an animal sanctuary, confirming his dedication to the natural world.

While I doubt if he’s anyone’s idea of a detective, to me he’s a hero for today. He’s an ordinary person who solves the most complex and difficult murders I can dream up.

This posed another challenge – how would an EHO solve a murder? Let’s be honest, during my long career, no one has ever walked into the council offices and asked me to investigate a murder.

I’ll admit I’ve wanted to murder many awkward members of the public, councillors and restaurateurs and publicans over the years. Luckily, I can now do that in my novels.

Finally it came to me – disguise a murder as a fatal work accident. Kent Fisher goes in to investigate with the police. They pass the investigation to him and he uncovers a murder.

Simple.

But no one believes him, of course, so he has to solve it himself.

It led me to the highly original title of No Accident, which was traditionally published in June 2016.

A fresh approach to the traditional murder mystery

Thoroughly modern, with contemporary themes about protecting wildlife and the environment, Kent Fisher was like no other detective out there. Whether that’s a good or bad thing depends on how much you like the traumatised police inspectors with pen-pushing superiors that seem to dominate crime fiction these days.

What I hadn’t anticipated was the part the characters and backstory would play in the hearts and minds of readers. I simply set out to build a world around Kent and fill it with strong, engaging characters that would impact on his life and work.

HarveyAnd that’s before we get to the rescue dog he adopted. Named Columbo after Kent’s favourite TV detective, the West Highland white terrier would become a firm favourite with readers and reviewers.

With his personal life as complex as the murders Kent solved, the story drew in people who didn’t normally read crime. Readers cared about these people, about this world Kent lived in, as much as they enjoyed trying to solve the murders.

But that’s something for another post…


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National Treasure by Barry Faulkner

8th May 2021.

It begins as a simple missing person enquiry. Actress and national treasure, Marcia Johnson, is worried about her daughter, who is missing. From the moment Ben Nevis takes the case, it’s anything but simple. He quickly uncovers a murky background, including drug debts and a Romanian crime family that wants its missing money.

Can Ben and partner Gold recover the missing woman before it turns nasty?

It’s an explosive story, delivered at great pace with barely a pause to catch your breath. Fast, furious and always exciting, Ben and Gold wreak havoc and mayhem as they use the most direct route to get what they want. However, it’s not all one way, and tables can easily turn.

The action is complemented by sharp dialogue, cutting humour and a healthy dose of irreverence as the story races to a climax with an unexpected twist among the drama. Ben and Gold are formidable characters with great rapport and understanding. The pace sweeps you along into a dark world where only the strongest survive.

If you’ve read the first book in the series, you’ll love this. If you haven’t you can read this as a standalone, but why miss out on the first?

Description

Book 2 in the Ben Nevis and the Gold Digger thriller series. Marcia Johnson is a respected actress, Marcia is, according to her agent, a National Treasure. Marcia’s daughter, Janie, is missing without any clue or reason as to why? London Private Eye Ben Nevis thinks it will be a simple search to find her but when Janie’s dead father’s background comes to light things take on a more sinister angle involving an unpaid drug debt owed to a Romanian crime family who wants it paid. Have they got Janie? Ben takes on the London end of the family and the body count grows. When he and Gold fly to Romania it escalates further in a series of exciting skirmishes in Bucharest as they attempt a hostage rescue and escape. Hovering in the background is DCS Clancy, Ben’s old boss at the Met’s Organised Crime Squad who has eyes on finishing the UK end of the Romanian family, but all doesn’t go well and Ben changes from being the pursuer to being pursued right to the final big twist. As usual with a Ben Nevis book, it’s fast and furious with no prisoners taken.

National Treasure by Barry Faulkner

The Death on the Downs by Simon Brett

22nd April 2021.

Having enjoyed the first book in the Fethering village mysteries series, I was keen to see what neighbours Carole and Jude would get up to in this second outing. United by curiosity and sleuthing, this unlikely duo once again joins forces after Carole discovers a bag of human bones in a barn while sheltering from a storm.

Attention focuses on the nearby village of Weldisham, where the locals have plenty of secrets and animosities to hide. It doesn’t take long for both Jude and Carole to investigate different strands of the murder, arriving at the same conclusion in a deadly climax.

This is cosy mystery writing at its best. The characters are beautifully drawn and realised, each providing their own unique view of the world they inhabit. Though very different in nature, Carole and Jude work well together. The author never misses an opportunity to poke fun at the many conventions and traditions that go with village life and dictate behaviour. The dry, gentle humour pervades the whole story, helping to lighten the darker moments.

There’s no rush or car chases, none of the traumatised detectives who seem to populate most crime fiction these days, and no excessive violence or swearing. This is a gentle, funny and endearing murder mystery that’s as much about the characters and idiosyncrasies of village life as it is about solving a complex murder.

If you enjoy a cosy mystery, this is about as warm, entertaining and beautifully written as it gets.

Description

It wasn’t the rain that upset Fethering resident Carole Seddon during her walk on the Downs, or the dilapidated barn in which she was forced to seek shelter. No, what upset her was the human skeleton she discovered there, neatly packed into two blue fertiliser bags . . .

Amateur sleuths Carole and Jude go to the small hamlet of Weldisham where gossips quickly identify the corpse as Tamsin Lutteridge, a young woman who disappeared from the village months before. But why is Tamsin’s mother so certain that her daughter is still alive? As Jude sets out to discover what really happened to Tamsin, Carole digs deeper into Weldisham’s history and the bitter relationships simmering beneath the village’s gentle facade.

Death on the Downs by Simon Brett

Thicker than Water by JD Kirk

4th March 2021.

In a world of crime fiction where many series tread the same well-worn steps, some books stand out for their originality, the distinctive voice and style of the author, and a great set of characters to bring the story to life.

Thicker than Water has all three qualities in abundance. Detective Chief Inspector Jack Logan is a gruff workaholic who knows how to draw the best from his team. Their banter, camaraderie, and the way they pull together is a joy, lifting the story with humour, humanity and a determination to get the job done, no matter what.

In this second outing, the team are investigating an unpleasant, ritualistic murder of a single mother, whose body is dumped into Loch Ness. She has a dubious boyfriend with a history of anger and aggression. But with few clues, even less forensic evidence and no substantial leads, the investigation makes slow progress.

While Logan and his colleagues rise to the challenge, none of them are prepared for what they discover as the story accelerates to an exciting and unexpected climax.

Distinctive, atmospheric and credible, this gritty story is populated with believable and engaging characters. Logan’s cynical social commentary paints some graphic pictures of life in the Scottish Highlands, but it’s his unflagging determination to catch the killer and his humanity you’ll remember.

Highly recommended.

Description

In twenty years on the force, he has seen his share of monsters.

When a badly mutilated body washes up on the shores of Loch Ness, DCI Jack Logan’s dream of a quiet life in the Highlands is shattered.

While the media speculates wildly about monster attacks, Jack and the Major Investigations Team must act fast to catch the killer before they can strike again.

But with Nessie-hunters descending on the area in their dozens, and an old enemy rearing his ugly head, the case could well turn out to be the most challenging of Jack’s career.

And, if he isn’t careful, the last.

Thicker than Water by JD Kirk

No Sex Please We’re Crime Writers

19th February 2021.

Have you ever wondered why there’s so little sex in crime fiction?

Maybe there is and I’m reading the wrong books. Maybe sex and murder are not good bedfellows.

Some categories of crime fiction, such as cosy mysteries, exclude explicit sex, graphic violence and excessive swearing. In my book, literally and metaphorically, this doesn’t exclude romance, sexual tension and people sleeping together. It simply frowns on graphic description.

But sex scenes should only be in a story if they are essential to the plot or character development. This should be the case in any book in any category. If a killer, for instance, seduces his or her victims before killing them, does this need to be shown in detail?

Crime Scene - No sex please

You could argue the same for murder. Does it need to be shown in great detail?

It depends on the type of book and the writer, I guess. With so much emphasis on the collection of forensic and DNA evidence at crime scenes, detailed description that may lead investigators closer to the killer would be essential.

It’s up to writers to show the world as they see it.

Personally, I’m not a fan of torture scenes or any graphic descriptions that involve violence or someone inflicting pain on another human being or animal.

That’s not to say I live in a closeted world where everything’s rosy. I simply don’t need to read the details. I have an imagination. If someone is being tortured as part of the story, tell me. I need to know. But do I want to know every detail of what the killer’s doing?

Some writers like to get into the minds of killers, to show how they’ve become who they are. We’re all inquisitive and the subject’s fascinating, but that doesn’t mean it needs graphic descriptions.

It’s the same with sex. My readers can imagine a sex scene much better than I can write it. And let’s be honest here, each person will imagine it a little differently, making the story more personal to them.

Fun readingSurely, that’s what we want as authors – readers to enjoy our books. Reading is an emotional experience. The imagination fills in the blanks. We see characters in a particular way, even when they are described in detail. It means readers are more likely to get something personal to them from what they read.

Of course there are times when you have to lay things out in detail, if only for accuracy or credibility, but I would suggest there’s always some room to allow the reader’s imagination to personalise what they’re reading.

If I want everything laid out for me, I’ll watch TV.

Then I can complain on social media that the main character is nothing like the one I pictured in the books.

Not that I really picture them. I’m more interested in who they are, not what they look like.

And that’s the point, ultimately. No two readers are alike. Every one of us has different tastes, values and attitudes. I prefer to read books that aren’t graphic or filled with profanities. I know people swear in the real world, but they also belch, fart, pick their noses, scratch their bums and so on.

If the story and characters are engaging, some swearing and violence won’t put me off a book.

If the swearing and violence feel excessive or unnecessary, I can stop reading – and often do.

I want people to enjoy my books. I want to entertain my readers.  I want to tantalise them with complex plots and mysteries in a contemporary world that feels real.

I don’t need graphic sex, foul language and excessive violence to achieve that. It doesn’t make my books soft and fluffy or unrealistic.

I’m writing a murder mystery not a bonk buster.

Reading questions

How do you feel about swearing, sex and violence in crime novels?


Learn more about the Kent Fisher murder mysteries.

A Pocket Full of Rye by Agatha Christie

17th February 2021.

Under the cover of a children’s nursery rhyme a killer is bumping people in the Fortescue house. The dysfunctional family, ably looked after by the efficient Miss Dove, offer up plenty of suspects and motives, as you would expect with Agatha Christie. Then there are the servants, a lover, and a historical rivalry to add more suspects to the pool.

The author handles it all with her usual mastery, laying false trails and diversions to fox the local police. There’s no lack of social comment and humour as she reveals the secrets and conflicts within the family.

Having trained one of the parlour maids serving there, Miss Marple arrives at the house to assist the police. It doesn’t take her long to separate the rye from the chaff with her incisive knowledge of human nature and ability to spot the worst in people.

The story’s a joy from start to finish, weaving a winding trail through a house filled with largely unlikable characters, nearly all tarnished by money and greed. It’s a masterclass in the classic whodunit and hugely entertaining.

Description

In Agatha Christie’s classic, A Pocket Full of Rye, the bizarre death of a financial tycoon has Miss Marple investigating a very odd case of crime by rhyme.

Rex Fortescue, king of a financial empire, was sipping tea in his “counting house” when he suffered an agonizing and sudden death. On later inspection, the pockets of the deceased were found to contain traces of cereals.

Yet, it was the incident in the parlour which confirmed Miss Marple’s suspicion that here she was looking at a case of crime by rhyme. . .

A Pocket Full of Rye by Agatha Christie