Getting fresh with a familiar favourite

The continued popularity of crime fiction is driving authors to find something new and different to tempt readers and feed their voracious appetites.

It was no different twenty years ago when I created Kent Fisher. The competition was not quite so intense then, but the desire to find something fresh and to stand out from the masses was just as strong.

Driven by a love of murder mysteries by authors like Agatha Christie and Colin Dexter, I wanted to create a detective as unique as Miss Marple or Morse to solve the most baffling cases. I also wanted to remain faithful to that familiar favourite, the classic whodunit.

No pressure then.

The idea for an environmental health officer (EHO) who solved crimes crystallised over many months while I was out on my district in the South Downs of East Sussex. EHOs are enforcement officers who deal mainly with environmental and public health issues, including the safety of the food offered to the public, health and safety in the workplace, pollution and substandard housing.

It’s a wide-ranging remit, but one that offers opportunities. People die from food poisoning and accidents at work. Frustrated residents have shot their neighbours for playing music too loud.

Unfortunately, working for a local council is hardly glamorous.

And let’s face it, you wouldn’t nip down to the town hall, ask to see an EHO, and report a murder, would you?

But how about a murder disguised as a work accident that’s investigated by an EHO?

Now that’s an entirely different proposition.

No AccidentNo Accident became the starting point for the Kent Fisher murder mystery series. Once he’d solved a murder, he had earned his stripes. He was then open to requests from family friends to track down a wife who had gone missing. (No Bodies).

The variety of businesses and premises EHOs visit offered possibilities – theme parks, luxury care homes, restaurants and hotels, public houses, caravan sites, children’s homes, farms, estate agents,. These have all featured in the murder mysteries.

Then there’s his life outside of work. As an environmentalist, I wanted to make this a key driver in Kent’s life. The animal sanctuary where he lives offers more possibilities to push environmental and welfare themes, setting Kent apart from other detectives.

I hoped his work, the backstory and the characters involved would make the stories more interesting to readers.

HarveyHe adopts one of the dogs he rescued – a West Highland white terrier, who becomes Columbo in honour of Kent’s favourite TV detective.

Kent Fisher was certainly different, if not unique, but would readers embrace him?

A strong element of humour might help. Ask anyone who works for a council or in the public sector and they’ll tell you a sense of humour is essential.

That left the plot. I wanted to give readers a traditional murder mystery with the usual crop of suspects, red herrings and a complex investigation that would keep people guessing till the exciting climax and reveal.

After all, that was the starting point, what I wanted to write.

Imagine my delight, and relief, when No Accident was first published in June 2016. Crime Fiction Lover posted the following review.

“Expect sharp dialogue and irreverent humour in this whodunit which manages to pay homage to the traditional murder mystery, while striking a contemporary and irreverent note.”

This was music to my ears.

Feedback and reviews told me readers loved the backstory and characters. What I didn’t realise at the time was how significant they would become.


If you’d like to find out more and receive updates, insights and a free Kent Fisher short story, why not sign up to my newsletter?

Family Secrets by Shawn McGuire

25th July2021.

I enjoy discovering new authors and series, especially at the cosy mystery end of spectrum. Family Secrets, the first of a series set in the town of Whispering Pines in Wisconsin, features ex-cop Jayne O’Shea and her Westie, Meeka. They arrive at the home of her late grandparents to find the body of a young woman on the lawn.

With the help of Tripp, another visitor to the community, Jayne slowly becomes involved in an investigation where nothing is as it first seems. The sheriff appears uninterested in the murder. His nephew and deputy, Reed, is openly hostile to Jayne’s involvement. And a whole host of local characters, from a green witch to some local councillors, become suspects.

It’s all lovingly written and described. Jayne’s a strong character with her own baggage to deal with, picking away at the loose threads to piece together the relationships and motives that will help her solve the case. It’s fairly standard fare, but lifted by the setting, the Wiccan religion that guides many of the people, and the distinctive characters who add warmth, humour and charm to the story.

It’s a gentle, easy to read novel that charms and leaves you looking forward to the next in the series.

Description

Sixteen years after a family feud drove her from the cozy Northwoods village of Whispering Pines, Wisconsin, former detective Jayne O’Shea returns to prepare her grandparents’ lake house for sale. Once there, not only does she find that the house has been trashed, her dog discovers a dead body in the backyard.

Jayne intends to stay out of it, but when it becomes obvious the sheriff isn’t interested in investigating the death, Jayne can’t stop herself. Her list of suspects grows faster than the plants in the commons’ pentacle garden. Could it be the local Wiccan green witch with her stash of deadly plants? The shopkeeper who slips into trances and foretells death? The visitor determined to practice black magic?

What Jayne knows for sure is that the closer she gets to solving this crime, the more the sheriff wants her to back off. And when a local fortune teller provides a crucial clue, Jayne knows it’s up to her to solve this murder.

Family Secrets by Shawn McGuire

Rosecliff Manor Haunting by Cheryl Bradshaw

17th July 2021.

This is the second story in the series featuring Addison Lockhart. She dreams about twin girls who died as children many years ago in a nearby manor house. It seems like they fell to their deaths from an attic window. But did they?

This is another entertaining and well-written murder mystery with a supernatural twist. Though Addison is psychic, she uses determination and deduction to solve the murder and bring peace to the spirits of the children.

If you like a cosy mystery with strong characters and a bit of a twist, this series is well worth a try.

Description

Psychic medium Addison Lockhart jolts awake, her brow sweaty, head throbbing. The dream had seemed so real.

The twins, eleven-year-old Vivian and Grace, were so full of life she wanted to reach out, touch them. But she couldn’t. The girls had been dead for forty years. Why then had they appeared to her, summoning her help? Were their untimely deaths really an accident, or was something far more sinister to blame?

Rosecliff Manor Haunting by Cheryl Bradshaw

The Shrine by LJ Ross

16th July 2021.

In an explosive start, DCI Ryan’s pregnant wife Anna is injured in an incident at Durham Cathedral. As the dust settles, it becomes clear that the explosion was no more than a smoke screen to hide a robbery of an important artefact. Why would someone steal something so easily recognisable and well known?

While trying to work out that mystery, a local police officer is murdered and the investigation takes a sinister twist. With Ryan concerned for his wife and his colleague and friend Phillips dealing with family issues, there’s plenty to distract the police from their twin investigations.

Thankfully, DC Melanie Yates steps up to deftly solve the crime, leaving only one mystery outstanding – who stole the artefact and why? The answer to that question will have to wait until a future story.

Like all the Ryan novels, this is well-written with plenty of time given to the characters and their respective backstories.

Description

After a long and eventful winter, DCI Ryan and his team are looking forward to the joys of spring. But, when one of their colleagues is shot dead on her own doorstep and the brass think it’s an inside job, Ryan finds himself drafted in to investigate.

He’s barely scratched the surface when reports flood in of a terror explosion at Durham Cathedral. Chaos descends on the sleepy, historic city and, when the smoke clears, they find a priceless artefact that once belonged to Saint Cuthbert is missing.

With tensions running at an all-time high, unable to trust the local police, can Ryan and his team bring a killer to justice — and restore Cuthbert’s cross to its natural resting place?

The Shrine by LJ Ross

The Stabbing in the Stables by Simon Brett

14th July 2021.

When Jude’s asked to help heal one of her friend’s horses, she doesn’t expect to find a body at the riding stables. But this is Fethering and murder is never far away. Jude’s friend and fellow sleuth Carol has her own problems. She senses marital problems for her newly-wed son and his wife.

With the police releasing no information about their investigation, Jude and Carole have to resort to what they do best – make their own enquiries. They soon latch onto a former Irish jockey and horse whisperer, who seems to know a lot more about the murder than he’s willing to tell.

Like the previous books in the series, this one is filled with the usual red herrings, humour and puzzles to solve. Jude and Carole slowly work their way to the truth, putting themselves in danger once more as events twist in an unexpected direction.

Their chalk and cheese relationship provides additional layers of conflict and humour as their friendship and partnership overcomes all challenges to solve another murder.

If you like a cosy mystery with a strong underbelly of humour and social comment, the Fethering Village mysteries may be just what you’re looking for.

Description

When healer Jude pays a visit to Long Bamber Stables one evening – to meet her unusually horse-shaped new client and his owner Sonia Dalrymple – she does not expect to stumble across a man lying in the darkness. Walter Fleet, co-owner of the stables, has been viciously stabbed to death.

Sleuthing neighbours Jude and Carole begin to make discreet enquiries, but it soon becomes clear that Long Bamber Stables is a hotbed of dangerous passions, murderous rivalries and hidden truths . . . and this horsing community will do anything to protect their reputations.

The Stabbing in the Stables by Simon Brett

Shadow Crimes by Michael Hambling

13th July 2021.

The Sophie Allen series is one of my favourites. Not only is she a charismatic character, the stories are highly original and well-written, providing intriguing murder mysteries. The backstory and relationships are first rate, helping to build the characters, add humour to the novels, and give rounded stories that live long in the memory.

Shadow Crimes is no exception with another story that starts out with a murder and soon develops a number of strands that stretch the team in different directions. And with every step forward, there’s the feeling that someone powerful is pulling strings and interfering with the investigation.

But Sophie Allen has proved in the past that she’s more than adept at dealing with the bigger issues. Determined and single minded, she’s a formidable investigator, pulling all the strands together for an exciting twisting climax to yet another breath taking story in the series.

If you’ve never read the series, you should start with the first book and enjoy the development of the characters and teams as they investigate some of the most difficult murders you’re likely to come across.

Description

An undercover detective disappears.

A retired prison guard is found dead.

Drugs and contraband phones are out of control in the local prisons. How are they getting in?

Can Detective Sophie Allen discover the links between these crimes?

AND WILL SHE FIND THE MISSING DETECTIVE BEFORE TIME RUNS OUT?

A shadowy group with more influence than anyone suspected will stop at nothing to protect themselves.

Shadow Crimes by Michael Hambling

Murder in the Meadow by Faith Martin

13th July 2021.

With big changes to the team, including a fast track detective sergeant with her own agenda, Detective Inspector Hillary Greene has enough on her plate before a body is found by the river. Wayne Sutton, an artist and gigolo, was battered to death and the list of suspects is large.

With one eye on the investigation and the other on Detective Sergeant Gemma Fordham, DI Greene sets about another complex and entertaining investigation.

The interplay between the characters and the issues in the backstory, including Hillary’s love life and troubles inherited from her former husband turned crook, Ronnie, help make the series entertaining and compelling to read. The murder mystery elements are always first rate and the humour and troubles Hillary negotiates have made this series into a favourite of mine.

I’d recommend starting at the beginning and working your way through the books to get the most from the characters and backstory. You’ll also be rewarded with some cracking murder investigations.

Description

Wayne Sutton is found dead by a stream in a beautiful meadow. His head has been bashed in and a red paper heart left on his body. The handsome young artist had a reputation as a ladies’ man.

DI Hillary Greene discovers that many wealthy married women were buying his paintings and taking ‘private’ art lesson from him. It appears that several of them might have wanted him dead.

Hillary also has a new detective sergeant, Gemma Fordham. Seemingly efficient and pleasant, she harbours a secret agenda.

Can Hillary get to the bottom of a complex case involving jealousy, love, and cold-blooded murder?

Murder in the Meadow by Faith Martin

Nobody’s Child by Janet Dawson

1st July 2021.

In this fifth outing in the series, Oakland private investigator, Jeri Howard, takes on her most difficult case and client. Naomi Smith, an emotionless alcoholic, believes the body found buried on a building site is her daughter, Maureen, who has disappeared.

When Jeri finds out Maureen was pregnant, the investigation turns to finding the girl. But with her mother dead, it’s going to be anything but straightforward.

You always get so much more than a murder investigation with Jeri Howard, as she tackles social issues along the way. This is 1995 and her investigations take her into the homeless community, which has become a major challenge for California. People are sleeping rough, being attacked and dying. HIV and AIDS is a growing problem that’s getting out of control.

With dogged determination, Jeri slowly pieces together Maureen’s movements over the past 18 months, uncovering lies, deceit and acts of kindness that help her piece together what happened to both mother and child.

The detail and issues surrounding homeless people is vividly brought to life through the characters Jeri encounters, providing an often moving and troublesome backdrop to the main investigation. Without ducking the issues or taking sides, the author paints some very vivid pictures.

But ultimately, this is a murder investigation, and a very satisfying one after a torturous investigation.

This is a complex and compelling read that covers a lot of ground, but it’s well worth the effort.

Description

It’s Christmas in San Francisco, and stalwart Bay Area PI Jeri Howard is having a tough time locating her holiday cheer. Maybe it’s her recent birthday. 34’s no 44, but it’s not 24 either. Maybe it’s seasonal depression. The incessant, chilly northern California rain isn’t exactly helping. And neither is the flu. Plus, there’s the investigating business.

Jeri’s most recent all-absorbing puzzler happens to revolve around her prickliest client to date: Naomi Smith is a well-to-do woman from Piedmont—she’s rich, slender to the point of emaciation, and her cold, hard stare yields no secrets. Her voice doesn’t yield much either—truth to tell, working with Naomi is like squeezing blood from a stone.

Basically, she’s the most disagreeable woman—and possibly most aggravating client—Jeri’s ever met, let alone worked with. But you can’t be picky when you’re writing checks to cover groceries.

Ms. Smith wants Jeri to look into the details surrounding the decomposing corpse of a young woman recently uncovered by a couple of construction workers in an Oakland fire zone. Deadpan, Naomi suggests the Jane Doe might be her long-lost daughter Maureen—and she wants Jeri to investigate (in the name of family discretion).

Maureen would be twenty-one years old. She ran away from her well-ordered life just three months before she was due to graduate from high school. And her mother hasn’t heard from her for a full month—but why she hasn’t gone to the authorities is a mystery.

Also vanished into thin air: Maureen’s now-2-year-old daughter, Dyese, and Naomi’s latest beau, Professor Douglas Widener, who disappeared after a romantic weekend getaway to Lake Tahoe—at just about the same time as Naomi’s daughter. Has Maureen run away to follow a man? Perhaps a much older man? Or has she been abused? And if she was murdered, has her toddler been murdered too?

Jeri finds herself delving into a bizarre and heart-wrenching cold case, uncovering social injustice and family secrets so bleak even Christmas can’t snap her out of it.

Nobody's Child by Janet Dawson

The Witness at the Wedding by Simon Brett

27th June 2021.

I’ve enjoyed all the Fethering murder mysteries so far. The humour that runs through them, gently poking fun at the foibles of the middle classes, is amplified through Carole and Jude, the chalk and cheese amateur sleuths who seem to have little in common yet work so well together.

In this story, the wedding of Carole’s son Stephen to Gaby seems to arouse all manner of anxieties and emotions. Forced to present a united front with her ex-husband, David, Carole’s dragged out of her Fethering comfort zone long before she meets Gaby’s strange parents. And then there’s a dark family secret no one’s keen to admit or reveal.

Everything comes to a head at the engagement party when Gaby’s father is murdered on his way home. It’s not long before a second murder follows. Jude, who’s is helping a journalist friend overcome depression, is soon in the thick of things. The two of them begin to delve into the West Sussex connection that could shed light on the murders.

From here, the story picks up pace as Gaby looks set to become the killer’s next victim.

While quite some time is spent setting the scene before the murders, it’s the perfect opportunity for the author to explore Carole’s past and reveal why she can be so insular and controlled in her life. More of Jude’s colourful past is also revealed, though she very much plays second fiddle in this outing.

While the unravelling of the killer is more straightforward than previous mysteries, it’s still exciting and handled with style and skill. While a traditional whodunit, the most enjoyable moments are delivered by Carole and Jude as they set about solving the murders with determination and imagination.

This is a highly enjoyable series that continues to entertain and develop.

Description

It’s time to celebrate in Fethering Village, as Carole’s son is getting married to a wonderful girl, albeit one with rather odd parents. Not only do they have no interest in the wedding preparations, but the mere thought of talking about the event frightens them beyond words.

When the bride’s father is found murdered, Carole and Jude fear the bride-to-be is the killer’s next target. They must unravel the bride’s family’s past before the killer makes another deadly move . . . and before the wedding festivities become completely funereal.

The Witness at the Wedding by Simon Brett

The Birthday Mystery by Faith Martin

25th June 2021.

Jenny Starling is catering for a 21st birthday party for twins Justin and Alicia in their parents’ country mansion in the Cotswolds. On the day she arrives, a worker from the estate is already dead, having drowned in a pond.

It soon becomes clear that all is not well in the house or between the twins, whose bitter rivalry and fighting comes under the spotlight when one of the guests dies at the party, poisoned by weed killer. The police arrive and begin an investigation, aware that Jenny is no slouch when it comes to solving murders.

Will she solve the case before the police, or will she hamper their investigation and land herself in hot water?

This light-hearted cosy mystery begins slowly, setting the scene, introducing the characters and the key relationships. Whether Jenny Starling is in the garden gathering herbs, checking out her sleeping accommodation in the house, or simply enjoying the country air, she’s never far from trouble, eavesdropping like a young Miss Marple to gather vital clues.

While some of the main characters seemed a little caricatured at the start, the story soon settled into a steady, entertaining rhythm, with plenty of humour to season the mystery. The competition between Jenny and the detective leading the enquiry was an enjoyable battle of wills as the cook pieced together the clues to solve the case.

This is an enjoyable first book in a series that features an excellent amateur sleuth, who’s more than a match for the police and killers. I look forward to reading the next in the series.

Description

Jenny Starling is catering the twenty-first birthday party of upper-class twins, Alicia and Justin.

She arrives at their parents’ country house and is immediately met by the police. A young man has drowned in the pond. Was it an accident or murder?

But the birthday party goes ahead. Then just after midnight, everyone gathers for a champagne toast . . . and one of the guests falls down dead. The police are baffled and there is a whole party full of suspects.

When it comes to someone adding the extra ingredient of poison to her own precious recipes, Jenny isn’t going to take it lying down. She has a reputation to protect.

Jenny Starling won’t stop until the murderer is found.

The Birthday Mystery by Faith Martin