Silent Voices by Ann Cleeves

9th April 2021.

If you like your crime fiction to be as much about the characters as the plot, then the Vera Stanhope series should fit the bill. From the moment you read the first page, you know you’re in the company of an unconventional, intriguing and brilliant detective, whose excesses are balanced by her determination and vivid insights into human behaviour, relationships and the secrets people hide.

Vera’s excited by murder – the more complicated the better. And this one’s another complex investigation with families at its core. It begins with Vera in a health club – imagine what her team will say when they find out. She’ll find out sooner than she thinks when she discovers a body in the steam room.

Jenny Lister, a social worker specialising in the safety of children, has been strangled. Social workers are not popular people at the best of times, but there’s no obvious reason for her murder. But once the team start digging, they find suspects and motives in the small village where she lived.

While the pace of the enquiry and story is gentle, it’s never anything short of fascinating as Vera digs into the lives of the suspects, slowly building the picture she needs to solve the case.

The dynamics in her team continue to develop and provide plenty of humour and insight. At the core of the team is the relationship between Vera and Joe, her detective sergeant. While there are elements of yin and yang, they work well together and understand each other. Newcomer Holly is keen to impress, but has a lot to learn. Charlie is the bloodhound of the team, dogged and meticulous, the one with the contacts.

If you haven’t already guessed, I’m a huge fan of this series and its author.

Description

No murder is ever simple . . .

When DI Vera Stanhope finds the body of a woman in the sauna room of her local gym, at first, she thinks it is a death from natural causes. But then Vera spots ligature marks around the victim’s throat and has another murder case on her hands.

The victim is Jenny Lister, who was an experienced social worker, but her neighbours are quick to inform Vera about Jenny’s involvement in a notorious case. A young child tragically died and a member of Jenny’s team was subsequently fired and vilified by the media.

As Vera tries to pry information from the secretive community another body is found, and Vera finds herself in a race against time to stop the killer.

Silent Voices by Ann Cleeves

Take a Number by Janet Dawson

7th April 2021.

When Jeri Howard becomes involved in a divorce case, she takes on more than finding the missing $100,000 dollars that Sam has hidden from his wife. He’s a nasty piece of work with a history of brutalising women. Yet on the surface, he’s charming and credible, drawing women to him with consummate ease.

When he’s murdered, Jeri’s job changes to investigator as his wife, Ruth, becomes the prime suspect. It doesn’t take much digging for Jeri to find plenty more suspects, leading to a classic private eye murder mystery tale.

Jeri’s a determined investigator who’s not afraid to speak her mind and ruffle feathers. She burns a lot of shoe leather in this investigation, which becomes more complex by the chapter. While the descriptions of places and journeys often slow the place, the story’s never dull as Jeri’s an engaging character and the plot twists keep you guessing right to the end.

Description

Oakland P.I. Jeri Howard dives right into the middle of a brutal womanizer’s divorce proceedings—and murder mystery—in the third instalment of Janet Dawson’s compelling female detective series. And in this particular whodunit, the list of who would gladly have done it just keeps growing.

When Ruth Raynor—the mousy soon-to-be ex-wife of an abusive sailor—calls up Jeri Howard to take on her divorce case, Jeri has reservations. For one, the celebrated Bay area PI has never been a fan of petty divorce investigations. Plus Ruth’s sleek divorce attorney—isn’t exactly Jeri’s cup of tea. But Ruth just happens to be the daughter of a former client. And Jeri is as loyal as she’s bold.

Sam, the soon-to-be ex-husband is a smart, slick, cocky piece of work—and a mean drunk to boot—who basks in attention (especially from women) like a lizard on a rock. Sam at first comes across as dangerously attractive, except for his pale blue, emotionless eyes—a cold, dead giveaway. Turns out Prince Charming broke his wife’s wrist, gave her a black eye, kept their small daughter hungry and in rags—and hid $100,000 when Ruth filed for divorce.

When Sam winds up with a bullet in his back, the prime suspect, naturally, is Ruth. But Jeri, working hard to keep her client out of jail, discovers a line of suspects so long someone who wanted to kill him would have to take a number and get in line.

Take a Number

Murder in the Village by Faith Martin

28th March 2021.

Having read and enjoyed the first three novels in the Hillary Green series, I settled into this one, not realising what a great and gripping story it was going to be. When I say story, there are actually two stories here – the murder in the village and a much bigger, far reaching battle with the local drugs baron.

Despite the title, the murder of a politician at home is not the main plot, though it still has to be investigated by the team and resolved. The new superintendent has bigger fish to fry and mounts a raid to catch the local drugs baron accepting a shipment at his remote farm. While Hillary wonders how her boss has managed to get such a tip off so soon after taking up his post in Oxford, she’s part of the team that carries out the raid.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t go quite to plan.

Alongside the two investigations, the backstories featuring the team members provide plenty of lighter moments and humour, together with some additional conflict that take this series to a new level. Well-developed and realistic, the characters add depth and interest to the novel as you watch their various desires and issues play out.

While I’ve enjoyed the first three books in the series, this is certainly the best story so far.  With a number of running issues brought to a head and resolved, I can’t wait to see how Hillary and the team develop and take on some new challenges in the next murder investigation.

Highly recommended.

Description

A would-be politician is found battered to death in the kitchen of his expensive home in a lovely Oxfordshire village. His wife’s alibi is full of holes and there’s another woman in the background. And what about his seemingly mild-mannered political rival?

DI Hillary Greene tries to get to the bottom of this perplexing murder. She certainly doesn’t think the prime suspect is as guilty as everyone thinks.

Just as she’s about to make a breakthrough, everything is turned upside down by a fatal development in another case she is working on . . .

Can Hillary find the murderer and will she survive a brush with one of Oxford’s most dangerous criminals?

Murder in the Village by Faith Martin

Next to Disappear by Malcolm Richards

28th March 2021.

This is a different kind of crime story with an unlikely protagonist, Emily Swanson. With secrets to hide and painful memories, she escapes to London to start a new life, only to find a mystery lurking in the new flat she rents.

The previous occupier, Alina, disappeared one night. Emily’s enquiries reveal an abusive relationship between Alina and her husband. Teaming up with Jerome from the floor below, Emily feels compelled to find out what happened to Alina. But when Emily goes to Alina’s last workplace, a care home for the elderly, she has no idea of the horrors she’s about to confront, many of them in her own mind.

It’s an interesting and entertaining story of mystery and suspense that’s well delivered and easy to follow. Though an unlikely investigator, Emily Swanson is determined to fight her demons and atone for her past by solving the mystery of people who seem to disappear without anyone noticing.

Her investigation is anything but straightforward, taking a couple of unexpected turns. It puts the values of friendship, loyalty and trust under the microscope as she battles an enemy much stronger and more powerful than her.

Description

Not every missing person is meant to be found…

When troubled nurse Alina vanishes one night, it’s assumed she ran away from her violent husband. Until disgraced ex-teacher Emily Swanson moves into the couple’s former home.

Emily’s life is in ruins and she’s meant to be making a fresh start. But when she learns about the missing nurse, she sees a chance for redemption. Because finding Alina could help right the wrongs of Emily’s past. All she needs to do is follow the clues.

But what Emily doesn’t know is that Alina had a horrifying secret. One about the care foundation where she worked. And the closer Emily gets to uncovering the truth, the closer she gets to terrible danger.

Next to Disappear by Malcolm Richards

Telling Tales by Ann Cleeves

16th March 2021.

Ann Cleeves is fast becoming one of my favourite authors, especially for the Vera Stanhope series. I love the gentle pace, the way she gets inside the minds of the characters, and the old style police detective who favours observation, information and deduction to solve crimes.

In this second outing for Vera, she’s asked to review a murder enquiry conducted by a neighbouring police force. Jeanie Long, the woman convicted of killing Abigail Mantel ten years ago committed suicide in prison, still protesting her innocence. A new witness has come forward to establish Jeanie’s innocence.

In the small village of Elvet, the revelations cause shock waves. The real killer is still at large. With plenty of suspects, secrets and motives, the atmosphere becomes almost claustrophobic as the tension builds towards breaking point. The former police officers, who conducted the original investigation, are no match for Vera Stanhope and her gentle but incisive approach.

Then another murder devastates the locals.

The settings, people and the investigation are beautifully and meticulously described and brought to life as Vera ferrets away, bringing her own unique brand of investigation and humour to the proceedings as she homes in on the killer.

The quality of the writing and characterisation are first rate, engaging the reader from the first paragraph to the last. With each book, you learn more about Vera and what makes her the formidable detective she is.

Description

Ten years after Jeanie Long was charged with the murder of fifteen-year-old Abigail Mantel, disturbing new evidence proving her innocence emerges in the East Yorkshire village of Elvet. Abigail s killer is still at large.

For Emma Bennett, the revelation brings back haunting memories of her vibrant best friend and of the fearful winter s day when she had discovered her body lying cold in a ditch.

Detective Inspector Vera Stanhope makes fresh inquiries, and the villagers are hauled back to a time they would rather forget. Tensions begin to mount, but are people afraid of the killer, or of their own guilty pasts?

Telling Tales by Ann Cleeves

The Seagull by Ann Cleeves

9th March 2021.

It’s no secret that I’m a big fan of the Vera Stanhope series. I love the intricate plots, the depth and development of the main characters, especially Joe and Holly and the sheer tour de force that is Vera.

It’s all in evidence in this story, which revolves around an old murder that’s a little close to home due to the involvement of Vera’s father, Hector. He was one of four friends, involved in illegal activities. Disgraced former police officer John Brace is the second. Now languishing in prison, he’s prepared to reveal details of a third friend, missing presumed dead. But Brace wants Vera to help his daughter and grandchildren in return.

Only there are two bodies, not one, dumped in a culvert on the Northumbrian coast. Who is the second victim? Was she killed at the same time as the man? And who is the mysterious fourth friend, known only as the Prof?

As the investigation progresses, it’s clear that the victims had links to the Seagull, a former exclusive club on the Northumbrian coast.

It’s another complex case with plenty of twists and turns as Vera tries to make sense of the many threads until finally she weaves them together, leading to an exciting conclusion with a surprise ending.

If you like character driven crime fiction, populated by believable characters you will root for, and plots that are as intricate as they are original, then you should try this series.

Description

When prison inmate and former police officer John Brace says he’s willing to give up information about a long-dead wheeler dealer in return for protection for his family, Vera knows that she has to look into his claims.

But opening up this cold case strikes much closer to home than Vera anticipates as her investigation takes her back in time to The Seagull, a once decadent and now derelict nightclub where her deceased father and his friends used to congregate.

As Vera’s past collides dangerously with the present, she will have to confront her unwanted memories and face the possibility that her father was involved in what happened. The truth is about to come out but is Vera ready for what it will reveal?

The Seagull by Ann Cleeves

A Darker Domain by Val McDermid

5th March 2021.

Some stories grab you from the start, drawing you in with strong believable characters you root for. Add an intriguing mystery that spans a quarter of a century, going back to the heart of the Miners’ Strike and a murder that has echoes today. Finally, bring in an adversary that’s rich, formidable and determined to find out what happened to his grandson, kidnapped all those years ago.

The narrative flips back and forth between 1984 and 2007, revealing two stories in a level of detail that brings the hardships of the Miners’ Strike to life. One miner, Mick Prentice, disappeared at the time, giving DI Karen Pirie another cold case to investigate. The discovery of a body in caves nearby only adds to the mystery.

At the same time, a daughter and her son were kidnapped and held to ransom. Catriona died and her son disappeared. DI Pirie wants to find him, but a journalist with a nose for a good story is also on the trail.

DI Pirie is a quiet but steely character, fearless in her quest to solve cold cases and bring justice to the victims. Slowly and carefully, she uncovers the pieces and puts them together to get to the truth of what happened twenty-five years ago. And even when she has the truth, there are still a couple of twists to wrong foot you.

This is one of the best and most original crime stories I’ve read for some time. The history, the sense of place and time, the characterisation and plot are first rate and deftly handled by the author to deliver a powerful story of love, sacrifice and murder that lingers in the memory.

While this is the second book in the series, I didn’t feel I’d missed anything by not reading the first book. However, I plan to correct that as soon as possible.

Description

Twenty-five years ago, a woman and her baby son were kidnapped and held to ransom. Catriona Grant ended up dead and little Adam’s fate has remained a mystery ever since.

When a new clue is discovered in a deserted Tuscan villa – along with grisly evidence of a recent murder – cold case expert DI Karen Pirie is assigned to follow the trail.

She’s already working a case from the same year. During the Miners’ Strike of 1984, pit worker Mick Prentice vanished. Where did he really go? And is there a link to the Grant mystery?

The truth is stranger – and far darker – than fiction.

A Darker Domain by Val McDermid

Till the Old Men Die by Janet Dawson

23rd February 2021.

This is a deep, involving and complex story that deals with past injustices alongside a current murder. When a history professor is killed in a car park, it looks like a random killing. Then a woman turns up at his university, claiming to be his wife and alarm bells begin to ring. It’s time to call in private investigator Jeri Howard, whose father was a colleague of the dead professor.

Pretty soon, it becomes clear that the professor left a package that the bad guys want. But who would want to kill a professor, researching historical events in his homeland, the Philippines? This is what Jeri has to discover and it’s a slow torturous trail through the Filipino community in California where many are related by blood and marriage.

Who can she trust and believe? Who has a motive to kill the professor? More than that, what is the motive? It seems the answer lies in his research and the package everyone wants to find.

It’s a well-researched story with a detailed background and history of the people involved and their roots. More than once, I struggled with the names of characters and their relationships as the story unfolded. As the story progressed, I began to recognise the key characters and relationships, which helped to make sense of the players and suspects.

This early confusion didn’t spoil my enjoyment of the story. The issues explored made this a private eye novel with a difference, which is always welcome, and added a depth to the background and characters that made the story more interesting and engaging.

This is the second book in the Jeri Howard series and I’m looking forward to reading more.

Description

In Janet Dawson’s second absorbing Jeri Howard mystery, the tough-minded private investigator finds herself –in no time at all–at the center of an international jumble of war heroes, collaborators, resistance fighters, politicians, and crime bosses.

But in fine PI mystery fashion, the case isn’t at first what it seems. It begins small, with the grisly murder of a sedate, widowed history professor, written off as a random street crime until a woman turns up at his university, claiming to be his widow and demanding access to his “papers.” Jeri’s called into the case by her father, a good friend of Lito, the murdered Asian Studies professor, who tells her about a mysterious envelope he received from his friend on the day of his funeral.

A note with the package said “keep it safe”. And Jeri knows that’s the key: whatever was in it is behind Lito’s murder. Sure enough, it’s gone missing.

And Lito was just back from a research trip to the Philippines. What, she wonders, did he learn there? Once she realizes his research subject was the Japanese invasion of the Philippines in World War Two, things take a sinister international turn.

Off she goes, searching for answers in Lito’s close-knit Filipino community, a world alive with music, food, celebrations – not to mention power struggles, treachery, and betrayal. And then the case heats up. Because the past never dies—it just gets covered up.

Till the Old Men Die by Janet Dawson

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