Secret Crimes by Michael Hambling

11th January 2021.

This is fast becoming one of my favourite crime series. DCI Sophie Allen is a terrific character. Smart, gutsy and charismatic, she’s a world away from the trauma-ridden cops that seem to be everywhere in crime fiction. She’s had her fair share of troubles and she has her vulnerabilities, but she’s also a breath of fresh air.

The story starts with the death of a woman at a local jazz festival in Swanage. A few days later, a man is found on the rocks by the sea. He was also at the festival. While the motive for the murders is unclear, the team find a connection between the two deaths and the investigation gathers momentum. But as it spreads wider, the investigation becomes a long, slow slog that tests the members of the team. But you get to know the characters and the relationships better, revealing yet another strong point of the novels.

There are a few challenges along the way, but solid detection eventually yields a suspect and the pieces start to fit together as the story picks up pace to an exciting climax.

While the crimes and investigations are always intriguing, it’s the balance between the plot, the main characters and their relationships that lifts this series to a different level.

If you haven’t read the Sophie Allen series yet, start with the first novel and enjoy!

Please check out my reviews for Dark Crimes and Deadly Crimes.

Description

The body of an attractive festival-goer is discovered on the rocky shoreline at Peveril Point
But the young woman’s injuries arouse suspicion. Who was the man she met? Is there a history of suspicious deaths at other music festivals across the area?

DCI Sophie Allen is back in charge after the emotional upheavals she suffered in ‘Deadly Crimes’, but is she really in control? And a new detective constable, Rae Gregson, joins the team and immediately faces challenges that put her life in peril.

Secret Crimes by Michael Hambling

The Thursday Murder Club by Richard Osman

10th January 2021.

Anyone who follows my reviews will know I like trying something different and new authors, though in this case I’m well aware of Richard Osman from his TV work. The moment I started to read, the direct, conversational style drew me straight into the characters and setup and promised an entertaining crime story with plenty of humour and witty observations.

The action takes place at a luxury retirement complex/village, where four of the residents meet up to investigate unsolved murders. They’re led by Elizabeth, whose past occupation seems to allow her an endless supply of contacts that get almost any information she needs. While she’s the main driving force, her compatriots all have plenty to contribute.

When a dodgy developer linked to the complex is killed, the team have a real murder to investigate. With some dubious and skilful manipulation, Elizabeth manages to enlist the help of the local detective inspector in charge of the police investigation. When the owner of the complex is also murdered, the team discover a complicated web of businesses and deals that throw up a good number of suspects.

It’s cleverly plotted and written, always with a gentle, humorous touch, some genuinely touching moments, and a plot that twists and turns, taking the reader through a multitude of emotions. It’s an assured debut that should appeal to anyone who likes a gentle mystery with a sharp plot.

If you’re happy to suspend disbelief, it’s pure escapism with wry social comments, likeable characters, spun through with wit, humour and compassion. I’d be very surprised if there aren’t more cases ahead for the murder club.

Description

In a peaceful retirement village, four unlikely friends meet up once a week to investigate unsolved murders.

But when a brutal killing takes place on their very doorstep, the Thursday Murder Club find themselves in the middle of their first live case.

Elizabeth, Joyce, Ibrahim and Ron might be pushing eighty but they still have a few tricks up their sleeves.

Can our unorthodox but brilliant gang catch the killer before it’s too late?

The Thursday Murder Club by Richard Osman

A Murder is Announced by Agatha Christie

3rd January 2021.

I’m thoroughly enjoying the Miss Marple series in the order they were written. Alongside the deft characterisation, wry social comments, ingenious plots and Agatha’s Christie’s effortless writing style, you get to see the author and Miss Marple develop.

The story starts with an ad in the local newspaper, announcing the date, time and place of a murder. Naturally, the locals are intrigued and find excuses to visit the house, where the occupants, equally mystified and intrigued, are ready to welcome them. At the allotted time, the lights go out and three shots are fired soon after. When the lights are restored, a stranger in a mask lies dead on the floor.

It doesn’t take long to identify the stranger and come up with possible motives for what happened. Was it a prank gone wrong, an accident or something more sinister? Fortunately for the police, Miss Marple isn’t far away and soon starts piecing everything together.

The book follows Inspector Craddock’s investigation. He soon discovers that almost everyone at the house at the time of the shooting has a motive for murder. This creates plenty of red herrings, false trails and dead ends to keep the mystery bubbling along nicely until Miss Marple figures it all out.

When she reveals the murderer and motive, you realise all the clues were there in plain sight as the story was told. And as you would expect from an author at the top of her game, there are no loose ends or plot holes to be seen.

If you accept the attitudes and values that were prevalent in 1950, this is another brilliant, entertaining and clever whodunit that’s a pleasure to read and contemplate afterwards.

Description

A mystery that will defy even the most ingenious of detectives because, when you turn over a stone in an English village, you have no idea what will crawl out…

‘I’m not too late, am I? When does the murder begin?’

An announcement appears in the local paper: this Friday, at exactly 6.30pm, a murder will take place.

Who could resist such an invitation?

Driven by morbid curiosity, the villagers head to the appointed location: a quiet house on the outskirts of the village.

The crowd gathers. The clock counts down. And then the lights go out.

A Murder is Announced by Agatha Christie

Kindred Crimes by Janet Dawson

30th December 2020.

This is the first novel in the Jeri Howard private investigator series, set in California. Like many of its contemporaries, the story’s told by Jeri in a direct, no nonsense manner. She’s a streetwise investigator with high principles and a determination to see a job through, even when the client decides he no longer requires her services.

Missing wife, Renee Foster, turns out to be anything but the person her anxious husband portrays. As Jeri digs deeper, encountering more than her fair share of obstacles and challenges, she peels away the layers to reveal family secrets no one wants to share. There’s Mark, the brother, who shot their parents and served fifteen years for the crime. He’s out and building a new life for himself, determined not to return to past events.  Sister Karen, employed in the skin trade, knows more than she’s willing to tell.

Then there’s the husband’s family, who never liked Renee to start with.

And Jeri’s former husband, a cynical copper who still holds a torch for her, can’t help but make life difficult for her, especially when people start dying.

How Jeri makes sense of it all and overcomes the odds makes for a fascinating and entertaining story that’s full of surprises, humour and touching moments that all build to a slick climax and resolution. The characters are sharply drawn and realistic, vulnerable and flawed, but always interesting.

I’m delighted to have discovered this author and I’m looking forward to reading the next book in the series.

I would recommend this book to anyone who enjoys private eye stories by authors like Sue Grafton and Cheryl Bradshaw.

Description

THE PORN STAR, THE MURDERER, AND THE DISAPPEARING WIFE…

Those are just a few of the family members Oakland P.I. Jeri Howard finds herself investigating in a puzzling missing persons case that sprawls throughout the grittier sections of Northern California. For a woman who told her husband she had no relatives, Renee Foster’s actually well-stocked with them….and doozies at that. The whole family—criminals, abusers, and kindly aunts alike– comes alive in Janet Dawson’s first novel, prompting the New York Times to hail it as “a welcome addition to this tough genre.”

There’s clearly a lot more here than the simple matter of a wife disappearing with the grocery money. Smelling a rat or two right from the beginning of this complex and intriguing mystery, the red-haired private detective follows many a twisty trail as Dawson weaves an equally twisty tale, which, to the reader’s delight, just keeps winding back on itself, revealing brand new secrets as fast as ancient skeletons can fall out of closets.

Dawson’s Oakland is damp and properly sinister and Jeri’s as savvy as Sam Spade, with something of Spade’s seen-it-all outlook. What she doesn’t know, her chic lawyer pal, Cassie, can supply; and her cop ex-husband’s on hand to make trouble.

Kindred Crimes by Janet Dawson

The Country Inn Mystery by Faith Martin

30th December 2020.

I’m not a big fan of the traditional cosy mystery set in a small rural village, but the writing and character of Jenny Starling captured my imagination from the first page and took me along on an interesting and enjoyable ride.

Relief chef, Jenny, is working at the Spindlewood Inn in the village of Caulcott Deeping in the Cotswolds. The village is putting on a Regency extravaganza, which includes performances of a local historical event by the amateur dramatic society. And while they may be amateurs, the battle of egos is just as sharp.

The story ambles along with Jenny observing the varied characters who are there for the weekend. It soon becomes apparent that some of these people have other agendas, especially where the main actor, Rachel Norman, is concerned. It’s only a matter of time before she winds up dead, but how she was killed is a baffling mystery in the Agatha Christie tradition.

While the police try to piece it all together, Jenny’s observational skills and ability to connect the sometimes obscure clues ensures she solves the murder with skill and aplomb.

The author’s produced an entertaining and enjoyable read, filled with suspects, motives and red herrings and a liberal sprinkling of humour and wry observation, which lift it above the average cosy mystery.

Description

Jenny Starling is working at The Spindlewood Inn for the weekend. It’s hosting a Regency Extravaganza, involving historical costume, amateur dramatics and food.

Leading actress of the amateur dramatic society and reputed man-eater Rachel Norman portrays a doomed noblewoman. But when she turns up actually drowned in the pond, there’s suddenly a murder to investigate.

There’s been plenty of trouble at the idyllic country inn. The performers weren’t a happy troupe, and Jenny discovers a simmering romantic tension.

Who wanted Rachel dead and why? Jenny Starling is going to need all her wits to crack this complex case.

The Country Inn mystery by Faith Martin

The Moving Finger by Agatha Christie

23rd December 2020.

Every time I read one of Agatha Christie’s books, I’m impressed by her direct, easy-to-read style that draws you into the heart of the story from the first page. Language and values aside, her writing feels modern, with plenty of dialogue, the minimum amount of description, and succinct characterisation. In short, she transports you into her world with the minimum of effort.

The Moving Finger is no different. It starts with injured pilot Jerry Burton and his sister Joanne moving to the quiet village of Lymstock, where someone’s sending out poison pen letters. It isn’t long before Mrs Symington, wife of the local solicitor, takes her own life after receiving one of the letters.

With a wide cast of suspects, Jerry Burton tries to identify the letter writer. Then Rose, a maid in the Symington household, is brutally murdered, and the whole atmosphere changes as the police investigate.

The story builds slowly, using the different reactions of the recipients of the letters to build suspense and suspicion. Jerry Burton, who narrates the story, is a capable lead who’s soon out of his depth as he struggles to identify the person responsible. When Rose dies, it’s time to call in Jane Marple.

I’m not sure why Agatha Christie waited until the final quarter of the book to bring in Miss Marple, but her impact is immediate. She swings into action to connect all the clues, solve the murders and restore calm and justice to Lymstock in an exciting climax.

With a fine cast of suspects, red herrings, misunderstandings, and the author’s humour and social commentary, this is a classic whodunit that’s as clever as it is baffling and complex. An enjoyable and memorable read, the novel reveals why the author remains so popular.

It’s simply a treat from start to finish.

Description

The placid village of Lymstock seems the perfect place for Jerry Burton to recuperate from his accident under the care of his sister, Joanna. But soon a series of vicious poison-pen letters destroys the village’s quiet charm, eventually causing one recipient to commit suicide. The vicar, the doctor, the servants—all are on the verge of accusing one another when help arrives from an unexpected quarter. The vicar’s house guest happens to be none other than Jane Marple.

The Moving Finger by Agatha Christie

Grayson Manor Haunting by Cheryl Bradshaw

22nd December 2020.

I’m a big fan of the author’s writing, especially the Sloane Monroe series, so it was great to read something different. The story starts when Addison Lockhart moves into the remote and dilapidated manor she’s inherited from her mother. Right away, you know there’s a dark secret to be uncovered.

Was someone murdered here long ago?

With the help of her architect and builder, Addison begins to piece together the mystery and the events surrounding the disappearance of movie star Roxanne Rafferty, who appears to be haunting the manor.

Addison is a likeable and resourceful character, driven by a need to unlock mysteries from her past and solve the disappearance of Roxanne. The tension builds slowly and steadily from the start. The danger increases as Addison digs deeper and finds her life and future in the manor threatened.

Then the revelation of an old family secret catches her off guard. Can she recover to solve the mystery and lay the ghosts to rest?

The story was well-written, engaging and kept me intrigued from start to finish. The paranormal element of Addison’s character was deftly and realistically handled without it taking over her investigation of the mystery.

I’m looking forward to discovering how her character develops in the next book in the series.

Description

When Addison Lockhart inherits Grayson Manor after her mother’s untimely death, she unlocks a secret that’s been kept hidden for over fifty years.

For Addison, it seems like she’s finally found the house of her dreams, until the spirit of Roxanne Rafferty comes to call. Who is Roxanne, why is she haunting Grayson Manor, and how will Addison’s connection reveal a secret to her own past that she thought no longer existed?

Grayson Manor Haunting by Cheryl Bradshaw

Blood on the Tyne: Headshots by Colin Garrow

15th November 2020.

Rosie Robson’s second appearance is another exciting adventure as she rushes from danger to danger to pursue the person who killed two models. The singer and part time sleuth is a feisty likeable character, who’s smart, sassy and filled with Geordie nouse and humour. With a little help and support from police detective Vic, she keeps tugging at the thread until it starts to unravel.

The author wraps the adventure in a warm, nostalgic Newcastle in the mid 1950s. From the terraced houses occupied by ship builders to the smoky clubs where Rosie performs, there’s a rich vein of Geordie humour, camaraderie and vivid characters underpinning the story.

There’s also danger and tension around every corner as the bad guys do their best to thwart Rosie efforts to get to the truth. It all leads to an exciting adventure, filled with action, great dialogue and an exciting climax that could leave you breathless, but wanting more.

A fine and worthy follow-up to the first Rosie Robson novel, this has the makings of another fine series from Colin Garrow.

Here’s to the next book in the series.

Description

When someone starts killing fashion models, Rosie Robson finds herself in the firing line.

Newcastle, 1955. When a young model is murdered, the woman’s bereaved family ask singer and amateur sleuth Rosie Robson to investigate. But before she can check out the agency where the woman worked, the killer strikes again. Discovering a telephone number that could lead to the killer, Rosie tries to make contact, unaware that a Gateshead gangster already has her in his sights.

Headshots by Colin Garrow

The Moth Catcher by Ann Cleeves

13th December 2020

I enjoy a detective who’s not another maverick with a traumatic past. Vera Stanhope is about as different and distinctive as you can get. She’s a formidable tour de force, who’s smart, unconventional, persistent and focused on people, their behaviour and their secrets. She sees the connections others may miss.

When she arrives to investigate a double murder within a small community in the countryside, her direct approach and earthy humour unsettle the respectable residents. While none of them seem to have any connection with the victims, Vera prods and probes, certain there are secrets to be unearthed.

Vera, along with her close colleagues Joe and Holly, are vividly portrayed, their characters, aspirations and vulnerabilities revealed alongside the investigation. The pace is steady as Vera peels back the layers, stripping away the veneer of respectability. The atmosphere in the community becomes tense and almost claustrophobic as she homes in on the truth, leading to a dramatic and exciting climax.

This is a story based on people rather than forensic science. It’s about looking below the surface, making connections to find the secrets and the motives people hide. It’s about a detective who drives the story with her unstoppable appetite for murder and determination to catch the killer.

Vera Stanhope may be unconventional, but she’s an absorbing and entertaining breath of fresh air.

Description

‘This case was different from anything Vera had ever worked before. Two bodies, connected but not lying together. And nothing made her feel as alive as murder.’

Life seems perfect in Valley Farm, a quiet community in Northumberland. Then a shocking discovery shatters the silence. The owners of a big country house have employed a house-sitter, a young ecologist named Patrick, to look after the place while they’re away. But Patrick is found dead by the side of the lane into the valley – a beautiful, lonely place to die.

DI Vera Stanhope arrives on the scene, with her detectives Holly and Joe. When they look round the attic of the big house – where Patrick has a flat – she finds the body of a second man. All the two victims have in common is a fascination with moths – catching these beautiful, rare creatures.

Those who live in the Valley Farm development have secrets too: Annie and Sam’s daughter is due to be released from prison any day; Nigel watches, silently, every day, from his window. As Vera is drawn into the claustrophobic world of this increasingly strange community, she realizes that there may be deadly secrets trapped here . . .

The Moth Catcher by Ann Cleeves

The Body in the Library by Agatha Christie

2nd December 2020.

There’s so much to enjoy and admire about Agatha Christie’s writing. It goes without saying that her plots are intricate, complex and beautifully constructed, so much so that techniques she used in the 1930s and 40s are still being used in today’s murder mysteries.

If you accept that attitudes and language were quite different in 1942, you can appreciate her direct style of writing that hasn’t lost any of its appeal over the decades. With minimal description and digression, she delivers the twists and turns of the plot with skill, deftness and confidence, leading the reader astray with red herrings and enough suspects to satisfy the stingiest critic. Add in sharp characterisation, lots of dialogue, and social comment that will raise a few smiles, and this is a superb whodunit that will keep you guessing until the reveal.

Miss Marple isn’t the fluffy character you see in some TV adaptations. She has a backbone of steel, an incisive mind and a sharp tongue. Where the police and the village see scandal when a young woman is found dead in the library of Colonel and Dolly Bantry, Miss Marple sees a puzzle with no obvious explanation.

While the police follow their own investigations, she seizes on the small clues, the little details they don’t fully appreciate, weaving it all together into an excellent and believable climax.

Agatha Christie’s books never fail to entertain me or inspire me as a mystery murder writer.

Highly recommended.

Description

It’s seven in the morning. The Bantrys wake to find the body of a young woman in their library. She is wearing evening dress and heavy make-up, which is now smeared across her cheeks.

But who is she? How did she get there? And what is the connection with another dead girl, whose charred remains are later discovered in an abandoned quarry?

The respectable Bantrys invite Miss Marple to solve the mystery… before tongues start to wag.

The Body in the Library by Agatha Christie