Vanish Without Trace by Bill Kitson

20th June 2021.

This is one of the best crime novels I’ve read for some time and definitely my top read of 2021 so far.

A teenage girl doesn’t return home in the sleepy rural retreat of Helmdale in Yorkshire. Little does DI Mike Nash realise his investigation will put him on the trail of a serial killer who leaves no trace. There are no bodies and no evidence of abduction – simply women still listed as missing.

The similarity in their appearance is the only common link.

Mike, still plagued by bad dreams and nightmares, knows there must be another link that will help him identify the killer. But while Mike and his team struggle to find this link, the killer’s lining up his next victims.

The skill of the serial killer in remaining anonymous for so long makes this investigation about as difficult as you can get. The tension never lets up as Mike sacrifices his health and well-being to identify and track down the killer.

The scale of the story is epic. The personal cost to both the families of the women killed and the investigators is graphically demonstrated. You can feel the emotion as an exhausted team struggle with the magnitude of the investigation.

And after the dramatic climax, the relief and joy of capturing the killer is tempered by the realisation of the devastation he caused, revealing both the emotional high and lows of a criminal investigation.

I felt drained after finishing the moving final chapter. My emotions were shredded, but in a good way. This story will live long in the memory – a sign of quality writing and storytelling.

Simply brilliant.

Description

HOW DO YOU SOLVE A CRIME WHEN THERE’S NO EVIDENCE ONE HAS BEEN COMMITTED?

Sarah Kelly goes for a night out at a club. She leaves around 2 a.m. No one sees her again.

Detective Mike Nash has nothing to go on, until a chance remark causes him to look deeper into other cases. Young women who have vanished without trace.

Nash spots chilling similarities: NO BODIES, NO WITNESSES, ALL DISAPPEARANCES EXPLAINED AWAY.

He needs to find a solution and fast as two more women vanish, making it personal and potentially fatal. Both for Nash and for the women who have disappeared.

CAN NASH STOP A VERY PECULIAR SERIAL KILLER? DISCOVER A FRANTIC, BREATHTAKING PAGE-TURNER OF A MYSTERY.

Vanish Without Trace by Bill Kitson

An Occupied Grave by AG Barnett

11th June 2021.

It took me a while to get into this crime story as the character of DI Brock seemed a little wooden. As someone who keeps his feelings to himself, the story was well underway before his character was slowly revealed. From this point the whole story picked up and became an entertaining and enjoyable read.

It starts with a funeral and the discovery of a body already in the grave of someone about to be buried. It’s a terrific start as the mayhem commences. DS Poole, who’s new to the squad, has his own problems alongside working with Brock. Slowly, they begin to piece together events and identify suspects as the story gathers pace for an exciting ending.

Overall, it’s well-written and delivered, the characters are believable and the outcome managed a couple of surprises, which is always welcome.

Description

A village of secrets finds its past lies waiting…

A terrible surprise rocks a funeral when the wrong body is discovered in a freshly dug grave. Now Detective Inspector Brock and Detective Sergeant Poole must open up an old case and dig through the small village’s secrets to solve a murder!

Detective Sergeant Guy Poole is hoping to put his traumatic past behind him and settle into his new station at Bexford. Now history is threatening to raise its head again, and he has a murder case to contend with.

Detective Inspector Sam Brock has a new recruit to take under his wing, and he’s determined this one isn’t going to die. As if that wasn’t enough of a headache, his wife is coming home and may be on the verge of discovering the lie he’s been telling her.

Newly paired duo Brock & Poole must track down the killer before more lives are lost.
AN OCCUPIED GRAVE is the first in a series of page-turning mysteries that will leave you wanting more!

An Occupied Grave by AG Barnett

Evil Crimes by Michael Hambling

This is another gripping and original crime story in the brilliant DCI Sophie Allen series.

When questions are raised about a couple of suspected suicides, the local police call in DCI Sophie Allen. It doesn’t take long for her to connect them to a suspect and the investigation moves across the border into Exeter University. Liaison with the local police becomes strained when the main suspect is murdered and the case takes an unexpected turn.

Everything I love about this series is here in abundance – another original storyline, the relationships between the team members and families that keep everyone strong and focused, and a twisting plot that throws up a few surprises along the way. The writing is tight, the pace pitch perfect and at the heart of it all is Sophie Allen. She’s charismatic, empathetic, determined, clever and tough. She never loses sight of what and who matters.

While you can read this sixth story in the series as a standalone, you will never get the full benefit of just how good these stories and characters are unless you start from the beginning.

Description

A young man’s body is spotted in the stormy sea off Dancing Ledge in Dorset.

Did he lose his footing in the gale force winds and fall in? Or is there a more sinister cause of death?

Detective Sophie Allen’s team discover some curious links to a suicide that happened six months earlier.

A strikingly attractive female student connects the cases. Alarming facts slowly come to light as the team probes more deeply.

Is the young woman as evil as she seems or is someone else manipulating her?

DCI Sophie Allen races against time to uncover the tragic secrets behind the crimes and stop any more deaths.

Evil Crimes by Michael Hambling

Murder in Adland by Bruce Beckham

2nd June 2021.

In the Lake District, at a company party for an advertising agency, one of the directors is stabbed to death in his room. This provides plenty of suspects and motives, as DI Skelgill discovers when he starts his investigation with newcomer DS Jones.

The investigation begins and continues at a gentle pace, with the detectives travelling to Edinburgh and London on a regular basis as they interview suspects and witnesses. They also spend a lot of time eating and drinking, both on the trips and back home. Like the detailed descriptions of the settings, this has the effect of slowing the pace and reducing the tension. Then, out of the blue, Skelgill solves the murder and it’s all over.

It’s an interesting opener to the series. The Lake District setting is brought lovingly to life. The two lead characters are engaging and make a good, sparky team, with a hint of sexual tension to spice things up. I enjoyed the humour that runs through the story, but would have preferred more pace and urgency in an investigation that at times seemed to meander along with little pressure to get a result.

Description

WHEN A HIGH-FLYING ADMAN is stabbed to death on a company weekend in the English Lake District, local detective Daniel Skelgill finds himself wrenched from his rural Cumbrian comfort zone.

As the investigation unfolds, DI Skelgill is led a merry dance between London and Edinburgh, at every turn confronted by uncooperative suspects – colleagues, wife and lovers of the deceased – each of whom is possessed of motive and opportunity.

Is this a crime of passion, a professional hit, or a cleverly calculated killing borne out of greed and jealousy?

In this traditional-style whodunit, the case can only be solved by carefully piecing together the essential clues – but Skelgill is running out of time. The patience of his superiors wears thin, while the actions of an anonymous agent provocateur serve only to advance the moment when the killer must strike again.

Murder in Adland by Bruce Beckham

Loot by BL Faulkner

1st June 2021.

Gold is at the heart of this entertaining and enjoyable thriller. As the bodies start to pile up, the story twists and turns to keep you guessing until the exciting finale.

While Palmer and Gheeta Singh of the Serial Murder Squad try to keep up with the killings in this fast moving story, they uncover a trail of deceit, treachery and greed that takes them across country and back again.

I’ve enjoyed all the books in the series, but this is one of the best. It isn’t simply the fast, furious pace, but the feeling that the killer is always one step ahead of Palmer, which is unusual. This adds to the tension and surprise element as the story hurtles to its conclusion.

This is a hugely entertaining story with an imaginative and expertly crafted plot, engaging characters and just the right amount of humour to deliver on every level.

Description

Palmer and his Serial Murder Squad encounter an old adversary from the Brinks-Mat heist when bodies turn up in similar plastic sacks and the trail leads to WW2 looted German gold in the hands of a prominent Member of Parliament and some pretty nasty criminals. The gold is moving fast between the various underworld characters and the body count is mounting as Palmer follows it from London to Gloucester and Brighton and gets kidnapped along the way. Can DS Gheeta Singh keep up and pull the team together for the explosive finale at Brighton Marina.

Loot by BL Faulkner

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

Harbour Street by Ann Cleeves

25th May 2021.

This is another moody, complex murder mystery in the Vera Stanhope series. She seems to be at her best when she had few or no leads to follow.

This time it’s her sergeant, Joe Ashworth, who finds a woman stabbed on the metro in Newcastle. She’s soon identified and Vera’s in Harbour Street, where the woman lived in an attic flat above a guest house. It’s a rundown neighbourhood where people seem to live most of their lives. Vera soon discovers that the victim was well-loved and respected. She kept to herself and no one can think of a reason why anyone would kill her.

With no obvious motive, no real suspects and little to go on, it’s a difficult investigation. Then another woman is murdered and Vera makes connections. She’s soon on the right path for an ending I didn’t see coming.

The pace is measured and evocative. The atmosphere is dark and unsettling. Everyone’s a suspect while the team struggles to find a motive for the murders. But the team keep chipping away, probing, searching, uncovering secrets, flushing out small nuggets of information and anomalies that finally make sense to Vera.

It’s another absorbing and riveting read where Vera dominates proceedings, revealing more about herself and her past, showing a sharp, often wicked humour that brings lighter moments to the story. It’s all blended together with supreme skill for another excellent investigation for the larger than life detective.

Description

A silent community. A murderer among them . . .

As the snow falls in Newcastle, Detective Joe Ashworth and his daughter Jessie travel home on the busy Metro. When the train stops unexpectedly due to bad weather, Jessie notices that one woman doesn’t leave and when trying to wake her they find that the passenger has been fatally stabbed.

With no witnesses DI Vera Stanhope looks into the victim’s past and discovers she lived for years on Harbour Street, in a rundown Northumberland fishing town. As she questions the local residents Vera begins to suspect they know more than they are letting on, and the killer is hiding in their midst.

Harbour Street by Ann Cleeves

The Glass Room by Ann Cleeves

19th May 2021.

In this fifth outing for Vera Stanhope, the murder’s a little too close to home for comfort. Her neighbour, Joanna, is at a writers’ conference. An esteemed critic lies dead, fatally stabbed, and she’s found with a knife in her hand.

It’s a lovely idea for a crime writer to have a murder at a writers’ conference about crime fiction. The opportunity to poke fun at writers and writing is irresistible. The murder and investigation is pure Vera. She’s always excited by murder, happy to speculate, and she prefers talking to suspects and scrutinising them to forensics.

This is a locked room murder with plenty of suspects among the conference attendees. Many have motives to kill the critic, who was not well-liked by many of the people there. But it takes a second murder to give Vera the traction she needs to home in on the killer. After all the struggles to work out what happened, she seems to work out the identity of the killer and motive in double quick time, making the climax feel a little abrupt.

Apart from this minor quibble, this was another brilliantly observed and written murder mystery with Vera on top form and the tensions within her close team adding to the enjoyment.

I’m already looking forward to the sixth in the series.

Description

Sometimes crime strikes too close to home . . .

DI Vera Stanhope is not one to make friends easily, but her neighbours keep her well-supplied in homebrew and conversation. But when one of them goes missing, her path leads her to more than a missing friend . . .

Vera tracks the young woman down to the Writer’s House, a country retreat for aspiring authors. Things get complicated when a body is discovered and Vera’s neighbour is found with a knife in her hand. Calling in the team, Vera knows that she should hand the case over. She’s too close to the main suspect. But the investigation is too tempting and she’s never been one to follow the rules. Vera must find a killer who has taken murder off the page and is making it real . .

The Glass Room by Ann Cleeves

Missing Lies by Chris Collett

18th May 2021.

In the seventh book in the series, Tom Mariner, now acting Detective Chief Inspector, has a lot going on in his personal life. It means he needs to keep to a strict timetable and rely on help to look after autistic Jamie. At work, he’s got a new team around him as Millie’s on maternity leave and Tony Knox on a separate enquiry.

When the daughter of a prominent local politician goes missing, it looks like she’s run away from her parents. There’s no evidence of foul play and a reconstruction generates no leads. When her laundered and neatly pressed clothes arrive in a parcel at the station, everything changes. Within days, another set of clothes indicate another abducted woman.

When a local nurse goes missing, the hospital comes under close scrutiny as the detectives await another clothes parcel. But it never arrives, leaving them confused and struggling to make headway with the investigation.

It’s a complicated investigation that runs down several cul de sacs before a further death provides focus and an explanation for the crimes. Only Tom Mariner isn’t convinced and makes a sudden breakthrough to solve the crimes and apprehend the killer at the eleventh hour.

Missing Lies lacks the spark and focus of previous books in the series, perhaps because there’s so much time given to life outside the investigation. While Millie and Tony have peripheral roles in the investigation, the main plot feels hurried at the end.

Description

18-year-old Grace Clifton vanishes on her way home from work. Amazingly, not a single witness comes forward. But Detective Tom Mariner suspects that she ran away from her overbearing, rich father.

A PACKAGE ARRIVES AT THE POLICE STATION. IT CONTAINS GRACE’S CLOTHES, NEATLY FOLDED AND CLEANED.

Then another woman disappears. And a disturbing pattern begins to emerge.

WHO IS TAKING THEM?

Detective Mariner must track down a suspected serial killer in his toughest, and strangest, case yet, with a conclusion that will have you gasping.

Missing Lies by Chris Collett

The Birdwatcher by William Shaw

13th May 2021.

All books should have an emotional impact on the reader. Some books entertain or inform. Others leave a deeper impression that lives longer in the mind and soul. This novel belongs in this category for its portrayal of William South, an ordinary neighbourhood police officer with a troubled past and a dark secret.

He lives alone in Dungeness, Kent, on a shingle headland with few neighbours. When his closest neighbour, and fellow birdwatcher, is found battered to death, William is drawn into the investigation against his will and wish. It brings back painful memories of his childhood in Northern Ireland before the peace agreement.

The two sides of the story run side by side. As the murder investigation progresses, the story of his childhood is replayed. William wants to find his neighbour’s killer, but he may have to reveal his own hidden truth in the process.

This conflict adds another dimension to the characters, relationships and stories, which are beautifully delivered, building the suspense into an emotionally charged climax that’s both life-threatening and tragic in equal amounts.

The aftermath is even more gripping and my emotions were torn in different directions as the consequences played out, leaving me drained and sad. Not many books can manage that.

This is a story about people and how events in the past shape the future and the consequences of suppressing secrets. Whether you enjoy crime fiction or not, you cannot fail to be moved by this story.

Description

Sergeant William South has always avoided investigating murder. A passionate birdwatcher and quiet man, he has few relationships and prefers it that way.

But when his only friend is found brutally beaten, South’s detachment is tested. Not only is he bereft – it seems that there’s a connection between the suspect and himself.

For South has a secret. He knows the kind of rage that killed his friend. He knows the kind of man who could do it. He knows, because Sergeant William South himself is a murderer.

Moving from the storm-lashed, bird-wheeling skies of the Kent Coast to the wordless war of the Troubles, The Birdwatcher is a crime novel of suspense, intelligence and powerful humanity about fathers and sons, grief and guilt and facing the darkness within.

The Birdwatcher by William Shaw