The Crow Trap by Ann Cleeves

19th March 2020.    4 stars.

This is not your usual crime fiction. That’s why it appealed to me and why I enjoyed the story. I would also add that I’ve never watched the TV series.

The story starts with three women, brought together by an environmental impact assessment, prompted by an application to build a quarry. Naturally, feelings run high on both sides of the fence. Rachel, Anne and Grace are tasked with carrying out the assessment and each tells their own story about the events leading up to the apparent suicide of Bella, who owned the cottage where the women are staying.

At first, it reads like a psychological suspense novel with secrets and misdemeanours being revealed by each of the women. Then there’s a murder and DI Vera Stanhope enters the story like a tsunami. Unconventional, eccentric, with a dry sense of humour, but always mesmerising, she’s a tour de force, taking over the story with her no nonsense approach to detection. From this point on, the story is largely hers as she sifts through the evidence to identify the killer.

The novel’s well-written, the Northumberland setting atmospheric, and the characters given a chance to breathe and develop through the course of the story, leading to a sizeable list of suspects, all with motives to kill. The environmental issues give the story a contemporary feel, even though the story isn’t your usual police procedural.

However, allowing the characters so much space and time meant Vera Stanhope’s entry into the story was delayed until almost halfway through. While the characters were interesting and well-written, my interest began to waver several times up to this point.

The solution and arrest of the killer was also over in the blink of an eye after the usual meandering and struggles to sift the clues from the red herrings.

But these are niggles in what was an enjoyable and entertaining read with a detective who will remain long in my memory in these days of traumatised cops, constantly battling their past and spending cuts.

If you like atmospheric writing and don’t mind a story that takes it time to develop, which makes it a long read, I would recommend this book.

Description

Three very different women come together at isolated Baikie’s Cottage on the North Pennines, to complete an environmental survey. Three women who each know the meaning of betrayal . . .

Rachael, the team leader, is still reeling after a double betrayal by her lover and boss, Peter Kemp. Anne, a botanist, sees the survey as a chance to indulge in a little deception of her own. And then there is Grace, a strange, uncommunicative young woman, hiding plenty of her own secrets.

Rachael is the first to arrive at the cottage, where she discovers the body of her friend, Bella Furness. Bella, it appears, has committed suicide – a verdict Rachael refuses to accept.

The Crow Trap by Ann Cleeves

The Murder House by Michael Wood

1st March 2020.  4 stars.

I’ve read and reviewed the previous four books in the Matilda Darke series and was looking forward to renewing her acquaintance in this latest episode. Well, the story certainly starts with a bang when three members of a family are brutally and savagely killed after a wedding reception.

But why were a young girl and her dog spared?

This and the sheer horror of the scene tested Matilda and her team as they began a difficult and challenging investigation. The issues affecting key team players like Sian, Scott and Rory ran parallel with the criminal investigation, adding to the pressure on Matilda. At one point, she claimed to know who the killer was, but this was never followed up in the ensuing chapters. It seemed to be forgotten, which puzzled me.

With the investigation progressing slowly, the personal issues sometimes seemed to take precedence until the team made a breakthrough. The investigation gathered pace. Matilda went out on a somewhat improbable limb, I thought, to solve the murders, but it led to a pulsating and satisfying climax that ticked all the right boxes.

As with all the previous novels in the series, The Murder House was well written and entertaining. The many threads of the backstory put almost too many plates in the air, which influenced the overall balance of the story. I’m not really sure about the epilogue either, but as it concerned one of the running threads in the series, it didn’t impact on the main plot or my enjoyment.

If you haven’t read any of the books in the series, I would urge you to start with the first, For Reasons Unknown, (Read my review here) to get the most out of the characters and the stories. While you do that, I’m off to pre-order the sixth book in the series.

Description

They were the perfect family. It was the perfect crime.

It’s the most disturbing crime scene DCI Matilda Darke has ever seen…

The morning after a wedding reception at a beautiful suburban home in Sheffield, the bride’s entire family are stabbed to death – in a frenzied attack more violent than anything DCI Matilda Darke could have imagined.

Forensics point to a burglar on the run across the country. But cracks are starting to appear in Matilda’s team, someone is playing games with the evidence – and the killer might be closer to home than they thought

The Murder House by Michael Wood

Interview on Fictionophile

My thanks to Lynne LeGrow for some interesting and entertaining questions.

‘There’s nothing better than knowing others enjoy the story you wrote. That’s why I write.’

Read the full interview here.

 

Bury Them Deep by James Oswald

20th February 2020. 5 stars.

This has to be one of the best and most enjoyable police procedurals I’ve read for some time.

I’ve never read one of the author’s books before, so I wasn’t sure what to expect when I was offered an advance copy in exchange for an honest review. It’s the tenth book in the Tony McLean series and reads fine as a standalone, though I imagine you get a little more out of the characters if you’ve read the whole series from the start.

I enjoyed the story from the opening pages, where a member of the team goes missing at the start of a major operation, involving various agencies and countries. The author’s easy to read style moved the story along at a measured pace, allowing the characters, subplots and story to breathe and develop. I got to know the characters inside and outside the police, including the usual conflict between frontline officers and senior officers, more concerned with budgets and public relations than a missing member of staff.

The suspense built slowly, creating an overwhelming sense that something rather unpleasant was waiting for me at the climax. I was not disappointed as little by little, the story became more complex and intriguing. The mystery deepened with each step forward in the investigation until the gruesome and truth began to emerge from the Scottish mist. From here it was full steam ahead to an exciting and shocking climax that provided a satisfactory conclusion to the story with no loose ends.

This is a measured, thoughtful and intriguing story, related with great skill and confidence to ensure the perfect balance between character and plot. I have no hesitation in recommending this novel to anyone who likes realistic and elegant police procedurals that offer something a little bit different.

I’m going back to the beginning now to see how the series started.

Description

When a member of the Police Scotland team fails to clock-in for work, concern for her whereabouts is immediate… and the discovery of her burnt-out car in remote woodland to the south of Edinburgh sets off a desperate search for the missing woman.

Meanwhile, DCI Tony McLean and the team are preparing for a major anti-corruption operation – one which may raise the ire of more than a few powerful people in the city. Is Anya Renfrew’s disappearance a co-incidence or related to the case?

McLean’s investigations suggest that perhaps that Anya isn’t the first woman to have mysteriously vanished in these ancient hills. Once again, McLean can’t shake the feeling that there is a far greater evil at work here…

Bury Them Deep

Hunting Shadows by Sheila Bugler

11th February 2020. 4 stars.

The story grabbed me from the start, thanks to the quality of the writing, the high stakes and the sharpness of the characters. DI Ellen Kelly in particular was vividly drawn with her flaws, self-doubts and fears, adding to the tension and suspense.

The abduction of a child must be a parent’s worst nightmare and this was well-portrayed throughout the story as the pressure mounted and facades began to crumble. Though it’s pretty much impossible to like or empathise with someone who takes a child, the abductor could also be viewed as a victim of a tragic past he never recovered from.

There’s a lot going on as the story develops and deepens, with Ellen and the police floundering for much of the story. The climax is exciting with a twist that wasn’t entirely unexpected, but it didn’t take anything away from the impact. I wasn’t overly keen on the way the viewpoint kept switching around during the climax, making it a little bitty, but it’s a minor niggle.

If you enjoy police procedurals with strong, but flawed characters, high stakes and a complex plot, Hunting Shadows is well worth reading.

Description

Lee, southeast London. A young girl has disappeared. There are no witnesses, no leads, no clues. The police are tracking a shadow, and time is running out …

DI Ellen Kelly is at the top of her game – at least she was, until she took the law into her own hands and confronted her husband’s killer. Now she’s back at work, leading the investigation into the missing child. Her superiors are watching her; the distraught family is depending on her.

Ellen has a lot to prove. And she knows it.

A tense thriller that stalks the urban streets of southeast London and the bleak wilderness of the North Kent coast, Hunting Shadows introduces the forceful, compromised police detective, DI Ellen Kelly.

Hunting Shadows by Sheila Bugler

Deadly Games by Sally Rigby

29th December 2019. 3 stars.

I enjoyed the story, which was a familiar police procedural where the killer was always one step ahead of the police and adept at leaving no evidence. The pace was good and the plot developed steadily, with several possible suspects and a neat twist at the end.

The characters and their relationships felt a little stilted, especially Walker’s somewhat clichéd view of her fast-track boss. The relationship between Walker and Cavendish also seemed a little black and white. One minute DCI Walker wants nothing to do with Cavendish. Then, before you know it, they’re almost best friends.

I’m not sure the chapters written from the killer’s perspective contributed anything new or useful to the story or plot. If anything, these chapters intruded into the police investigation, lowering the suspense and tension rather than increasing it. I would have preferred the author to spend the time on building the characters and relationships to make them more believable.

Description

A killer is playing cat and mouse……. and winning.

DCI Whitney Walker’s in trouble. She’s threatened with demotion if she screws up another case. So, when a killer starts murdering female students, it’s a chance to redeem herself.

Forensic psychologist, Dr Georgina Cavendish, has spent her life inside the university walls, but when one of her students is murdered, she steps out from behind the text books and puts her skills to the test.

The two headstrong women join forces to stop the killer. But sparks fly when real world policing meets academic theory, and it’s not a pretty sight.

Deadly Games is the first book in the Cavendish and Walker crime fiction series. If you like serial killer mysteries and psychological intrigue, then you’ll love Sally Rigby’s page turning book. Pick up your copy today.

An interview with author, Barry Faulkner

I first got to know Barry Faulkner during an online Q and A session for the UK Crime Book Group on Facebook. Little did I know what an interesting life he led before publishing his Serial Murder Squad novels. From washing the cars of London gang leaders to contributing material for light entertainment shows, Barry’s experiences have all contributed to the fast-paced, no nonsense crime thrillers he publishes. As someone who likes something a little different from the usual, I can highly recommend the stories, which made me think of The Sweeney.

My grateful thanks to Barry for taking the time to answer my questions. Over to you, Barry.

Please tell me a little about yourself and your writing.

My father, elder brothers, uncles and cousins were all on the wrong side of the tracks and sometimes ran with the notorious Richardson Brothers gang in South London in the 60s -90s. My mother was determined her youngest would not follow that family tradition and made sure I was kept away from it although I mixed with many of the ‘names’ as a kid and cleaned the Richardson’s rollers every Saturday for 10/- at their scrap yard in Camberwell as well as other members cars. The golden rule was never to go inside the cars or open the boots. I wonder why? I started writing at school and was encouraged to do so by a great English teacher called Mr Reid who saw something in my juvenile doodling. I owe him a lot.

When did you first realise you wanted to be an author?

I first realised I wanted to write when I read Cider With Rosie by Laurie Lee, I must have read it twenty times by now. The descriptive writing is the best I have ever read and paints a picture in your imagination that no other writer has ever equalled for me.

Describe the first piece you wrote and what it meant to you?

The first significant piece was a fun piece describing a weekend away at the coast with the scouts. It made the local paper and the Scout Magazine. I was hooked thinking that everything I wrote from then on would get published. Sadly not so.

What do you most enjoy about being an author?

The most enjoyable thing about being an author for me is the power to let my imagination run free and see where it takes me. I don’t plan a book other than the basic premise and where it is set. Each one has a different setting. The Last one, Ministry of Death is set in the NHS Drug Procurement Department , the one before that in the take away meals environment, I’ve also done Television, The City of London Financial District, Rock Groups etc..so half the fun of writing is the research into the different settings. I like to get it right.

What do you least enjoy about being an author?

I don’t think there’s anything I don’t enjoy about being an author.

Burning Ambition by Barry Faulkner

I see from your Amazon biography, you worked as a copywriter for an advertising agency. How did this influence your writing?

Yes, advertising copywriter for Erwin Wasey Ruffrauth and Ryan in Paddington. A top US advertising agency whose boss lived in a suite at the Dorchester! I think some of  the characters I came into contact in that industry have stuck with me and surface in the books from time to time. My character Benji, the next door neighbour and nemesis of my DCS Palmer is definitely from that workplace.

You were also a script writer and editor for TV during the 1980s and 90s. Can you tell us a little bit more about that and what you think it’s brought to your novel writing?

Whilst at the Advertising Agency I was writing stuff and sending up to the television companies  and got lucky.( they won’t even look at unsolicited commissions these days which I think means they are missing out on a lot of new writers and we get the same old tosh all the time) Anyway I was called up and asked to contribute to various light entertainment shows during the 70s -90s and ended up as a script editor/writer on most of the Light Entertainment shows including Bob Monkhouse, Tom O’Connor, Russ Abbot, Not The Nine O’clock News etc. It broadened my outlook and way of writing as I spent a lot of time in the ‘writers room’ with other writers and we bounced ideas off each other as well as having my own work edited and on many occasions binned!

What made you want to move from TV scriptwriting to crime fiction novels?

The television job meant many days and even weeks stuck in hotel rooms at night and that’s when I started to put together various ideas for TV series, mainly of the LE format but all the time in the back of my mind I had this DCS Palmer character pushing to get out. I don’t know where he came from but I get quite a few emails and letters from retired ex Detectives and old South London criminals now in their 80s- 90s telling me they recognise various characters in the books  so maybe some of the people I met as a youngster, from both sides of the law, have stuck in the recesses of my brain and emerge as a character in a book, who knows? Anyway, Palmer kept insisting he be written and I really got into him and the Serial Murder Squad in those hotel rooms. He was written as a pilot for a TV series but never made it.

Tell me about the inspiration and motivation to write the Serial Murder Squad series.

I wrote three Palmers for TV and being rejected they went into the drawer with all the other reject slips and then three years ago when I fully retired and time became available I went back, pulled him out and gave reign to all the plots in my head and in various notebooks that I’d kept over the years. So like many writers I sent them out and started collecting the reject slips but with the birth of Amazon there was another route to publishing as an Indie. I realised that floundering away on your own as a new indie would lead to mistakes and probably very little sales so I joined the Alliance of Independent Authors which was the best thing I have ever done in my writing career, I attended, and still attend a local meeting of members of that group in Cheltenham where the fonts of all publishing knowledge, Debbie Young and David Penny guided me through the tricky road of wannabe author to published author with several thousand Palmers sold. There’s about forty of them in various notebooks so many more Palmers to come I hope.

How would you describe your books to someone who has never read one before?

I think you have to have a USP (Unique Selling Point) or your books will get lost in the plethora of the police procedural genre  of thousands of books. Many authors use their own area like Scotland or Cornwall to capture readers who recognise the settings.  I use London as that’s my place of birth and I know it well,  but realising how many are set in London I also have a USP of humour. Coming from a light entertainment background in television my mind is programmed to add (hopefully) witty and humorous remarks between my principle characters and with the addition of Benji, Palmer’s nemesis neighbour, I am able to run a fairly light back story against the main serial killer theme. Readers seem to warm to that and the juxtaposition and banter between the irascible old school DCS Palmer and his young IT and cyber expert Detective Sergeant, Gheeta Singh, chalk and cheese. So the reader will be taken into the darkness of serial murder but now and again will laugh.

Takeaway Terror

Who inspires you and Why?

I’m not inspired much by books and authors these days, I get bored very easily and hate the current trend of every detective having an Achilles heel and family problems and pages and pages of back story not relevant to the plot but insisted on by traditional publishers to increase the book price and KU page read income. Not on. I recently spoke with a well respected traditionally published crime author who told me she had submitted her next book of 80,000 words to be told by her publisher to expand to 140,000!!! She wasn’t happy.

I do get inspiration from television. Television crime drama, especially the streaming channels of Netflix and Amazon are right up to date with their output. Forensics are state of the art and the characters well drawn, my all time favourite is The Sopranos, but currently I like Ray Donovan. I intend to start another series of books about a present day London Organised crime syndicate and having just watched The Irishman film on Netflix that is inspiring me to get going on it. That film is a classic, half true and half fiction but so well put together.

What’s the best compliment you’ve received about your books?

I suppose the best one is one I get quite a lot, ‘these books should be a television series’. I’d love to go back in time with them to the BBC commissioning editor who said ‘no’ and push them into his face and say,  ‘see what you missed, I could have been a millionaire Rodney’

Do you have any favourite authors? What is it about them or their work that appeals to you?

My favourite authors?  Laurie Lee for his use of descriptive words whilst moving the story along at pace, a complete master.  Ed McBain, the all-time number one in the pulp fiction genre that I reside in.  Robert Crais and his Cole and Pike novels, I rate them above Jack Reacher. His use of words and sentences is unique. Do try him.

If you could invite four guests (fictional or real, alive or dead) for dinner, who would you choose and why?

Four dinner guests?  My great grandfather and my grandfather both of whom I never knew so I could find out the truth about a family business fortune gambled away in the 1800’s. Probably all make believe but it would be an interesting chat anyway as I know nothing about the family before my dad. Fred Karno, the UK’s first impresario who ran concert halls in the late 1800s and 1900s. He took Charlie Chaplin and his understudy, Arthur Jefferson, who later changed his name to Stan Laurel, to America and worked with Hal Roach on silent comedy film shorts for Buster Keaton and the rest of the silent comics. His life went from poverty to millionaire back to poverty ending up running an off licence in Dorset. And my fourth and last guest, Leonard Ernest ‘Nipper’ Read, DCS Read, the detective who nicked the Krays and many more top criminals whilst head of the Murder Squad in the late 60s-70s. He also helped clean out corruption amongst detectives at Scotland Yard with Commissioner Sir Robert Marks when close to 200 were sacked or took early retirement.

Please tell me about your latest project.

My current work load, and I don’t look at it as work as I enjoy it too much, I’m getting paid for having a lot of fun and meeting a lot of interesting people, however my current projects are finishing DCS Palmer book 10 ‘The Body Builder’ (there’s a clue!), getting my London Gang series underway and hassling Literary Festival organisers for a spot (unpaid) in there programme next year for my illustrated talk on ‘the Heists and Geezers of UK Crime from 1930 to Present Day’ or any other ‘crime’ spot they’d like to offer, I just love meeting writers and readers.

 

Thank you, Barry, for some fascinating insights into your life and writing. Good luck with ‘The Body Builder’. I look forward to reading it.

 

The Met’s Serial Murder Squad investigate the unusual deaths of three staff working at the Ministry of Health Drug Procurement department. Are all three deaths from natural causes or had the deceased stumbled on something that senior management and the pompous head of the Parliamentary Public Accounts Committee in the House of Commons want to hide away at any cost, even murder?

How does a Romanian drugs company fit into the jigsaw and can Palmer and the team uncover the facts before more deaths occur? DCS Palmer needs hard evidence to convince his boss that there is a serial killing going on so the team start to dig and are surprised at what they find.

(Read my 5 star review here.)

 

For details of my reviews of Barry’s thrillers, please visit my review page.

A Long Time Dead by Andrew Barrett

23rd November 2019. 4 stars.

I enjoy books that take me into new worlds. In this case it’s forensic science through the eyes of a Scenes of Crime Officer, who seems to have upset too many people.

While the story started slowly, the forensic detail during crime scene investigation was fascinating, but never to the detriment of the story. The author’s skill, practice and knowledge shone in these scenes, adding credibility and authenticity to the story.

I just wanted it to shift up a gear.

When it did, the whole story came alive, leading to a fast-paced, thrilling climax that kept me turning the pages. Roger Conniston, was a flawed but likeable lead character with plenty of determination, guts and conviction. By the end, I was rooting for him.

I’m look forward to reading more of his adventures.

 

Description

The police discover a woman’s naked body on her bed, arcs of blood tracked across the wall from a neck wound. This is the second such case Detective Superintendent Chamberlain has running. The first is still unsolved, and he’s desperate for a lead. Any lead.

It’s 1999, and Scenes of Crime Officer, Roger Conniston, is too busy obsessing over an arms dealer to worry about whether his coal-powered computer is Year 2000 Compliant; too busy cruising Wakefield’s night-life to worry about his wife or his lover, or the promotion he doesn’t really want.

Roger is about to make his move on the arms dealer when he’s arrested for the woman’s murder.

With Roger in the cells, Chamberlain can relax, and the arms dealer can resume his trade.

But Roger has to prove his innocence and find the true murderer. Not easy from behind bars – bars that are guarded by the same officer he’s been spying on.

A stressed investigator. A ruthless arms dealer. And someone else in the background plotting his death. Which of Roger’s new enemies want him out of the way?

A long time Dead

Need You Dead by Peter James

26th September 2019.  5 stars.

I’ve enjoyed every novel in the Roy Grace series. With an imaginative and complex plot, fascinating insights into police procedure and a few surprises as the story hurtles towards the climax, Need You Dead continues the consistent high standard of stroytelling I’ve come to expect from Peter James.

So, who killed Lorna Belling?

With suspects starting to form an orderly queue, this is not going to be a simple case for Detective Superintendent Roy Grace, who has problems of his own to overcome. While Grace finally puts the mystery of his ex-wife, Sandy, to bed, it’s only the start of more demanding challenges. With Assistant Chief Constable Pewe watching his every move, the pressure on Grace leads to more than a few sleepless nights.

With several suspects and an intricate plot that makes them all potential killers, the story kept me guessing right up to the breathtaking climax, delivering an unexpected, but satisfying twist I didn’t see coming.

This is quality writing, populated with strong, believable characters, delivered with pace and panache to provide yet another exciting instalment in the Roy Grace series. While all the novels work as standalones, reading the series from the start means each book delivers much more.

I would recommend this series to anyone as Peter James always delivers memorable, top quality crime fiction.

 

Description

Lorna Belling, desperate to escape the marriage from hell, falls for the charms of another man who promises her the earth. But, as Lorna finds, life seldom follows the plans you’ve made. A chance photograph on a client’s mobile phone changes everything for her.

When the body of a woman is found in a bath in Brighton, Detective Superintendent Roy Grace is called to the scene. At first it looks an open and shut case with a clear prime suspect. Then other scenarios begin to present themselves, each of them tantalizingly plausible, until, in a sudden turn of events, and to his utter disbelief, the case turns more sinister than Grace could ever have imagined.

Need You Dead

The Visitor by Jane R Goodall

23rd September 2019.  4 stars

This complex novel pits folklore, superstition and the supernatural against forensic science and police procedure to produce an intriguing story about the hunt for an elusive serial killer. DI Briony Williams starts a new job with a murder that will take her to her wits end as she’s dragged through myth, superstition and fear in search of facts that will make a case and identify the Visitor.

I enjoyed the novel as I like something different from the usual run-of-the-mill police procedurals that seem to be everywhere these days. I’ve always been fascinated by superstition and the supernatural, both in terms of wondering what might be out there, and more importantly, the affect it can have on people and the way they behave. The author certainly provides a deep insight into ancient folklore and the way beliefs can manipulate, frighten and subdue people.

The investigation pits Briony against her more hard headed colleagues and superiors, who prefer a conventional, follow the evidence approach to apprehending the killer. The trouble is, the killer always seems to be several steps ahead, killing anyone who might reveal the truth about him.

While I liked the detail on folklore and superstitions, necessary for the plot, it seemed to come at the expense of character development. There were glimpses of personal issues and relationships that could have been developed to add more depth to the characters and story. Though fascinating, the detail needed to support the story inevitably slowed the pace in places, leading to a somewhat hurried climax.

That said, I would recommend this to anyone who enjoys something different and challenging. I’m moving on to read The Calling, the third and final book in the Briony Williams series.

Description

1974, Oxford.

Detective Briony Williams, starting a new job with the Thames Valley police in Oxford, is called to investigate the murder of a seventeen-year-old girl. Convinced that the girl’s murder is no ordinary domestic crime, Briony delves into the world of the supernatural when she finds a stone carved with an ancient cryptic message clutched in the victim’s hand.

The police need solid scientific evidence that will stand up in court, but in order to solve the case Briony must ally herself with a psychic girl and a druid leader. As Briony investigates, the danger deepens, setting her directly in the path of a killer bent on eliminating anyone getting close to the truth.

Undeterred, Briony must steer a course between the rational and the supernatural in her search for The Visitor.

The Visitor