An Unfamiliar Murder by Jane Isaac

11th January 2021.

Imagine coming home after a hard day at work and finding the body of a stranger, murdered in your home. You wouldn’t think it could get much worse – until the police take you in for questioning as a suspect.

While it soon becomes clear that Anna’s not the killer, she’s still left with the question of why a stranger was murdered in her home. And as she starts to ask questions, it soon becomes clear that there are family secrets blocking her road to the truth.

At the same time, DI Helen Lavery, in charge of her first murder enquiry, has to make sense of the murder. A second death increases the pressure and the pace picks up, focusing on the investigation more as the detectives make a breakthrough.

But will they be in time?

I enjoy trying new authors and series, getting to know new characters and settings. You can never be sure what you’re going to get and the first quarter of this story took its time to get going with a lot of focus on the emotional state of Anna and Helen Lavery. But once the investigation kicked into gear, the story picked up and became an exciting and intriguing hunt for the killer. The characters revealed themselves through their actions and relationships and the secrets were peeled away, layer by layer.

This is a good first novel to a series with an intriguing plot, plenty of drama and tension, and some engaging characters that lay a sound foundation for future novels.

Description

Arriving home from a routine day at work, Anna Cottrell has no idea that her life is about to change forever. But discovering the stabbed body of a stranger in her flat, then becoming prime suspect in a murder enquiry is only the beginning. Her persistent claims of innocence start to crumble when new evidence links her irrevocably with the victim…

Leading her first murder enquiry, DCI Helen Lavery unravels a trail of deception, family secrets and betrayal. When people close to the Cottrell family start to disappear, Lavery is forced into a race against time. Can she catch the killer before he executes his ultimate victim?

An Unfamiliar Murder by Jane Isaac

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

Natural Causes by James Oswald

30th December 2020.

Having recently read and enjoyed an advance reader copy of Bury Them Deep, (check out my review here) I thought it was time to start at the beginning of the DI McLean series. And what a start it is.

Natural Causes is a dark and complex police procedural with a supernatural element. It centres around a sixty year old case of a teenage girl who was repeatedly raped and tortured in a ritual killing. The body, safely hidden inside a building, has been discovered during building works.

As DI McLean starts to investigate this terrible murder, he’s dragged into another murder in another part of Edinburgh. The investigation is led by his boss and it’s clear they don’t see eye to eye at all. More murders follow, some seeming to have no rational. With a steadily increasing body count, DI McLean has to work out the connections to identify the killer.

The plot is too complex and involved to explain without spoilers, but it’s ingenious, baffling and intriguing at the same time, making this novel hard to put down. The characters are well drawn and believable, the relationships tight and realistic, and the writing builds the suspense and tension to an exciting climax.

It’s an outstanding first book in a series. The supernatural elements make it different from the standard police procedural but compelling too. It’s a terrific read and one I would recommend to anyone who likes a complex murder mystery that’s as much about the characters as the plot.

Description

Edinburgh is horrified by a series of bloody killings.

Deaths for which there appears to be neither rhyme nor reason, and which leave the city’s police stumped.

DI Tony McLean is focused on the investigation, but his attention is drawn by a chilling cold case:

A young girl, ritualistically murdered.

Her remains hidden for sixty years.

It seems impossible that there could be any connection between the cases, but McLean starts to wonder . . .

Because if it’s true, they might be facing an evil beyond anything they ever imagined.

Natural Causes by James Oswald

Baby Lies by Chris Collett

18th December 2020.

I’ve enjoyed the first three Tom Mariner series. He’s an easy going, caring detective who has had some tricky cases to investigate and a love life that’s never quite delivered. In this fourth outing, the focus is on babies, in particular ones that go missing.

The story starts off well enough with the abduction of a baby from a crèche. While all is not what it seems, the story starts to slow and seems to meander as the detectives struggle to get to grips with the case. When the baby is suddenly returned the story shifts to Mariner’s troubles with Anna. DS Knox, his friend and colleague, also has issues with his love life.

But there’s another mystery bubbling to the surface. The pace picks up a little as the team investigate and make connections they missed with an earlier murder. An arrest soon follows, leading to a rather abrupt and unexciting ending.

While it’s an easy going and entertaining read, Tom Mariner’s love life seemed to pose more of a challenge than the crimes being investigated.

Description

Six-week-old baby Jessica is abducted from a local nursery. And Detective Tom Mariner realises he’s not going to get the time-off he was hoping for.

The police get a good description of the woman who took Jessica, but the appeal to the public doesn’t generate a single lead.

Then the kidnapper calls demanding money for Jessica’s safe return . . . and a terrible discovery is made in the woods.

Can Mariner get to bottom of a complex case which involves much more than child abduction?

Baby Lies by Chris Collett

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

Deadly Crimes by Michael Hambling

7th December 2020.

In the second book in the series, detective Sophie Allen investigates two crimes, separated by a gap of 40 years. The first concerns a man, brutally murdered and left at a local landmark. Is it an example to warn others? The links to human trafficking seem to suggest it is and Sophie’s soon on the trail of the gang.

The second murder is more personal, solving a 40 year old mystery. Or does it?

The two murders, and the impact on Sophie, make for a complex and draining investigation that twists and turns with every discovery she makes. There’s joy mixed in with the pain, but her search for the truth is relentless, leading to anxiety among those who know her best.

It’s an intricate plot that’s pulls you along, dragging you deeper into the personal lives of Sophie and those close to her, as you’re propelled towards a surprising but deftly handled climax that provides a solution but leaves a question or two unanswered.

Full marks to the author for weaving an enjoyable and entertaining web that delivers on every level. Sophie Allen has become one of my favourite detectives in the space of two books and I’m looking forward to reading the next novel in the series.

Description

A young man’s mutilated body is found on top of the Agglestone, a well-known local landmark on Studland Heath.

It seems that he was involved in a human trafficking and prostitution gang. But why is DCI Sophie Allen keeping something back from her team? Is it linked to the extraordinary discovery of her own father’s body at the bottom of a disused mineshaft, more than forty years after he disappeared?

Discover an intricately crafted mystery that will have you gripped from start to finish.

Deadly Crimes by Michael Hambling

A Litter of Bones by J D Kirk

24th November 2020.

It’s always good to find a new author with a distinctive tone and voice that you enjoy. While the abduction of a child is no laughing matter, it’s lightened by the humour in this story and the way it draws the characters in the investigation team together.

Is there a copycat killer on the loose or has DCI Jack Logan put the wrong person away? That’s the question at the heart of this police procedural, set in the Highlands of Scotland. It’s a fairly standard storyline in crime fiction, lifted by the author’s delivery and the development of the main characters, which allowed them and the book to grow on me the more I read.

With plenty of action, false trails and an exciting climax, there was a satisfying conclusion to the story with all loose ends neatly tied up.

My only dislike was the cruelty inflicted on a cat. I’m not sure the graphic descriptions added anything to the story.

Description

A missing child. A tormented detective. A ticking clock.

Ten years ago, DCI Jack Logan stopped the serial child-killer dubbed ‘Mister Whisper,’ earning himself a commendation, a drinking problem, and a broken marriage in the process.

Now, he spends his days working in Glasgow’s Major Investigations Team, and his nights reliving the horrors of what he saw.

And what he did.

When another child disappears a hundred miles north in the Highlands, Jack is sent to lead the investigation and bring the boy home.

But as similarities between the two cases grow, could it be that Jack caught the wrong man all those years ago?

And, if so, is the real Mister Whisper about to claim his fourth victim?

A Litter of Bones by JD Kirk

If Fear Wins by Tony J Forder

13th November 2020.

This is the third book in the DI Bliss series which begins with the particularly sadistic killing of an RAF officer. The racial overtones of the murder lead to local tensions and the involvement of the security services, MI5 and MI6, which bring more complications.

Then a woman from Bliss’s past seeks his help with the suspicious death of her husband. Despite reservations, Bliss agrees to take a closer look at the case.

The story covers a lot of ground, including some past cases and emotional issues, creating a complex narrative that drags Bliss and his team down a few dead ends before he begins to make sense of what’s going on.

While I enjoyed following the twists, turns and different strands, at times I wasn’t always sure who some of the many characters were, especially if any of them dipped out of the story for a few chapters. I also felt a little less of the emotional complications and backstory would have helped my focus.

But these are minor quibbles in what is a skilfully crafted, intense and fascinating police procedural with some dark moments, lightened with humorous touches. It covers a broad canvas without losing the detailed character relationships that underpin all good story telling. Original and well-executed, this is a novel for anyone who likes a big, meaty plot, populated by believable and interesting characters to provide several layers of interest.

While you can read it as a standalone, I’d recommend starting at the beginning of the series to get the maximum pleasure. I’m already looking forward to reading the fourth book in the series.

Description

When a torched body is found in a country lane, DI Bliss and Chandler are called in to investigate.

The detectives are drawn towards recent missing person reports and believe their victim will prove to be one of them. Bliss thinks he knows which, and fears the outcome if he is proven right.

Soon the body is identified, and Bliss and Chandler discover evidence suggesting this murder might be a terrorist attack.

Meanwhile, someone from Bliss’s past needs his help, and soon he is juggling his personal life with the demanding case. To make matters more complicated, MI5 and the Counter-Terrorist Unit are called in to help solve the case. But are they on the right track?

Bliss and Chandler soon find themselves in a race against time, and this might just be their most challenging case yet…

If Fear Wins by Tony J Forder

Head in the Sand by Damien Boyd

30th October 2020.

When you wake up to learn that someone’s left a decapitated head in a bunker on a golf course, you know it’s going to be a difficult day. And so it turns out in in the second book of the DI Nick Dixon series.

Di Dixon is a well-drawn and likable character who leads his team well as they dig deeper to find much more than they bargained for in the hunt for the killer. As the pieces slot together, it becomes a race against time to prevent more murders.

I enjoyed the original and memorable plot, which kept me guessing for quite a while. The investigation felt realistic and thorough, pulling the team in various directions until they homed in on the motive and the killer. The whole story was engaging and easy to read, allowing me to race through to the climax.

Description

The discovery of a severed head in a golf course bunker triggers a frantic race to find a serial killer that brings the town of Burnham-on-Sea to a standstill.

A connection is made with a series of unsolved murders harking back to the 1970s, and Detective Inspector Nick Dixon finds himself caught in a race against time that takes him the length and breadth of the country.

The brutal killing of an elderly man raises the stakes and, as he closes in, Dixon begins to question whether he is chasing one serial killer or two.

Head in the Sand by Damien Boyd

The Black Rose by BL Faulkner

28th October 2020.

You might think that the world of horticulture is genteel, but a killer lurks among the greenhouses and plant displays in the latest case for the Serial Murder Squad. There’s a fortune to be made for the breeder who can produce the black rose of the title. DCS Palmer and DS Singh are soon on the trail, uncovering more murders and financial irregularities along the way.

It’s a fairly straightforward investigation, but the author still manages to squeeze in a few surprises along the way with an interesting twist at the end.

All the elements that I’ve enjoyed in the previous stories are here. The direct, no nonsense story-telling that produces a slick and fast-paced read with another original and intriguing plot. There’s humour from Palmer and his next door neighbour, Benji, who also does some digging around. They all combine to produce an absorbing story that was over all too soon.

If you like original and entertaining crime fiction that dares to be a little different from the usual police procedurals, you should read this series.

Description

DCS Palmer and DS Gheeta Singh get called to the morgue where two bodies listed as suicides have raised the pathologist’s suspicions that they might not be as a rare plant based poison has been found in their stomachs. The fact that the deceased were Garden Centre owners and Rose breeders who were on the brink of marketing the first Black Rose and reaping the huge financial rewards that would bring alerts Palmer to the fact that things aren’t as serene as they appear to be and he gets involved in an investigation that takes him back into the past concerning cold cases that might not be totally cold and of failed liaisons and unexplained deaths in the Rose Breeding and Garden Centre community. At the centre of it all sits the Black Rose, who will have it to display and launch at the Chelsea Flower Show on the Royal Party and Press day? The case twists and turns right up to the wire as liaisons crack and fracture until an ending that…well let’s say it’s very different to what you might expect.

The Black Rose by BL Faulkner